"Winter Soldier" snuck out from the pack as one of Marvel's best titles with its opening arc, presenting a mix of espionage and sly fun that didn't miss a beat. With its sixth issue, the series takes a turn into a dark alley and manages to stay true to the promise of the introduction while adding a new layer, introducing a new threat to James Barnes' world as Ed Brubaker magnificently makes him a worthy adversary.
Brubaker uses a caption heavy narrative style to introduce us to sleeper agent Leo Novokov and there is a lot of ground covered with style and meaning in this character piece. There are no moments of levity to offset the brutality and violent confusion of Leo's world. Brubaker paints a bleak canvas that could only take place in "Winter Soldier."
The amount of story Brubaker fits into the issue is astounding. His newest creation is given many highs and lows that establish his history and his current status while still leaving room for further foundation building, hinting at plenty for us to watch as the story progresses. This issue is a clinic on character introduction and drawing in the audience. Brubaker drops enough death into these pages to show us both the seriousness of the character and the unhinged unpredictability to his style.
Matching the story pound for pound is the artistic teaming of Michael Lark and Bettie Breitweiser. Lark uses page layout and storytelling style to differentiate between the main show of Leo and the framing sequence with our main cast. The wide panels and dotted edges add to the mythic nature of Leo's history. However, the star of this issue is Bettie Breitweiser. Breitweiser's use and choice of color make these pages pop in aesthetic and other clever ways.
"Winter Soldier" #6 is a slightly scary character study that builds the tapestry of this title into darker and tighter places. Brubaker uses a terse style to cover a lot of ground and make it all count. Lark and Breitweiser provide gorgeous work that makes this a perfect example of comics as art and a perfect jumping-on point for new readers. Pick up this issue and you'll completely buy into the new storyline while enjoying every single aspect of this book.