The Untapped Potential: Why Bucky Barnes Was Destined To Become The Next Captain America In The MCU

Sam Wilson is the new Captain America for Brave New World, but Steve Rogers’ best friend, Bucky Barnes, may have made more sense as his successor.

The original hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn’t Iron Man, but rather the World War II icon Steve Rogers aka Captain America. Rogers’ adventures came to an end with the conclusion of Avengers: Endgame, and he’s since been succeeded by Sam Wilson, who was previously his former sidekick, Falcon. Some fans, however, felt that another former ally of Steve Rogers might have made more sense as the new Captain America. That’s especially the case given the current state of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Currently, the MCU is a bit rudderless compared to its heyday, and it’s notably lacking a defined Avengers team. Hype for a new version of the Avengers might be stronger if Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier, was the one who had succeeded Steve Rogers as Captain America. Likewise, he actually has far more reason to take up the mantle than Sam Wilson, both in terms of narrative, and in terms of moral strength.

Bucky as Captain America Offered More Narrative Potential

The entire concept of the Disney+ TV series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was to cement the true new Captain America. In the case of Sam Wilson, a central premise was the concept of his taking up the mantle as a black man. While this offered its own strong themes and storytelling potential, Bucky Barnes is still the stronger candidate for his best friend’s mantle, given his history. After all, Bucky had been brainwashed into becoming the assassin known as The Winter Soldier, removing him from his heroics during the events of World War II. Thus, a series that saw Bucky take up the mantle of his deceased friend could have written itself.

Essentially, it would have been a redemption story, with Bucky proving to himself and the world at large that he was no longer the killer that his brainwashing had made him into. Likewise, his questioning of whether he was worthy of replacing a good man like Steve Rogers would ultimately have been proof that he was just as good of a man. Likewise, this sort of legacy should logically mean more to Bucky than Sam, as he knew Steve for decades prior. Currently, Bucky is poised to lead the Thunderbolts, but such a role actually might have fit Sam Wilson due to his previous experience as a counselor.

There’s also the fact that Bucky Barnes’ adventures in the role of Captain America were part of the acclaimed Ed Brubaker run on Captain America. This series was lauded as the Sentinel of Liberty’s best comic book run, with only Mark Gruenwald’s comics from several years prior even coming close to the same level of renown and reception. Thus, Bucky has well-liked source material to pull from, meaning that his becoming the new MCU Captain America inherently might have had more longevity.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Didn’t Properly Establish Sam Wilson’s Heroism

One issue that some fans point to concerning Sam Wilson becoming the new Captain America is a quote attributed to Professor Erskine, who created the Super Soldier Serum. This dichotomy involved a good soldier not necessarily being a good man and vice versa. This phrase describes why Steve Rogers was the best candidate to become Captain America. It’s been looked back upon to justify the erratic John Walker not being Captain America’s true successor. Sadly, it’s sometimes also used as an erroneous reason to keep the shield out of Bucky’s hands.

Bucky Barnes was never focused on being a good soldier, and he simply wanted to both serve his country and look out for his friend Steve Rogers. Likewise, he had to be brainwashed into becoming The Winter Soldier in order to be made into a good soldier. Conversely, he’s horrified at his past and wants to desperately escape it, especially since it was only while under this mind control that he committed such acts. Sam Wilson, on the other hand, is regularly shown as compliant with whatever Steve Rogers values. Thus, he is the epitome of “just a good soldier.” Again, Bucky is horrified by his flagrant violence as The Winter Soldier, yet Sam Wilson has no problem killing terrorists that stand in his way.

This is, of course, until Sam, for some reason, defends the Flag-Smashers after their own violent acts, demanding that the criminals not be treated as terrorists. Though this was meant to showcase his morality, it only made some fans less than engendered to his tenure as Captain America. Neither Steve nor Bucky ever displayed such naivety or self-righteousness, and if anything, Sam simply comes off as the other side of the morally conflicted John Walker. Given how the show had gone out of its way to portray him as unworthy of Steve’s mantle, the fact that the same series shows Sam in a more positive light is astounding.

Bucky Could’ve Introduced the 1950s Captain America

Much like Steve Rogers, Bucky has history that goes back for decades, not to mention similar connections. This includes his time as The Winter Soldier, which might have seen him face all manner of threats that fans weren’t aware had happened in the MCU. One such event might have been the introduction of the 1950s Captain America, aka William Burnside. An example of retroactive continuity, he was introduced in the comics to explain the seeming return of Captain America and Bucky to publication in Marvel Comics’ 1950s offerings, the likes of which directly contrasted the Sentinel of Liberty’s true return in the pages of The Avengers.

The new Cap and Bucky, much like their two Nazi-fighting predecessors, were tasked with routing out Communists in America. When the original Captain America was revived and established as an active hero, Burnside was shown to be a villain. The treatments he received to replicate the Super Soldier Serum drove him into psychotic episodes. Other false Captain Americas were also used in the comics, though they were quickly killed off as a means of explaining publishing discrepancies. The same could easily be done in the MCU, with Winter Soldier shown as having killed these men off in the past to keep any form of American nationalism from growing.

Realizing and remembering what he had done, Bucky might again question his place as the new Captain America. Likewise, this could lead to Burnside resurfacing and seeking revenge, with both he and Bucky thus seeking each other for absolution. These narrative beats simply can’t work with Falcon as Captain America. This further highlights the missed opportunity for Bucky Barnes’ development, let alone his not leading the Avengers in a future movie.

The Avengers Need a Fan-Favorite Roster

Due to the reception towards the 2023 MCU projects, interest in Marvel Studios’ shared universe has definitely dwindled a bit. Many fans have cited the lack of a new Avengers movie to bring disparate plot threads together, as this kind of connection is what the MCU once thrived on. All three phases of the Infinity Saga had Avengers movies, and yet there won’t be another one until the end of the MCU Phase 6. Conversely, it’s unsure who is on the current Avengers team, though the lack of fan-favorites is definitely a sore point for more casual fans.

As many fans as Sam Wilson may have, it’s been clear for years that Bucky Barnes (played by the actor Sebastian Stan) is far more popular. Thus, seeing him develop into the new Captain America and lead the Avengers would have been something that would have kept older fans around. Bucky had been introduced all the way back in Phase One, so he truly would be taking Steve Rogers’ place in this way. Likewise, him as the leader of an amorphous Avengers team is simply a much bigger draw for general moviegoers, especially given how Falcon taking on the mantle was handled in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe needs that kind of interest and hype at the moment, but without Bucky throwing the mighty Captain America shield, it seems that hype and fan interest must yield.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier can be streamed on Disney+.

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