To celebrate this fan-favorite character recently turning 99, we’ve broken down nine Bucky moments from the comics that we want to see on screen in the MCU.
Yeah, this is happening. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know Bucky’s story and why fandom has not shut up about him for five minutes in the past two years. But since it was recently his birthday, let’s revisit the character’s history up unto this point before I outline the aspects of his character in the comics that I need the movies to honor in some way.
James Buchanan Barnes was born — in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at least — on March 10, 1917. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York alongside his bosom buddy Steve Rogers before serving as a non-commissioned officer in World War II. His regiment, the 107th Infantry, was attacked and captured by HYDRA forces, where in a twist of irony that later saved his life, he was experimented on by Dr. Arnim Zola. He was rescued by Steve, who, unbeknownst to him, had also been experimented on by a German scientist and was no longer his tetchy, sickly little pal but the huge and glorious Captain America. Bucky’s status as a wounded POW would have allowed him an honorable discharge, but naturally, he stuck by Steve’s side as Captain America turned from media tool to war hero, becoming the leader of an elite combat squad hand-picked to target HYDRA specifically.
Bucky Barnes first appeared in the Captain America comics in a similar, but not identical role. Rather than a lifelong friend of Steve’s, he was a teen sidekick — 16 to Steve’s 20 years, at their beginning — an orphaned “army brat” who met Steve on the base where his father had been killed. Despite his age, he served during WWII as Captain America’s partner alongside the Invaders, a team of super-powered Allies who fought against enhanced Axis enemies. He met his demise when he and Steve were captured by Baron Zemo, another Nazi scientist, and strapped to a booby-trapped plane. Steve dropped into the sea and underwent the freezing process that kept him alive for future generations, but Bucky’s sleeve caught on the plane, trapping him in the explosion. For many, many, many years he was canonically dead — in fact, a common expression in the world of comics, where people get reanimated all the time, used to be, “No one stays dead except Bucky, Jason Todd, and Uncle Ben.” In 2005, however, that creed became outdated due to the revival of not just Jason Todd (Batman’s second Robin) but also, thanks to the heroic Ed Brubaker, of Bucky, as the Winter Soldier.
From this point, the movies and comics have a very similar arc, as the Captain America screenwriting team, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, have drawn heavily from Brubaker’s interpretation of Cap and Bucky (Brubaker even had a cameo as one of the HYDRA handlers of his beloved creation, in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.) Brubaker planted the seeds of the Bucky we recognise now, focusing, in his 1940s flashbacks, on Bucky as the only person who truly got Steve when he wasn’t being Cap, as well as revealing that his “kid sidekick” persona was to lull enemies into a false sense of security: that he was trained to do the dirty work that Steve couldn’t do, and that no one would suspect him capable of. The movies chose to expand on both of those character traits, making the pair even closer: Bucky was Steve’s best friend since childhood, and, in the Howling Commandos, his sniper, bloodying his hands with things too unseemly for Captain America’s image to touch.
What happened next is one of the greatest tragedies in contemporary fiction — after Bucky’s “fatal” accident (on the plane in the comics, on the train in the movies) — he was found by the enemy (in the MCU, it’s implied that Zola’s experiments, possibly including a version of the supersoldier serum, was what helped him survive the fall), fitted with a super-strong cybernetic metal arm, brainwashed, used for decades as a dehumanized weapon, and left in cryofreeze in between missions. The assassin known as The Winter Soldier or simply, to HYDRA, the Asset, broke his conditioning (and our hearts) when he encountered Steve Rogers.
In the comics, Bucky’s arc becomes even more upsetting. In the fallout of Civil War, he goes on to become Captain America after Steve is assassinated, never truly reuniting with his friend after regaining his memories — they just remained obsessed with each other from afar, both wracked with guilt. But Steve’s allies become his allies, and like I said, no one stays dead in comics — not even Bucky, and certainly not Steve — so these days, Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers co-exist as heroes, even while Sam Wilson serves as the current Captain America.
It’s safe to say just from the Captain America: Civil War trailer that Bucky and Steve have a lot more reconciliation than they ever got in the comics. We don’t know how things are going to play out for him yet in the new movie, but in a diversion from the comic story, it looks like Bucky himself is the crux of the conflict between Captain America and Iron Man. But I’m less concerned about the big picture plot and more curious about what kind of character moments we’ll get from him, given that the last we saw of him, he was a dirty, addled, lost puppy. Bucky in Captain America: The First Avenger was a charming presence, tinged with a dark ruthlessness, and his rescue and “death” are the emotional center of Steve’s arc. But it was with the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier that the internet as a collective whole flipped their lid over this character, obsessing over his badass aesthetic, cool competence and predominantly, the tragedy of his story.
