Graphic Novel Review: Winter Soldier: The Bitter March

The Winter Soldier: The Bitter March

The Winter Soldier: The Bitter March - Credit: Archant

“The name’s Barnes, Bucky Barnes, licensed to kill...”

(Panini Books)

Imagine a 1960s James Bond movie fused with a modern Marvel superhero flick and you’re close to envisioning this remarkable book, one of the stand-out mini-series of the year.

It’s 1966, and agents of SHIELD, Hydra and the Soviet Union are all desperate to capture a pair of married Nazi scientists responsible for an alchemical formula which could change the course of the Cold War.

After Nick Fury disappears, presumed dead, disillusioned SHIELD spy Ran Shen is tasked with acquiring the formula by any means necessary, or prevent it from falling into enemy hands – permanently…

But he reckoned without the intervention of the Soviets’ most dangerous operative, the part-man, part-machine Winter Soldier, who was once Captain America’s wartime partner Bucky Barnes until he was brainwashed to become a black ops assassin.

Also standing in the way of achieving his goal is an elite squad of superpowered Hydra agents, including Chancellor Cassandra and Madam Worm, leading to a series of increasingly desperate encounters between the gadget-armed Shen and his adversaries in scenarios which range from an exploding mountain-train to a European castle concealing a hidden underground base.

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But it’s not only a perfect cocktail of 007 and Jim Steranko’s seminal sixties SHIELD stories, it also fleshes out the lost years of Bucky Barnes and adds weight to contemporary Captain America stories, in which Shen plays a major role in a very different guise.

The artwork by Roland Boschi has a definitely European influence, which perfectly complements Rick Remender’s Cold War thriller narrative without losing sight of the character’s comic book origins.

The Winter Soldier operated sporadically as a Soviet assassin for over six decades, with extensive periods in cryogenic suspension ensuring he retained his youth, so there’s certainly plenty of scope for more stories set during these missing years, especially if they maintain this first-class creative team.

Highly recommended.