The updated origins of Bucky

Captain America’s teenage sidekick, almost a necessity during the 1940s, became a superhero the same way most sidekicks did: through sheer luck.  Batman just happened to be watching Dick Grayson’s circus act as tragedy struck.  Jimmy Olsen just so happens to be working at the same newspaper as Superman’s alter ego.  Toro’s parents coincidentally worked for the creator of the android Human Torch.  And Bucky’s origin, as seen in Captain America Annual #1, written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby, begins the same way:

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I love two things about this: Captain America off-handedly mentions Nazis would have killed Bucky, and Captain America immediately buckles to Bucky’s blackmail.  But that story doesn’t hold up anymore — origins constantly get modernized, and Bucky remains no different.

First, for those who don’t know, let me briefly explain Bucky (real name James Buchanan).  At sixteen years old, he ran around the army base as a sort of mascot.  Then he fights the entirety of World War II on the front lines next to Captain America (bright blue costume), Namor (wore only a speedo), the Human Torch (fiery android), and Toro (fiery human) as part of the superhero team the Invaders.  As the war ended, Captain America and Bucky get famously blown up attempting to stop an enemy airplane.  Bucky dies and Captain America joins the Avengers after a few decades encased in ice. We can talk about the revolving death door for superheroes, but it took Bucky over forty years to return to the land of the living.  And in Captain America & Bucky #620, written by Ed Brubaker & Marc Andreyko and drawn by Chris Samnee & Bettie Breitweiser, we get his updated beginnings:

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Can you see the difference yet?  This Bucky happened to be a combat prodigy right from the beginning, not some bumbling kid who stumbled into Captain America’s changing room.  And trust me, he gets the training we expect from superheroes who fought tanks and Nazi supervillains on a daily basis.

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Of course Bucky has crazy military skills.  He spends four years of WWII in daily combat in next to the shiniest beacon of American pride the Germans could shoot at.  If you take a look at the superheroes with no powers, their resumes all look relatively the same: an unbeatable foundation of combat training.  Batman used his teenage years to study ninja martial arts.  The Punisher rocked the Vietnam War.  Hawkeye spent his entire adolescence as a circus archer.  Black Widow has had Soviet espionage training since practically her birth.  Hard work can usually make up for an inability to shoot eye lasers or bench-press trucks.

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If you’d like to feel old, that would make Captain America roughly 24 when he joined the Avengers. Still, a little modernization of our favorite superheroes is appreciated — especially as writing and storytelling in comics has shifted over the past fifty years.  But the names and costumes?  Those are forever.

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