Kot & Rudy Traverse the Marvel Universe with "The Winter Soldier"

When World War II broke out in the Marvel Universe, a teenage Bucky Barnes enlisted and ended up seeing action in the conflict's European and African theaters as he fought alongside his partner Captain America and their teammates the Invaders. In the final days of the conflict Bucky was captured by the Soviet Union and forced onto a path that would lead him to more violence and more global hotspots -- that of a brainwashed, cybernetically enhanced KGB assassin. The KGB kept Bucky, now codenamed The Winter Soldier, in a state of suspended animation in between jobs, which meant he retained his youth when he eventually confronted his former partner several years back and subsequently regained his memories.

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Recovering the knowledge of his past set Bucky back on a more heroic path, one paved with adventures across across both the globe and in outer space. While the Winter Soldier has seen virtually all of Earth and some other planets as well, he still has yet to travel beyond a a small fraction of the Marvel Universe. That's going to change in a big way this October when the Avengers NOW! initiative gives birth to "Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier," a new ongoing series by "Secret Avengers" writer Ales Kot and artist Marco Rudy begins. CBR News spoke with Kot and Rudy about the upcoming series, which finds the title character operating on an intergalactic and interdimensional scope and scale.

CBR News: Ales, with "Zero" and "Secret Avengers" you created a reputation for yourself as a go-to guy for spy comics. The espionage genre covers a a wide variety of tones and subject matter from the stories of John le Carre to spy comedy tales. What is it about the world of spies that makes them so compelling to you? Do you have a favorite type of espionage tale?

Ales Kot: At their core, spy stories are about what we as a society are going through. We are having a huge national conversation about privacy and security, about privacy and openness, about control and freedom. These are some of the core things humanity is dealing with as a whole, and spy stories are just one of the possible channels these themes can be filtered through, understood through, and worked with.

"Zero," my Image Comics series, is an exploration of these themes; of war and violence, of what I already mentioned above, and of nature and nurture. In "Zero," I'm looking at those via a mostly tragic angle, at least right now.

With "Secret Avengers" I decided to go with something that is much more rooted in farce, because I don't really want to do the same thing twice. It's interesting to see how the stories make new stories, informing one another as I work on them.

With "Winter Soldier" I initially wasn't sure whether there was anything I wanted do with it. I had to have the right idea and the right team. I knew the money would be nice and so would the rise in visibility, but that's never enough to take on a project. I'm also aware of the tendency to cram people into this idea of who they are as creators. So someone can say, "This guy writes spy fiction." Or, "This girl writes SF. And that guy writes stories for Marvel where people talk a lot." That's such a simplification and objectification of something much, much larger -- of all the different creative impulses within each act of creation and each creator.

Being aware of the above, I spent some time considering whether or not to make the comic happen. When Wil Moss, my editor at Marvel, told me that the angle was possibly intergalactic, I was very delighted. That opened it up for me. That really felt like something I could mess with, play with, a new way of exploring the Marvel Universe for me. We can go into the depths of it and find treasures. It's a grand, epic adventure. We start with some of the themes I'm working with in "Zero" and "Secret Avengers," add to them, and the comic evolves into a thing of its own. The evolution is present in the first issue.

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Marco, looking over your recent body of work, you seen drawn to books that allow you to experiment and try different things. Is that one of the reasons you accepted the "Winter Soldier" assignment?

Marco Rudy: Interestingly enough, I too was a bit reticent when the offer for "Winter Soldier" came about. I was fresh out of the Doctor Strange "New Avengers Annual," and being that Stephen has always been a favorite of mine, I was really interested in pursuing the character and his realm. I was basically insisting on more work with Strange. It was a surprise when I got "Hey, how about Winter Soldier, instead?"

My initial doubts quickly faded, the moment I had a long chat with Ales -- with whom I have talked, many times before, about collaborating on something. His ideas, coupled to the complete openness to whatever crazy idea I had and (very important) Marvel up-front saying, "Hey dude, do your thing, go nuts!" turned any doubt into a no-brainer and enthusiastic "Hell Yes!"

From then on chaos ensued. [Laughs]

Ales, what's it like working with Marco? I know you asked to work with him on this book, and based on what I've seen of his work he seems like someone who can handle anything you ask him to draw.

Kot: I fully believe that, yeah. I believe every artist can draw anything they decide to draw. And if they can't they can certainly learn. Marco is special though in that not every artist already understands that one of the core paths of being an artist is exactly the same as one of the key themes of "Winter Soldier," which is exploration and diving into the unknown; not being afraid to create a flow between you and the unknown.

I get to a place where I'm imagining what a page might look like and then it goes to Marco and he might do three different things with it. He might choose three different ways of approaching that page because he considers the scene, the feeling of it, how various artistic techniques can work together with the feelings and the themes of the script. He also considers how they can go against them and create various interesting dissonances. I don't always put the themes in consciously -- it's a mix-and-match scenario.

