[13 February 2013]
Every single review of this book is going to focus on the tremendous (and almost insurmountable) pressure that is on Jason Latour with Winter Soldier. That’s the way things work in modern comics: Every ship has a captain and every captain is the face of that ship. It’s a particularly risky strategy to tie an intellectual property to the voice and direction of one writer. DC has done everything in their power to move that power back to the editorial reigns and away from the name on a marquee listing. Marvel, though, has long displayed confidence in letting a talented and competent professional give it their all with a character, no matter the pedigree. That’s exactly how Ed Brubaker brought Bucky Barnes back to life and recreated him as the Winter Soldier.
The question in my mind isn’t, “Will Latour be able to take the reigns of a character Brubaker made his own?” Frankly, I’ve read my fair share of comics and seen these sorts of situations come and go too many times. Characters that were created as work-for-hire by one talented player picked up by another and everything moves along smoothly with no one the wiser. Only in the age of rampant online comics journalism creating page hits out of creative shuffling does any of this really matter to the reader.
In the case of Winter Soldier, people need not worry in the slightest. This isn’t a creative shuffle for the sake of keeping the property alive and generating revenue. This is a carefully calculated transfer of power that keeps the interests of the character and title at heart while trying to steer the book in a direction that isn’t just aping Brubaker’s signature style. Jason Latour is that rare breed of talent that still exists in comics where a talented artist secretly hides incredible storytelling chops and secretly waits for just the right moment to unleash them on the world. Latour had started to show off his ability to deftly handle thrilling noir and crime drama with his own indie title, Loose Ends with artist Chris Brunner and with that as an audition, his mainstream debut with artist Nic Klein sets aside any doubts of his abilities being flash-in-the-pan.
Latour opens the issue with a strange setting of two special ops agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. sent to a satellite base in Earth orbit and summarily defeated by the satellite’s occupant. Nothing is outlined regarding who this woman is, why she’s the target of S.H.I.E.L.D. or when she’ll be encountering Bucky Barnes down the line. Right away, Latour has our attention with this mysterious antagonist and it’s a great way to show he’ll be telling different types of spy stories than Brubaker.
The story than shifts to the classic introduction of the hero who has recently seen hard times: a bar fight and the aftermath of which involves a lone warrior drinking quietly over the bodies of his opponents whilst his old friend comes in with a mission for him. Again, classic tropes in the hands of a solid storyteller can rise above the sum of their parts as Latour uses this as a perfect opportunity for exposition with anyone seeking this issue as a jumping on point. Nick Fury shows up and sends Bucky on a new mission for S.H.I.E.L.D. helping him get through his tragedy from the end of Brubaker’s previous storyline and find renewed purpose as a black ops agent in the name of the greater good.
From there, Latour leaps right into the fray as Bucky accepts a mission from Fury to extract a deep cover S.H.I.E.L.D. operative from inside HYDRA. In a less capable creative team’s hands, this story could have fallen apart on multiple levels. The setup is formulaic, the previous growth of the character could have easily been translated into simple pathos, and all attempts at creating a unique take on the book could have been stalled in favor of a perceived status quo.
Latour and Klein, however, use every opportunity to respect Brubaker’s hard work with the Winter Soldier and how much he painstakingly worked to build the character up and make him a viable protagonist for even having an ongoing series in the first place. It’s Latour’s artistic eye that helps him communicate a brilliant sense of layout design to Klein. This comes across not only in breathtaking action sequences but also an almost zoetrope-like collection of stills during scenes like the bar fight.
Anyone who claimed to be a fan of the Winter Soldier and dropped the book after Brubaker’s departure would be a fool not to continue with Latour and Klein. They’re doing more than just trying to keep a title afloat. They’re making their mark and reminding us that Marvel always has an eye for new talent on classic characters.