Bucky’s victimization and abuse struck a chord very deeply for a lot of people previously unmoved by much of what the MCU had to offer. What has happened to him is so sick, and so wrong, and he suffers it so beautifully. Sebastian Stan’s wrenching performance as the Winter Soldier was a game changer for a lot of casual Marvel viewers — this specific kind of character depth and trauma was what they needed to go from fan to fannish, and the Captain America fandom, largely centered around Steve and Bucky’s relationship (platonic or otherwise) began to grow out of the general Marvel or Avengers fandom as its own entity.
While Captain America: The Winter Solider stands on its own two feet as an original story, there’s a few moments that are directly based on incidents in the comics, and Captain America: Civil War is sure to be similar in that respect. However, more importantly than copying a comic scene for scene, there are traits, themes or concepts that the filmmakers have drawn from the source material that colour the characters in these movies with the same brush as the characters in the comics. In honor of Bucky Barnes’s 99th birthday, here are nine moments from the comics that I hope make it into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Civil War and beyond (how’s that nine picture movie deal looking, Seb?)
Lowering the bar
This one isn’t super positive and I really want to talk about the nice things I want for the bae, so let’s get it out of the way first. After Civil War, during the Death of Captain America arc, Bucky, grieving Steve and never having properly reconciled with him, overhears some guys in trash-talking Steve in a good-riddance-he’s-dead way, and basically takes them all out single-handedly. Not in a super secret assassin way, in a belligerent bar-fight way. This isn’t a good thing, and we hope that the MCU’s Bucky never has to deal with Steve’s death (ha ha ha haaaaaaaaaaa,) but it’s SUCH a cool scene that says a lot about his psyche and would translate so well visually.
Never finding a filter
Rage and murder aside, Bucky very much needs to stay the crotchety darling that he is. In the comics, Bucky’s personality post-recovery tends to be easily annoyed, sarcastic, blunt, playful, irreverent and droll. He managed to hang onto the cheekiness and the potty mouth of his WWII self as well. He adapts to the modern world better than Steve does, probably because he possesses a lot of the traits of your modern-day hipster. However the MCU chooses to play it, it’s unlikely that Bucky will revert back to his sweet, smooth pre-war “goes to science conventions for fun” personality after all he’s been through, so his way of relating to the world should include some unique aspects that no other Avengers currently contribute. We don’t really have a grumpy Avenger. Keep him adorably grumpy.
Ales Kot’s Bucky Barnes: Winter Soldier (which features Bucky and Daisy Johnson in space) portrays a fairly well-adjusted Bucky with the attitude of a sullen yet hilarious millennial who flies across the galaxy to hit up a Thai/Skrull fusion food truck and posts YouTube videos of his stolen pet space pig. If done right, this is what I want to see in the movies. Have him complain about little things, like total #firstworldproblems. On the flip side, also have him easily delighted by little things: cats, food, memes, a cool rock. He’s that type of guy, okay? He just is.
Getting the hero treatment
One of the most poignant early issues featuring Bucky after his memories return — an issue that was truly about him, not just about how Steve reacted to seeing him — was Winter Soldier: Winter Kills, a one-shot in which Bucky experiences his first Christmas since 1944. He’s basically hanging around being sad when Nick Fury, famed finger-in-pie-haver, shows up and asks him to intervene in a plot that the Young Avengers have to attack a HYDRA base that Fury is secretly monitoring.
Bucky meets Patriot, Hawkeye (Kate Bishop edition) and Vision and, because he’s that kind of dude, helps them take out the base against Fury’s wishes. They work out his identity and feel honored to meet him, a moment that makes Bucky — who at this point hates himself very much — rather emotional, to say the least. I’m not saying we need a recreation of that exact mission, but the sentiment of some young people treating him like a hero, not a monster, would be a great moment for his recovery arc in the movies. As would…
Reuniting with an old friend
No, not Steve. Obviously Bucky and Steve should be handcuffed together for the rest of eternity (Steve’s with me on this one,) but I mean other people. Not too many of Steve and Bucky’s acquaintances would still be alive — Peggy’s just about hanging on, but not for long — but that same issue, Winter Kills, ends with Bucky being tracked down by his old Invaders teammates, Namor (the Prince of Atlantis, one of Marvel’s most ridiculous and brilliant characters who needs his own movie immediately).
Together, they visit the grave of another Invader, Toro, and Namor tells Bucky about how Toro died. When it comes to recovering his own history, I would love to see Bucky talking to an ancient Howling Commando, maybe discovering what happened to the rest of them, how the world reacted to his and Steve’s “deaths” in the war, and how their legacy has been treated ever since.
