Monthly Archives: May 2016

A Civil War Parody

This inspired parody was written by masterleiaofasgard for Captain America: Civil War. I never even thought to put this song to the moment Steve and Sharon kissed – but Leia did! A master indeed, you cannot fail to enjoy her fun, witty parody, readers!

Avengers Assemble!

Excelsior!

Okay, this was definitely one of my favorite scenes in the movie, and this song was the first thing to come to mind, so I thought I’d do a Civil War parody of it. I hope you enjoy. 😉

Capture

*Steve and Sharon are kissing. Sam and Bucky watch from the car*

Sam: I can see what’s happening…

Bucky: What?

Sam: And they don’t have a clue…

Bucky: Who?

Sam:  They’ll fall in love, and here’s the bottom line, our trio’s down to two.

Bucky: Oh, no!

Sam: The calming beams of daylight

There’s magic everywhere

And with all this romantic atmosphere

Disaster’s in the air.

Bucky: Can you feel the love tonight,

The peace the morning brings

Sam: Wait, excuse me?

Bucky: *kicks Sam’s seat* The world, for once, in perfect harmony

With all its living things.

*In the meantime, Steve’s staring at Sharon*

Steve: *thinking* So many things to…

View original post 136 more words

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Book Review: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

“Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.” – George Santayana

A wise phrase. The problem is that today, students of history color it with modern prejudices, misconceptions, misunderstandings, and sometimes outright lies. A true student of history strives to understand history as it was understood by the people who lived it, not the way people today understand (or do not understand) it.

And a real history student is also aware that humanity’s fallen nature does not change. This allows him or her to recognize when someone is preparing to make the mistakes a previous person in history made. (So, Tony, what was that about Cap being a “nostalgia guy” again?)

Today’s topic, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, is a book by Jean Lee Latham. It recounts the story of American navigator and mathematician Nathaniel Bowditch. Born in Salem, Massachusetts, prior to the American Revolution, Nat’s family was in hard straights by 1776. Habakkuk Bowditch, Nat’s father, had lost his merchant ship by this time. Being a cooper not only did not pay well, the senior Bowditch was a sailing man at heart. Nothing pains a seafarer more than being permanently grounded. Nat’s father was no exception, and he lost his spirits completely after the deaths of his wife and mother.

Nat initially had dreams of becoming a sailor himself. There was just one problem: Nathaniel Bowditch was the proverbial “ninety pound weakling.” He was too physically small to manage the rigging, load the cannons, or do any of the other numerous, physically demanding jobs required for riding the high seas.

But Nat did have an asset, a gift beyond the norm. He was a math genius.

Over the years, things got tougher for the Bowditch family. Eventually, Nathaniel was made an indentured servant to a ships’ chandlery. The work was hard on him, not physically, but because he wanted to go to school to learn more math and could not. An indentured servant was little removed from a slave. Indentured servants were practically owned by the people who held their indenture papers. When the chandlery was sold to new owners, Nathaniel Bowditch went with it, as the previous owners sold the shop “lock, stock, and bookkeeper.” (Nat served as the chandlery’s bookkeeper during his indentured years.) The chains were invisible, but they were still there.

However, Nat soon learned that he could teach himself. He collected or borrowed books about mathematics, reading and learning all he could from them in his spare time, making copious notes in his own journals from these books. As he grew in knowledge, Nat wanted more. So when he discovered there were more mathematic equations to learn in books written in French and Latin, he snatched them up as well. To read these books, he had to learn to read – and speak – French and Latin. So he taught himself those languages, in addition to the math! And would you believe, readers, that he found errors in at least one of these books?

At sixteen, Nat decided to write an almanac for the years 1789-1823. In this almanac he predicted the “sun’s rising, setting, declination, amplitude, place in the ecliptic – ” As far as I know, the almanac was accurate!

