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All-New Marvel NOW! Q&A: Winter Soldier

Rick Remender explores the past of Bucky Barnes and a key new player in The Bitter March this February!

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Winter Soldier: The Bitter March sketch by Roland Boschi

By Paul Montgomery

James “Bucky” Barnes lived to serve the United States right up to his untimely death at the close of WWII. Of course, that would but the first of Barnes’ many lives.

Though Captain America presumed his young partner perished in a fiery act of self-sacrifice on that grim day in 1945, Bucky actually met an even bleaker fate. Years later, a Russian crew recovered his preserved body from the icy waters, refitted him with a bionic arm, indoctrinating the amnesiac as a soulless Soviet operative. Bucky ultimately escaped that life and did much to atone for his sins, but the shadow of the Winter Soldier looms large.

This February, writer Rick Remender and artist Roland Boschi revisit the height of the Cold War in a new limited series called WINTER SOLDIER: THE BITTER MARCH.

We spoke to Remender about the dark days when the soul of Bucky Barnes registered as barely a glimmer in the eyes of a hardened assassin.

Marvel.com: In moving forward the story of James Barnes, why is it important to revisit his past?

Winter Soldier: The Bitter March sketch by Roland Boschi

Rick Remender: I think that, for me, that was when the character was the most interesting and it’s not entirely explored. I think that when you get into where Ed [Brubaker] picked up the character, he had obviously already laid this very intricate and interesting backstory down. But then we moved right into his becoming Captain America and then his current status in the Marvel Universe, which I am picking up in the pages of CAPTAIN AMERICA. This is a look at who he was [over] many decades during the Cold War as well as establishing what a proficient and terrifying spy/assassin he was and is, and at the same time, to set up a lot of what I’m going to be doing in CAPTAIN AMERICA with him.

Winter Soldier: The Bitter March sketch by Roland Boschi

So as I was developing this, the tone that I kept seeing was very 1960’s James Bond/Jim Steranko kind of spy stuff and the more I developed the CAPTAIN AMERICA story and this in tandem, there’s a character named Ran Shen who is destined to become the Iron Nail, who we’ve seen some of through flashbacks in CAPTAIN AMERICA. And I had this big story for Ran Shen in the WINTER SOLDIER that was planned for [CAPTAIN AMERICA] and this was a really great place to flesh that out. So this is really setting up a lot of what’s going to be taking place in CAPTAIN AMERICA with the Iron Nail and what he’s going to be doing to Steve Rogers and completely changing Captain America and his future. And at the same time, to really get a chance to show Winter Soldier when he was a, pardon my French, I guess I can’t say [expletive]. Back when he was a proficient machine of murder and in that it’s fun to approach him as if he’s a predator. We get into his head and there’s definitely a story arc and some character development here for Bucky but in a lot of ways this is “Alien” or this is “Predator” and he is the force that is chasing some of our heroes.

Marvel.com: So, would you say that Bucky is more than a mere tool of the Soviets in this story? There’s a deeper psychological conflict beneath all that conditioning?

Winter Soldier: The Bitter March sketch by Roland Boschi

Rick Remender: That’s part of what we’ll be exploring and I don’t want to give away too much but underneath all of the programming and underneath what has happened to him there is still Bucky Barnes and there is still an American patriot and hero. He’s still under the surface and the heart of who he is is still going to have an effect on this but not what you expect and not in a way that I think will be any way what people were anticipating.

Marvel.com: Who was Ran Shen before becoming the Iron Nail?  

Winter Soldier: The Bitter March sketch by Roland Boschi

Rick Remender: When we open the story in 1966, Ran Shen is quickly climbing the ladder in S.H.I.E.L.D. and he is neck and neck with Nick Fury as the number one spook in the organization. The mandates for Ran are normally top-secret espionage. Very few people in S.H.I.E.L.D. know of his existence. He is a deep cover spy. He was selected to eventually be the person to infiltrate China and sidle up against Mao, to get in there. So they keep him off the radar for the most part, except for very important missions and this is one of those. So Ran Shen and the original Nick Fury are out trying to acquire two scientists, former Nazis, who have developed a formula that will decide who wins the Cold War. These scientists have fallen into a chapter of Hydra that we haven’t seen before. A whole new cast of villains, a whole new cast of Bond-esque bad guys, and Chancellor Cassandra, who led Hydra through the 60’s. A new character who I’ve been thinking on for a while. A new character for a period of Hydra where there wasn’t really someone running the show in current Marvel continuity. So, not only do the Americans and S.H.I.E.L.D. send Ran and Fury to go acquire these scientists to bring them back but the Soviets have interest in them as well. And then there’s the little matter of Hydra, who are currently in possession of these two human beings.

Winter Soldier: The Bitter March sketch by Roland Boschi

Marvel.com: You mentioned James Bond, so are we talking full-on Ian Fleming/Jim Steranko style? Is it as heightened as all that?

