Sometimes, it’s hard to know what to make of Ultimate Captain America as a character. He will shift from being a xenophobic jerk to a sensitive, decent guy between panels often. There isn’t the sense of genuine valor and humility that the regular version of the character has, this one more brash and eager to fight. While the Marvel Universe Steve Rogers comes off as the idealization of America, this one is more reflective of its negative aspects. Some would call his shifts in character ‘complex,’ but they come off as disjointed in “Ultimate Captain America” #2. It reads like Jason Aaron is trying to be both faithful to previous portrayals of the character and not be limited by them. It doesn’t work.
After his encounter with the Captain America of Vietnam, Frank Simpson, last issue, Rogers awakens in a hospital in France, surly and demanding an explanation from SHIELD director Carol Danvers. The explanation for Simpson is exactly what you assume it would be and that’s to Jason Aaron’s credit. Why complicate matters by throwing a curveball when Simpson is going through roughly the same thing as Rogers, except in a drastically different war. That is a strong enough hook for the two to play off of one another. From there, it’s a simple matter of Rogers going after Simpson, a task that takes up most of the issue and has Rogers combing the jungles of Cambodia for any sign of a secret city of soldiers.
The fact that Rogers acts like a crude thug much of the time undercuts any attempts Aaron makes to delve into his character more deeply. It’s hard to take his inner thoughts seriously when he basically has a hissy fit because he happens to be in France, or because Cambodian food isn’t up to his standards. He’s a super-powered ignorant American tourist most of the time, not a protagonist that you want to get behind. More than that, his search for Simpson is a tedious one. We’re halfway through the story and it still feels like it hasn’t actually gotten started into the meat of it.
Ron Garney’s art has a sketchy energy to it that comes out best during the action scenes where he can cut loose. He’s good at picking dynamic angles and composing that perfect in-the-moment panel that shows the action at its peak. The rest of the time, his art has an unfinished, underdeveloped look. He tries to apply his action compositions to scenes where two characters are talking, but it doesn’t heighten the drama in the same way, it creates a feeling that’s no sense of space, no logic to what his choice of angles or positioning of the characters will be. On a page, Carol Danvers goes from facing Rogers face-to-face, to being in profile to him, to facing him before being in profile yet again. It looks awkward in a comical way.
The idea behind “Ultimate Captain America” is a good one and there are some good scenes, like Danvers purposefully putting Rogers into a position where he will go rogue in the final scene of the comic. Jason Aaron doesn’t seem to have as much of a handle on Ultimate Captain America, or least enough of one to actually have him come across as someone worth rooting for. Then again, was he ever?