On Your Left

I have to say this: you guys are incredible, and your response to The Ghost in the Machine was borderline phenomenal. I got several responses asking for a follow-up post, so I could cover all the extra little bases I left out in the first. Finally,  I caved – I think it was a result of listening to Bastille’s Bad Blood and David Guetta’s Titanium too many times in a row.

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1. We watched Captain America: The First Avenger again about a week ago, and naturally I was watching Bucky very closely; this being the first time I’d seen it since watching The Winter Soldier. Pushing all the feels aside and watching it from a more analytical point of view, I was – like I always am – amazed at the way Marvel writers weave things together. Things like -

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2. Here’s another interesting thing. I mentioned Bucky muttering his serial number when Steve rescues him from headquarters, but there’s a catch. Bucky’s serial number was 32557. Technically, since he was from New York, if he had enlisted, his serial number should have been 12557. The number 32 was assigned to someone who was drafted. Bucky tells Steve that he enlisted, that he was shipping out with the 107th, and this tells us a lot about his character. Here we have someone enjoying the best years of his life, perfectly content to flirt with girls and dig Steve out of trouble time and time again, but reluctant to go to war. Yet he’s seen his best friend try and enlist – and get rejected – half a dozen times, and he can’t bring himself to tell him. Bucky is afraid of war, and he’s even more afraid that Steve will think badly of him.

But Bucky isn’t afraid of fighting – this is made evident by all the times he gets into fights to save Steve. So the only plausible explanation is that he’s afraid of the fact he likes it. Someone once said ‘we become what we fear,’ and in Bucky’s case, this was all too true, in the long run. Icarus flew too high and was forced to watch his feathers burn, turning him into a (figurative, then literal) war machine.

HYDRA turned him into a weapon, trapped him inside his own body, and unraveled his mind - but they forgot about his heart.

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3. After Steve rescued Bucky from Austria, we can painfully see that, for Bucky, the world he knew has ended – in more ways than one. He’s not the same person, but worse – neither is Steve. For all those years, since they were scrappy teenagers, Steve was Bucky’s anchor.  Now that Steve is Steve 2.0, bigger and better, Bucky’s purpose in life – watch Steve’s back – is gone. This was amplified when he became the Winter Soldier, as HYDRA gave him a purpose. His need for someone to protect was turned on its head, which factored into making him the perfect soldier.

“The way Bucky was written in the earlier comic books is very different than how we decided to go with in the movie. One thing that particularly really drew me to, what I was able to find out about Bucky, as a character, is that he ended up doing the dirty work I think that added a very interesting dynamic between his relationship with Steve Rogers. Captain America was always kinda like the symbol and the guy that kind of walked away with the spotlight. And Bucky was trained to do sort of the stuff around the edges. And I really liked that because I thought it added a different edge to him.” – Sebastian Stan

4. The Winter Soldier was credited with twenty-five missions over the course of seventy-three years, but he already knew how to fight when he went under HYDRA’s knife. Steve knew how to fight before he became Captain America – he just didn’t have the physical ability to fight and win. The fight scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier really stuck out to me because they both have very different fighting styles – Steve uses three different styles in the movie while Bucky plows through things with complete disregard for personal safety – and yet. And yet. There were several moments where they were so evenly matched that they were almost mirroring each other; like they were inside each other’s heads. They know what the other person is going to do before they do it.

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Why? Because Bucky is the one who, so long ago, taught Steve how to defend himself. When it comes to blows between them, the fancy fighting stiles fly out the window and they revert to basic, Brooklyn brawling – fists up, use your strength, anticipate. Things Bucky would have taught Steve, back when they were boys.

(NOTE: This is more of a conspiracy theory then anything else, BUT. The Winter Soldier’s arm comes in contact with the shield pretty often. He catches it, blocks it when it’s thrown, and even punches it – without any kind of blowback. Back when he gave the shield to Steve, Howard Stark said it was ‘completely shock absorbent’ – also, the only vibranium in the world. I can’t help but wonder whether HYDRA found some more to make Bucky’s arm with…because really, it’s the only thing that makes sense.)

5. And one last thing, that struck me so hard I had to make a graphic for it.

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The opening and closing lines of Captain America: The Winter Soldier are three words – “On your left.” Look who’s always on Steve’s left in The First Avenger. Bucky Barnes.

