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Cap's finest hour
on 19 August 2013
Ed Brubaker revisits Cap's past by writing an alternate history to his sidekick, Bucky, in The Winter Soldier. Originally dead from an explosion over the English Channel pursuing the evil Baron Zemo during WW2, Brubaker imagines Bucky surviving the blast and being turned into a cyborg assassin, brainwashed into fighting for the Russians. Steve Epting's art is ridiculous - it's just so good! And his character design of the Winter Soldier is brilliant, with the mechanical arm and neo-terrorist look being faithfully replicated in the upcoming movie.
Unlike the movie though, the plot centres around an evil Russian general and the cosmic cube taking over the world through purchasing American land, which works really well in the book but I don't see ANOTHER Cap movie centring around the cosmic cube so I expect that plot element to be jettisoned. From what I've seen of the movie so far though, they're using a lot of the book in the movie - Crossbones (one of Red Skull's lieutenants), the Falcon (one of Cap's old friends), certain scenes like Bucky punching Cap's shield with his mechanical arm - but it doesn't look like Hugo Weaving's returning as Red Skull so, even though he's in the book, he probably won't be in the film.
But enough talk of the movie! The book is awesome, so even if the film winds up sucking next year, at least we have Brubaker and Epting's great Cap story. And Brubaker should really be congratulated simply for writing a readable and fun Captain America book - off the top of my head, I don't think there are any great Cap books besides this! But it's more than that. We understand Cap's loss a lot more, seeing his friendship with Bucky in far more detail than in other books during the many flashbacks set during WW2, and understand how close they were and why it was so painful for Cap to lose him.
While it's recognisably a superhero book, Brubaker's written it in a very sophisticated way so that it reads like an espionage thriller with double agents, real historical events, unexpected emotional depth, and superhero action all thrown into the mix. Epting's accomplished art gives the book a gloriously realistic appearance while the muted colour palette perfectly suits the serious tone of the book. Cap might be looked at as an anachronistic, even outdated character, and dressed kinda silly, but Brubaker and Epting make him look like a tragic figure, which isn't something I usually respond to (miserable superheroes are DC's speciality, not Marvel's) but it's the right approach for this book. With Bucky's backstory that involves remaining youthful after decades, getting a robot arm, being brainwashed, and so on, it would be too easy to undermine if Brubaker was anything less than completely serious in his approach.
The only complaint I would give the book is that it feels overlong at times. The middle of the book sags a bit especially as Brubaker takes several tangents to explore every angle of Cap's long and varied history (taking in other Captain Americas who filled in for Steve Rogers while he was frozen in ice). But it's a minor complaint when so much of the book is so well done in every way.
With The Winter Soldier, Brubaker writes the best Captain America book ever while also resurrecting a forgotten character, giving Bucky a new lease on life and turning him from an easily mocked sidekick into a brilliantly realised and transformed new character, and a superhero in his own right. The Winter Soldier is a great read and anyone (and I used to fall in this category) who thinks Cap only works in team books, should pick this up to see him carry the story brilliantly.