Tuesday, 28 October 2014

This Week in Free Comics (28/10/14) - Comixology Declares Civil War!

With the recent announcement of the slate of films surrounding Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Three, it's no surprise that, seven years later (and counting), Marvel will create a new wave of hype around the Civil War narrative. The 2006-07 event concerned the battle between government and costumed superhero (manifested as the Superhero Registration Act, SHRA for short), and led to a division between heroes that resulted in the death of Captain America. Marvel's new Comixology freebies are quite handy, as rather than serving as an introduction to the much-publicised, controversial event series (written by multi-talented Mark Millar of Kick-Ass), it's an introduction to the tie-in books which created a much larger universe than is hinted at in that seven issue series. Sounds a pretty sweet deal to me!

Personally, I would say that the Front Line tie-in stands out the most and as the most original. Although some readers might prefer the superhero perspective, what Front Line does is it removes itself from the physical 'front line' of war and places it within the media's 'front line' of newspaper representation of the events, as conducted through the Daily Mail and our (vastly underated) protagonist of Phil Urich - which is an especially crucial element within modern society. I definitely understand why some might prefer not to read the more political perspective, but especially with the outstanding writing by Paul Jenkins, it's worth checking out. There's back-up stories, including a five-page one in each issue which juxtaposes the superhero Civil War against a real-world conflict. In this case, it's the American internment camps during the 1940s which held prisoner to Japanese American citizens. It's grouped together with an anonymous poem written in 1943. It's not very relevant to the Civil War storyline at all, but if one ignores Spider-Man's presence to the right of each panel, it's a moving piece of American history drawn by Kei Kobayashi which really receives no attention.

Fantastic Four is probably the least-useful of the tie-ins, as ASM spotlights Peter and Tony's partnership, whilst New Avengers shifts its focus to Captain America (the cover star), a perspective not really covered within the tie-ins in the Captain America, which looked more at the wider cast of Sharon Carter and Bucky.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Punisher War Zone #1-6: The Resurrection of Ma Gnucci

Writers: Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

Covers to #1-6 by Steve Dillon
Variant cover to #1 by John Romita Jr.
-        Released in 2009, this five issue limited series came after Ennis had concluded his run on The Punisher. In many ways, this is a much more obvious sequel to his initial run than any of his other works on the Punisher. However, characters and locales from his initial run have appeared through his second run on Punisher and MAX. Appropriately enough, it was released under the Marvel Knights imprint, now used to showcase limited series and creators rather than 'redefined', grim and gritty characters. Any Marvel Knights ongoings had been absorbed into mainstream Marvel or cancelled.

-        Dillon also worked as penciller on Ennis' second run on Punisher several times, but this marks their first collaboration on the Punisher since #23 (May 2003,) although he drew Daniel Way's 2005 limited series Punisher Vs. Bullseye. Dillon would draw the Punisher again in 2012's The Incredible Hulk #8.

-        This story occurs over a period of four days.

Collected in:
  •       Punisher: War Zone - The Resurrection of Ma Gnucci HC/TPB (Marvel Comics, Apr        29th 2009)
  •       #1-6 are available as part of Marvel Unlimited.


Continuity Notes

-        Elite, who was murdered along with the other members of the Vigilante Squad by the Punisher, returns, but here as a legacy character: his son Tim. He explains that "With what came out in the days that followed [his father's death], I almost forgot about the bum completely." We see his progression as a character in flashback.

-        Gnucci returns in a resurrected form (see the title of the book.) The Punisher supposedly kills her again in this issue.

-        Whilst interrogating Charlie, he explains:
            Punisher: "You're Charlie Schitti, soldier in Pete Alceno's crew. Also                                                 the last surviving member of the Gnucci outfit."

            Schitti: "Uh, yeah, that's true as a matter of fact. I was in hospital that                                           whole summer, I fell down the stairs an' broke my                                                             pelvis. That's how come I wasn't around when... well,                                                       when..."
-        Richthofen says "the Gnuccis used to be big about six years back. Until the Punisher wiped them out," placing us at six years after that original story, despite that story being published in 2000, and this one being 2009 (I don't believe it was delayed.) This is another self-contained story, so it has no real ties to the wider Marvel Universe. The Punisher refers to that story as "one long, strange summer several years back." He says that he "wore them down until the whole damn crew were in their graves."

-        Charlie gives us some small background on the Gnuccis: "I mean I was with Ma's crew for twelve years, I never heard a whisper...her grandfather got off the boat in the twenties or somethin', but he wasn't even connected..."

Pop Culture

-        In the opening (dream) sequence, the sexually confused/curious Charles Schitti tells his colleague "we could get outta town an' go somewhere, just the two of us." Andy responds: "Ah, gettin' a little Brokeback Mountain there, Charlie": or what we all know as the 'gay cowboy film.'


Continuity Notes

-        The first 12 pages follow on from last issue, whilst the rest of the issue occurs the following day.

-        Richthofen gives us some more information on Welcome Back, Frank: she again refers to it as six years ago, and says that Ma Gnucci was fifty-nine at the time.


Continuity Notes

-        This issue occurs immediately following #2. He reflects at her grave, just as in last issue: "Makes you wonder how she made it to Pete Alceno's barbecue last night."
-        When speaking to Molly, the Police Captain asks her "You headed up that Punisher Task Force back in two thousand, didn't you?" This places this story, six years later, in 2006.

