COMICS WARS! Marvel vs. DC
WHO DID IT BETTER? RESURRECTING SIDEKICKS
WINTER SOLDIER VS. THE RED HOOD
By Iron Age Editorial
Welcome to the first edition of COMICS WARS! We compare similar stories and/or characters featured by two different publishers (i.e. Marvel, DC) to determine WHO DID IT BETTER! Two or more Iron Age staffers will read ALL the comics in question and weigh in with balanced arguments to determine a winner!
Jon Santana – Writer/Creator – Jaded, The Wordsmith
Drew Mollo – Freelance comic news writer for ironagecomics.com and aggressivecomix.com
In late 2004, Marvel and DC concurrently published the now-famous resurrections of their most infamously dead sidekicks, Bucky Barnes and Jason Todd (Robin).
While we at Iron Age Comics pit the two storylines against each other to find out WHO DID IT BETTER? – ponder another question for yourselves…. Could the release of these simultaneous and ironically similar storylines truly be a COINCIDENCE? We at Iron Age certainly think NOT…
On with the battle!
This is what real comics research looks like!
Round 1: Who came first? Which character appeared in their resurrected state in real time first (not retconned continuity)?
JON: This one’s cut and dry: Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes cameos in Captain America vol. 5 #1 (published Jan. 2005) in suspended animation, and later in the issue (albeit in shadows) murders the Red Skull. The resurrected Jason Todd/Red Hood first appears in Batman #635 (published Feb. 2005). Winter Soldier wins by a mere month.
DREW: Winter Soldier appeared as a character in January 2005; while the Red Hood was published in a Batman comic for the first time a month later, it’s good to remember that according to Batman Annual #25 (May 2006), Jason Todd was lurking in the background of Batman issues #217-218 (Sep-OCT ‘03). Both of these characters were part of an aphorism called the Bucky Clause that stated in comics “Nobody stayed dead except Bucky, Jason Todd and Uncle Ben.” Both characters had been considered by various editorial and creative teams to return to their respective continuities but it never happened for a variety of reasons. In the case of Jason Todd, his death had already solicited such hate mail and reaction regarding how it occurred that, in the words of former editor Denny O’Neil, “It would be a really sleazy stunt to bring him back”. In the case of Bucky, both writers Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had a dislike for teenage sidekicks and the idea of bringing Bucky Barnes back had been an idea that had crossed the mind of other writers but never materialized.
Point – Winter Soldier (unanimous)
Round 2: Which had the greater impact in continuity?
This one’s tough – the character of Red Hood as we knew him was relatively new before DC revamped its whole continuity with the New 52 and retconned his origin (a retcon of a retcon, if you incorporate Batman Annual #25’s reveal that a Superboy-multiverse-punch reset the DC universe and resurrected Jason in his grave…. Yeah. That happened). So while I feel the Red Hood is a staple in the DCU and an important part of the current Bat-Family, I never felt the full impact of his involvement as I thought I would when he was first introduced in 2005.
Bucky as Winter Soldier not only becomes part of Cap’s most trusted inner circle in subsequent stories, he actually takes the mantle of Captain America. He carries the shield well during his tenure as Cap and is far from a Cap fascimile – he carries a gun and visually looks strikingly different, all while conceding he will never truly fill Cap’s boots. For this, I give the point to Winter Soldier.
After his reappearance in Under the Red Hood, Jason resurfaced during One Year Later as a murderous Nightwing copycat before returning to the Red Hood identity. He was a prominent character in 2008’s Countdown and even wore the Red Robin suit as he attempted to return to his crime fighting ways. Bruce Wayne’s advice to seek psychiatric help in his Last Will and Testament apparently sent him over the edge as he reappeared dressed as villainous Batman in a failed attempt to usurp the title of Batman from other members of the Bat Family. He would plague Dick Grayson as Batman in a more unstable role as the Red Hood with his new sidekick Scarlet. After the New 52, Jason’s role in the Bat Family changed as his origin was retconned. He was revealed to be both a member of the Outlaws and Batman Incorporated under the codename Wingman. His relationship with Bruce Wayne and the other Bat Family members was improved as he was featured in Batman Eternal, Batman: Death of the Family, Batman and Robin, and Batman and Robin Eternal. He would continue to return to the Red Hood identity and was described by Bruce Wayne in and issue of Batman and Robin Eternal as “Jason is willing to do what Batman can’t, when the world needs it.”
