While The Winter Soldier mantle may have been forced onto him, the darkness that surrounded Bucky had long been in place before the days of WWII...
Captain America Comics #1, March 1941
Named after the 15th President of the United States, James Buchanan
Powers & Abilities
Advanced hand to hand combat skills. Advanced weapons training. Advance covert tactics. Fluent language skills. Equipped with a cybernetic arm granting Bucky superhuman strength and agility. The arm itself has EMP capabilities as well as a cloaking device to give it a flesh and blood appearance.
Unlike other heroes in the Marvel Universe, Bucky is purely human and suffers from the same physical weaknesses as the general populace.
Mentally, Bucky suffers from post traumatic stress disorder suffered during his tour of duty in WWII. He is also guilt ridden by the horrible actions he inflicted while under mind control from the Russian government. A hero with a death wish, Bucky’s mentality is tied into a martyr complex he holds, seeing no other way to fully redeem himself except to give his life for his country.
Friends & Allies
Aside from Col. Steve Rogers aka Captain America, Bucky had a tumultuous relationship with Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow (see Winter Soldier Vol. 1) until her memory was wiped clear by Leo Novokoff, a former Winter Soldier trainee. Novokoff sought revenge on Bucky claiming him to be a traitor to Russia.
Born in Shelbyville Indiana in 1925, Bucky is the orphan of a soldier who was killed in training. Officially ‘adopted’ by the US military, Bucky served as a propaganda piece to promote youthful military approval on the onset of WWII (see Captain America Vol. 5 #12). However, Buckys youthful exterior would hold a darker purpose. Since Captain America is the face of the war, Bucky would serve as its shadow undertaking covert jobs deemed too ‘dirty’ for Captain America.
In the closing days of WWII both Captain America and Bucky are captured and tortured by Baron Zemo while attempting to destroy a prototype drone plane. After escaping, the duo successfully foil Zemo’s plan however at a great cost; Bucky is apparently KIA and Captain America is lost to the ocean (see Avengers #56).
Shortly after the explosion, Bucky is recovered by Russian General Karpov. He is outfitted with a cybernetic arm, wiped clean of his memory, and trained to become The Winter Soldier, a covert assassin kept under cryogenic freeze and only thawed out for missions.
In the present day, Winter Soldier assassinates the Red Skull and steals the Cosmic Cube for General Karpov. After, Winter Soldier detonates a bomb in Philadelphia and kills hundreds in the process. This sets off a chain of events that leads to a confrontation between Captain America and The Winter Soldier. During the confrontation, Captain America gains control of the Cosmic Cube and uses its energy to unlock Bucky’s mind. After regaining his memory, Bucky cannot take the weight of his actions, destroys the Cube, and hides himself from the world.
The Death & Return of Captain America
Shortly after his disappearance, Bucky contacts Nick Fury and offers his services in a chance for redemption. However, the events of Civil War (see Civil War 1-7) take place resulting in the death of Captain America at the hands of a brainwashed Sharon Carter aka Agent 13. With the mantle up for grabs, Bucky steps up and replaces Steve Rogers as Captain America.
Later it is revealed that Steve Rogers is not dead (see Captain America Reborn), merely trapped in a fixed position between time and space (because: comics). After being rescued by Agent 13 and Bucky, Steve Rogers steps down as Captain America, allowing his friend to hold the mantle until the events of Siege take place (See Siege) when Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes both assume the role of Captain America.
Bucky will maintain his position as Captain America until his death in Fear Itself (see Fear Itself). Bucky’s death is merely a ruse as he slips back into the shadows and begins covert S.H.I.E.L.D. work in an effort to further redeem himself.
Why Bucky Matters
There was a time in the world of comic books where the dead stayed dead. This had all changed, for better or worse, when Superman pulled a Lazarus and rose from his own grave. Since that day, the rules were thrown out the window, except for one: no matter what, Bucky stays dead.
Then, in the 2000s, some 40 years later after his death, writer Ed Brubaker attempted the unthinkable. He was not only going to resurrect Bucky, but he was going to blow Captain America’s mythos wide open. Considered by many to be the quintessential Captain America tale, the “Winter Soldier” arc, as well as the entirety of Brubaker’s run, changed the way many view Captain America.
Bucky’s tragic storyline and his quest for redemption lay the foundation for one of the more complex and heroic figures in the Marvel universe, but also helped shattered Captain America’s Boy Scout image. When the organization you work for will go to any length to silence their enemies, how do you know you’re on the right side? The question of loyalty is one that is raised quite a bit during Brubaker’s run. Loyalty to your country, to your friend and even to yourself can often come at quite a cost. It isn’t until Captain America finds his long lost friend that he begins to question his blind loyalty to his country and ultimately questions how far he will go to save those he cares about.
Bucky’s loyalty is always in question since the sins of his past can never be shaken. Despite being found not guilty by a jury of his peers (see Captain America #611), many of the heroes still do not trust Bucky, and it’s obvious to see why. While The Winter Soldier mantle may have been forced onto him, the darkness that surrounds Bucky has been in place long before the days of WWII, hence his secret training. But it’s this darkness that makes Bucky a compelling figure and his quest for redemption makes him one of marvel strongest leads.
Sebastian Stan portrays James “Bucky” Barnes in the 2011 film Captain America: The First Avenger. In this version, Bucky is of equivalent age to Steve Rogers and is physically taller prior to the latter’s Super-Soldier enhancements. He falls to his apparent death when a weapons blast knocks him out of a train and over a cliff into a distant frozen river.
Stan reprises the role in the 2014 film Captain America: The Winter Soldier, this time using the alias of the Winter Soldier.