Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: Winter Soldier #2

Winter Soldier #2
Ed Brubaker , Butch Guice, Bettie Breitweiser

I've got a little theory about why I haven't read every issue of Captain America that Brubaker's written despite my love for his superhero game.  The problem is this: Ed Brubaker so consistently puts out good comics that oftentimes a fool like me begins to take them for granted.  I'm going to try to not make the same mistake with this new series because it seems to be filling a sexy, super-spy genre-sized gap in Marvel's output.  Moreover, Brubaker offers up that same kind of consistent quality that can only be found in the copy for nostalgic Chevy Truck commercials.

I lost track of most of my Marvel titles right around when Fear Itself started wrapping up, and a lot of the behind the scenes ugliness has really put me off reading much of their output (save for Daredevil and Uncanny X-Force, because, you know, duh), so I didn't really know what was going on with our buddy Bucky, but I guess he died, then he got better, and it's kept mostly a secret from everyone so that he and The Black Widow can go out and do sexy spy things together.  Specifically, they have to go out and find three other dudes that Bucky trained to be Soviet sleeper agent killers before they can be activated by bad guys and used to do bad guy things.  I'm not worried.  It's a solid premise that I'm sure Brubaker can mine for at least three arcs, and it's all there: intrigue, mystery, thoughtful internal monologues about tactical thinking, even some outlandish "a-gorilla-with-a-machine-gun-oh-shit-now-he-has-a-jet-pack?-only-in-comics!" elements are thrown in and used entirely effectively without detracting from the weight of the story,  but if it were just that, it'd be yet another Brubaker book I'd end up just taking for granted and forgetting about.  But in addition to added effort on my part to not being a chump, I'm sticking with Winter Soldier because it has a few things going for it that I think those issues of Captain America featuring Steve Rogers never did.

Firstly, KISSING!

(that one's actually from the previous issue, but just try to tell me you're mad that I made you look at that again.)

One of the more interesting things about these comics, and I guess about the character of Bucky Barnes in general is his romance with Natasha Romanoff.  When you compare it to Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter, it's pretty similar in that neither Bucky nor Steve is known for being a swingin' bachelor or anything, but the difference is that no one who reads a Captain America book gives a shit about Steve and Sharon hanging out and finishing each other's sentences.  Seventy-ish years of Captain America stories about a man who embodies the ideals of a nation have sapped out much of the potential for a sexy Captain America story, or if not the potential for one, then at least the expectations for one.

Bucky, on the other hand, gets a little more flexibility in this regard.  Since Bucky doesn't have Seventy-ish years of comics about him (and also because once he came back into comic readers' collective consciousness he came back waving a giant "EVERYTHING YOU KNEW WAS MOSTLY CORRECT BUT YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT THIS" retcon banner), there are less preconceptions about what to expect from stories about him.  Maybe Marvel missed a chance to have Bucky rolling around the Marvel Universe in casual sex mode, but the direction that we've got works in both a character sense and in a "we're owned by Disney lest we forget" sense.  Bucky's a one woman guy, and that's not gonna change any time soon, it seems, so Brubaker deals with it in a way I didn't really expect.  Bucky is a monogamous James Bond, and I like that just fine.  The romance between Bucky and Natasha is written as a relationship with two mature adults who've known each other for a while and who have come to a secure understanding about their relationship and their work. True, Bucky and Natasha are both people who shit where they eat, but they're superheroes, so it works out better for them and they look better doing it than any of us could ever hope to.  What I enjoy best about these two characters is how it's clear that they're at that point in their relationship where they are completely comfortable with each other.  Except instead of staying in and marathoning Six Feet Under they quietly infiltrate a secret super-gadget auction for criminals, and instead of being cool with being in the same room while the other pees, they're cool with watching each other shoot a dude in the chest.  We don't get that a lot in comics anymore, but it's good to know that if we get tired of it, Bucky can just up and trade his memories to Mephisto for a new arm or whatever.

The other thing that is really making this book click for me is Butch Guice and Bettie Bretiweiser's art.  I think there was a recent Captain America arc that Guice worked on where he was trying out his Steranko impression, and it seems that all that practice paid off.  Winter Soldier doesn't look entirely like a Steranko rip, but you can definitely see the influence bleeding through.  We get dynamic layout ideas, panel smashing, and some effective pop-art photo collage-type things.  I think Tessa best described the look as a stack of documents strewn about a secret agent's desk.  The action scenes are cluttered with tiny, misshapen panels that are interrupted by a bigger, borderless panel of a close up of the action (usually some hapless thug getting hit in the face).  It's a mess, but it's a rewarding one as Guice has an expert grasp on the speed of the moments that each panel conveys.  Once our heads finish reeling from all the dizzying gunplay and broken noses, the comic slows down with the talky, debriefing pages (read: exposition), and thanks to Guice and Breitweister, we get to look at stuff like this instead of just nodding along:

The panels in these sequences come at a very steady, measured pace, and the colors and all that spy-jargon-secret-eyes-only text reinforce the idea that this shit goes deep, which makes dialogue that boils down to "These are these guys we are looking for.  We should probably find them because this is the premise of the series" a whole lot more lively.  The Steranko influence goes a long way, but I think Guice and Breitweister have gone a little bit further in that they're completely aware of their Steranko leanings and they fully exploit them.  There are panels that look zoomed in to the point where brush strokes and Ben-Day dots are visible, and since this is a modern comic, all instances of brush strokes Ben-Day dots are of course entirely deliberate.  It makes these scenes look like they're about to collapse all over themselves, probably under the weight of carrying around Steranko's spy-pop on their backs.

Really the only bad thing about this comic is that I can't give my money directly to Jack Kirby's grave.

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