The Winter Soldier’s popularity proves any comics character can become a star if they’re written right.
Bucky Barnes debuted at the end of 1940 (cover-dated 1941) as Captain America’s sidekick. He never had a solo series. When Marvel revived Captain America in Avengers #4, they made it clear Bucky was not coming back, ever — he was pushing up daisies, he’d joined the choir invisible, he was an ex-living person. None of that screams “superstar potential.”
Neither, really, did Ed Brubaker resurrecting Bucky in 2005. Lots of comics writers, like Brubaker, revive or reboot characters based on childhood nostalgia. The results are rarely good. Brubaker reinventing Bucky as the Winter Soldier, however, proved a critical and commercial hit.
The MCU cemented the Winter Soldier’s success. The relationship between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes works even better with two strong actors portraying it; small wonder that so many fans root for more than friendship between them. True, Thanos erased the Winter Solder in Infinity War, but it’s a safe bet he’s coming back.
Like any character who’s been around for almost 80 years, the Winter Soldier doesn’t always make sense. Some of that’s the residue of the Golden Age, when writers didn’t worry much about story logic. Some of it’s the inevitable inconsistencies that accumulate over time. This doesn’t make him any less of a cool character, but pointing out the logic gaps in his history is still fun.
Here are 20 Things That Make No Sense About The Winter Soldier.
Ed Brubaker didn’t simply turn Golden Age Bucky into the Winter Soldier, he retconned him to make his status as a world-class threat more plausible.
In 1940, Bucky was just a camp mascot when he stumbled onto Steve Rogers identity. Naturally, Steve made Bucky his sidekick. In the retcon, that was propaganda — a fantasy that any American kid could be a villain-smashing superhero.
The reality? Bucky was a naturally gifted fighter, trained to even greater skill. He was Cap’s shadow self: if a guard had to be garroted or knifed from behind, Bucky took care of it. No risk of tarnishing Cap’s image by having him fight dirty. Wouldn't seeing his young sidekick be that ruthless have the same negative PR effect?
It’s one part of the retcon that never made sense.
Superhero stories have trouble writing assassins well. It’s hard to take them seriously as threats when the heroes keep saving everyone they try to end. They can’t be mysterious phantoms because the hero’s going to drag them into the light and expose them.
When Cap first hears about the Winter Soldier, he learns the man is an urban legend — nobody’s sure he even exists.
Given the huge body count he’s racked up, it’s hard to see why people wouldn’t believe in him.
In the MCU, the Winter Soldier’s a “ghost,” a threat who strikes from the shadows and vanishes. Except that wouldn’t suit the MCU style, so he ends up a ghost who leaves a trail of explosions and destruction in his wake.
Marvel Comics' Winter Soldier had a much more colorful career than the movie version. He eliminated Wolverine’s wife, and also had an affair with the Black Widow.
Along with taking out enemies of the USSR, the Winter Soldier also trained apprentice spies in the “Red Room” program. That included Natasha Romanoff. Along with teaching her, Bucky also became her romantic partner, sometimes outsmarting security to be with her.
If Bucky was a brainwashed drone at this point, that’s rather creepy (though comics have had lots of creepy relationships like that). If he wasn’t brainwashed, it’s odd his masters didn’t put him back in cold sleep: Bucky recovering his free will was one of their worst fears.
In the comics, Bucky’s rescued by the Russians, not by Hydra. They're over the moon: Captain America’s sidekick must have the super-soldier formula in his body too, right? Now they can extract it and create their own super-soldiers!
Oops. Turns out Bucky’s just an ordinary kid, so they throw the body in a dumpster — no, wait, that’s what would seem logical.
For no discernible reason, they put him in cryo, even though they have no plans for him.
Nine years later they thaw Bucky out, brainwash him and equip him with his cyborg arm, but they didn’t have that in mind originally. There’s no reason for preserving him other than the plot requires it.
True, comics are a world where a pair of glasses can disguise the world’s greatest hero. Even by those standards, Bucky’s secret is flimsy.
Seriously, nobody ever noticed there was a kid named Bucky hanging around with Steve Rogers who looked just like the Bucky hanging around with Cap?
He had nothing but a small mask to hide his face. This wasn’t that unusual in the Golden Age: sidekicks Dan the Dyna-Mite and Pinky the Whiz Kid had secret identities named Dan and Pinky. Decades later it strains belief.
People make fun of Lois for not seeing through Clark Kent’s meek-with-glasses disguise, but at least she had suspicions. In the MU, apparently nobody was up to her level.
As MCU fans know, after Iron Man failed to terminate Winter Soldier, Steve eventually dropped him off in Wakanda. Shuri helped dismantle all those trigger commands and put his brain back together. When we see Bucky in Infinity War, he’s fighting alongside the Wakandans. He is the White Wolf.
