Welcome back to “Before You Go,” the sometimes column in which I go over everything you need to know before checking out tomorrow’s big nerd movie — in this case “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
Now since everyone one here has seen “Captain America: The First Avenger” I shouldn’t have to spend any time going over Cap’s origin. The movie did a very good job of hewing to the original story. If you haven’t seen “Captain America: The First Avenger” or even “The Avengers” yet — well, what the hell’s wrong with you? Why are you even here? Go get caught up.
Instead, this installment will focus on new players The Winter Soldier and The Falcon. I’m about to spoil the identity of The Winter Soldier right now but you should’ve figured it out already from the many commercials that have been airing for months. Still, if you haven’t you might want to skip over this next section.
Back in the Golden Age, when comics were young, sidekicks were all the rage. Robin is the best known but pretty much every superhero of the 1940s had a young protegé that followed them around and usually had to be rescued. The idea was that young people would relate to the sidekick, but I can’t imagine why any kid would want to daydream about being captured all the time and having to be saved by their hero.
Captain America’s sidekick was young Bucky Barnes. James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes was the mascot at U.S. Army Camp Lehigh (an orphan boy whose father was a soldier who died in a training accident at the camp). One day as Steve Rogers is in his tent changing into his Captain America suit, Bucky comes barging in. Rather than kill the young intruder for discovering his secret, Cap makes Bucky his partner.
Cap and Bucky fight Nazis throughout the war years and then things get kinda muddy. Nobody knew what to do with Cap after the war and eventually he and Bucky wound up in comic book limbo.
By the 1960s Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were on a roll, creating a number of new superheroes that would be the backbone of the Marvel Universe. Stan wanted to bring Captain America out of retirement but there was a catch: Stan hated sidekicks. So when the captain was revived in the fourth issue of “The Avengers,” Bucky did not come with him. In fact, Bucky was blown up in the rocket accident that sent Steve Rogers into deep freeze.
Cap would spend most of the ’60s grieving over his lost partner (all Marvel heroes needed something to angst about). Now as we all know, death doesn’t have the same permanence in the comic book world as it does in the real world — but Bucky’s death was such a powerful moment in the Captain America story that it was eventually decreed that Barnes’ death would be one of the Three Great Unalterable Deaths of Marvel Comics. (The first being the death of Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben and the second being the death of Spider-Man’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy).
And such was the case until 2005, when “Captain America” writer Ed Brubaker brought the character back to life as The Winter Soldier. It turns out Bucky didn’t die in that rocket explosion and his near-dead body was found by the Russians. The Russians pieced him back together, brainwashed him, and turned him into a lethal assassin with the inexplicable code name “Winter Soldier” (the name probably can be explained but I can’t be bothered to look it up).
And that’s probably all you need to know about Bucky. In the movies he’s not portrayed as a teenager but as Steve’s best friend from back home.
In 1969 as the Civil Rights movement was in full swing, someone at Marvel noticed that they didn’t have an African-American superheroes. And lo, The Falcon was born.
Created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan, Falcon made his debut in “Captain America” 117. Like so many Marvel heroes that have been around a long time, Sam Wilson’s origin story is a long and complex thing and has been revamped over the years. Chances are the movie people won’t touch the whole social worker/thug/pimp/mutant/non-mutant mess that is The Falcon’s back story.
The Falcon’s power is that he can talk to birds, most specifically his pet falcon Redwing. He couldn’t fly in the beginning but he was later given a set of wings by the Black Panther. Falcon became Cap’s partner shortly after his debut and for many years the title was known as “Captain America and the Falcon.”
(Falcon fans hate it when you refer to him as a sidekick, but let’s be honest: They didn’t call the book “The Falcon and Captain America” and when one of them had to go, it wasn’t Cap.)
In the 1980s Sam joined The Avengers in a story that had the government take over the team and add Falcon to the roster for Affirmative Action reasons. It was not the most auspicious way to join an elite superhero squad and he didn’t stay long. He did rejoin later under better circumstances. He is currently on the rather bloated Avengers roster, continues to be a supporting character on occasion in “Captain America” and is a featured member of the “Avengers Assemble” cartoon.
And that’s all you need to know…before you go.