Can we all agree that Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier, is a grossly underused and underrated character? I like to think we can, because he really is. I mean, when you consider all the shit this guy’s been through, you’d think he’d get more attention than he does. WINTER SOLDIER #1 aims to rectify this problem by kicking off a new limited series for Bucky, with mixed results.

Writer Kyle Higgins has undertaken the responsibility of bringing Bucky Barnes back to some semblance of prominence. His efforts in WINTER SOLDIER #1 are good, but could certainly be better. Interesting as Bucky’s new story seems the plot plays it a little too close to the chest. In this instance, it only works to hinder what could have been a much stronger opening.

Joining Higgins for Bucky’s new tale is artist Rod Reis. Reis’ style helps translate the dark tone this story is undoubtedly going for. However, gritty and sharp as his style may be, it’s also blaringly inconsistent, which unfortunately breaks immersion a few times too many.

Bucky’s Lending a Hand in WINTER SOLDIER #1

(No, that subtitle is not meant to be a pun.)

Last time we saw Bucky in his own story, he was working with Hawkeye to figure out whether or not Black Widow was alive. With that adventure said and done, Bucky’s now off on his own, for the most part. In his spare time, Bucky’s helping people who find themselves up shit creek get out of their sticky situations.

Point in case, WINTER SOLDIER #1 opens with Bucky helping a cop named Arthur get out of some business with Hydra. Of course, things don’t go as smoothly as either one of them would’ve hoped. But Bucky hardly breaks a sweat dealing with the few Hydra goons that ambush him and Arthur. With them dealt with, we can assume Bucky eventually helps Arthur set up a new life for himself.

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WINTER SOLDIER #1 page 4. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

After meeting up with Tony Stark and Sharon Carter at his home in Shelbyville, Indiana, Bucky goes off to deal with another one of his clients (I guess that’s what we’ll call them). This guy, Terry, is having a hard time adjusting to his new life. So much so, that he stupidly contacted someone from his old life. That, of course, gets him killed, and puts Bucky in a pickle.

Ultimately, Bucky comes face to face with a copycat; someone apparently decided to model themselves as Bucky from when he fought in World War II. Because why not?

A Poorly Incorporated Past

Something I loved about the original WINTER SOLDIER series, written by Ed Brubaker, was that it found a natural way to incorporate Bucky’s past without using obligatory flashbacks. Unfortunately, Higgins doesn’t have the same finesse as Brubaker and falls right into the trap of relying a little too heavily on those flashbacks to give us some Bucky backstory.

WINTER SOLDIER #1 gives us the expected page or two of Bucky delivering typical exposition on his past, which, frankly, I could’ve happily lived without. I’m well aware Bucky had a shitty life, I don’t need to be told once again. Even if you wanted to do that, again, there are more clever ways to give us some backstory without relying on idol chatter and flashes from the past.

It’s like the Spider-Man argument: we know Uncle Ben died, we don’t need to be reminded of it every other issue.

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WINTER SOLDIER #1 page 11. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

I would’ve preferred to see more of Bucky helping his “clients,” and maybe mulling over his past while he’s in the heat of a fight. I want to see more of what kind of nonsense he’s getting wrapped up in.

Also, I have a really hard time believing that Bucky Barnes, a man who’s essentially been on the run all his modern-day life, has just started living cozy and making friends with his neighbors in Indiana. I can’t really buy into that. Unless I missed something recently, I’m pretty sure Bucky is still a war criminal. There’s no way he would just suddenly get comfortable like this.

It feels like Higgins is reaching for a darker tone, but WINTER SOLDIER #1 betrays that ambition.

Gritty, Yet Inconsistent Pages

My introduction to Rod Reis’ art came from his work in SECRET EMPIRE. I enjoyed his pages in that story; his depiction of the cosmic cube reality the real Steve Rogers was trapped in was an interesting departure from the core story. Unfortunately, Reis’ style doesn’t seem to translate well to this full issue of WINTER SOLDIER #1.

Many of Reis’ pages are full of detail, top to bottom, and everything looks great. But, then, on more than a few pages, you’ll suddenly have no background at all in certain panels. You wind up with two characters standing in or driving through a plain, white background. Like, what happened? How’d you go from giving us a panel dedicated to a lightning bolt flashing over the city to no scenery at all?

I understand that blank backgrounds can, at times, have a purpose. But, in WINTER SOLDIER #1, their inclusion just feels like the byproduct of laziness. I don’t see the point to them, especially when other, simpler panels have a significant amount of detail.

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WINTER SOLDIER #1 page 19. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Also, much of the action in WINTER SOLDIER #1 doesn’t flow very well, and there are some inconsistencies with some character designs. The latter isn’t a terrible problem, but the former is a huge drawback to the first fight scene.

One thing I will say for Reis’s style in WINTER SOLDIER #1, though, is that it’s perfect for the flashback bits. That’s the only slack I’m going to give the flashbacks: they look good. These pages feature a fluid, yet jagged disconnect. It creates a very peculiar sensation when you take it all in.

Overall, I’m just hoping Reis can deliver some more consistent work in the rest of the WINTER SOLDIER series.

Hoping for More

Much as I wanted to see Bucky Barnes back in his own solo series, WINTER SOLDIER #1 ultimately failed to live up to my hopes. It relies a little too much on cliché storytelling methods and doesn’t do quite enough to establish Bucky’s story. I do want to keep reading and learn more about what’s going on with Bucky, but the series is going to have to work hard to keep my attention.

In truth, the premise Higgins’ has established is solid. The execution is weak, though. There’s not enough substance. I should hope that with this initial outing completed, he’ll have a more solid foundation moving forward, and he can deliver a story worth telling.

Rod Reis, for the most part, delivers in WINTER SOLDIER #1. There are some glaring flaws and inconsistencies with more than a few of his pages, but overall, I appreciate his style in this story. Like Higgins, I think he’ll be able to deliver more reliable work moving forward.

So, should you check out WINTER SOLDIER #1? Maybe. It’s worth taking a chance, for sure. Will it be worth following all the way through? Time will tell.

WINTER SOLDIER #1 by Kyle Higgins and Rod Reis
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
WINTER SOLDIER #1 sets up an interesting premise for Bucky, but it does so with the least amount of originality. The art feels wildly inconsistent, though it may still be the most redeeming factor of the issue. I'm hoping for something better during round two.
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An All-Too Familiar Beginning

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