Winter Soldier: The Bitter March (2014)
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Roland Boschi
Captain America Volume 3: Loose Nuke(2014)
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Carlos Pacheco
It’s 1966, and the Cold War is at its zenith. Europe has become a labyrinth of spies and counter-spies, agents and double agents. SHIELD Agent Ran Shen has been sent to intercept a pair of former Nazi scientists before the Soviets can get them in their clutches. This means Agent Shen is put up against The Winter Soldier, the presumed dead partner of Captain America Bucky who has been turned into a mindless assassin by the Russians. Hydra becomes involved, acting as the stand-in for Spectre in this James Bond homage. The Hydra killer Drain is dispatched to lead a squad of hitmen to take out Shen and Bucky while bringing the Nazi scientists into their fold.
Titling the mini-series using Winter Soldier’s name is an incredibly false move because this is a story told from the perspective of and about Ran Shen. I think it’s a smart move to shift a Cold War era SHIELD story to focus on an agent in the field. Nick Fury is too superhuman at this point, and Winter Soldier doesn’t have much character. The shame is that for any of the character development Ran Shen receives it doesn’t carry over into Shen’s return in the pages of Captain America: Loose Nuke. More on that in a bit. This is to say that I warmed up to Shen by the conclusion of The Bitter March and was disappointed to see him so wasted.
Remender delivers a very middling story here. It hits all the notes you would expect but never goes beyond our expectations. Everything plays out the way you would suspect. There’s a fight on board a moving train, a slide down the side of a snowy mountain, and even a showdown in the villain’s headquarters. There’s very little application of spy practices and techniques, just the sort of brute throwdowns you get in a Bond movie. It’s not terrible; it’s just not exciting or fun.
This mini-series sets into play the events of Loose Nuke. Captain America is back from Dimension Z but has suffered a couple of losses. He doesn’t have time to process that for too long when the psychopathic Nuke shows up rampaging in an Eastern European country. Whereas the Escape from Dimension Z puts Cap in a high stakes situation, outside of his comfort and understanding, Loose Nuke is right back in the wheelhouse of stories you expect in a Cap comic. This is Cap and Falcon fighting a villain who presents a twisted view of American/capitalist ideology.
Playing out in the background, and the core arc that carries over into the next volume is the story of Ran Shen and his transformation into The Iron Nail, a communist version of Fu Manchu. He kidnaps some of the world’s elite and forces them into working in his subterranean mines, believing this to be an adequate punishment for their crimes against their fellow man. If you pushed me to explain the goals of The Iron Nail well I would have to shrug because I can’t come up with anything. Everything about The Iron Nail feels ultimately generic, and he’s one of the most forgettable Cap villains I’ve ever read. This is a shame because he carries over into the next volume of Remender’s run which we’ll talk about next time.