By: Alex Kot (Writer), Marco Rudy (Artist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (Letterer & Production)

The Story: Bucky and Daisy, sittin’ on a wall, K-I-L-L-I-N-G…

The Review: With both a high-profile movie and a high-profile publishing event leading into this series, there should be a lot of focus on it. I for one, was anticipating it, although it had more to do with my enjoyment of Ed Brubarker’s seminal run that re-popularized the character, about 2005-2012. With all that said, it’s interesting that Marvel decided to take the Winter Soldier in a completely different direction than all of that and add to it Marco Rudy’s surreal and hyper-stylistic art. I say “interesting” because in one light, it’s great to see some experimentation with character, plot, and form. On the other hand, it’s so different from what the movie and recent character history would lead us to anticipate that it becomes a disappointment.

The artwork may prove to be the most divisive element. It is certainly beautiful taken as a whole– there are parts that are richly textured, blending into other parts. Characters are painterly, tinged with the color for the palette of the page. The first double page spread presents the space station that has yet to have a pithy name, but gradually fades into Bucky’s profile.

Visually, there’s a recurring motif of circles and circular patterns. There are circles naturally occurring, like in the hub of the station or the swirling white/black holes, but also there are radial layouts of panels, swirling panels within panels, and visual reinforcement of things like outer space and underwater. There’s even one page that takes the speech bubbles in a counterclockwise pattern. Notice the cover, too, which envelopes the Winter Soldier as the “man on the wall” with concentric fragments of his previous identities.    

Unfortunately, even great artwork can’t make a great comic book on its own if it gets in the way of actually reading the story. And here, the artwork becomes laborious in places. It is often too difficult to understand the context of the setting, to immediately know who is speaking,  and  to contextualize many key situations. The ending, in particular, is robbed of much of its dramatic moment, precisely because it’s out of context. I spent so much time trying to figure out how to read the page, then I had to remind myself I’m not *supposed* to figure out what’s going on– it being a mysterious, unresolved cliffhanger, and I feel a bit cheated.

There are several things I like about the approach to the Winter Soldier here. I like the fact that there’s still some mystery surrounding the nature of his new “assignment,” and the fact that the character is still largely following orders, which hints at some complexity and some of that good old-fashioned existential dilemma we love in our stories. I also like that there’s a supporting cast here, characters who are also in “peripheral” states: Quake (Daisy Johnson) is a woman without a country, so to speak, and Namor the Sub-Mariner, who’s always straddled different worlds. Daisy also makes a nice counterpart to Bucky, in that she’s been a dutiful soldier to Nick Fury Sr. for a long time, but is now in just as much uncharted water as Bucky is. Well, and Namor, ostensibly…

The banter of the characters is nice, too, although it becomes a bit uncomfortable at times when you’re not quite sure they’re joking. And because it usually centers around killing people. There are some huge ethical implications to much of what these characters do, and I’m talking about just here in issue #1. That really gives me pause, but the characters seem to give token acknowledgement and cast aside. I hope this becomes something more important later.

Also, I was hoping for some more explanation about this set-up. The Winter Soldier suddenly has this new status quo because he apparently got it when Fury died somehow? It wasn’t explained in the Original Sin series lead-in, but it’s also completely taken for granted here. So, too, are some fairly logical questions never even entertained, such as how do they travel places? Who gives the station its power? How and from whom did they steal such a specialized weapon that there’s only one of it in the entire galaxy? For one or two of these things I can willingly suspend my disbelief, but when they start racking up way too much, I don’t want to just take *everything* for granted, because then I might as well give up reading on the series in the first place. These are those times when writers talk about “the rules.” This world needs some rules, and they need to be told to the audience pretty quickly.          

The Bottom Line: A wonderful experiment in visual art? Check. Taking characters in bold new directions? Check. And yet, the combination of these two fall flat. The comic defies your expectations (and moreso if you’re a new reader having just learned of The Winter Soldier from the movie) but asks too much of the reader to be an effective story. The characters seem witty and charming and there are hints to some serious ethical debates here, but little incentive to really keep going beyond the curiosity of the art.

Grade: C+

by Danny Wall