(WARNING: Potential Captain America: The Winter Soldier spoilers ahead. Proceed with caution.)
There is no “nerd cred” test to watch a Marvel blockbuster. And if Marvel keeps doing what it’s doing, there never will be. But this little rundown might make it a bit easier to talk to any superfan friends you might have, or just to anyone you might be stuck behind in the line for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. (In theaters April 4.)
- James Buchanan (Bucky) Barnes was created by grandmasters Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, and debuted alongside Captain America in 1941 (about a year after Robin claimed his place by Batman). IGN ranks Bucky as number 53 out of the top 100 superheroes, and as the second most recognizable sidekick after Robin.
- In the comics, he was essentially the Artful Dodger of the US Army. After his mother and father died, James was essentially adopted by the unit in which his father had previously served. He grew up at Army Camp Lehigh and made a place for himself as a sort of mascot, errand runner, and supplier of hard-to-get goods.
- What got Cap and Bucky together was an accident. One day, Bucky walked into Steve’s tent at the wrong time and caught Steve changing into his Captain America uniform. Steve swore him to secrecy and Bucky, already a fan of Cap, demanded to be his sidekick. The two began to work together to defend the camp from the frankly ridiculous number of Nazi spies popping up in Virginia.
- Bucky led a few of his own junior teams. As WWII progressed, the two went into battle on the European Warfront. Bucky, still a minor, was touted as America’s answer to Hitler’s Youth. At certain points, he went off to lead groups such as the Kid Commandos, the Liberty Legion, and the Young Allies, but he always came back to kick butt by Cap’s side.
- Whether in the comics, the cartoons, or the 2011 Marvel film, Bucky always dies. In most versions, Cap and Bucky are chasing after a Nazi leader known as Baron Zemo (recognizable by his fab purple outfit) who had designs on a drone plane. They mess up big time and are captured by the Baron. He straps them to the drone plane for express delivery to Berlin. The duo escapes from their bonds, but they then realize they still have to stop the plane and promptly start chasing it again. When they leap for the plane, only Bucky makes it. Steve yells at him to get off because the Baron had reset it to detonate, but Bucky’s uniform catches on the plane and then the whole thing explodes. A devastated Steve sinks to the bottom of the English Channel, which was apparently wicked cold in the 1940s, and freezes.
- Bucky used to be one of the prime examples of a superhero character who stayed dead. After an impressive half a century in the grave, he was only revived in 2005 by Ed Brubaker. The fact that he is as recognizable as both Bucky and the Winter Soldier is quite the feat.
- Bucky and the Black Widow were/are an item. The Russians found almost-dead Bucky when they were looking for Captain America and took him back to the USSR. They put on the new metal arm and brainwashed him so that he became the perfect assassin. He ended up training with and taught Natasha Romanoff, and the two of them had a short-lived affair. But the Winter Soldier was considered a sort of machine, so he was put back to sleep whenever he wasn’t on a mission. Natasha, meanwhile, went on with her life.
- The Cosmic Cube/Tesseract is a part of the original Winter Soldier story. The transition between Bucky’s dark days as the Winter Soldier and his reunion with Steve is long and full of drama. But one day Bucky is awakened by the Russians to steal the Cosmic Cube from the Red Skull. He has mostly succeeded when suddenly Captain America shows up. In the conflict, Cap uses the Tesseract’s power over all matter to restore Bucky’s memories. But he can’t handle that all at once, so wresting the Cube from Cap, he beams himself far away.
- Bucky became the second Captain America. Following Marvel’s massive Civil War arc a few years ago, Steve Rogers was assassinated (Captain America #25-42). After much conflict with the then S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Tony Stark, Bucky agrees to take up the vibranium-steel shield with the understanding that he will not be answering to Stark. Eventually it turns out Rogers is not dead and Bucky restores the shield to Rogers.
- Bucky’s bionic arm has got to be really handy, er, useful.
The arm boasts both super strength and a super fast reaction time. It also has the ability to pass through metal detectors unnoticed. It remains under Bucky’s control at all times, and can even perform certain operations when disconnected from him. He can also release a strong electric charge and/or a high EMP burst from his palm.
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