In case you can't find it on here, here's a link to Part One of this blog for your perusal: Winter Soldier Part 1.
Now to pick up where we left off as Winter Soldier is definitively revealed to be Bucky, and then he blows up a part of Philadelphia. What a way to make an impact huh?
So we start up this volume with a one page flashback to the moment where a certain Russian military man named Karpov (see it all ties in) first hears the news that the Germans had blown up Captain America over the Channel Islands.
Back to present day as Steve Rogers is forced by Nick Fury & Sharon Carter to face the truth...that Bucky is the Winter Soldier, and that he is one bad dude. It's not surprising that Steve refuses to accept the truth, despite all that he has experienced and seen, as he also refused to accept the truth about Red Skull initially. Steve Epting manages to perfectly capture the emotion of the moment in such panels as when Sharon is holding her head in her hands, or Cap, his eyes closed, says to Fury "You expect me to believe that Bucky is still alive...that he's working for the enemy...that he's responsible for what happened in Philadelphia last night?"
This marks the transition to last night in Philly as the reader sees the fallout from the explosion at the end of Volume One. It's this sort of transition in the script/art that I have really appreciated in Cap thus far. It's almost cinematic in nature and just feels...different...than your usual comic book cut from present day to flashback.
The initial look at the Philly scene is wonderfully rendered, as much as utter destruction and chaos can be, and strongly demonstrates how on the edge Cap is when he encounters the AIM squad (one of who just executed a husband and wife, "No witnesses"). And there is just something so telling about the series of panels that include this one:
(couldn't find the page solo, just this card version)
Cap stands there, surrounded by a squad of MODOCs, and simply utters the words, "All right...let's go", before we return to the debriefing in SHIELD HQ. The Steve Rogers that Ed Brubaker presents to the audience is a hardcore, bad ass personality who exudes a confidence in his abilities that belies his humbleness as a person. He firmly believes in a set of ideals and will do anything to protect those beliefs, and defend his country. This is a Captain America that I never knew existed, and quite frankly, I'm not sure existed prior to Ed Brubaker getting his hands on the character. But I digress...
In the debriefing, Fury elaborates on the history of the Winter Solider that had largely been considered Cold War myth save for a handful of photographs over the decades that showed a man, despite all the time that passed between, only aging a small number of years. But despite the photographic evidence, despite everyone else connecting the dots, Steve Rogers still refuses to see the obvious.
Back to Philly as Fury essentially asks Steve what he saw with his own eyes, but before that happens, we get a dynamically rendered Steve Epting fight scene between Cap & the MODOC's. The fight ends, Bucky saves Cap, and we get this...
It's amazing, as we come back to reality, how unwilling Steve is to accept what he witnessed for himself. "I don't know what I saw..." is all he has to offer before taking one more look at the photo evidence and lashing out at the monitor. SHIELD's hunt is on for Lukin, as he's the suspected culprit behind Philly, but you know Steve only has Bucky on his mind. And speaking of, we get a flashback to that first page of the Volume as Karpov hauls "something" into his sub...that something turns out to be the one-armed apparent corpse of Bucky.
The 2nd chapter of the volume (ish 9 for those keeping track) marks a moment that will go on to haunt the Marvel U for many years to come as Crossbones breaks into a government Re-education Facility to abduct some girl. Who you ask? Well I had no friggin' idea when I read this the first time so I'm holding back that information for a bit...
As we get back to Cap, Sharon, and SHIELD the reader gets another example of how well Brubaker uses flashback to flesh out the story...it comes off akin to watching the memories of these characters unfold before us rather than being told what happened. Not sure if that makes sense how I'm explaining it but, as I said before, the flashback scenes as Brubaker writes them just feel different. And the back-to-back flashbacks from Steve & Sharon to Steve & Fury just flow so well with the couple page "in the moment" bridge between them.
This whole sequence though really demonstrates the relationship between Fury & Cap, the respect inherent in their relationship despite Fury's shadiness, as Nick risks an international incident to, in part get after Lukin, but in truth to allow Cap to get his hands on the man who may be steering the Good Ship Bucky. The assault allows the reader to get another look at how close to the edge Cap is, and lets us see just how deep Lukin has his hooks into the US Government AND ROXXON which one of the major corporations in the Marvel U. Lukin is insulated by these relationships, and with the Cosmic Cube in his possession, he also has the power to protect himself.
Before we close out this chapter, Brubaker takes us back to Crossbones and that random girl he kidnapped. Turns out she's not so random, she's Synthia Schmidt...the Red Skull's daughter...Sin of "Fear Itself" infamy.
