Or – “The Only People Who’ll REALLY Stay Dead Are Thomas & Martha Wayne…”

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reviewbubble.jpgIt’s an exciting world right now in comics… For the first time in years, it seems like change is occuring organically, as part and parcel of real stories, with real character development, rather than as a sales ploy. Even though I don’t necessarily appreciate everything Marvel is DOING with Civil War, ya gotta give them credit for what they’re trying to do: Something Different. That’s the raison d’etre for this issue, not just as a Civil War tie-in, but as a statement that finally puts to rest one of fandom’s old chestnuts, the concept of “Bucky Dead.”

ws1.jpgCivil War tie ins are a mixed bag, depending on the strength of the creative team and concept. “Choosing Sides” was uneven and annoyingly “Coming Attractions,” “War Crimes” simply muddied the waters of Iron Man’s motivations even more, whereas Civil War: Iron Man/Captain America: Casualties of War was nothing more than a Facts of Life style clip show (“Remember when we were trapped in the walk-in freezer, Iron Man?”) with a title so unwieldy it makes “Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer: Murder Me, Murder You” sound like a sentence by Hemingway. This one, thankfully, is a little different.

Our story proper starts with a flashback to Christmas Eve 1944. Bucky and Toro (the Human Torch’s kid sidekick, retconned to be one of the first mutants) are getting ready to go to a USO dance, while Namor is going to a reception at Falsworth Manor (because he “loves to watch the [Human] Torch squirm when I spend time with Lady Jacqueline”). As for Captain America? He’s going to spend Christmas Eve memorizing charts and plans for the war effort. Steve=not so much the party animal. Bucky flashes forward, musing that 1944 is the last Christmas he remembers, and that this one, apparently in the early days of the Civil War isn’t all that much different.

While I’m on that subject, Marvel REALLY needs to lay off the parallels to real combat in their titles. I understand that this is big business, and we’re trying to create grown up stories now, but Spider-Man’s difficulties picking a side in a comic book fistfight are in no way comparable to even the least tragic moment of any war throughout history. They’re FICTIONAL CHARACTERS, and while I feel for Peter, and for Tony, and even for Bucky here, it’s ridiculous to even imply any comparison to the pain of entire populations in real battles.

Tirade aside, Bucky’s reverie is interrupted when he gets a call from none other than Nick Fury himself. Interestingly, being one of the few players who has been off the board during recent years, Bucky is apparently the only agent Fury still deals with up front. His concern is that some of Cap’s forces are about to bust what they think is one of Tony Stark’s city bases. Fury knows, however, the truth: it’s a Hydra base, one that Nick uses as a strategic asset, and the heroes in question aren’t up to facing the green tunics. The costumes in question?

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By staggering coincidence, the one person who idolizes Bucky in the entire universe is part of this mission, along with his partners, Vision 2.0 and the new hot teen girl Hawkeye. This is one of the few times (the new Scorpion being the other) when I DON’T mind replacing an established character with a teenage girl whose belly button is showing. Kate Bishop is a well-rounded character, with a distinctive voice, in addition to being really pretty to look at. Deciding that the best way to stop the kids is a little swift and blinding violence, Bucky goes in heavy, ready to crack the teenagers’ skulls a bit to keep them from getting killed. He quickly takes down Hawkeye with Patriot’s own shield (don’t throw that thing at somebody who knows how it works, Eli) but finds The Vision a tougher nut to crack.

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Heh. Winter Soldier is a bad ass. Of course, he had his arm blown off by a BOMB, then was flash frozen in Arctic waters, so we shouldn’t expect him to be a shrinking violet. That scene reminds me of the zombie in Return of The Living Dead Part II. “Get… the @##@ing screwdriver… OUT of my HEAD!!” The kids realize that Bucky isn’t the enemy, but before he can call them off the attack, a Hydra goon finds them. Moving like a shot, Bucky grabs one of Hawkeye’s arrows and THROWS it into the cannon fodder’s neck with enough force to kill. “You… you… you just…” stammers Hawkeye. “Killed a terrorist? Yeah.” replies a nonchalant Winter Soldier.

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Heh… Once again the generation gap is showing, as the Young Avengers are there mostly to contrast the 40’s era Winter Soldier (barely older than they are, at least chronologically) to “them rotten kids today!” He calls Fury to find out Plan B, and is told that they might as well take the base. When he says the kids aren’t ready, Patriot steps forward and gets in his face. “Remind you of anybody?” asks Fury, “Sixteen year old kid, can’t take no for an answer?” “Go die…” retorts Bucky, but he sees the point. Soon, the teen Avengers, led by a man whose original code name is synonymous with certain doom, TAKE OUT the Hydra base. It’s pretty impressive, though I wonder why the kids were shocked at the first murder, but didn’t blink when Bucky started gunning down Hydras during the actual mission. Once it’s over, Bucky is still calling the shots…

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Hawkeye then proceeds to make the incredibly awkward point that some of her best friends are… um… pansies, I guess, as Bucky apologizes and takes off for the meeting he’s been planning all night. This is the only moment that rings really false for me, trying far too hard and using the “controversial” relationship between Wiccan and Hulkling to show how out of touch The Winter Soldier is. In any case, W.S. is off for his meeting: an apology to Jack Monroe. For those out of the loop, Jack was the THIRD Bucky (the one from the 1950’s, who later became Nomad), and Winter killed him. Sure he was brainwashed and barely alive, but he still feels guilty. His reflexes are still sharp though, and he nearly kills someone sneaking up on him before realizing it’s the Young Avengers, who insist on calling him “sir.” When he asks why, The Vision explains that he cross-referenced facial features and fighting style with his records, and they all know who he used to be.

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The uncomfortable moment passes, after Hawkeye sticks her foot in her mouth a couple more times, as Mr. Barnes heads on to his second stop of the night. He flashes back to his last Christmas again, as Toro laments that he can’t just walk up to the beautiful redhead he has his eye on. Bucky basically shoves him into her, and she asks TORO to dance. Cap shows up, just in time for Bucky to explain that Toro may have come in a boy, but he’s going HOME a man. It’s a charming and very authentically cute moment, but then we flash forward to Toro today… or at least his grave. And the person he came to meet arrives as well, with a brusque “You’re late.” Bucky and Namor spar for a moment, and Bucky reflects that Namor still being an ass makes him glad some things never change. Sub Mariner’s response? “I’m not unhappy you’re not dead.” Backhanded compliment, much? Finally, The Winter Soldier gets to ask Namor what he wants to know… How did Toro die?

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A very melancholy end to a quality story, one that is head and shoulders above most of the other Civil War crossovers in quality. The main character is interesting, compelling, and above all, someone likable, even when he’s shooting down Hydra goons. There’s a good bit of continuity here, but most of all, it’s good to see a character affected by the Civil War without ten pages of whiny blather. (Ms Marvel, I’m looking at YOU.)

When Marvel finally broke the news that Bucky wasn’t dead, I didn’t see the point, I had trouble seeing how the storytelling potential would overcome the stigma of resurrecting the one guy whose name has come to mean REALLY dead. The hints of a return for Captain Mar-Vell don’t bode well, either, but if this is an indication, there’s at least some potential here. There’s a conspiracy theory that says that Captain America is going to be a casualty of Civil War, and that Bucky is being groomed as his replacement. If that’s the case, this issue will have me coming along for the beginning of the ride. This issue is the best Civil War-related story this far, closely edging out the Luke Cage issue of New AVengers, and earning a damn fine three and a half stars.

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<–!adsense–>

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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