In Rick Remender’s 2013 run of Captain America, Steve Rogers had one of his most harrowing missions ever: raising the son of his darkest villain. In the first issue, Captain America was tricked by the robotic Arnim Zola who trapped him in Dimension Z, a dark and barren realm where time runs much faster than in the Marvel Universe. While he had been held hostage in Zola’s fortress filled with monsters, Rogers managed to escape from an operating table and out into the wastelands of Dimension Z. However, he also managed to save Zola’s infant son as well, whom he would go on to raise for 12 years while hardly any time passed in the normal Marvel Universe.
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In a gripping story of survival and inner conflict from Remender and artist John Romita Jr., Steve Rogers would spend years raising the boy he named Ian, loving and caring for him as if he was his own son in a terrible wasteland filled with Zola’s mutates and failed experiments. Furthermore, Rogers soon came to discover that he didn’t actually leave the operating table unscathed, as Zola had infected him with a virus that was slowly overtaking Rogers’ mind with every passing year. Nevertheless, Captain America never stopped fighting to keep himself and his boy safe, eventually finding solitude and shelter with a tribe native to Dimension Z known as the Phrox.
12 years eventually passed, and Ian grew up into a young boy that Steve was immensely proud of. Working together, the adoptive father and son traveled the wastelands, fighting mutates while trying to find some sort of weakness to defeat Zola and get back home to the normal Marvel Universe. Furthermore, readers get to see flashbacks to Steve’s past with his own abusive father, motivating him to be a much better father to Ian despite their dark circumstances in Dimension Z. Even though he was trapped for over a decade, Steve eventually grows to be thankful as the ordeal granted him a son.
However, as soon as Zola discovered that his son was alive he became enraged, sending out all of his forces to reclaim what Captain America had stolen from him. Unfortunately, Zola succeeded and got right to work brainwashing Ian back into the son Zola had intended for him to be: Leopold Zola, a dark inheritor of his legacy along with his sister Jet. However, Captain America refused to let Ian become corrupted, and his genuine love and care brought his son back to the light…right before Sharon Carter shot Ian through the neck, having arrived to rescue Steve and thinking the boy was a threat. Naturally, this completely devastated Steve right before Sharon sacrificed herself to help Steve escape with Jet Zola (who had turned against her father).
Clearly, this is one of the darkest and most intense Captain America stories of all time, and it’s one that needs to be talked about more often. It’s effectively a Captain America story that combines elements of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, 2018’s God of War game, and the dynamics of Rick Grimes and his son Carl from The Walking Dead. Thankfully, there is a silver lining as the end of this arc revealed that Ian actually survived, continuing to fight in Dimension Z into adulthood and taking on the name Nomad (a name held by Captain America in Marvel Comics’ past). Ian would also eventually make it to the Marvel Universe and reunite with the father he chose, and he’s still operating as Nomad in Marvel Comics’ present.
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