Why do bad things happen to good fans? Whether it’s atrocious art, ridiculous writing or something else entirely – some crimes against fandom cannot go unanswered. When that happens, it’s time to say “BLAARGH!”
We’re nearing the halfway point of Marvel’s Fear Itself event and thus far the response has been fairly tepid, largely due to the fact that the first two issues held virtually no surprises to anyone following comics or comics news since around Christmas last year. Serpent, blah blah blah Allfather yadda yadda yadda, worthy, hammers, bip bip bip. We knew all of this was coming. Yes, we’ve been treated to some nice art and dialogue along the way. I’m not suggesting there was anything wrong with what we’ve seen thus far; it just was unsurprising to its core, thanks to the Hype Machine surrounding it. Then comes issue three, and, with it, a pretty serious plot point that was sadly overshadowed since the collective comics community (myself included) was busy wetting its pants over the announcement of DC’s impending relaunch the day before.
Captain America died.
No, not Steve Rogers, the former Captain America that already died and returned as the Super Soldier who is primed to return to the role of Captain America in a new #1 in July, as was spoiled by Marvel months in advance to the mainstream media. No, he’s just fine. Instead, Sin killed James Buchannan “Bucky” Barnes, the new Captain America, who reluctantly accepted the responsibility of the shield after Steve’s brief sojourn to the beyond. She killed Bucky, who’s currently unjustly imprisoned in Russia as a result of his actions as the Winter Soldier. She put a hole in Bucky’s chest, the Captain America that was just put on trial for treason and was barely vindicated at the last minute before having his redemption stolen from him as he landed into the aforementioned Russian gulag.
I fully understand these are Marvel’s characters and they can do whatever they want to them and all that jazz, so please refrain from those types of comments. The reason I hate Bucky’s death so much is that he never found the redemption he needed. Yes, he was acquitted of the charges against him, but he never had a chance to return to the public eye as Captain America and earn the trust of the American people. The “Gulag” story has been great so far. It’s been a dark journey for Bucky as he confronts all the ghosts of his past and I was very much looking forward to the end to see how he came back from it. Apparently, the final issue of the current volume of Captain America ends with him jumping on a plane to go get killed in Washington.
As far as deaths in comics go, it wasn’t even a good one. For all the Hell Marvel and Bendis caught for Hawkeye’s sacrifice in Avengers: Disassembled, I always thought the notion of Clint taking out the enemy with his last action was powerful. Bucky was tossed aside like he was nothing. He went out fighting, but he never had a chance. He made no impact on the battlefield whatsoever. He wasn’t even in the story until he died! I’d noticed his absence up to that point, but figured this must be taking place alongside “Gulag,” so I didn’t think much of it. To have him come into the book just so he could die is a cheap way for Bucky to go out considering how far he’s come since his return.
He was beaten so easily to illustrate how serious a threat Sin and the Serpent are. I get it. She’s never been able to kill him and with her new Asgardian power, she did. Both Marvel and the fans like these events to have a little weight. They need to have an impact I get that, too. I’ve been reading comics a long time, so I know how the game is played. Also, since there’s a movie coming out, they just HAD to get Steve Rogers back in the costume because the legions of moviegoers who flood comic stores after the movie comes out next month would be really confused to find a different guy in the uniform That’s how that always plays out, right? Snark aside, you want Rogers back in the uniform. It’s clear now in the stories that Rogers WANTS to be back in the uniform more than he wants to be a commander. He’s a soldier. I’ve no problem with Steve taking up the mantle again. It was only a matter of time. But I personally don’t want to see Steve Rogers back in the mask enough for them to have killed Bucky when he had so many more stories in him. Those stories may not have been as Captain America, but he had more to do. Bucky wasn’t done.
Captain America writer Ed Brubaker has said since the issue came out that the plan was for Steve to come back and that something would have happened to Bucky at the end of “Gulag” to take him out of the costume, but he and Fear Itself writer Matt Fraction coordinated this instead as a major story beat for the event. Given the nature of the story, I doubt Bucky was going to end up buried in an unmarked grave in the Russian tundra, so my gut tells me he wasn’t going to die at the end of that story. If that’s the case, I have to imagine Brubaker had plans for him after he stepped down as Captain America. Fraction has said he was honored to be able “to end Bucky’s story as Captain America.” So hopefully in this story full of gods and with the tech of the Avengers on his side, Bucky will come out of this one alive and we’re awaiting the switch to our current bait.
Bucky’s death was effective in as much as it was absolutely the first genuine surprise of the series thus far. On that level, it worked. But if he is in fact dead (for now), I feel like they’ve really stunted his character. Bucky was/is at his lowest point since he was the Winter Soldier. Going out in a few pages wasn’t a fitting end for a character whose return was SUCH a long shot in the first place. Bucky’s personal arc has been one of the most enjoyable I’ve read in a long time. We watched him rise up and we watched him fall. But now, we’re robbed of the chance to see him persevere. I genuinely hope Bucky returns during or immediately following Fear Itself. Some may cry foul and his death not sticking, but I for one cannot wait for his return. Bucky is infinitely more valuable to the stories of the Marvel alive than dead. When Steve Rogers died, his presence was felt even after he was gone. Even in death, he was a motivator. He was practically a character in the Captain America book during his death because of what he meant to the cast of that series. I don’t think Bucky has that kind of weight yet. He could, but he has to be given the chance to build that kind of legacy, and I hope the writers and editorial at Marvel give him that chance.