Presenting OTP Tuesday! Each Tuesday I will introduce you to a new One True Pairing! Tune in each week to find out which fictional couple you need to agonize/squee over next. In honor of Avengers: Infinity Warcoming out this month, all April OTPs will be from the Marvel Cinematic Universe! This week: Stucky.
Who Are Stucky?
Stucky is the ship name given to Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes from the Captain America movies.
Again, you know who Steve Rogers is. Steve Rogers is Captain America. He is the first Avenger. He is the leader of the Avengers, the symbol of a nation, the moral backbone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Steve Rogers was not always Captain America. Early in life, he was a sickly, scrawny mess, with more aggression than a chihuahua and about as much ferocity. He was born right around the end of World War I in Brooklyn. It was during this time that Steve met lifelong friend James Buchanan Barnes.
When World War II broke out, Steve wanted nothing more than to fight. However, with extremely poor health, Steve was rejected repeatedly. When Bucky was about to ship out, Steve tries again — and attracts the attention of Dr. Abraham Erskine, a scientist with Project Rebirth.
Project Rebirth was an attempt to create the perfect soldier by using a serum to augment a person’s natural abilities. Erskine was sold by Steve’s moral integrity. Since the serum would grant physical prowess, he was more interested in finding a good man. The serum worked, and Steve became Captain America.
Initially, Steve was still not let into the field. However, when he finds out that Bucky’s unit has been captured, he breaks protocol and sneaks behind enemy lines — alone — to save his friend. They later form the Howling Commandos, a group of soldiers dedicated to eradicating Hydra, the Nazi science division. All goes well until Bucky is lost on a mission.
After losing Bucky, Steve becomes more reckless. In an attempt to stop Hydra from bombing New York City, he crashes a warplane into the Arctic, seeming to die in the process. He is later found, alive, 70 years later. After rejoining the world, he becomes an Avenger, always a hero.
James Buchanan Barnes — known as Bucky — was Steve’s best friend since childhood. He was always there at Steve’s side, helping him (and defending him when Steve inevitably got into a fight with someone larger than himself). When Steve had nothing, he had Bucky… until he didn’t.
Bucky was eventually drafted when the United States joined WWII. Before shipping out, he spent his last night with Steve. However, while Bucky just wanted to enjoy one last night of freedom with his best friend, Steve was too focused on being left behind. They argue, with Bucky trying — unsuccessfully — to convince Steve to stay out of the war.
Later, Bucky’s division, the 107th, is captured by Hydra. Bucky is chosen for experimentation by Arnim Zola, a scientist who was trying to recreate Erskine’s formula. Steve, now the supersoldier Captain America, storms the facility and rescues Bucky. For his part, Bucky is confused — he may have just been tortured, but he’s pretty sure his friend is supposed to be smaller.
The two work together with other former Hydra captives as the Howling Commandos and work to make Hydra’s plans more difficult. They destroy several facilities and stop Hydra from achieving their ultimate aim. Sadly, on one mission, Bucky and Steve are fighting on a Hydra train. Bucky falls from the train and seems to have died.
It turns out that Bucky was able to survive the fall thanks to Zola’s experimentation. Hydra forces later find Bucky and “save” him — but it’s not a kind fate. They brainwash him and mold him into the Winter Soldier, an amnesiac Hydra assassin.
The Winter Soldier and Beyond
Steve and Bucky don’t cross paths again for many years. Steve was frozen in ice in the Arctic for almost 70 years. For his part, Bucky was mostly kept in cryo-freeze, thawed and sent on missions before being refrozen. When they do cross paths, it is not as Steve and Bucky — it is as Captain America and the Winter Soldier.
The Winter Soldier is being used by Hydra, who have secretly taken control of SHIELD. He is sent to assassinate Nick Fury, who was hiding with Steve. Steve is stunned to face a masked man who has strength enough to catch his shield. Later, the Winter Soldier is told to eliminate two high-level targets.
Steve is working with Sam Wilson and Natasha Romanoff to stop Hydra. The Winter Soldier attacks them on a highway, causing a tense and damaging battle. During a hand-to-hand fight, Steve rips off the Winter Soldier’s mask — and reveals his long lost best friend. He loses the will to fight — but breaks through the Winter Soldier’s programming, just a little.
Later, Steve is able to free Bucky from the brainwashing by refusing to fight. Bucky is free — but still lost. He leaves to search out his own identity. Bucky is later framed for an attack on the UN, leading to a manhunt. When Steve defends Bucky, he is put at odds with his fellow Avengers, leading to Civil War.
Steve and Bucky survive the battle, but not unscathed. Bucky has had his programming reactivated, and feels he is not safe to be in normal company. He is refrozen by Wakandan scientists. Steve goes off on his own. He is no longer an Avenger, but he is still a hero. They will reunite in this month’s Infinity War, working together once more to save the world.
Why is Stucky OTP?
Okay, obviously I ship Steggy. I think Steve and Peggy Carter work together beautifully. There’s overt and obvious chemistry there, and I think, had things gone another way, they would have been truly happy together. But, obviously, it didn’t.
