I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t the name Bucky Barnes? Just how the heck is Bucky a D-list character when he was just in that movie? Jonathan, you must be going bonkers.” First of all, I don’t like your tone. Second, although I am quite bonkers, Rikki Barnes was, in fact, a real character. While James Buchannan Barnes was the original Bucky, he was not the only individual to have assumed the “Bucky” moniker throughout Marvel Comics’ history. Though Rikki was created by Jeph Loeb and Rob Liefeld in 1996, it wasn’t until 2009 that I discovered her in backup stories within Captain America comics. This month, we’re going on a trip across alternate universes in order to welcome this plucky young Bucky to the D-List.
I was very apprehensive when I learned that there was a female Bucky, but not because I have a problem with female characters (actually, I think that mainstream pop-culture needs stronger, female representation). The issue that I initially took with Rikki Barnes was that she was a female version of an already-established character. I’ve noticed a lot of gender-swapping in recent years. For example, there’s been Lady Bullseye, Lord Deathstrike, Ms. Sinister, Lady Stilt-Man, Mystiq, Lady Deadpool (go read my article about her!), and it’s an age-old practicein comics, as both Spider-Woman and She-Hulk have existed for decades. While gender-swapping may be nothing more than a gimmick in order to boost sales of certain comics, I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed reading about Rikki throughout her most recent usage in Marvel Comics.
Rebecca “Rikki” Barnes originated on an Earth located within a pocket dimension that Franklin Richards created. On that very cleverly titled “Counter-Earth,” Rikki was the granddaughter of James Barnes and she grew up to become Captain America’s sidekick, Bucky. However, the Rikki Barnes you’re going to read about is actually from a different pocket dimension that Franklin Richards created. (Can’t this kid just have pockets in his pants?)
When the villain, Onslaught, arrived on Earth-616 in the “Onslaught Reborn” miniseries from 2006, he immediately sought vengeance on Franklin for aiding in his defeat in the 90s. Because the kid can cook up pocket dimensions quicker than you can say “retcon,” Franklin fled to another dimension. Assuming Onslaught would follow him, the child alerted the native heroes and Bucky took it upon herself to protect Franklin from harm. Realizing that all efforts to defeat the villain were futile, Mr. Fantastic decided that the best course of action was to seal Onslaught within the Negative Zone. With a portal to the Zone open, Bucky piloted a fantasti-car into the villain and trapped herself inside the Negative Zone along with Onslaught. The young girl sacrificed her life in order to save the multiverse from another Onslaught attack.
So how the hell did Rikki end up on Earth-616? Because reasons! It was now up to writer, Sean McKeever, to keep readers interested in Bucky. Though he provided no immediate explanation for Rikki’s sudden appearance on Earth-616, McKeever handled nearly every story that featured Rikki Barnes over the next several years and, in my opinion, did a great job developing the character. She suddenly existed in a world without family, friends, or a place to live, but Bucky had already established herself as a hero and was not going to let something like accidental multidimensional travel prove to be too difficult to handle.
A resourceful girl, Rikki moved to Manhattan, obtained a job doing dishes, created a makeshift apartment in an abandoned building, enrolled herself in the local high school while using a fake last name, and befriended the 616-dimension’s version of her brother, John. The John Barnes of her world was an evil young man and had attempted to kill Rikki; 616-John was a nice guy and the two became close friends. John revealed to Rikki that he was a foster child because his dad was killed in a terrorist bombing and his mother died while trying to give birth to what would have been his sister, had the baby survived. Unfortunately, because she never told him that they were (inter-dimensionally) related, John developed a crush on Rikki and she rejected a kiss from him. (For more creepy stories of sibling love, go read about Fenris!) John’s inability to cope with his hurt feelings caused him to join a group of local upstarts which eventually led to his death.