Throughout his life, Nathaniel Bowditch kept studying math. What is more, once he started sailing as a ship’s clerk, he began teaching the other sailors how to navigate through mathematics. After years of study and experience – and finding that the navigation books of the time were full of errors, thousands of them – he wrote The American Practical Navigator. This book was so useful that it was later dubbed the “Sailors’ Bible.” In addition to French and Latin, Nat taught himself Spanish. This was so he could understand and be understood by people in Manila, where the ships he sailed on went to pick up cargo!

Nathaniel Bowditch and his second wife, Mary (nicknamed Polly), had eight children. Research I did a couple of years ago said that one or more of his descendants still lives in Salem, Massachusetts. A self-taught man with inborn brilliance, Nathaniel Bowditch is one of the United States’ forgotten heroes. It is quite possible that without him, navigation today might not be what it is.

Jean Lee Latham tells Nat’s story vividly, and her historical accuracy is, as far as this reader can tell, as correct as “two plus two makes four.” Carry On, Mr. Bowditch is a wonderful story for “kids from one to ninety-two.” People the world over can learn from reading this historical novel something they did not know before. And any young math wizards out there can learn that, even when life was driving him crazy, Nat did not give up. Instead he kept “sailing by ash breeze!” Even I, someone with no head for figures, learned quite a lot from this story!

See if you can grab a copy, readers! It is a worthwhile investment of your time!

Carry on, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

Spotlight: Zoids – The Lightning Saix

Here we are “in the far reaches of the Milky Way” galaxy again, readers! Today’s post is about one of the most amazing zoids on Zi – the Lightning Saix!

Why is this zoid so special? Look at the video below before you take my word for it!

Is this zoid cool or what?!

The Lightning Saix is a high speed, high performance zoid built by the Guylos Empire in Zoids: Chaotic Century. Capable of reaching 305 kilometers per hour (202 miles per hour), the Lightning Saix’s intense speed is really tough on the pilot’s body. The first pilot for the prototype Saix passed out during a demonstration of the zoid’s abilities. And that was with a buffer installed that powered down the Saix to keep it from going as fast as it could run!

Based on the cheetah, the Lightning Saix’s bare capabilities are on par with those of the Republican Command Wolf. However, the Saix is much faster and more dexterous. Its lithe frame and agility make it an excellent close combat zoid, able to hit an opponent and dodge away before the other zoid and pilot can retaliate. The only zoid which can “dance” with a Lightning Saix is a Storm Sworder. While the Storm Sworder is flying at Mach 3.2, it outstrips the Saix. But if the two zoids get into close combat when the Sworder is flying at lower speeds, you are in for one spectacular supersonic battle!

The Saix, like the cheetah, has claws which do not fully retract. Once the zoid is ready to run, the claws extend. They are sharp, able to cut through the light armor of smaller zoids or the stronger armor of intermediately outfitted opponents. The Saix’s teeth are also able to pierce the lighter “skin” of other zoids.

The Lightning Saix is not a brawny creature. Just like a cheetah, its best asset is its speed. It cannot wrestle in the dirt like a Blade Liger. That would be disastrous for it. The Saix is best piloted by someone who can shoot from a distance and who knows how to strike hard and fast, then run like lightning to get away.

Obviously, though, the zoid is armed. You cannot fail to see the double barrel cannon on the Saix’s back, readers. This is a Vulcan laser gun. It is very effective on lightly armored zoids, or “combat units” with somewhat thicker armor. But the Saix will definitely not be competing in the Highest Yield Explosive Shells Competition. The lasers, like the zoid, are meant for quick-strike fighting. If you need more weight and strength during a battle, then you are going to need something other than a Lightning Saix.

The Lightning Saix is a very fast zoid. It can cross land faster than any other “mechanical combat unit.” The only land zoids which have been modified to keep up with a Saix (to the best of my knowledge) are the Blade Liger and the Liger Zero. In Zoids: Chaotic Century, Van Flyheight’s Blade Liger underwent some booster modifications which allowed it to keep pace with the Lightning Saix.

