Marvel reveals in The Wakanda Files how Hydra transformed Captain America's best friend, Bucky Barnes, into their top assassin the Winter Soldier.
Marvel has revealed how Hydra turned Bucky Barnes, Steve Rogers' best friend, into the Winter Soldier. When Sebastian Stan made his MCU debut as Bucky Barnes in Captain America: The First Avenger, anyone familiar with the comics had a sense of where his story was going to go next. It wasn't long before reports emerged that Stan had signed up to a multi-picture deal, and it all seemed rather inevitable.
It may have been easy to predict, but Bucky's return was handled tremendously, and 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier is still considered one of the best movies in the entire MCU to date. In the MCU, Bucky survived a fall from a great height, and was captured by Hydra. He was gradually transformed into Hydra's top assassin, cryogenically frozen in-between missions and brought out of the ice whenever Hydra had need of him. He's been responsible for some of the most high-profile deaths in MCU history, including the assassinations of Howard and Maria Stark and even the murder of US President John F. Kennedy. But how did Hydra turn Captain America's best friend into the Winter Soldier? Answers are finally offered in The Wakanda Files, a collection of in-universe records put together by Shuri as she studies the developing world beyond Wakanda's borders, released in October 2020.
According to Shuri's files, the Winter Soldier project was personally overseen by Doctor Arnim Zola while in SSR custody in the 1940s. "My work continues in secret," Zola reflected in one of his personal notes:
In the cold desolation of Siberia, the next Hydra soldier is being born. The Siberian complex has reported that Sergeant Barnes is recovering quite well after falling from the bridge. His injuries were extensive, requiring the amputation of his left arm. But that's easily rectified with advanced cybernetic prosthetics.
Shuri further believed Hydra exposed Barnes to gamma radiation in order to enhance his physique, inspired by the Tesseract's energy.
Zola's journals indicate Bucky Barnes was unexpectedly resistant to Hydra's brainwashing, fighting against it with an inexplicable ferocity. Still, Hydra persisted, subjecting Bucky to intensive conditioning and then cryogenically freezing him before their next brainwashing session. "Hydra's Winter Soldier program subjected Barnes to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)," Shuri observes in her personal notes, "followed by suggestive keywords and phrases to activate a brain soup knot that could take years to unravel. If we're able to reverse it at all. ECT is extremely painful, and Hydra didn't administer any dulling agents." She compares Bucky's experience when under Hydra control to a person who is in REM sleep while awake, in a dream-like state where he has no free will to reject orders.
The Winter Soldier would have been Hydra's most loyal agent, if not for one factor they had not considered: his loyalty to Steve Rogers, who was thawed out of the ice decades later and resumed his career as Captain America. "The shared memories of Barnes with his best friend, Steve Rogers, momentarily fired memory centers," Shuri notes, "jogging bits and pieces of his past life while in the sleeplike trance."However, this emotional stimulus is the only surefire way to help Bucky remain free from his mental conditioning — and Captain America is gone now. Shuri doesn't seem to believe the brainwashing has been successfully reversed, which means Winter Soldier may well still be susceptible to outside control. That could prove significant as Bucky's adventures continue in The Falcon & The Winter Soldier on Disney+.