In the comics, the White Wolf was the leader of Wakanda’s secret intelligence service.
Why would Wakanda need or want an outsider in that position? It’s not like the Winter Soldier was a master spy — he’s just a hit-man.
If it’s his new superhero name, why pick one which has no particular significance for Africa — wolves aren’t as prominent there as in Europe or the US. Wouldn’t "Bucky" have worked just as well?
In creating Bucky’s new ID as the Winter Soldier, Ed Brubaker drew on American symbolism. He admired the 18th-century patriot Thomas Paine, who wrote dismissively of “the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot” with no stomach for a hard fight. Antiwar Vietnam veterans later invoked Paine by portraying themselves as “winter soldiers.”
Bucky Barnes’ Winter Soldier ID has no connection with American history, though. He’s a Russian creation. Brubaker rationalized the Russians picking the name because Bucky became an assassin during the Cold War between the USSR and the USA. And the Russians keep Bucky frozen so much.
It’s still a big coincidence. “Iceman” would have made just as much sense, but that’s already taken.
The big reveal of Captain America: Civil War is that the Winter Soldier’s history as a Hydra executioner included eliminating Howard and Maria Stark. Zemo reveals the truth to destroy the Avengers and it works, setting Iron Man and Captain America against each other at the climax. It also makes no sense.
We have the unlikelihood of Winter Soldier, the ghost assassin, committing the job right where a video camera’s conveniently watching.
Given the Winter Soldier is just a brainwashed Hydra dupe, why doesn’t Tony at least consider that he’s not really deserving of elimination?
Like most hero vs. hero comic-book battles, this one chooses spectacle over logic.
After Captain America’s termination in the MU’s Civil War crossover, Bucky has two goals. First, seize the shield so nobody can replace Steve. Second, end Tony Stark, whom he blames for the whole crossover. When Bucky confronts Tony, though, Stark gives Bucky a letter from Cap.
Steve doesn’t want revenge — he wants Bucky to become the new Captain America. Tony gives Bucky the shield.
Which would make sense if it were Batman. But Captain America is a government agent, operating under federal authority -- the idea he needs to register with the government in Civil War was just dumb. He can’t simply bequeath the shield to Bucky like a family heirloom.
But hey, nothing else made sense about Civil War, so why quibble?
Stan Lee once complimented Jack Kirby by saying nobody else could have drawn Thor with shoulder-length blond hair and convinced early 1960s kids he was a real man. Shoulder-length hair was “hair like a girl.” It was too feminine for guys back then, inviting mockery and bullying.
The same was true back in 1944, when the Russians placed Bucky into cryo-sleep. Yet somehow Bucky seems perfectly comfortable wearing hair that long. No conflicts with his sense of masculinity whatsoever. He probably didn’t have much of an opinion on it as a Russian sleeper, but now?
Of course, it’s a great look for him, and fans no longer have a problem with it. It’s not surprising he hasn’t brought up the subject.
Steve Rogers survived getting dropped in the sea and plunged into ice because of the super-soldier serum. Instead of freezing to death like normal people would, he went into suspended animation for decades. What’s Bucky’s excuse?
It’s easy to miss, but Bucky didn’t, in fact, survive. When the Russians find him, his body is no longer living. But hey, it’s been preserved by the cold, so even post-life they can probably bring him around, right? And look, it worked!
This isn’t sound medical science.
Preserving someone by freezing them alive is a different kettle of fish from freezing them after they stop living. Of course, very little of comic-book science is sound, but it still seems worth mentioning.
When Bucky took up Cap’s shield in the MU, his history as the Winter Soldier was classified top secret. Then Helmut Zemo, son of one of Cap’s archfoes, exposes the truth with a hack and info dump. Now Bucky and America have to deal with the new Captain America’s violent, brutal past.
Baron Zemo blames Cap for his father’s passing, so it’s understandable he’d want revenge on Bucky. Instead, he tells Bucky his real issue is that Bucky’s been spineless. He’s taken on Cap’s mantle without confronting his past, and he can’t redeem himself until that changes.
Why does Zemo cares about this ? Sure, he’s occasionally gone the antihero route, but this seems abnormally nice of him.
Some comics villains really hold a grudge. It’s not enough to destroy the person they hate, they have to visit every single universe and eliminate every single version of them to know peace.
Gorr, Jason Aarons’ God Butcher in Thor, for example, blames the gods for the loss of his family. That sends him on a revenge spree not only against his own gods but all gods anywhere in the multiverse.
Likewise, when Crossbones shows up in the Winter Soldier comic, he’s actually Nick Fury Jr. from another universe.
His dad lost his life on a mission with that dimension’s Steve and Bucky, so Crossbones hunted them down and took revenge.
