Captain Comics: Look back for the history of ‘Winter Soldier’

By Claire Lee
  • Published : Apr 25, 2014 - 20:38
  • Updated : Apr 25, 2014 - 20:38
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” has blown the doors off theaters across the world. But it didn’t spring out of a screenwriter’s brow: A lot of it has happened before in comics, most of which has been collected in one form or another.

Warning: Spoilers ahead. But, honestly, is that necessary? Boxofficemojo.com says “Winter Soldier” earned $317.7 million abroad and $159 million domestically by April 14; is there anybody who wants to see it but hasn’t yet? Well, if so, the 89 percent positive on rottentomatoes.com indicates you’ll enjoy it whether I spoil it or not.

First, the obvious: “Winter Soldier” is based on a 2005-06 storyline of the same name by writer Ed Brubaker and artists Steve Epting, Michael Lark, Michael Perkins and John Paul Leon. In that story the legendary Winter Soldier is revealed, not only to exist, but to be ― SPOILER! ― the character played by Sebastian Stan in both Captain America movies. This is a character that Cap has mourned since 1963, so with the revelation that he has survived, Cap, Black Widow and Falcon must track down the Soldier and free him of Russian control. This gets a bit sticky because the Soldier keeps trying to kill them.
Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp) doesn’t get a lot to do in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” but in the comics she’s been the Captain’s on-and-off girlfriend
since the 1960s. (Zade Rosenthal/Marvel/MCT)

It’s an excellent espionage-noir story, and has been recently rereleased in hardcover and trade paperback under the name “Captain America: The Winter Soldier Ultimate Edition.”

But wait ― what about all that stuff with S.H.I.E.L.D. being infiltrated and destroyed from within?

Well, that’s happened, too ― just not in the same story. Actually, S.H.I.E.L.D. has turned against Nick Fury a bunch of times, which I guess is an occupational hazard in the spy biz. But several stories do stand out.

One is “Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D.,” a 1988 miniseries by writer Bob Harras and artist Paul Neary that Marvel re-released in 2011 in both hardback and trade. In it, Fury discovers that all of his closest friends and most important agents have been killed and replaced with sophisticated androids called life model decoys (LMDs), who have gained sentience. This story is famous for two things: 1) all of Fury’s supporting cast got killed off, and 2) someone later realized that killing off Fury’s entire supporting cast was a huge mistake, so in 1994 they were (mostly) revealed to still be alive. D’oh! Incidentally, this is the story that introduced S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Alexander Pierce, which is the name of a not-very-similar character played by Robert Redford in “Winter Soldier.”

Two more S.H.I.E.L.D. stories have even more resonance with the “Winter Soldier” movie.

One is “Secret War” (not to be confused with “Secret Wars” and “Secret Wars II”), a 2004-05 miniseries by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Gabriele Dell’Otto, in which Fury leads a team of heroes he assembles to prevent a surprise attack on the U.S. Since he was acting against orders and against a country ostensibly our ally, his superiors ordered that he be removed as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and court martialed. But how do you catch a guy who knows every S.H.I.E.L.D. safehouse and secret? Fury went underground in that series, like he does at the end of the “Winter Soldier” movie, and remains an enigmatic “ghost in the machine” in today’s Marvel Comics.

The second story is “Secret Warriors,” a 2009-11 miniseries starring Fury and a hand-picked ― and presumably trustworthy ― group of former S.H.I.E.L.D. agents (some of them with super-powers) who investigate a mysterious organization called Leviathan, that he discovers has been secretly in charge of both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra since their inception. This mirrors “Winter Soldier.” and the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” TV show, which have revealed that Hydra has been infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D. for 70 years, and is now on the verge of taking it over.

And while I’m at it, I might as well mention another story that’s important to understanding Fury. In all of the above stories, Nick Fury is white, a World War II veteran who has lengthened his life through a chemical called the Infinity Formula. The black Nick Fury ― the one that looks like Samuel Jackson Jr. ― exists in an alternate universe appearing in Marvel’s “Ultimate Comics” line. To help eliminate confusion, Marvel introduced Nick Fury Jr. in a 2012 miniseries called “Battle Scars” ― a Fury who happens to be black (he has an African-American mother) and happens to look like Samuel L. Jackson. That Fury remains a high-level S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and if he doesn’t become director someday I will be shocked.

“Secret War” is available in HC and TPB, “Battle Scars” in trade and the entire “Secret Warriors” run in an enormous hardback omnibus. That should tidy things up.

But that’s not the end of “Winter Soldier’s” comics connections! No, Marvel Films is not only amazingly good at making movies, it is also amazingly adept at dropping Easter eggs to make comics fans squeal with delight at entirely inappropriate times. (Sorry, folks sitting behind me at the theater. I couldn’t help it.)

For example, one constant in Hydra stories is that (white) Fury’s wartime foe Baron Wolfgang von Strucker has always been in charge of it. This was revealed after a few red herrings in the earliest S.H.I.E.L.D. stories found in “Marvel Masterworks: Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Vols. 1-2 (which are well worth getting). So where was Strucker in “Winter Soldier”? That was the guy with the monocle near the end, in an uncredited role by actor Thomas Kretschmann!

And how about the henchman Brock Rumlow, played by Frank Grillo, who kept popping up and trying to kill the good guys? In the comics, Rumlow goes by the name Crossbones and is The Red Skull’s right-hand man. That was him burnt to crisp on the gurney near the end, so he isn’t dead ― which means he’ll be back, probably in a Crossbones get-up to cover his scars. Call it a hunch.

By Andrew A. Smith

(McClatchy-Tribune News Service)

(MCT Information Services)