Monday, February 2, 2015

Arc of Triumph...? Captain America 1-14 -- the Winter Soldier

Doug: Welcome back to one of the things we do best around here -- talking about comics! As you may recall, back around the second week of January we got into a little discussion of "The Winter Soldier" arc that ran in Captain America (2005) 1-9 and 11-14. I received Captain America, volume 1: Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection and loved it. I literally read the entire 13 issue arc in one evening. And right after I finished, I emailed Karen. Here is the conversation that took place over the next several days -- which is also a look inside the editorial room:

Doug: Have you read the Winter Soldier trade (Cap 1-9 and 11-14)?

Karen: Pretty sure I have those Cap comics. Do you have some sort of idea you are cooking, Mr. Wadley?

Doug: No, not really. I got the deluxe tpb for Christmas, and sat down and read all 13 issues in one sitting last night. I was prepared to sulk about it, as you know my feelings about meaningful deaths in comics. But wow...
Ed Brubaker deserves every accolade that's come his way. Cap was a bit too much like Batman to suit me, but they rationalized it by saying this was right after Disassembled. Bendis makes me mad, too.

I thought the book was better than the movie, as they say.

Karen: I'm glad that you were able to enjoy it. It's so rare with new books. I had the same feeling as you. I wanted to be upset -don't bring back Bucky! -but it was handled so well. It's been years since I read it but overall I recall feeling it was one of the best Cap storylines.

I honestly think that "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" may be the best made Marvel film - the story holds together better than "The Avengers" to me, although Avengers might be more sheer fun or wow factor.

I was contemplating going to the comic shop to try some new comics but I just know I will be disappointed. I read that Black Bolt and Medusa have a son now...there are so many things I am curious about but every time I pick up a new book, I am put off by the art and the characters behave such that I can't recognize them. Oh well, as they say, we'll always have Paris!

Doug: I thought Steve Epting's pencils were outstanding, and I liked the guy who did the WWII flashbacks even better. It's too bad that the modern coloring made it all so dark. I do miss the brightness of our four-color wonders. I even liked the Jack Monroe fill-in penciled by Jean Paul Leon, and I had not cared for some of his work back in the day. But I am with you -- I have virtually no interest in today's fare. But I do think I'll pick up the next volume in this Brubaker series. Not sure I'll get the third, which was "Civil War"... *:P tongue

I agree that the Winter Soldier movie was well done, and for the Marvel movie converts it was great. For long-timers like us, Brubaker's story had a much better reveal that softened the impact for us older fans. His rationale for the events that led up to Bucky's reappearance were really good and in the comic book world "made sense". 

Karen: I think the biggest problem for the Cap films is that the sense of loss for Cap regarding Bucky was not as deeply felt as it was in the comics. I mean, as readers we'd seen Cap suffer for DECADES over Bucky's death. It was considered to be the death that could not be erased. It certainly informed Cap's character so much in the early years of his Silver Age revival. He was a walking ball of guilt. No matter how talented the writer, director, or actor, you can't take all of those years of stories and character development and roll them up into the tail end of one film and then the bulk of another. I also think that some of the impact of Bucky's death is dulled by the fact that he was a full-grown man, not a kid, in the films. As an adult, he is thoroughly responsible for his actions. In the comics, although Bucky is far more capable than any kid we might know, he IS still a kid, and it makes Cap's culpability in his death more tangible, and his guilt all the more real. In the films they had to switch the focus more to the characters' friendship and it was still very moving but not nearly as powerful as the sort of surrogate father or big brother role that Cap was to Bucky in the comics.

I am wary of them bringing the "Civil War" stuff into the films. Can we let the heroes be friends and not have to have them fight each other? Let them be morally ambiguous in the comics.

Doug: What did you think of Brubaker having Cap tell Sharon that Bucky took care of a lot of the dirty work, i.e. murders, sabotage with collateral damage, etc.? I mean, it would be naive to assume that sort of thing didn't happen -- shoot, how many pilots lost their lives to the Torches and Namor? But to come right out and say it sort of took me aback. Talk about stuck in the Bronze Age. But then, earlier today I was reading the Steranko issues and Bucky is running around with a machine gun. Those issues were printed in 1968, so Stan was apparently comfortable with at least the implication that Bucky was kicking some serious tail.

