First confession, I wasn’t much of a Captain America fan. I actually read most of Mark Gruenwald’s run, which I would describe as bland but serviceable. His Steve Rogers was a Boy Scout to the point of being banal. There were some neat ideas but dull execution. His Captain America didn’t feel that... super.
Second confession, when I heard about Bucky getting brought back from the dead back in 2005 or 2006, I hated the idea. One, Bucky being dead is iconic. Two, the concept of Bucky hasn’t aged well. (Just look at how much Robin has had to change to stay great) Three, Bucky being dead is fundamental to so much of the character of Captain America. (Although dressing Rick Jones like him was just disturbing)
So, I didn’t go into Ed Brubaker and The Winter Soldier with the highest expectations, even though I know it has been described as some of greatest Captain America storylines every written.
Short version. It was much better than I expected. It wasn’t awe inspiring the way rereading Planetary or reading Tom King’s Mister Miracle earlier this year was. But it was a phenomenal use of Captain America and completely justified bringing Bucky back from the dead.
Obvious observation: Brubaker wasn’t writing a superhero story. He was writing a noir thriller. Almost all the characters could have been wearing regular clothing and it wouldn’t have made a difference. (The Falcon really is a super hero in this story and I love him for it)
And that is a huge part of what makes the storylines work. The situations aren’t solved by punching people or even by technobabble schemes. Even as the Red Skull works on making America burn, everything is on a human level and Captain America and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and The Black Widow and Sharon Carter are just a fraction above being human. Everything is as grounded as superheroes can be without being Daredevil.
I found Brubaker’s take on a variety of characters interesting. He gave Jack Monroe a disturbing yet appropriate death. He made Doctor Faustus interesting to me for the first time. But it was his approach to Bucky Barnes that had the most impact.
Brubaker didn’t just reinvent Bucky to make him a viable character. He did it three times. He retroactively made him an assassin back in World War II. He made him cyborg killer. Then he made him Captain America, a Captain America who explored redemption which seems like a theme worth examining.
I kept on reading for fifty issues, which surely says something. And I also ended up feeling that bringing Bucky back from the dead was a good thing. Brubaker made it work, which is amazing.
It was a fun surprise.