I love Ed Brubaker, and not just because he’s a splendid writer, not only because he has a tremendous sense of crackling dialog and pacing. Yes to all of that, but also I love that, when left to his own devices, Brubaker enjoys stepping away from the main universe. True, his fingerprints are on the current Avengers vs. X-Men event, but when you pick up an issue of Winter Soldier, you can feel this is where Brubaker loves to be. Winter Soldier #5, the end of the first story arc, is the payoff issue; the one where the action comes down and the stakes go up.
Lucia Von Bardas, the cyborg psychopath who once ruled Latveria, is on the run. Her union with the Red Ghost has yielded the launch codes for the Latverian nuclear missiles and Von Bardas aims to use them to start a war with the United States. Fast on her trail are Bucky Barnes, aka The Winter Solider, as well as Black Widow and, in an odd team up, Doctor Doom. Doom is incensed that Von Bardas would try to kill him so he has joined with the operation to have his revenge.
Bucky is trying to clean up his own mess by defeating the last of the assassins set loose from their cryogenic sleep. In the days his mind was controlled by the Russians, Bucky trained these assassins, and now his redemption starts with stopping them. The final battle is split into three parts, each gloriously awesome. The first is Natasha taking on machine gun toting gorillas. How is that not the best thing ever? Then there’s Doom’s fight with Von Bardas, and finally Bucky’s battle against what he thinks is the last of his assassins. Winter Soldier #5 is an action epic that never loses sight of its darker themes.
Brubaker seamlessly blends the multiple loose ends with high action. While the art from Butch Guice keeps the visuals moving, Brubaker’s dialog grounds everything and keeps it from becoming a pat and simple action comic. I love how he writes Doctor Doom. So many get Doom’s insanity but fail with his ego. Brubaker writes both and it makes Doom almost the enemy you love to hate. His response to whipping Von Bardas is genius. In only a few lines, Brubaker has done what many can’t do with Doctor Doom in whole issues. The end of the arc is finite but still leaves a door open for the next story. Whatever it is, as long as Brubaker’s at the helm, I’m all in.
Butch Guice’s art is, as I’ve said, a major player here. There’s a combination of '60s era comics, pulp books and modern comics all at work. Guice strives to make every panel interesting, even if its just characters talking. There’s a grace and fluidity to how Guice draws that fits the story perfectly. He understands the idea of noir and of the spy thriller and executes his art that way. When the action opens up, so does Guice. He uses a lot of cues from old war comics, such as a white panel with just a body hitting the ground as bullets hit it. The combination of that with his knack for showing movement helps elevate Winter Soldier #5 to even greater heights. This was a great arc and I look forward to more top-notch work from Brubaker and Guice.
4.5 Art, 4.5 Story