This version of the Winter Soldier is not lukewarm.
Bucky Barnes has been a fan favorite ever since Ed Brubaker brought him back, and his popularity only only grown with the release of Captain America: The Winter Solider in 2014. He’s had a few solo series (none of which lasted terribly long), but he’s mostly used as a side character or guest (like in Mark Waid’s Black Widow run). However, Kyle Higgins is bringing him back into the spotlight with art by Rod Reis.
This issue works well because it doesn’t relegate itself to New York or use Captain America as a crutch. Of course there are mentions of ol’ Steve and Sharon Carter makes a utilitarian cameo, but ultimately Bucky Barnes is doing his own thing. What’s “his own thing?” He’s going around America helping people uncover sinister plots. This setup gives way to a variety of locations not seen enough in the Marvel universe, like Indiana and Wisconsin (allusions are made to the whole midwest).
Bucky is still fighting super-powered bad guys, but he’s not just going after Hydra in clinical underground bases like one would expect. In fact, he’s even helping people rebuild their lives in the aftermath of villainous take-downs. This points to why I love Marvel comics in particular–their willingness to let writers take characters to new places and explore the results.
Rod Reis does an excellent job at portraying these varied locations with his watercolors and intentionally scratchy linework. He brings his own unique atmosphere that lends itself well to the espionage and conspiracies encountered herein. The opening segment of this issue, where Bucky tries to rescue a corrupt cop coming clean, is straight out of noir with a rain-battered city and seedy characters plotting in cramped spaces–which is fitting since the noir sub-genre is Ed Brubaker’s specialty.
I do wish Bucky had a bit more bite to him. He’s still struggling with traumatic memories, but he comes across as a little too chipper to retain a real grit. Granted, his optimism is an intriguing contrast to all the miserable misanthropes he encounters.
Without spoiling anything, the ending is a bold game-changer. Notice that I didn’t say “twist.” If you want to hear a great articulation of what “game-changer” means, check out Lani Diane Rich’s podcasts over at Chipperish Media. But “game-changer” essentially means a development that isn’t just a cheap ploy to get people to buy the next installment–it’s a seismic shift that will alter the course of the story. And boy does this issue deliver a big wallop.