JayJay recommended that I review this book because it’s been getting a lot of positive buzz online, much of it with regard to the allegedly well-portrayed romance at the core of the story.The Cover
The logo pops pretty well and is readable. It incorporates Captain America’s shield. “Captain America & Bucky” it says, which would lead one to figure that this book is about those two.
I’m familiar with a great deal of comic book material but not some of recent vintage. I don’t know who the male character pictured is. A Soviet, I guess, from the red star on his shoulder and the hammer and sickle in the background.
If I don’t know who the guy is no new reader would have a clue.
And the female character? How many non-comics readers know of Marvel’s Black Widow?
We comics-savvy types know that the female character is dressed like the Black Widow and has reddish hair. I’m not sure it’s her, though. She doesn’t look like the Black Widow I remember, facially or any other way. Doesn’t have the figure. And her head is too big.
Her girlish figure and proportionately large head cause me to suspect that maybe she’s supposed to be a young girl. A very young Black Widow, maybe?
But the drawing is pretty bad. Hard to tell whether the artist meant for the character to look young or it’s just bad draftsmanship. Look at her face and head. Distorted, poorly constructed. And extra cartoony compared to the rest of the image.
The Black Widow is Russian, so the hammer and sickle background makes sense, especially if this issue takes place when she was young.
I think a lot of people even some people like me, who know comics but aren’t up to date might think these two are the villains of the piece.
What we have here is another pin-up in a seemingly endless parade of pin-up covers. The male character looks sort of dangerous and menacing, which supports my villains-of-the-piece theory. I don’t know what to make of her. Her pose is strange. What’s she doing? And her expression…? What it’s meant to convey is unfathomable.
His upper arm overlaps hers in a bad way. His bulging muscles, colored, shaded and rendered similarly to her shoulder create a minor visual conundrum. Bad composition. Not disastrous. Just not good.
I would never pick up this comic book because the cover is bland, uninformative and not compelling. That would be a shame, because some nice art and some good words can be found inside.
The cover was by Ed McGuinness and Morry Hollowell.
The inside front cover says this:
“1941. ORPHANED AFTER THE LOSS OF HIS FATHER, JAMES “BUCKY” BARNES BECAME THE MASCOT AT FORT LEHIGH AND GAINED A REPUTATION AS A NOTORIOUS TROUBLEMAKER (my italics for emphasis). AS WORLD WAR II LOOMED, BARNES WAS SELECTED FOR A ONE-OF-A-KIND SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT WITH THE ARMY: TO BE THE NEW PARTNER FOR STEVE ROGERS, AKA CAPTAIN AMERICA. AFTER SURVIVING COUNTLESS HIGH-RISK OPERATIONS, BUCKY WAS ULTIMATELY LOST, PLUNGING INTO ARCTIC WATERS AND PRESUMED DEAD…
Who writes these intro pieces for both Marvel and DC? Does anyone edit them?
I write these blog posts fast. It’s all first draft, no editor. JayJay catches a few things, occasionally, but she’s no copy editor or proofreader. Ask her. I know misteaks creepe inn. But wouldn’t you think publishing houses with allegedly professional editors and proofreaders would see to it that intro copy for publication was on point and precise?
Is the assertion that Bucky was a troublemaker germane to this story? If not, editor Lauren Sankovitch, why is that tidbit mentioned? P.S. It doesn’t turn out to be germane, in my opinion.
Think about what is said in this intro. Bucky Barnes was a “notorious troublemaker.” So they reward him with a one-of-a-kind special assignment. Why would the U.S. Army select a troublemaker for an arguably important position? Were there no well-behaved, athletic, young orphans available?
As I recall, the original Bucky caught Steve Rogers changing to his Cap costume and more or less blackmailed Cap into letting him become Cap’s assistant. That, at least, makes some kind of sense in comic book logic, thank you, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
No splash. The story opens with a panel showing an urban street scene with 1940’s or early 1950’s American cars in evidence. Captain America comes crashing out of a window several floors up and makes it safely to the street. Gunmen in the room Cap abruptly left fire at him. Bullets bounce off Cap’s shield.
Astute readers who bothered to read the inside cover intro copy might realize that the captions are Bucky’s narration. Comics-savvy me figured that out. Some civilians might not get it.
Page two begins with a caption that says “1958.” Cap is running past a newsstand. The newsstand vendor pulls a gun, intent on shooting Cap. Cap notices him, attacks him, disarms him and sticks his own gun in the guy’s face. The vendor’s dialogue has angle brackets around it: “<No! Please don’t!>” A caption tell us that the vendor is speaking Russian, so even new readers or civilians, who might otherwise be puzzled by the angle brackets or ignore them have a fighting chance of grasping their purpose. Good.
Cap cold-bloodedly shoots the vendor.
Now that seems unusual.
