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Comicbook: Bucky Barnes

Warning: This page contain unmarked spoilers for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Read at your own risk.

The Winter Soldier: Who the hell is Bucky?

Excellent question!

James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes is a Marvel Comics character. He first appeared in Captain America Comics #1 (March, 1941), created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Bucky was originally the camp mascot at the base where Steve Rogers, the first Captain America was stationed, and when he stumbled upon Steve changing out of the costume, Steve was forced to take him on as a sidekick. Bucky's wartime adventures would come to an end when he and Captain America tried to sabotage a drone bomb bound for the US. While Captain America survived and plunged into the icy waters of the Arctic to be discovered decades later by The Avengers, Bucky was thought dead when the drone bomb exploded with him on board. His death continued to haunt Captain America after the latter's revival in the present.

In 2004, Ed Brubaker started writing a new volume of Captain America, and the way the world saw Bucky was changed forever. While once viewed as a joke of a character, he was retconned to be a 17 year-old highly-trained commando assigned by the Army to be Captain America's sidekick to counter the Hitler Youth, but also to serve as a covert assassin, performing operations that Captain America himself could never be seen doing; what was initially believed to be his origin was simply a cover story cooked up by the Army press. Instead of dying due to the drone, he instead lost his left arm and a fair chunk of his memory. He survived submersion in the Atlantic Ocean only to be later picked up by a Russian submarine hoping to rescue Cap for the Allies. While he'd lost memories of his life experiences, he retained skills honed through instinct, including his combat training, and was thus molded into a Soviet assassin as sort of a sick joke by a humiliated Russian officer. As The Winter Soldier, he went on to become a legend of the Cold War, performing acts of terrorism and sabotage on US soil under Soviet orders.

Bucky eventually regained his memories, and has since spent his days trying to atone for his sins as the Winter Soldier; working for Nick Fury, and following Steve's death, serving as Captain America himself and as a member of The Avengers.

For a long time, it was fondly accepted among comic book fans that Bucky was one of the few comic book characters that actually stayed dead, along with Jason Todd and Uncle Ben.

Media

Comic Books
  • Captain America
  • The Invaders
  • Young Allies
  • Winter Soldier: Winter Kills
  • Winter Soldier
  • Winter Soldier: The Bitter March
  • Bucky Barnes: Winter Soldier

Film

Western Animation

Over at DC Comics, compare and contrast the first two Robins, Nightwing and Red Hood.

Exhibits examples of:

  • Affirmative Action Legacy: Mark Gruenwald introduced an African American Bucky named Lemar Hoskins, who quickly changed his name to Battlestar after learning that "Buck" used to be a derogatory term for black men. The female Rikki Barnes also used the Bucky identity before taking on the alias of Nomad. The future Bucky seen in The Children's Crusade is a black teen named Steve Wilson-Bradley, the grandson of The Falcon.
  • Agents Dating: They become this in Bucky's new Winter Soldier ongoing. Offering a deeper look into their relationship, the book contrasts Bucky's guilt and self-doubt with Natasha's confidence and pragmatic demeanor.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Played with. Women will once in a while express attraction to Bucky due to his reputation as the Winter Soldier, but he is decidedly not a bad boy.
  • Alternate Company Equivalent: He began life as Marvel's version of Robin — specifically of Dick Grayson as the Kid Sidekick, but he was a Dead Sidekick by 1964, while Jason Todd didn't follow suit until 1988. Since then, this has become a Zig Zagged Trope, with Bucky having parallel story beats to both Jason (comes back to life, fights mentor, becomes brooding bad boy rogue) and Dick (takes over mentor's mantle after his death, keeps mantle with his blessing when he comes back from the dead due to overwhelming fan support, returns it later anyway) at different points. Whether or not one is copying the other is a matter of debate, but Nightwing's cancellation in favor of Grayson, a series where Dick becomes a spy and is teamed up with a beautiful woman who has a spider web tattoo has been seen as DC's attempt to replicate the Bucky and Black Widow dynamic.
  • Artificial Limbs: The Soviets replaced the arm he lost in World War 2 with a cybernetic one, which has a lot of handy abilities, such as an EMP. It also allows him to handle and throw Captain America's shield properly.
  • Anti-Hero Substitute: Bucky as Captain America subverts this, sort of. He's a Classic Anti Hero, so he doesn't carry the same connotations this trope usually does.
  • The Artifact: Bucky as Captain America's Kid Sidekick in World War II effectively made him a Child Soldier with the implied knowledge of the US Miilitary, which required increasing justification from the writers over the decades.
  • The Atoner: What he decides to be after coming to terms with what he's done under Soviet brainwashing.
  • Back from the Dead: After a fashion. Again after Fear Itself.
  • Badass Boast: When Clint Barton tried to justify killing Norman Osborn by pulling out the "If you could go back in time & kill Hitler" argument, Bucky simply chimes in that he did kill Hitler.
  • Bash Brothers: Captain America and Bucky. The original and the best.
    • Bucky also becomes this with The Falcon, Sam Wilson.
  • Battle Couple: Bucky and Black Widow. And by god, it is glorious.
  • Bowdlerise: Of the three versions of the Winter Soldier storyline (the Ed Brubaker comics run, The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes and Captain America: The Winter Soldier), EMH couldn't use the iconic "Who the hell is Bucky?" line as-written.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: As the Winter Soldier.
  • Breakout Character: In a complete reversal of the typical Replacement Scrappy / Legacy Hero reactions, fans absolutely loved Bucky as Captain America, to the point where some were even hoping that it'd stay that way even after Steve Roger's inevitable resurrection.
  • Child Soldier: Bucky was the camp mascot, but he effectively became this when he entered combat as Cap's sidekick. Later justified in modern comics with him being considered a really young looking 15 year old at the beginning in 1941 (The US military occasionally ignored such borderline age cases then) with it becoming a non-issue by the end of the war with him being 19.
  • Classic Anti Hero: Despite being a good person at heart and genuinely wanting to do right by his country, he is plagued by his desire to make up for the wrongs he did as the Winter Soldier and by doubts as to whether or not he can actually do the mantle justice.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Bucky is far quicker to resort to less dignified forms of fighting. Playing possum and then unloading a full clip in someone's face, pulling a woman's hair, whatever.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: For a time, after being released from his Soviet brainwashing, he continued to wear the same black leather costume he did as the Winter Soldier while working for Nick Fury and helping Cap from the shadows. Even his costume as Captain America contains more black than red-white-and-blue, but he's every bit as nice as Steve is.
  • Dead Sidekick: They used to say; "No one stays dead in comics except for Jason Todd, Uncle Ben and Bucky." Now it's down to just Uncle Ben, as DC brought back Jason Todd at almost the exact same time Marvel brought back Bucky.
  • Depending on the Artist: Is his gun a .45 or a Luger?
    • His mask. Are the eyes whited out or not? The majority of artists draw it as not whiting out his eyes, but a few don't.
    • And if you can see his eyes, what color are they— blue or brown? All-New Invaders is particularly inconsistent, he'll have blue eyes on one page and brown on the next.
  • Deep Cover Agent: The Winter Soldier often served this role during the Cold War; he could easily pass for an American, because he actually was one. Bouts of Becoming the Mask, or rather, Fighting from the Inside, in his case, while on mission, led to his superiors' decision to place him in suspended animation between missions.
  • Neuro-Vault: In his last appearance as Captain America before his supposed second death it was revealed that the reason why he was extradited to Russia was because he had information on how to locate and activate a team of Deep Cover Agents much like the Winter Soldier subconsciously sealed in his mind, and the warden of his gulag had plans for this information.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Just like his partner and the original Cap, he's no slouch in defeating foes way more powerful than himself. Of particular note is his takedown of Ares, Greek God of War in the pages of New Avengers.
