Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Winter Thoughts

At first glance, you wouldn't think a man like the Winter Soldier would have anything to celebrate during Christmas. And when that man is Bucky Barnes, who fought in World War II, he feels especially out of place, since in many ways this isn't the America he remembers, nor does Christmas feel as it once did. "Winter Kills," part of the "Casualties of War" series of stories published throughout Marvel's "Civil War" saga, explores Bucky's memories of Christmas past as he wanders present-day New York, lost in thought--mostly to allude to the sorry state of affairs that the Civil War has brought to not only Marvel's heroes, but also to the ordinary men and women who are forced to witness it and who are often caught in the crossfire.

Thankfully, "Winter Kills" only briefly spends time fulfilling its purpose of nudging the reader toward the main "Civil War" series; and if you can put aside that harsh judgment of the story as a sales tool, it's really a fine piece of writing by Ed Brubaker, who turned in such beautiful work on the Captain America book. In a way, I see Brubaker and Frank Miller as two sides of the same coin, in terms of bringing an edge to their stories and characters, with Miller perhaps taking more of a blunt instrument approach as opposed to Brubaker's more careful pacing. The character of the Winter Soldier is ripe for either writer--a trained, extremely deadly assassin off his programming, yet cast adrift in a world almost sixty years distant from what he knew. Just as "homesick" as Steve Rogers was, and haunted by memories that can never be returned to.

And so Bucky can't help but think back to the Christmas of 1944, just six months before the war ended, and remember comrades like Toro, and Namor, and of course Steve, and how Christmas seemed to have much more meaning then:

It's a scene you can either associate with the Civil War, or with the America you and I are now a part of, of course. I'd like to think Brubaker intended a little of both.

The story has its action quotient, with Nick Fury intruding on Bucky's thoughts in order to divert him to a warehouse used by Hydra and attempt to stop the Young Avengers from destroying it and thus robbing Fury of its use to him as a source of intelligence. But when a Hydra agent discovers them and they're "made," Fury has no choice but to have Bucky join the teens in their original mission:

Afterward, the kids naturally have questions about who their ally is, but Bucky instead cordially departs. And his next stop is a scene that's rewarding on many levels, as he pays his respects to:

The scene took me by complete surprise, which is probably why it worked so well for me. Jack's career as Bucky was relatively brief, and his initial return was marred by madness; yet, here, we only see his predecessor's quiet empathy for him--less than tribute, but much more than words from a stranger.

Bucky's visit is then interrupted by the Young Avengers, who now realize who was fighting beside them. And as one group of kids to someone who would once have been their peer, their gesture (and, yes, tribute) to him caps the scene nicely:

Once the Avengers depart, the story closes with a reunion between two wartime allies who are both mostly untouched by time, with only one of them having lived through the many years that have passed. It seems fitting to let it close this post without further comment, with the observation that, despite Namor's disdain for the "surface holiday" of Christmas, he brings to this Winter Soldier priceless gifts of memories and friendship.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for showing this here, C.F. It really is a great scene. I hadn't seen it before. Wonderful art, too.
I groaned when they brought Bucky back, but it looks like they've done some interesting things with the guy. And I really like the way they handled Subby here. They really hit all the bases of why he's such a cool and complex character. His reserve, arrogance, sarcasm, and underneath, a basic decency and even compassion. And even sentimentality, which surprised me a bit. (Also, I'm glad he's wearing pants now).
It's a rare comic that can be moving as this one is. M.P.

Comicsfan said...

The only development with Bucky I wasn't fond of was when they made him the new Cap. He was a lot more interesting to me as an operative (as he's handled here), rather than taking on the role of being a national symbol. It's almost the same point I was making regarding Eric Masterson: it's a lot more than putting on that person's costume and fighting their battles.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful - who drew this?
- Mirko

Comicsfan said...

Mirko, the art was by Lee Weeks and Stefano Gaudiano with Rick Hoberg (though in some panels, you'd almost swear you could see a bit of Romita Jr.).