It must be pointed out that we don’t actually see Cap’s shot ripping into the vendor, but the evidence is pretty convincing: Cap’s gun pressed against the guy’s face, Cap firing and the vendor lying on the street as Cap turns away. I believed it.
Then a car races towards Cap. Cap fires his gun at an overhead power line, severing it. He hurls his shield at the car’s windshield. The driver says “<Oh, no.>”
Cap’s shield smashes the windshield causing the car to swerve and crash into a hydrant. The street is awash with water from the broken hydrant. Gunmen pile out of the wrecked car. Cap answers the “<Oh, no.>” that he could not possibly have heard: “<Unfortunately, yes.>”
Cap is poised to plunge the sparking end of the power line into the pool of water in which the gunmen from the car are standing. Turn the page….
Zap! Fried gunmen. Cap calls them idiots.
An unreadable sound effect presages an entrance. I eventually figured out it was “KLIK.” The sound of a gun being cocked?
A beautiful, reddish-haired woman in a black dress confronts Cap. She wears a pillbox hat with a net veil. She is armed with a pistol and a grenade. Cap says, “This isn’t supposed to be a live ammunition exercise.”
Now, wait a minute. We have seen sparks fly as bullets glanced off of Cap’s shield. Cap severed a power line with a shot from the same gun he stuck in the face of the vendor. Plenty of live ammo used, so…. What’s the point here? That it wasn’t supposed to be a live ammunition exercise but everybody ignored the rules? Or what?
Cap and the pillbox hat woman have a momentary stand-off. It is interrupted by a man who seems to be in charge.
As Cap mentioned, turns out it was all a training exercise. For the gunmen, who we gather are Soviet spies, and I suppose for Cap and for the pillbox hat woman, too.
The pillbox hat woman is called “Black Widow” by the man in charge. “Cap” is called “Winter Soldier” by the man in charge and then by Black Widow. Winter Soldier? Okay. Winter Soldier strips off the top half of his Captain America costume revealing one metallic arm emblazoned with a red star. He’s the guy from the cover!
Black Widow doesn’t look like the female character on the cover. Her mother, maybe. The jury is still out about the identity of cover girl. Even for comics-savvy me. Seriously. These days, when Miles Morales is Spider-Man and I’ve totally lost track of who Superboy is, I’m suspicious of everything.
Winter Soldier is criticized for being overly brutal.
The question of whether or not live ammo was supposed to be used or not is moot, but we do learn that Black Widow’s grenade is a smoke-generating fake. Was her gun loaded like Winter Soldier’s and at least some of the gunmen’s? Who knows?
So, what was up with the live-ammo-or-not thing? Beats me. Instead of being fully focused on the story, in the back of my mind I’m searching for significance in it. Bullets flew, but Black Widow’s grenade was fake. What does it mean? Nothing discoverable, to me, anyway. It just seems like sloppy writing and lame editing.
The exercise is over. The narrative captions start up again, and we segue into the Winter Soldier’s personal flashback to his origin. Here it is:
Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko wrote this story. They do some things well. They construct scenes well, for the most part. They get information across efficiently, for the most part. The dialogue is terse and functional, though fairly naturally so. The characters are people who would speak tersely and functionally. Story architecture I’ll get to later. (A clue: There is none.)
But this page is where they lost me. Or maybe where Marvel Comics lost me. Story-wise, I mean. Marvel Comics lost me job-wise on purpose in 1987.
Obviously, now, the narrator is Bucky, the character briefly introduced on the inside front cover. It is revealed that Bucky is Winter Soldier. If new readers paid attention to the inside front cover and the first narrative captions, they would have a shot at understanding what is revealed here. If not, Heaven help them.
Now obviously the narrator, Bucky remembers his pre-Winter Soldier past.
First giant logical problem: Nothing in this story contradicts my understanding or would inform a new reader that Bucky is any more than an athletic young man who had undergone some serious training. Not a super soldier or super-human in any way. So why would the Soviets invest a great deal of effort and expense bringing him back to life, replacing what he’d lost (an arm, for instance, with a robotic arm), and programming his blank-slate mind so that they could use him for their own purposes? The glib explanation offered is that they recognized his value to their cause.
What exactly was his value to their cause?
Surely, in all the Soviet Union, there was a strapping young man with all his limbs intact who could be trained.
How much training could Bucky have had? So much that he had no equal, no potential equal among the millions of young Soviets? So much that it made sense to rebuild and program Bucky rather than spend a similar time intensively training someone else?
They trained the Black Widow, didn’t they?!
It’s not as though they used Bucky’s previous identity as a propaganda tool. It apparently was kept secret that Winter Soldier had been Bucky. Especially from him.
And the name “Winter Soldier.” What? That term was coined in the early 1970’s. It was a reference to the whistle-blowers who alleged Viet Nam War atrocities. It was derived from the introduction of a pamphlet Thomas Paine wrote in 1776.
