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Captain America and Bucky: The Life Story of Bucky Barnes

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  • Posted April 26, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Once Ed Brubaker broke the standing rule at Marvel that "Bu

    Once Ed Brubaker broke the standing rule at Marvel that "Bucky Stays Dead" and gave us the stories that formed the basis for this summer's blockbuster Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it was probably a given that he'd get around to retelling Bucky's (and thus, tangentially, Captain America's) origin. It's been told before, added to and amended, but up until Brubaker's rule-breaking Bucky's story always ended the same way: with Bucky pushing Cap off of Zemo's flying bomb and sacrificing himself for the greater good. Brubaker's five-part story extends into Bucky's time as The Winter Soldier at the very end, but mostly what we get is World War II action.

    In the Golden Age of Comics, origin stories for heroes and sidekicks alike were kept short and punchy. Even in the Silver Age, most origin stories were a single issue long at best. It's only in more recent times, in the era of "decompressed storytelling," that we get a hero's origin doled out over five or six issues. Sometimes, "decompression" as a narrative technique works, and allows us deeper insight into a character's growth. Sometimes, it's just an excuse for 40 extra pages of fight scenes. Thankfully, Brubaker and co-writer Andreyko err on the side of character introspection. Which isn't to say there's no action: from young teen Bucky as schoolyard brawler to costumed Bucky as charter member of The Invaders, there's plenty of fight scenes. But the point of the book is Bucky's development from an angry kid to an actual hero. The authors tease out that progression over the course of the five parts, and Bucky doesn't really grow up until the very end, when he sees a Nazi concentration camp for the first time up-close and personal. It's a slow journey, and I don't feel like the individual beats (which I did not read as monthly comics) hold up well enough on their own to justify a full issue each. Some of this could have been compressed without harming the point of the story; if it had, I think I'd have enjoyed it more. And I know, from other Cap stories, that Brubaker is capable of compressing and decompressing narrative to fit the needs of a story; I think this was a rare mis-fire.

    I enjoyed, as always, another look at my favorite Marvel team, The Invaders (I even wrote a "Hero History" on them for Amazing Heroes magazine back in the day). I don't remember Namor being so consistently hard on Bucky in the book's original run, but I do remember how often Bucky and Toro would hare off on their own adventures to prove themselves, and I think Brubaker captured that aspect of the team dynamic perfectly.

    Chris Samnee's art strikes the perfect balance between the heavily-detailed work of most modern comics and the looser but sometimes more evocative linework of the Golden Age comics in which Cap and Bucky debuted. The art makes even the slowest parts of the story pop, and Samnee has a good grasp of when to go for the detail and when to go for the wide shot.

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