Page one of the next chapter, issue 11, is the reader's first real insight into the effects the Cosmic Cube has on its holder. Lukin is talking to someone but the second panel clearly show there is no one else in the room though, and the 5th panel gives you a jagged little bubble to indicate his secretary on the phone, so his conversation wasn't a speaker phone one. His look at the Cube as he wonders "...what have you done...to me...?" about sums this page up.
As for the rest of this chapter, well it is info dump time for the benefit of the reader and Steve Rogers as well. See the Project: Winter Solider file that Lukin was looking for on page one has somehow found its way to Cap's apartment so the whole of this issue is devoted to Cap's reading of that file. This entire issue is made by the art of Epting; the text from the file is written as doctor's notes so it's not a dry read, but nevertheless it is still a giant info deposit into the brain bank and that has the potential to be boring even in the pen of the most talented scripter. It is the art that truly makes this come to life for the reader as Epting depicts the blank slate of Bucky that came out of the water sans his left arm and brings to life his (de)evolution to the Winter Soldier. The brutality of the Soldier is contradicted by the moments where Bucky goes walkabout in the United States and Epting depicts a man who looks lost in familiar surroundings. Bucky has this look on his face in one panel that's like he recognizes his environment but isn't sure WHY he knows it.
The dialogue accompanying the file switches from the doctor's notes to the personal journal of Karpov, the man who found Bucky in the water, circa 1983. This is the first time the reader gets an insight into the machinations inside Karpov's mind and an answer as to why he had done to Bucky what has been done. Karpov wrote, "It will never make up for what he and his people did to me in the war, how they shame me in front of my own men, but even after all these years, it still makes me msile to see Captain America's partner serving Mother Russia."
And with one last entry from 1988, we see the intended final fate of the Winter Soldier as Karpov instructed he be decommissioned, a fate he probably would have lived out forever if not for Karpov's protege Lukin & the Red Skull back in issue 1. And the kicker to the whole issue? Steve's flashback to a night at the movies with Bucky back in the 40's as they see a newsreel of themselves in action. The more light-hearted Bucky attempts to liven up the moment but the ever-serious Steve isn't having it. We see the turth depth of Bucky in this memory, but we also get to hear a crushing line of dialogue from Bucky that really sinks it home just how hard this is hitting Steve..."Sometimes I think if you didn't have me, there wouldn't be a single person in the world who really understood you..."
Lukin and the Cosmic Cube hit NYC as he looks to auction one of the most powerful artifacts in the Marvel U, an artifact that Cap, Sharon, & Fury don't realize he even has at this point. They think the fact that the file ended up in Steve's apartment and that the gun used to shoot Red Skull was so easily found are just examples of Lukin playing mind games. The truth with Luking seems to be something more...sinister, but the truth about Bucky is actually hopeful. The information in that file gives weight to the idea that Bucky was not in control of his actions as the Winter Soldier, but Steve sees it as something more tragic. He sees a man trapped inside of himself repeatedly fighting to get free...that though also gives us a flashback to the moment that Steve & Bucky first met.
Back to the auction as it takes a turn for the frightening when Lukin basically says to hell with the auction and uses the power of the Cube, when asked for a demonstration, to create contracts from thin air and influence the men present to sign over their respective corporations to Lukin's Kronas Corporation. Oh, and then he beats his assistant with a table for trying to touch the Cube. Stable huh?
Steve makes his way across town, arguing with himself all the way about Bucky, and sparking a memory about a moment in 1944 where they encountered what were essentially zombified American soldiers who had been lobotimized by the Nazis. Bucky's reaction to the horror, and to how they men weren't in control of themselves as they attacked fellow American soldiers, is the key here. And we close with another friend, probably Steve's closest since his rebirth, making his arrival on scene:
Now aside from reading the "Captain America: Disassembled" trade, I really have no idea of the history between Sam Wilson & Steve Rogers. But I feel comfortable making that assertation about their relationship because of how intimately Brubaker writes them. I mean of all people for Nick Fury to call when he thought Steve needed a friend; it wasn't Iron man or Black Widow or some other Avenger, it was The Falcon.
And the conversation between those friends is wonderfully juxtaposed by Lukin in the medical facilities at Kronas with his firned that he just beat the life out of in a psychotic fit of rage. The shots of the blood on Lukin's hands are wonderful, as is the very telling phrase "This cannot continue". Something is slipping within Lukin, especially went contrasted with the man who was very joyless in his execution of Red Guardian in issue #1. Sam & Steve on the other hand try to figure out how to handle the Bucky situation while expressing their fears about the Cube being in Lukin's hands. Sam makes note of how the Cube tends to negatively effect the users while Steve ignorantly talks about how Lukin's been flawless so far. In truth, it doesn't even seem like Lukin is in control either. Not with the Winter Solider file ending up in Steve's hands for one example. That was obviously not in the plan......which leads to Lukin having Winter Soldier take the Cube away while that little voice from before tells him "It's a big mistake". There's a little moment during the Winter Soldier/Lukin exchage as well where orders are questioned...seems the programming might be getting a little sketchy at this point.
