**SPOILERS AHEAD FOR ‘DEVIL’S REIGN: WINTER SOLDIER #1**
Devil’s Reign: Winter Soldier #1 by Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing, Nico Leon, Felipe Sobreiro, and VC’s Joe Caramagna sees James ‘Bucky’ Barnes on a mission to uncover the horrors of his past that have since fallen into obscurity, even if the Winter Soldier wants to stay buried. The power-mad Mayor Wilson Fisk has been gathering information on superheroes operating within New York in order to better control them through the Powers Act. Through his connections, Bucky has discovered that Fisk has even collected information on his chequered past.
Experiencing nightmares and being unable to sleep over the past three weeks, Bucky moves on Gracie Mansion to find his file and find an understanding of just how long the trail of blood following him is. However, Bucky stumbles upon another mystery whilst on his infiltration mission, Wilson Fisk is there and ready to strike, yet he appears to be sleepwalking and muttering a strange mantra to himself. Bucky has to collect his file and make it out of the mansion before the indiscriminate wrath of the Kingpin comes crashing down on him.
The most interesting part of this story is the fact that it acts as a prologue for the upcoming Captain America storyline, which is evident by the fact that the writing team on this book, Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing, are also working on the upcoming title. The mission Bucky will be embarking on throughout this upcoming run is established within this issue, and therefore drops hints of how he may interact with Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson in the future, especially if he’s looking to kill someone for selfish reasons.
Moreover, this issue links back to the events of the ‘Timeless’ one-shot by Jed Mackay and Mark Bagley, in which Kang the Conqueror, and the reader, is offered a glimpse into the future of the Marvel Universe; it is shown that at some point this year Bucky Barnes will kill Steve Rogers Captain America, so Marvel fans who have collected this issue will be able to connect the dots from this point, the start of Bucky’s new mission of self-discovery, and his conflicts with Steve Rogers in the future.
Whilst introducing the stakes of the upcoming Captain America book through a one-shot connected to the wider Devil’s Reign story allows for an expansion of the universe and offers collectors and completionists more reason to collect every tie-in book, casual readers may miss out on this introductory chapter. Whilst Bucky’s infiltration of Gracie Mansion will likely be recapped within the upcoming Captain America book, readers who skipped on this issue won’t necessarily be privy to the mindset and emotions Bucky held during it.
Continuing on the point of Bucky’s mindset, Kelly and Lanzing make a point of not giving Bucky any dialogue whilst by himself, only providing information to the reader through his internal monologue. Whilst making sense in canon and in Bucky’s characterization, it also ensures, in regards to the stories’ progression, that Bucky is constantly moving towards his goal, meaning there is never a moment in which everything feels stagnant.
Bucky’s thoughts offer a new perspective on his mission and want for an understanding of what he’s done; Bucky emphasizes that it was not through his own agency that he used the cosmic cube to break his conditioning, but through Steve’s efforts were his crimes by the Winter Soldier forgiven. However, Bucky has not forgiven himself, as he does not fully comprehend what he needs to let go of, meaning there are still holes in his character and sense of self.
As everything Bucky is communicating to the reader takes place within his own head, Kelly and Lanzing are able to interlace his physical actions with what he experiences in his nightmares, establishing that the traumatic imagery he experiences through his dreams is bleeding into his perception of reality. The theme of dreams and trauma invading one’s reality is strengthened by the collaboration between penciler Nico Leon and colorist Felipe Sobreiro. The nightmares that Bucky experiences regarding the atrocities committed by the Winter Soldier are showcased as a montage of corpses and horrified faces, washed in a consistent color palette of black and red.
This choice of visual themes allows the reader to identify when Bucky’s mind is slipping and his dreams are manifesting in reality, and is further exemplified due to it’s contrast of the snowy New York, which is depicted with a cooler colour palette consisting of navy and grey. This focus on contrasting color palettes is also showcased in the opening of the book which focuses on Wilson Fisk.
Whilst in his bathroom, Fisk sees Daredevil appear within his mirror rather than his own reflection; Fisk’s bathroom is mainly grey, with Daredevil being shown as red with deep black patches for his shadow, implying Wilson Fisk is also losing mental stability due to obsession with the man with no fear, furthering the mystery behind his sleepwalking.
A highlight of Leon’s pencils is the depiction of Wilson Fisk. Fisk is depicted as a machine of a man, with muscles on top of muscles building to create a looming figure of strength and introducing a sense of dread. This sense of dread is truly exemplified through Bucky and Fisk’s meeting in Gracie Mansion, with Fisk, cast in shadow, suddenly appearing behind Bucky, with nothing but his massive bloody fists shown in the light.
The sudden appearance of a bloodied Wilson Fisk acts a deliberate twist by Kelly and Lanzing, as his bloody fists are then shown within the black and red color palette of Bucky’s nightmares, meaning the depiction of the mansion and the bodies within it in this color palette were not Bucky’s mental stability slipping but the doing of Wilson Fisk.
Throughout the issue, Wilson Fisk has been repeating to himself that he doesn’t need to know the identity of Daredevil, which Daredevil himself erased from Fisk’s mind within the first issue of the main Devil’s Reign story. This repeated mantra and Fisk’s attempts to quell his desire have led him to embark on a rampage whilst sleepwalking, imagining himself killing Daredevil.
This rage bubbling out from within Wilson Fisk is showcased in the issue’s splash page, in which the massive frame of Wilson Fisk takes up both pages as he screams out in anger and strikes Bucky with all his force. The black and red colour palette fully takes over the pages again with cracks appearing on the pages edges as if to signify both Bucky and Fisk’s minds shattering simultaneously. From this point on the environment and Fisk are coloured in black and red, to show that both Bucky and him are dreaming.
Due to the initial shock of Fisk’s unbridled rage, Bucky is colored the same as his nightmare, his exhaustion is taking over. Expectedly, the Winter Soldier training kicks in shortly after the fight commences, and he goes from being cast in red and back to the pale blues he was previously, signifying his awareness and focus. This fight offers a classic David and Goliath-like bout, with the agility and focus of Bucky being challenged by the size and strength of Fisk.
However a strange panel appears in the midst of it, at one point a character appearing to be the ‘Nomad’ persona taken up by Steve Rogers, furthering the mystery of Bucky’s past and how the Nomad character may influence his character in the upcoming Captain America story. Bucky is unable to win against Fisk, but he is able to make his escape with his life and some of the files as the mansion crumbles.
The issue ends with the focus once more on the mystery of Bucky’s past as the Winter Soldier. He opens the file but does not find closure, but just a measurement of the trail of blood behind him. One thing is revealed, Fisk did not make these files, he stole them, someone more powerful is out there and Bucky is still a part of their game. Bucky now has his one mission, to kill whoever is keeping him as a pawn.
Devil’s Reign: Winter Soldier acts as a strong introduction to the upcoming Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing run on Captain America, establishing the themes of personal trauma and obsession over the need for understanding and fulfilling gaps within our mentality. The strength of these themes is that it allows the issue to still hold a strong connection to the wider Devil’s Reign storyline rather than just as a setup for Captain America, as the themes and emotions Bucky is tackling are applied to Wilson Fisk, furthering his characterization in relation to his introduction of the Powers Act and hatred of Daredevil.
Although being mainly concerned with the journey Bucky will go in the future, it establishes another competent mystery surrounding Wilson Fisk experiencing sleepwalking fits and how it unleashes his, up to now, contained rage. How these two mysteries shall unravel will pose an interesting dilemma for the street-level heroes of the Marvel Universe
Devil’s Reign: Winter Soldier #1 is available now at your local comic book shop and digital platforms.
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