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 #4-7, 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?
Steve is plagued by fake memories of the death of his young sidekick, Bucky Barnes. A mysterious assassin is on the prowl, having already eliminated Red Skull, and Jack Monroe. The mystery is afoot.
We learn some background information about Jack Monroe via a briefing. This is a great exposition tool as it keeps you in the story. As the reader, we know that Jack is dead and is being framed, however, S.H.I.E.L.D are in the dark which creates a layer of dramatic irony. It keeps the reader feeling as though they are ahead of the story, even though we still don’t really understand what is happening.
Cap visits the gravestones of two other men, William Naslund and Jeff Mace, both of whom were at one point, Captain America. Their graves have been vandalised, which tells us that whoever is perpetrating these crimes is someone intimately connected to the figure of Captain America. The involvement of these men was not widely known. It is blindingly clear by now that whatever is happening is focused on Steve, as he is being targeted from all sides. First his enemies, i.e., Red Skull, and now his allies. Although I don’t think Steve ever met these men in person, they share the bond of being Captain America.
Crossbones attacks Steve, but this fight is interspersed with Steve’s flashbacks of Bucky being tortures in WWII. As Steve struggles to stay in the present, it is fair to say that Crossbones is thrashing him. So much so that Crossbones leaves him because the fight was just too easy.
The image of Steve on his knees in the middle of the road, his shield laying in front of him is very poignant. He looks broken. What is significant about this moment is that although he’s just taken a beating he’s not just physically broken, but mentally broken by the ghost of Bucky. I love how small he looks, especially as we’re used to seeing him as a physically large character.
Meanwhile, the plot thickens as Sharon finds Jack’s body, exposing him as a victim rather than a perpetrator. This run was the first time I came across Jack Monroe, but the way his story is framed by Brubaker considering this discovery is significant. Although Jack had his demons, he was always trying to do the right thing. He has always been a victim, rather than the perpetrator of intentional pain. Even in death, he struggled to break free from the misconceptions of his ‘villainy’.
Unluckily for Sharon, she also comes across our mystery man who knocks her unconscious. I rarely have such differing opinions of a character between the source material and the adaptation. However, I have to take a moment to say that the comic book iterations of Sharon are so lacklustre. They always seem to revolve around her relationship with Steve, whether they’re together or not or needing to be saved. I just wish we’d leave the damsel in distress trope in the 1940s. Sharon should be a strong, capable, character in her own right but I never see her presented that way, and it’s extremely frustrating.
Moving on to the following issue our cast is beginning to make the connection between the strange goings-on and Lukin’s Kronas Corporation. The name is familiar to Steve and we’re catapulted into Storytime with Steve Rogers as he takes us back to WWII Russia. The name is taken from a small Russian village that essentially ends up decimated after a run-in between HYDRA and our heroes.
This is a brilliant opportunity to see Bucky in action and I love it. It has echoes of golden age stories, but which an edge of darkness familiar to today’s readers. Bucky’s learnt Russian, which, shows his intelligence. It’s also clear that he is a highly trained operative. The MCU has shown us that Bucky’s a dab hand with a gun, but this sequence shows us so much more about his part in the war effort. Steve is a symbol, and that’s great, but Bucky is so much more than just a symbol. He is capable, efficient, and he can get his hands dirty. He’s a killer.
I think that is says a lot that Steve, the representation of America, is unable to get his hands dirty. But he has someone who can, and will, do it for him. I’ve always said that Steve doesn’t represent America, but represents and ideal of America. So how does this fit into that? Well, it could suggest that America will always need someone to do its dirty work. Or it could be saying that while Steve represents the ideal, Bucky represents the reality.
During this time the Invaders—Steve, Bucky, the Human Torch, Toro, and Namor—were working with Karpov against HYDRA. Unfortunately, the destruction of this pocket of HYDRA comes with the destruction of Karpov’s village. By this point we, the readers, know that Karpov is a villain, but you can’t help but sympathise with him at this moment.
“You do not understand.. you cannot. You and the German, you have your super-soldiers… your secret weapons… but we Russians… we have nothing but out winter.”-Karpov
This really hits hope that while our heroes battle for the “greater good” a lot of innocent people are suffering here and now. Karpov perfectly encapsulates that sense of desperation. Yes, HYDRA are no longer in their village but they also no longer have a village. They’ve lost everything. In 2021 we can look back at 1930s Germany and ask ourselves ‘how could that possibly happen’ and assure ourselves that it would never happen again. But it’s easy to forget that when you’re hungry and someone offers you food, or when your poor and someone offers you work, you’re not usually in a position to turn that down. From Steve’s perspective, this story is a triumph, but from Karpov’s perspective, this is his origin story.