On your left, Steve. Always on your left.

Snippets of a Story – April

I’ve been a bit absentee here this month, and I do apologize – a lot has been happening, and it’s occupied the majority of my brain space. I’m NOT going to Colorado this summer, for a majority of reasons – so on the upside, I won’t have to neglect any of you! I’m a chapter away from finishing Paper Hearts, so I’m procrastinating badly. I always do, with that last chapter. It’s like knowing you have to say good-bye to a good friend. I’ve been reading (fiction, of course; but also some non-fiction; currently a book about Shakespeare’s life before he was famous and ‘Man and His Symbols’ by Carl Jung) and yesterday we helped my sister Maralie pack – they’re moving back to Washington! We’re going to miss them. A lot. But here I’m making myself sad. Onward with the snippets!

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Rusty grunted and pulled out one of the books. “I’d forgotten all about this one.”

            I tried to catch a glimpse of the cover, but all I saw was green. “Which one?”

            “It’s a bonus book I wrote – oh, fifty years ago or so.”

            I blinked. “You forgot your own book?”

            “My dear Rooney, I’d forgotten my own name. Things haven’t entirely come back yet.”

            “Maybe you should stop being a wysling and just write books about yourself,” I suggested.

            He either chose to ignore the jab, or it sailed over his head. “That might not be a bad idea.” He settled down on the couch to read his own book, and I prepared pancakes while Patrick paced back and forth on the counter, sticking his head into bowls and sniffing and occasionally stirring the syrup heating on the stove. - Paper Hearts

When I first beheld the isle that was to be my prison, I thought it a harsh, ugly place. Tangled sea-grasses blew in the wind like the mane of a wild pony, and where it did not grow, nothing was visible except lumps of black rock. There was nothing friendly about this place, no sign of welcome. When I asked the ferryman whether the whole isle kept such an austere appearance he assured me that nearer the middle of the island there grew a forest –a dark, unkempt place better suited to wild animals and other creatures.

            “Other creatures?” I had inquired. “What other creatures?”

            He tapped the side of his bent nose with a finger. “Creatures, you know, miss.”

            “No, I do not know,” I replied, my curiosity aroused. “That is why I asked.”

            “Best not to mention unnatural things,” he said. “They can hear it.” - This Rough Magic

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­The city was a good place to get lost in. Sheer numbers gave every individual a kind of anonymity, and Alice wrapped herself in it like a suit of armor or a camouflage coat. Head down, walk quickly, don’t catch anyone’s eye. That was the trap. If you looked someone in the eye, they all seemed to feel like that was the universal code for ‘talk to me.’ Blending in was key. No one was going to go out of their way to talk to a girl who looked like a bad-tempered drug addict. - Impossible Things

She was a hard book to read, my sister. She felt things deeply, but could at times seem so stoic as to be practically Spartan. I remembered one afternoon when we were children, and the rain streaked in abstract patterns down the window-glass, sitting on my bed. I had taken the head and she had taken the foot, and I was brushing her hair with mother’s stiff, pearl-handled brush.

            Out of nowhere, I had asked, “Do you mind?”

            She shifted, tucking her feet under the hem of her nightdress. “Do I mind what?”

            “You know.” Her hair smoothed like honeyed waves down her back with each stroke of the brush. “Being born without…it.”

            She knew what ‘it’ was; I did not have to clarify. ‘Magic’ was a vulgar word that even wizards refrained from using. They preferred to speak of their particular ‘talents,’ as though it would fool everyone else into believing they were ordinary, and not to be feared. It seemed to work on nearly everyone, but in my mind I privately called it magic anyway.

            “No,” she told me. “I don’t mind.”

            “Don’t you miss it?”

            “If I had it and lost it, then I would miss it, but since I never had it, what’s the point?” - This Rough Magic

Something warm and wet in my face woke me up. I gave an indelicate shriek and toppled out of bed – or halfway out, as Rusty caught my arm before my head could hit the wooden floor. Ginger jumped off the bed and ran in circles around my face. I jerked up before she could lick me again.

            I groggily eyed Rusty. “You can let go now.”

            He released my arm and said, “Pancakes.”

            “Hmm?” I pushed my hair out of my face and wished it would behave in the morning. “Pancakes?”

