Thursday, July 9, 2015

Bucky!


Captain America has almost always had a partner. His most famous one these days is almost certainly The Falcon, who has now joined him on the big screen. But the original was James Buchanan Barnes, known far and wide as simply "Bucky".


Bucky was with Cap from the very first story, a youngster full of courage and vim, eager to bust up the Axis powers alongside a truly powerful hero who he thoroughly admired.

Perhaps the simplest origin in comic book history.
Sidekicks were practically de rigueur in Golden Age comics after the success of Batman's Robin, the Boy Wonder. We soon had a cavalcade of them with names like Sandy, Wing, Sparky, Tim, Speedy and such like. Bucky along with the Human Torch's sidekick Toro remain among the most memorable.


Bucky and Toro proved so popular they even were spun off into their own comic titled Young Allies where with some other young heroes (Jeff, Tubby, Knuckles, and the unfortunate stereotype Whitewash Jones), they battled crime and waged war on the homefront. That series lasted an impressive twenty or so issues.


Briefly Bucky was replaced by Besty Ross as Golden Girl, but when Captain America was revived in 1953 Bucky was back, fighting the Commies right beside him. In later years we'd learn there was more to those stories. 


When Marvel revived Cap again in the Marvel Age, Bucky was apparently deemed insufficiently interesting to bring back from limbo. In the story first told in The Avengers #4 which became the standard, Cap and Bucky went on their last mission which ended with Bucky seemingly killed by a bomb and Cap submerged and frozen for decades. But we did often see Bucky in flashbacks and in stories set during World War II.But one thing remained rock steady throughout most of Marvel history, Bucky was dead.



Other heroes could die and return, but Bucky was totally and completely dead. There was even a term for it called "Bucky Dead" which meant you weren't coming back. Spider-Man's Uncle Ben is considered "Bucky Dead" for instance.


Cap was tormented by the loss of his young partner and that in many ways defined him in the Marvel Age of characters who were required to moan and sigh about something or other most of the time. When Cap emerged from the ice he soon met Rick Jones, the all-purpose sidekick who had hooked up the Hulk and later the Avengers before becoming a defacto "Bucky" alongside the Living Legend. Eventually that role proved to not work for either of them and Rick went on to have different and more cosmic adventures.


Still the memory of Bucky continued to haunt Steve Rogers and it often proved to be a substantial weakness enemies could use to attack the hero.


Eventually Cap met another "Bucky", real name Jack Monroe, who had worked with the 1950's replacement Cap. (It gets really complicated.) He was eventually reformed and became the hero Nomad, himself working with Cap before becoming his own distinctive hero.


Cap was himself replaced yet again by John Walker who had his "Bucky" a man named Lemar Hoskins, who seemed designed specially to push the buttons of those who might think a strong black man kowtowing to a beligerent white bigot was a pretty big problem. Eventually both of these "heroes" softened some and John Walker became U.S.Agent and Hoskins became "Battlestar".



When heroes were famously reborn with the coming of Rob Liefeld, we got a brand new Bucky, this time a girl. Her name was really Rebecca "Rikki" Barnes. She went on to lead a variation of the Young Allies on that offbeat Counter-Earth where all that stuff happened.


But one thing was always true as I've said -- Bucky, the real Bucky was dead. That was true until it wasn't. When Marvel gave us the Winter Soldier and we learned that the Soviets had gotten control of Bucky and had manipulated him for decades turning him into a cold-blooded assassin. He's gotten better since and has even had a turn in the role of his original mentor, but after that I've lost track.


But whatever the case, it's pretty much true that when you think of Captain America your thoughts will quickly turn to his partner. And the first name on that list for me is Bucky.

Sorry Sam. 

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2 comments:

  1. Always had a soft spot for the belligerent, republican Anti-Cap: John Walker (later U.S. Agent). Too, it was cool that the Hoskins Bucky was actually physically taller than Walker. (Although admittedly this team was a bit too odd to last.)

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    1. I concur. John Walker was a breath of fresh air in the scenarios he was placed, added real zest to situations since he didn't have to be the "good guy" quite all the time. In universe filled with Punishers and Wolverines, he didn't seem all that bad, but he was pretty rough on occasion.

      I was reminded of the old Hawkman and Green Arrow arguments, though Hawkman was often set up to be the bad guy in those.

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