"Winter Soldier" #14 from Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice is a stirring conclusion to this story arc and Brubaker's run on both the character and with Marvel. James "Bucky" Barnes has been chasing Leo Novokov ever since he stole the Black Widow away and brainwashed her into being a Soviet villain once more. This final showdown is loaded with emotion as much as it is final reel action.
This issue and the series to date have felt like a high action thriller, when realistically the meat of the meal is in the emotional connections of the characters. While Brubaker writes bikes flying through roads and guns drawn to deal death, the major beats of this issue come away from the violence. There is a great page where Bucky reflects on his past with the Widow and what she has meant to him. He races to the Arlington Cemetery and you can't help but wonder if maybe she's going to actually kill him while in her state. It would have been a great way for Brubaker to end his run, wiping the Marvel U status quo clean, but Bucky's death was already played in "Fear Itself" and so instead this issue swerves into another direction -- possibly for the better.
Brubaker and Butch Guice depict the Black Widow as a poetic force of nature. She can kill with a smile and she can wound with her eyes -- to steal someone else's words. But she can also flip around the page dodging bullets while looking hypnotically charged like a ballet performance. Brubaker sells the idea that this woman is worth fighting for and as such our hero's problems are clearly the greatest he's ever felt. This set up knocked me down to the mat for good once Brubaker played his final hand in the end scene of this issue.
Butch Guice, paired with the inks of Brian Thies and the colors of Jordie Bellaire and Bettie Breitweiser, delivers some spectacular pages for this book. The rain soaked pages evoke mood while also allowing for clear action and inventive storytelling. The entire run of Butch Guice and Michael Lark has been one of the best looking books from Marvel expressly because the art lives to serve the genre of the story.
"Winter Soldier" #14 concludes a great run on the character from Ed Brubaker. He's a writer who likes to do the worst to his creations and he's certainly done that in "Winter Soldier." The emotionally packed finale of this book truly gripped me by the collar and made me not want to read on because I could see what was happening, but I couldn't look away. Brubaker has created something larger than himself. While this pause is incredibly sorrowful, he has also left behind a rich history and a fertile jumping on point for the next creative team. For now, we salute Brubaker, his best creation, one of his finest runs and his time at Marvel entertaining readers with the worst he could imagine.