The first Captain America film was a box office success, so it’s no wonder Marvel Studios decided to make a sequel. For those who don’t know, the sequel is titled Captain America: Winter Soldier and will feature new characters including (stifles laughter) the Falcon. Though the movie is still over a year away I decided to check out the comic arc it will no doubt be based on. The Winter Soldier plotline garnered a lot of praise and even won an Eisner Award; I have to say this run really does deserve the acclaim it has received.
Warning: I usually try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but this time spoilers follow. This information will probably also spoil a key plot point in the upcoming Marvel film, so don’t read further if you don’t want to risk ruining your surprise.
Captain America: Winter Soldier is the arc that started the relaunch/renumbering of Captain America back in the early 2000s. This story ran in issues #1-9 and #11-14. As the story begins, the Red Skull has once again come into possession of a Cosmic Cube, though he needs to harvest life force in order to use it. Before he can start his plan of terror, however, the Skull is assassinated. Soon, strange disappearences and acts of hate targeting Captain America’s former comrades (living and dead) abound. Cap sets off to uncover the plot, and learns a shocking truth: his former partner, Bucky, did not die in a plane explosion during WWII and instead became a Russian assassin known as the Winter Soldier. The Winter Soldier, however, is merely a pawn in the schemes of Russian General Alexander Lukin. Soon, a conflict between Cap and Bucky is unavoidable, and no one will escape unscathed.
Ed Brubaker’s writing hasn’t always impressed me and thus I started reading this comic with fairly low expectations. Honestly, I’m glad this arc took me by surprise. The presentation is what I like most of all: the story shifts between showing Cap’s present day situation and his adventures during the Second World War. Brubaker also makes sure to reward long-time Captain America fans (and inform newer ones) by referencing tons of events in his history, even showcasing a few of the alternate Captain Americas of the past.
These references are more than Easter Eggs; they directly influence the story each time they are presented. In fact, one of my favorite issues involved Jack Monroe, a man who temporarily served as a replacement for Bucky and later took on Steve Rogers’s old identity of Nomad. Monroe’s brief tale is powerful and heartfelt, beautifully showcasing a man’s descent into madness as he loses absolutely everything.
Brubaker finds a great voice for the characters as well. The pacing is good, especially since most arcs that span more than six to eight issues can often feel filler-heavy. Sadly, not all writing is perfect: a few times I felt like certain characters, especially Sharon Carter and Nick Fury, were shoe-horned into the story more for the sake of cameos and fan service than as actual contributions to the plot. I feel like only one of the two was really necessary for the story, and it often seemed they just played tag-team as Cap’s sounding board.
Captain America: Winter Soldier’s art comes from the talented team of Steve Epting (with aid from Mike Perkins) and Michael Lark, with the former creating the modern events and the latter handling the flashback sequences. Both men do great work, drawing realistic characters full of heroic gusto. The historical scenes are especially great as Lark pays attention to period in the clothing and weaponry he depicts. My favorite scene involved the defense of a Russian village from German forces; the artists beautifully contrast the harsh Russian landscape with the bright American heroes.
The scenes of Cap throwing his shield are especially good; the way the weapon’s trajectory is varied from fight to fight is pretty cool. I have to admit, however, that I strongly dislike the use, or should I say overuse, of shadow in this comic: just about everything looks too dark. I’m not sure if this was an attempt at further realism or a desire for grittiness, but often it just looked like the artist was trying to hide unfinished sections of the work.
Colorist Frank D’Armata may be partially to blame for the darkness, but his muted palette usually informs the story quite well, breaking the grime with the shining colors of Agent 13’s hair or Cap’s shield. John Paul Leon and Tom Palmer created art for a sole issue, “The Lonesome Death of Jack Monroe” which, as I mentioned earlier, was probably my favorite part of the storyline. Their portrayals of madness were great, making use of objects like mirrors to show Monroe’s descent into insanity. In terms of style, their art is far less realistic than that of Epting and Lark, but it is still quite good and, thankfully, avoids “overshadowing.”
Captain America is probably my favorite Marvel superhero, but it’s rare I read a story starring him that really grabs my interest. Winter Soldier finally lived up to what I want from a Captain America comic: it has a great plot and strong art to grab and hold my attention. There may be better Captain America stories but, at least in my experience, this is the best one.
-overuse of shadows
-characters of Sharon Carter and Nick Fury feel unnecessary at times
-it’s somewhat hard to take a badass character named “Bucky” seriously and The Falcon is irredeemably lame
Brett Simon is a twenty-three year old comic enthusiast. The edition of Winter Soldier he read had a really awkward lettering misprint which involved Cap cursing at Bucky and telling him he’s the Red Skull’s daughter.
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