The mention of winter not only hammers home the desperation of being cold, hungry, and subject to the harshness of nature. It also reminds us of the Winter Soldier. In this sense it also has a prophetic meaning as Karpov will come to ‘own’ his own cold, unrelenting, controllable winter in the form of the Winter Soldier
The issue wraps up with the reveal that Fury has known about the Winter Soldier and has a whole file on him. But he’s keeping that information from Steve.
In case you couldn’t tell I love #5. I think it does a really great job of tying the past and present together, which is a big theme in the run overall. It drip feeds you information while also leaving you with the big question: who is the Winter Soldier. For me, this is a standout issue in the run.
Issue #6 wraps up this leg of the Winter Soldier arc, by eventually revealing the identity of the Winter Soldier.
Steve returns to where he and Bucky ‘died’ in 1942 to separate nightmare from memory. This confusion plaguing him is fascinating as he is paralleling Bucky’s Winter Soldier story without realising it. He blames his confusion on the cosmic cube, or as you may know it the tesseract. It’s not the most convincing argument but I will accept it. I find his problems with his memory fascinating, but the ultimate explanation lacks something. It feels like the author when down the memory route because it would be interesting, both for Steve and his relationship with Bucky. However, the explanation doesn’t feel well-plotted.
We learn that Steve was forced to watch as his pal, his buddy, his Bucky was tortured on the orders of Baron Zemo. This ties back to Steve’s helplessness both before the serum, which we don’t see, but is something I associate with his character because of the MCU and Captain America: The First Avenger. It also reminds me of that panel from #4 after his fight with Crossbones.
In an attempt to escape and diffuse a bomb Bucky becomes attached to it as it flies away and is supposedly killed in a mid-air explosion. This was a clever way of depicting this because it seems entirely plausible that plunging into the sea below could have saved him. It’s also notable that it is the left arm that is stuck, which is the arm he loses and gains a snazzy metal replacement. I always appreciate seeing details like these on the page.
After recapping Steve’s real memory of Bucky’s death, he returns to the US in time to rescue our damsel in distress, Sharon. But wait, Sharon isn’t just a damsel in distress, she’s also there to drop the bombshell that Bucky is the Winter Soldier.
It’s always hard to compare these books to the MCU adaptation, and it’s important to remember that they are very different stories. However, I do think that the MCU does have an edge in this case. Steve recognising Bucky for the first time hits a lot harder than Sharon telling him. On the other hand, it is interesting that as she tells him we shift our perspective to see the Winter Soldier, to see Bucky’s face for the first time. He is in a position to kill both, but Lukin tells him to hold off. Not only does this show that the Winter Soldier is in an excellent tactical position, but also that he is not pulling the strings. The issue ends with an explosion, and we see Lukin smugly handling the cosmic cube.
I promised you we would talk about #4-7, so here’s a quick word about #7. #7 is not quite part of the main arc, it’s titled Interlude: The Lonesome Death of Jack Monroe. If there are Jack Monroe fans out there, then I guess this is for them. It does give you some background and asks you to sympathise with the character. For me, it doesn’t come at the right time. For the reader, Jack Monroe has been dead for three issues already. Plus, we’ve just had the Bucky bombshell so sue me if I’ve lost interest in Monroe.
The takeaway from this is that he tried to be a good person and fought till the very end. It links with the themes of identity and memory that’s explored in the main story. I like that it almost explores the trope of the dark double.
“My crazy double growing in my brain.”– Jack Monroe
The dark double is a gothic trope which I very much enjoy and spoke about in my review for Batman: Sins of the Father. It’s hinted to a lot in this series, something you can see through not only Jack’s character but also Steve and Bucky. I think if this had come between issues 3 and 4 I would have enjoyed it more. It was just a little ill-timed, though it is worth the read.
And there you have it, issues #4-7 of this run. I hope you enjoyed taking a look at the very beginning of The Winter Soldier storyline.
In other news, my Comic Corner schedule currently has some spaces, so if there is something particular you would like to see then do let me know!
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is available in two formats. The first is the Ultimate Collection (Comixology), or in the first of two volumes as The Winter Soldier, vol.1 (Comixology, Forbidden Planet). Don’t forget you can also check with your local comic book store or even your library.
Coming Soon…So you want to read a Batman book…