Pop Culture

-        Elite notes: "In the movies, you see Bruce Willis or someone get shot, and they wince a bit and carry on, running around killing bad guys. Well, let me tell you: the pain of a bullet's like white heat." Of course, Bruce Willis continues to get shot in sub-par sequels to Die Hard and Red.


Continuity Notes

-        The Punisher reflects "I saw her alive and well two nights ago. I'm not the only one," and refers to last issue as "last night," placing this issue the day after #3.


Continuity Notes

-        We follow directly on from last issue.


Continuity Notes

-        Pages 1-12 follow on from last issue, whilst the remainder picks up on the following day.

-        Gnuccis reappearance is revealed to be through a series of identical doubles.

-        Schitti discovers his sexuality (presumably) by using a carved-out pumpkin as a sex  toy...anything goes.

Pop Culture

-        Richthofen jokes "[it's] like Martha Stewart complimenting my needlepoint--"

The Punisher: Welcome Back Frank (v3 #1-12)

Writers: Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

Covers to #1-12, by Tim Bradstreet
Variant covers to #1 and #2 by Jerry Ordway, Steve Dillon and Dan Jurgens (#1), and Jimmy Palmiotti (#2)
-        Part of the Marvel Knights line, this is not the first time the Punisher has been a part of the Marvel Knights imprint. In 1998, he appeared in a limited series by Christopher Golden and Tom Sniegoski. Ennis makes fleeting reference to it in this series, but overall their Knights work is a footnote in the Punisher canon. The Punisher would also become a part of the eponymous series, Marvel Knights, launched only two months after this story and lasting for 15 issues. This 12 issue maxi-series would be followed by a second run of The Punisher by Ennis, which continued a few elements from this series.

-        Ennis' more famous work is perhaps Punisher MAX, a 'grim and gritty' version of the Punisher of ambiguous canon, released under Marvel's MAX imprint from for 60 issues from 2004-2008, before switching writers several times. Indeed, this was Castle's only series for that period, bar Fraction's run on War Journal from 2007-2009.

-        Dillon had also collaborated with Ennis on the creator-owned Vertigo series Preacher from 1995-2000, which told the tale of Jesse Carter, a possessed Texan preacher. The pair had also collaborated on a number of Hellblazer issues in the 90s for Vertigo (printed in the Tainted Love collection); Ennis was the first successor to the ongoing from the original writer, Jamie Delano, excluding fill-in writers. Hellblazer Special #1, entitled Confessional, originates their archetype of a Catholic priest who abuses his clergy from the confession booth, including incidents of sexual abuse and murder.

-        This story was one of the influences on the 2004 Punisher film, which starred Thomas Jane as Castle. Director Jonathan Hensleigh said:
"I was very heavily influenced by Garth Ennis', Welcome Back, Frank. That's where I took the tenement apartment, the characters of Spacker Dave, Joan the Mouse, Mr. Bumpo and the Russian. The Russian is appearing in probably the most elaborate and costly of our set pieces."
On the comedic tone of the series, he responded:
"Dead on-same tone. That’s what I liked so much about it-it was violent, tense and real, but it had a kind of jaunty, light-on-its-feet, droll tone."

Collected in:
  • The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank TPB (Marvel Comics, July 1st 2001), with the 1995 non-canon one-shot Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe, Ennis' first work on the character.
  • The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank TPB (Panini Comics, Oct 10th 2001)
  • The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank HC (Marvel Comics, Aug 20th 2008)
  • The Punisher by Garth Ennis Omnibus (Marvel Comics, Dec 10th 2008), with the second series and Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe.
  • The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank TPB (Marvel Comics, Apr 13th 2011)
  • The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank Part 1 HC (Hachette Publishing, Nov 14th 2012)
  • The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank Part 2 HC (Hachette Publishing, Aug 7th 2013)
  • #1, #7, #11 and #12 are available as part of Marvel Unlimited. 


Continuity Notes

-        The Punisher summarises the events of the previous Marvel Knights series, which was written by Christopher Golden and Tom Sniegoshi and saw the Punisher cast as "a supernatural avenging angel". Ennis juxtaposes this internal monologue with the descent of one of the Punisher's victims from the top of a skyscraper:
     "I caught a glimpse of heaven once.
     The angels showed me. The idea was I'd kill for them. Clean up their mistakes on earth. Tried it. Didn't like it. Told them where to stick it.
     So they brought me up to heaven, to see what I'd be missing. A wife. A son. A daughter. All finally at peace. I hadn't seen them since they bled out in my arms.
     Then I was cast down.
     Back to a world of killers. Rapists. Psychos. Perverts. A brand new evil every minute, spewed out as fast as men can give them up. A world where pitching a criminal dwarf off a skyscraper to tell his fellow scum you're back is a sane and rational act. The angels thought it would be hell for me.
     But they were wrong."
-        The Twin Towers is a part of the New York skyline. Clearly, this series occurs before the events of September 2001. The sequel War Zone would state that this original story occurs in 2000.

-        Castle's (ironically named) accident-prone neighour Nathanial Bumpo would be portrayed by John Pinette in the 2004 film. Spacker Dave was played by 23-year old Ben Foster, who would go on to play Angel in ­X-Men: The Last Stand. Apartment tenant and friend of Castle, Joan, was portrayed by Rebecca Romijin, another alumni of the X-Men movie universe, the older Mystique of the present day.


     Continuity Notes

-        Joe refers to the events of #1 as "last night."

-        Richthofen's partner Detective Martin Soap would be portrayed by Dash Mihok in the 2008 film Punisher: War Zone.

