Fans initially howled at the notion that Ed Brubaker was bringing Bucky Barnes back after his long-lasting demise during World War II. The rule in comics for a long time was "only Bucky stays dead," and the loss of him was crucial to Steve Rogers' life as Captain America in the modern day. However, Brubaker was so awesome in giving James Buchanan Barnes a dark and unexpected history as a captive, brainwashed and cryogenically preserved Russian sleeper agent assassin that fans eventually grew to embrace his return.
And started howling again when Matt Fraction unceremoniously killed him off in Fear Itself. We fans are great at howling. However, last week saw the release of Fear Itself 7.1: Captain America, in which Brubaker reveals that the apparent death was a risky hoax, meant not only to manipulate Steve Rogers into taking up the shield of Captain America again, but also to take Bucky off the grid, so he can do some shadowy undercover work to settle up his unfinished business as the Winter Soldier.
The first impression was that Brubaker was finally reclaiming his character from Fraction's poison pen, but in a new interview with MTV, Brubaker sheds some light on the behind-the-scenes process that resulted in what we saw, and how it fit right in with the plans he had to give the Winter Soldier his own series for years now, and Fraction is getting a lot more heat than he deserves, at least on this point.
"For me, the hardest part was seeing people freaking out all over Twitter about it and knowing that I was going to do this exact same story in Captain America," Brubaker explains. "I was going to end the 'Gulag' arc with it being an issue longer and it would appear that Bucky got killed. And I would have kept him dead in Cap for four or five months, and then revealed that the whole thing was a fake-out. So, I would have milked all of the sympathy out of the fans that I could get, while having laid out the clues that—when you went back and looked, it would have been like 'Oh my God!' That’s what I would have done differently.
"Matt was doing so much in Fear Itself that he didn’t have time to lay out as many little red herrings as I would have done," he continues. "And then, the way Stuart (Immonen) actually drew the death scene—I remember when Matt sent me those pages—and I was like, 'Oh my God, I didn’t know you were going to make him that dead!' I mean, he looks really dead there. So there was a little bit of making harder to make it believable that the whole thing was a fake-out. It made me change the story a little bit which ended up making [the 7.1 issue] a little bit stronger in some ways. And the plan has always been, for years now, that Steve was going to come back and be Captain America again and Bucky was going to become the Winter Soldier again, and go through the trial and get sent to a Russian prison and have to fake his own death and become the Winter Soldier again and get his own series. We’ve been talking about this for two or three years now at our meetings. And this is something I’ve been building towards since ever since Bucky became the most popular new Marvel character since Wolverine and Deadpool."
Which was a very surprising development to all involved in bringing Bucky back in the first place. "None of us ever expected when I brought Bucky back that he was going to become a popular character. We just thought we’d be lucky if people didn’t hate it," Brubaker relates. "And instead, initially everyone was resistant and then he was embraced by fans. And when he became the new Captain America, he became even more so. We had no idea people really grabbed onto this character, and then we were like, 'We have to give him his own series.'"
So what exactly can we expect from the new Winter Soldier series starting in January? That 'Gulag' arc revealed that he was far from the only guy in the predicament of being a nefarious Cold War sleeper agent, which is the business he needs to deal with.
"The first arc of the book is about these Cold War sleepers," Brubaker reveals, "which actually the kind of thing that you read about in the paper today—guys who’ve been living here since the 80’s, and they were Russian spies. But when the Cold War ended, they stayed here. But we’re taking it to the Marvel comics level of it being characters that Bucky trained as the Winter Soldier, characters trained to pass as Americans, who have the same kind of combat training as him, who’ve been kept in stasis, and they were just never awakened when the Cold War ended. They’re human weapons of mass destruction that are being sold on the black market. And what the first arc is about is Bucky trying to track down these human weapons and prevent them from destroying this country. They’re like Cold War weapons that went unused, and now someone has bought them.
"We’ll find out who at the end of the first issue and what they’re up to," he continues, "but Bucky and Black Widow have no idea what they’re up against, really, and that’s one of the first mysteries of the book: who’s got these guys and what are they trying to do with them. And by the end of the first arc, we’ll have created some new villains that tie into this Cold War mythology of the Marvel universe."