The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been around for a decade. In ten years, we’ve seen the rise of almost two dozen superheroes, explored the vast reaches of space and the smallest subatomic dimensions beyond our own, and soon it will all come to a boiling point in Avengers: Infinity War. As much of a spectacle as it is, the MCU is far from perfect. There have been several monumental changes to some major aspects of classic Marvel characters. The worst deviation from the comics was probably in Iron Man 3, which introduced us to Iron Man’s arch-nemesis, the Mandarin… only to reveal that it wasn’t actually the Mandarin, but an actor named Trevor Slattery. Fans were less than pleased.
Two heroes that have had their own fair share of deviations from their comic counterparts are Captain America and Bucky. They are two of the oldest human characters in the MCU, having fought side by side in World War II. However, with over 70 years of publication history and no way to squeeze every detail into a few movies, there’s bound to be several major changes. Here’s 15 of the biggest differences we found between the comic and movie version of Captain America and Bucky!
15 BUCKY WAS A TEENAGER
Right from the get-go, the MCU screws things up royally. In Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes are childhood friends. It is a friendship that is more like a brotherhood than a mere friendship. Bucky scares off some bullies who are beating Steve to the ground, defining Bucky’s often protective role over the smaller, scrawnier Steve. Of course, all of this changes once Steve gets the Super Soldier Serum, and the roles are dramatically reversed.
In the comics, however, Bucky doesn’t come into Steve’s life until after Steve has already become Captain America -- Bucky was Captain America’s teenage sidekick. The character was Marvel’s attempt at appealing to their younger audience, similarly to the way Robin was written for Batman. Bucky discovers Steve’s secret identity as Captain America. Using this knowledge as leverage, Bucky is able to convince Cap to take him on as a partner.
14 BUCKY IS NO WHITE WOLF
A recent announcement concerning James “Bucky” Barnes is that, moving forward, he will take on the name “White Wolf”. This announcement has people scratching their heads for several reasons. Firstly, in the comics, Bucky ultimately takes on the mantle of Captain America after Steve is killed by a brainwashed Sharon Carter (it’s a whole thing). Giving Bucky a new identity right now suggests to some that there may not be a plan to have Bucky step up as Cap anytime soon.
The much bigger reason people are confused by this announcement is that White Wolf is totally a character, and it’s totally not Bucky. White Wolf is the adopted older brother of T’Challa, the Black Panther. He was also the head of Wakanda’s secret police. Until T’Challa was born, he assumed that he would be the heir to the throne of Wakanda, even though he was an outsider.
13 BUCKY DIED IN A MID-AIR EXPLOSION
In Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve’s life is far from perfect. He’s scrawny, can’t join the army no matter how hard he tries, and is clueless when it comes to romance. You’d think that the Super Soldier Serum would make everything better, but fate has other ideas. Ultimately, Cap’s heroism leads to the loss of Bucky, who plummets down a cliff from off of a moving train, to his apparent demise.
It’s a stretch for the imagination because it’s quite a fall. In the Marvel comic books, however, Bucky survived a worse trauma. Cap and Bucky were chasing down a missile that had launched, only to discover that it was a trap and had been rigged to blow. Bucky attempted to diffuse the bomb, but it exploded. In both cases, Bucky is recovered and brainwashed to be a Russian assassin, so, hey, the MCU got that part right.
12 CAPTAIN AMERICA WAS BORN IN MANHATTAN
In Captain America: Civil War, Cap and Spider-Man share a moment when they realize they’re both New Yorkers. Spidey hails from Queens, and Cap says that he’s a boy from Brooklyn. It’s a cool moment between a seasoned vet and a brand new rookie superhero who is too busy fanboying to fight effectively.
The only problem is that the Steve Rogers of the comics was born and raised in Manhattan. This isn’t a huge detail, but it makes you wonder why they bothered to change it at all. Besides, if you’re talking New Yorker to New Yorker, you refer to the specific neighborhoods -- Flatbush, Bedstuy, Forest Hills, and so on. To be fair, Cap has lived in Brooklyn at times, but it’s not exactly where he’s from, per se.