            “That’s what Azrael said. I don’t know what he meant, but he told me to wake you up and say ‘pancakes.’”

            “Oh,” I said, recalling my promise from the night before. “Pancakes. Right.” I slid out of bed and fell off balance to avoid stepping on Ginger’s wagging tail. I stumbled around the edge of the bed and pushed the drapes apart again. Sunlight burst through, bright and welcoming and entirely too cheerful for this time of day.

            “Must be a magic word,” said Rusty.

            “What?”

            “Pancake. I’m going to have to start using it. See if it works miracles for me, too.”

            “It means pancakes,” I said, giving him a blank stare.

            “Apparently it raises the dead, too.” He gave me a pointed once-over and left the room, snapping for Ginger. The dog followed him out with a yapping bark. - Paper Hearts

            “You should be taking therapy, not me.”

            “Ah.” He waved a hand dismissively. “I don’t need it.”

            “Maybe fashion advice, then.” Alice spat a strand of windblown hair out of her mouth. “Your hat went out of style a hundred years ago.”

            He affected indignation. “Hey,” he admonished. “Respect the hat.”

            “It’s not the only thing,” Alice continued. Her apartment block was in sight now, slowly approaching with every step. “That paisley vest thing you wear? I’m not sure it was ever in style. And cravats went out with the Scarlet Pimpernel.”

            “Is that so?” He sounded amused. A young woman with her hair dyed straight-up white walked past them and he watched her until she passed, a strange shade crossing his face. It was gone in an instant, and Alice decided she had imagined it.

            “You should also look into wearing normal shoes now and then,” she added. “Tennis shoes or something. Leather scuffs.”

            He smiled in good-natured response to her criticism. “You’re awfully talkative this afternoon.”

            “It’s an allergic reaction to you,” she said immediately.

            “Oh. Wow.” He patted his coat, above his heart. “You know how to hurt someone’s feelings.”

            “If you’d stop talking to me, that wouldn’t happen.”

            “Ah, but then you would never get any practice.”

            “I’m already so good at it, imagine what I could do if I really tried,” she answered, unable to help the brief smile that flickered across her face. His efforts to pull her out of her shell might be annoying and unwelcome, but they had the irritating habit of working. - Impossible Things

            “It seems like a friendly skull,” I said, sitting down next to it and rubbing it fondly with the palm of my hand. It continued to stare out at Azrael and the marionette with forlorn eye sockets.

            Azrael raked his fingers back and forth through his mass of curly ginger hair until it stuck up in all directions. “It’s a skull, Rooney. It can’t look friendly. It can’t look anything but skullish.” - Paper Hearts

            “Miranda,” I said, but there was only a little reproof in my voice. Neither of us liked the manservant, if he could properly be called ‘man’ anything. Every time he saw my sister, his face took a lecherous turn. He also groveled too much, and it put me off.

            “Prosper,” she said, mimicking my intonation of her name. “Please, can’t you ask him?”

            “No,” I said, jutting out my chin. “I’ll demand it; and if he refuses, I’ll turn him out of the house.”

            “You cannot,” she told me, smoothing the ivory-soft skirt of her dress absently with a pale hand. “You know it.”

            “I do.” I shrugged. “But if we were not allowed to imagine good things in life, where would we be?”

            Her lips twitched, but she managed to level her eyes disapprovingly. “Be kind.”

            “Kindness is not in my nature.”

            She sighed. “What would you be without me?”

            “The mean-hearted wench I was born as.”

            “Nobody is born mean-hearted.”

            “Tell that to Caliban,” I retorted, just as knuckles rasped against my bedroom door. - This Rough Magic

She took a pencil and turned it between two fingers, ready to write down a note or connect two dots, but nothing made sense. Remembering dreams was like pulling all the legs off a caterpillar and still expecting it to be able to walk – crazy and impossible.

            Also pointless. - Impossible Things

His face was wild, his hair strangely feral and nearly indecent without the hat to cover it up.  - Impossible Things

“You know a watched kettle never boils,” he said from the doorway.

            “It’s a watched pot,” she corrected. The handle of the knife dug into her hand, and her thumb strayed down to the blade. “And I’m not watching it. I’m intimidating it.”

            “It’s being defiant.”

            “I’m going to have it beheaded.”

