James “Bucky” Barnes (Comic Books)
In the 1940s, comics changed rather drastically. No longer could Batman, for example, brandish pistols and outright murder criminals by punching them into vats of acid; rather, he had to be lighthearted, kid-tested, and mother approved – because obviously comics are for children, right? (A misconception that persists to this day, though to a considerably lesser degree.)
As a result of sidekicks being deemed mandatory, Robin the Boy Wonder was introduced with all his bright colors and hilarious wisecracks at the expense of The Joker. And in response to the success of the Boy Wonder, Captain America was given James “Bucky” Barnes, a child soldier who also made hilarious jokes at the expense of arch-nemeses (namely Red Skull).
Near the end of the war, Cap and Bucky went up against the dastardly scientist and evil Hitler lackey known as Baron Zemo – a guy whose major claim to fame was accidentally gluing his own purple hood to his face. On the orders of the Red Skull, Zemo was going to use an experimental drone airplane to … do bad things, so Cap and Bucky leapt aboard to stop said things from occurring. While Cap was thrown clear of the resulting explosion and into the icy waters below, Bucky seemingly sacrificed his life.
Some forty-plus years later, Bucky’s “demise” was retconned by Ed Brubaker in the storyline “Winter Soldier.” Here, Bucky didn’t actually die; in fact, much like his good buddy Captain America (and Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender), he, too, was frozen in the icy waters of the North Pole. However, unlike Cap, Bucky was found much sooner by the villainous Soviet Union. As his arm had been blown off in the drone explosion, Bucky was given a new bionic arm and brainwashed to be a brutal, Soviet assassin with long, lady-like hair. His new name? Winter Soldier.
Eventually, Captain America found out about Bucky’s survival and managed to bring him back to the good side of the superhero force. Later, when it was believed that Cap had died – shot to death by his brainwashed girlfriend, Sharon Carter – Bucky took up the mantle of Captain America. Until recently, that is, when he was “killed” again (but, you know, probably not really killed) by Sin in the major Marvel crossover event “Fear Itself.”
The James “Bucky” Barnes of the Ultimate Universe, developed by Mark Millar, wasn’t just the same age as Steve Rogers – he was also his childhood friend. Additionally, Bucky was less a superhero sidekick to the Captain and more a war photographer documenting his death-defying exploits (Jimmy Olsen, anyone?).
After Captain America was once again frozen in icy waters and presumed dead, Bucky went back home, married Steve Rogers’ sweetheart, Gail Richards, and they had a family together. When Steve was unfrozen some years later, he reestablished his friendship with Bucky and his once sweetheart, Gail, both of whom were at that point quite elderly.
James “Bucky” Barnes (Film)
The Bucky Barnes from the film is a combination of 616 Bucky – the slightly older, retconned version courtesy of Ed Brubaker – and Ultimate Bucky. Like Mark Millar’s Ultimate Bucky, the film version (Sebastian Stan of Gossip Girl fame) is the lifelong, childhood friend of Steve Rogers.
After being rescued from Hydra’s headquarters/prison facility, Stan’s Bucky is basically Captain America’s adult sidekick for the duration of (1) montage and (1) train assault scene. This is one of those crazy trains that’s always steering recklessly around steep turns on massive, snowy mountain sides, so a Hydra laser blast results in Bucky falling to his “death” (but probably not, if sequel rumors are anything to go by) into an icy river far below.
Before he “dies,” we see foreshadowing glimpses of Bucky’s eventual Winter Soldier ways: A dark blue uniform that resembles the Winter Soldier outfit more so than the original Bucky outfit, a somewhat hidden aggressiveness, and a scene where he’s sniping enemy soldiers (indeed, the sniper rifle is the Winter Soldier’s weapon of choice).