11 CAPTAIN AMERICA HAS A SECRET IDENTITY
We touched on this very briefly earlier, but it bears repeating and greater attention. In the comics, no one knows that Steve Rogers is Captain America. This is something that went on for decades. He had a secret identity, a day job, the whole deal. We mentioned before that Bucky discovered Cap’s identity while on base. See, when not in uniform, Cap spent his days as Private Steve Rogers, and, to hide his superior strength and skill, acted clumsy and forgetful.
In the movies, there are very few heroes who bother to keep secret identities, and they rarely call each other by their superhero names. The superhero and everyday identities are one and the same. For many of the characters, this is because they are government agents. This is the case for Steve, who has always been a soldier.
10 CAPTAIN AMERICA IS A COMIC BOOK ARTIST
If you were a superhero with super strength, superior intellect, and a responsibility to protect the world, how would you make ends meet? There’s got to be some way to market those skills, right? Well, if you’re Steve Rogers, once you wake up in the modern world after being frozen for a few decades, you pursue your real passion -- art.
Specifically, Cap becomes a comic book artist for Marvel, and is even assigned to be the artist on the Captain America book. It’s extremely meta, a little goofy, but still pretty neat. In the made-for-TV Captain America movies of the '70s, Steve is also an artist. We’re going to be completely honest though, in just about every other way, the '70s movies disappoint. You are way better off sticking to the MCU for your Cap-fix.
9 CAPTAIN AMERICA DOESN'T LEAD THE HOWLING COMMANDOS
In Captain America: The First Avenger, Cap rescues Bucky and several other soldiers, including Dum Dum Dugan, eventually forming a group of skilled allies known as the Howling Commandos. The group is legendary, as seen in their crazy missions both in the film and on Agent Carter. There’s just one small problem with that. See, in the books, the Howling Commandos are led by Nick Fury -- it’s how Nick gained his reputation and eventually rose in the ranks to the commanding officer of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The group that Cap works with in the comics is known as the Invaders. The group featured Cap, Bucky, Namor, and the original Human Torch. Since the rights to Namor were not owned by Marvel, he was nowhere to be seen, but you can see the Human Torch’s costume as a part of the World Expo early in the film.
8 BARON ZEMO KILLS CAPTAIN AMERICA AND BUCKY
Hey, guess what? Marvel has a villain problem (and water is wet). It’s nothing you haven’t heard before, but we’d like to highlight one particular villain who the MCU has sorely mistreated: Baron Zemo. Zemo shows up in Captain America: Civil War, but is far from the ruler we see in the comics -- gone is the purple mask. There are several generations of Zemo, and Cap fought them in World War II and in the modern age. It was Zemo who set up the trap that led to Bucky’s death and Cap’s freezing.
In Captain America: The First Avenger, Baron Zemo is nowhere to be seen, and Red Skull is the main villain. Ultimately, it is Red Skull’s scheme that leads to Bucky’s fall and Cap’s sacrifice. Too bad we haven’t seen Red Skull since then -- we're sure it would be quite the shocking reunion.
7 NAMOR AND THE AVENGERS DISCOVER CAPTAIN AMERICA'S BODY
Captain America: The First Avenger opens with the discovery of the plain that Captain America crash-landed. Inside is his frozen body. S.H.I.E.L.D. recovers the frozen man, thaws him out, and introduces him to the 21st century. It’s a big surprise for Cap, who doesn’t get a lot of time to adjust before he’s called to action in The Avengers.
Of course, the comics show a different story for Steve’s discovery and recovery. Namor, the Sub-Mariner, comes across a group of Eskimos who are worshipping a man frozen in ice. Namor, angered by this, tosses the block of ice that contains the man into the ocean, where it thaws. The Avengers happen upon Cap, recover his body, and awaken him in their submarine. The MCU definitely wins this one when it comes to simplicity. It’s a cleaner story and makes a lot more sense.
6 BUCKY HAS HIS OWN COSTUME AND SECRET IDENTITY
James Buchanan Barnes, Cap’s sidekick in the comic books, is nothing more than a scrappy kid to most people. Few ever suspect that he is actually Bucky, Cap’s teenage sidekick. When Cap and Bucky go on missions, they wear masks and costumes to hide their civilian identities. Bucky’s costume is very similar to Robin’s, particularly when you compare their masks, and "Bucky" is his superhero name, not a nickname.