-        Castle's target is sniper Tall Joe Small, a veteran of the Gulf War. "[He[ capped fifty guns in Desert Storm. Trouble with that war was--it wasn't Vietnam." Castle's 'war' is an interesting question. More recent writers have avoided locking down a conflict, but in Ennis' world, Frank Castle remains a Vietnam vet. He would expand on those origins in Vietnam in 1970 in the 2003 MAX series Punisher: Born; later he would make clear that Frank was born in 1950. Perhaps he doesn't have the appearance or the physique of a 50 year old man; certainly, he is simply not a 64 year old in the most recent comics, but through whatever explanation, he remains an aged veteran who has experienced a lot. (The Punisher movies similarly avoided tying him to the Vietnam War: the 1989 film cast him as an ex-cop, whilst the 2004 film updated Castle to a member of Delta Force which, ironically, in light of this statement, also served in the Gulf.)


      Continuity Notes

-        The first five pages occur immediately after #2, whilst the remainder of the issue picks up on the events the following morning.

-        Father Redono and Mrs Pearce probably have the worst rapport ever, but the constant misunderstanding between the young Catholic priest and the elderly cleaner locks down a placement for this series. Pearce mistakes a victim of Redono for a Thanksgiving turkey (!), and says that he is months early - placing this story around Spring/Summer. (The sequel, War Zone, would occur in the Summer.) She mistakes the day for Tuesday, cleaning day: but Redono makes clear to her it is actually Friday. Given the (for the most part) daily structure for this series, this locks down #1 and #2 as Wednesday and Thursday. The idea of an amoral Christian is something Ennis and Dillon also explored in Preacher.

-        As we see on the cover, Daredevil faces off against Punisher in this issue: the only element of the wider Marvel Universe (even within the Knights imprint - Bendis' run was a part of Knights at this time), to appear in this series.


     Continuity Notes

-        The NYPD discover the hanged body of Buddy Plug in his office, having been assigned last issue to read over the dossier on Castle's atrocities. Given the frantic nature of the office, it's likely the body was discovered within hours of the last issue. Certainly, this issue occurs through the night (New York City Zoo is closed), a time of day the series fittingly seems to focus on.

-        Ma Gnucci is seemingly killed (she is actually hospitalised and reduced to a limbless body) after being fed to a pack of polar bears by the Punisher.


     Continuity Notes

-        We open ten days after last issue, per Ma Gnucci's dialogue.

-        The Punisher has been taking some downtime since last issue: "Most exciting thing to happen all week. Took some time out to heal. Not getting any younger."

-        Mrs Pearse says that she is at the church for "eight o'clock on Monday evenin'" cleaning (in #3 she thought cleaning day was Tuesday), but Redono clarifies that it is Thursday lunchtime. That issue dictates it should be a Monday - but given Pearse's (atrocious) memory, we cannot take any of the dates within the church with that much reliability.


     Continuity Notes

-        A member of Gnucci's mob recalls walking home and seeing the Punisher just after the fight with Gnucci in #4, past midnight, "staggerin' up the street" and leaving "a big traila blood." He reaffirms this was "ten days ago," placing #6 (or at least the first two pages of it) on the same day as last issue.

-        The media reports the killings of Elite and Mr Payback last issue as "last night": a woman's pet dog by Elite, and the Wall Street "massacre" of the Worldwide Investment Corporation's board of directors.

     Pop Culture

-        Richthofen and Soap pass the time searching for the Punisher by playing a movie based game. Molly: "It's a game. I give you the title of a movie, you have to come up with another one beginning with the last letter of mine. And so on." Their list includes Jaws (Richthofen), the infamous 1975 Spielberg film which adapted Peter Benchley's novel and told the story of a seaside attack by a shark, The Spanish Prisoner (Richthofen), a 1997 romance/suspense film directed by David Mamet (Soap: "Good movie.), and Raiders of the Last Ark, another Spielberg film which launched the Indiana Jones franchise.


     Continuity Notes

-        This issue picks up right after last issue.

-        Ma Gnucci summarises that the Punisher "killed eighty of my soldiers in the last two weeks. I've barely enough left to guard the house here."


-        Professional wrestler Kevin Nash played Ma Gnucci's hired 'hunk of meat' The Russian in the 2004 film.

    Pop Culture

-        Soap and Richthofen continue their film list in the bar:
     Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, a 1974 Clint Eastwood film (Richthofen); True Romance, a 1993 Tarantino film (Soap); Enter the Dragon (Richthofen), the final Bruce Lee film completed in his lifetime (his actual final film, the ironically named Game of Death, was completed with new footage posthumously); Near Dark (Soap), a 1987 cult vampire film ("Not your type, huh?"); The Killer (Soap), a 1989 Hong Kong film by John Woo; Reservoir Dogs (Soap), the 1992 Tarantino film (Richthofen: "Obvious." Soap: "Still a heck of a movie."); The Searchers, a 1956 John Wayne movie (Richthofen); Silent Running, an environmental based 1972 sci-fi film starring Bruce Dern (Soap); GoodFellas, (Richthofen) the 1990 crime film by Scorcese (Soap: "I guess that about sums it up."); Sahara (Soap), a 1943 Bogart film; Angel Heart (Richthofen), a 1987 psychological horror film, and To Kill a Mockingbird, the acclaimed 1962 adaptation of Harper Lee's novel.


     Continuity Notes

-        Ma Gnucci says it's been "three weeks" since she called The Russian, and she has heard no response.

