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Saturday, September 01, 2007

Thoughts on the Winter Soldier

(Warning for massive incoherency and jumbled thoughts ahead.)

In my post about JMS and post-CW Tony Stark, I kind of sideswiped in an idea about Steve ultimately having to save Tony from Bucky, representing the idea of Tony achieving redemption for his sins of the past.

I decided to go a bit more into that because I really do think that Bucky Barnes has had a really interesting symbolic role since his resurrection as the Winter Soldier.

It essentially came to me when I was jokingly describing the character to a friend who didn't read comics regularly. "Basically," I said, "He's an ex-dead, ex-sidekick, ex-brainwashed, ex-Soviet ex-Assassin."

You know, I thought to myself, that's an awful lot of exes.

Then I started to consider the Winter Soldier's role in Brubaker's Captain America. In his first appearance, before we ever know anything about him, we find out he works for Alexander Lukin. Oh yeah, and he kills the Red Skull.

That's pretty coincidental, but then it's worth examining the Winter Soldier's kills during the time of his brainwashing. And really, most of the Winter Soldier's actions take on an interesting sort of symbolism.

He kills Jack Monroe. Jack had tried to make a new heroic life for himself as Nomad, but he could never escape his past as the wrong Bucky. He was dying anyway, before the Winter Soldier actually killed him, but it's particularly notable that of all people, he's killed by Bucky.

Even actions like blowing up the building or kidnapping Sharon Carter were all about Lukin (or the Skull) getting revenge on Steve.

As Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier ends up embodying even more elements of "sins of the past". The idea of Barnes as the teenaged sidekick of Captain America in order to do a lot of things (usually involving killing people in quick and surprising ways) that Steve, a national symbol, couldn't afford to, becomes particularly interesting in this light. Particularly regarding Bucky's death. When you send young people off to war, to fight, kill and die, there is always the chance that they will not come home again, or that they'll come home changed.

Bucky's time as the Winter Soldier came about because of Karpov's ambitions as well as a percieved retaliation for the destruction of Kronas. While under the employ of Lukin, in post-Communist Russia, he remained a symbol of the terror and implacability of the old regime.

Most importantly however, is the role he played for Captain America. Dead, he was a symbol of failure. The one time he couldn't save his partner. He was also a symbol of the general alienation and loss Steve felt in modern society. During the same events that cost him his partner, Steve also lost everything else he'd ever known, waking up in a completely different America. When he lost Bucky, he had lost his friend and brother. During the same events, he lost his cause and his war. He was left floundering and alone.

Bucky's return represents an even darker failure. Bucky was alive after all. And for all those years was undergoing a fate worse than death. And Steve had never known, the most he could do was damage control afterward: giving his memory back with the cosmic cube. Everything else was irreversable.

After his resurrection, Bucky's spent most of his time working for Nick Fury or hunting down Lukin. It must be noticed that the primary characters that Bucky interacts with with any sort of frequency are Nick Fury and Wolverine. Both of whom are more than familiar with the whole "past misdeeds slapping you in the face" element long before Bucky came back. The revelation of his relationship with Natasha also may represent her ties to her past, which can never be completely severed.

His interactions with Kate and Eli of the Young Avengers in Winter Kills takes on a whole new meaning too. He's the past, they're the future. The fact that their most significant conversation occurs in a graveyard is so apropos it approaches cliche.

Now he seeks vengeance on Tony, whose misdeeds have certainly warranted it. I personally believe it won't really end until Captain America himself emerges to end it.

The Winter Soldier is a particularly evocative name, symbolically. Winter is the season when all but the heartiest plants die, when the animals fly away or hibernate. It's a time of hunger, danger and death.

Death was the Soldier's stock in trade and Bucky certainly doesn't shy away from lethal fighting now. And of course, there's the obvious connection: his resurrection occuring in the same run as Captain America's death.

Of course, if Bucky represents sins of the past, death and winter. Then Steve Rogers, of course, is spring. Rebirth, obviously. He tends to do that. Redemption is shakier, but he did give Jack the Nomad identity. He restored Bucky with the Cosmic Cube. He tends to be quick to understand and forgive, even if it seems like he lets the other person off way too easy sometimes.

If, as I argued before, Steve's death represents the one failure/sin/mistake that Tony Stark can't write off or rationalize away, then of course he's going to end up the key to Tony's redeeming himself.

Unfortunately, this does not make me terribly optimistic about Bucky's own fate. While I think there's a lot that he could do in the modern Marvel universe, I'm not sure he can escape his own baggage and symbolism. Spring's return means the end of Winter. Redemption puts rest to past sins. Yadda and et cetera.