I also found it interesting that they specifically tagged Bucky's age at 16 when he and Steve Rogers first met. Then Cap remarked that Bucky was almost 21 when he died. At least in my imagination, I'd have but the parameters closer to 12-16. It certainly made more sense to age him up a bit.

What did you think of, if you recall, the notion that Cap's only been thawed out for a decade? Meaning, in the 21st century??

Karen: I re-read the whole thing. Man, that is good stuff. You're right, it's a much harder Cap than we've seen before, but they do indicate that Cap's been through some things -like Hawkeye's death -that have really shaken him up, so I can accept that. The art is exceptional, although I don't really like the way his scale mail is drawn -it looks too thick. I enjoyed the flashbacks to WWII. I also liked Brubaker having Cap praise the French resistance -I recall back then (2005) a lot of folks were critical of the French, calling them cowards (Mark Millar over in Ultimates had his Cap say "this A on my head doesn't stand for France") so it was refreshing to see a more mature response. And it fit with Cap's experience too.

Regarding Bucky "doing the dirty work" -at the time it struck me as odd that they would have a youngster do those sort of things -actually, it still does. If they wanted to say that Bucky was armed like any other soldier because he didn't have the benefit of the Super-Soldier Serum, that would have made more sense to me.

I am sure they upped Bucky's age to make readers more comfortable with the idea that he was going around offing folks. It's perhaps a bit more palatable when he's 16-21 than say 13-18. But in my head, when I was reading the Invaders, I always saw him as a kid about 14 years old. Really, if you put him at 16, well, he's not that far away from enlistment age. Heck, my friend's father lied and enlisted in the Korean War when he was 17.

I think Marvel has decided that all of their 'modern' history (since the FF) is condensed into a 10-12 year period, which of course moves along as time passes. So at some point, Cap will have been thawed out 100 years after his war ended! My husband and I were talking about this the other night (we do have such wonderful conversations), that when Marvel first brought Cap back, the War had only been over for less than 20 years. Roll that around in your mind! Really, that's not too bad of a gap to have to overcome. If you'd been frozen in 1995 and woke up now, sure, it would be traumatic at first, and there's the whole issue of loved ones aging, but as far as the differences in society and technology, and adapting to it, not too  tough. But if it was 70 years, well, that's really a leap. I think anyone trying to  recover from that would be pretty psychologically hamstrung. Marvel can disregard Mr. Fantastic's and the Thing's WWII records, they can change Iron Man's origin so he is injured in Afghanistan instead of Vietnam, but taking Cap out of World War II seems impossible (and a bad idea). So I think they are stuck with it.

Do you like Cap with more of an espionage angle than a super-heroic one? 

Doug: That scene in the Ultimates stands out -- you're right. The French were taking a beating in the post-9/11 world.

I think I like Cap in both the superhero and super-spy realms. It makes sense that he'd be a super-spy, as after all he was created as the ultimate government agent.
As I said earlier, I really enjoyed Brubaker's portrayal of Cap, even if his personality did stray a bit toward Milleresque Batman.

I also thought they did an excellent job with the Falcon, really showing the respect and friendship that existed between Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers. And I had to check my Marvel chronology when Iron Man was so chummy with Cap. Wow -- would that unravel quickly. Tony Stark was actually a very accommodating individual in this story.

Brubaker and Epting crafted such a page-turner, that I've ordered the next two "ultimate collections" in the line -- these trades are nice, as they reprint material from smaller, previously issued books. I think in Red Menace and The Death of Captain America, trades #s 3-8 are collected!

