Winter Soldier - issue 15.
Writer - Jason Latour.
Art and Colour - Nic Klein.
Cover - Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire.
Editor - Lauren Sankovitch.
I have to admit that I picked this up because of the buzz over the Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire's cover. And a superb cover it is! Worthy of a poster (if Marvel still did them?) But the interiors are just as impressive and a great read. The book would fit happily on the shelf between Ennis' FURY Max title and Rucka's Punisher series.
The book opens with some space shennanigans that would seem to foreshadow future issues. Almost at right angles to these scenes we quickly switch to Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier in a bar in Croatia drinking in the rubble of a bar fight. He is 'trying to forget' (in that grand old Laurel and Hardy way) when Fury enters. Fury (Ghost of Christmas Bucky Future?) drinks with him and gives him a mission to take his mind off The Black Widow drama (that happened in previous issues).
The rest of the story centers around an undercover SHIELD agent who has infiltrated Hydra and been undercover with the crime organisation for years. He has seemingly gone a bit 'radio rental' and is in a fire fight out with an off shoot of Hydra called The Dark Hydra. A subgroup that appear to have developed 'The Thing' (John Carpenter, not Ben Grimm) style shape changing abilities. Bucky punches out the agent (who then vomits) and the story will continue into issue two with them both.
This book reads like a Marvel Max title. It is a satisfying mix of Marvel Superheroics, 100 Bullets style machinations and a dose of body humour (Think Brian Yuzna's 'Society' and you won't be far off). It has an edge to it. The dialogue never intrudes and always injects an added dimension. It bristles with cool and it has a sense of humour that only adds to the bleakness.
Visually Nic Klein blew my socks off. He pencils, inks and colours the book with a real noir flair. I have recommended this book to a couple of friends and described it as 'Superspy noir'. It is a real joy to read and the pacing is superb. There is a Bond/Parker/Flint flow to the panels that makes me wish it was set in the 1960s (Man from UNCLE cameo he chants).
'I don't know what I was expecting in Croatia.'
Bucky, just clear of a brutal bar fight is melancholy and distant. He is written as a tragic ghost. He is living his days out in a back alley battlefield. having been kept on ice for decades and used as a programmed assassin. He is quick to violence and is brutal in it's application ,yet practical and systematic. He is a mess of guilt and self punishment. Like a man lost he can only push on through with an operation to distract him. A fact that Fury knows and uses too well.
Joe Robards is more of a Bond figure (at least physically). He has been broken by years of being undercover and the murder of his handler/lover. (By the Winter Soldier himself). He is seemingly at the end. Sitting behind an overturned bar table surrounded. Bucky appears and save him in an absolutely excellent double page spread. Vibrant and kinetic. The page's design speaks to the abilities and enhancements of Barnes. The page also makes full use of it's colour and shows what we all know about good colourists.
I am maybe painting it all a bit too black. It also has a sense of humour. The appearance of the shape changing Hydra agent is both gross and funny in equal measure. Jason Latour seems to have a great eye for the tone in this book. It's a dirty and dark book that I shall be picking up from now on. I am sure as eggs is eggs that nobody is what they seem and complications are gonna fuck up everyone. Superb!
Plus best ever knuckle duster!