Up until the mid-2000s, nobody was really sure what to do with Bucky Barnes. The kid sidekick to Captain America, he was a tough character to lend any weight to, narratively speaking. He was basically Robin the Boy Wonder, but with a handgun and no codename.
Sometimes he’d pop up as an old man in What If stories and the Ultimate universe, but Marvel had pretty much abandoned the guy by the turn of the century, even going so far as to write his funeral into an Avengers story from 1968.
Then artist Steve Epting and writer Ed Brubaker took a swing at rebranding young Bucky for the modern age. Retconning previous stories, they reintroduced the character in 2005’s Captain America no. 1, revealing that Barnes had been taken by Soviet scientists after an accident and brainwashed into a life as a super-soldier assassin.
This new Bucky, now going by The Winter Soldier, became one of the most captivating members of the Marvel universe in no time, his name going on to constitute the second halves of two different MCU project titles. Sebastian Stan‘s performance as the tortured character has been a constant high point in the franchise.
Just ask Brubaker, who wrote in a recent newsletter, “I’m really happy for Sebastian Stan, who I think is both a great guy and the perfect Bucky/Winter Soldier, and I’m glad to see him getting more screen time [in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier] finally.”
But Brubaker’s thoughts on the matter don’t end with excitement at the success of the antihero that he helped create.
The Winter Soldier’s creator has familiar problems with Marvel
“…Everyone at Marvel Studios that I’ve ever met (all the way up to Kevin Feige) have been nothing but kind to me,” Brubaker continued in his recent post, “but at the same time, for the most part all Steve Epting and I have gotten for creating the Winter Soldier and his storyline is a ‘thanks’ here or there, and over the years that’s become harder and harder to live with.”
“So yeah, mixed feelings,” he wrote, “and maybe it’ll always be like that (but I sure hope not). Work-for-hire work is what it is, and I’m honestly thrilled to have co-created something that’s become such a big part of pop culture…”
Brubaker’s thoughts on the subject echo some of the many, many grievances brought up over the years by comic book creators working for Marvel. The company’s work-for-hire policies, which grant Marvel the rights to characters and concepts developed by their employees, have been brought into stark focus during a series of high profile lawsuits, including one filed by the estate of comics legend Jack Kirby hoping to earn compensation for co-creations like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and even the Avengers.
For Brubaker’s part, he’s still happy to see his work reach a new medium — it just seems bittersweet. “I’m sure I’ll watch [The Falcon and the Winter Soldier] and you should too if you’re a Marvel movie universe fan,” he wrote in the conclusion to his newsletter, “but I’ll probably be waiting a while to check it out myself. So please don’t email me any spoilers, I guess, but go give Sebastian Stan lots of love wherever he is online.”