I'm somewhat worried that Bucky will either die in the process of facilitating Steve's return (maybe saving him from the Red Skull, or however they work his resurrection) or sometime not long after. It just...makes narrative sense. As much as I do love him. Also, it'd give Steve the chance to grieve all over again. Angsty bastard.

Well, if they DO kill Bucky, they better at least let them have a damn hug or something first. If any two characters were more in need of a goddamn hug, I can't think of 'em. They deserve that much over the last forty some odd years, yeesh. :-)


  • At September 01, 2007 10:47 AM, Blogger SallyP said…

    Poor Bucky. He is indeed in need of a hug. It also doesn't hurt that he's extremely a dangerous ex-assassiny sort of way.

  • At September 01, 2007 1:12 PM, Blogger Matthew E said…

    I presume that the name 'winter soldier' was coined to contrast with 'summer soldier', as in 'summer soldiers and sunshine patriots'?

  • At September 01, 2007 1:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "Winter Soldier" was the name of a film detailing horrible acts commited by American Soldiers during the Vietnam war.

    I always figured thats where the name came from.

  • At September 01, 2007 2:13 PM, Anonymous Dan Coyle said…

    I don't think they'll ever kill the Winter Solider... however, I DO think that they'll somehow find a way to retcon out that he was Bucky, if that's the direction they choose to go in. After all, a Cosmic Cube being involved is a great way out of a plot.

    I wonder if Krueger and Ross plan to have a WS/Bucky meetup during Avengers/Invaders.

  • At September 01, 2007 4:05 PM, Anonymous davelevine said…

    Lots of good thoughts in your post.

    Personally I favor the idea of Bucky turning out to be a younger alternate universe version of Steve Rogers who was sent to the 616 universe to keep an eye on Cap. Who sent him? I dunno. His brain was wiped, he was given a new name, and he was genetically modified so that he wouldn't look like the 616 version of Steve. He was dropped into the 616 U just in time to meet Steve during WWII. But things did not go as planned.

    The whole experience with Russian brainwashing loosened something inside him and now he is starting to remember things. He still can't seem to put the pieces together but one day he will; kind of like Samurai Jack.

    Anyhow, I'm not sure this would work but its just a thought.

  • At September 01, 2007 5:03 PM, Blogger philippos42 said…

    Dave, that is even crazier than resurrecting Bucky was, by an order of magnitude. You're layering crazy on crazy there. That's arguably beyond Geoff Johns crazy. That's Spider-Man Clone Saga crazy. That's slightly past late pre-COIE Steve Trevor crack.

    I think that would be a point of "too ridiculous to continue" for Marvel.

  • At September 01, 2007 6:12 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    For the record, I agree with mallet on the source of the name.

    I just think it works with the overall symbolism very very well. :-)

  • At September 01, 2007 6:15 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    dave: That's a pretty interesting idea.

    I'll admit though, I much prefer the "he's Bucky" interpretation. Having him be 616's Bucky means for a lot stronger emotional connection than an alt!Steve would.

    Though HAVING an alt!Steve show up would be an interesting notion.

  • At September 01, 2007 9:25 PM, Anonymous davelevine said…

    philippos42: Yeah, you're probably right about it being a little too ridiculous. Even if they did go ahead with something like that they would probably still retcon it out of existence a year later. :(

    I still like my idea. If nothing else maybe to be used as a What If... type story but it would have to be longer than the usual Marvel one-off What If... stories.

  • At September 02, 2007 2:42 AM, Blogger Brainfreeze said…

    I think that's probably a lot more symbolism than is likely to be in a comic book--but an interesting analysis nonetheless. If Bucky weren't a character so central to Captain America's history, something like that might be more likely, but as it is there are too many good story connections for Marvel to let him go. (At least I hope so. :))

  • At September 02, 2007 8:56 AM, Blogger Matthew E said…

    I haven't heard of that movie... but I think it's possible that the movie took its name from where I speculated. I wonder where I could find more out...

  • At September 03, 2007 11:32 AM, Blogger Michael Mastropietro said…

    I we're going with the symbolism in name now, I'm surprised Steve isn't back right now chillin with the Falcon. "Project Rebirth" anybody

    by the way who wants to bet that it's worked into (if not outright) the title to the story he comes back in

  • At September 03, 2007 1:31 PM, Anonymous buttler said…

    I demand that the next intercompany crossover be "The Bucky Barnes and Jason Todd They're-Not-Dead-They're-Just-Resting Easter Special."

  • At September 04, 2007 3:42 PM, Blogger BradyDale said…

    The Winter Soldier is perhaps one of the best comic book character names of the last decade or so, wherever it came from. He's just so damn tragic. I love him.


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