After having his memories restored, the Winter Soldier helped Cap and even asked for employment from Nick Fury. During Civil War, he was a part of a failed rescue plan for Captain America before he was assassinated. After a battle against Iron Man (whom he blamed for Steve’s death) Bucky eventually agreed to become Captain America honoring Steve’s wish for the mantle to continue. He would officially become Captain America in Cap #34. He would continue to wear the mantle of his friend and partner for years even after Steve Rogers returned in Captain America: Reborn in 2010. He would relinquish the role of Captain America in Cap #619 and return to his Winter Soldier identity after “his death” in Fear Itself. He would continue as the Winter Soldier alongside Black Widow and even inherit the role of Earth’s brutal guardian from Nick Fury himself in Original Sin. The point goes to Winter Soldier.
Point: Winter Soldier (unanimous)
Round 3: Which has the greater legacy?
Winter Soldier looks like an easy winner in this category. There was an MCU film with his NAME in the TITLE…. he had a prominent role in Civil War… both those films are arguably in the top 5 best of the Marvel Movie pantheon. Thanks to Marvel Studios, his character is relatively well known outside of the comics community. THAT’s legacy.
Jason Todd has yet to surface in the DCEU motion picture realm…. BUT: Not only is the DC Animated adaptation of Under The Red Hood possibly one of the best DC animated films ever produced, but Jason Todd as the titular villain in Rocksteady’s Arkham Knight – is a pedigree that cannot be understated. Add to that the awesome playability in the Red Hood costume proper within that game and you have an experience unmatched by his opponent in this category. Point to Red Hood.
After his re-introduction in Captain America, Bucky Barnes popularity continued to grow after he accepted the mantle of Captain America from Steve Rogers. In comics, he would be a member of The New Avengers, the primary Avengers team, and later assist other superheroes as The Winter Soldier in events like Original Sin and Avengers: Standoff! Bucky Barnes or The Winter Soldier would show up in a number of Marvel What If? stories imagining different outcomes to classic Marvel stories or in other alternate realities like the Ultimate Marvel or Marvel Zombies universe. He would appear in a number of Marvel inspired video games such as Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Captain America: Super Soldier, and Lego Marvel Superheroes. Barnes would also appear in multiple Marvel animated television series like The Marvel Super Heroes or Avengers Assemble and he is portrayed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by actor Sebastian Stan. His next appearance will be in the upcoming Marvel mega-blockbuster Avengers: Infinity War and its sequel.
After his re-introduction in Under the Hood, Jason Todd’s popularity toyed with the idea of him as a villain or a hero depending on the storyline. He would appear in other Bat-family related titles such as Nightwing, Batman and Robin or even company events like Countdown until he got his own title Red Hood and the Outlaws during the New 52. He would juggle his time with the Outlaws and the Bat Family for the next few years and Red Hood and the Outlaws would continue in DC Rebirth with a new team. Jason would appear in a few Elseworlds or other DC alternate realities such as The Dark Knight Returns, Flashpoint, and the Amalgam Universe. He was alluded to in animated shows such as Teen Titans and Young Justice and made his official debut in 2010’s Batman: Under the Red Hood which received critical acclaim from fans and critics. He was a primary antagonist in Batman: Arkham Knight and a vandalized statue of Jason Todd as Robin was featured in 2016’s Batman v. Superman.
In this category, although Jason Todd has both a successful animated film and video game gaining him recognition, Bucky Barnes wins considering his popularity from the television and specifically the MCU movies, a leap Jason Todd has yet to make in the DCU. Although Jason Todd is a better known name now than when he first reappeared, Bucky Barnes and The Winter Soldier is a household name thanks to Sebastian Stan’s performance in the Captain America movie trilogy. Point to Winter Solider.
