Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Captain America and Bucky: The Life Story of Bucky Barnes (#620-624)

Writers: Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko

Artist: Chris Samnee
Cover artist: Chris Samnee
Collected in:
  • Captain America and Bucky: The Life Story of Bucky Barnes HC/TPB (Marvel Comics, Jan 4 2012)
  •  #620-624 are available on Comixology and as part of Marvel Unlimited, although erroneously listed as Captain America and Hawkeye.

-        Released at the same time as Captain America: The First Avenger reached cinemas, this five issue arc acts as entry point, re-examining Captain America's 1940s life through the eyes of his sidekick Bucky, or as he is actually known James Buchanan Barnes.

-        This series takes over the numbering of Captain America, which ended at #619, only to be relaunched the following month with Steve Rogers reclaiming the mantle of Captain America. Acting as a sister title, whilst it had no narrative links to Captain America, its look at Bucky is somewhat of an epilogue/prologue to Brubaker's last 7 years on the title. After leaving the title, the series changed focus to a team-up book, pairing Cap with different Avengers. Cullen Bunn wrote three arcs - Hawkeye, Iron Man and Black Widow - before the series was cancelled. The only issue in Bunn's run to revisit the World War II era would #635.1, a Captain America and Namor story. As for numbering of the simultaneous Captain America series, who knows?

-        Whilst each issue tells an individual event from Bucky's early life, the arc is linked together into one story through Bucky's present day narration.

#620 "Masks"

Continuity Notes

-        The issue opens in 1935, showing us the aftermath of the death of James' mother, Winifred Barnes. Bucky was born in 1925, making him 9 or 10 at the time of her death. He says "we had some fun years" after the death, until his father's own death.

-        In Winter Soldier: Winter Kills #1, Bucky states his father died "right before Christmas in 1937." He explained the incident in more detail in Sentinel of Liberty #12, offering a somewhat different take on events:
"I...I never said anything... but this...this is how my Dad died, Steve. He was demonstrating parachute techniques. He'd done it a hundred times... ...except that time, his silks never deployed. Never. I know that for a fact...'cause I was on the same plane. I watched him fall... 'til he was gone."
-        Whilst Brubaker's more recent take supersedes what Waid had written, it's possible that Bucky was partly lying about how events played out in Steve, especially if that issue was early on in their relationship, only for him to clarify events to Steve later on.

-        On page 3, Bucky promises to his father not to get into fights anymore. He breaks this promise the following page, indicating this is not long after that - a promise he is never able to apologise for with his father's unexpected passing.

-        Page 6 shows his father's burial, likely within a week or two of his passing. Bucky says "the days moved fast after that... almost a blur..."

-        Page 7 picks up in 1940, the year Steve Rogers adopted the role of Captain America. Bucky has been separated from his sister and now lives at Camp Leigh, now 15, acting as camp mascot and trading bribes for "smokes" and dirty magazines. Bucky practices the same thing in Sentinel of Liberty #12, going so far as to trade watches, watercolours, lighters, and bars of Hershey's from under his coat. In that story, it's these trades which facilitates his and Bucky's first meeting, following a fight Steve became involved in.

-        In The First Avenger, Steve's transformation into Captain America occurs in June 1943. Unless anywhere says otherwise, I'm going to assume that the transformation also occurred in June in the 616 universe, placing these pages in Summer-Autumn 1940.

-        Bucky is assigned to a "special assignment" on page 13 by General Phillips, i.e. his military training in England, which begins just after his 16th birthday. Bucky describes "they were the longest months of my life."
Art from Captain America (vol. 5) #50

-        The newspaper Phillips is reading, the Stars & Stripes, is headlined "SUB-MARINER ATTACK". Namor's activities at this time, detailed in Marvel Mystery Comics, involved fights against Nazis and attacks on New York.

-        Bucky explains "they shipped me off again" after two months of training, bringing us in 1941. After two weeks of evaluation, he is introduced to Steve Rogers by Colonel Phillips.

-        Phillips says to Steve that Bucky is "sixteen...all of four years younger than you, Rogers." Steve is variously established to having been born in 1920 or 1922 on July 4th. (Remender uses the latter date in vol. 7 #1.)

-        Brubaker updates the established origin: instead of accidentally discovering Steve's real identity, his physical skill was noticed by Phillips and so Bucky was trained towards the role of Steve's sidekick.