Then he moved on to other dimensions, eventually reaching the MU - because destroying one Bucky wasn’t enough.
Brian Michael Bendis is notorious for ignoring continuity if it gets in the way of a good story. Or even a bad story. Sometimes it’s a glaring glitch, but sometimes it’s a minor detail, like the Winter Soldier claiming he’d assassinated the most infamous dictator in history.
During the Dark Reign crossover, Norman Osborne took control of the USA, with the Avengers becoming the resistance. At one point they discuss terminating Osborne — wouldn’t that be just like taking out Adolf himself? Bucky — Captain America at the time — mentions in passing that he did, in fact, take out Hitler.
It’s been well documented, though, that in the MU the Human Torch finished off the Fuhrer. Marvel’s Tom Brevoort later said Bucky was joking, but when reading the story, he doesn’t seem to be.
Retcons are never smooth. No matter how hard the writer tries, there are always points at which the new puzzle pieces don’t fit the old jigsaw. In the case of the Winter Soldier, it’s Brubaker’s idea Bucky was a world-class fighter from the very beginning.
That doesn’t fit with Silver and Bronze Age stories showing Bucky in action during WW II.
He’s competent, sure, but only as competent as a trained, combat-experienced youngster.
He's not an unstoppable master of the martial arts - and unlike the Golden Age yarns, these are canon.
When the Red Skull kidnaps and brainwashes Cap in Invaders #5, he dismisses Bucky as just a kid, not worth bothering with. It’s hard to imagine he’d see the Bucky who became the Winter Soldier that way.
“Power of a god, mind of a small child” does not sound like a good mix. For a classic example, look at Twilight Zone’s chilling episode “It’s a Good Life.”
The Winter Soldier, of course, probably didn’t watch much Twilight Zone in the USSR.
When he wound up working with Kobik, a sentient, childlike Cosmic Cube, he must have known it wouldn’t turn out well.
It didn’t. It was Kobik who created the reality in which Steve Rogers was a Hydra sleeper agent. She tried doing the same reboot to Bucky, but he refused. Because of her, Hydra almost won, forever.
Figuring some way to gently send Kobik far, far away would have been a lot safer.
Captain America folded at the end of the 1940s, by which point Steve had become a school teacher. His short-lived 1950s revival as “Captain America — Commie Smasher” had Steve come out of retirement as Cap and re-enlist in the Army. Bucky resumed his identity as Bucky (you know what we mean) and rejoined the Army as “camp mascot.”
How does that work? Mascot isn’t a rank. Bucky was a camp mascot because he was an orphan hanging around the base, and the soldiers liked him. You can’t just show up a decade later and demand a new bunch of soldiers accept you as their mascot.
Not that it really mattered, as the revived Cap and Bucky turned out to be imposters.
Most of the Marvel Comics we read are an accurate account of life in the Marvel Universe. Not Marvel’s Golden Age books. Nothing in them is canon unless a later story says so.
The 1940s Captain America comic in our world is not the story of Cap and Bucky’s true adventures, but the comics within the the Marvel comics universe about their adventures. And those comics are inaccurate. Marvel (known as Timely back then) wrote them with government approval to build support for the war effort. Lots of errors crept in.
This idea leaves later writers free to ignore any details they don’t like.
Bucky’s Golden Age black buddy Whitewash Jones in Young Allies is a stereotype; the real Jones is smart and articulate. If we’re lucky, the racist Captain America villain Black Talon isn’t in continuity either.
The Original Sin crossover revealed that for decades Nick Fury was “the man on the wall,” defending Earth against alien invasion by any means necessary.
Earth’s assembled superheroes, the resources of SHIELD and SWORD? Nothing compared to a lone wolf with a gun and a willingness to execute unfriendly aliens!
At the end of the series, Fury's life ended and Bucky took over the gig. After some outer space adventure, he wound up back on Earth, with the Thunderbolts as his allies against cosmic threats.
Which differs from what the Avengers or the Fantastic Four do how, exactly? Not at all, as far as anyone can see. It’s almost like the whole crossover event had no purpose other than boosting Marvel sales.
Like a lot of comic-book legal dramas, “The Trial of the Winter Soldier” fudges the legal for the sake of the drama.
The key question in the case is whether Bucky’s crimes as the Winter Soldier can be blamed on mind control. Sin, the Red Skull’s daughter, identifies Bucky as her father's willing agent. No way that’s admissible. Sin has no personal knowledge of Bucky’s action as the Winter Soldier, and she’s too crazy to be a trustworthy witness.
Then there’s the big twist: no sooner does the judge free Bucky than Russian diplomats extradite him for crimes committed on Russian soil. Trouble is, Russia doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the USA. Legally, Bucky could have stayed here and ignored them.
What else doesn't make sense about The Winter Soldier? Tell us in comments.