This one was tougher than you might think. It’s not because I have too many to choose from, though. It’s because I’m not sure what exactly “Classic character” means.
For the sake of simplicity, I chose to use the characters that have been a part of Marvel since or close to the beginning. In other words, the characters from the 1940s as Timely Comics, and the ones created by Marvel in the 1960s.
Bucky Barnes, The Winter Soldier
It would have been easy for me to say Spider-Man, Iron Man, or Captain America. That’s not what I want to do, though. My choice is a classic character, but one that didn’t reach the prominence he has until fourteen years ago. His history, though, is fascinating, both in-universe and in real life.
James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes appeared for the first time alongside Captain America in Captain America Comics #1, in March 1941. Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Bucky was Cap’s sidekick, much like Robin was Batman’s. In the universe, Bucky was an orphaned army brat who received elite military training, and after Steve Rogers became Captain America, the military assigned him to be his partner. The rationale behind putting a 15-year-old into danger was to rally America’s youth, which is what he was meant to do in real life.
When WWII ended, Cap and Bucky got put on the bus. While Cap came back in modern times after being frozen for decades, Bucky didn’t. During their final mission, Cap and Bucky got caught in an explosion trying to stop an experimental drone plane from falling into Nazi hands. Cap survived, though everyone thought Bucky died in the blast. For forty years, that was the official status quo, and people said that he was one of only a few people you didn’t bring back.
The Winter Soldier
Then in 2005, Ed Brubaker said “yeah, screw that,” and brought Bucky back. Bucky survived, but the explosion destroyed his arm and left him in a coma. A passing Soviet submarine fished him out of the water and revived him in Moscow. The blast had left him with amnesia, but all his training and skill remained intact.
The Soviets gave him a bionic arm and brainwashed the amnesiac hero into becoming a ruthless assassin, the Winter Soldier. They would send him out on assassination missions to strengthen Soviet power around the world. When they didn’t need him, they put him cryogenic stasis, hence why he survived up to the present. When the General in charge of the program died, Bucky Barnes went under for the next twenty years and was forgotten about.
Not long after the Avengers disbanded, Bucky would be brought back by a former Soviet general to use as his weapon. This would lead Cap to learning that his friend and partner was alive. After several battles, Cap was able to restore Bucky’s memories, but he fled.
Bucky would come to be a key player in the Marvel Universe. When Steve Rogers was thought to have been assassinated, Bucky took up his old friend and mentor’s role as the new Captain America. Might I say that he did an excellent job at it, too, even keeping the part after Steve came back from the dead. Then his life as Winter Soldier got outed. Long story short, he ended up faking his death, forcing Steve to become Cap once more. He resumed his identity as Winter Soldier, defending the world alongside his fellow heroes and from the shadows.
Super-Cool Super Soldier
Like I said, his history in real life and comics is fascinating. Created to be a sidekick and audience surrogate, thrown on the bus for sixty years, only to come back as an anti-hero and assassin? Bucky’s had a tough road, but I think that’s what makes him so cool in the end! Why else would Disney make him the co-star of a miniseries in their upcoming streaming service?
Did I mention he dated Black Widow?