In Zoids: New Century Zero, the Liger Zero had a set of blue armor, called the Jaeger (or ‘Hunter’) armor, which allowed the zoid to travel at the same speed as the Lightning Saix. This armor was not the Liger Zero’s primary or “basic unit” armor. The Liger Zero’s armor can be changed, allowing the Liger to achieve certain characteristics in combat against specific opponents. The Jaeger armor was one of those three ‘special suits,’ as it were.

There is one last thing you must know about this zoid, readers. One last secret talent of the Lightning Saix. When traveling at speed, the Saix is impossible for most other land zoids to catch. This is when military bases deploy their anti-zoid measures – missiles that will home in on the zoid and destroy it before it can escape the perimeter of the base from which the missiles were fired.

When these missiles are fired at the Saix, the zoid is usually going at a lower speed. It gives the missiles just enough rope to hang themselves. Then it kicks into a higher gear, going faster than the missiles. The zoid also activates some holographic technology and systems embedded in its body. Combining the holographic tech with its high speed, the Saix is then able to create the illusion that it has abruptly vanished.

As you can imagine, this does not go over well with the missiles. They were chasing a target one minute, the next, it disappeared from their radar. The computers in the missiles freeze up as they try to figure this puzzle out. This means the missiles fly skyward in confusion, where they overload and blow up as their computers fry, unable to process their target’s disappearance. Anti-zoid missiles fired from other zoids have a similar reaction, usually.

Once the missiles are gone, the Saix lowers its speed and turns off the holo emitters. Abracadabra, allacazam, and hey, presto! – the Lightning Saix is back in plain view for everyone to see!

Talk about “catch me if you can,” huh, readers?

Most models of the zoid have green eyes, under which their single-seat cockpit is positioned. The one notable exception is Irvine’s Lightning Saix in Zoids: Chaotic Century. But I am not telling you why his Saix had orange eyes. You will have to find that out for yourselves!

As a last note, Irvine was the first pilot for a Lightning Saix in Chaotic Century. In Zoids: New Century Zero, we had three Lightning Saix pilots. Jack Cisco was the first Saix pilot the Blitz Team encountered. He later formed a team of the cheetah-type zoids, adding the sisters Chris and Kelly to back him up in the prize fights. They named their squad, rightly enough, the Lightning Team.

The three also demonstrated a new tactic in the battles they participated in. Jack led the charge and the sisters fell in line behind him, allowing them to build up more speed as they stayed in his draft. This tactic was very effective the first time around, allowing Cisco and the sisters to whip Bit Cloud and his friends.

The second time, it did not go so well for the Lightning Team. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you. Never use the same tactic twice on the same opponent, readers. And definitely do not pull the same trick in the same battle more than once!

Catch ya later!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review – The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

Whew! What a read!!!

The subject of today’s post is an unusual book written by a well-known author. It is a new book and a fabulous read – I literally had to force it out of my hands! But, before going on about this novel, readers, I would like to say a few things about the author.

Jim Butcher is an writer whose books have landed on the New York Times bestseller list several times. A fantasy/sci-fi writer, Mr. Butcher’s most famous series is probably his Harry Dresden novels. Harry Dresden is a wizard/detective based in Chicago. He deals with werewolves, vampires, ghosts, faeries (small and big), as well as other wizards.   He has even met and talked to angels – good and bad!

I have read a couple of Harry Dresden novels and discovered a few things about Jim Butcher in the process. One, he is a huge fan of Star Wars. This is evidenced not only by his own admission at the back of some of his books, but by Harry Dresden’s constant quoting or referring to the original Star Wars trilogy. (I wonder what he thinks of The Force Awakens?)

Two, Mr. Butcher also knows about and enjoys other genres/series, which he also references in his novels. Harry Dresden mentions Marvel characters, the Looney Tunes, The Princess Bride, and even Disney movies throughout his adventures. Harry is by far the wittiest character I have yet seen Jim Butcher write. Though I do not necessarily like everything in the Harry Dresden stories, Harry himself is definitely one of my favorite characters. I am always rooting for him to win.

