Comics Watch: How Marvel Is Challenging Captain America's Legacy

Falcon & The Winter Soldier Cover - Publicity - H 2020
Dan Mora/Marvel Entertainment
Ahead of the Disney+ show, 'Falcon & Winter Soldier' introduces a new villain and highlights a rift between Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers.

Welcome back to The Hollywood Reporter's weekly Comics Watch, a dive into how the latest books from Marvel, DC and beyond could provide fodder for the big (and small) screen. Be warned, there are spoilers ahead for Falcon & Winter Soldier No. 1.

When it comes to government conspiracies that threaten the sanctity of the world, sometimes even Steve Rogers is out of the loop. Luckily, former sidekicks and former Captain Americas Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes are on the case. Months ahead of their series on Disney+, the Falcon and the Winter Soldier find themselves partnered up and faced with a new enemy who has arisen from the ashes of the old in the new Marvel miniseries Falcon & Winter Soldier.

Written by Derek Landy with art by Federico Vicentini, Falcon & Winter Soldier finds Bucky Barnes pardoned by the U.S. government for his crimes as the Winter Soldier following his help defeating HYDRA during Secret Empire, but his peace is short-lived. He (and his cat) are attacked by a group of black-clad terrorists who Bucky easily dispatches. While other superheroes prefer non-lethal attacks, Bucky operates with an efficiency that leaves dead bodies in his wake. Sam Wilson, having recently relinquished the title of Captain America back to Steve Rogers, has his own concerns, as he’s tracking down a member of his veterans support group who has seemingly disappeared. The two men find their paths crossing and at the center of a warehouse full of dead U.S. agents for a secret terrorist-hunting operation. Despite both characters’ familiarity with each other and former team-ups, there is a tension between the heroes concerning their methods of operation (lethal and non-lethal) and values, namely their belief in people, which defined the unease both experienced in their respective tenures as Captain America.

Landy easily balances the tone of the series with a mix of genuine threat and intrigue and good-humored banter between the two partners. And Vicentini delivers stylishly choreographed action, not lacking in bloodshed, and fine-tuned expressiveness to the characters, creating a book that feels wholly cinematic. Falcon & Winter Soldier feels like a Marvel Universe buddy-cop film, and not unlike the other books in Marvel’s current crop of miniseries, Hawkeye: Freefall, Nebula and Ant-Man, it feels perfectly geared towards audiences looking to expand their Marvel Cinematic Universe fandom with comics. And for longtime readers, well-versed in the ins and outs of the Marvel Universe, both on the page and onscreen, Falcon & Winter Soldier feels crucial to redefining that status quo of one of Marvel’s oldest villainous organizations.

HYDRA was defeated at the end of Secret Empire, and with HYDRA Cap (long story) locked away and Baron Zemo killed in the pages of The Punisher, the global terrorist outfit is looking for a new leader, and it’s down between Zemo’s protégé and a rival, who are both kept a mystery in this first issue. While the big bad behind the disappearance of Sam’s support group member and the dead government ops is still lurking in the shadows, the book does put the spotlight on one new villain: The Natural. This teenage HYDRA agent is a Captain America fanboy, with a kind of aw-shucks American traditionalism that comes off as alarming. What’s also interesting about this new villain is how his appearance alludes to actor Robert Redford, whom Captain America was modeled after for much of the '70s and '80s, who played the HYDRA leader Alexander Pierce in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) and who starred in a film called, you guessed it, The Natural (1984). While it’s yet to be seen whether or not the character will be a part of the Cap mythos for a long time to come, there is a neat pop culture conversation happening here with his depiction.

Of course, the Falcon and Winter Soldier we encounter is this book are different from those of the MCU, where they are portrayed by Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan — namely they’ve both had the experience of being Captain America and have fought far more battles than their movie counterparts. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a shared element between the comic miniseries and the upcoming Disney+ series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

That series, which will see Sam Wilson transition into the role of Captain America after the events of Avengers: Endgame, with Bucky Barnes providing support, will undoubtedly see both characters coming to terms with their different methods of operation and figuring out how to work as partners. And although Zemo is dead in the comics, he’s very much alive in the MCU, and the character, portrayed by Daniel Bruhl, is rumored to earn his Baron namesake in the series. Will that new title also come with a resurgence of HYDRA? We wouldn’t be surprised. With the Disney+ series well into production, it’s unlikely this book will influence it in any way, but for those eager for the MCU series’ August debut, Falcon & Winter Soldier is an action-packed good time with strong characterizations and a plot that seems destined to have lasting ramifications.