Captain America: The Winter Soldier was written by Ed Brubaker, with art by Steve Epting, and Michael Lark. The colours are by Frank D’Armata, and letters by Virtual Calligraphy’s Randy Gentile. This is part of a run that lasted from 2004-2011. Today we’re going to be looking at issues #1-3, which are readily available in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, vol.1, or Captain America: The Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection.
What do you need to have read?
This is the very start of Ed Brubaker’s run with Captain America, which means it is a great place to jump in. However, I do think that you will get more out of the story if you’re already familiar with Cap. You might want to read some of the golden age stuff, which is always fun and gives you the gist of the character, or maybe just watch Captain America: The First Avenger.
What do you need to know?
Not a whole lot, because the book fills in most of the background for you, and this is the start of a brand-new story. So, let’s just jump right in, shall we? As always you are more than welcome to hit me up with any queries or questions.
If you’re new here, then I must tell you two things before we begin. The first is that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is my favourite MCU film- and THE best MCU film. And the second is that I would die for James Buchannan Barnes. This means that, unsurprisingly, I have a lot to say about this run which is why I have split my posts.
Our story begins with what is essentially a prologue that takes place five years before the main events of the story. It involves Lukin selling some weapons to Red Skull. Bad guys being bad is standard fare. Already, you’ll notice that this is not the same as the MCU masterpiece, and that is perfectly fine. As Red Skull browses the shelves, we get our first look at the man we will come to know as the Winter Soldier in cryo. He is obscured so that we only really see the shape of a man. It is probably important to note that this is the first time that the Winter Soldier was introduced into the comics, so the readers would have been left in the dark as to who this person was. Can you imagine how exciting that must have been?
Regardless of who this mystery man is, he is being treated much the same as any other weapon. That is to say, he is being treated as a weapon, as an object to be used and put away for next time, not as a person. We learn that he was used during the Cold War as a secret weapon, which tracks with MCU lore, and Lukin puts the price of the Cosmic Cube (aka the Tesseract) on his head. Despite being intrigued the Red Skull refuses, claiming that he has his own malicious plans for the cube. Like I said, bad guys, doing bad things. No one is surprised by this.
We then move to the present day where Red Skull is monologing about his hatred for Cap, and about his evil plans.
Red Skull is an old school nemesis of Cap’s, featuring in the very first issue of Captain America in 1941. You’ll also know him for Captain America: The First Avenger. This longstanding animosity between them means that Red Skull knows exactly how to hit Steve the hardest. It is a type of intimacy between enemies that foreshadows Steve’s relationship with the Winter Soldier later in the book. I adore this detail because it introduces the idea that there is a similar sort of intimacy between lovers as there is between enemies. There is a sort of intensity needed to spark the flame of the emotions of love (whether romantic or platonic or something in between) and hate. You could even argue that love and hate are the strongest emotions. Whatever way you slice it, the point here is that love and hate, friend and foe, are relationships that are exceedingly complicated because of the depth of emotion involved. You can even see this visually by the way these two characters are overlayed against one another. It’s almost like the lines are blurred so that you can’t see where one ends and the other begins. Essentially relationships, like this one with lots of history, and intense emotion, are complicated. This is the crux of a lot of this story, so it is great to see it introduced and established so early Yes, that’s right, reader, we’re still talking about the first issue.
We see Steve and his ex-girlfriend Sharon Carter, quickly establish context to the plot. The important things to note are that the Red Skull escaped from his last encounter with Steve. We already know this because we’ve just seen him monologing to his heart’s content. But this has caused Steve to become more reckless and violent when involved in other conflicts. If you know the character, then you’ll know that this is unusual for him (mostly). Steve also admits to dreaming about his time in WWII, and more importantly about Bucky.
So, let me give you a brief summary of Bucky in the comics since it’s slightly different to the MCU. Captain America #620 is an excellent recap of Bucky’s version of events. Essentially, he was the Army camp’s mascot, who was then recruited to be Cap’s sidekick. Why is this important? Because, dear reader, the age disparity between them means that Steve and Bucky were never on equal footing. He was a kid. Steve was an adult. He idolised Steve before becoming his sidekick, which complicates their relationship a lot. You can imagine that when Bucky died, Steve felt a lot more responsible than in the MCU version. I could talk about this all day, but we still have a lot to get through, so let’s drag ourselves away from that can of worms for now.