A Soviet operative in 1958 called Winter Soldier doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and could be offensive to some people.
Winter Soldier is a Soviet “secret weapon” in the Cold War, as is Black Widow. He kills people for the government. One would assume that she does too, though she isn’t shown doing so in this story. They are clearly romantically attracted to one another. They have this scene together:
Think about these two people who are romantically involved. Two killers. I guess they can work it around in their heads that they’re each merely doing their duty. Like soldiers.
He’s attracted to her, a killer. But he’s programmed. Killing is okay with him, and hey, she’s cute.
She’s attracted to him. But he’s excessively brutal, remember? Even in a training exercise. A pretty nasty, despicable customer.
She’s apparently fine with that.
Whatever turns you on….
And she doesn’t have the excuse of being programmed.
What kind of person is she?!
Second giant logical problem: Winter Soldier and Black Widow know the overlords they serve are callous bastards who have “eyes everywhere.” They know that, if their secret affair were discovered, they’d both be “sent to Siberia. Or worse.” They both fear the government they work for.
So why do they serve these harsh taskmasters who keep their relationship confined to secret trysts? Are they that dedicated to communism or the Soviet Union? Do their jobs pay that well? What?
Why don’t they use their considerable talents to escape the oppression they suffer? Could it be that they enjoy their work and the benefits are good?
I don’t know.
Winter Soldier is sent on an assassination mission. A complication arises. The intended victim has his young daughter with him. Winter Soldier shows a hint of humanity. A crack in his programming? He is reluctant to risk harming the little girl. Fortunately, Black Widow has, without authorization, tagged along. She takes the child aside and comforts her as Winter Soldier finishes the vic off with his knife, in grisly fashion.
Hey! This mission takes place in West Berlin! Both Winter Soldier and Black Widow surely could easily seek asylum in the Free World. Nobody uses that term anymore, but I will.
I’ll speculate here that Winter Soldier’s programming prevents him from doing so and Black Widow won’t go without him. But the issue is never addressed.
Winter Soldier is enraged at his bosses for not informing him that the target’s child might be present. Things are tense.
We learn in an offhand comment that Black Widow “belongs” to some other dude, the “Red Guardian.” No further mention of him.
The writers take us into another flashback page:
“…Cap fixed me.”
Okay, there’s a red-gloved hand holding a glowing cube. Comics-savvy me guesses that Captain America somehow used the Cosmic Cube to undo what remained of Winter Soldier/Bucky’s programming and restored his memory. Must be some fancy dancin’ in that tale.
What would a new reader have made of this?
Many would pitch the book at that point and never bother with comics again. “I don’t get it. What the @#$%&?”
We aren’t clued in as to when the Cosmic Cube thing happened. Guess you had to be there.
Cut to Bucky, no longer Winter Soldier, and Black Widow visiting Bucky’s younger sister in a nursing home. In the United States, one would surmise. From the apparent age of his sister, “Becca,” it must be close to the present. If Bucky was, say, 16 at the beginning of WW II, Becca would have been, what 14 or so, maybe? Less? So if she’s 80+, as she appears, this must be 2011 or no more than a few years earlier.
Bucky looks like maybe he has aged a little. Black Widow looks like she may have aged a little. If they were in their 20’s in 1958, they’d be in their 70’s when Becca was 80-something and in a nursing home. What’s up with that?
I wonder if the writers have had experience with Alzheimer’s patients. I have. Becca’s dialogue is bad and so, so wrong.
Then, Bucky and Black Widow ride off on a motorcycle. She says, “Now let’s go catch some bad guys…”
This isn’t a story. It’s all exposition. All set up. None of the potential conflicts offered along the way go anywhere. The potential rift between Winter Soldier and his bosses? The potential clash between Winter Soldier and whoever the Red Guardian is? The many, many potentials of the dangerous romance between Winter Soldier and Black Widow?
Seems that all things are swept aside by the deus ex machina of the Cosmic Cube. And suddenly, we’re in the present, or near present.
I guess the story happens next issue when Bucky and Black Widow catch some bad guys.
I wonder if Captain America is actually in the next issue of Captain America & Bucky. More than his hand in a flashback, I mean.
Brubaker and Andreyko seem to have some useful skills. With a good editor, they might be dangerous. Sorry, Lauren.
The art by Chris Samnee is very, very good. Appealing, clear and effortlessly readable. The coloring by Bettie Breitweiser is very good. Clear. She creates the illusion of depth. Lots of gray, but these days, everyone seems to overuse gray. It’s the color du decennie.
Captain America & Bucky # 624 doesn’t feature Captain America or the Bucky I know—false advertising—but it is enjoyable and has some good things to recommend it.
NEXT: I Don’t Know – Something Groovy