Today was a great day for new #1's over at Marvel. We have the introduction of a new Thor, the Guardians 3000 team, Men of Wrath, and the subject of today's review: A new series fronted by Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier. James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes, created in 1941 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, has seen a number of different identities over the years. First he was Captain America's plucky boy sidekick, whose death was a source of great angst for a number of years. Then the character was revived as the villainous, Soviet mind-controlled Winter Soldier in Ed Brubaker's seminal run on Captain America. After Steve Rogers' seeming death as a result of the Civil War, the Winter Soldier disappeared as Bucky took up the Captain America mantle. When Steve returned, Bucky sank back into the role of the shadowy Winter Soldier in a solo series written primarily by Brubaker. Fans hoping for more solo Winter Soldier would later be frustrated by The Winter Soldier: Bitter March, which would have been better titled Ran Shen: Bitter Disappointment. Finally, with a new series launched this month by writer Ales Kot and artist Marco Rudy, Marvel seems ready to capitalize on the light shone on the character by his appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier drops us in on what our super spy friend has been up to since the events of Original Sin. Bucky has taken on the role of "man on the wall" from Nick Fury Sr., protecting the Earth from intergalactic and interdimensional threats before any of Earth's usual heroes knows there's a problem. Essentially, the Winter Soldier is doing what he's always done but in a place we've never seen him.
Blending the old with the new seems to be the driving force behind this book, both artistically and thematically. There is a lot of classic Winter Soldier Barnes in the writing. Ever since retrieving his memories Bucky has had a desperate need to make up for his past, using the skills he developed as an enemy to America. However, there is a lightness to the character that we don't often get to see, a little more relaxed humor than long time readers might be used to. In this outing Bucky is once again paired up with a female super-spy, though BuckyNat fans will be disappointed that the Red Room romance is not being revived. Daisy Johnson, ex-SHIELD director, has become Barnes new partner-in-crime. The pairing makes sense. Both characters are highly skilled spies with close ties to Nick Fury Sr., exiled for activities related to assassination. They should work well together, though a potential area of concern lies in Kot's avoidance of male/female team up tropes. There's no indication yet that romance is in the air, but it's something this reviewer hopes he desperately avoids (and not just because I desperately ship BuckyNat). Guys and girls should be able to have a working relationship without the romance being an implied necessity. Romantic entanglement is a dramatic device that seems played out.
There's a lot to love artistically in this book as well. One of the things that will stand out to readers of Brubaker/Guice/Epting Winter Soldier is the return of the gray, rounded captions for Bucky, a nice editorial/lettering decision to provide additional continuity. At the same time, the art overall reflects a dramatic shift from the gritty noir feel of Steve Epting and Butch Guice's time with the character. Marco Rudy replaces the clean lines and dark shadows of earlier Winter Soldier features with a much loose, impressionistic style that blends a rich, deep color palette with a design-heavy panel layout and distribution. The art is beautiful. Each page is a delight to look at, and the flow of each page encourages the reader to linger there. Unfortunately, some of that lingering is the result of having to figure out what's going on in the scene. The flow of speech balloons and panel designs sometimes contort the scene in confusing ways. Further, we never see a really clear, full-body shot of any of the major players. This does result in some confusion when moving between scenes. For example, when Namor shows up midway through the issue, I wasn't aware who Bucky was talking to until he actually said "Namor" out loud. That said, the page design and art generally are both beautiful and encouraging as the medium continues to evolve and take risks.
If I come across as harsh or overly critical, it is only because I want the book to succeed. Bold artistic choices and writing idiomatic for the characters should be allowed to shine through, without unclear design and tired tropes to distract from them.
E. Ross Ura is a writer, letterer, artist, composer, and blogger active in the Metro Detroit Area.