Bucky Barnes Fights KGB and PTSD in Marvel’s New Novel

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Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes in Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Credit: Marvel Studios

Some fans might know him as James Barnes, others as Bucky, and some circles might even call him “White Wolf,” but the rest of the Marvel fandom simply recognizes him as the Winter Soldier. The character’s exploits have been thoroughly explored in the comic books and been brought to life on the big screen through the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but what about those ages in between?

sebastian stan as winter soldier with captain america shield
Credit: Marvel Studios

While Captain America was on ice, what was happening to Bucky before he became HYDRA’s deadliest sleeper agent? New York Times Best-Selling Author Mackenzi Lee answers that question and more in her new novel, Winter Soldier: Cold Front.

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Fans of Marvel’s metal-armed mercenary have undoubtedly enjoyed watching the Winter Soldier tear up the screen in the MCU during his time in the Avengers franchise, as well as The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+, but heroes aren’t bound to comics and movies alone.

Similar to how the Star Wars saga found new life in the literary galaxy, so too do Marvel’s heroes, villains, and antiheroes. It’s this latter category that Mackenzi Lee has given her devotion, as she has penned the latest in a series of novels dedicated to characters like Loki, Nebula, Gamora, and now the Winter Soldier.

Mackenzi Lee and Gentelman's Guide
Credit: Publishers Weekly

Known for her novel, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Lee has shed new light on the origins, foundations, and fundamental profiles of some of Marvel’s most cunning rogues. Although many enjoy rooting for their favorite heroes and cheering for the downfall of their respective villains, there’s some complex and compelling storytelling within that grey area between the two. The saga of Bucky Barnes is certainly one of the finest examples in or out of the MCU.

Most fans undoubtedly recognize Bucky and his deadly alter ego through the films, if not stacks upon stacks of comics. However, Lee introduces readers to a new side of the character while still maintaining that same tough guy with a heart-of-gold persona portrayed by Sebastian Stan in the movies, as well as utilizing many elements from the comics.

That all being said, if readers and dedicated fans of the comic book juggernaut are expecting a gritty action film starring a rogue agent in literary form, they’re in for more than a few surprises. Lee doesn’t skip on the climactic action, but there’s much more depth than the 410 pages might suggest. This is more than a Winter Soldier novel, it’s a character study.

Cover art for Winter Soldier Cold Front
Credit: Disney Books

Winter Soldier: Cold Front acts as a prequel to the events in Captain America: The First Avenger as well as fills in the blank spaces between that film and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  The novel itself is structured in two alternating eras, 1941 and 1954. 1941 sees a hot-headed and eager young James Barnes wanting to do his part for the war effort during the rise of WWII. After a chance encounter with an agent of the British Secret Service , he is whisked away into an experimental program that has him going toe-to-toe with assassins, hired guns, and a mysterious chess player with a coveted secret that could make or break the war.

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Years later, in 1954 “Agent V” is the Soviet Union’s deadliest weapon. A super-soldier with a bionic arm with only one prime directive, to comply and carry out his designated missions. The Winter Soldier is an engineered master of combat, espionage, but when an attack on a HYDRA base brings him face-to-face with a figure from his past, his internal programming starts to unravel and even Agent V finds himself asking ,”who the Hell is Bucky?” Is he Russia’s ultimate assassin, or is there something going on behind that mask?

Mackenzi Lee doesn’t just give her readers a literary account of the Winter Soldier’s origin story, she paints a complex narrative that blends classic spy thriller with war drama as both sides of Bucky Barnes flood the page. Where one timeline satisfies the need for an action-packed adventure, the other fills out Bucky’s internal machinations that grant the reader a more intimate understanding of the character not seen on the silver screen.

Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes aka Winter Solider in Captain America Marvel
Credit: Marvel Studios

Both young Bucky Barnes and the combat-seasoned Winter Soldier feel like completely different characters, as they should. Yet, they are still grounded enough to be two sides of the same coin. The action, combat, and spy-thriller suspense are all present and palpable, but it’s the focus on the mental and emotional state of the novel’s protagonist that truly resonates throughout the story.

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PTSD is a common theme present throughout the story, both as a plot point and as a central message seen through the text. Lee puts the reader in the head of both Bucky and his antihero alter-ego. Where one is a young man swept up during the rise of World War II, the other is a damaged warrior who’s been stitched back together with all sorts of inherited trauma from two lives.

Winter Soldier Cold Front on a bookshelf
Credit: Kansas Public Radio

Not only were we at Inside the Magic able to read the novel, but Mackenzi Lee was also kind enough to grant us an interview as well. During our time with the author, we were able to ask her a few questions about her writing, her time with Bucky Barnes, and her other works as well.