The Bucky of the movie is only called “Bucky” as a nickname by Cap. Most people just know him as James Barnes. He never really has a costume during World War II, just standard soldier fatigues. He has an pretty standard look as the Winter Soldier, but it remains to be seen what changes his costume will see now that he’s taken on the name “White Wolf”.
5 CAPTAIN AMERICA WAKES UP IN THE '60S
Of course, this is a little bit nitpicky, and it depends on how we are interpreting timelines. There are various versions of the Marvel Comics universe, and the MCU most closely resembles the Ultimate Universe. This was an update of classic Marvel heroes to a modern timeline, but it wasn’t ultimately very well received.
The version of the comics that most people are familiar with has Captain America waking up in the '60s. He’s gone through several decades since, and the generally accepted reason for this is his Super Soldier Serum slowing his aging process. It makes a lot of sense for the MCU to skip to modern day, but it does make one wonder what a 60's-set MCU movie could look like. Maybe it would include a younger Nick Fury, Agent Carter, the original Ant-Man, and the original Wasp. We’d watch it.
4 CAPTAIN AMERICA SURRENDERS AT THE END OF CIVIL WAR
We could make an entire article about the differences between the comic and movie version of Marvel’s Civil War series, but we’re just going to focus on one. In the comic books, Captain America sees the damage that his stand is causing, the rift he has inadvertently created, and the blood being shed amongst former friends. After what had been a long struggle that had taken our favorite Marvel heroes to some dark places, Cap decides to turn himself in. This leaves the rest of his allies as refugees and rebels, operating in secret.
In the movie, Cap never surrenders. In fact, he defeats Iron Man completely and ends up walking away. He’s now in hiding after having broken his allies out of the Raft, the MCU’s super villain prison. Wonder who else they’re keeping there…
3 BUCKY IS AN ORPHAN
This helps to explain why a teenager is hanging around an army base -- in the comics, he’s an orphan. He was left at the military base, and he helps keep things in order. If he wasn’t so young, he’d be serving in the army, but his age prevents him from enlisting.
In the MCU movies and the comic tie-ins, we get a little bit more knowledge about what the Marvel movie version of Bucky’s home life looks like. He is the oldest of four children and was a massive overachiever in school and in athletics. Just another radical change to the origin story we’re all familiar with. Fans who have really done their research will know that Bucky was also a welterweight boxing champion. Quite a difference from the orphan boy spending his time cleaning an army base.
2 CAPTAIN AMERICA HAS MORE FRIENDS (AND GIRLFRIENDS)
In the MCU, we’ve only seen a handful of allies for Cap, and fewer romantic interests. Obviously, Falcon is one of his allies, and there’s Bucky, but Cap is affiliated with everyone else through membership in the Avengers. Romantically, he was interested in Peggy Carter, but was never able to act on it, and has recently taken to her niece, Sharon Carter.
In the comics, he has many more allies. There’s Jack Flag, Nomad, Free Spirit, and Demolition Man, to name a few. Romantically, he’s dated Peggy and Sharon, but he’s also dated Bernie Rosenthal and Diamondback. No, not the Diamondback that you saw on Luke Cage --Rachel Leighton, who was a member of the snake-themed Serpent Society. The best-known of his allies and love interests are the ones that ended up in the MCU, and for good reason. Jack Flag was kind of ridiculous.
1 BUCKY GETS REHABILITATED BY S.H.I.E.L.D.
The MCU showed Bucky in the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War having journeyed to Wakanda, where he was being refrozen until a time where it was possible to cure his brainwashing and rehabilitate him. The post credits scene of Black Panther confirmed that this healing was complete, and moving forward, it’s been announced that Bucky will be known as White Wolf.
In the comics, Bucky ultimately turns himself over to S.H.I.E.L.D. for reassignment and rehabilitation. After Cap dies and Iron Man takes over S.H.I.E.L.D., Bucky ends up stealing Cap’s shield and takes over the Cap identity for some time. It seems like this is the point where the MCU and comics are once again completely veering off on different paths. We’ll see how things shape up in Avengers: Infinity War!