            “I’m not sure it deserves that.” He smiled and, reaching up, touched the neck of his bathrobe, as if feeling personally wounded for the kettle’s sake. - Impossible Things

She’d just have to get over this, too. Maybe she could ask Carol for another kind of pill; anti-hallucination pills or something. It was too bad you couldn’t take straight-up sanity, she thought; shoot it through a vein or swallow it in pill form, or breathe it in like smoke.

            The sanest person in her life was her psychiatrist, and that was a depressing thought. - Impossible Things

The Ghost in the Machine

WARNING: Spoilers, sweetie. You’ve been forewarned.

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So a week ago we went to the midnight (read: 8:00 p.m. Georgians retire early) showing of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and if you’ve been around me for any length of time you know exactly how deep-rooted my feelings for this story (read: Bucky. And everyone else, but mostly Bucky) are. I was hoping with every bone in my body that the second Captain America movie would be about the winter soldier, and lo and behold, my wish was granted - more heartbreakingly and beautifully than I had dared to imagine. James Barnes is the only character in the Marvel universe to trump my affection for Loki. Enough people have asked why I feel this way that I thought, “Why not – I’m going to write a dissertation about him.” Leaving aside the brilliant acting on Sebastian Stan’s part (it helped that I’ve been a fan of his for several years) and just focusing on the character, I put forth a paper that will hopefully help explain a few of my (very strong) feelings on the subject. So without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I present:

The Ghost in the Machine

____________________________

In defense of the Winter Soldier

“I don’t think he’s the kind you save. He’s the kind you stop.”

buckyyyyIt starts with his name. ‘Winter Soldier’ was a phrase used in World War II for a soldier who would do what was required, no matter the danger or the pain. A winter soldier was someone you could lean your full weight on and know they would carry you until their legs broke and their lungs collapsed.

                Sergeant James Barnes was such a man. When no one wanted anything to do with Steve Rogers, Bucky stepped down off his pedestal and offered him a hand. He was no fair-weather friend – he would stay by Steve until the end of the line.

                Before the war broke out, Bucky was Steve’s rock, his brother in everything but blood. He gave Steve protection and shoulders to stand on, and in return he gained a friend, the best person he had ever known. They were two Brooklyn boys who saw past the faces they wore to the hearts beneath.

                But where Steve was softhearted and merciful, Bucky took no guff. He was used to defending the weaker man, and like Steve, had a strong distaste for bullies and those who preyed on the defenseless. When Bucky was shipped off to war, he found his boyish view of war as an adventure shattered; ripped apart by grenades, drowned in blood and buried in the dirt along with countless comrades. Capture by HYDRA was one of the worst endings a life could have – everyone knew that to die at the hands of the Nazi deep science division was to die in agony.

                The 107th held out hope for a rescue, but weeks passed and men died; killed for weakness, or murdered in Zola’s experiments. Tim Dugan, one of the future Howling Commandoes, said that nobody who went in to the experimentation room came out again.

                Nobody, that is, except Bucky Barnes. Steve finds his best friend half-conscious and strapped to a table, repeating the same thing over and over – name, rank, and serial number.

                Things only repeated under interrogation and torture. Even after Bucky had given up hope of rescue, his honor and duty to his country remained.

                Bucky sees Steve’s transformation, and his only reaction after a shocked smile is, “I thought you were smaller.” Some have said this is only because he was dazed, that his reaction would have been different if he was completely himself, but this attitude carries onto the bridge after Schmidt begins the destruction of the facility. With a broken bridge and a chasm of fire between him and his friend, Steve says, “Go!” Bucky’s immediate response, even after weeks of torture and pain, is, “No! Not without you.”

                Captain America and the 107th make it back to their base, but Bucky is not the same man he was when he left. In many ways, Bucky never did come back. He’s darker, changed by captivity. His love for Steve shines through as he raises a cheer for Captain America, but his face falls, and it isn’t until Steve seeks his face out that Bucky smiles. He’s putting on a show for his best friend, hiding the confused, broken pieces that ask what happened to him? Why will he need me now? How did our roles change so suddenly? What am I going to do?

                He has returned from hell to a world where he is overshadowed by a shined-and-polished monument to his friend. Loyalty defeats resentment, but the carefree boy died in HYDRA’s lab and Bucky is now a haunted man, willing to cover his hands in dirt and blood and quiet anger.

