As I mentioned yesterday, you will never convince me that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not the story of Steve Rogers going out to rescue the love of his life.

Don't believe me? Go watch both of those movies again, while mentally swapping the roles of Peggy and Bucky. Peggy becomes the childhood friend and protector who watches over Steve until he kind of accidentally succeeds in enlisting and gets Vita-Ray'd by Dr Erskine. Bucky is the mysterious and awesome government agent who sweeps Steve off into the war effort and keeps an eye on him until he gets the chance to prove that he really is made for more than star-spangled dance numbers. Friend Peggy goes missing, gets rescued, has one-liners about his new size, snipes for him on missions; then gets peevish that suddenly Steve is spending all of his time with the cool kids, and she's been busted from beloved caretaker down to ensemble support. Agent Bucky finds Steve canoodling with the WACs and WAVES and Wrens and gets pissed at what he thinks is Steve's total lack of attention to his mission and their uncertain cooperation. Peggy falls from the train; Steve falls apart; Bucky talks him through until impact with the idea that he'll take Steve to the canteen, find someone to dance with, celebrate just like he promised they would, and Steve don't you dare be late.

They'd spend the whole second movie building up the love story. Someone would ask if -- or straight up point out that -- Steve was being a complete reckless idiot because he was in love and needed to rescue Peggy from her brainwashing at all costs. It would culminate in Steve going to visit Old Man Bucky at the home one last time, and Bucky using the last of his fading sapience to tell Steve that he should go chase her down, they were always meant to be together, and Steve was a fool if he didn't know that. Sam and Natasha would throw their support behind him, because in these movies, Love Triumphs Over All.

It is very much to Marvel's credit that this would all work without rewriting either the character of Peggy Carter or that of Natasha Romanov, the Action Girl modern best friend. I don't know if the script for the second movie was written with the intention that Natasha be the romantic lead, but if it were, Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson looked at each other and went, "...nah." They totally failed to do anything at all with Sharon Carter/Agent 13, Cap's canonical on again-off again in the comics. (Rumor has it that the blonde waitress who gets a suspiciously lingering reaction shot at the end of Avengers was originally supposed to be Sharon Carter, but her earlier appearance as a minor character in Cap's indoor fight sequence was cut, eliminating her plot thread. If so, there appears to be a running theme here.) But you have to admit that when it's laid out like that, this is a bog-standard Hollywood love story plot, which in its usual incarnation, would end with Cap and the (former) Winter Soldier sharing a victorious kiss, after however many movies the studio thought they could get the audience to pay for.

(Sebastian Stan has reportedly been signed for nine of them, by the way. So apparently they think we'll pay for a lot.)

This relationship between Steve and Bucky is completely new to the movies. In the comics, Bucky Barnes was the wannabe hanger-on orphan quasi-adopted by the soldiers out at Camp Lehigh, where Steve was pretending not to be Captain America. He caught Cap getting into his superhero uniform once and sort of friendly-blackmailed him into letting Bucky be his sidekick. Teenage Bucky did die, and quite famously stayed dead for about 40 years of real time -- his death was cited in-universe as the reason that superheroes generally didn't have boy wonders, because absolutely no one wanted to carry around the kind of guilt that Steve Rogers carried for losing Bucky in the war. Sort of like Edna and the capes, only with stupid idealistic kids. The Winter Soldier plotline is more or less as presented, and I don't know how the audition process was run, but Sebastian Stan really is a dead ringer for the modern Winter Soldier character design, with the longer hair.

They are borrowing a bit from the Ultimates universe, where Bucky is Steve's childhood friend and goes over to Europe with him as a press photographer. I don't really follow Ultimates, because as far as I can tell it's the alternate universe in which everyone is an asshole to each other all the time even when it's not remotely necessary, but I'm told that in that one, Bucky's fate is more or less what Peggy's is in the films -- after Steve's apparent death, he moves on with his life, marries, remembers his friend fondly, and is occasionally visited by Cap (incognito) in his dotage.

(Ultimates also moves the timeline forward into the modern era. Originally, Cap crashed into the Arctic near the end of the war and was thawed out in 1964. Narratively, the book had been canceled ca. 1950, because the character of Cap didn't actually mesh too well with rabid anti-Communist witch hunts, and he was brought back as a way to point out that the world had changed a lot since World War II. As with the classic parable of the frog in a slowly-heating pot, everyone else was obliviously creeping towards a boil, and Steve had just been chucked into the water straight from the ice. He adjusted considerably less well than Steve from the movies, mainly because Steve's moral compass is keyed to 'doing right by the people around him,' and at first he had no real social connections in the modern world. He'd only slept through one generation, rather than nearly three, but it was one hell of a generation to miss. He spent a lot of time completely lost and discovering that my country, right or wrong was a totally different matter when your country was actively doing things that you considered very, very wrong.)

Standard Earth-616 Steve did have a childhood friend who ran interference for him and fended off the bullies; his name was Arnie, and he and Steve parted when Arnie enlisted in the Navy shortly before Steve got himself tangled with the Super Soldier program. I have no idea if the writers knew this when bashing out their new characterization for Bucky. The idea that someone kept Steve from being pasted as a kid wasn't exactly something that would have been difficult to come up with. If they composited the two on purpose, it's exactly the opposite of refutation to my love story argument up there. Arnie's first major named appearance in Captain America was in issue 270, where the A-plot was that Arnie comes to Cap for help rescuing his boyfriend of ten years from what appear to be giant purple carpet monsters. As is pointed out in this summary, your average fifth-grader in 1982 probably wouldn't twig to what was going on here, but from a slightly older point of view, that is as obvious as the writer could get about them being a gay couple without bringing down the wrath of the Comics Code on their heads and getting the issue canceled.

(The carpet monsters part probably isn't relevant. Strange art choices happen when your penciller is on a tight schedule.)

Steve does not just fail to give a shit about this, he fails to recognize that there is possibly some sort of shit to be given. His main reaction to Arnie's reunion with his boyfriend is, 'oh crap, I so screwed up earlier, I really need to go home and tell my girlfriend that I love her,' which is the issue's B-plot. This despite Cap being portrayed as really old-fashioned about girlfriends and sex, which is the other thing that would have gotten the issue canceled if they had spelled it out any more plainly. He continues to not think this is at all A Thing for another twenty or thirty issues, until someone makes an explicit point of torturing Arnie with it/over it. Cap's answer is basically "don't listen to them, there's nothing wrong with you, their hatred is their sickness", and then he throws his shield at stuff, which I feel carries an implicit message of YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP. Evil-of-the-Week uses Arnie to say outright that Steve couldn't possibly sympathize with a gay man unless he were gay himself, which Cap ignores completely.

It makes sense when you listen to this lovely person on DreamWidth who points out that the apartment he shared with Bucky in the movies is located right in the gay middle of Gay Central in the gay neighborhood of the gay end of Brooklyn. Right next to the Navy yard, in fact. Just post-unfreezing, I imagine Steve would do a double-take if he saw two well-dressed men canoodling openly in Central Park, but the "men canoodling" wouldn't really be the unfamiliar part. Furthermore, pre-war Steve was an art student, and I'm pretty sure art schools have been queer as fuck since whenever it was that the concepts of "art school" and "queerness" first managed to simultaneously exist as meaningful entities.

For the record, before these films came out, the standard Avengers slash pairing was Steve and Tony. It happens in the new fandom, but has been more or less eclipsed by the fact that Tony and Bruce roll off in the same sports car at the end of Avengers, and SCIENCEBROS.