This year marks another final issue for Ed Brubaker and on the one title he helped to create, the Winter Soldier. It is interesting since it was Brubaker who brought the character of Captain America’s sidekick from the dead and into the spotlight as a brainwashed soldier with the cybernetic arm. His return has super charged the “Out of Time” storyline that started Brubaker’s run. He had only begun the Winter Soldier’s solo title last year when it has now come to an end. This may be also bittersweet since the Captain America film with the subtitle Winter Soldier is coming out next year.
The issue concludes the Black Widow Hunt that started with Winter Soldier #10. Previously, romantic partners, Winter Soldier and Black Widow, were tracking a soldier trained by the Winter Soldier, Leo Novokov. We learn that he was accidentally awakened when his cylinder was broken in issue #6. Novokov goes unstable when he finds the Cold War is over and starts to take his revenge on Bucky Barnes the Winter Soldier first by killing Fred Barnes, the person who took the identity of Bucky when he was lost. In issue #7 of the “Broken Arrow” storyline, Professor Rodchenko, the scientist that was part of the Red Room brainwashing program, is taken by Novokov. The Black Widow is captured by Novokov as the Winter Soldier is distracted dealing with a bomb-filled motor home. She is brainwashed by Rodchenko and infiltrates S.H.I.E.L.D. attempting to assassinate Nick Fury. Captain America takes the lead in recovering Black Widow and calls in other Avengers, Wolverine and Hawkeye. Winter Soldier #10 has Novokov taking the short weapon smith, Marvin Martin, in his employ. In issue 12, the Winter Soldier is brainwashed and sent in issue #13 to kill Daredevil, but is stopped by Captain America and restored.
The issue sports a painted cover by Daniel Acuna with the Winter Soldier and Black Widow against an outline of the U.S. covered in a dripping red silhouette. This is the reverse of the cover in issue #7 with Black Widow on the left and Winter Soldier on the right. Butch Guice’s art is fantastic with the noir feel captured in the panels which has the Winter Soldier riding his motorcycle in the rain lashed night. The next page has Avengers confronting Marvin Martin at a crowded station with Hawkeye drawing his bow and Wolverine popping his claws. Maria Hill on the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier above New York sends out the heroes in three teams. The Winter Soldier is sent to Arlington Cemetary. He flashes back to training with the Black Widow, a snowy rooftop, and a shadowy embrace with her. He checks on the pulse of a fallen guard and then goes running past the grave stones while reporting in to Captain America.
Next to the statues of Captain America and Bucky, the Black Widow is perched on a grave stone in the rain. She informs Novokov that the bombs are set and detects the Winter Soldier. He hears her voice and flashes back to a scene with the Black Widow kissing his neck in the shower. The Winter Soldier fires at the Black Widow, but she leaps away in a ballet pose. He is trying for force her away from Novokov, but she ends up kicking him. A series of close-up has him hitting her under the chin, leaping away, and Novokov closing in with a knife. The Winter Soldier strikes Novokov in the face with his boot, but has a knife plunged into his thigh. He kicks Novokov away and pulls out the knife. The Winter Soldier throws the knife at Black Widow, but it hits the wing of a stone angel. He then hits Novokov with his bionic arm.
The Winter Soldier pulls his gun on the bleeding Novokov when the area is lit by the spotlights of helicopters. He senses that Hawkeye and Wolverine are on the scene. The Black Widow kicks him and springs away to help Novokov. He takes her hostage and the Winter Soldier tries to get Novokov to settle with him. The Winter Soldier orders Hawkeye to shoot and his arrow hits Black Widow in her calf. This sends the two tumbling which allows the Winter Soldier to hit Novokov with two shots. He races to check on Black Widow, but she yells she doesn’t know who is Bucky. Novokov’s life is spared by S.H.I.E.L.D. doctors and Black Widow’s memory is restored except her relationship with Bucky. Captain America doesn’t give up hope and even wants to get Dr. Strange’s help, but Bucky doesn’t want her mind to be manipulated with anymore. As Black Widow recovers in a hospital room to see the sun and not the shadowy form of the Winter Soldier in the rain. He walks away alone in a dark hallway. A powerful ending to a great run.
Brubaker finishes the comic book with a farewell page. He notes that Bucky Barnes was his favorite comic character since he was raised on military bases. Brubaker thanks Steve Epting, whom he worked with on the Captain America title, his editor, and the artists who worked on the Winter Soldier title. He also gives a nod to the new team taking over the title, Jason Latour and Nic Klein, before signing off. It seems that Ed Brubaker off the two titles he helped propel into some brilliant comics work makes me choose the Marvel Then over the Marvel Now.