Marco is a very thoughtful human being and at the same time a very connected artist. There's feeling and thought in his work. He also has a very clear technical grasp of his art, so I'm completely delighted with him.

I can give Marco Asgard, the Aurora Borealis and completely new planets where we have to invent everything about them visually and otherwise. He takes the challenges and runs with them because that's one of the reasons why he does this. He loves making comics, and I love making comics. Every act of making comics is essentially a celebration for us because it's a way we can connect with people who love comics as well. Art is communication. Comics are art. Comics are communication.

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Marco, which elements of Ales' scripts do you enjoy most as an artist?

Rudy: Ales is crazy. I am crazy. That's very easy. [Laughs]

So far, I have had one script to draw and have had a chance to visit new places, create new races and laugh out loud at the script and the possibilities it gives me.

This is literally everything I could have asked, and more. Upon our first talks I said to Ales, and editorial, "Trust me." It is interesting to see that not only does he trust me, Ales puts me to the paces, so far, even going as far as to see just where I can go -- and beyond. Ill defer to the first part of this answer.

Let's move to your protagonist. What do you find most interesting about Bucky Barnes? Which aspects of his personality are you most interested in exploring in this series?

Kot: Bucky used to be a hitman, a blunt instrument of war. He served in the military, served for the Soviet Union, and became Captain America. It sometimes seems like he was pushed into many of these scenarios without making his own choice.

Jason Latour and Nic Klein's run on "Winter Soldier" was really interesting in that it allowed for further exploration of what the Winter Soldier was about. They went back to the character's past and had him face some very important realizations. I don't want to say more and spoil things for readers who have not yet read it yet. I do recommend everyone interested in our run reads that run because it's a very, very good comic that adds extra layering on top of everything we're already doing, which is a lot.

Now -- Bucky is in this place where he's survived all of these things. That means he's got an incredibly strong survival impulse. That means he's very capable, but it doesn't necessarily mean he's alive, because surviving and living are two very different concepts. What I want to get into is what happens when you get to a space where you can finally expand? What happens when you put yourself in a position where you can learn on a faster and on a grander scale than ever before?

That's what Bucky faces and that's what we face through the exploration of the Marvel Universe. So what you see here is the theme echoing through everything from the creative process to the story, which is just incredibly cool to me.

In other words both the character and the creators are on a search for something?

Kot: Yes, maybe in a way Bucky is looking for something. Maybe he's looking for a way to not be looking for anything anymore. Maybe there's something else behind all that, which he can get to.

I don't want to spoil anything, but I can say the first issue is titled "The Transmigration of Bucky Barnes," which is an homage to the "Transmigration of Timothy Archer" by Phillip K. Dick. That's a book that very much deals with identity and that's another core theme of "Winter Soldier." The comic is a mixture of Phillip K Dick, the classic "Heavy Metal" magazine, '60-'70s paranoid spy-fi, fantasy, and horror. The Marvel Universe is filtered through all of those approaches.

Marco, who is Bucky to you as an artist? Which aspects of his character do you really want to capture and bring forward in your art?

Rudy: Bucky is Jim Steranko. Jack Kirby. Bill Sienkiewicz. David Mack. JH Williams. Because, the very first thing that comes to my mind, when I think of whatever approach I wanted to do to the character, visually, Steranko and his Nick Fury was front and center. And "Kabuki," "Promethea," "The Prisoner," "O.M.A.C.", "Elektra: Assassin" or "Stray Toasters," and so much more.

This is a character that was never a "Robin." From a young age he was trained to be a stealth killer. Let the big guy take the glory, he was there, in the shadows, doing the dirty work and getting all the girls. [Laughs] He then grows up to be an assassin and eventually be the best James Bond could be, as a Captain America. Slick and effective, acrobatic and stylish, but very, very effective.

As the talent mentioned above, I want to play with storytelling, at the same time I want to show this guy doing his thing, be it being a shadow, or taking center stage with acrobatics and more. But keeping in mind that, for me, this guy is not from "now," so I'm keeping a very (or trying to) keen eye to showing him as a pulp hero of old as well.

Bucky is the title character in your series, but I understand former S.H.I.E.L.D. Director in waiting Daisy Johnson (AKA Quake) is in this series as well. What do you feel she brings to this book?

Kot: Daisy is a younger and more impulsive character than Bucky, and I can reveal that they are indeed working together. I can also say that it was very important to me that we have a female protagonist in addition to our protagonist. Two core female protagonists, actually. Here's to passing the Bechdel test.

What I can also say is Daisy appears in the first five pages and it's one the biggest openings I've ever seen in the Marvel Universe. Those first five pages are really mind-blowing to me. I've read them a few times now and I'm utterly delighted by them.

The other female character -- in simplistic terms, she's a princess who doesn't really believe in being a princess any more. This feeds into the larger theme of how we impose certain structures in our lives and how chaos and structure are intertwined. That feeds back into every single character. Enormous repercussions appear.