Round 4: Who had the better creative team? Out of Time and The Winter Soldier team Ed Brubaker/Steve Epting VS. Under Hood and Family Reunion: Judd Winnick/Doug Manke (and Paul Lee).
Skillfully written by a then new-to-Marvel Brubaker, the Winter Soldier story arc is sharp, tonally dark, and full of the espionage and intrigue we have since come to know and love from Captan America comics (and films!). The pencils by Steven Epting are fitting for the story – dark and clean with bent towards realism most mainstream comics at the time shied away from.
Energetic and fun, Winnick’s storytelling is a blast to read from start to finish. Manke’s strong lines and dynamic comic-style angles never disappoint throughout the run.
Brubaker has the advantage of fewer story interruptions (his story gets hijacked by a House of M tie-in and one other interlude issue; Winnick has to deal with 2 issues of the forgettable War Crimes Bat-book crossover and a guest killer Croc issue penned by someone else), but spends those issues taking his time and systematically plotting out, issue by issue, what we already know: the mysterious dark assassin is Bucky. Brubaker steers clear of classic comics tropes like big-hook cliffhangers – though Winnick uses them with such mastery you can’t deny his last pages always leave you wanting more (freaking AMAZO? How could you NOT buy the next ish?). Winick also gets points for hooking you in the opening pages of more issues than Brubaker does – using meaningful action to bring you into his story in nearly every issue of Under the Hood. Artistically, Epting and Manke couldn’t be on two farther ends of the spectrum – but Epting’s action sequences, while grand in scope (Cap vs. a HELICOPTER) look completely static compared to Manke’s energetic fight sequences. Point to Red Hood and Winnick/Manke for this one.
Ed Brubaker was a DC writer known for his work at DC and Wildstorm and his first job for Marvel was relaunching Captain America with artist Steve Epting. In the first issue alone, Winter Soldier kills Red Skull. He took a simple reveal and made it into a twelve issue conspiracy which was appropriate considering the content and the kind of reveal he was attempting. None of the conflict or situations felt forced and everything was nicely explained without deviating into unnecessary tangents. You meet a new character but through Brubaker, it becomes an international conspiracy with deep political roots that shakes Captain America and his allies to its core especially when the new is actually something old. Steve Epting’s artwork plays with shadow and action so well that it fit like a glove to Brubaker’s style. It has a nice stylized feel that is serious but has an almost animated simplicity that really makes the story pop. Epting would continue to work with Brubaker throughout his run on Captain America as an artist or cover artist. Even with the restoration of his memories by the Cosmic Cube of all devices, Bucky’s reaction was completely normal and it was clear the influence of his past as he struggles with his responsibilities both in and out of costume would be something Brubaker would continue to develop throughout his run on the character.
After his intial Batman run, Judd Winnick said himself that he wanted to do something big for his editors. This story involving the Red Hood reinvented as the new identity for a resurrected Jason Todd. You saw him systematically take down Black Mask’s organization, fight assassins and even beat the Joker with a crowbar before we knew who was under the hood. When Red Hood is revealed to be Jason, it is devastating which you can see when Alfred considers taking down Jason’s uniform from the Batcave. Although Bruce convinces him not to, you see the conflict and how it wears down on the Dark Knight who considered Jason’s death one of his greatest failures. Artist Doug Manke did phenomenal work with this series. Doug has always had such a great command of body language, emotion and detail in his style and his work really accentuated every panel. You could feel the emotion, you could see everything as clear and realistic as possible and you got a great sense of the action and movement. Jason’s resurrection which was later revealed to be because of Identity Crisis’s Superboy Prime punching reality but more importantly his time with the League of Assasins which helped restore his body and mind but leave him mentally unstable is made amazingly clear. Jason Todd’s role as a villain would be continued in other series and Judd Winnick returned to the character years later with a mini-series that further explained Jason’s return, training and journey that eventually lead him to his collaboration with Hush.
