Winter Soldier Bucky

Winter Soldier comics storyline versus the movie

I mentioned a bit earlier that I'd do a post comparing the movie and comics versions of the Winter Soldier storyline. And this is that post!

So the problem the comics writers faced with Bucky is that he was created in the early 1940s as Captain America's teenage sidekick.

As you can see, there's just not a whole lot to work with here. (Comic from here, which also has some scans of later Winter Soldier-related stuff, if you want to see more than this post gets into.)

Bucky was killed off for real, or as real as it gets in Marvel comics, and stayed dead for a very long time. But in 2005, Ed Brubaker started writing Captain America and brought back a "darker and edgier" version of him, and it was great. :D

For starters, as well as bringing him back as the Winter Soldier, Brubaker retconned the hell out of Bucky's backstory to bring him up to date for contemporary readers. The new version of comics!Bucky, though still young, was a highly trained commando even before he was killed; he was the guy who did the dark stuff that Captain America couldn't be seen doing (some of which bleeds through in movie!Bucky). His costume was redesigned slightly to make it somewhat less ... ridiculous.

They also very clearly used it as a model for Bucky's field uniform in the first movie.

The movie version of Bucky and Steve's backstory is obviously different, since they could rebuild it from the ground up, with less "sidekick" and more "protective brother". And it does flavor their relationship in a very different way, despite the efforts made in the comic to age Bucky up somewhat and make his relationship with Cap more like equal fighting partners and less like "older superhero and teenage ward", which is how it started out.

So that's the point we're starting from.

The Captain America: Winter Soldier TPB contains the Winter Soldier arc from the movie in its entirety; it's also the first appearance of Winter Soldier!Bucky in the comics. Compared to the movie, the Winter Soldier TPB is more specifically Steve and Bucky's story. The movie actually follows the comic storyline really closely, at least in terms of the overall emotional arc - I'm impressed at how well Marvel's writers translated the emotional dynamics and basic plot, allowing for the fact that it's set against a different backdrop. The specific details of everything going on around Steve and Bucky are quite different, and Steve's main buddy/companion/partner-in-fighting is Sharon/Agent 13 rather than Natasha. (Sam is also around.) However, the broad strokes of what happens with Steve and Bucky are very much the same. Steve believes Bucky is dead until encountering the Winter Soldier during a terror attack on Philadelphia.

So then Steve gets to hear the Winter Soldier backstory, from Nick Fury this time. The comics give us a lot more details on what was happening to Bucky in the intermediate decades, which I'm too lazy to scan (and basically you know the gist of it - amnesia, killed a bunch of people, etc). Steve is determined to save him. No one else thinks he can be saved.

The Winter Soldier is not specifically hunting Captain America in the comics, more like incidentally trying to kill Steve and friends in the process of carrying out his latest mission, which involves a standard Marvel plot maguffin in the form of a Cosmic Cube (the comicsverse version of the Tesseract, more or less). Plot stuff happens and eventually leads up to Steve and Bucky encountering each other in an abandoned bunker somewhere in the middle of nowhere, where their first and only actual fight takes place.

There are a few key differences from the movies:

- Comics!Bucky had genuine amnesia due to brain damage after his "death", and the Russians' reprogramming was less drastic than in the movies, at least up to a point (there was definitely some actual mindwiping involved, more so as the decades went by, but less all-around mental destruction as in the movies). This means that the Winter Soldier was/is more functional and less damaged than the movie version -- more capable of carrying on conversations, making decisions, etc. (And also a bit of a snarky bastard, which is 100% pure Bucky.)

- Also, comics!Bucky doesn't have the super-soldier treatment; he is an ordinary human being, just a well-trained, strong, fast one. The fight between him and Cap is much shorter and less brutal than in the movie, because he just wouldn't have been able to take the damage. The only thing that makes it an actual contest is that he is genuinely trying to kill Steve, while Steve is trying to subdue him without hurting him.

- The fight ends with a deus ex machina. Bucky's been tasked with guarding the Cosmic Cube, but Steve gets his hands on it and essentially wills Bucky's memories back. Actually, that's THE big difference from where the movie left him - comics!Bucky gets all his memories of being Bucky back:

Horrified and ashamed, he vanishes - quite literally. Steve & co. aren't quite sure if he's dead or just teleported elsewhere. The answer obviously is "teleported" - he took himself to the abandoned Fort Lehigh to brood in the dark:

.... and then he spends a bunch of time wandering around trying to atone, but that's the next story arc.

Of the two, the movie version is a lot rawer and more painful, with more lost on both sides. But the comics give us loads of post-Winter Soldier Bucky, which is something I am now desperately craving from the MCU.

ETA: I also recently ran across this post on tumblr by Copperbadge that gives an account of Bucky's origins which goes into a lot more detail on early comics-verse Bucky.

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I have to say I was not expecting the level of brutality inlficted on Bucky in MCU. I mean. I've seen all the movies and know better than to expect the stories and mythology to directly mirror the comics, that would be nie on impossible to pull off in terms of credible story. But still. There were moments when what was happening to Bucky hurt me. He seems so much more vulnerable than the Bucky in the comics while at the same time retaining most of what makes him Bucky.
I think Sebastian Stan did a great job with the material he was given, and I look forward to more of this story line. It kind of kills me that it's going to take so long to happen. Thank god we have the comics to tide us over ;)
Awww man, yeah. I think it was a lot less jarring coming from the movie background and then getting his comics backstory -- still disturbing and unpleasant, but not quite as flat-out horrible. I'm really looking forward to seeing how they develop his character in the movies, going forward; his whole healing/recovery process is going to have to be fairly different from comics!Bucky. Augh, so long to wait!
Tiny little Bucky in the old comics is hilarious! He looks like Robin to Steve's Batman (I'm thinking 60s and Adam West, not Dark Knight).

I still mean to get into the comics, and it sounds like I'll be less horrified from the movie to them than the other way around. If I can just get through the rest of term. . . .
Yeah, Bucky in the old comics is very obviously a Robin-esque character. And DC has actually managed to do some pretty interesting things over the years with Robin (well, all the Robins, since there were more than one) but Marvel never really had a chance to "grow" Bucky into a more interesting character until the whole "back from the dead" storyline.


But yeah, Bucky's comics backstory, while still pretty bad, is much less horrifying than his movie backstory -- which I don't think I'd realized until thinking about it in some detail. I do recommend the comics! The art is good and the story is pretty solid, and you also get to know the supporting characters better (especially important with Sharon, as she is a major character in the comics and will probably be in the next movie a lot).