  • Dirty Communists: Who he worked for as the Winter Soldier during the Cold War. In modern times, he was awakened from cryonic storage and commissioned by Renegade Russian Aleksander Lukin, which led to the discovery of his existence by Captain America.
  • Domino Mask: A dark blue one as Cap's sidekick and a black one as the Winter Soldier. (in the movie, it's Guy Liner instead of a mask)
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: In Fear Itself. He'd be a Sacrificial Lion if not for the shortage of attention given by other characters who aren't Steve, Nick Fury, or Black Widow.
  • Empowered Badass Normal: While he is only an extremely well-trained soldier, his bionic arm plus unaging Infinity Formula allow for being able to hold his own against anyone up to Type 3 in Super Weight. In the movies, he was experimented on by Dr. Zola, giving him a similar skill set to Steve.
  • Faking the Dead: Only Steve Rogers, Black Widow, and Nick Fury know of his survival, because if word got out that he's still alive, it's back to the gulag for him.
  • Fan Nickname: Bucky Cap. Has since become an ascended nickname courtesy of the New Avengers.
    To Spider-Man: Stop calling me Bucky Cap!
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: He was reviled by the public at large early in his stint as Captain America, but understandably so, considering Steve Rogers was assassinated not too long ago. And again after he was discovered by the public to have been a cold war assassin for the Soviets.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Bucky and Natasha.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Captain America and Bucky. The original and the best.
  • Indy Ploy: As Captain America, his tactical ability was often displayed through his prodigious reliance on these.
  • Internal Homage: When Cap first confronts the Winter Soldier, the Soldier says "Who the hell is Bucky?" Later, after Natasha's memories of Bucky have been wiped out and he tries to speak with her, she repeats the line.
  • Kid Sidekick: Originally, but eventually subverted by the Ed Brubaker Retcon, which revealed him to be handpicked by the Army to accompany Cap and perform wetworks missions. Due to the Marvel Universe's lack of kid sidekicks (Stan Lee has expressed his dislike for the trope), it's led to the interpretation that Bucky was a deconstruction of them by showing that it'd only put a minor in mortal danger. The deconstruction angle went further with Brubaker's retconning him to have been more of a child assassin.
  • Legacy Character: After the "death" of the original during the Golden Age, the Bucky identity was briefly used by Fred Davis, Jack Monroe, Rick Jones, Lemar Hoskins, and Bucky's own Alternate Universe granddaughter Rikki Barnes.
  • Memetic Mutation: Bucky Bear, baby Captain America's closest companion in A-Babies vs X-Babies. Fans started making their own Bucky Bears and there's more than one photograph of Sebastian Stan posing with one.
  • Military Brat: Bucky's father was a career soldier, and he grew up on base. After his father died in a routine training exercise, Bucky's sister was sent to boarding school, but Bucky stayed.
  • Military Superhero: Just like Cap.
  • Multi-Ranged Master: As Captain America, but only because the shield is a Precision-Guided Boomerang. He often uses it in conjunction with his pistol, which may or may not be a heavily modified P08 Luger.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: His reaction upon getting his memories back.
  • My Greatest Failure: Steve regarded Bucky's supposed death at the end of World War 2 as this for a long time after his revival in the modern day.
  • My Greatest Second Chance: After finding out of Bucky's survival and freeing the guy from Soviet brainwashing, Steve felt that he should do everything in his power to keep Bucky alive and a good man. This apparently meant persuading Bucky to keep the Captain America mantle even after his own return from the dead.
  • Named After Someone Famous: James Buchanan, 15th President of the U.S. A strange choice, given he's considered one of the absolute worst.
  • Nineties Anti-Hero: Subverted. Bucky had the look, some of the attitude, but was a good guy through and through.
  • No Plans No Prototype No Back Up: Disregarding how unlikely it is to chance upon an amnesiac soldier well-versed in infiltration, sabotage, and assassination, the sheer amount of money put into enhancing Bucky ensured that creating more than one Winter Soldier wasn't a viable option.
  • Not Quite Dead: Getting stabbed with Sin's hammer left him Only Mostly Dead, and he was later revived through intensive medical care and the use of Nick Fury's Infinity Formula. His death was faked by Black Widow who planted an LMD with injuries identical to his, and left it to be buried as a hero in Arlington, absolving him of the charges set against him during his time in prison.
  • Neuro-Vault: In his last appearance as Captain America before his supposed second death it was revealed that the reason why he was extradited to Russia was because he had information on how to locate and activate a team of Deep Cover Agents much like the Winter Soldier subconsciously sealed in his mind, and the warden of his gulag had plans for this information.
  • Not Wearing Tights: Averted when he started out as Cap's sidekick, and during his stint as Captain America, but played straight (sort of, he wore a Domino Mask with his jumpsuit) during his time as the Winter Soldier. As the page picture shows, he's back to playing the trope straight again.
  • Older Than They Look: He looks barely a day over 25, but he's actually 80-plus years old.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: He's come down in history as "Bucky," which is half-nickname, half-superhero legacy. Originally, his girlfriend, Black Widow, was the only person who regularly called him "James," but more recent writers are having him known as such because they feel "Bucky" isn't a particularly dignified name for an adult hero. More rarely, someone will call him Jim, such as the team in Captain America Corps or Bucky Cap himself, addressing his time-traveling teenage counterpart in Avengers Invaders.
