Comic Couples: Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes

Captain America #27 Cover, art credit Alex Schomberg

Given the current anticipation for the Civil War film, due out later this year, it seemed a good time to look at the defining relationship between two of the key players on Team Cap. However, rather than looking at the current relationship, I instead want to look at their relationship during the first appearances of the characters during World War II.

Captain America and Bucky Barnes had been paired up since the initial sketches of Steve Rogers, as artist Joe Simon drew in a young sidekick for the character, who would evolve to become Bucky Barnes. These two characters featured together through almost every issue of the first run of Captain America, as well as appearing in numerous issues of Tales of Suspense following Captain America’s revival to the Marvel line-up following his return in The Avengers #4.

The relationship between the two has been most commonly compared to that of two brothers, something which was built on well in the film in 2011. However, unlike in that film, it was Steve Rogers who was seen as the older brother, and Bucky was the young sidekick and therefore comparative to the younger brother in this analogy. Bucky was also never a soldier, and was instead a mascot for the military camp he was based at.

Bucky and Captain America were used, both in the comics and in reality, as promotional mascots for national service. They were figureheads fighting an evil that the readers of Captain America would have seen as a very legitimate threat to their freedom. While the alter ego of Steve Rogers was the hero that many military servicemen would seek to be, Bucky both allowed the comics to be approachable to younger audiences, and to promote to the youth of America the glory that service could give. This reasoning was also used in the comics to look justify why the American Military would allow a fifteen year-old to be sent on secretive missions behind enemy lines.

Cap and Bucky
Image from Avengers #4, art credit Jack Kirby, George Roussos and Stan Goldberg

However, a later part of the story was also affected by Stan Lee when he took the characters under the Marvel banner following the revival of the superhero genre. In The Avengers #4, Captain America relates the story of how he came to be frozen in the Arctic Ocean. Both he and Bucky were taking down an experimental drone place of Baron Zemo’s, when the Captain fell into the ocean, and Bucky seemingly died in action. The reason behind this was because Stan Lee was not a fan of the idea that all superheroes needed a young sidekick, something which many of his rival publishers were doing. As such, the tale of Bucky, and the subsequent guilt it left Captain America with, was used throughout the Marvel Universe to justify why no hero ever had a child sidekick, as it would be seen as irresponsible to put a child in such danger.

Of course, Bucky did not perish, and was revived in 2005. However, this created a somewhat different dynamic between Steve and Bucky, and as such, is a discussion for another time.

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