For decades, there were three untouchable deaths in the Marvel Universe: Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben, Captain Mar-Vell of the Kree, and Captain America’s original partner, Bucky Barnes.
Uncle Ben, of course, died to provide Peter Parker’s reason for becoming Spider-Man. Mar-Vell died of cancer, in an acclaimed graphic novel that changed the rules for graphic novels. Bucky Barnes died during a missile explosion that also tossed Captain America in the Arctic and left him frozen on ice for decades.
Ed Brubaker and several very talented artists–primarily Steve Epting and Michael Lark–blew up the status quo with current run of Captain America stories.
First, they resurrected Bucky Barnes and gave him a new identity as the Winter Soldier, a brainwashed assassin of the old Soviet Union.
Then they killed off Captain America, Steve Rogers, a twist that brought a huge flurry of media attention to Marvel Comics. The issues are collected in the Captain America Omnibus Volume 1. Though the media mostly reported that Rogers was gunned down by a sniper, he was actually killed by his brainwashed lover, SHIELD Agent Sharon Carter.
Or was he?
Death and resurrection being what it is for superheroes, few long-time readers expected Steve Rogers to stay dead. Yet it also became clear by killing off the main character, the creative team had reinvigorated interest in the book.
Enter Bucky Barnes aka Winter Soldier aka the new Captain America.
For the last two years, Bucky has been taking steps to recover his long-lost self from Soviet brainwashing and to become worthy of assuming his mentor’s identity. So far, Bucky’s earned acceptance by the current Avengers team (well, one of them), reconnected with an old teammate, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and began a relationship with the Black Widow.
In a continuing subplot, the rest of the grieving supporting cast did whatever they could to avenge Rogers’ murder, particularly Sharon Carter, once she realized what she’d been forced to do.
All the while facing the requisite super villains, including the Red Skull, the man ultimately responsible for Rogers’ demise.
And now, after over two years of being mostly dead, Rogers is back. His return will play out in the Captain America: Reborn series, which began last month. Issue #2 is on the stands now.
And my feelings are officially mixed.
Steve Rogers is one of my favorite characters. I’m thrilled that he’s back. The concept behind his return seems sound, at least by comic book logic. His mind/consciousness is literally lost in time, as his true self is now stuck in the body of his past World War II self. How to get him out of the past and into a new body remains uncertain, though Brubaker has promised that his return will not be easy.
But the last two years of stories about Bucky have been excellent, taking the idea of a man who’s seeking redemption and combining that with a man who’s also far out of his time, who has only bits and pieces of his memories since World War II.
Carter’s also played a strong part, rising above the brainwashing to be the one who personally took out the Red Skull while Bucky foiled the mastermind’s plans.
Brubaker’s strength is not in fight sequences, though the artwork shines wonderfully in those, but in creating relationships between the characters, both true friendships–as between the Falcon and Sharon Carter–and twisted relationships, like the one between the Skull’s daughter, Sin, and the murderous Crossbones.
So far, the only false note for me has been the romantic relationship between Bucky and the Black Widow. It feels as if their history was grafted together to give the new Captain America a romantic interest rather than any organic connection between the Widow and Bucky. It makes sense they would know each other from their time spent serving the Soviets, but the intensity of the pairing seems overdone.
So, yes, despite my fears that the return of Steve Rogers will push Bucky to the background, I’ll keep reading, trusting in Brubaker, as he’s not let me down on this book yet.
And it would be great to see Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes finally both alive and reunited.