Putting his hair up
The Captain America fandom is one of the smartest and most informed groups of people I’ve ever been a part of — their love for this character is excruciatingly empathetic and their meta about his history is meticulously researched. Bucky has ripped all of our souls into tiny pieces, and we just want him to be okay.
That being said, we’re also really, really, really fixated on his hair: its length, its cleanliness, and all the things a hip young man in the 21st century might choose to do with it. Ponytails, braids, buns, you name it, we want it all. This fascination is partly aesthetic, and partly – as with most things when it comes to loving Bucky – a desperate need to know about his regained agency. The smaller and more insignificant the lifestyle choice he makes, the more excited we are about it (exhibit A: the backpack clip) so we really need to know what he’s going to do with his hair. Avengers Standoff, the latest book to feature Bucky, gave us the man-bun of our dreams – while he’s cooking breakfast for Steve, to boot. The writers know what Tumblr wants. Take notes, MCU.
Rebranding his arm
Just a little thing, but after Bucky recovers, he has the star on his metal arm repainted as a tribute to the Cap shield. In the comics, he was originally taken in by the KGB, not HYDRA, so the red star represented communism and marked him as Soviet property. In the MCU, he seems to have been with HYDRA for his entire brainwashed period, so the star may not hold the same meaning — I guess we’re lucky that it wasn’t changed into that damn fugly octopus. Regardless, it would still be super cute to see this getting changed to mark him as loyal to Captain America – again, another wish that comes from wanting him to choose his identity.
Sharing sass with Steve
Bucky has been a huge part of the Marvel Universe for the past 10 years, but the immense obsession with him in the wake of Captain America: The Winter Soldier has lead to a spate of appearances in new titles. The memo has gone around: put Bucky in your new run and a huge following will buy it, no matter what.
This includes 2015’s Planet Hulk, a Secret Wars crossover by Sam Humphries that featured a gladiator version of Steve Rogers that fights his way across Battleworld to try and reclaim his “bondmate” Bucky. During this journey, Steve has flashbacks to his past back on Earth with Bucky — and in this comic, they grew up together, like in the movies. Snippets of their life together show everything we’ve ever hoped and dreamed for their dynamic without serious trauma in the way — always teasing, speaking in riddles about childhood incidents that only each other understands.
I don’t know if it will happen in Captain America: Civil War, but at some point, the MCU has gotta show Steve and Bucky going back to that “punk/jerk” relationship and get comfortable and casual. Bonus points if the other Avengers have a jaw-drop moment about Steve finally acting like a real human boy.
Achieving Grand Canyon goals
So this one’s really indulgent and really specific, with a very unique inspiration. In the lead-up to the first Captain America movie, Marvel published a short series by Mark Waid called Man Out of Time, not quite a tie-in but intended to summarize Steve’s story for new fans. It’s a re-telling of Steve’s first adjustment period in the 21st century and how he copes with the loss of all he has known, quieter and more poignant than superhero comics usually are. Anyway, he spends a lot of time in this run thinking about Bucky, because Steve is canonically thinking about Bucky about 80% of the time in any given Captain America comic, and how Bucky always wanted to travel across America and see the Grand Canyon. On the final page, as he comes to terms with things, Steve takes some time for himself and travels to the Grand Canyon, camping alone at the bottom of the gorge and drawing a picture of Bucky, which he then holds up so his friend can “see” their surroundings. Oh, Steve, you really are a well-balanced individual, aren’t you?
Anyway, it’s a gorgeous book, but what’s even more gorgeous is that an absolute genius of a fan, Tumblr user araniaart, recently commissioned the book’s artist, Jorge Molina, to do a epilogue piece, showing Steve and post-Winter-Soldier Bucky together at the canyon, blissfully happy at finally fulfilling their goal. So yeah. Basically, I want this, at least metaphorically. The Grand Canyon isn’t a necessity – it can be something else they wanted to do but never got to, like riding the Cyclone together without throwing up. It’s still there.
Finding a family
In the final issue of Captain America: Volume 5 — the long arc which included Bucky’s return — after a particularly nasty mission that leaves him reflecting on Steve’s death and how he doesn’t feel like the real Captain America, or like he should be in the world at all, the New Avengers throw Bucky a surprise birthday party. Because, as they tease, they “figured you hadn’t had one of these in a long time.”
This act of kindness cements Bucky’s sense of belonging with the new friends that Steve brought him to, and they continue to aid him in upholding Steve’s legacy as Captain America — it really is an all-hands-on-deck support network that he gets, from Tony relinquishing his control and letting Bucky do things his way, to Natasha’s constant partnership, to Sam hauling his ass through the air on missions. More than anything, I want the MCU to show that their characters love and accept Bucky just as much as Steve does. Well, maybe not quite that much – not sure it’s humanly possible for anyone to love Bucky as much as Steve does. But they can come close.