I’m surprised that Rikki didn’t start drinking heavily in order to deal with all of the hardships that she had endured in such a short period of time. It was wonderful to watch Rikki and John develop a positive relationship before the mighty magic of comics crapped all over her joy, but her brother’s death was not going to keep Rikki from being a badass. Bucky beat the crap out of a bunch of drug dealers, stopped a man who was murdering local girls, and helped Falcon defeat Flag-Smasher when the villain attacked a café. In an attempt to encourage the girl, Black Widow left Bucky a new costume modeled after Nomad, which was a heroic persona that Steve Rogers had once adorned. Steve, however, wasn’t quite as supportive. (Who made him Captain Fashion all of a sudden?)
Like a typical, rebellious teenager, Rikki rejected Rogers’ suggestion that she quit being a hero and live life like a normal teenaged girl. She moved to Philadelphia, met other local heroes, and they were given their own series, titled “Young Allies.” While Rikki was forced to share the spotlight during the series, I was genuinely happy that a D-list character I enjoyed was being utilized. Though the book was fun and definitely had the potential to be great, Young Allies was cancelled after only 6 issues. McKeever and Marvel were not done with Rikki Barnes or the Young Allies yet, however, as they were featured in a limited series, titled “Onslaught Unleashed.” (Oh boy! Who could the villain possibly be?!)
Rikki began having vivid nightmares of mass destruction stemming from a location in Colombia and she shared her fear with Rogers that the nightmares were prophecies. Still clearly unaware that teenagers are extremely disobedient, Steve told Rikki that the Avengers would investigate the location and she should stay away from Colombia. Guess what Rikki did? She contacted her teammates and they flew to South America for some fun in the sun! After the Avengers arrived and found a power plant, Beast realized that the energy being extracted from the location was from the Negative Zone. His discovery couldn’t have come at a better time, because Rikki walked into the room and was immediately grabbed by a hand-shaped mass of psionic energy. Onslaught possessed her as he was trying to become powerful enough to enter Earth-616 again. The following revelation still makes me want to curl up under my bed-sheets and cry.
Onslaught told Bucky that she was not actually a real person. Rikki Barnes actually did sacrifice her life after knocking the villain into the Negative Zone. When Onslaught realized that a gateway from the Zone to Earth-616 had a small opening, he created this Rikki Barnes as a tether and released her into the world until he was strong enough to begin making his return. Onslaught telepathically caused Rikki’s nightmares in an attempt to lure her to his location and use her body as a vessel. I almost cried myself to sleep after I first read that, but hoped that it was a lie because Marvel loves toying with my emotions.
As the Avengers and Allies debated their best course of action, Rikki was temporarily able to assume control of her body and pleaded with her teammate, Gravity, to kill her in order to stop Onslaught. While it was extremely difficult for Gravity to comply, he killed Rikki while Onslaught was possessing her, thus destroying the villain and saving the world. Then I actually cried myself to sleep.
Maybe McKeever was mad that Marvel cancelled Young Allies and decided to take his anger out on a fictional character? While that likely wasn’t the case, I was genuinely upset when I learned that the Rikki Barnes that I had been reading about wasn’t a “real” character. However, she was real enough to defeat plenty of villains, make a lasting impression on established heroes, and cause me to care about her plight. While revealing that Rikki was a creation of Onslaught’s was a very interesting plot-twist, it unfortunately means that there is almost no chance of revival for this particular Rikki Barnes.
I initially hoped that Rikki would have become Captain America’s sidekick during the period that Steve Rogers was “dead.” Had that happened, however, Rikki would have had no spotlight since an A-lister would have constantly overshadowed her. Instead, she became a strong, independent character who managed to become a hero in a foreign world.
Rikki Barnes is proof that heroes don’t necessarily need to be completely original creations nor do they need super-powers in order to be interesting. She is also evidence that females in comic books have plenty of great stories waiting to be told. Rikki was definitely not just a copy of a well-known character; she developed into much more during her tenure within Marvel Comics. Though a hero without superpowers, the strength that she displayed when dealing with hardships and loss was truly superhuman. Any stories featuring this noble Barnes making Earth-616 a world of her own are definitely worth a read.