Iron Man joins the party for an assault on AID (Advanced Ideas in Destruction, an AIM Splinter Group) in which the trio gets the knowledge on how to track a Cosmic Cube (there's multiples of this thing???), but Tony Stark can't stay with the party for the raid. Business concerns and what not, stuff Steve readily understands. And as the penultimate chapter of "Winter Soldier" closes, Bucky lines up both Cap & Falcon in his sights, and a shot is fired...
...at Falcon. Bucky misses, the shield flies, and the assault begins. In short order Falcon deals with the grunts while Cap runs off in search of Bucky, and we finally get the man-to-man fight between these old friends. As the fight begins Cap states, among other things, "I can't fail you again..."
The fight continues on as SHIELD arrives but when push comes to shove, and Steve challenges Bucky to just shoot him, the Winter Soldier fires a shot but one Steve easily evades. A toss of the shield knocks the Cube from its bag, Steve picks it up, and with the words "Remember who you are"....
...It all comes back...
Bucky remembers, calls Steve Cap, and uses the Cube to apparently remove himself from the premises. Sharon thinks he committed suicide, Cap knows better, and as we quickly see, Bucky has returned to the very place where he first met Steve Rogers. But the game isn't quite done yet, one last visit to Lukin as this Volume ends, and we find him in mid-conversation once more. Only now, as the conversation progresses, it becomes increasingly obvious just who Lukin is talking to...
The friggin' Red Skull is trapped inside Lukin's head?!?!? WTF!?!? That is some seriously crazy shit, but completly plausible given the extremely unpredictable nature of the Cosmic Cube & the expressed fact that nothing good every comes to the user. And this is where Brubaker leaves us as Volume Two ends....
I must say, these two volumes are one hell of a ride, especially for someone like me who never found any interest in Captain American prior to these issues. It was a character I found visually cheesy, and my limited exposure to him via random Avengers issues did nothing to really get my into Mr. Rogers. Brubaker turned that all around very quickly with wonderful characterization, an easy to follow yet engrossing story that wasn't any less impactful when I didn't know the history, and having an artist at the level of Steve Epting illustrating your work certainly doesn't hurt. His is the measuring stick by which I compare any Cap artist now, and Epting also gave me a definitive take on the Red Skull in only the first issue.
And the true beauty of this story for me is how it lays groundwork, whether intentional or coincidental, for stories that would go down years later. There are repeated allusions to SHIELD psych evaluations which become a major part of Brubaker's mega-story following Cap's death, the (re)introduction of Sin in this volume has long term repercussions that are being felt now with the "Fear Itself" event currently rocking the Marvel U, and even the off-hand reference to Red Skull existing in a clone of Steve Rogers actually plays into the "Reborn" arc a few years down the line. If this are things that were planned, absolute genius, even if they weren't planned but rather a story that just unfolded as Brubaker wrote, even more impressive.
Even now, reading this back several years later, and probably for the 15th time (if not more) I am still amazed at how emotionally invested I can get in a story so familar. I know the outcome, I know the beats, but each time I feel like I'm finding something new. Never really picked up on the whole psych evaluation thing until this time out for example.
So for anyone who is a fan of Ed Brubaker but hasn't read his Cap, or for someone who saw the movie and now wants more Cap, this is the story arc for you. It's a perfect jumping on story, and it is the foundation for the stories that continue to this day in the Captain America comic. Do yourself a favor, buy these trades, the Omnibus, track down the back issues, whatever the case may be, just read it and read it soon. You won't regret it....
As for the future of Cap after "Winter Solider", well I'm still debating on whether or not to continue thru Brubaker's run with the "Red Menace" trades that followed, or if I want to move onto something else. Either way, get those too as it really evolves the Crossbones/Sin/Red Skull/Lukin story into crazy territory and we begin to see what the future holds for Bucky.
As for the long term stuff, well I am currently in the process of trading in my issue-by-issue collection of Brubaker's "Captain America" for the Omnibus & Hardcover offerings so my individual books are now up on Ebay: My Captain America Auction.
If you'd like to me to keep going with Brubaker's Cap, let me know through e-mail, blog comments, facebook posts, or twitter. I'm currently reading the "Red Menace" and "Cap: Civil War" trades for my own pleasure, so it wouldn't be too much to keep on going....