Hitting emotional rock bottom is a difficult time, a point in your life when the ghosts of past mistakes can really haunt you. And when those ghosts take the form of the memories of the people you murdered in your former career as an assassin, hitting rock bottom isn’t just difficult — it’s dangerous. Doubly so for assassins who ply their trade in a world where the fantastic is a reality, a world like the one in which Bucky Barnes, the title character of Marvel Comics “Winter Soldier,” lives.
In the final days of World War II, Bucky was caught in an explosion that separated him from his partner Captain America, thrusting him into the hands of the Soviet Union’s intelligence service where he was transformed into a bionic brainwashed assassin known as the Winter Soldier. Years later, Cap freed his former partner from Soviets control, but Bucky was left with the memories of every horrible thing he did while he was brainwashed.
Cap’s friendship and the love of the former Soviet spy Natasha Romanov (Black Widow) helped Bucky deal with the guilt over his past actions, but in the final arc of writer Ed Brubaker’s run on “Winter Soldier,” Barnes was robbed of that love by an old foe who erased all the memories the Widow had of him. In “Winter Soldier” #15, the new creative team of writer Jason Latour and artist Nic Klein kicked off their run with the first chapter of a new story arc that began with Bucky alone and trying to atone for his violent past.
CBR News: Jason, you open your first story as Bucky is traveling the world, attempting to repent to the people he wronged during the time he was under Soviet control. To me it almost felt like that he was “making amends” in the same way you often see alcoholics in a 12 step recovery program do. Is that a fair analogy, or is what he’s doing a bit more complicated than that?
Jason Latour: Well, I don’t want to draw a straight line to AA because addiction is a disease that I don’t want to do any disservice to in any way. But we are dealing with a character who’s starting to see that some of his habits are causing the pain in his life. His support system is gone. All the methods he’d established to cope with who and what he is have basically been laid to waste and it’s opened his eyes a little. So Bucky is out to find new purpose, to find hope in the face of a mountain of evidence against it.
His new “mission” is basically him doing that by applying himself in the best way he knows how. But of course what he does best is clearly a large part of the problem. That’s a loop I feel is relatable. I’d hope it doesn’t take being an addict or a Soviet assassin to understand it, and to empathize with how hard it is to change.
Bucky’s mission of redemption was intercepted by Nick Fury, who steered him towards a burned-out, former deep cover spy he had wronged named Joe Robards, a new character you seemed to have a lot of fun writing. What inspired Robards’ creation? How big of a role will he play in this story arc?
Robards is one of those characters that I feel like has lived with me forever. He’s in many ways inspired by the direction I’ve always wanted to see the heroes in my action movies take. A Shane Black or Vince Gilligan-inspired James Bond, maybe; characters who push their bleak sadness and pain out as black humor. It probably comes from being around a lot of blue collar stuff as a kid. Seeing people who very much resigned themselves to their place in life until the time came when they explode in some way or the other. There’s some of that in Bucky, so I feel it makes them a natural “Lethal Weapon”-esque pair.
When Bucky and Robards came together, they battled some HYDRA soldiers that had been touched by sinister supernatural forces, and this wasn’t the only part of the story where we saw elements from real world action thrillers collide with elements of the Marvel Universe. Is that what we can expect from your run on “Winter Soldier?”
Definitely. I think the fantastic element of the book is what makes it unique. A love of spy noir is very much at the heart of what we’re doing, but if a reader wants that straight with no chaser, there’s a lot of other places to find it. This book is the only one where you’ll get this kind of mix.
It’s maybe closest to something like Batman in the sense that say the Joker or Mr. Freeze are very big imaginative concepts that are balanced out and enriched by the street level realism of the detective work. “Winter Soldier” as a character extrapolates that approach to the full size, scale and history of the Marvel U. So the idea is to use that to present Bucky challenges that really reflect his internal struggle in a way that wouldn’t be possible in any other story.
The other major story element was a mysterious woman who sabatoged experimental S.H.I.E.L.D. super soldiers who had come to retake a satellite that she controlled. I assume this woman is the villain of this arc — is she the Electric Ghost that the solicits have mentioned?
I suppose you could call her the Electric Ghost — I’m going to play a little coy with that one for now. We’ll get a hint of just who she might be in issue #16. The origins and significance of the name and possibly the character take center stage later, but she is definitely the antagonist. As I’ve said before, she’s what’s grown in the rubble of Bucky’s past. In that way, she’s tied to him intrinsically. It uniquely places her to make a real mess of the espionage landscape of the Marvel U. She has a really dangerous working knowledge of it. She knows some very dirty secrets.
I want the stories I write to be open to interpretation. I’d say we’re coming at some very common superhero themes, like responsibility and redemption. Some of it is probably about control. What it takes to accept you can’t always “fix” things. It’s personal to me in that way, for sure. As much as this is a story about assassins and black ops missions and space stations, it’s still a romance of sorts. These are very much post-break up comics in their way.
Who are some of the other supporting players in this story? We’ve seen Nick Fury who is now not an official agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Will we see some of S.H.I.E.L.D’s other agents or personnel?
Of course the O.G. Nick Fury is still around. Just what his role is as he’s put out to pasture at S.H.I.E.L.D. will be a key question moving forward. To that end, S.H.I.E.L.D. itself will also become very important; what they represent and who they represent.
As I said, Robards is key. There’s a linchpin moment in he and Bucky’s shared history that much of this story will revolve around. So he’s here for the haul. That puke stained tux is going to be pretty ripe by the end.
Robards is just one of the grizzled characters Nic Klein has shown a flair for. What can we expect from Nic’s work on upcoming issues?
Nic’s a German art Terminator, sent from the future to drive motorcycles through walls and wreck shit. He’s drawing issue #18 right now, which is an issue I only had the guts to try because I knew what kind of chops he has. As those bigger moments have begun to unfold across the second half of the arc, Nic’s really put them on his back and carried us. I’m really lucky to have the guy around.
Can you comment at all on the aftermath of this initial arc? We know that Bucky will play a role in Nick Spencer’s “Secret Avengers” series. Does this story set up some of the ground work for that?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As for what Nick Spencer’s doing, well, that’s a secret, right?
Fair enough! Finally, we’ve chatted about your immediate plans for the book, so can we wrap things up by giving readers some cryptic hints about what awaits Bucky Barnes further down the line in the first half of 2013?
We’re creating at least four new characters in this first arc, and the goal moving forward is continue to push into new ground, to expand Bucky’s cast and world. To break him apart and rebuild him, as is kind of the tradition of the character. After living with him for the past six months or so, I can honestly say I could write his story for a very long time. This arc sets up some very key concepts that I’d love to expand upon. At the end of the day, that’s up to you guys as readers. So I hope you’ll want to see that.
I really want people to enjoy reading this book as much as I do writing it. And if they do, I hope they’ll petition Marvel for this Spy-iami Vice-style “Robards: 1984” story I’ve been daydreaming about all morning.