Winter Soldier has arrived, and it captures the same magic present when Ed Brubaker began his acclaimed Captain America run. Brubaker and artist Butch Guice expertly pull off an espionage thriller set within a world populated by superheroes and supervillains. It’s tense and grounded. But it has a gorilla with a .50 caliber machine gun. Does this review even need to continue?
I haven’t quite enjoyed the latest relaunch of Captain America as much as I did the previous installment. It seems to now lean more toward standard superhero action, leaving me wondering where the elements of espionage and political intrigue had gone. I’ve found it. It’s all packed into Winter Soldier. This book reads more like a continuation of Brubaker’s original Captain America volume than the current Captain America title does. It may lack Steve Rogers, but readers will find more familiar story threads and atmosphere here.
While it is a shame that Black Widow isn’t able to have her own series -- at least, until Marvel lets Greg Rucka do what we all know he wants to do -- I love that Natasha’s partnership with Bucky Barnes is allowed to continue without interference. Brubaker has stated that we shouldn’t expect her to appear in every single issue, but there is certainly the impression that she is going to play a very major role throughout this series. That is a good, because this is easily the next best thing to her having a book of her own. Brubaker does an excellent job of portraying her as an equal partner to the Winter Soldier rather than a sidekick, which is the fate many so-called “equal partners” tend to suffer. Natasha is shown to know what she is doing just as well as Bucky and sometimes even knows better than he does.
One of the things I loved about the Gulag story arc in Captain America just before Fear Itself carries over into this series. Brubaker finds ways to take obscure Russian characters, even the ones who seem especially ridiculous at first glance, and makes them almost immediately compelling. There is just something about how he portrays them that strips them of their old Communist-era campiness and transforms them into genuinely threatening individuals. He managed this in the Gulag story with the likes of a former Crimson Dynamo and even the Unicorn. He does it here with the Red Ghost, a villain I have never been able to taken even remotely serious until now. I’m dying to see more of all these characters. It’s like Brubaker has shed a new light on Russia and its history of Soviet experiments to create superhumans. This is definitely fertile territory for stories, and Winter Soldier is begging for an appearance from the Winter Guard now. Yeah, the Winter Guard. I want a Winter Guard appearance. These are words I never thought I would say.
Guice’s art really falls in line perfectly with Brubaker’s story, and this is probably the best art I have seen from him so far. His facial expressions are particularly top notch. If anything, it’s the coloring that I am not entirely happy with, though even then the coloring isn’t bad at all. The colors in general are just very light and muted, and there are scenes that I kind of wish would have had more strong and dynamic colors.
My only problem with this issue is an extremely minor one and really has no impact on this story in particular. It’s so minor that it is barely noticeable, but there is a moment where we see that Bucky’s cybernetic arm still has the function to disguise itself as a flesh and blood limb. I’m sorry, but this is lame. It can’t lead to anything good. Writers in general need to understand that holograms need to be used extremely sparingly in stories, because in the realm of science fiction, they are a contender for the cheapest and laziest of devices. Star Trek’s holodeck sucks. The X-Men’s Danger Room sucks. Image inducers are so terrible they should be outlawed from every appearing in a comic again. Writers use holograms to cheat at storytelling. Bucky’s ability to disguise his arm is a cheat. It hasn’t come up as a plot point yet, but it probably will. When it does, it will most likely suck. Because it is cheap to hand-wave away an obvious limitation of having a prosthetic limb like that. Truth be told, Marvel should work harder at respecting the difficult details of characters with prosthetics and other disabilities, especially in these backward days when DC has Barbara Gordon walking again. Again, this barely has anything to do with this issue, but I am dreading the day some writer actually uses this ability in a way that affects the story.
Winter Soldier is a perfect addition to the newly emerging Captain America franchise and the true successor to Brubaker’s first volume of Captain America. Anyone who enjoyed that should be down for this series. It has the same intelligence and style. Bucky’s hunt for the hidden Soviet sleeper agents is off to a great start, and I already think I may be looking at one of my favorite titles of the year.