Thursday, March 31, 2016

Why I Disliked the Winter Soldier But Love 'The Winter Soldier'

I have made very little secret, in the past, of my dislike for the comic book character of the Winter Soldier. I have always found him to be emblematic of a certain trend in superhero comics that I'm not fond of, a desperate need to pretend that the genre doesn't have its roots in juvenile fiction and a tendency to paper over everything that could be considered immature with the same overcompensatory obsession with violence, guns and ruthless brutality. Retconning Bucky into a Super Seekrit Black Ops Assassin always felt kind of pathetic to me, even before they transformed him into a Super Seekrit Black Ops Cyborg Soldier.

(Um, for those of you who don't know, according to Brubaker even before Bucky became the Winter Soldier, he was a ruthless assassin killing off Captain America's enemies from the shadows so that Cap could continue to be a star-spangled propaganda machine, and the whole "camp mascot, cute kid, bad puns" thing was a ruse to divert suspicion. Y'know, just the way that Jack Kirby intended.)

Actually, that's kind of the point. I feel like when you write for a shared universe, there's a certain responsibility to respect the work that came before you, and I feel like turning Bucky into a merciless shadow assassin for the US government because you think it's "uncool" that Captain America used to hang out with a teenage boy in short shorts. If you don't want to deal with that part of Captain America's history, that's fine. There are a lot of other things to do with Cap. But retconning it into something nasty and dark and mean always struck me as an unprofessional way to play in the big sandbox.

(And frankly, if you'll allow me a second parenthetical aside in three paragraphs, it felt emblematic of Brubaker's treatment of Cap's mythos in general. I was never the biggest fan of the Jack Monroe Nomad, but I thought the character had been well-written in the past and had potential for more stories, and turning him into a mentally unstable psychotic and then killing him off just to show everyone how badass the Winter Soldier was left a bad taste in my mouth. It was, again, disrespectful of the character's history.)

So with all that said, why am I not just okay with but enthusiastic about the Marvel Cinematic Universe Winter Soldier? Because it's not a retcon. They are not leapfrogging the character from Point A, pun-happy kid who has the dream job of being Captain America's sidekick, to Point Z, grim and merciless gun-toting cyborg who kills people because That's What Cool Heroes Do. They're telling the story of Cap's childhood friend, the guy who always looked after Cap and fought alongside him in wars small and large, who was turned into something terrible against his will and is trying to reclaim his humanity. That's not the story Kirby told, but it's also not a repudiation of it. I can take that Bucky Barnes and that Winter Soldier on their own merits, and enjoy them for what they are.

And in a month or so, I get to see the next installment of their story. I can't wait.


Jim S said...

I agree with everything you wrote. I also have other objections. First, why would the American public object to Captain America killing Axis soldiers? Every time I ask that question to someone who likes "Winter Soldier" the best answer I get is "because." In point of fact, during WWII, having someone like Cap infiltrate enemy lines by killing sentries would have been applauded.

2. Brubaker really hates Steve Rogers. He makes Bucky the real soldier and Steve some cardboard cutout who has to have Bucky do the real killing. What's worse, on his last issue, Brubaker revisits the "Bucky" as mascot trope by having Steve and Bucky watching a newsreel. Bucky complains about the "cover" story and Steve shrugs his shoulders and says,hey orders are order, what are you going to do? Talk about a character having no integrity. He basks in unearned glory and shoots down a reasonable complaint.

3. Bucky's returns makes no logical sense, even by comic book standards. Bucky is blown up and flash frozen? How? To be flash frozen you have to hit water well below freezing. I am talking about 50 or 60 degrees fahrenheit below zero. No way that water was that cold. (Freezing point of saltwater at its most saturated point is -21 degree centigrade).

4. Why would the Soviets, who are on a spy mission, risk exposure to recover what can only be presumed to be a dead body in a war zone? What's so special about Bucky?

5. Why would the Soviets not kill Bucky when the brainwashing wears off. They already had to expose sleeper agents to possible exposure to rescure Bucky from the police. If they have sleeper agents who can pass for American, why do they need Bucky? Also, Bucky's unique understanding of American culture gets more out of date every time he's put in the deepfreeze.

6. Why waste resources to keep an asset they can't use on ice. Why not just kill him, give his bionic arm to someone who can use it and be done with a failed experiment?

7. Jim Shooter asked this question as well. Don't the Soviets have agents who will obey orders and not have to be brainwashed. Why would the U.S. Army pick Bucky to be Steve's partner if he was such a Maverick? Couldn't they get a tough guy who would obey orders and had a history of working well with others?

8. If Bucky is just a very-well trained soldier (and that's all he is) why would the Soviets invest so much time in him? Really doesn't make sense.

By bringing back just about every character who Cap knew from WW2, Marvel is destroying a real aspect of Cap's character. A man who lost everything. Also, be original Marvel. WW2 was over more than 70 years ago. In 1961 Lee and Kirby weren't all "hey, let's bring this character from 1891 back." They got with the times and created heroes that reflected what was going on. The Cold War and the like.

Tony Laplume said...

I'm glad they retconned Civil War to be about Bucky. It makes the whole thing more personal, which is what a story that ended with Cap's "death" sort of had to be.

Dylan said...

I agree completely.

More to the point, Roy Thomas had already shown why Bucky was more than capable of being Cap's partner, during the 70's Invaders series. He might not have been as badass as Cap, Namor, or the Torch, but he was skilled, a good pilot, and not afraid to mix things up in a fight against even super-powered opponents. To say nothing of the leadership skill he displayed with organizing the Liberty Legion or the Kid Commandos.

Fred W. Hill said...

The notion that Captain America never killed anyone during World War II is asinine in the extreme. A "super soldier" meant to help the Allies win a war against the Axis Powers during WWII and yet who never kills enemy combatants under any circumstances in the midst of the bloodiest war in human history???? Not that I think Cap should be depicted as any sort of maniacal killing machine but the point is that Cap was supposed to be a soldier, an extraordinary type of soldier but still a soldier. And in a war against other soldiers who are not only killing your allies but also engaging in or supporting the mass slaughter of civilians even after the fighting has ended, a guy who gets into the fight and takes a stance that he doesn't kill anyone would not be respected but regarded as a laughing stock and very much resented by real soldiers who did not have any choice but to kill or be killed during the fighting. Sure, Cap would be respected if he strongly opposed the murder of enemy combatants who had genuinely surrendered or been shown saving German civilians who were a threat to no one from indiscriminate violence, but that's an entirely different matter from the stance that, "Cap never killed anyone. Well, except when he used his mighty shield to decapitate Baron Blood."