But. Steve still has a chance at happiness. He still has someone who truly cares about him, for who he is — and who he used to be. There is someone who loves puny Steve Rogers, not just Captain America. That someone is Bucky — the only person who has always been there for Steve, no matter what.
And don’t worry, there’s still definite chemistry. It’s less overt in The First Avenger, which actively ships Steve with Peggy. However, The Winter Soldier tries to make us root for Steve and Sharon Carter — but not a chance, not with the Stucky tension. Rewatching The Winter Soldier this week, all I could say was “gayyyyy” (in the best way).
Through Thick and Thin
One of the best lines in The Winter Soldier comes right after Steve has discovered who the Winter Soldier actually is. Steve is reeling from the knowledge that, not only is Bucky alive, but he’s Steve’s enemy. He is beating himself up for not saving Bucky after he fell. “Even when I had nothing, I had Bucky,” he says.
Steve has been through a lot in his life, and a lot of that he only managed with the love and support of his best friend. The Winter Soldier shows us this. We see flashbacks to Steve’s life before Project Rebirth, when he was just a poor, skinny kid in Brooklyn. When his mom dies, Bucky reminds Steve that he’s not alone.
Bucky is there for Steve as much as he can be. He helps and protects tiny Steve when Steve inevitably gets into trouble. Even after the serum, Bucky still works to protect Steve. This holds true even after Hydra brainwashing and a lack of memories. When he sees Steve, Bucky breaks through his Winter Soldier programming.
It’s seeing Steve that does the trick. Years of brainwashing, torture, even a memory wipe cannot compete against the innate knowledge Bucky has that this is not a target — it’s someone he loves. He remembers who he is because he cannot forget who he was with Steve. He saves Steve because that is his primary instinct.
And Steve has the same instinct. It’s not as hardwired as Bucky’s; for years he wasn’t really able to do much protecting. But when soldiers come after Bucky in Civil War, Steve doesn’t hesitate. He fights his own friends, the Avengers, the people who have become like a family. Because to Steve, Bucky is family. He always has been. And he always will be.
Til The End Of The Line
Civil War is not my favorite MCU offering. I found a lot of it annoying or disappointing. But one thing that really stood out was the relationship between Steve and Bucky. Even after 70+ years separation, the two still operate seamlessly as a unit. And it’s beautiful to watch.
In The Winter Soldier, Steve mentions that a relationship is hard because it’s hard for him to find someone with shared life experience. But with Bucky, he has that. Bucky has been there his whole life. Bucky is from Steve’s own time period, remembers things before the war.
Importantly, Bucky remembers Skinny Steve. To every living person, now that Peggy has gone, Steve is Captain America. He has become an icon more than a real person. But Bucky remembers the person that Steve was. He remembers that scrawny kid from Brooklyn who was too stupid to walk away from a fight.
And, sure, Steve isn’t that kid anymore. For better or worse, he is Captain America. Project Rebirth changed him. But having someone who remembers his past is so important. It allows Steve to be a real person. Several fans have pointed out that Avengers-era Steve is so different from before. He’s much more serious. He’s had the fun drained out of him.
But with Bucky back, Steve can be who he was. He can be snarky. He can give attitude and make stupid jokes. Because Bucky doesn’t have preconceived notions of who “Captain America” should be. He just knows who Steve is. Civil War gives us this dynamic. Steve and Bucky, working side by side, sassing each other to death. That’s who Steve is.
What’s Next for Stucky?
Tune in for tragedy! That’s what’s next. With Infinity Warlooming, tragedy is all that’s coming for all our MCU faves, but especially Steve. Chris Evans has confirmed he will not be returning after Avengers 4, so most people are assuming that Cap bites the dust in either Infinity War or its sequel.
Which sucks! Because we finally get a good Stucky reunion in Infinity War. Black Panther shows that Shuri has managed to clear out Bucky’s programming. He is reintegrating into the world. And Steve is here to celebrate — the latest trailer shows them reunited in Wakanda (and smiling!!).
So, naturally, this is the best time for Steve to kick it. He finally gets a chance at happiness, so he has to die. The man is a walking tragedy — always out of time. It is likely that we’ll get plenty of good Stucky moments in Infinity War before the end, however. So Stucky fans should get something out of the experience.
Is Stucky Canon?
Are you kidding me? It would be extremely out of character for the MCU to have canon gay characters. Especially Captain freakin’ America, the embodiment of American ideals. People would have a field day protesting “the LGBTQ+ takeover of our media” or something similarly stupid.
However. Stucky is about as close to canon as they can get without overtly announcing that Captain America is not entirely heterosexual. For one thing, the chemistry between Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan is overwhelming. They may or may not be playing it as gay, but it really comes across that way.
And there’s nothing overtly contradicting Stucky, either. I mean, yeah, sure, there was that whole crap with Agent 13 in Civil War, but I think we’ve all collectively rejected that. And that relationship was clearly the last thing on Steve’s mind — not when Bucky needed him. Nothing has been said that Cap or Bucky aren’t gay or bi or otherwise queer.
So, I guess it’s possible? There’s always a chance that the Russo brothers will surprise us and make it canon in Infinity War, but I’m pretty sure the powers that be wouldn’t approve. So, for now, we can read between the lines and take comfort in knowing that they’re together till the end of the line.