Okay: we’re two issues into Winter Soldier now, and I’m getting a better sense of what Ed Brubaker’s going for here: some old-school, Steranko-style, 60s-S.H.I.E.L.D. sci-fi super spy stuff that doesn’t necessarily need to make any logical, real-world sense beyond a James Bond film with a 200 million dollar budget. All of which takes some of the edge off the fact that what initially appeared to be a modern, Marvel-based espianoge story suddenly spun, by the end of the first issue, into a scene of a screaming gorilla with a machine gun…
…and none of which makes it any easier to see that same gorilla with a jetpack at the beginning of this issue. That Goddamned gorilla is living every dream I’ve had since I was nine years old. By the third issue he’s gonna be throwing the meat to Heather Thomas, and by the fifth that fucker’ll be chucking feces at The New Kids On The Block.
Settling into the spirit of the book is making it generally more fun, but no easier to follow what the hell’s going on. We’ve got three former Winter Soldiers floating around that Bucky and Black Widow have been chasing, and we’re suddenly informed that one of them took a shot at Dr. Doom with a rocket, which means that monkey isn’t the only one living my dreams. And Bucky and the Widow, who clearly know the more obscure villains of the Marvel Universe better than I do, intuitively understand that the gorilla means that the Red Ghost is possibly behind the whole thing. Now, I know what you’re probably saying: Red Who What Now? Yeah, me too.
But as I read and reread this issue, it is really sinking in that, despite Brubaker’s reputation of doing straight-ahead and hard-boiled crime and pulp stories, the only way to read Winter Soldier is by playing the James Bond theme in your head. The story beats even play out the same: there’s an action scene, a scene back at the office where a new lead comes in, which sends the super spy to a new, exotic location to go undercover – in this case, the Bad JuJu Auction House (Anti-semites) – where another action scene takes place, which brings the super spy to the next lead. Repeat until you get to the villain’s lair, top with an “Oh, James!” and roll credits… which in this case will probably follow the gorilla starting as center fielder for the Boston Red Sox.
And I can’t believe I’m saying this again, but I am just not digging Butch Guice’s art on this book. I really enjoyed his stuff on Captain America, because Guice gives good Kirby – which you can see in this issue when Guice draws Dr. Doom – but otherwise, he’s going with a strong, thick line on almost everything here. Which isn’t the end of the world, except for in small panels – there was one where Nick Fury breaks into a room and you need to really squint to figure out who has the eyepatch so you know what’s going on – but it makes everything dark and sometimes hard to follow. His S.H.I.E.L.D. control room scenes scream “Steranko”, with their overlaid elements from non-drawn sources, but everyone in them is in silhouette, meaning without the dialogue balloons, it’s damn hard telling which shadow is who. I like Guice a lot, but his work on this book just isn’t doing it for me.
All of this means that I’m going to somewhat requalify my initial, somewhat disappointed review of the first issue, which I read anticipating a hard-edged story based on the fact that Bucky is a tragic figure who’s life was stolen from him as he became a programmed killer. As a Bond riff, it’s fine, and somewhat effective on that level… I’m just not sure that’s what I wanted from this book. I’m going to try to get into the spirit of this thing and give it a chance, because if anyone can turn a fluffy Bond-style story into solid entertainment, it’s Brubaker, who recently turned an Archie story into the best crime comic in recent memory.
With that said, if I get to the tenth issue and see that gorilla getting paid $14 million to star as Kevin Matchstick in a big-screen version of Mage: The Hero Discovered? I’m out, yo.