Another book series by Jim Butcher which I have (sort of) read is the Codex Alera series. Okay, technically, I only read the one book. But that was an excellent story, too! Mr. Butcher is said to have received the idea for the Codex Alera series from a fan or casual reader of his work. This man bet the author could not make a series out of two bad story ideas. So Mr. Butcher challenged him to name two bad story ideas, and he would try to make a good story out of them. The fan came back with The Lost Roman Legion and Pokémon.

Mr. Butcher succeeded admirably in combining the two, I think. And having never seen Pokémon (except in television advertisements and toys), that connection was not immediately obvious to this reader. The Roman connection, however, was extremely hard to miss!

Now, Mr. Butcher has done it again. His newest book, The Aeronaut’s Windlass, came out not too long ago. It is the first book in his new series, The Cinder Spires. Visiting the library sometime back, I saw the book on a shelf of newly acquired novels and literally snatched it up. No way was I going to let this story pass me by! Grabbing a chair, I started reading….and reading…and reading!

The Aeronaut’s Windlass is set in the far future of Earth. Apparently, by this point Earth has been transformed into an alien jungle. Thick mists separate the land from the sky, and while light still gets through, it does not do so in the way in which we are accustomed. And in this future, normal creatures have either vanished entirely or morphed into monsters that prey on humans. As a result, humanity survives in tall, manmade skyscrapers called Spires.

The Spire at the heart of this story is Spire Albion. Several characters in the novel end up working together later on, forming the core group whose exploits will doubtless be the center of this new series. My favorite character in The Aeronaut’s Windlass, however, is Captain Francis Madison “Mad” Grimm, of the Albion privateer ship Predator.

Okay, now I have to back up a bit. Obviously, since humans live in the Spires, there are no seas for them to sail. Instead, the humans in The Cinder Spires sail through the air or, when need be, through the thick mists that shroud the Earth. The ships have a combination of steam powered and crystal powered engines. It is for this reason, seemingly, that Mr. Butcher and others call the Cinder Spires series a “steampunk” saga.

Almost everything in the Spires is run by steam engines, apparently. These engines, aboard airships, receive their power from crystals specially grown in the houses of the Spire’s nobility. Oh, and nothing in the Spires is made of exposed steel or iron. Once that metal is open to the elements, it rusts and falls apart within days. Everything is made of copper, brass, or some other metal. Anything that is made of steel or iron is covered by either of these metals so that it will not corrode.

The airships’ engines, run by the crystals I mentioned before, keep the vessels aloft by riding on the etheric currents that flow through the atmosphere. These currents flow around everyone – even in the Spires! There are, though, some people who have etheric currents flowing right through them. These people are wizards known as etherealists (all of whom are nuts as a result of constantly having etheric currents flowing through them; as usual, some of these wizards are good crazy, and others are bad crazy). You can tell Butcher is a thorough-going Star Wars fan. Etherealists use etheric currents like the Jedi or the Sith use the Force! Both the currents and the Force flow around and through people all the time, after all!

Captain Grimm is a great character. Cashiered from Spire Albion’s defense fleet for cowardice, Grimm is no coward. But the latest prize he tries to snare in his privateering business is only bait for a trap to catch him and Predator. Narrowly escaping that disaster, Grimm loses several men in the skirmish. But the worst damage is to Predator’s core crystal. It has cracked, beyond repair. Core crystals for ships are so expensive they are practically priceless. The only ships that can afford them are Fleet ships. So the chances of Grimm gaining such a crystal are…. nil, nada, and zip.

But Grimm is determined not to give up his ship. Ever since he got out into the open air, he has loved nothing else. The idea of living a Spire-bound life horrifies him, and by this point, it would probably qualify as a death sentence. He will not give up his ship. Somehow, some way, he has to get her skyworthy again.

The opportunity to get Predator in the air again presents itself when Grimm accepts a dangerous commission from the (figurehead) ruler of Spire Albion himself, Spirearch Addison Albion. Unfortunately, I have to leave the description right there readers. I have given quite a few spoilers already. If you do pick up this book, it would be good if you found a few surprises! 😉

The Aeronaut’s Windlass is an exciting adventure – a real page turner! Butcher draws his characters and the world they live in with a precise pen, wasting no words and scattering humor throughout the novel. As always, he keeps some details about this new world to himself. His readers fall in love with the characters and most of their world, while he leaves just enough unexplained, so that we readers have to say, “When is the next book released?! We want more!

