For our article this week we are going to jump down the Winter Soldier rabbit hole and retell a bit of his story. We recognize that you already know much of his story, but there’s still some fun revelations to play with that can only be found in the comics. Hence, with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier coming to Disney+ later this year, we thought we’d take that plunge and see what new pieces of his story we might be able to bring to light for you, as well as giving you the specific comic issues where some of his more pertinent moments transpired.
For now, we are just going to focus on Bucky Barnes’ time as Captain America’s sidekick, see how it was revealed he was actually Cap’s teammate and then dive head first into his time as Winter Soldier. We recognize that yes, at one time, Bucky, a.k.a. The Winter Soldier picked up Cap’s shield to bear that mantle himself, however, his time as Captain America will be an article written in the very near future.
For now, let’s hope this Winter Soldier goodness sate your comics palette.
And now, onwards down the rabbit hole!
FROM BUCKY TO WINTER SOLDIER
Bucky premiered in Captain America Comics #1 cover-dated for 1941. However, he was less an effective warrior and mostly portrayed as a plucky teen sidekick mesmerized by our Sentinel of Liberty, Steve Rogers. That’s not true for every frame — certainly he had his moments —
However, most times it was —
Thankfully, in 2005 writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting brought us the then-new Captain America (vol.5) which did the impossible by resurrecting Captain America’s dead sidekick, Bucky, as the Winter Soldier. This was in a storyline named “Out of Time.”
Again, like above, if you’re reading this, it’s so tremendously probable that you already know the story; however, for those of you who don’t know — a Russian general gone rogue, Aleksander Lukin, used a Cold War assassin — the Winter Soldier — to assassinate the Red Skull and steal the Cosmic Cube. This assassin’s true identity was never known; in fact, his existence during the entirety of the Cold War was more of a myth than a reality. The Russians had kept him in a cryogenic chamber, only ever releasing him for the biggest, most important missions. But then General Lukin, going off on his own, stole the Winter Soldier and started using him to meet his own ends, which then exposed him to S.H.I.E.L.D. and Cap for them to uncover who he truly was.
Finally, in Captain America (Vol.5) #6, we find out that Bucky had been discovered by a Russian sub soon after his death at the hands of Baron Zemo. They had recovered his body, replaced his severed arm with a cybernetic one and had, in the style of The Manchurian Candidate, brainwashed him to be a comrade to Mother Russia, turning one of America’s best soldiers against them.
This new revelation of who Bucky is, how he didn’t die as Captain America thought, is what’s known as a retcon, or retroactive continuity, a term first coined by writer E. Frank Tupper discussing the flow of history as “fundamentally from the future into the past.”
It’s probable that if you’re choosing to read this article than you are already aware of what a retcon is; however, for those of you who may not know, Dictionary.com defines it as, “noun: a subsequent revision of an established story in film, TV, video games or comics,” or “verb: to later revise an established element of a fictional story.”
A common example often cited is Sherlock Holmes’s death at Reichenbach Falls — however, fans were supes pissed at that, so Sir Arthur Conan Doyle later retconned this death to say that his death had been staged the entire time and he was, in fact, still alive.
But, like, that’s a whole other essay… for now, just know that Brubaker and Epting’s creation of the Winter Soldier from the dead bones of Bucky is a retcon. In fact, if you want to get technical, the Winter Soldier is a retcon of a retcon!
How is that true?
In 1964, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby retconned Bucky’s death in Avengers #4, a now iconic issue that sees Captain America freed from the ice that has kept him alive, but frozen, since WWII. What exactly is the retcon here? Bucky’s death. In the original Golden Age comics, Bucky didn’t die; rather, the comics continued into the 1950’s and then just … stopped. However, needing some pathos for Captain America as well as an explanation of where Bucky has been, Stan Lee rewrote that story to see Bucky dying at the hands of a Baron Zemo by heroically sacrificing himself to keep a drone plane from exploding.