Who or what audience is this book for?
“It is technically published as an YA novel under Marvel’s press under the young adult imprint,  but I think it’s a novel for anyone who’s a fan of the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes, Captain America, or Marvel. The audiences is anyone!”
Why the interest in antiheroes?
“I think most people think of ourselves as antiheroes, whether consciously or not. I think if most of us were the lead character of a novel or a story or a movie we would be thought of as antiheroes because that’s human nature. We’re not always good, we’re not always nice, we don’t always make the right choices, so I think there’s something inherently more relatable about an antihero because we often see sort of the worst things about ourselves in antiheroes and are then, at least I am, very soothed by the fact I can make mistakes and indulge in these base instincts and still be the hero of the story.” 
Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger, the Star-Spangled Man with a Plan scene
Credit: Marvel Studios
“I think the other thing too is that when you have a character who can be morally good, somebody like Captain America, it takes a lot of the tension and fun out of wondering if they’re going to do the right thing. Because you know Captain America is always going to self-sacrifice, crash the plane… He’s always going to do the right thing, the question is how is he going to do it?”
“Characters like the Winter Soldier, Loki, Nebula, and Gamora, you can’t rely on them to do the right thing, you’re never sure they’re going to make the decision that benefits humanity or benefits themselves. There’s something inherently interesting and intense in the narrative in that unpredictability.”
Who was your favorite character to write in your series?
“I mean my favorite character is whoever I’m writing at the time, whatever story and whoever’s head I’m deeply immeshed in at the time is always the most interesting. That being said, Bucky Barnes has been my favorite Marvel character for a long time.”
Sebastian Stan as the Winter Soldier
All Images Credit: Marvel
“Getting to write for Marvel at all was like a fangirl’s dream come true, and then getting to do specifically a Bucky Barnes book was just… I could not have picked, planned, dreamed a better project for myself.”
“Some of my most favorite comics are the Ed Brubaker run of the Winter Soldier… Getting to write Bucky and the Winter soldier in particular was like the fulfillment of a Marvel dream.”
Why does Bucky’s story need to be told?

“I really enjoy, in terms of the Bucky Barnes and the Winter Soldier split identity. I’m very fascinated by the question, ‘how does identity exist without memory?” and what about us is so essential and unimpeachable that even when we don’t have the memories that created the person that we are there are still things about us that are so fundamental to who we are. I’m fascinated by this idea of who he was fighting through all this brainwashing and conditioning… There are these things about him you can’t take away from him even when everything else is taken from him.”

Sebastian stan as bucky barnes aka winter soldier crying scene
Credit: Marvel Studios

“He [Bucky] ends up being the cleanup crew for Captain America. Because in spite of the fact Steve Rogers is doing good work, punching Nazis, fighting the Germans, and everything, there’s inherently going to be a certain amount of collateral damage and there’s going to be an unsavory side to this work, and Bucky is the one who has to clean that up and take care of the after-effects of patriotism in a lot of ways.”

“I was fascinated by someone who goes into the story thinking they have this very unshakable idea about what it means to be good, what it means to be bad, about patriotism, and this sort of impeachable nature of America. He’s very pro-military and he obviously has a very good reason, we’re fighting Nazis and we’re obviously the good guys in that war.  Then over the course of the book he starts to sort of recognize that there are other things at play… I think it’s a fascinating dilemma and moral question for a character at the heart of the book.”

Do you think you’d like to see your stories brought to the big screen, maybe even the MCU?
“Yes, please pay me to write for the MCU. I’ve had a lot of people ask, ‘Are these books going to set up a TV show, are they going to be adapted?’ and I think that part of the fun of these books is that they’re not. These books exist totally in the Marvel universe, but they’re meant to be supplemental reading to the shows and the movies. Part of what I think is really cool about Marvel in general is how these stories exist across so many formats from so many creators. So if you’re a movie person, watch the movies. If you like prose novels, read the novels.
Chris Evans as Captain America (left) and Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes (right)
Credit: Marvel Studios

There are so many ways to access these stories that as a result so many people have this common language and this common multiverse that we’re all telling our stories and playing with in. I think that’s so fun and exciting and such a fun way to meet people where they live and bring these stories to people in the mediums they feel the most comfortable.”

“That being said, I am a Marvel fan, I love to write anything and everything for Marvel. I would love to write comics, I would write video games, I would write TV shows, I would write billboards, I would write anything they wanted to throw at me.”

What’s one thing you want readers to take away from this book?
“Mostly with my books I want people to have a good time reading them, I want you to just sort of be able to turn the real world off for a couple of hours and escape into this story. I hope they direct people to go read the Ed Brubaker comics after this because I think they’re so great! I hope the book takes them to a different time and place and tugs at the old heartstrings.”
“I just hope they have a good time with it and that it captures some of the magic of what has captured so many people about Captain America and Bucky Barnes and those stories in that imagined world around them.”
Winter Soldier: Cold Front and all of the author’s other works can be found wherever books are sold, and Mackenzi Lee can be found on social media as well as her website.
Have you read this Marvel novel? Tell Inside the Magic what you thought in the comments below!

 

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