The Harley on the Shore: “Winter Soldier #5’s” Art of the Endless Epilogue

The surprising thing is how even the story itself scans like some flotsam awash on the seas of the popular imagination. We know everything there is to know about this story, as near as possible to everything that can be known. We know the make of the bike, and the model. And yet the sheer volume of detail, even detail gleaned in an age of wikipedia and social media, does nothing to assuage that inner core of mystery that lurks at the hear of this story. We know Peter Mark had found the bike washed ashore on Graham Island, a small island off the British Colombian coast.

We know the Harley had washed ashore with other items, golf clubs and was it a widescreen or two? These all washed up in a shipping container. We know Peter Mark found the Harley twice. That he saw it for the first time amid the strewn the flotsam but left it at first, only snapping a few pics. We know the Harley’s pull proved irresistible and that Mark later returned to the Graham Island shoreline. That the second time round he had to work harder to find the bike. That the second time around the bike had been dug into the coast by the very tides that had brought it here. The second time, Mark shoveled the bike free from the wet sand, and painstakingly began to restore it.

Now, months after, the bike is on its way back home. Despite the careful work needed to restore the Harley, one part remained nearly completely untarnished, the license plate. Through an international media search involving both Canada’s CBC and Japan’s Nippon TV the Harley’s owner, Yokoyama Ikuo, had been traced to Miyagi Prefecture. And yet, what stands out more clearly than this story, the full facts of which we know and know well, is that near-anonymous picture of the rusted Harley buried in the shoreline. It’s an arresting image, that speaks volumes about that Harley. And it’s an easy image to summon to mind, just like the image of that Harley from the last page of Fear Itself #7.1: Captain America.

It was a different image entirely. Captain America, the original Captain America Steve Rogers who had resumed the role, had just found out that James Buchanan Barnes, “Bucky”, his longtime compatriot and friend, Bucky who had survived WWII, only to brainwashed into becoming the Cold War Russian assassin, Winter Soldier, was indeed alive. That he hadn’t been killed during the events of Fear Itself, and that Bucky would now be using his own death as a cover. He’d resuming his Winter Soldier identity to root out old Winter Soldier threats, “…weapons still left in the field…”, and interdict them where needed.

Steve Rogers, a man in the throes of publicly living out the greater ideals of America, shudders at the possibility of there still being work to get done in the cold, in the dark, in the still of night. But equally he understands the need for such work. It’s with this relationship repaired, Steve and Bucky and the ruse of Bucky’s death that came between them, that Bucky resumes the identity of the Winter Soldier. And from under the Brooklyn Bridge, rides into the cold night on his Harley. That was the real prelude to the new Winter Soldier series. And that was the moment going outward, of sallying forth, of entering the world. It seemed dark, but it also seemed hopeful.

And now, some nine months down the line, and with the close of “The Longest Winter”, the new series’ first storyarc, writer Ed Brubaker has found a masterful reentry into the evolving tale of the Winter Soldier. That dark hopefulness has all but been deleted. Instead, a kind of wearied and wary resilience has come to replace it as the dominant mood of the story. Perhaps the first thing to notice about the concluding chapter of “The Longest Winter”, and easily the most important thing about the chapter, is how very elegantly the story seems to run on rails. As if Brubaker captures perfectly in his storytelling (and too sublime artist Butch Guice), the “going-through-the-motions” psychology that Bucky immerses himself in to effectively achieve mission objectives.

Even the fight sequences scan as perfunctory, as some kind of epilogue to the diligent and careful and thorough planning and intelligence gathering that had been the hard work of getting to this point. After all of that, getting in and killing the bad guys, assaulting the mad scientist by leveraging a mad scientist of your own, all seems like just another day at the office. And in the strictest sense, this is the long epilogue that we’re seeing play out. Not just an epilogue to “The Longest Winter”, but to Bucky’s entire time having survived the Cold War. This is an endless epilogue, where the threats Bucky had helped develop (entirely against his will), are now free in the world, and he feels the moral responsibility to end them.

For Brubaker to have articulated this profound drama of the curse of history, in so conventional a format as 22 pages of a monthly comicbook, is a peerless achievement. Like Hamlet or Crime and Punishment this book is not only a challenge to you, but a choice you must one day make for yourself.

RATING 8 / 10
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