• The first arc reaches its conclusion! Mer-z-bow will never be the same! Upheaval imminent!
• Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier — face to face with Crossbones!
• The mystery figure who took a shot at Bucky learns the cost of his transfiguration. Daisy Johnson causes an earthquake. Ventolin acts.
Jason Sacks: Oh man I love this comic so much, but then it’s as if it was made just for me.
I love comics that tell their stories obliquely, at an odd angle. I love it when creators take the readers to places that they might never have visited otherwise, expose us to places and concepts and characters and just plan strangeness that transcends every world possible in order to create something that is thoroughly, uniquely, comic-booky.
Bucky Barnes: the Winter Soldier #5 starts with mythologizing, with a view from the far future that tells us that everything we’re going to read is important in the great scheme of things. We get myth. We get the promise of bigness, of an epic tale. And after a brightly welcoming page of pure science fiction, we’re shown our mythological hero, an otherdimensional Bucky Barnes who’s a world weary and wise adventurer carrying a Rob Liefeld-inspired gun and a Harrison Ford-inspired world-weary fatigue. He feels right as our guide through this story; artist Marco Rudy uses a glorious mix of symbolism and brain-twisting storytelling to give us history and battle and alien landscapes and personal concern all mixed into one heady, headlong mix of passion and energy and disjointed delight.
Rudy and the always astonishing Ales Kot deliver a story here in which readers are forced to hang on with both hands, pay close attention to the creative color pallettes and akimbo angles and brilliantly bold creative cues to find a grounding in the myth. What they deliver, and what they’ve delivered every month in this amazing comic is a thoroughly terrific multitiered story that challenges and delights the reader.
Hey Bulletineers, did this comic stimulate your brain as much as it did mine?
Jamil Scalese: Sadly, for this reader, it does not.
Look, Rudy’s art? Holy crap. His approach to the page is positively unlike anything else in the medium. It’s like a structured acid trip, a wild dream on rails. Rudy’s layouts can be a little frustrating at time but they’ve challenge me into looking at the page in new ways. It doesn’t hurt he’s a master fundamentalist, angles, scope, anatomy are all extremely on point. The sequences explaining the culture history of the people of Mer-Z-Bow and the Crossbones fight scene are fascinating and deliver huge payoff. And of course his color work can’t be understated, I especially like the way some panels go all film negative. The art choice of this complex style direction is a smart risk by Marvel.
The ugly cousin of complex is complicated, and therein lies my problem is with Ales Kot’s script and overall plot structure. It seems pretentiously layered with messy sci-fi for dressing purposes. I can point to this issue’s dual caption narration as an example of something that just serves to cloud rather than entertain. Concepts like the multiverse (see Secret Wars and Convergence), or two versions of one man (Looper) are in no way new or really even creative. Paired with Rudy’s atypical art I find the story to be too disjointed and needlessly coy about its events. Admittedly issue four helped clear up some bigger picture things but this one kind of funked things up again.
Jason you mention the intent this book has to challenge the reader. I think this is the type of challenge where I throw up my hands in frustration and move on to something that makes me happier. The needlessly clandestine nature is hampering what I think could be a unrivaled jewel in the superhero market.
Sacks: I understand what you’re saying, Jamil, but what you complain about is precisely what I love about this comic: fitting the oblique nature of Bucky Barnes’s world, we get this oblique storytelling style, with events flying at the reader at strange angles, incongruously, in fragments that seem like they should make perfect sense but instead confuse and frustrate.
I’d submit to you that this is giving the book a unique feel, a sense of an odd mix of objective and subjective, of the mystery of these events all splayed out in ways that illuminate an inner monologue in an implicit way, giving the reader a broken, oblique view of things. Is it too clandestine? Too pretentious? Though you didn’t use this term, is it too indie, too art-comicky? Do our different takes on Bucky Barnes come from the fact that I’m a big indie comics guy and you love your superhero work? Is this an attempt at artishsness that comes across as pretentious rather than perceptive? I’m inclined to love this sort of thing so I loved it… but is that a product of expectations or of the actual quality of this comic?
Geez, I ask a lot of weird questions, don’t I?
Mark Stack: I kind of like that there’s a part of this book that is trying to put readers at an arm’s distance. The art is as complex as the ideas at play so if you can’t get with the former than you won’t even bother getting to explore the latter. I’m making the book sound like an intellectual elitist’s wet dream but I don’t think it comes off that way in the reading. At least not in my reading. The book has a bit of a puzzle quality to it where readers have to piece together characters’ actions and intentions.
I love the way a mention of telepathy leads to a two-page explanation of the development of telepathy on Mer-Z-Bow. It shows a willingness to venture off into new territory that, while not necessarily important to the story, adds flavor to the environment that would otherwise be missing. And with this predominately being a fight issue, I think it’s a good sign that Kot is looking to do something more than writing off a quick fight scene and handing it to poor Marco Rudy and Langdon Foss to render.
I do agree with what Jason said about the myth-making in this issue and the series as a whole. The older Bucky Barnes adds a grandiosity in his narration and his mere presence. He’s there to assure that what’s destined to happen across multiple universes in the multiverse. It supplies so much more drama to the fight between Bucky and Crossbones than would otherwise exist.
As for the question of whether this book is too indie, I’d give that an irrevocable yes. It’s too artsy and complex for most mainstream superhero readers to appreciate but the presence of superheroes is likely to scare off the Image crowd that doesn’t want to dive into continuity. Seriously, I’ve tried selling it to both groups down at the shop and it has proven near impossible. Trying to hit that moving target of Marvel readers that also happen to have indie tastes has this book set up for failure. I can’t help but feel that this book would be talked about a whole lot more if it were an Image book with a big push rather than a Marvel book released with little fanfare.
Scalese: Mr. Sacks, Mr. Stack, I’m surprisingly with you on many of these points. When I first started writing for Comics Bulletin I was extremely unfamiliar with the indy market and if I hadn’t drastically expanded my pull list in the last few years I suspect I’d be completely resistant to something like Bucky Barnes. I’m happy this comic exists, the first issue had me grinning like an idiot, it’s just somewhere along the way the story lost me. I thought this was about “The Man on the Wall” but it’s turned into some type of space romance thing that doesn’t really bother explaining itself.
I do think you hit on something, Jason, is this book good simply because it’s different? Does the effort to branch off dramatically from the norm hide the flaws? I applaud Marvel in giving this a go but I think a stronger editorial presence might help find the correct wavelength to bring in a larger audience. Still, I think there’s enough there to warrant a spot on the rack, I just think for me personally it’s time I make the hard decision of dropping this in a time of book budget balancing.