James Buchanan Barnes, a.k.a. Bucky, was Captain America’s sidekick during World War II.  He was supposedly killed in the accident that resulted in Cap being frozen in suspended animation for decades and for even longer his death was considered one of the few “sacred” deaths in comics that would never be undone.  But… it’s comics, after all and you can never say never!  In recent years, it was revealed that Bucky had survived and was brainwashed by the Soviet Union into becoming their ultra efficient secret agent/assassin The Winter Soldier.  After briefly serving as Captain America, he was seemingly killed again in ‘Fear Itself.’  Psych!  That was a “life model decoy!’

Back in the role of Winter Soldier, accompanied by his partner/lover the Black Widow, Bucky returns to the world of espionage, attempting to track down other Russian super agents like himself, preserved in containment vessels.  The pair work quite efficiently, yet are too late to locate the first agent, who has already been freed.  The next day, the pair are briefed by their contact, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell who leads them to Nick Stanton, a.k.a. Nico Stanovich, a sleeper agent who’d settled into a normal life in America, but who, once activated, murdered his wife and kids and went back into action, having been spotted at a Vegas casino.  The Winter Soldier and Black Widow locate another sleeper that hasn’t yet been reactivated, Mickey Bonderant, nee Mikel Bulgakov.  He doesn’t know much, but he does know the location of the next super agent and the secret organization behind them, R.A.I.D. (Radically Advanced Ideas in Destruction).  The pair invade their secret base, but it may be too late, as they realize that R.A.I.D. was only a front for the real threat.  (Hint: Russian-speaking, machine gun-wielding gorilla!)  The explosive cliffhanger hints at an even larger threat… just about the largest in the Marvel Universe!

This issue is solid spy/espionage action, so if you’re looking for strict super heroics, you won’t find it here.  There’s tons of action and the story moves at a brisk pace.  The characters are compelling.  I’ve never cared for the Black Widow, but she is utilized quite well here.  It’s violent, smart and compelling.  The one fault I can find in the dialogue is just the tiniest bit stilted, but it’s certainly not bad by any means.

One sticking point some readers may have is the reference to both Bucky and Black Widow’s involvement in the Cold War.  They are very clearly described as having been active agents during that time period, she as having been active during the entire era, which spanned from the 1940s-early 90s!  Now Bucky’s stasis pod might account for him staying youthful all that time, but how do they explain Natasha’s eternal youth?  They honestly don’t.  I get that the character was created during that time period, originating as a Russian spy before defecting to the U.S.  It’s not a huge problem for me, as the story overall is excellent, and I understand that comic book time works differently than real time.  I just rolled with it, but others may have bigger issue with that.

I remember reading comics drawn by Butch Guice as a kid and even his fairly recent run on ‘Birds of Prey,’ but the work he does here is vastly different!  It’s amazing to see such a long-lasting, reliable illustrator continuing to evolve!  The artwork in this issue is incredibly dramatic!  Black Widow is rendered as the most lithe, nimble acrobat in comics!  Her moves are just so fluid!  Everything about the art works!  It’s great stuff!

I think it’s great that Marvel has released a true spy book!  It helps diversify comics as a whole and offers something other than typical super heroics.  This book is light years better than DC’s recent military-themed books.  Someone at DC needs to read this book and take notes!

Verdict: Buy

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Butch Guice
Cover by Lee Bermejo