Though, to be fair, the villain was not revealed to be Baron Zemo until later issues. The earliest reference I can find for this is in Avengers #6 when Cap and the Avengers go up against Baron Zemo and his Masters of Evil — but I could be wrong on that account.
You can read a lot of those early Avengers issues HERE.
All throughout those early Avengers and Captain America stories, we see a very sad Captain America who carries the full weight of his best friend’s death and cannot get over the guilt of it, so he uses that to push him harder in battle so as to never repeat that mistake; none of his other partners will ever die so long as he is alive: he will always come through.
CAPTAIN AMERICA AND BUCKY: THE LIFE STORY OF BUCKY BARNES
So now, with the revelation of a new hero and history in James Buchanan “The Winter Soldier” Barnes, Marvel writers and artists were able to revisit those Golden Age tales in WWII and start rewriting them a bit. This is where we get some of the best Bucky & Cap stories from Ed Brubaker, Marc Andreyko and Chris Samnee. In Captain America and Bucky, numbered from #620 – #628, we get a new telling — again, a bit of a retcon — of how Captain America and Bucky Barnes came to be.
He’s more than just a plucky sidekick here, we see him —
Some of this ends up being a narrative re-treading of the Brubaker’s original storylines in his initial Winter Soldier arc, but he adds to them and expands them even further. For instance, in the initial Winter Soldier arc, we discovered the truth behind how Bucky had been trained since the age of 12 to be a great sidekick for Captain America because, as much as the American flag is a powerful symbol, so to is an American teenager fighting in the war.
If you’re looking for some good old fashioned Captain America and Bucky stories, read this. You can find the collected stories HERE.
WINTER SOLDIER: THE BITTER MARCH
In 2014, writer Rick Remender and artist Roland Boschi gave us a flashback to 1966, the middle of the Cold War, where S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents Nick Fury and Ran Shen are put on a mission to recover or eliminate two Nazi scientists before Hydra can get to them. However, little do they know that the Russian super soldier, the Winter Soldier, is also on the case.
— SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING —
Winter Solider is an absolutely unstoppable pain in the ass for S.H.I.E.L.D., his actions causing Ran Shen and Nick Fury to be separated. Winter Soldier is on Ran Shen’s tail for most of the story, until a Hydra villain named Lord Drain — whose superpower is to read your mind, know your greatest weakness and then turn it against you — he’s basically the human embodiment of Suicidal Depression — breaks the Winter Soldier free of his brain-washing, allowing Bucky’s memories to return. He makes a deal with Agent Ran Shen that would allow him to return to America, but then Nick Fury shows back up and blows up Bucky and the Nazi scientist, allowing the Russians to recover Winter Soldier and deciding, then and there, that they should put him in to deep hibernation between missions so that him going rogue like that would never happen again.
If you want to read this book, you can find it HERE.
WINTER SOLDIER: THE LONGEST WINTER
Once more from the typewriter of Ed Brubaker, but this time with the pencil of artist Butch Guice, we get our very first stand alone story featuring Cap’s old sidekick Bucky, now known as the Winter Soldier. In this storyline, Bucky and Natalia Romanov, a.k.a. Black Widow, discover that an old enemy of SHIELD has recently resurfaced and, with the help of the Russian scientist named Red Ghost, stolen three other operatives that were programmed and trained in a way similar to what Bucky went through. Since Bucky was the best operative the Russians ever had, it had been he who trained the three operatives and he knew just how dangerous they were. As such, if someone is able to steal them, then they must be a huge threat and be up to nothing good. As it turns out, their plans are to steal Doctor Doom’s secret nuclear arsenal and decimate the United States.
You absolutely want to read this and here’s why — let me just show you this panel —
Yes. That is a giant gorilla with a giant machine gun shooting at Winter Soldier and Black Widow. Just wait until you get to the jet packs.
This story is filled with all the super spy sleuthing, brutal secret assassin and military action we’ve come to expect from the Winter Soldier, so if you’re looking for that, this is exactly the place to start.
You can buy your own copy HERE.
This article was originally published 4/3/20