Winter Soldier No. 3 review: Of surly teenagers and slowly building trust


Bucky Barnes has taken in another stray, Hydra’s latest Winter Soldier attempt, RJ. Redemption is never an easy process, full of hiccups, obstacles, and prolonged pain, but trauma is better dealt with, and slowly but surely, every day becomes easier than the last.

There are a few places that Marvel fans never imagined they’d see Bucky Barnes, and one of them is almost certainly as an adopted father-figure to an ex-assassin crafted in his own image and sent to kill him. On the other hand, if Bucky was going to be anyone’s adopted father figure, it does seem to follow it would be to someone so convoluted.

In the third issue of the Winter Soldier series, writer Kyle Higgins and artist Rod Reis, continue their eloquent exploration of trauma, its consequences, and its healing, spinning an elegant narrative which leaves characters dimensional and emotion at the forefront.

Bucky is never frightened to be open about the scars Hydra inflicted on him, in many cases, barely closed wounds. He never shies away from expressing the truth of his feelings, from pain, to fear, to hope. And it is that, above all, which makes this series shine.

Credit to Marvel Comics

A True Feat of Superheroism: Connecting with a Surly Teenager

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After the events in Winter Soldier No. 2, Bucky has taken RJ home with him to heal, and though there are still occasional threats of murder from the latter, both one-time Winter Soldiers are slowly coming together to tackle their traumas.

The first act of the issue is really one big therapy session, with Doctor Samson making a guest appearance to talk both RJ and Bucky through their residual traumas. While RJ is resistant and defensive, shall we say teenaged, he balks at the thought of leaving his newfound home.

Credit to Marvel Comics

Bucky, meanwhile, is more forthcoming, empathizing with RJ and making his recovery a personal mission; a cause that is clearly motivated by the struggles Bucky is still undergoing. Readers learn he has been to the doctor himself, though not in a while, and works to keep his past from overwhelming him by detailing his memories and flashbacks in a journal. A journal which RJ, once learning of its existence, wastes no time in sneaking a peek at…Trouble child that he is.

Credit to Marvel Comics

Of Trust and Second Chances

Though barely anointed a father-figure, Bucky is quick to pick up on the power of a teachable moment. When one of his other redemptive charges calls him for help, Bucky takes RJ along as a show of trust in the other. This active acknowledgement that Bucky believes RJ won’t kill him, that if necessary, will be on his side, goes beyond what simple words can convey.

Credit to Marvel Comics

Indeed, getting out into the field does appear to give the young assassin a sense of purpose, as his skills come into good use. And when push comes to shove, he cannot abandon Bucky to injury and death, and comes back into the fray to ensure his survival, culminating in a breathtaking battle with the villain Spot.

Credit to Marvel Comics

Credit to Marvel Comics

Afterwards, emotions run high, bubbling up into the climax of this issue, an incredibly poignant and honest scene, where Bucky confesses he still struggles to move on from the past that haunts him, that progress is slow and often painful, but day by day, becomes easier, and RJ arrives at the crucial realization that he does not want to kill anymore.

Credit to Marvel Comics

This sequence is an incredible melding of raw and powerful writing and sheer artistic beauty, RJ is at his angriest, Bucky at his most vulnerable, and together, they both take another step towards sewing up their wounds.

Credit to Marvel Comics

But nothing ever stays right for long…

Everything is looking up for our two heroes, but there’s always a twist in store.

When Bucky and RJ return to Bucky’s house, a man is there waiting, claiming to be RJ’s father… But if Bucky’s history is anything to go by, this is almost certainly not as simple (or as good) as it seems.

A Moment for Unlikely Friendships 

As ever, a shout-out to the magnificent friendship between Tony Stark and Bucky Barnes in this series. With both of them wry, snarky, and getting over the demons in themselves and their pasts, this underlying relationship, teasing and warm, is a worthy easter egg for any fan of Marvel.

A true odd couple, here’s hoping to much more of the two of them in this, and other adventures.

Credit to Marvel Comics.

Credit to Marvel Comics.

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Winter Soldier No. 3 is now available online and in stores. Look out for more of Bucky’s adventures coming March 13th.