The issue ends with Red Skull being killed by a mysterious assassin with a metal arm. Who could it be? It is a quick, clean, and efficient kill. I like that this pulls the rug out from beneath the reader, as Red Skull is such a traditional Cap villain. But, he’s not the villain of this story.
Before we move on to the second issue feel free to take a moment. Make a cup of tea. Grab a snack. I did warn you that I have a lot to say about these issues.
Steve is startled awake from a nightmare about Bucky’s death. The strange thing is it is not how he died. This happens several times, and we see many different deaths for Bucky, something which we will talk about in a little bit. For now, let’s just say that this is a great way to build that sense of history, and level of friendship between Steve and Bucky. Especially when you are unable to do it the traditional way, as Bucky died 60 odd years ago.
Steve joins the investigation into the Red Skull’s death. Upon surveying the scene he says:
“I was created because of him… in a way”
The use of the verb ‘created’ suggests that Steve has been shaped and moulded into Captain America. This is true physically, but perhaps not so much mentally. Steve always had a good heart, that’s why he was chosen, and maybe you can’t manufacture that through a serum. Which provides a lovely parallel with the Winter Soldier. Steve came first, which the decent version of the Super Soldier serum and the Winter Soldier followed. This is not the last parallel we’ll see between the two, so keep your eyes peeled.
Understandably Steve, the Red Skull’s biggest nemesis, is under suspicion, but Sharon comes to his defence.
“No matter what’s going on inside your head right now, you aren’t an assassin, and you ever would be”
This leads us to the question: Are assassins born or made? Of course, this leads us back to the Winter Soldier. Was Bucky born to be a killer, or was he made to be a killer? As someone that will go to the mat for him, obviously, I will argue for the latter till my last breath. Often in Cap stories, in comic book stories, there are bad guys who do bad things, and there are good guys who do good things. But what happens when a good guy is made to do bad things? What does that make him? Where does he fit? These are the questions that Brubaker is asking us to consider.
With the third issue (that’s right, we’re nearly done for the day) Steve struggles more with these fake memories of Bucky. Who else do we know who has problems with his memory? That’s right, this provides an interesting parallel to James ‘who-the-hell-is-Bucky’ Barnes. If you’re rereading or coming from a place of already knowing who the Winter Soldier is, then there is plenty of dramatic ironies here. Steve is worried that he can’t trust his own mind, which is exactly Bucky’s concern in the post-credit scene of Captain America: Civil War.
The memories unbalance Steve, and the fact that they are now plaguing him while he is awake shows a downhill progression in terms of his mental state. What is happening to our hero?
The issue ends with another assassination. Man, the Winter Soldier sure does get around. This time Jack Monroe is the unfortunate victim. As a kid, Jack Monroe idolised Bucky, and became ‘Bucky’ for a period in the 1950s comics, alongside a Cap called William Burnside. It’s a complicated history, and one I don’t really like. It isn’t wholly relevant to the main story, so you don’t need to know everything about this guy. We’ll get to the nitty-gritty with The Lonesome Death of Jack Monroe in #7. For now, all you need to know is that he was a mentally unstable Bucky Barnes at one point in time. Now he’s dead. Again, our assassin is quick, clean, efficient. This time our mysterious silhouetted assassin even puts the body in the trunk of a car and drives away with it. Don’t you just love a man who tidies up after himself?
And so, concludes the first three issues of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I’m super excited to finally be covering this run (or at least part of it), and I hope you’re excited to be reading about it.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is available in two formats. The first is the Ultimate Collection (Comixology, Forbidden Planet), or in the first of two volumes as The Winter Soldier, vol.1 (Comixology). Don’t forget you can also check with your local comic book store or even your library.
Coming Soon… Captain America: The Winter Soldier, #4-7.