Doug: A couple more thoughts:

I have been reading more in that Marvel Pocket Book that I recently purchased. It reprints Cap #s 111-119 (it does not reprint the first Steranko issue, curiously) and contains the stories when Rick Jones was trying hard to be Bucky. It's pretty painful, both in the way Rick goes about it and in the way Cap trains him and then acts/reacts toward him. I have to think that Stan intended for that to be an experiment only. Now, whether or not the Falcon was on the radar months ahead of time I cannot say; it would also seem that the Rick Jones/Captain Marvel relationship was percolating behind the scenes. But the Bucky revival seemed destined to fail.

But it's interesting to read those stories right after having read The Winter Soldier. Not only is there a ton of interplay between Cap and SHIELD (and notably with Agent 13), but AIM is in there, too. So the whole espionage angle is on full display. And of course the Red Skull is there with the Cosmic Cube. So just by coincidence, I'm reading what turns out to be similar material, but written 45 years apart!


William said...

OK, I'm sold. Now I really want to read this. If you are both praising this story so highly, it must be pretty good. A friend of mine recommended "Winter Soldier" to me many years ago when it first came out. He guaranteed I'd like it, but I was resistant. I was always very much of the mindset of "Only Bucky stays dead." And that's that.

But after your sterling review, I'd really feel like I must read this story now

So, I was sitting here wondering if I should take the plunge and buy the trade, or try to find it at the library. And then I remembered that I have the "Complete Captain America" Digital Comic Collection on DVD (and on my computer). And that just so happens to included the entire "Winter Soldier" storyline all the way up through "The Death of Captain America". So now, at my earliest convenience I'll be checking it out, and I'll let you know what I think.

Anonymous said...

"The French were taking a beating in the post 9/11 world". Wasn't there an attempt to rename French fries as "freedom fries" ? Just out of curiosity, was this taken seriously ? Did anyone actually call them freedom fries ? By the way - "French" fries were invented in Britain and we call them chips :)

Humanbelly said...

Colin: Yes, IIRC that deeply humiliating piece of inane jingo-ism happened in . . . the House or Senate cafeteria, was it? It was an object of almost instant (and highly deserved) derision 'round here. I seem to remember a small news blurb later on when they relented and switched the name back.
Now I'm hungry for some fried potatoes. . .

I do think I may have let my subscription to CAP finally lapse during the latter half of Winter Soldier. . . or the subscription folks switched it mid-way to one of the other intermittent Cap titles, or something (they tended to do that, for some tooth-grinding reason). But-- as much as I thought the art was first rate, I'm one of those folks who felt that retconning/reviving Bucky was yet another in a growing wave of dismaying insults to the Marvel History that I saw as foundational. "Everything you believed is a lie" immediately dis-invests me from a storyline, no matter how well done it is. It's that same matter of narrative trust that I've harped on so often. Bucky's death and its effect on Cap are/were an emotional cornerstone for a good chunk of how the MU is/was perceived. And it was unflinchingly portrayed as an irreversible truth-- and obviously believed to be so by the previous writers and creators. That will always stand in the way for me. (Although- yep- I really do like how it works in the film. It's handled very well in this new iteration of the MU-)


Edo Bosnar said...

Yeah, I'm with HB - for me, Bucky's death is one of those foundational things, and I have a hard time even thinking about reading any story where this is contradicted (in the comics; again like HB, I really liked how it was handled in the movie).
Another thing I'm pretty adamant about is that Steve Rogers is Cap (just like Bruce Wayne is Batman), so I kind of generally just ignore all of that post-Civil War stuff.
All that's just a preface to say that I really enjoyed reading your conversation/review, and you've got me intrigued. The fact is, despite what I said above, I recently bought, but have yet to read, the Forever Allies tpb, which is a Bucky as Cap story - I was prompted to buy it because a) it's written by Roger Stern, which is always a plus in my book, and b) it was really quite cheap. Your post today probably means I will push that book ahead in the reading pile, and maybe some day give Winter Soldier a chance.

Anonymous said...

HB, thanks for that information - I didn't realise it was actually Congress that had attempted to change the name to freedom fries !

david_b said...

Edo, fully agreed on Bucky as foundational to Cap's angst.