-        Mr. Bumpo returns home to his apartment after his "minor stroke" in recent issues.

-        Richthofen walks Soap through the history of The Russian:
Richthofen: "Anyway, he first shows up in Afghanistan, where he seems to have spent most of the eighties..."
Soap: "What was he, Soviet Special Forces or something?"
Richthofen: "No, he was on vacation. He liked it there. He goes everywhere there's trouble. He thrives on it. The Lebanon, Iraq, Rwanda, East Timor...month or two in Chechnya, lot of stuff in the Balkans...periodic visits to Belfast, where he's supposed to have eaten a man for a bet... That's not counting ordinary criminal activity, which brings in the rest of the globe. He's worked for everyone from the Yakuza to Vegas P.D. -- and the mob, obviously... Sometimes he does it for money, sometimes just for fun. Pretty much everybody wants to kill him. And now... now he's our problem."


    Continuity Notes

-        This issue occurs immediately after last issue.


    Continuity Notes

-        This issue occurs immediately after last issue, and then follows on into the next morning. Richthofen notes "it's nearly six a.m." on page 14. "Let's hope it's Punisher day."

    Pop Culture

-        The game continues: The Dawn Patrol (Richthofen), a 1938 remake of the 1930 World War One movie, starring (as she points out) Errol Flynn and David Niven; and Local Hero (Soap), a 1983 British film about an oil company.


    Continuity Notes

-        The Punisher kills Ma Gnucci and the entirety of the Vigilante Squad in the closing scene. She will supposedly return in the sequel, War Zone.

-        This story occurs over a period of 36 days, uncommon for a story of this length (a year's worth of comics real time would generally equate to 3 months Marvel Time):

  •     #1 - day one, Wednesday
  •     #2 - day two, Thursday
  •     #3 - day three, Friday
  •     #4 - day three, Friday
  •     #5 - day thirteen, Monday
  •      #6 - day fourteen, Tuesday
  •      #7 - day fourteen, Tuesday
  •      #8 - day fourteen, Tuesday
  •     #9 - day thirty-five
  •     #10 - day thirty-five
  •      #11 - day thirty-six
  •      #12

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The inspirations behind 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier'

Comic book movies are unique in the world of adaptations. A few hundred pages can become one two hour movie; heck, a series of novels, i.e. Game of Thrones can spawn one season (if not more) out of one novel in a series (admittedly, an oversized book at that.) No matter how much is said about how 'faithful' an adaptation is to the book, comic book adaptations are something different. Whereas The Golden Compass weaves a trilogy into one narrative, what a comic book film does is really bring a character who has been around for 50, if not 75 years, and reduce them down to their 'essence.' Comic books are known for being overly long and complex; that is their very nature. Reboots seek to do the same thing: The Ultimates, one of the big influences on The Avengers, weaves together Avengers #1, Avengers #4, later stories with Hank Pym's violence against Janet, elements from S.H.I.E.L.D., and forms a new narrative out of it. We do not build towards what the status quo will later be; the status quo is presented as it is. We do not build Pym's character over ten years; we build on from ten years later, and start out with him as a less likable character.

The film adaptations, however, have never really had that same 'serial' nature. Marvel's two earliest efforts, Howard the Duck and The Punisher really are just standalones. We are presented with the 'essences' of their characters: an alien duck who finds love in a Clevelandian woman; a vigilante whose family was killed by the mob. It does not matter that there are cosmetic differences, like Frank Castle being an ex-cop; it does not matter that Howard the Duck is an 'origin' tale, whilst The Punisher gives us a Punisher with an already established career (not fighting Spider-Man.) Of course, by the late 90s/early 00s, the films began to spawn sequels: but these were not so tightly woven as what Marvel Studios is producing now. Spider-Man did not necessitate a Spider-Man 2, but Iron Man clearly did. Spider-Man 2 teased a sequel with the Green Goblin, sure - but this was only once the franchise had been established. More recently, Marvel Studios seem to have promised adaptations which are closer to the comics: Iron Man 3, for example, was set up on the fact it adapted Extremis, which had already been a major influence (at least on an aesthetic level) on the first Iron Man film. In reality, it was quite different from that story - Maya Hansen may be a primary character, but Aldrich Killian is not dead (unlike the opening suicide in the Extremis storyline), and the Mandarin ('Trevor Slattery') is really quite a different entity from the Communist superpower (and later Fraction's 'businessman' type, with his own walled city) of the comics - the Mandarin of the comics wasn't even really known for detonating bombs.

With a title like The Winter Soldier, surely here we have a pretty accurate adaptation of the first 14 issues of Ed Brubaker's run? It is the Winter Soldier, definitive article. In a sense, yes. This is the story of Bucky Barnes' return to the present day, but also a whole lot more of that. And rumours certainly suggest we are getting the same movement of stories: The Winter Soldier followed by a middle story, followed by The Death of Captain America. But The Winter Soldier and Winter Soldier remain two different stories. To me, The Winter Soldier isn't so much the essence of Out of Time/Winter Soldier, but the essence of Brubaker's run. 