Grimm is my favorite character in the whole book, as I said. Mr. Butcher described the novel as a combination of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen “meets Sherlock Homes meets Horatio Hornblower,” prior to the novel’s release. I think this is one of the reasons Captain Grimm appealed to me so much. I was introduced to Hornblower through Masterpiece Theater as a child, and I have had a special love for Mr. Hornblower, the sea, and wooden sailing ships ever since.

Grimm’s skills as a captain are spectacular. If I do not miss my guess, Spire Albion is based on 19th century England, and Grimm has at least some resemblance to her most famous privateer, Francis Drake. He also has a dash of Captain James T. Kirk in him. Star Wars fan that he is, Mr. Butcher doubtless realized (as others have), that Star Trek was more accurate in terms of how it presented space travel as the future form of seafaring. Captain Kirk was drawn accordingly, and so is Captain Grimm, whose ship also plies the skies – though not the galaxy!

Most of Grimm’s character, however, is his own. Despite his resemblance to other heroes, fictional and historical, he is a great protagonist for this new series. As a friend of mine said, “He is smart in how he handles his ship, and wise in how he handles his people.” Grimm reads and takes the measure of his enemies with the care of a scientist, never ceasing to think or wasting his assets if he can help it. He deeply cares about his crew, and remains concerned for the welfare of the young guards whom the Spirearch charges him to support and protect in the novel.

This is a truly tremendous, fascinating book, readers. And the series that follows it can only get better from here! So grab a copy of The Aeronaut’s Windlass and settle down with it as quickly as you can, if I may be so bold! It is well worth reading!

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian

A Review of Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War Opens to $200.2 Million Overseas

WHA-HOOOOO!!!!!! Readers, Captain America: Civil War has to be one of the absolute BEST Marvel movies ever!!!!

I will attempt to keep the spoilers out of this review, and start my character analysis posts somewhere in the middle of the summer, when more people have had time to see the film. But I will “spoil” one thing here: in the movie, NO AVENGERS DIE!!!  YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, with the enthusiastic fan victory lap out of the way, we can get to the meat of the matter. Civil War is a movie so action packed it is almost too heavy on the fighting. Almost. The Russos just manage to keep Cap at the center of the whirlwind, despite the number of players within the story.

That being said, Tony probably takes second place to Cap in this tale. His arc is the most painful to watch, since his actions are the primary reason for the major conflicts in the film. Cap’s journey is much less agonizing; not once did he compromise his moral compass, even at the end of the climactic battle in the HYDRA base.

This was the best part of the film, second only in one other factor, which I will mention momentarily. In an era when the ‘intellectuals’ want Americans to ‘get with the times,’ and submit to the angst-filled, beaten, and beastly façade that they insist is the new America, Steve Rogers remains “bloody, but unbowed.” (This quote is from a poem called Invictus, written by William Ernest Henley. Invictus is Latin, and loosely translated, it means “undefeated,” “unconquerable,” or “indefatigable.” You can find the full poem somewhere on my blog if you wish, readers.) It is nice to have a hero who is so thoroughly American that it is impossible to ruin him – not without losing tons of money, anyway.

The second great thing about Civil War is that it has a hopeful ending. Notice I did not say it has a happy ending; that is up to the individual viewer to find, if they can. But it does have a hopeful ending. And as Napoleon said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” And I have to say, in the United States of America, we never needed hope as much as we do today. The assaults are coming thick and fast from every conceivable direction – and even from some heretofore inconceivable angles. It is too bad Steve Rogers is a fictional character. We could sure use an American Galahad right about now.

But if we have to settle for one who dwells on the silver screen, I think we can live with that.

