it wasn’t until seeing this fic that I made a really obvious connection, which is that Bucky’s pain in the comics is manpain. And by this I mean… manpain. It’s extremely gendered. The substance of manpain is that a man is unable to be successful at being a Man (unable to protect his people, unable to succeed sexually, unable to dominate, etc) and responds by asserting his masculinity through alternative routes (such as… riding off on a motorcycle into the rainy night, probably carrying an automatic rifle and shedding a single tear). And that is the nature of what happens to Bucky.
Bucky’s victimization in the comics is focused on the removal of his manliness. His amnesia is not artificial, but the result of his death and subsequent resuscitation; what the Soviets do to him is make him betray his captain and his country. They also metaphorically freeze him at the age of 20, in the sense that his adult life from then on is a constructed fiction. They literally freeze him as well, ensuring that, even physically, he matures slowly. They deny him the right to have wild crazy animal sex with Natasha, and punish him for his virility.
(Cutting for length. Stuff about the film under the cut also.)
I think it’s important to note that this whole arc takes place in a comics run so hypermasculine that testosterone practically drips off the page. (I hate Steve Epting, sorrynotsorry, in large part because of his unbearable and ridiculous square-jawed men.) I don’t think it’s coincidental that, when the Winter Soldier shows up, he has that sexxxy long hair… in contrast to Cap’s blond military crewcut. If there’s one thing we know about unmanly Communists, it’s that they have shaggy hair, amirite?
The terrible things that happen subsequent to this are also gendered. Bucky can’t protect Cap from being killed. He ends up in vaguely sexual danger, as Faustus locks him spread-eagled in a re-brainwashing machine and tries to make him kill women. He can’t protect or avenge himself, since he can be “turned off” with a single codeword. Later, a major feature of his existence is his complex and untraditional relationship with Natasha, and while I’ll spare you all my pages and pages of thoughts on their relationship, I’ll say that I think a major part of what makes it successful and intriguing is that each is capable of dominating the other in particular ways. So: awesome, but not traditionally masculine. THEN Bucky is unable to protect Natasha, and in fact gets her brainwashed and almost killed, and he re-brainwashes himself, and he loses Natasha, and it’s just a festival of manpain.
And let’s not forget the gulag: oh, how could we forget the gulag. The gulag, where Bucky– having failed at being Captain America, had his shame exposed to the world, and been made a prisoner– acts out the violence of his emotions by wrestling giant dudes (because sometimes riding a motorcycle in the rain just isn’t enough).
My point is: soooooo much of Bucky’s arc in the comics has to do with Proving He’s a Man in the face of all these experiences that threaten his masculinity. (I probably kind of sound like I hate 616!Bucky. I don’t; I actually love 616!Bucky, but I do find his manpain faintly ridiculous.)
My second point is: what Bucky has in the MCU is not manpain. It’s just pain. (Someone made this distinction previously with Steve, talking about the legitimacy of his reactions both in The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier, which probably put the framework for this in my head.)
Where the experiences Bucky suffers in the comics are destructive to his masculinity, the experiences he suffers in the film are destructive to his humanity. The Winter Soldier, in the comics, has a coherent self– that is, while the Soviets “implant” programming in him– “We gave him a purpose, and we made him loyal to no one but us”– he is fundamentally a functioning human being, albeit one who remembers nothing of his past life. (His time in New York in 1973 is apparently a fugue state that he lapses into and out of.) He’s capable of love, sarcasm, rebellion, backtalk… none of these things that the MCU Winter Soldier can easily be imagined practicing. I mean, for manpain to be induced, one has to be a man first, and the 616 Winter Soldier is a man.
That’s not really true of the MCU Winter Soldier. It’s implied that he is “wiped” frequently– that his entire consciousness is taken, and he is reduced to an almost mechanical state. It’s possible that at points in the past he’s been implanted with enough consciousness to function more (maybe? depending on what gets canonized in the future), but beneath that, he appears to have no coherent self beyond sort of childlike violence.
The movie’s depiction of his past, in the brief burst of memories we see, also takes a very different focus to the comics’. In the comics, Bucky’s betrayal of his country is forefronted: we get lots of images of him doing fightin’ stuff, in disguise, and so on. We briefly glimpse his surgery, but he’s sedated, and there’s no hint that he is ever tortured. By contrast, the movie emphasizes Bucky’s consciousness both as he’s dragged, bleeding, across the snow and as his arm is amputated/replaced. This is a really important point, I think, because the Soviets in the comics treat Bucky like a human being, albeit one they plan to exploit: you sedate human beings for surgery. In the film, Bucky is treated as subhuman. This is also true in the present, where we see him treated as a leashed dog, manhandled by Pierce, and effectively tortured by the device that wipes his memories. (In the comics, his memory implantation is a peaceful, or at least “peaceful,” process, for which he is not even restrained.)
None of this is gendered violence, in the sense that it targets his manliness. And one reason that’s really significant is that it speaks to certain assumptions about audience. If you’ve read Brubaker’s Captain America, you will probably agree that it assumes its audience is male. It is all about men being Men and women being…… uh. So the threats that it presents are Man Threats. ( …That alone is, like, a WHOLE essay.) They’re not Human Threats.
The threats that CA: TWS presents are human threats. They are threats to humanness. And the pain that results from these is pain that has nothing to do with gender or the performance of its expectations. (It’s interesting also that, while Natasha’s issues tend to also be heavily gendered in many comics, focusing on her deadly glamor and deceptive womanliness, her pain is also ungendered in the film: focused on her trustworthiness as a fellow warrior.) That is so important, and I just… want to protect it and not let Brubaker anywhere near it… forever and ever…