We see elements from all over the place, of course. Think about it: in the posters, in the action figures, and in the first half of the film, Steve is wearing the uniform he adopted following his resurrection, where he allowed Bucky to redeem himself as 'Captain America', until the press leak we see in The Trial of Captain America forces those plans to be abandoned. This was a new identity one which saw him follow covert ops with the Secret Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. It's a symbol of Brubaker's run, really. Sure, he developed a lot of ideas with the characters, which of course gives him an acknowledgement in the end credits. But this is a uniform which immediately identifies an era, not the one which has been seen worn constantly since 1941 - just as 'the Captain' uniform identifies Mark Gruenwald's run, and the Marvel NOW! uniform identifies Rick Remender's run. 
The Heroic Age / The Winter Soldier costumes
The Winter Soldier's costume is a pretty accurate match to the original costume, which is a testament to Steve Epting's ability to work off what Brubaker wrote in creating the design. The Soldier wears the same arm, but one aesthetic difference is the mask: here the traditional mask which carries over a visual element of Bucky's character is absent, replaced with a more logical, covert mask which covers the full face. This element has already been introduced into the comics: first, briefly, in The Bitter March limited series, released at the same time as the film, and designs for Ales Kot's Winter Soldier series, where the Soldier moves onto a cosmic backdrop of the Marvel Universe, show it will be a design element used.

Variant cover sketch design of Bucky by Marco Rudy, for the series Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier

The Winter Soldier as glimpsed in Rick Remender and Roland Boschi's Winter Soldier: The Bitter March #1, set in 1966, which incorporates some design elements from the film.

But what this film really does is introduce the 'character triangle' of Captain America/Falcon/Black Widow which Brubaker featured in his run. Of course, the film does it a little differently. As we open on Brubaker's run, we are introduced to Steve very much as a solitary figure: he is in his apartment, alone. He fights terrorists atop a train, alone. Steve's world in this issue is kept small, and it will not be expanded until later issues. The 'triangle' of characters would not be seen, in fact, until after Steve's death: it is not until #27 that the Black Widow is drawn into the picture. In the comics, of course, the Winter Soldier and Black Widow share a KGB history, a romantic element seemingly absent from this story. It is because of Bucky, and because of Steve's death that the three characters know Steve this closely, at least outside of the Avengers. Here, we see that triangle introduced from the very first scene of the film, admittedly in civvies, and before the Falcon adopts his identity with Steve, but the essence is there. The Falcon isn't even a part of Brubaker's run until #12, in Steve's hunt for the Winter Soldier: which, as the second to penultimate issue, forms what is really the 'third arc' of the story arc: just as the Falcon really becomes proactive in the third act of this film.

The antagonists of Batroc and Crossbones fit this same mold; this film version gives them a layer of realism absent from the comics - especially in Batroc's case. Like, see that mustache. That face mask. His stereotypical faux French accent. The film uses French Canadian actor Georges St-Pierre, who does not play up to stereotypes, yet excels at his signature fighting style (Pierre is a real martial artist). Batroc does not need to trade purple and yellow for black; it keeps the same colour scheme but constructs a much more grounded character; 'the Leaper' dropped from his title. Crossbones here still dresses in black, but the 'crossbones' of his name are absent from his uniform: this is a prequel, as Brock Rumlow is allied to the protagonists, working in S.H.I.E.L.D. (although secretly a supporter of Hydra.) It's unsurprising, though: the MCU makes everybody members of S.H.I.E.L.D.; just as The Amazing Spider-Man is emulating by tying everyone to Oscorp. Rumlow is more ambiguous here: he is not the (evil) teenage gang member who would go on to work with Taskmaster and Red Skull. Both characters are elements in Brubaker's run: Crossbones was instrumental to the death of Captain America, whilst Batroc featured as the antagonist (albeit briefly) in the Two Americas arc, facing off against Bucky Barnes.

Batroc's introduction in Tales of Suspense #75 also brought another element into the Captain America mythos: Peggy and Sharon Carter, Steve's romantic love interests. As it is staged here, Steve passes Sharon in the street. She recognises him from what her sister (!) has spoken to her about the war, but doubts it could really be him. Steve is immediately taken to her. Brubaker's run would refine this to a less creepy relationship, aunt and niece: a change all for the better. Sharon references to caring for her "aunt," but her connection to the 95 year old is not made explicit. In her introduction she was very much this character to be built up in subsequent stories, but not a focal romantic love interest as of yet; they are merely neighbours. All we know of her is that she has a tangible connection to Cap's past, and is an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., as we see here in the final act. The idea of Steve becoming romantically entangled with a neighbour is something the comics have covered, but in a different form. In Captain America #148 (the second issue of Byrne and Stern's seminal run, collected in trade form as War and Remembrance), we're introduced to a different love interest, Bernie Rosenthal, a young woman moving into Steve's apartment block "across the hall" at Brooklyn Heights. Although Sharon and Bernie don't share explicit similarities, it's a welcome role to place her in.

Peggy Carter's role in the present day is remarkably different here than it ever really was in the comics: despite the passage of time, it shows that she is still alive, albeit in a care home in her 90s; Cap attended her funeral in Vol. 6 #1, three years ago. Back in the 70s, she was still the 'other lover', wanting to reclaim her relationship with Cap, despite now being in her 40s. She remained a proactive character, becoming an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. herself. (Let's imagine a Peggy Carter in her 80s and 90s buttkicking on international missions. Infinity Formula much?) Here she is instrumental in founding the organization, in 1947. She didn't spend the 1940s mourning the loss of Cap; she remained an agent (as we saw in the awesome Agent Carter one-shot, and will see again in the TV series.) Now, she remains in hospital with dementia - picking up on threads from deleted scenes from The Avengers. It's an element also played in Brubaker's Captain America #49 - Peggy Carter is in care, visited occasionally by William Burnside, the literal spitting image of Steve Rogers (he received facial surgery in the 1950s to take on the mantle - yes, this was a retcon.) She is living in a world where she simultaneously thinks it is the present day and that Roosevelt is President. In the 1990 film, she took on the role of reorientating Steve into the modern world: he visits her house, where she shows him a video of Martin Luther King Jr. Here, Steve is keeping a checklist of pop culture and events he's missed; he almost seems to 'reorient' himself every single day.