It's like the crash that gave the FF superpowers actually never happened, and Banner actually never got zapped, and Wayne's parents never **really** died.

Stoooopid plot ideas. Hence why I literally said goodbye to Marvel Zuvembiedom when Gwen first came back ~ I discovered Stan Lee had no backbone.

He caved.

Humanbelly said...

I checked a little deeper, Colin, 'cause I thought surely it wouldn't have been an official act of Congress for something that inane. . . that it would have been done by the cafeteria mngt or something. Aaaaand I was woefully mistaken. It was indeed something that took some measurable amount of Congress's time to enact. . . and they did change the name! (Until the congressman that spearheaded it later resigned due to some personal scandal.)

Yeesh. My wife has fairly regular dealings with a lot of our nationally elected officials and reps (both parties, actually)-- I think it contributes to her tooth-grinding during sleep. . .


Doug said...

Agreed David, and I stated the same sentiment at the top of the post. I was as closed-minded as you, and to be honest I'm still not sure I agree with the decision. But man -- this is well done!

Hey, treat it like an "Elseworlds" story and get yourself a copy from a library or off the DVD-ROM. Give it a chance. Whether you are happy or mad at the end, as a story it's darned good! Also as I said, I think it's much better executed in the comics than it was in the film and part of that is due to our experience (yours, mine, all of us) with the whole "Cap mourns Bucky" schtick that to be very honest got old in the Silver Age stories. The movie in no way could have expressed that loving backstory of comradeship and guilt as the comics have since the original retcon in Avengers 4-through-whenever.

Just sayin' -- "don't knock it till you've tried it".

Now, if someone tries to bring back Uncle Ben I am really going to be hacked off...

Coyly yours,


PS: Edo, I generally agree with you about characters and secret IDs. I've never warmed to that recent phenomenon (DC the more guilty of those changes).

david_b said...

Ohh, I totally agree Doug. In all actuality, I fully believe are some fine retcon stuff out there.

I clearly and unabashingly choose to remain blissfully ignorant, enjoying my Marveldom just as I did as a wide-eyed 11yr old.

'Now what did I do with that Steranko FOOM poster..?'

I'm having it professionally matted/framed. :)

J.A. Morris said...

I read those issues via the DVD-ROM last year. I liked the art, but I didn't think the story was very good.

I had less of a problem with Bucky being alive than I did with him being a badass killing machine. It reminded me of another "shocking" revelation from the previous year. J. Michael Straczynski wrote retcon story where Gwen Stacy had twins by Norman Osbourn.

But I enjoyed reading your take on it, and in the words of John Lennon (when he was still a Beatle), "it's good to have the both of you back!"

And like Karen and Doug, I want to recommend the Marvel DVD-ROMs. They're out of print, but I ordered the Cap and Spidey sets through Interlibrary Loan. So if you have a library card, you can likely do the same. They're not copy protected, you can save the PDFs of every issue.
I still prefer my reprints in book form, but the DVD-ROMs include the letters columns, which is a nice touch.

Garett said...

I liked all of Brubaker and Epting's run on Cap. I came to this series after following Epting's art on El Cazador, a great series by Crossgen that unfortunately didn't last long. Then I followed Brubaker to Criminal, a noir series that I'd also recommend. Glad you enjoyed this new Cap story Doug!

The Freedom Fries thing was disgusting, a good example of how mob mentality can make people lose their common sense in a hurry. Good for Brubaker for praising the French Resistance.

If something is well written, it works. I think messing with Bucky in this case is ok, as it resulted in a good story. Would the X-Men or Teen Titans have been better off to stay as the original teams? Sometimes change is good.

Martinex1 said...

Hilarious Uncle Ben comment. As I am sure you all know they are teasing that exact thing in Spider Man right now! Oh, as long as Ben, Bucky, and Gwen don't get together and form the All New, All Different X Dead, I will be okay. Like some of you I dreaded Bucky coming back and feared the worst. I will have to give this a try though based on Karen's and Doug's comments. I also did think it worked in the film so I am curious. Perhaps it worked well in the film because Bucky was not dead for 50 years and it was a relatively short period between movies and seemed like a continuous plot point. But again, I am very interested in how Doug and Karen presented this today.

