Creator Spotlight! Brubaking the Rules: Reviving Bucky Barnes
It’s okay to think Captain America is a bit stupid, he dresses in a flag, wears red pirate boots, and has tiny wings… on his head. Sure he fought in WWII, but when you’re running around with a bin-lid instead of a machine gun you’re not really doing it right. He took his besty into the war with him, which would be okay if his friend wasn’t a 16 year old boy, that’s just a messed up thing for a responsible adult to do. Cap and Bucky fought together for several years, then (sort of) died together.
Cap must have pocketed a 1-Up as he was reborn in modern times. Well, it was 1964, so I suppose it was still the olden days. Rebirth is standard practice in comic books; death means very little in a medium where characters are killed and reborn on the reg (Marvel’s Grim Reaper must be in desperate need of some new Grim Reaping equipment). However, there are some exceptions to this rule; untouchable characters whose death played such an important role in the mythos that they had to remain in the ground. In Marvel the list was Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacey, and Bucky Barnes.
40 years later Ed Brubaker comes strutting into Marvel with his chest puffed out, he barges into Joe Quesada’s office and says he’s bringing Bucky back to life, slapping Joe in the face until his rejections become approval. This is the only way it could have happened, there’s simply no other explanation. Brubaker’s opening salvo with Marvel Comics is to do something that had never been done before, and has never been repeated: A good retcon.
Turns out Bucky wasn’t fish food after all. The Soviets scooped him up in their submarine and turned him into a bionic-armed, cold-blooded killing machine, they even gave him a Taylor Kitsch haircut; such is the depth of their malevolence. After years of brain-washed murdering for the Russian’s during the Cold War and beyond, Cap was able to restore Bucky’s mind with the power of wishy-thinking. The Winter Soldier was freed from his programming, but using the Cosmic Cube never turns out well, and Bucky will be tortured by the memories of his alter-ego forever.
During the several years of stories that followed, Bucky’s journey would be entirely driven by his need to atone for the actions of The Winter Soldier, an identity he can’t seem to leave behind even though (or perhaps because) it reminds him of everything he wants to forget. It’s strange that Steve Rogers would play second-fiddle in what a lot of people consider to be the definitive Captain America run, he even spends a couple of years dead and that’s arguably the high point of the entire series.
Captain America can be a bit stupid, but there’s nothing stupid about Ed Brubaker, somehow he circumvents any potential goofiness by rewriting some of the more questionable parts of Caps legacy, making them feel plausible to a modern audience. Bucky is no longer a teenage poster boy designed to increase recruitment, he’s an orphaned army brat with a bad temper and mean fists, trained by the SAS to be a deadly weapon behind enemy lines. Every issue is laced with espionage and badassery, it’s played straight all the way and light hearted moments are few and far between. This isn’t your grandad’s Captain America, it’s something much better.
I grew up on military bases, and PX always had Marvel comics, they rarely had any DC comics and if they did they were a Detective Comic… I didn’t grow up with may DC comics, it was all Marvel’s stuff. The first comics I ever purchased with my own shitty allowance was Captain America and Iron Fist. So those were my first comics that I felt really invested in personally.
So I got a call from Brian when my DC exclusive was ending, and he said “What do you wanna do at Marvel?” and I said “Well, the only character I really feel like would be cool would be Captain America, but they’ve just hired somebody…”, and Brian said “No that guy just got fired”, and I said “When?”, and he said “Tomorrow” [laughs].
Then the next day Joe Quesada called me up and asked what I’d want to do, and I said that since I was a kid I always thought it was a rip-off that Bucky’s death was a retcon, there was no comic where this happened, so it’s stupid but like most people I want to bring Bucky back. And he said “Well, we’ve just had a summit where we decided we were going to do that, how would you do it?” and I was like “Oh, I dunno!”
So Joe said “If you can convince Tom Brevoort that your way makes sense then we’ll give you the job”, and I had Brevoort on the phone the next day and I was riffing the Winter Soldier origin, and Tom had four or five questions that he felt I needed to answer. So I sat down for a couple of days typing and that ended up becoming the origin of the Winter Soldier.
Then I got that job, and that was another case where I tried to take a realistic, espionage sensibility and bring it to that over-the-top, heightened world, and I think the fact that I had Steve Epting and Michael Lark drawing it made a guy in a star-spangled costume not seem totally ridiculous.
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