There's other elements which acknowledge Brubaker's run, too. In the opening to one issue, we see Steve finishing his "20 mile" morning jog around Brooklyn and bumping into Sharon. The fact we see Sam Wilson acting as his personal trainer elevates this scene to greater significance. Also, once Bucky has regained his memories in the comics (by the power of the Cosmic Cube), he returns to Camp Lehigh, the army base which trained Steve and held Bucky as camp mascot. This is switched in the film to become a place of reflection for Steve, recalling his training under General Phillips. But it's also where the S.H.I.E.L.D. installation was born; a neat tying up of events. The comics are more ambiguous about how the organization formed, but the impression the comics give is that it was formed in more recent decades, proposed by Fury as a means of countering the rising threat of Hydra. Safe to say, the only remnant of World War II was Fury himself, and maybe a few other ex-members of the Howling Commandos.

Cap visiting the museum on the Golden Age of Heroes was also a scene we glimpsed in Brubaker's run, in The Death of Captain America. Of course, in this story, it is Bucky Barnes. In the comic, Bucky speaks to an older woman visiting the museum. She speaks about the war; internally, he reflects that her memories are false; he remembers the events as actually happened. It's an interesting link between memories from the War and how they are presented to the public, encased in glass. The post-credits scene hints at Bucky reclaiming his memories through the exhibits, intrigued by the idea: "Who is Bucky?" The comic retelling of Steve's return to the present day, Man Out of Time, uses the exhibit as a means of Tony Stark relating the past seventy years: a museum Tony recalls visiting as a child himself. Exhibits are given not only to Steve Rogers, Bucky or the Howling Commandos, but also to the legacy of Captain America: the men who adopted the role post-war - William Naslund, Jeff Mace, and William Burnside. Stan Lee, sadly, is absent as security.

The Howling Commandos in the films all died - but in the comics, many of the members took the Infinity Formula which sustained Fury in the decades after the war. Notably, in his introduction in Strange Tales, the S.H.I.E.L.D. dynamic teamed Fury with Dum Dum Dugan, the ginger Texan with the mustache and bowler hat. We even get a hint of his existence in the present day (or, some years beforehand), in the film tie-in Spies Like Us, which saw Nick Fury as an agent during the latter days of the Cold War. More recently, Dugan's present day existence has been completely retconned in the series Original Sins, offering vignettes based around characters featured less prominently or not at all in the event book Original Sin. Fury reveals that Dugan's entire present day existence from the 1960s onward has been a series of highly advanced LMDs, whilst the retired Fury is aged into his natural state where he passes 100 in appearance (in 2011's The New Avengers #12, Fury stated he was "com[ing] close to my hundreth birthday"), and in his dying state is given a new task of watching over the universe.

The Smithsonian exhibit from The Winter Soldier (image taken from Marvel Movies Wiki)

But it's true that a lot of ages have been shifted in the film. In the shift in era, Steve and Peggy are older than they were ever meant to be. Nick Fury and Black Widow are naturally younger; she is only 30 (closer to Scarlett Johanson's actual age, 29), as opposed to a 90 year old with the agility of a 20-nothing year old. Interestingly, though, Bucky is Steve's senior: Bucky's exhibit gives his birth as 1917, a year before Steve's MCU birth on July 4th 1918. These are dates which hold (perhaps coincidental) significance: Bucky is born just as Tsarist Russia is collapsing, giving rise to Leninism - the same year as America joined the war; Steve is born on the final Independence Day of the war. In the comics, they were never friends before military service. Steve was born into poverty in 1920, an Irish immigrant; Bucky was only 16 when he met Captain America, born into a military family in 1925. The flashback we see of Steve mourning his mother's death with Bucky could not have given him a friend to bounce off of in the comics; he was more of a solitary figure.

In fact, the Widow's role is completely different to that in the comic. As I mentioned earlier, she doesn't have a history with the Red Room in the 1950s. Our Black Widow is seemingly a product of Yeltsin's Russia - although she also mentions she was a member of the KGB, an organization which was dissolved along with the USSR in 1991. She was born in Stalingrad, and must have been recruited into the KGB as a child - likely passed into the modern agency. But Bucky here is seemingly not even a part of the Russians; instead, he is a part of Hydra. In the same way that the Nazis such as the Red Skull shifted to Hydra (but with German ties) in The First Avenger, the catch-all is repeated here, but with Commies as opposed to Nazis.

Black Widow's role here resembles that of Sharon Carter in the Winter Soldier comic. Black Widow - an established character, having been there through Iron Man 2 and The Avengers - is here, aligned with S.H.I.E.L.D., to reassure Cap and insight him on the Winter Soldier (shared between Sharon and Fury in the original story.) She pairs with him and gets her own badass moments. I suppose the Widow is kind of the inversion of Agent 13: she is the Black Widow, whilst she is the White Widow. The Black Widow is James' love interest, and the White Widow is Steve's. Natasha gets some of Sharon's wit here, too.