In this category, both teams are matched with talented artists who truly made their characters memorable. Regarding its writers, both writers successfully brought back two characters whose status had remained unchanged for decades, a rare achievement in the comic book medium. But although Judd Winnick had already written Batman before, Captain America was Brubaker’s first Marvel job and to come into the job with such a story that radically changed the character and the entire Marvel Universe, it’s easy to understand the high regard Ed Brubaker is held in the comic industry. Point: Winter Soldier (Ed Brubaker/Steve Epting)
Round 5: Wild Card Round: The Reveal
After re-reading both series for this article (one issue of each series at a time, so back-and-forth, just as I read them in 2005) I was surprised how easy this one was to score. I remember upon first reading how easy it was to deduce what was so clearly telegraphed by both writers – “Hey! Check this out! We’re doing the unthinkable! We’re resurrecting Bucky/Jason!” – while still reveling in the juicy story turns of each issue.
Winnick understood that the audience is smart enough to figure out that Red Hood was Jason – so he gave us the reveal the fourth issue of the run (Batman #638) – without giving us Batman’s reaction and the drama to follow until the end of the 6th issue (Batman #641). While this technically means that in real-time, Jason gets his reveal to the audience before Bucky does – it takes away some of the emotional punch by not giving us Batman’s immediate reaction (save for “Oh God” line from the first issue in the run).
Brubaker marches along dutifully – revealing the surprise to Cap in issue #6 but delaying the confrontation between the two until the very last issue of the story (#14). This builds the tension and the desire from the audience by giving them what they NEED first (the reveal) but building the tension for what they WANT (the confrontation between Bucky and Cap). Brubaker and Winter Soldier get the point.
Although the Winter Soldier’s first appearance was in Captain America #1, let’s focus on the moment in Captain America #14 when Bucky Barnes memories are restored by Captain America with the help of the Cosmic Cube. Upon having his memories restored, Bucky is so overwhelmed with guilt and horror over his past actions that he destroys the Cosmic Cube. He crushes it with his bare hands before teleporting away.
For Red Hood, let’s focus on the moment in Batman #638 where the Red Hood unmasks himself. After avoiding an assassination attempt by Mr. Freeze orchestrated by Black Mask, Red Hood tracks down t
he Joker who was hiding out in an abandoned amusement park after a brutal beating from Hush in a previous story. He proceeds to beat the Joker with a crowbar before revealing himself as Jason Todd, the Robin who the Joker beat almost to death with a crowbar before killing him and his mother in an explosion a decade or two ago.
In this category, Jason Todd wins points for the brutal symbolism before his reveal but Bucky Barnes crushing the Cosmic Cube with his bare hands after regaining his memories takes the cake. Crowbars are one thing but shattering an all-powerful weapon capable of warping reality with your bare hands? That’s definitely one way to make an exit.
POINT: The Winter Soldier
The Verdict: WINTER SOLDIER WINS!
JON: I’m not surprised by the outcome, but I WAS surprised by how much more I enjoyed myself reading the first 6 issues of the Under the Hood story arc than Out of Time. While I’ve revealed I’m a bigger fan of Winter Soldier coming out of this exercise, I’ve surprised myself by revealing I’m a bigger fan of Winnick over Brubaker! I’d have never guessed…
DREW: Jason Todd aka The Red Hood put up a good fight but Buck Barnes aka The Winter Soldier won in a landslide victory. Although I’ll admit I own far more comics that feature Bucky than I do Jason, Jason has grown on me as a character and I’m glad that he found his place as an anti-hero in the DC Universe and that he has gained a strong and vocal fan base. The real winners are the creators who took two characters whose death had remained traditionally unreversed and not only brought them back but made them relevant again. Like many before them, they freed themselves of the shadow cast by their sidekick status and found their own identities which continue to evolve in their respective universes today. In the end, Marvel simply has done more with Bucky/ The Winter Soldier in regards to other media such as television and movies and I truly hope that Jason Todd can find such popularity, no matter what role he plays, in future DC animated and full length films.
Comics by Jon Santana
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