Captain America & Bucky #623 takes a classic trope of comic books — the teenage boy adventure story — and turns it on its head. The result is a twist on a familiar genre that hits the reader with an emotional punch. Set during the end of WWII, the first half of the comic lays out the plot of an Allied spy, Martin Schiller, falling into the hands of the Nazis, leaving the intel he knows at risk. With Captain America and the Human Torch on a mission of their own, Bucky and Toro are take it upon themselves to go behind enemy lines and save the spy before the Nazis learn his secrets and dispose of him.
To begin with, the story reads a lot like a buddy comic full of hijinks, reminiscent of the sort of comics that would’ve been popular during the actual WWII era. Even with the serious nature of their mission, the focus seems as if it’s going to be on Bucky and Toro getting into trouble when left on their own. It is not, however, 1944 anymore, and this comic was written with an eye on the reality of history, not the glossy, propaganda version. It takes a quick turn into much darker territory, showing not a sterilized tale of misadventure, but a look instead of what Bucky and Toro would’ve been more likely to find, given what we know of history today. In the end, Bucky is faced with a choice with no easy answers, as we’re reminded, as the comic states on the first page, that “war is hell.”
Much of what makes this emotional impact of this comic as powerful as it is is the understated yet horrifying nature of many of the scenes. In particular, the moment where, as they make their way towards where Martin Schiller is being held, Bucky realizes what’s falling from the sky is not in fact snow, but ash. From his point in history, Bucky cannot yet see the full implications of what’s happening, but as readers in 2011, we do understand what he doesn’t have the knowledge to yet. It’s never fully spelled out, but it doesn’t have to be. The image of ash falling from the sky is positively chilling, and the subtly of the moment makes all the stronger.
The characterization of Bucky is pitch-perfect as well, with his attempts to be a more mature and in control version of himself at the beginning of the comic falling by the wayside as he confronts the horrible evil of the Nazis. As Bucky describes in the narration, “This was old Bucky behavior. No plan. Just taking action.” Bucky’s anger and sense of helplessness is conveyed through his inability to stick with the plan once he’s confronted with the reality of what the Nazis are doing, and it conveys a stronger sense of emotion to the reader. The degree to which he’s clearly affected by what he sees makes the ending of the comic that much more powerful.
Chris Samnee’s art adds the perfect visual accompaniment to the story, with his distinctive, cartoon style adding to the lighter feel at the beginning, then making the horrifying imagery of the later pages seem even more jarring because of it. Like the storytelling, the art seems to be a blend of both classic and darker themes, and sets just the right tone for this comic. The imagery of this issue is some that will stick with you, and Samnee is able to convey the horror Bucky and Toro are exposed to in a truly haunting way.
Sara McDonald started reading comics in the third grade, and now puts her English degree to good use talking about them on the Internet. She currently resides in Western Massachusetts with a roommate, three cats, and an action figure collection and spends the time she isn’t reading comics working for a non-profit. You can visit her blog at Ms. Snarky’s Awesometastic Comics Blog.