Another hard blow to Cap's life.
The Red Skull has been keeping a very close eye on Captain America. He knows that Cap is still reeling after the death of Hawkeye and the disbanding of the Avengers. He's simply waiting for the perfect time to strike, and in his arsenal lies a weakened Cosmic Cube. Unfortunately, for the Skull, he's attacked and his Cube is stolen. Captain America with the assistance of Nick Fury begin to search for the Cube. -summary
When Marvel began to make changes to the status quo in an attempt to revamp their universe, which began in Avengers Disassembled, they no doubt had something big in mind. Captain America: Winter Soldier is one of many stories that follows up on the tale, and wow, Marvel really intended to stick to what they do best and that is take some high risk. I mean they didn't play it safe with this story at all. Ed Brubaker turned in one of the best Captain America stories written in awhile and one of the better stories during his run. Written in 2005 this TPB collects Captain America #1-9 and #11 -14. The first nine issues take place before House of M, with the rest taking place afterwards. This is because Captain America # 10 is among the House of M crossovers.
The first thing to point out here is that this story does not follow the typical comic book formula, superhero vs. supervillain, in an attempt to prevent world domination. Instead, Brubaker takes a different route that resembles more of an action thriller. The story is fairly linear yet pretty complex being heavy on character interaction, story and plot development, intrigue, with magnificent pacing. The narrative indeed has its slow moments that builds up to a satisfying conclusion planting the seeds for future storylines.
The plot begins when Captain America and Nick Fury encounters an organization working for the Red Skull whom are preparing to unleash numerous bombings that will no doubt cause a very large loss of life. There seems to be another outfit also taking out Red Skull's operatives. At the same time, they're unleashing their weapons of mass destruction and attacking Captain America in different ways. Through various clues and physical evidence, this leads Captain America to believe his first partner Bucky, now going by the Winter Soldier, is alive and well but now attacking his own country in addition to have been conducting assassinations for decades. But how can this be? Cap saw Bucky die so this must be an impostor. The book builds up to the inevitable confrontation between the two best friends whom were like brothers.
Brubaker isn't very kind on suspense here; he doesn't drag out whether this is Bucky or not. For some I can imagine the loss of suspense being a problem, and the story should just simply shoot to its conclusion. However, the story introduces so many other elements that it never ceases being interesting and entertaining. For example, Captain America appears to be suffering from some type of mental attacks where he can no longer trust his memories, and at times, not even what's in front of him.
The obvious play on Cap's emotions do come into play, as he struggles with having to kill or save Bucky if it's really him. Their relationship is delivered to the reader through various flashbacks making Cap's feelings quite believable. The amount of guest stars consisting of Nick Fury, Agent 13, Falcon, and even Iron Man, plus a confrontation with Crossbones lends the story a grand feel. There's also another story titled The Lonesome Death of Jack Monroe. This follows Cap's third Bucky who later became Nomad, a character whom enjoyed a good run in the 90's with his own comic series at one time. His tale is finally wrapped up here, and although the artwork is nothing special; the story itself more than makes up for it especially if you were a fan of the character.
The story does have its flaws though that I can't find myself ignoring. Although the ending is pretty strong, the reality-altering Cosmic Cube is something that I've always felt to be too much of a deus ex machina, and I feel that way here. Plus the fact Bucky is found alive and well is a very big plot hole. I understand that characters come back from the dead in comics all the time, and like the resurrection of Norman Osborn aka the original Green Goblin, there's a part of me that felt Bucky shouldn't have been touched, because Marvel actually did acknowledge that he was in fact dead, since he did appear as a member of the Legion of the Unliving along with Norman Osborn. It doesn't down right irritate me completely since it did work. I respect them for taking the chance, but it still feels like a desperate ret-con and I can't help think that Marvel was just reaching here.
The artwork is delivered by Steve Epting, John Paul Leon, and Tom Palmer; the artwork is very good for a Captain America story. The brooding atmosphere works very well with the subject matter supporting the dark narrative. The artwork is edgy, and when I say it's gritty I'm not saying it's that dark, murkiness, with ugly designs people want to claim is brilliant when it actually looks like complete shit. The artwork here actually has something to say, especially when it shifts from the present time to the early 1940's. There are times though where the artwork really isn't all that good, and the Nomad story is the one that comes to mind.
Captain America: Winter Soldier is definitely one of the essential storylines that took place during Marvel's modern run. If you plan on moving forward after Avengers Disassembled, then you need this story in your collection. It's also not a bad place to start if you're just getting into Captain America comics. There's more than enough side character appearances from his neck of the woods to well introduce anyone to his world.
Pros:Outstanding pacing, overall splendid storytelling
Cons:Plot issue that will only bother long time fans