But Falcon is another new addition to the film mythos. He's somewhat different to the comic version, but it's a welcome change. The Falcon, or Sam Wilson, was first introduced in Captain America #117-119 - the first African American hero in comics. In his first appearance, entitled The Coming of the Falcon, Sam Wilson is introduced under mind control of the Red Skull on Exile Island; Captain America later frees him through the power of the cosmic cube. Sam Wilson lacks much of a backstory in his first appearance, something Steve Engelhart added to in #186 - a history as a street criminal, Snap Wilson - an aspect of history best forgotten, which, in a CBR interview, Rick Remender has stated outright will not be an aspect of his history in the All-New Captain America series, focusing on Sam:

There never was a "Snap" Wilson. "Snap" Wilson was a construct of the Red Skull. He was an attempt to defame Sam. So Sam has a very personal grudge against the Red Skull.
For the films, this is revised to a much more modern take. The idea of Sam as a criminal is anachronistic, and certainly far from a positive representation of black America. Here we find out Sam has emotional baggage, having served two tours of Afghanistan - a soldier history which reminds the viewer of Tony Stark's origin, who served the war much more indirectly yet was shaped in several ways by it, most notably to become a super hero. The heroism of war has been brought home with him to be used as heroism as a super hero with Cap, and heroism in his own Harlem community. His job as a social worker is something the comics explored too; an element seen explored in his 1984 solo series.
  The sleek modern folding wings most obviously reflects the costume worn during the Brubaker run, where Falcon's costume developed to have a solid glider. But here it's S.H.I.E.L.D. tech, rather than a contraption of his own. One notable absence is Redwing, a bird that Sam adopts and becomes integral to his origin: the Cosmic Cube (i.e. the Tesseract), in its use by the Red Skull, granted him the ability to communicate with birds (of the feathery kind, not the dating variety), forming a lasting relationship with Redwing - and in doing so leading him to Cap. (This relationship was briefly construed to be based from a mutant power of Sam's, an aspect from the limited series which has been retconned out of existence.) Anthony Mackie has even said he would have loved to have Redwing in this film - but perhaps we'll leave that for the sequel? Mackie speculates:

I want to. I was joking the other day -- "I got it, I got how it works." In "Captain America" 3, Cap and Falcon go off, Falcon gets kidnapped, dragged into a lab. Because the Winter Soldier broke his suit and his wings, he's brought into a lab and he's given the power of having real wings that are attached to his body. And then, he's given the power to talk to birds. So he comes back, and he's like, "Oh, Cap, what happened?" And Cap's like, "What did they do to you?" And then this bird comes out -- "What's that?" "That's Redwing. He follows me everywhere." So it could easily be done. I've thought about it, man! Anything that gets me into red spandex, I'm in.

Nick Fury's role here is a major difference from the comic, tasked in a much more proactive role. Not merely Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., we find Fury trapped into a rigged car fighting for his life, and subsequently faking his own death. This adds emotional gravitas to his role, which from the original comic seemed constrained to the desk, reviewing over dossiers of appearances of the Winter Soldier with Steve to maintain to him that the Winter Soldier is Bucky, despite how much Steve tries to deny it. Nick Fury has died before (in the 1990s Marvel Knights series, he died only for it later to be revealed an LMD took his fate), and he's also gone underground before. That storyline comes briefly after Winter Soldier, where the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. position becomes up in the air and he retreats into the shadows, where he trains new recruits. That storyline would form into Secret Warriors, an ongoing series by Jonathan Hickman about S.H.I.E.L.D. living in the dark, following its takeover by Norman Osborn to be replaced by the agency H.A.M.M.E.R. From the first issue of that series, it's revealed that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been corrupted by the forces of Hydra, causing further deception within their ranks following the Skrull infiltration. This is a plotline which has only been resolved in the last couple of years, in which Osborn has fallen and S.H.I.E.L.D. has struggled to rebuild, now under capacity but arguably stronger than ever (in terms of number of appearances and their importance to present day books.)

However here, that dissent is widened to include more well known agents including Jasper Sitwell. Sitwell's film version is nothing like his comics counterpart, and his film version is basically Sitwell in name only - made obvious by, in a memorable scene, whispering the words of "Hail Hydra." (Also, his movie counterpart feels free to remove any hair from his head.) As we see Sitwell in the comics, he forms a major part of Steranko's defining work on S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury, part of a close knit group in S.H.I.E.L.D. made up of Fury, Dugan and Sitwell. He's given many great moments in that run, but here the two don't even share a room together.

Interestingly, Sitwell's fate is tied to the Winter Soldier in the comic too. In issue #9 of the Winter Soldier ongoing series, written by Brubaker, we find Sitwell murdered by a brainwashed Black Widow on a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, directly related to James' actions and her capture by another KGB agent to bear the Winter Soldier name, Leo Novokov.

Another aspect of Steranko's run that seems to be present here is Fury divulging some backstory on his family. It's something that, in his age, we rarely see Fury do, but in Strange Tales #159, Fury talks about his youth in the '30s, reflecting on growing up in Hell's Kitchen - the same area of New York which would define Daredevil. In this monologue, he talks about idolising film stars of the day, with characters like the dog Rin-Tin-Tin, Tom Nix and Joe Bonomo. He speaks of his father, killed in action at the end of the First World War, and his mother, "mamma Fury", who despite their poverty took pride in Fury and saw him as "the healthiest dog on the block."