Rick Remender: That’s the tone. It’s unapologetic. I storyboarded the “From Russia with Love” video game that Electronic Arts put out in 2006 and I really fell head over heels in love all over again with that stuff, especially the aesthetics. I always had it in my head to do something with it and this wasn’t something that I had in my mind for this, it’s just as the story was unraveling, I kept having this big chapter that took place in the 60’s. So, that’s pretty great and this is a pretty great place for it, so I sank into it. That’s the exact tone. It’s going to have the Steranko spy sci-fi and all the sort of espionage fun that he laid in there as well as the debonair sort of broken lead who is moving the plot forward, and someone in Ran Shen; I’m very lucky to have this three-dimensional character because he’s somebody who’s going to play a big role in upcoming Captain America comics. I think by the end of this and what’s happening over in CAPTAIN AMERICA it gives me a chance to introduce a new villain in a way that he has a full backstory, he’s going to be a full character and he’s not going to just be a villain. He’s going to be a human being who’s relatable and you can potentially and hopefully understand his position and that will lead to better comics.

Winter Soldier: The Bitter March sketch by Roland Boschi

Marvel.com: Every spy romp needs its exotic or dangerous locales. Where does this grand chase take us?

Rick Remender: We’re going to be traveling across Europe for the most part. The [Berlin] Wall was still up so we’re going from East Berlin to West Berlin and beyond, in the Alps, and doing a lot of travel by train. A lot of the set is going to be on a train. I’m having a lot of fun with the claustrophobia of Hydra and the Soviets and S.H.I.E.L.D agents and Ran Shen and these scientists on a train making its way from West Berlin onward. In that sense, it’s going to be a lot of storyboarded action. I got really lucky that Roland Boschi was able to come on. We worked together on PUNISHER and he’s one of my very favorite artists and one of the few people who can handle the kind of fluid, storyboarded action that I’m going to be writing on this. The first issue is well underway and I can promise people won’t be disappointed if that’s the kind of stuff they’re fans of.

Winter Soldier: The Bitter March sketch by Roland Boschi

Marvel.com: Can you speak to some of the challenges of writing in a well-documented historical period like the Cold War and throwing in that variable of super hero action? Especially when we know how things turn out?

Rick Remender: Well, history is like…you can still watch Indiana Jones in the 80’s even though it took place in the 40’s and know those Nazis aren’t going to win. I don’t think that that’s really the heart of it. The heart of it is the characters and if they’re going to get what they want and if they’re going to make it through and how they get through the adventure itself. We all know how the Cold War ended. This is going to be something that shows perhaps how it got to that point in the Marvel Universe. It’s kinda fun because you can take real history and kind of inter-splice Marvel. Like, what was Nick Fury’s role in ensuring that the Soviets collapsed and that the West was dominant in the years after the Cold War? And that’s something that this is. It’s actually pretty fun because you can set up the real world stuff, like I said, but splice the Marvel stuff into it and it lends a strange sort of credibility to it. It almost feels a little more real than seeing another armada of space ships flying at Earth ready to blow it up.

Winter Soldier: The Bitter March #1 variant cover by In-Hyuk Lee

Marvel.com: Though you’re peering back in the past, this obviously plays a role in the future for Bucky, Captain America and the rest of the Marvel Universe. What themes link this story to the ongoing CAPTAIN AMERICA series?

Rick Remender: Well, we’re getting back into world-stage espionage and world-stage dangers. Post-“Dimension Z,” we’re getting out of the science fiction stuff and going back to something that is a more traditional Captain America story. And in that end, in WINTER SOLDIER, I’m trying to find a way to continue to intertwine the Winter Soldier mythology in the life of Steve Rogers to make sure these things are pertinent to one another and that they’re interesting and exciting. There are a number of very key and important story beats in the limited series that people also reading CAPTAIN AMERICA will get a wonderful payout when we get into the Iron Nail story after the Dr. Mindbubble arc.

Winter Soldier: The Bitter March #1 cover by Andrew Robinson

WINTER SOLDIER and CAPTAIN AMERICA are brother and sister titles and it’s important to me that the two things really intertwine in a way that pays out later. So people reading CAPTAIN AMERICA and WINTER SOLDIER at the same time will be getting a really rich experience and I think that the two books help to develop each other. When we get into some of the dangers when Winter Soldier makes his official appearances in CAPTAIN AMERICA and enters into that story as well as the Iron Nail, there’s context built in and you understand who these characters are and what their history is and why one of them hates the other and all of these wonderful things. There’s going to be a human element to it that would be lacking were it not for the WINTER SOLDIER story.

Marvel.com: How does it look? 

Rick Remender: I’d like to point out that Andrew Robinson is just killing himself painting these covers. And the first one’s revealed in this article and it’s absolutely mind-blowing gorgeous. Roland Boschi is at the top of his game and I think art team wise, you’re not going to find a better looking book on the stands.

WINTER SOLDIER: THE BITTER MARCH begins in February from Rick Remender and Roland Boschi

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