  • Posthumous Narration: This is what his monologues in his new series Captain America and Bucky are shaping up to be, until Marvel gives sufficient explanation as to how and why he's recounting his experiences in World War 2 after dying in Fear Itself This was finally explained , sort of, in Fear Itself 7.1, where it's revealed that he's Not Quite Dead, and will be returning to his Winter Soldier identity. As the Captain America and Bucky story eventually revealed, he was doing some catching up with his now-aged sister.
  • Red Baron: Nobody knew him by name when he was operating as the Winter Soldier, not even his own Soviet superiors.
  • Redemption Demotion: When Bucky was reintroduced as the Winter Soldier, he was presented as a cold, unerring, and efficient assassin who could eliminate the Red Skull without even batting an eyelash. After regaining his memories and subsequently taking on the Captain America mantle, while he did fairly well, he showed an over-reliance on Indy Ploys and a tendency to end up being saved by his buddies from harm.
  • Reimagining The Artifact: The Ed Brubaker retcon basically amounts to this, turning Bucky from a Kid Sidekick to a teenage assassin, bumping his age slightly (he's still too young to be a soldier, but in an era where the military needed bodies enough to overlook that), and saying that Bucky's original origin story — camp mascot who found out Cap's secret identity and had to become his partner — was an official story put out by the military who didn't want to let on to the fact that he was highly-trained in covert ops.
  • Renegade Russian: Aleksander Lukin, CEO of Kronas. The discovery of the Winter Soldier's existence was due to Lukin recommissioning the Soldier after decades of Suspended Animation since the end of the Cold War to acquire the Cosmic Cube and enact a plan to use the Cube and Kronas to destroy the American economy from within. He is a protege of the Soviet officer who had Bucky brainwashed in the first place.
  • Ret Canon: A strangely recursive example. In the original Winter Soldier story line, the Soldier has straggly, chin-length hair. After he regains his memories, however, Bucky gets a haircut, and is usually drawn with a '40s-style three-quarters part. The movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier reproduces the initial character design for the Winter Soldier almost note for note, including the longer hair, and so promotional art of Bucky for his new Avengers NOW ongoing shows him with the longer hair again.
  • Retcon: Ed Brubaker's retooling of the Bucky character into a teen assassin, brainwashed into becoming a Soviet agent after secretly surviving World War 2, paving the way for his reintroduction into modern day comics is often hailed as one of the most well done Retcons in recent history. His original death in The Sixties was a retcon as well, saying that the Captain America and Bucky from The Fifties were actually impostors. According to Brubaker, it was when he learned that this oft-flashbacked-to death was just a retcon that he determined that, if he ever got to write Captain America comics, he'd undo it.
  • Sealed Badass in a Can: The reason why he's so youthful is because the Soviets kept him in suspended animation while he wasn't out on missions.
  • Shrouded in Myth: The Winter Soldier.
  • Sidekick Graduations Stick / Legacy Character: Despite Steve coming Back from the Dead again, Bucky continued to serve as Captain America, with the approval of the man himself. Not anymore though, Steve's Cap again.
  • Spy Fiction: Bucky's new Winter Soldier ongoing has shaped up to be this. Ed Brubaker has played with Espionage Tropes before, especially during Bucky's stint as Captain America, but he goes all out here. One could say the book is Spy Fiction masquerading as a Superhero story. It's primarily Martini-flavored; aside from Bucky's usual hands-on approach, he dons nice suits as disguises and uses some snazzy SHIELD-issue gadgets. There is a bit of Stale Beer in there as well, considering the main conflict is a plot to depose a political leader (granted, said leader is Dr. Doom, but still). And then this plot is to be executed with the liberal use of machinegun-wielding fascist gorillas.
  • Status Quo Is God:
    • Pretty much the reason why he has faked his death and gone back to the Winter Soldier codename. It's all for Steve to return to his original role as Captain America to coincide with the 2011 movie.
    • Also the reason why his relationship with Black Widow ended with it being wiped from her memory since she had gotten a bigger public profile as a Avenger.
  • Superhero Packing Heat: Justified as he's a thoroughly unpowered -though in good shape and well trained- hero going against Cap's still-powered rogues gallery.
  • That Man Is Dead: Reluctantly:
    Jim Hammond: "Bucky!"
    Namor: "James!"
    Bucky: "Name's Winter Soldier now, guys, like it or not. Time we all got used to it."
  • The Team Normal: He was this during his time in The Invaders; on a team with Captain America, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and The Human Torch and Toro, he only had his black-ops training to his credit.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Thanks to Ed Brubaker, he's gone a long way from being one of the most laughable examples of a Kid Sidekick ever. How long? He became Captain America.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Aside from his cybernetic arm, Bucky doesn't have much in the way of superhuman abilities, but he still manages to hold his own quite well against powered opponents, owing to his Combat Pragmatist tendencies.
  • Wham Line: Used both in the comics and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to reveal his memory loss as the Winter Soldier:
    Captain America: ...Bucky?
    The Winter Soldier: ...Who the hell is Bucky?!
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alternative title(s): Bucky Barnes
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