Review by Frank Plowright
Spoilers in review
Throughout the Marvel Age from the early 1960s characters have come and gone. Many have died, only to return later under improbable circumstances. As far as the veil beyond is concerned there have been two permanent inhabitants never to be returned. The first is Spider-Man’s one time girlfriend Gwen Stacy, and the other is Captain America’s World War II teenage sidekick Bucky Barnes. So, what better way for a new writer to stamp a statement than by upsetting the status quo?
Whatever the faith people might have had in Ed Brubaker’s writing talents, the precedents for the return of dead icons weren’t beacons of quality for the most part. It’s pleasing therefore that Winter Soldier works. Brubaker constructs a feasible scenario, at least in superhero comics terms, as to how Bucky Barnes joins his one-time mentor in surviving the decades without having aged considerably, setting him up as a credible menace, then ally. Along the way he takes a well-considered look at the naïve idea of the teenage sidekick, an awkward 1940s marketing device to give younger readers a character to identify with in the days when comics weren’t supposed to be based in a real world. The World War II Bucky becomes a more forceful, proactive and self-reliant character, with a continuity implant revealing him as a crack shot from distance. His motivations for accompanying Captain America were less to do with hero worship and more about having the right shooter in the right place.
This, though is revealed in drips and drabs and a rather surprise death apart, the opening chapters are very low key, with the action really escalating from the midway point when Captain America realises who he’s dealing with. Brubaker supplies all the gut-wrenching emotion this entails without dipping into maudlin sentimentality. He’s also to be commended for not discarding Barnes immediately after a final confrontation, which would have cheapened the entire story.
Most of the plaudits for the 2005-2012 Captain America run have fallen at Brubaker’s feet, yet pencil artist Steve Epting made a major contribution over the first four years. Brubaker’s complex spy story plots would have crumbled under an artist with lesser talents. Epting’s progress from the artist first seen at Marvel to the person pencilling these issues has been astounding. There’s a subtlety and humanity to his pages.
A wise editorial decision to supply Epting with more time resulted in Michael Lark illustrating sequences set in World War II. Lark’s viewpoints are always distant, echoing the period, and both he and Epting benefit immensely from the sympathetic colouring of Frank D’Armata.