Imagine being brainwashed and forced to commit multiple atrocities for decades. Some might be able take some comfort in the fact that it wasn’t truly them carrying out these crimes — but what if the memories of those crimes remained? Would being brainwashed really matter if memories of murder and betrayal stuck around for an entire lifetime? In the Marvel Universe, Captain America’s former sidekick James “Bucky” Barnes began wrestling with these very questions when he regained his memories of the events following World War II. At the end of the war, Barnes was caught in an explosion and his mangled — but still living — body was found by Soviet intelligence who transformed him into a brainwashed and bionic super assassin code-named the Winter Soldier.
In between missions, the Soviets kept the Winter Soldier frozen in suspended animation, which allowed him to eventually confront his former partner in modern times. The confrontation ended with Cap restoring Bucky’s sense of identity and all his memories — including those from his time as the Winter Soldier. The memories shocked and horrified Bucky and he felt a continual need to atone — even despite knowing he was brainwashed while operating as the Winter Soldier.
Bucky first tried to atone by taking over the identity of Captain America when the world believed Steve Rogers dead. After the events of “Fear Itself,” Rogers is back and the world believes Bucky dead at the hands of the Red Skull. In “Winter Soldier”#1 by writer Ed Brubaker and artist Butch Guice, Bucky has once again resumed his old identity and begun his shadowy quest for redemption. To help shed some light on Bucky’s spy/thriller escapades, Brubaker joined CBR for a little insight into the pivotal pages of “Winter Soldier” #1, in stores now.
(SPOILER ALERT: THIS INTERVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR “WINTER SOLDIER” #1, IN STORES NOW)
CBR News: Ed, here on the first page of the story we have an establishing shot of both Bucky Barnes with his girlfriend, the Black Widow prominently featured. Will the two be sharing the spotlight in “Winter Soldier?”
Ed Brubaker: With any book the main character always has someone else that they’re hanging out with. In this case we have the long-standing relationship between these two characters. So the plan was always to have her be the co-star of the book. It just happened that the way Butch drew this panel she was in the foreground. So her name came first. [Laughs]
This is primarily Bucky’s book. There will be issues of the series that she’s not in. She does play a significant role in the book, though. One of my pitches for the series was that this is where Black Widow goes now that she doesn’t have her own book.
Bucky talks about how he’s been watching Natasha in action since the 1950s and she never fails to amaze him. We get a sense of how much Bucky cares for the Black Widow throughout the issue. Is the love he feels for her keeping him emotionally grounded and focused on what he needs to do?
I don’t know if I would say grounded necessarily. In “Captain America” I established that they had a history together even before he got his memories back. They met back when she was in training during the ’50s in the Red Room program and there’s always been something about her that I think really appeals to him. She’s also basically his best friend. So he’s in awe of her.
That’s what I was trying to get across in that moment. In the midst of all this gritty action and these super spy missions I don’t want to lose fact of the sight that what these characters can do is kind of amazing. Bucky is our narrator so he’s not going to brag about how amazing he is. [Laughs]
In this scene you flash back and have Bucky remember some of his early days as the Winter Soldier. The flashbacks are visually interesting and distinctive. There’s a graininess to them that suggests that they’re faint and uncomfortable memories. Was that your intention with this scene?
Butch is approaching the art for this series differently than any other Marvel book. You’ll notice that you never see Bucky’s face in these flashbacks and that was deliberate. It wasn’t something that was in the script necessarily, but it fits the theme of the scenes. You don’t see your own face in your own memories. I like the way he did that. It was an interesting stylistic choice.
The way he inked these scenes and the way Bettie Breitweiser colored them really stands apart from the rest of the art in the issue.
Here you mention an ex-KGB general codenamed the Red Barbarian. Is he the same cold war era super villain that appeared in some issues of “Tales of Suspense” from the 1960s?
He was a ’60s era Marvel villain and he was also in the “Gulag” arc of “Captain America” last summer. When Bucky got sent to the Russian gulag, [the Red Barbarian] was the main villain. So we’re picking up some of the threads from that story.
The Red Barbarian will be mentioned a couple times in this first storyline. So this story, while being a new beginning, is picking up a couple of threads we left dangling at the end of Bucky’s last “Captain America” arc.
On this page Jasper Sitwell is revealed to be Bucky and Natasha’s contact in the Marvel Universe’s intelligence community. What made you want to use Sitwell instead of a better-known character like Nick Fury?
I’ve always liked the character and he’s not somebody that I had used before. Also, the way things are now in the post S.H.I.E.L.D. Marvel world, the intelligence community feels like this real splintered thing when it’s represented. So I wanted to make sure their contact was someone from Marvel’s espionage world and [Jasper] just felt right for it. I like him as a “handler” type or an intel contact.
