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Review: Winter Soldier #1

Written by Royal Nonesuch on Saturday, February 04 2012 and posted in Reviews

The secret adventures of the erstwhile Bucky Barnes start here!

Comic Review Cover

Credits & Solicit Info:

Steve Rogers most trusted partner and a former Captain America, Bucky Barnes, must tackle his greatest challenge yet as WINTER SOLDIER #1 hits store shelves everywhere this February! After going toe to toe with the Nazis and being assumed dead for decades, Bucky Barnes went through hell and back as the Soviet Union rebuilt his war torn body into their own one man army known to all as The Winter Soldier. But what if he wasn't the only one?
From the blockbuster creative team behind CAPTAIN AMERICA, Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice send Bucky back into the shadows to take down the remaining ex-Russian sleeper agents and dismantle their diabolical plot. Teamed with the Black Widow, the former Captain America will have his hands full when he finds out that he trained them all and that Doctor Doom is involved! With the entire Marvel Universe thinking he's dead, Bucky will have to tackle this threat head on with limited resources. Get in on all the action this February in WINTER SOLDIER #1!
Written by ED BRUBAKER
Pencils by BUTCH GUICE
FOC – 1/9/11, ON SALE – 2/1/11


He's been around for years, but the presence of Bucky Barnes in the modern Marvel Universe is still pretty remarkable.  Way back in 2004, when Ed Brubaker picked up the Captain America title and in short order resurrected Bucky, thus upsetting one of the longest-standing apple carts in Marvel history, it certainly raised some eyebrows.  Resurrection is an all-too-common ocurrence in comics, and the big truism at Marvel was that you just don't bring babk Bucky (or Peter Parker's Uncle Ben).  What made Brubaker's plan so distinctive and worthy of execution was this: he had a plan. 

Brubaker has been playing the long game with Bucky.  He thought far beyond the initial shock that readers would feel when they saw the guy alive and well.  Brubaker created a back story for the character, an explanation that works for why he's alive, where he's been, and what his place in the world is.  In essence, Ed Brubaker just about re-created Bucky Barnes whole cloth.  His work with the character is one of the most successful – and most important – instances of creating and writing characters and concepts in the shared universe model utilized by Marvel (and DC). 

Brubaker's long-term planning with Bucky has marched inexorably for several years worth of stories in Captain America, and now the man with the metal arm finally gets his own series.  The Winter Soldier #1 represents the next chapter in Bucky's story and it draws on everything we know about his life.  We learned years ago that Bucky was actually discovered at the moment of his death by the Soviets near the end of World War II and recovered and brainwashed to unquestioningly carry out black ops missions for the Soviet Union througout the Cold War.  In Winter Soldier #1, Bucky, whom the world once again thinks is dead after the events of the recently-concluded Fear Itself event, is tasked with recovering three other former operatives who went through the same conditioning that he was subjected to.  Joining him on his covert mission is Black Widow, who has her own history with the former Soviet Union and their brainwashing. 

Brubaker gets to really cut loose on Winter Soldier #1 with some of the types of storytelling impulses he's displayed with this character in the past.  He brought a real penchant for edgy, espionage-fueled thrillers to Marvel, and he gets to indulge himself full force on this book.  He uses all the fun trappings of the spy genre in this issue – secret identities, undercover missions, high-tech gadgets, etc. – to give us an action-packed yet frankly emotional tale that chugs forward and packs a lot of action, along with some really compelling page designs by penciller Butch Guice.  The veteran comics artist has always been a solid storyteller, but Winter Soldier #1 represents some of the best work of his career in a single issue.  His scratchy artwork takes on aspects of 1960's pop art in his figure drawing, and his design aesthetic incorporates the theory of fragmented decoupage film editing.  Moments of action are often foregrounded by a close of that same action, creating a type of visually synecdochical relationship between panels.  Guice approaches the story with a great flair for visual design, and Bettie Breitweiser complements him every step of the way with a truly ecocative color palette that highlights the emotion and texture of each scene.  Winter Soldier #1 is visually striking and an absolute pleasure to look at. 

Another writing trait Ed Brubaker displays with great proficiency in all of his work-for-hire projects is the way he can integrate his own storytelling tendencies with the larger shared superhero universe he's working in.  The issue feels like a straight-ahead international spy story, but by the end, it makes no bones about where it's taking place.  It's rooted right in the Marvel Universe, as exemplified by the revelation that two forgotten, C-list villains are the mastermind behind the central conflict. 

Brubaker's story is packed with action and intrigue extrapolated from Cold War politics, and which gives some measure of insight into the character of Bucky Barnes.  Emotionally, there isn't much new to be discovered about the title character, but the story he's embroiled in is a compelling one.  It's the type of mission Bucky would take on: personal to him, but also a job that needs to be done.  He's a great undercover operative and tactician, and under Brubaker's pen, he's a guy who's a lot of fun to read about.   

Winter Soldier #1 does serve as a good first step in establishing Bucky as his own man, not just some guy stuck to Captain America's hip.  He may have been brainwashed at the time, but he did live for decades without Cap, he's certainly more than able to do so again now that he's mostly on his own (having Black Widow around as emotional support as well as a partner in ass-kicking helps too).  He fits into the overall Captain America story schema, but he is his own man.

Review by: Royal Nonesuch

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About the Author - Royal Nonesuch

As Senior Media Correspondent (which may be a made-up title), Royal Nonesuch tends to spearhead a lot of film and television content on The Outhouse. He's still a very active participant in the comic book section of the site, though. Nonesuch writes reviews of film, television, and comics, and conducts interviews for the site as well.  You can reach out to him on Twitter or with Email.


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