Bucky Barnes AKA the Winter Soldier is known as one of Steve Rogers' very best friends and is one of the many characters within the overarching Marvel mythos to go to Hell and back in the name of character development. What sets Barnes across from anyone else, however, is his character's full transformation from the source material has already played out on-screen over the course of the six Marvel Studios films he's appeared in; from his debut in Captain America: The First Avenger to Avengers: Endgame, which leads right into the new Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Though the masses may know the character as the one played by social media heartthrob Sebastian Stan, we're going to take a deep dive into the character to make sure you know exactly what you need in order to prep you for all the water cooler chat coming up over the next few weeks.
Soldier At Heart
Both in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and in the Marvel Comics mythos, James Buchanan Barnes is a soldier first. In both worlds, the character signed up for the Army after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, going off to fight as his friend Steve stayed at home and weaseled his way into the Super Soldier program.
The events begin to differ once he's fighting in the war. In the MCU, we know that Barnes eventually linked up with Rogers and became part of his Howling Commandos alongside the likes of Dum Dum Duggan, Jim Morita, Gabe Jones, Jacques Dernier, and others.
In the comics, this is the time both Bucky and Captain America formed the Invaders with Namor and the original Human Torch. Throughout his time at war, Bucky eventually joined and/or formed a few other superhero groups for the sake of an expanded portfolio — these groups include the Kid Commandos, Young Allies, and Liberty Legion.
Another aspect of the comic character the live-action version of Barnes really nails is his transformation into the Winter Soldier. While he seemingly plummeted to his death in the MCU from a HYDRA-controlled train, the character was mortally wounded when he and Captain America tried to stop a drone being driving by Baron Zemo. The plane exploded over the English Channel, sending Cap below — this is how he was frozen and brought to the present — while Bucky's remains were never found.
In both instances, his body was eventually rescued by groups with villainous intentions. In the MCU, this group was HYDRA whereas, in the comics, it was a Russian group that ran the fabled Red Room. It's here the comic version of the Winter Soldier first meets Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff) as the two go through the Red Room Academy together. At one point, they even had a romantic relationship, something the MCU has avoided to date.
Shortly after his time in the Red Room, Bucky transforms into a bonafide assassin and becomes the version of the character we're first introduced to in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Becoming Captain America
Something the MCU will likely dance around is the idea of Bucky becoming Captain America after Steve Roger's death in a post-Civil War comics world. For what it's worth — that fatal shot was fired by none other than Crossbones, who's acting on behalf of the Red Skull. After Rogers' death, then-SHIELD director Tony Stark convinces Barnes to don the iconic red, white, and blue shield in an attempt to have the character right the wrongs that litter his troubled past.
This storyline takes place years before Sam Wilson dons the mantle, but it's something Marvel Studios will probably avoid. After all, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is already introducing US Agent (Wyatt Russell), and the battle for the shield will likely take place between him and Anthony Mackie's Wilson.
It's been quite some time since Bucky was Captain America, and he has been back to his regular old Winter Soldier self. Through the past few years, he's appeared with a few different teams, and it's unclear if the Marvel Cinematic Universe will choose to adapt any of those ideas. Most recently, he found himself on Strikeforce, a supernatural team that also included Blade, Hellstrom, Spectrum, Angela, Spider-Woman, and Wiccan.
What's much more likely, however, is an adaptation of the time Bucky joined the Thunderbolts, the beloved group of anti-heroes that's akin to DC's Suicide Squad. The group has a connection to Thaddeus Ross, so perhaps that's something he chooses to set up in the events after Avengers: Endgame. Even though the Sokovia Accords are still in place, maybe he gets his own team of characters to police the world on his behalf.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier debuts on Disney+ beginning Friday, March 19th.
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