Regarding Freedom Fries: so ludicrous to try to remove "French". But at least the government didn't touch my horn, doors, cuffs, etc. And at least we're open about our bizarre Orwellian approach to language. I've got to work on a bill to get Congress to remove "decompression" from the language. Stay warm all.

J.A. Morris said...

Karen mentioned Mr. Fantastic's and the Thing's WWII records.

This was "fixed" during the epic-length Skrulls/Galactus story by Wolfman/Pollard/Byrne/Sinnott. The Skrulls shot 3/4 of the FF with a rapidly aging ray. But when they were "de-aged", they wound up younger than they were before. Of course that story is now 35 years old, so I don't know if their WWII service is still canon.

WardHillTerry said...

Thanks, Doug, for the idea of treating this as an "Elseworld" story. Continuity has apparently become a very malleable thing over the last 15-20 years. Reading your review I was reminded of a Captain America mini from 1991, "The Adventures of Captain America; Sentinel of Liberty" written by Fabian Nicieza and drawn by Kevin Maguire and Joe Rubenstein. I haven't read it for quite a while but I recall that Bucky alluded to doing the kind of "war-required" tasks that Cap couldn't, or wouldn't do. This is a really good mini. It achieves what I like in a ret-con story. It doesn't deny any previous tales and it adds new characters and nuances to those stories.

Doug said...

Wardhill Terry --

That is one of my favorite Cap stories! In fact, as I was thinking about entering the selling of my comics several months ago, that mini was one that I pulled out and set aside. To the best of my knowledge, it was never given the trade paperback treatment and certainly should be!

Highly recommended.


Karen said...

Brubaker is a good writer; he's probably one of the few who could have gotten away with bringing Bucky back. I can only imagine how awful it could have been in the hands of less capable ones.

In general I don't care to see characters revived. It happens so frequently that comic deaths have no meaning any more. God only knows what readers will be subjected to with this "restart" -I'm an old curmudgeon, I won't be going anywhere near it! I crossed over the river a few years ago and have no regrets.

The Prowler said...

Dealing with "current" Marvel is what got me thinking about my topic from the other day. The 60s guys had such a blank slate to play with. No baggage for them to have to juggle, no underlying foundation to have to pick around, no Jenga tower of continuity to worry about.

What I see happening now, the flowing back and forth of media Marvel and comics Marvel, big screen movie Marvel and small screen TV Marvel, something somewhere is going to have to give. Will "our" Marvel eventually become an Elseworlds story, an Earth 2 history of sorts? If Cap was frozen for 70 years and only recently defrosted, then Tony Stark's dad didn't serve with him in WW2 or Tony is pushing 50! He, Tony, is old enough to have heard stories of his Dad talking about Captain America. "Is this the guy my Dad never shut up about?" Can current Marvel hang it's hat on a post middle aged Tony Stark?

(With his back against the San Francisco traffic
On the bridges side that faces towards the jail
Setting out to join a demographic
He hoists his first leg up over the rail

And a phone call is made, police cars show up quickly
The sergeant slams his passenger door
He says, "Hey son why don't you talk through this with me?
Just tell me what you're doing it for"

"Oh, it's a little bit of everything
It's the mountains, it's the fog
It's the news at six o'clock
It's the death of my first dog"

"It's the angels up above me
It's the song that they don't sing
It's a little bit of everything")

Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, you're right, the 'Sentinel of Liberty' mini from the early 1990s has never been reprinted - I know, I've checked repeatedly. And I've been wanting that for some time now, as I've only heard good things about it.

spencer said...

Brubaker is really solely responsible for bringing cap back. Most don't remember, but it was a gamble. Cap was not a good seller, and the thought was ,at the time, that he was just a "tired" character. Of course this was before the movies. Brubakers's crime noir stuff is outstanding!

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