Rick Remender takes us back into the era of the Cold War for a spy-versus-spy thriller in his mini-series, Winter Soldier: The Bitter March. The story features S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Ran Shen, as he infiltrates a Hydra base to extract two scientists before they give up the secrets of a special formula that (I’m sure you guessed it) will destroy the world if it falls into the wrong hands.
Nick Fury and Ran Shen scope out their target
Ran Shen later becomes an enemy to S.H.I.E.L.D., but Remender takes the Winter March as an opportunity to dive into Shen’s past, when he is one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top spies, working alongside Nick Fury. The five part series kicks off with one page dedicated to a briefing that introduces all the players: two scientists held at a Hydra base in Russia, two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents sent to infiltrate, and the threat of Soviet involvement. From that point forward, Remender keeps the story in the present, which is filled to the brim with action. Shen infiltrates a Hydra base and extracts the scientists only to realize that the Soviets have sent their own spy to do the same: the Winter Soldier. Much like an injured deer running away from a wolverine, Shen frantically tries to stay one step ahead of the Soviet Agent. The thrill ride takes us deep into a Hydra lair, onto a speeding train, and into the Russian forests, barely letting the reader catch his breath-- in the best way possible.
Remender uses the narration to keep us inside Ran Shen’s mind, letting us see him formulate the best course of action, and hear his fears as the Winter Soldier grows ever closer. It’s a nice touch that helps make the hairs on your neck stand up when the Soviet comes on the scene. He also tries to break female stereotypes by having having the female scientist, Mila, give a treatise on the pitfalls of government and the corruption power brings. Unfortunately, her character is designed like a James Bond love interest, with blonde hair, big blue eyes, a low cut blouse, a tight skirt, and high-heel leather boots (you know, the kind you pack to be in the middle of Russian tundra), so it becomes a little hard to swallow. Regardless, the interplay between Ran Shen’s and her philosophies sow the seeds for his future hatred of Western governments, and eventual hatred of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Roland Boschi’s high contrast, gritty artwork works really well with the furious pace of Remender’s storytelling. His action sequences flow smoothly, making the scene feel extremely fast but never confusing. He often uses silhouettes to speed up the fight scenes and add a Sin City-esque feel to the page that I found extremely pleasing. I applaud Boschi for managing to draw a great deal of character expression with a very limited cast. Also compliments to Chris Chuckry for an excellent color palette that brings the artwork into the 1960’s. Each of the five books feel dynamic, both in presentation of style and in presentation of story-- the visual team deserves all the credit.
The Winter Soldier
I would highly recommend Winter Soldier: The Bitter March, for its straightforward spy thrills, its gritty action, and a few plot twists that I thoroughly enjoyed. If you are a longtime comic book fan, or just looking for something with the Winter Soldier to chew on after seeing Captain America: The Winter Soldier, pick up these books!