Friday, 15 May 2015

Winter Soldier: The Bitter March Review (Rick Remender, Roland Boschi)

The Bitter March opens in classic James Bond style with spies and henchman chasing one another on skis across snowy mountains – you can practically hear the classic theme playing! It’s 1966 and agents Nick Fury and Ran Shen are on the hunt for two Nazi scientists who’ve been kidnapped by HYDRA for their Alchemy Formula (aka the Infinity Formula that kept old Nick looking so youthful for so many decades). But the Soviets want the formula for themselves and have dispatched their most lethal agent: the mythical Winter Soldier.

It’s an odd choice that in a book with both Nick Fury and the Winter Soldier (whose series this supposedly is!), Rick Remender chooses instead to focus on Ran Shen, a little known character - but he’s basically Asian Bond. Maybe the story would’ve been better with focus on the more famous characters because I just didn’t care about Ran Shen and, consequently, had a hard time giving a damn about anything that happened to him.

As it is, Bitter March is your run-of-the-mill espionage tale and another example that Remender just doesn’t do good work at Marvel. His output is extraordinarily high though – he’s got several titles at Marvel and three over at Image! – so it’s probably a case of being stretched thin. Speaking of his Image work, in Low he talked about his years of therapy, where he learned to think positively, not be so insecure, etc., informing his recent comics, and you can see that reflected in Bitter March as well. There’s a Thin White Duke-era David Bowie lookalike villain whose superpower is looking into your mind, seeing what troubles you and brings it forth so you only think negative thoughts – a personification of Remender’s issues that sent him into therapy. 

The Winter Soldier, aka Bucky Barnes, mostly appears as a cameo in his own series! Then again he’s still the brainwashed Soviet weapon rather than the reformed figure in the modern-day-set comics so I can see why. Ultimately, though there are glimpses of Bucky fighting his programming, this is one of those pointless stories that doesn’t really say anything different or offer any new perspective about the character.

The rest of the book is generic action sequences: a runaway train, fights in the snow, guns shooting, yawn. All bluster, nothing substantial. Roland Boschi’s art isn’t bad but I wouldn’t say it’s that impressive – it reminded me of early Mike Mignola. One of the Nazi scientists falling for Ran felt contrived and just there because that’s what Bond got up to and that’s the impression Remender’s aiming for.

It all adds up to an unexciting story. In concept it sounds like fun – a classic ‘60s spy thriller featuring the Winter Soldier, Nick Fury, Nazi scientists, HYDRA, a dashing hero, and a gorgeous blonde – but in execution it comes across so flat and uninteresting. Remender simply can’t make any of these characters or their goals seem remotely urgent so it’s a “thriller” in name only.

If all you want is generic action nonsense, Winter Soldier: The Bitter March is your safe choice – anyone wanting to read a fun spy adventure set in the Marvel universe will be disappointed with this offering.

Winter Soldier: The Bitter March

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