The film remolds other characters, too. Alexander Pierce, portrayed by Robert Redford, evokes the political thrillers of the 1970s he formed a part of, such as All the President's Men. Like Sitwell, he is Pierce in name only. In the comics, he was introduced in the epic prestige format series Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D., which saw the agency Nick Fury is a part of turn against him. Pierce there is a completely different character, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent with little notriety, and certainly not the shared history with Nick that we find here. Here he was instrumental in Fury being a part of S.H.I.E.L.D. today, however in the comics Fury, with his history with the Howling Commandos in World War II, was destined to become the face of that organisation.

Some fans have drawn parallels between the Pierce we see here and the villain of Brubaker's run: a different Alexander (or rather, Aleksander) - Lukin, a Russian who heads the Kronas Corporation who, with the support of characters such as Zola, helps to formulate Captain America's demise (as seen in #25.) This was the character who brought the Winter Soldier back into prominence in the present day, through his operations in Lukin's name. It's important to note, though, that that Alexander functioned under the mind of the deceased Red Skull, a villain absent from this film; also, the Alexander there played no part in infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D. However, it's interesting drawing these connections between characters.

The S.H.I.E.L.D. of the films is obviously different to the S.H.I.E.L.D. of the comics. In this film, set in Washington DC as opposed to New York (adding further diversity of location and heightening the political intrigue riff), we're introduced to the Triskelion, the off-coast modern base of S.H.I.E.L.D. This location is also somewhere we've seen used in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, and its provenance is modern: it's where S.H.I.E.L.D. has grounded itself in the Ultimate line of comics, as first glimpsed in the Avengers analogue book The Ultimates.

Arnim Zola was a genuine surprise addition to this film. We were introduced to him as a human, portrayed by British actor Toby Jones, in The First Avenger, henchman to the Red Skull, working with him as a part of Hydra in the Alps. The comics has always portrayed him in a more creepy, robotic form; a Nazi whose consciousness exists only as a head on a screen projected from an android self. Brubaker toned down Zola to be less colourful and more menancing during his run, but it's still a slightly ridiculous conceit.

What if?

Here, however, Zola is transformed into a computer terminal straight out of the 1970s. During the post-war period, he's continued the legacy of Hydra, shaping it into the beast it continues to be in the present until his death from terminal illness in the 1970s, only to be reincarnated in computer terminal form. The comics cast Zola differently, self-sacrificing himself into his android form as part of Nazi experiments in 1944. Zola's allegiances saw not the rise of Hydra, but the continuation of the Nazi legacy. His work in the transferance of consciousness contributed to his work in creating a series of clones of both Adolf Hitler (in the form of the Hate-Monger, adversary to the Fantastic Four in Fantastic Four #26) and the Red Skull (in Uncanny Avengers: The Red Shadow.)

Other narrative elements bear resemblance to Brubaker's comic, too. In the comic, the Cosmic Cube is what recovers Bucky's memories, and sets him on a new life path - in a similar way which evokes Steve's introduction to the Falcon. It's clear that Bucky recalls parts of his past (the scene with his fight with Steve and the removal of his mask plays exactly as it did in the comic), but here it's more ambiguous. We find him in the museum trying to recall his history, but how he got there is not aided by the Tesseract and left for the viewer to work out. It's ambiguous, to set up a third film which will act as a second part to the Winter Soldier storyline. It is a sequel, yet it is very much part one. We may not necessarily see the Death of Captain America, but we will see the growth of the Winter Soldier into his own hero.

Image credit: Tumblr

It's interesting to see though, that with this and Iron Man 3, Marvel are building their new universe on the 'essence' of their more recent stories: it took only four years for Steve Rogers' 'super soldier' outfit to move from the page to the screen. (Arguably, Corman's The Fantastic Four did the same thing: the design crew immediatey went towards the costumes from the '80s comics.) Iron Man 3 is the essence of a 2004/2005 story, and so is The Winter Soldier: indeed, both stories were paired together on release in a one-shot called Tales of Suspense. We know that Guardians of the Galaxy is taking what Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning redefined in their 2008 run and moving that onto the screen, and not Vance Astro and Starhawk. Once Marvel have moved past the origins, except in the case of The Avengers (which, despite its Ultimates elements, seems more to have the flavour of the original series), which is moving from Loki in the first film (as per #1), towards Baron von Strucker, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch: all elements seen in the mid-60s issues of the series.) Iron Man 2 seemed to be our 70s/80s chapter of Iron Man, with Rhodey taking on the role of War Machine, like Thor: The Dark World was our 80s chapter of Thor. Now, it seems, the potential is in the last decade.

And I think that's good. The Marvel movies are moving towards a 'serialised' nature, exactly like the comic books they were spawned from. Except there is still a major difference: the Marvel films are still a biannual thing. Supported by the odd comic book series and TV programme, they may be, but Marvel Studios are still building from the 'ground up.' Even if we don't compare the six years from Iron Man to the 50+ years of the Marvel Universe, the Marvel Universe still saw more development from 1961-1967 than the MCU has from 2008-2014. So, perhaps not of the same quantity, but the quality remains pretty excellent. We don't need to see 'the whole story', with all of its tangents, retcons, deaths and rebirths, crossovers and changes in character identities: the movies are giving us the essence of a character, taking threads from one place and another and forming a new narrative. We get to look at the story in a new way, and we remain invested in seeing something different from what we had in the comics. The Dark Knight Rises didn't need to be the 1800 pages of Knightfall, and yet it still delivered, even if some fans saw it as weaker than The Dark Knight. It's a new story out of the old. Wonder how Ultimate Spider-Man kept with a teenage Peter Parker for 150 issues? It may have been largely the same story, but told in new ways and focusing on different aspects of the old than the 'old' originally did.