So in a way she's just like Bucky? She had a role thrust upon her and she's trying to figure out who she wants to be?

Kot: There might be something to that.

I know Bucky and Daisy's mission in space needs to be kept secret for now, but it feels like the fact that they're out there traveling the Marvel Universe is especially significant. Is another theme of this series the idea of travel and what it does to you?

Kot: Yeah, travel expands one's mind quite thoroughly. One thing that it seems to do -- and has done to me, as I travel a lot -- is it erases the idea of borders in a lot of ways. The more I travel, and I believe people have this in common, the more I realize that we are all really the same. When it comes to the core of what human beings are, and I'm not sure I'm putting this properly into words, but let's try -- we all come from the same place.

I think that may go further than just human beings too. It might be all living things. There's a sense of empathy that I feel increases with every trip taken.

Marco, we know Bucky and Daisy will be traveling to some new worlds. What's it like designing new planets and cultures for the Marvel Universe? What do you enjoy most about that type of design work?

Rudy: Oh, the possibilities. I can do anything. Like, anything at all, I can make inner jokes and references to classics (first issue is ripe with those), I can bring to life anything at all, what's not to be excited? [Laughs] It is also quite daunting because, being that I want authenticity and some truth to what new we create, I always strive to go to places I haven't seen before -- I do a lot of research -- and from then on let loose what I learn. I think this is a boring answer, but it is true, the most exciting thing about it are the endless possibilities to have fun creating, rearranging, morphing, adapting anything. Anything at all, and from that create something meaningful. Hopefully we get there.

All that traveling suggests that "Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier" is a book that could feature plenty of established Marvel characters as guest stars. Will we see Bucky openly interacting with other characters in this series or is he sort of acting in the shadows in this book?

Kot: We will go to Asgard in the second issue. We will be visiting about three to four different planets in our first issue. There will be a completely new planet in issue #3. We'll be in Limbo, and likely more. So we're going to a lot of places and a lot of the major players in the Marvel Universe, both established and newly created, will be making appearances.

One character type we haven't touched upon is the antagonists that will be featured in this series. I understand if you can't say much, but what can you tell us about the antagonists that Bucky and his traveling companions will run afoul of in "Winter Soldier?"

Kot: I believe that "antagonists" don't really exist when it comes to real life unless we're talking about ourselves. Because I feel usually when most people believe they have enemies they are their own enemy. They trip themselves up imagining evil when evil doesn't exist -- all that exists are acts of evil we commit. But evil people, or antagonists? I don't believe in those at all.

Bucky has to face that. He has to face the notion that he himself might be his own enemy. There's a lot of ways you could take that in. You could ask -- is there more than one Bucky? Or is that more of an internal thing? Or could it be both?" Or could it be something different? Could there be someone mirroring Bucky in the Marvel Universe?

I'm not going to say which one of those things we're dealing with. It could be more than one. I will say that plenty of people and other races will be attempting to take Bucky's life. He'll also have to face some pretty big challenges within himself. So: internal and external. Issue #1 begins with Bucky about to be executed.

Marco, let's talk a little more about the overall look of the book. How does it compare to some of your recent Marvel projects?

Rudy: My goal is to always be improving, always learn new things, and with new challenges, push myself to new horizons, artistically. As you can see, one thing constant in my work, especially when I "cut loose," is morphing the storytelling of a scene, to further enhance what is going on, and the message I perceive, of said scene. The thing that keeps changing is my approach to rendering said scene, because the layout and storytelling is what defines me. At least it's what I'd like to think I do.

This new work has me pushing the envelope even further, using color even more than before, to set the mood and stage for what we're trying to show/tell. That is probably the main difference I can perceive so far. You never know, next issue I may be pushing myself to learn something else, to better tell the story at hand.

If this isn't the best work I have done, it is rapidly coming very close to that. It is, at least, the one I am most satisfied with so far. Each page, each panel, each sequence done, I learn more and get better.

Finally, if I were to pick a few a few words to describe this book based on what you guys have told me I would say it sounds like an existential, action-packed, planet and dimension hopping adventure series. Is that a good way to describe "Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier?"

Kot: That sounds pretty fair. It's certainly one way to classify the book.

It just -- it feels very right to be writing "Winter Soldier." As I said before, I had my concerns about it and I was wondering if it was the right path to choose. So I waited until I knew and now I'm delighted by the comic. There's a feeling of it deeply mirroring what I'm going through and processing at the moment, and there's this deep creative happiness within me and Marco, and our editors Wil Moss and Jake Thomas. We're working together, experiencing awe and wonder. "Winter Soldier" feels like almost no other Marvel Comic I ever read.

Rudy: Yup, pretty on point. And Ales says it best, so I defer to him in this. [Laughs] I say give it a try. "This is different" sounds cliched and overused, so instead I'll invite readers to keep an open mind and take a trip with us. Hopefully you'll have as much fun reading, as we have passion, making such experience the best we can provide.

"Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier" begins in October.

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