This doesn’t mean that Nick Fury won’t be in future issues of this book, because he is. This is more along the lines of using as much of Marvel’s intelligence community as I can without treading too much on what other people are doing in their books.
One of the main goals of this book is to try and do a Marvel comic that really feels like it stands on its own. I’m trying as hard as possible not to use characters that are in other books. That way nobody has to worry about continuity and when this is happening in relation to X issue of another book.
Here we get a great shot of Bucky’s eyes and a fantastic face shot. In fact, there seem to be some great facial close-ups throughout the issue. It seems the acting is just important as action in this series.
Definitely. There’s a fair amount of action in this comic, but for sure it’s a character driven book. Sometimes, I’m working on these issues and I’m wondering if I need to put any action in because the art is so great when it’s just our characters talking or investigating things.
We’ve talked about the book’s fantastic and distinct visuals and here’s another great one; the sudden appearance of a machine gun toting gorilla! Even though “Winter Soldier” is an action-espionage thriller, will it continue to include a lot of the fun and crazier elements of the Marvel Universe?
Yeah, This book is meant to sort of feel like “Mission Impossible” or “Splinter Cell” combined with a crazy Marvel super hero comic, so I loved the idea that there was a character in the Marvel Universe that made gorillas intelligent. I knew that it would be really hysterical to have this serious action scene and then when you turn the page you see a giant gorilla holding one of those mounted style machine guns that a normal person wouldn’t be able to lift and yelling, “Death to America” in Russian. [Laughs] I loved the way Butch drew him too with the bullets wrapped around him.
And seriously, Butch is knocking it out of the park on this. He and Betty seem to have found this perfect groove doing something that, to me, feels different than anything else Marvel is putting out on the stands.
Here we get a glimpse of the man who experimented on the Gorilla, the Red Ghost, and former Latverian Prime Minister Lucia Von Bardas. These characters appear to be the main villains of this first story. What made you want to pit them against the Winter Soldier and Black Widow?
Part of it is going back to that sort of James Bond style feel. You want your bad guys to be demented with plans or world domination or destruction. I don’t want to go too much into the Red Ghost’s involvement because it’s developed more in the next few issues, but I loved the idea that these sleeper agents are weapons of mass destruction in the form of people. So who would want them and what would they do with them? Immediately I was like, “Oh! Someone wants to use them for their own purposes.” Lucia Von Bardas was somebody who was just sitting there waiting for someone to make her into this great and crazy super villain. So she just leapt out at me.
I knew I wanted to include Doctor Doom and Latveria in this first storyline to establish the rules of this book — that it can go anywhere. We can go to places like Madripoor or Wakanda. It’s a book where one issue they’re in New York and the next they’re some place else. You never know what this book is going to be. That’s what I wanted to do with using those two villains. I wanted to really throw down the gauntlet and let people know this would be an unpredictable book.
We know you’re wary of spoilers, but can you clarify the relationship between Von Bardas and the Red Ghost? From this scene it seems like the Red Ghost is working for her.
He is working for her in this instance, for sure, but I don’t want to reveal too much. She’s the mastermind right here. He has his reasons for helping out, which will be revealed — and it’s not just for money.
Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share about “Winter Soldier” #1?
When I wrote the issue it was this dense story where I was trying to fit as much into a 20 page first issue as you possibly could while also giving people some really fun Winter Soldier action moments. I was trying to set a tone and really establish the world of the series; the way it’s going to be.
Then when Butch drew it, he just went crazy with it. When I got the pages for the first issue from Butch, I was just thinking, “This is nuts. He’s experimenting with story telling, he’s adding panels and doing all sorts of crazy stuff.” You have to look at this book three or four times to really take in everything he’s doing and really appreciate Bettie’s colors.
I believe all the sound effects are even hand drawn on here. I went through and made sure they removed everything that wasn’t hand drawn by Butch on the pages. I think everybody has really raised their game on this series. We’re trying to make it a unique and entertaining read for our fans.
I’m thrilled with it, but I worry that it’s going to be too out there for some people because it’s so different from most of the books on the stand. It’s much more in line with a movie, or a video game or a crazy European comic, but I hope it’s the kind of book that Marvel fans really want right now. I think it’s one of the strongest first issues that I’ve worked on and I couldn’t be happier with the work done by Butch, Bettie and Joe Caramagna, our Letterer. Everybody brought their A game.
I’ve been waiting for this book to come out for a long time. I’m thrilled now that it’s finally hit stores. Hopefully every one will go out and pick it up
You end things with a heck of a cliffhanger. Can you offer up any hints or teases for “Winter Soldier” #2, on sale February 15?
Wait until you see what else the gorilla has got going on! [Laughs] Naturally you can’t kill Doctor Doom with a rocket launcher — but you can really piss him off.
“Winter Soldier” #1 is on sale now.