Coming to screens in April, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is pulled from the pages of the award-winning Winter Soldier storyline by writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting. Spanning Captain America issues #1-9 and #11-14, Winter Soldier is a fast-paced spy story that changed Cap’s status quo forever. Aided by artistic team Mike Perkins, Michael Lark and John Paul Leon, Brubaker and Epting reenergized the Captain America mythos in the introduction of the arc’s titular character, reviving Cap’s dead partner Bucky Barnes as highly-skilled Soviet assassin the Winter Soldier. Full of action, intrigue and poignant character development, this saga lives up to the hype as its movie adaptation makes its way to a theater near you.
Since the end of World War II, Soviet Russia has used its secret weapon, the ruthlessly efficient and untraceable Winter Soldier, to assassinate key Western political figures. Deactivated at the end of the Cold War, this undercover agent is once again revived by the power-hungry General Lukin and used to do his dirty work. Lukin, who has come into possession of a vastly powerful and reality-bending Cosmic Cube, embarks on a plot of death and destruction that brings Captain America to his door. Cap, still reeling from a series of recent traumas, is in no shape to come face to face with Bucky or the horrors that have been done to him. What begins with the surprising assassination of the Red Skull ends in a globe-trotting spy story of regret and redemption as Cap struggles to save his best friend from himself.
Brubaker is a masterful storyteller and his gift for plotting really shows in Winter Soldier. His scripting throughout the arc is air-tight, settling into a compelling pace and never letting up as every component of the unfolding mystery seamlessly comes together. While certainly action-packed, the globe-trotting adventure is elegantly tempered by flashback sequences and downtime, slowing down to afford some truly poignant moments. The interlude, The Lonesome Death of Jack Monroe from artists Leon and Palmer, chronicles the tragic last months of Jack Monroe’s life as his mind begins to slip as result of the Super Soldier Serum. Likewise, Cap’s flashbacks to the 1940s, as well as the development of Bucky’s experiences as the Winter Soldier, create a strong personal undercurrent to balance the story effectively.
However, while I enjoy Brubaker’s work, I find that his characterizations are often quite thin. Winter Soldier, unfortunately, is no exception. The somewhat generic dialogue feels a bit tired throughout, as Steve recycles uninspired lines plucked right from equally uninspiring action movies with a blandly flirtatious Sharon. This is a little irksome, but, compared to the rest of the compelling character drama, ultimately doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the story. I just wish some of the emotional weight reserved for Bucky’s and Jack’s storylines could have been a little bit more equally distributed among the rest of the principle cast.
Epting, who handles the bulk of the artwork, brings the story to the page with energy and gravitas. His strong sense of narrative truly shines through the use of thoughtful page design and panel transition, expertly pacing each critical scene. The quality of his lines and dramatic use of shadow sets a somber tone that grounds the story in a real sense of weight and physicality. Overall his style meshes impeccably with Perkins and flashback artist Lark, making for a cohesive reading experience from start to finish. This is also due largely in part to the work of colorist Frank D’Armata. D’Armata’s dark and moody palettes affect a somber tone throughout, and the use of grayscale color schemes during the flashback sequences is a nice touch.
Overall Winter Soldier is a great story from a dynamic creative team. It’s fun, it’s compelling, and it’s wonderfully crafted from start to finish. This arc is required reading for Captain America fans but I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an exciting superhero read. Oh, and be sure to see the movie. I hear it’s pretty good.
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