Captain America and Bucky #620 / Captain America Comics #1
-        This is an expansion on Brubaker's depiction of the origin in vol. 5 #50. In this issue, Bucky gets drunk on his 16th birthday (which the issue later notes is in March) and is dragged back to a cell at Camp Lehigh. Major Samson visits him, who informs him of a "different kind of birthday present" - he will be sent to England the next day for S.A.S. training. Bucky relates:

"Two months of combat training with the S.A.S.-- the hardest thing I'd ever done... Followed by another month of special training back into the States. When he didn't think I was listening, General Phillips said I was the best natural fighter he'd ever seen. Next thing I knew I was meeting Steve Rogers, and the brass was making up a cover story for the press... "Camp Kid Becomes Cap's Sidekick!" Making kids all over the country think it could happen to them, too."

 Pop Culture

-        On page 2, panel 3, we see James, his sister and his father leaving the theater for Snow White. Walt Disney's animated version, though, did not premiere until December 21st 1937; it received wide release on February 4th 1938.
-        The newsreel of Cap shown to the S.A.S. is distributed by Marvel.

#621 "First Blood"

Continuity Notes

-        This issue occurs at an especially early point in Cap and Bucky's career; Bucky states "After a few weeks together, Cap and me... was like we'd been brothers-in-arms for years." Cap and Bucky are going on government missions, and have begun appearing in movie serials and propaganda. Bucky asks Steve "When are we gonna get in this damn war already?"

Pop Culture

-        Bucky comments on his portrayal in staged propaganda: "Faithful sidekick? What am I? Rin Tin Tin?" Rin Tin Tin was a German Shepherd who appeared in a series of 27 films by Warner Bros. in the 1920s and early 1930s.

-        Steve and Bucky are watching In the Navy at the theater, a 1941 Abbott and Costello film.

#622 "The Invaders"

-        In commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11, the back pages of this issue reprint 5 paintings from the anthologies A Moment of Silence and Heroes, published within months of the attacks.

Continuity Notes

-        The opening three pages show us a newsreel introducing "the incredible Invaders!" This is distributed by Marvel Tone, same as in #620. The theater is playing This Gun for Hire, a noir adaptation of the Graham Greene novel, released in May 1942.

-        This issue shows the Invaders operating in Poland in early 1942, per the captions. The thick snow means it is no later than early Spring.

-        Pages 6-9 flash back to three weeks earlier, to an incident with the Invaders discovering an Atlantean attack disguised as a German sub.

#623 "The Hell of War"

Continuity Notes

-        The issue's captions date this issue to late 1944. Bucky says to Toro "We've been Invaders for three years."

-        Bucky and Toro infiltrate what he is told (or assumes) is a "P.O.W. camp" in Auschenberg, only to come to the realisation it is a death camp. Auschenberg was never a real death camp, however camps were situated in Poland, the Ukraine, Croatia, Serbia and Belarus. At the end of the issue Toro leaves the camp to flame, but leaving the liberation of the Jews in question. Many articles are available out there which explore exactly what knowledge the U.S. military had of the existence of death camps at that time.

-        The final page shows us "months later", recapping the events glimpsed in The Avengers #4, which left Steve and Bucky separated in the Atlantic Ocean - a story which has of course been retold numerous times.

#624 "The Soviet Era"

-        The back of the issue includes a 6 page preview for the original graphic novel Castle: Richard Castle's Deadly Storm, based on the ABC series.

Continuity Notes

-        This issue explores the Winter Soldier's training under Khrushchev in the late 1950s, which was first glimpsed in Brubaker's opening run on Captain America, Winter Soldier. We see his growing relationship with Natalia, and the forced separation into stasis by his superiors. Bucky describes "That was the first time they saw the cracks in their conditioning." The captions tell us this is 1958, conflicting with previous Winter Soldier dates which have been said to be 1957.

-        Captain America does not actually appear in this issue, except as a dummy played by Barnes as part of a Russian training exercise. The "commie-smasher" Captain America appeared in a continuation of Captain America Comics in 1954, later revealed to William Burnside, who was placed into cryogenic sleep the following year. Presumably, the Captain America here is a more symbolic part of the training exercise, and not an actual villain for the Reds to face.

-        The final two pages reveal who Bucky has been narrating the story to throughout the arc: his sister Becca, now in hospital suffering from Alzheimer's. Joined by Natasha, this acts as a tease for the Winter Soldier ongoing series which began a few months later. In essence this is a stepping stone from Fear Itself, where Bucky faked his death to remove himself from the spotlight, his identity revealed to the public, and into that ongoing.

-        As they leave, Becca says "Don't forget the carnival this weekend... I love the Ferris Wheel..." This is a reference to #620, where we see James, Rebecca and their father at the carnival.

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