Holding Onto The Past
We've seen James Barnes go through some extraordinary changes over the years. From the swashbuckling sidekick of Steve Rogers, the cold and calculating assassin known as the Winter Soldier, the burdened lone warrior trying to right his transgressions to finally a man trying to honour memory of a legendary hero and best friend as Captain America.
This is, in my opinion, the most personal story that Ed Brubaker has written for the burdened hero.
It is also the finest piece of comic book writing I have read since it was released.
I will not go into the details of the story, as you have a plot summary above this review for that reason. Instead, I will tell you what is so captivating about this volume and why I still read it at least once every two weeks.
The title is brilliant. Keen eyes will be able to deduce that, though the villain is named The Man With No Face, the title is really referring to Barnes. The man has no face, he has no identity and certainly feels like he has no merit to his name. His identities have been an array of facades to hide the man underneath. As Captain America in this volume, we get a brilliant exposure of the type of man James Barnes really is. This is brought across through some excellent narration, courtesy of the fantastic narration ability of Ed Brubaker [see his Daredevil issues for more of this], such as "What's wrong with you Bucky? Why are you out on the streets at dawn and not in bed with your best friend?" We are given a very human picture of Barnes and that is what makes him so likeable. Steve Rogers is seemingly without flaws, he is the perfect hero. Bucky Barnes is a man with a past reeking of injustices that he did not willingly commit. It is a great dynamic to see Barnes struggle to live up to Steve's example and at the same time deal with his own inequities.
I mentioned quite a bit about humanity, and this theme is greatly supported by the dark horse of Black Widow. Without Black Widow, this story would lack a lot of the heart that it carries. She is really the only person who brings out the emotional side of Barnes and it is great to see. A number of scenes have them embracing each other, not just in the physical sense, but in the sense of understanding. Natalia understands what James is living with and she consistently pursues the greater man beneath him. Their relationship is, oddly enough, the most genuine I've come across in comics. It's so human. James isn't perfect and he is bound to keep secrets, even from the woman he cares most about.
Artistically, there are just too many A-class cooks in the kitchen. I dare not single out any particular artist. What I will say is that, each artist handled their scene with utmost delicacy, particularly the interrogation scene and the scene with Natalia and Barnes after the bridge incident. I was also mightily impressed with the articulation of Namor's facial expressions. The Prince has never looked so intimidating.
As far as the villainy is concerned, I was incredibly impressed by the diversity of villains. Batroc is the hilariously flamboyant Frenchman with a penchant for Savate, The Man With No Face obviously enjoys getting payback for decades past and the last villain (will not be named) is what all villains should strive to be. To strive for their 'greater good' and not care about collateral damage in the slightest, but also to be an outright hypocrite without a sense of mercy.
To put it simply, this is a masterpiece. I cannot find a single fault with this story (perhaps the ending, it was a little bit rushed). If you are a fan of James Barnes and you have yet to read the Man With No Face, then I daresay you are not entitled to be named a fan of James Barnes. To me, this will ultimately remain as Ed Brubaker's finest storytelling work.