Or – “What Might Have Been…”
This book is another recent example of something that should have been, in my eyes, more popular that it was. Spinning out of the Fear Itself mega-crossover, featuring the man who successfully took up the shield of Captain America fighting against his own past, written by Ed Brubaker, it seemed like a sure thing. So, what’s going on with Bucky and Natasha? Your Major Spoilers review awaits!
WINTER SOLDIER #9
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Penciler: Michael Lark
Inker(s): Brian Thies with Stefano Gaudiano
Colorist: Bettie Breitweiser
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Editor: Lauren Sankovitch
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $2.99
Previously, in Winter Soldier: A virtual ward of the state long before such a thing actually existed, James Buchanan Barnes was raised on a military base, which led him to become part of the covert operation that brought Steve Rogers into the role of Captain America. Lost in battle, he spent decades as a brainwashed soldier for the USSR before being recovered by Captain America. There was a bit with the cosmic cube, Cap’s seeming death, a run as Captain America himself and a faked death in the battle that was Fear Itself. Since then, the Winter Soldier has been tracking down other Russian sleeper agents with the assistance of The Black Widow, but their shared past in espionage has come back to haunt them, as a former colleague has stolen Natasha away and brainwashed her again, leaving The Winter Soldier out in the cold…
BLACK SWAN WIDOW?
With the help of Jasper Sitwell, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Bucky has taken up the search for the Black Widow, but isn’t having much luck. Novokov, the other Russian sleeper, has spirited her away, returning her to her old cover identity of a ballet dancer. Of course, the story then strains credulity to the breaking point by putting her in the middle of a show for the First Lady of the United States, without so much as a background check or fingerprinting. This is, after all, the Marvel Universe, and The Black Widow is a prominent member of The Avengers as well as a known former Russian spy. One might think that someone might notice her showing up and suddenly being the central dancer in the premier troupe in Washington DC? Either way, fighty-fighty ensues, and we get a chance to see how skilled the Widow is (as all the Avengers who appeared in the movie have gotten a skills upgrade and moved to top tier status, by contractual obligation) as she
OUR HERO GETS TO PLAY THE CABBAGEHEAD.
This issue wants to be a tense thriller, but it turns out to be a little less interesting than it could be, as a couple of the plot twists are pretty well telegraphed. Winter Soldier is forced to make a decision between saving his lover and bringing in the bad guy, and predictably chooses love over sensibility, leading us to an ending that I saw coming quite some time away. After battling S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and nearly assassinating the First Lady, Black Widow is left to her own devices without even so much as a checkup, with her brainwashing containing some additional commands. From an art standpoint, this issue is sadded with a pretty hideous cover, one that leaves the Soldier looking greasy and oddly like Stephen Seagal. The interiors are much better looking, but even good art can’t save a plot that meanders and fails to surprise.
THE BOTTOM LINE: NOT CANCELLED AFTER ALL, BUT NOT THEIR BEST OUTING.
Those who pay attention will note that Marvel first cancelled then un-cancelled this book (probably due to that Captain America sequel movie), and that it is now expected to survive after Ed Brubaker leaves the Captain America franchise in the near future. I’m somewhat torn about this, because I really want to love this book, but mostly find it a bit tedious. Had it launched at a point where Bucky had some character momentum behind him (say, three years ago) it could have been a huge hit, but after Fear Itself, even the most die-hard Bucky Barnes fans seem to be a bit gunshy. Winter Soldier #9 is kind of pedestrian, kind of predictable, but mostly just ill-advised, earning a disappointed 1.5 out of 5 stars overall. The concept behind this series (“What if there wasn’t only one?”) has legs, but the stories have yet to really do justice to the hook…