by Brian Truitt)
Even Captain America writer Rick Remender feels he's piling it on his star-spangled Avenger at this point.
Steve Rogers has fought out of another dimension, witnessed the death of a longtime love as well as his foster son and tried — and failed — to help out a walking, talking weapon of mass destruction.
It's not getting any better for him, either. Captain America No. 16.NOW, out today, begins a new story line that will see the return of his arch enemy the Red Skull and lead him to a confrontation with the Iron Nail, a mysterious villain whom Cap doesn't even know exists yet.
"Everything we've seen since issue 11 has been a perfectly orchestrated series of events put in place by the Iron Nail leading to what will be one of the biggest things I've ever done in any Marvel comic book," Remender says.
The new issue actually acts as a prologue to that main event and centers around Jet Black, the daughter from Dimension Z of Cap villain Arnim Zola.
Zola was the man responsible for mapping the Red Skull's consciousness in World War II and growing a clone that emerged decades later as basically the same bad dude, according to Remender. Zola had a nefarious plan that never came to fruition in the Dimension Z arc, however, and Red Skull and his S-Men have a proposition for Jet that will play a major role in the series going forward.
At the end of the Dimension Z story, Jet went back and forth about helping Cap, yet found she was ultimately drawn to his nobility, strength and heroism.
"It was very confusing to her because she had been trained her whole life in Zola pragmatism: to be very cold and tyrannical," Remender explains. "Zola had raised Jet to come to Earth and become its queen, ruler of this globe. And so here she is on it, and she instead made the choice to help Steve.
"She is someone who was bred for leadership and is now relegated to a person of nothing where she has nothing. "
Having no one in this world is one of the many complications for the character, and the offer Red Skull has for her will solve all of her current dilemmas.
The new issue takes place at the same time as Captain America No. 15, when Cap was dealing with Nuke, an unstable and explosive supervillain soldier that he wants to help even after the many atrocities he's committed.
In Nuke, Cap saw a patriot wanting to serve his country but was misused and had his mind cooked from amphetamines, low-level versions of the super-soldier serum and cybernetic additions.
However, doing the right thing played right into Iron Nail's plan of getting Nuke inside S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Hub station to release the evil Doctor Mindbubble, an essential key to unearth a powerful weapon that the government agency has been making in secret.
Issue 17 sees Jet and Cap reunited, but has the hero getting some seriously bad news: that Nuke has detonated at the Hub station. So in addition to the threats of Iron Nail and Mindbubble, there's the PR nightmare of Cap's image sent all around the world where he's shaking hands with Nuke and the globe at large knowing there's something amiss with America and S.H.I.E.L.D.
The recent arc with Nuke was "a really great slowdown and exploration" of Cap's mind-set following the loss of Sharon Carter and Ian, Remender says. "But the Marvel Universe doesn't slow down for that. While he's been moping around and having a hard time, still standing up and doing the best he could, things have been going on around him."
Buckle up, Steve: Remender teases that it's all leading "a huge, huge, huge shift" in status quo in issue 25, and before that an occurrence in Captain America No. 21 "that I will receive more mail than I've ever received on anything." (It's an even bigger thing, he says, than his Uncanny Avengers No. 14 where he basically killed three characters.)
Since Remender's first issue, Cap has been all about giving a hand to anybody who needs it, but a significant challenge in front of him is maintaining his ideals when it seems that what he's doing may not be for the greater good.
Jet Black, for example, is whispering in his ear that back in her world they would have killed Nuke and tragedy would have been avoid, so the blood is on Cap's hands, Remender says. "And Steve is starting to see that on some level, there is some truth to that.
"What we're seeing here is the consequences sometimes of doing the right thing and Steve grappling with whether or not he should alter his ideology for that. That's going to be a lot of the struggle here and what he's up against, especially when he discovers what it is S.H.I.E.L.D. has been creating and the Iron Nail's manipulation of that."