BookHound
Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

THE WINTER SOLDIER: THE LONGEST WINTER by Ed Brubaker & Butch Guice

The Winter Soldier Volume 01 cover

For a long time, Bucky Barnes was the deadest superhero in the world. Though other heroes died and came back, making the ultimate sacrifice just to sell more issues of their comics, Bucky remained blown to pieces somewhere deep in the ocean. That Captain America survived was just impossible to believe, though his return heralded a new era in comicdom and still maintains an international level of attention.

As it turns out, James Buchanan Barnes didn’t die after all. Ed Brubaker breathed new life into the character, bringing him back in a horrific manner and even equipping Bucky with a more adult origin than he’d ever had at any time before. Dick Grayson was wimp by comparison. Dick, who remains one of my favorite heroes, got trained to be a superhero sidekick and gradually stepped into his own.

The Winter Soldier Volume 01 page 01

Bucky was trained to be a commando, a boy who could slip in behind enemy lines and wreak havoc with German troops. A kid who laid down his life not only with Captain America, but also on his own during missions even Cap didn’t know about.

That was just the retcon. Brubaker pulled out all the stops when he turned Bucky into the Winter Soldier, one of the most feared killing machines of the Cold War. There’s a lot of history between then and now, and you can find it in the pages of Captain America’s own graphic novels.

The Winter Soldier Volume 01 page 02

Everyone (mostly) believed that Brubaker had again killed Bucky after his sojourn as the new Captain America, but that was a fabrication created by Bucky and Nick Fury. Bucky was trained to operate in the shadows, and after his near-miss with death, he wanted to return to those dark places and fight the fight he knew how to pursue.

In the opening five-issue arc (with an issue of Captain America thrown in to explain how Bucky is still alive), the Winter Soldier has returned and he’s paired with his lover, the Black Widow, to hunt down three Cold War sleeper agents who have a world threatening secret.

The Winter Soldier Volume 01 page 03

Brubaker is a master at retconning characters, and he does it again with the Red Ghost. Initially, the Ghost was Ivan Kragoff, a supervillain who subjected himself and three trained apes to the same cosmic radiation that gave the Fantastic Four their powers. In the pages of The Longest Winter, Kragoff shifts from what in the past has kind of been a laughable character to a formidable one.

The Winter Soldier and Black Widow continue the chase through the back doors of spydom, a place Brubaker is totally confident and at home in. The story quickly switches from feeling like a superhero strip to a spy story. The plans, the moves, the setbacks, all play out like a Mission: Impossible assignment.

The Winter Soldier Volume 01 page 04

When the story eventually reveals the true threat to the world, and it involves Doombots created by Doctor Doom, the stakes are raised as high as they can be. The Winter Soldier and the Black Widow have no choice but to attempt to bring Doctor Doom into the fold to help bring the threat to a close.

The world is still standing, so we know how that turned out, but the adventure is getting there. Brubaker is a master of pacing and character, and all the pieces of his layered plot fit well together.

The Winter Soldier Volume 01 page 05

Butch Guice’s artwork looks like captured celluloid. The action, the shadows, the cities, and the dark rooms all come to vibrant life. The inking is heavier than I generally like in a comic, but in this strip it’s the backbone of the mood and the threat. One of the best parts of the book, though, is when our heroes are everyday people, and Guice does that just fine as well.

The Winter Soldier Volume 01 page 06

Pick this one up, but don’t expect a quick, breezy read. The story and characters draw you in, and the artwork will guarantee you’ll flip back through it just to see Guice laying out some of the best panel work he’s ever done.

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