In case you didn’t notice from the movie’s title, the Winter Soldier is a really important player in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Therefore, we thought you should know as much about him as possible. Beware of spoilers.
Bucky Barnes’ transformation into the Winter Soldier is a long and interesting story, in the comics as well as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In both versions of his story, Bucky is a loyal friend-turned brainwashed enemy who embarks on a journey to reclaim his identity. It’s also the tale of a sidekick that’s elevated from his subordinate position and forced into the role of the anti-hero.
By studying the events and circumstances surrounding the Winter Soldier in the comics, we can try to predict where his story could go and how it could develop in future installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Without further ado, here’s a brief version of everything you need to know about Captain America‘s Winter Soldier.
In Marvel comics
Bucky Barnes, born James Buchanan Barnes (after the 15th President of the United States), made his debut in Captain America Comics #1 in 1941. He was the son of a soldier killed in training at U.S. Army Camp Lehigh in Virginia. As a kid, he became a sort of mascot for the camp and quickly befriended the awkward pre-injection Steve Rogers.
Bucky developed a deep admiration for Captain America and was floored when he caught his close friend Steve Rogers changing into his star-spangled uniform. Bucky underwent extensive physical training and was accepted as Captain America’s partner. The boy was used as a rallying agent for America’s youth.
Bucky went into the trenches with Captain America, fighting everyone from Nazis to the Red Skull. He also joined a group of sidekicks called the Young Allies and was retconned as the organizer of the World War II supergroup, the Liberty Legion.
The story of Bucky Barnes, Captain America’s sidekick, seemingly came to an end when the two of them squared off against Baron Zemo. The villain had intended to destroy an experimental drone by launching it with an armed explosive on board. Bucky and Captain America reached the drone as it was taking off, but Bucky was unsuccessful in disarming it. The bomb exploded in mid-air, seemingly killing Bucky instantaneously and propelling Captain America into the North Atlantic where he was frozen for decades before being found by The Avengers.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe
James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes is just another kid from Brooklyn. When he was young, he met Steve Rogers, the boy who would soon become his best friend, after saving the boy from getting beaten up by bullies. Bucky stayed by Rogers’ side through thick and thin (including the death of Rogers’ parents), vowing “I’m with you ’til the end of the line.”
After the attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entrance into World War II, Bucky enlisted in the army and was given the title Sergeant Barnes. A year after enlisting, Bucky’s unit went up against HYDRA. Of the 200 that entered battle, only 50 were able to escape. A few days later, Steve (in his first outing as Captain America) infiltrated HYDRA’s base and freed the survivors of the unit, bringing them back to their U.S. camp.
Later, when on a mission with Captain America and the rest of their commando unit (called the Howling Commandos), Bucky and Captain America are caught in the crossfire on a train speeding through mountains. Bucky blocks Rogers from HYDRA operatives with Rogers’ shield but is blasted out of the train on impact. Rogers tries to save Bucky but fails and Bucky fell into a freezing cold river below.
How Bucky became the Winter Soldier
In Marvel comics
Soon after the drone’s explosion, Russian General Vasily Karpov found a one-armed, frozen Bucky. The boy was revived in Moscow but suffered greatly from amnesia as a result of the explosion. General Karpov took advantage of Bucky’s amnesia, reprogramming him to become a Soviet assassin called the “Winter Soldier.” Karpov replaced his missing arm with a metal bionic arm that’s constantly updated with the newest technology.
Over the years, the Winter Soldier has ruthlessly committed political assassinations that greatly impacted the Cold War. According to Marvel’s profile on the Winter Soldier, he’s an Olympic-level athlete and talented acrobat. He’s also highly skilled at hand-to-hand combat, whether he’s armed or not, and is an incredible marksman. In addition to these physical talents and abilities, he’s also proficient in Russian and German.
Karpov’s exploitation of Bucky’s amnesia was not without its complications. The amnesia makes him mentally unstable, so he is kept in a cryogenic stasis in between missions (which also explains why he looks like he hasn’t aged much since the 1940’s).
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Bucky survived the icy plummet off of the speeding HYDRA train. How? Well, when Rogers found him during that first extraction mission, Bucky was strapped to a table in some sort of lab. Considering that the Red Skull was hell-bent on reproducing Dr. Erskine’s formula, it’s easy to infer that the experiments that Bucky was subjected to somehow helped him survive the fall from the train.
HYDRA operatives found Bucky frozen in the river and revived him before bringing him back to one of their bases. As shown in one of the Winter Soldier’s memories in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, HYDRA scientists and Arnim Zola (presumably after Zola was granted clemency by SHIELD) amputated what was left of Bucky’s left arm and attached a bionic one in its place. HYDRA completely brainwashed and reprogrammed Bucky to make him into the Winter Soldier, a highly-trained and dangerous assassin who would work on their behalf. As in the comics, the Winter Soldier was cryogenically frozen in between missions, which accounts for his youthful appearance.