Captain America and Bucky Barnes were a staple of comic books during the Golden and Silver age of the last century. Battling all manner of villains from Hitler to the more conventional comic book creations, the two have been through a lot together.
Here to shake things up is Ed Brubaker with his reimagination of their relationship. As a huge fan of the film, I cannot wait to see the if the source material manages to deliver on the potential that I know it has.
As with most of my reviews, there will be spoilers here so it may be worth skipping to the score if you want to remain unspoiled for now.
With that out the way, let’s dive into Captain America: The Winter Soldier!
Out Of Time
The Red Skull is dead. Murdered by a mysterious assassin, cough it’s the Winter Soldier cough, his prized possession: The Cosmic Cube has fallen into the hands of the even badder bad guys. This starts off a chain of events that sees old villains rise to the forefront and friends becomes enemies in unbelievable ways.
Living comfortably in his New York Brooklyn Apartment, Steve Rogers is a man out of time. Since escaping his fate as a Capsicle, Rogers no longer recognises the world he used to know and I loved watching the character have to adapt to modern times. Heavily wrapped in the cliche of ‘things were better in my day’ Cap must adjust to life in the 21st Century and ‘The Winter Soldier’ quickly becomes a character-defining arc that highlights just how strongly needed his mentality is in the modern world.
Expertly balanced, the past is integrated with the future perfectly and the book immediately grabbed my attention as it bounced between time periods showcasing how moments from the past had massive impacts on the present. It’s beautifully told and watching Cap’s relationship develop with Bucky over the course of their campaigns in the Second World War is a character defining. As S.H.I.E.L.D. Tightened the net on the killer I found myself desperately turning page after page to see the conclusion, even though I knew it’s outcome in advance. This is no easy feat for a writer and it cements how brilliant Brubaker is when he still manages to keep surprises around every corner.
When Cap’s old allies begin being murdered and having their graves desecrated, it becomes clear that the vendetta against him is a personal one. Traveling back to Germany he uncovers elements from his past and realises that there has been a skeleton in his closest haunting him all along. Of course, those up to speed on the MCU will already know who it is but it’s hard not to give credit to just how innovative the plot point of a returning sidekick still is. Winter Soldier went onto inspire The Red Hood in Batman and it does still feel like a breath of fresh air, even with hindsight.
The true conflict comes not from the twist itself but from Cap knowing that his old friend is now an enemy and this is why the book still holds up many years later. His sheer disbelief that one of his most trusted allies is now working with the enemy torments him on every level and it’s a breathtaking study on the duplicity of personality and how betrayal hurts more than any physical harm ever could. It’s a touching debate on whether someone is dangerous because of their abilities or if it’s how their abilities are used by others that makes them dangerous. This ‘gun or the man behind the trigger’ back and forth debate between the characters really adds a thought-provoking aspect to the narrative and it can easily be applied to other aspects of life.
One of the stand out sections of the story is when we discover exactly what the Russian did to Bucky during the Cold War. Written like a lab report it’s a fascinating way of filling in the blanks of the character’s history without it feeling too forced. It adds weight to the experimentations that befell him and feels infinitely more adult and grounded than it would have if presented merely as flashbacks.
It perfectly paints out why Bucky has become the villain he is and we are instantly on Cap’s side when he states that he wants to ‘save him.’ It’s beautifully complex on the surface but at its heart, The Winter Soldier is simply a story about friendship and leaving no man behind. This is the best kind of storyline to give to a character like Captain America and those who aren’t even fans of him will find a lot to like.
Seeing the two old friends go head to head in the Climax is really heart pounding and the book manages to deliver on its setup in expert fashion. Whilst not every question is given answers, the mystery and intrigue left at the end of The Winter Soldier doesn’t disappoint due to the nature of the work.
This is supposed to leave us wanting more and the book certainly achieves that.
The Winter Soldier deserves its stellar reputation. Standing as one of the best Captain America books ever created, this tragic tale is packed with action, drama and a soul that all readers will be able to relate.
Expertly resurrecting an old character, the story revitalised the Marvel Universe upon its release and still continues to feel fresh and invigorating.
Whilst it isn’t perfect this should still be considered essential reading and that’s why it gets a…