Review by Frank Plowright
Ed Brubaker’s opening shot when taking over the writing of Captain America was to revive the long dead Bucky Barnes, Cap’s teenage World War II partner. This was achieved in credible fashion, and Barnes became a viable character in his own right as Winter Soldier, his previous background more believably explained than in the 1940s stories.
There he was just a teenager who discovered Captain America’s civilian identity and blackmailed him into being able to come along on Nazi-bashing escapades. The 21st century revision recast him as a naturally gifted military sanctioned sniper who carried out the dirty work while Captain America, wrapped in the flag, was sold to the public in patriotic news reels. We now drift back to the 1940s to have the biography of James Buchanan Barnes fleshed out.
Orphaned pre-teens, Barnes’ home remains the military base at which his father served, wheeler-dealing with his temper frequently getting the better of him. His facility for hand to hand combat, though doesn’t go unnoticed and aged sixteen he’s trained in the UK by the SAS.
We see Barnes’ progression in a story that skilfully recasts his original 1940s material as staged promotional fodder faked by actors, while his real, and often unpalatable, activities remained under wraps. There’s a chapter with the Invaders, an early discovery of a concentration camp and one set in the 1950s where Barnes is the Winter Soldier, emphatically under Soviet control and developing his relationship with the Black Widow.
Everything is illustrated by the versatile Chris Samnee, adapting his style so the pages resemble those illustrated by Michael Lark and set in World War II during the Captain America material that returned Barnes. Brubaker and co-writer Marc Andreyko convey the fun they’re having, but with little in the way of mystery and tension this lacks the depth of Brubaker’s best Captain America material. The only chapter that really overcomes this is the final one, with a ghastly moral dilemma and a touching reunion, and Samnee able to work in a style closer to his own.
So, a lot of fun, but not essential. There’s more Captain America and Bucky in Old Wounds, and both books are gathered in the oversize Captain America: Return of the Winter Soldier Omnibus.