It’s rare for a comic book character to ever stay dead for good – but Bucky Barnes was gone for more than 40 years before becoming Winter Soldier.
Bucky Barnes shockingly came back to life in the comics after nearly staying dead for good. It’s extremely rare for a comic book hero to die and stay dead over the course of time. However, when Ed Brubaker took the reigns of Captain America, he revived Bucky and turned him into the Winter Soldier – ending a nearly 40-year span where the character didn’t appear in the comics.
Death has become somewhat cheapened in comics over time, as publishers have routinely killed off characters, only to bring them back after a subsequent arc or in a new series. The examples are endless, with the most famous case being The Death of Superman, which really opened the floodgates for iconic heroes to come back from the dead soon after meeting their end. Blue Beetle, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, and more heroes would perish before being brought back. The only real character who seems to stay dead in the comics is Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben. However, Bucky almost stayed dead (although technically, he never was officially shown to die ) before returning as the Winter Soldier.
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In Avengers #4 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the story of Captain America and Bucky’s Barnes’s last mission before vanishing is told. While defending an army base, Steve Rogers and Bucky notice a drone plane filled to the brim with explosives is stolen by Baron Zemo. Both try to latch onto the plane, but Captain America falls off and lands in the frozen waters. Meanwhile, as he’s falling Steve sees the ship explode and assumes Bucky died in the crash. While Steve would survive after being frozen over time and eventually unthawed in present-day times, Bucky was never seen again… until more than 40 years later.
There are few characters who had such a gap between appearances as Bucky did with his last Silver Age story in Avengers #4 in 1964 and his emergence as the Winter Soldier in Captain America #1 in 2005. The character would return as a brainwashed Hydra killer who gained his own abilities after being experimented on by the evil organization. After his mind was fixed, he would eventually take on the role of Captain America and become an antihero as the Winter Soldier in Marvel Comics.
It seems the decision to make Bucky disappear paid off hugely for Marvel. Bringing him back is one thing, but waiting for decades to bring him back and turn him into a brainwashed villain was a stroke of genius. Before the Winter Soldier arc, it seemed Bucky was lost to time. Bucky would become more popular as the Winter Soldier than he ever was as Captain America’s sidekick. It’s hard to imagine how different Marvel Comics and the MCU would be if Bucky Barnes was never brought back from his disappearance.
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