                Captain America isn’t the man he knows – he’s seen the true Steve, and that is who he’s willing to fight for. In an interesting moment, a HYDRA soldier surprises Steve, only to be cut down by a perfect shot to the head. Steve turns around, and his expression changes from concern to surprise to puzzlement when he sees Bucky, a sniper rifle in his hands and a stone-cold shade in his eyes. This is a side to Bucky Steve never saw and does not possess – the unflinching killer. Because Steve has not yetbucky35 realized that Bucky may have entered Austria, but the Winter Soldier came out.

                Bucky’s new status as ‘sidekick’ is a bitter taste to swallow – he is overlooked in favor for Steve, and even remarks with a strained laugh, “I’m turning into you. This is like some horrible dream.” His loyalty is still strong and he even jokes with Steve now and then, trying to bring some semblance of their old normality into the present where everything is different.

                They’re an unstoppable team – until Bucky saves the life of his Captain and plunges, not to his death, but to his demise. He is given the same serum as Schmidt and Steve, and his qualities – what he is truly made of – are amplified.

                Loyalty. Willingness. Tenacity.

                He goes from the perfect soldier to the perfect supersoldier, a weapon of mass destruction. For seventy-two years he is put in cryosleep, awoken, told to kill, told to report, repaired and frozen again. He no longer sees himself as a person, or even human. He is ‘the Asset,’ a tool to be welded by those in charge. He tears through any opening he can find and when there is none, he makes one. He gets the job done and takes down anything in his way.

                “He’s a ghost,” Fury tells Steve about the Winter Soldier, and he is right in more ways than one.

                The Winter Soldier doesn’t question.

                Until he sees a man on a bridge, and the man looks straight at him, and calls him a name.

                “Bucky?”

                He doesn’t remember Bucky, but he knows this man. He falters, confused, uncertain – and then panics, throwing a wild shot at Steve and running back to the people he hates and serves and knows. But this man on the bridge dug a needle in his mind, messed with his head. His overseers describe his mood as ‘unstable’ and ‘erratic’ when he returns. Pearce demands a report, and when the Asset does not immediately respond, strikes his face. The Asset doesn’t flinch, and we see how fully in their control he is. He is captive in a room, sitting – untied – surrounded by men he could easily destroy.

                “That man on the bridge,” he says with single-mindedness, voicing his own thought for perhaps the first time in years. “Who was he?”

                “You met him earlier this week on another assignment,” is the vague response.

                “I knew him,” says the Winter Soldier. Pierce, upset by his Asset’s insistence, gives us a lot of insight. Bucky has been treated like an abused child – beaten, praised, sent to do horrible things, and put back in cryosleep as soon as he began to think.

                Bucky lifts his eyes. “But I knew him,” he repeats, and it’s written across every line on his face. He needs to know, so desperately wants it to be real, to remember something that was his; and he knows the pain his question will bring. He asks it anyway. His face shutters, resigned and bitter, as he’s strapped down. He opens his mouth willingly but resentfully, to bite the bullet, and yet we see the fear as his mind is once more reduced to a blank slate.

                He’s sent to take down Steve once more, but this time there is no mask, no faceless, emotionless battle. This fight is raw; the Winter Soldier torn in pieces, fighting his best friend, fighting to kill his questions and their consequences. It becomes a battle between men, not machines.

                “You know me,” Steve pleads.

                “No, I don’t,” Bucky screams, afraid to admit the other man is right. The man who saved his life, even as he bled out from a bullet wound.

                “You’re my friend,” says Steve, throwing down his shield; the blue star sacrificed for the red.

                “You’re my mission,” the soldier snarls. Instinct, fury, bewilderment and agony can’t overcome that one loose thread in his mind, no matter how hard he tries, and as Steve, bloodied and bruised, manages, “I’m with you…to the end of the line,” the soldier freezes.

                He watches Steve fall, paralyzed by that one tiny, overwhelming thought.

                And for reasons he can’t explain or reason, he follows. He pulls Steve – oblivious, unconscious, mission – out of the water.

                He walks away.

                He walks away, a ghost in search of his human; a winter soldier in search of a man.

                In search of Bucky Barnes.

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Footnote: This is not a complete article. There are many other things I could talk about; from the metal arm to the fight choreography and beyond; if you want me to expound any more, just ask the questions in the comments. ^_^