As for the other Avengers in this show, Hawkeye and Ant-Man do not really have character arcs within this film. That is understandable. Hawkeye’s arc was pretty impressive in Age of Ultron, and while I have my fingers crossed that we will get to see him in another film at some point, he proved again in Civil War precisely why I like him. 😉 His part was not everything I wanted it to be, but it was still great! (But can’t they refer to him as Hawkeye at least twice within the same movie?!? I do not mind calling him Clint or Barton, but he has a codename, too, ya know!!!)

Ant-Man’s character arc in his own film last year was so well done that we did not need much of an introduction to him this time around. Still, he does grow a little here (there is a pun in this statement). For a previously solo act in the super-powered sphere, he shows he can adjust to working with a team fairly well…. But he and Hawkeye still have some teammate issues to figure out.

Vision and Wanda’s character arcs constantly shift between active and passive. Some of their character growth is on the battlefield; other moments are in the serenity of the Avengers’ compound. As a side note, there is a visual reference to X-Men: Evolution near the end of the film for Wanda. If you do not spot it, then do not worry. I will do my best to make a mention of it in my next post about her. Remind me if I forget, please. 😉

Though we missed Pietro’s presence in this film, there were others we did not miss. Spider-Man’s character arc, while limited, adhered to his roots – for once. He shows he is greener than either Wanda or Scott Lang, but he has as much “heart” as either of them. I am not sure I buy the method Tony used to recruit him. Though it is quite Stark-esque, it almost grated on my nerves, since I wanted to see more of Cap and felt dragged away from him by the detour to pick up the webslinger!

Black Panther fans need not fear for his character. This longtime ally and friend of Steve Rogers came through the movie fantastically. In fact, one of the friends who watched this film with me came to admire him during the course of the story, when said friend had previously stated that T’Challa was “boring.” Bonus points for an already great part in an excellent film!!!

On the subject of characters who came out well in the movie, Natasha pulled through with flying colors. She may still be fighting the Soviet mold, but she proved that she can conquer it. 😉 GO BLACK WIDOW!!!

Let’s see – who did I miss? Ah, Rhodey! Other than his influence on Tony, Rhodey came across as rather dense in this film. His reasons for signing the Accords were beyond dumb. The U.N. is nothing like SHIELD, which is quite a compliment to the spy agency. But the World Security Council had plenty in common with the U.N. And the fact that Rhodey cannot see this is very sad and does his character no favors whatsoever.

Sam Wilson, however, has the sight of his codename. No way is the Falcon going to get hoodwinked that easily. Speaking of Falcon, his little drone, Redwing, is a very neat addition to the team. Too bad it’s not a bird, as it is in the comics. Sam’s character arc is fun to watch and harkens back to his days of Avenging as Cap’s particular partner in the older comics. He proves he is an able field commander and combatant in Civil War, and I think it will be hard for the writers to top his part in this film.

I think the only hero I have not covered yet is the Winter Soldier. Yes, I called him a hero. He is an abused hero, but a hero all the same. It is odd; I actually related better to him in this film than I did in The Winter Soldier. He was someone to be pitied in that film. In Civil War, compassion comes into play more, as he gets to actually show some personality this time. He is not the same man he was in World War II, and he can never be that person again. But neither is he the coldly terrifying hunter of men we saw in Cap 2. On the whole, this portrayal of him is probably the best one yet.

Now, about those villains…. contrary to popular statements, I do not think Tony qualifies as a villain in this film. I would not even put him down as an antagonist. He sets off Civil War as he set off Age of Ultron: through childish hubris, an overly guilty conscience, and blind fear. A little anger is mixed in at the end of the film, rather understandably, making him emotionally revert to being a young boy again.

Cap’s treatment of him reflects that. The ending of the film is substantially different than the end of the comic book war, for which I am grateful. From what I know of the comic book conflict, I think I can say the film’s ending is by far the better one. I know I will not be reading the Civil War comics – the first collection or the second set Marvel Comics is preparing to release sometime soon – when I can watch this film! As painful as the fight between the two heroes is, for me, there is a slight sweetness amid the sorrow. Cap came through the fight bloody, but in one piece – physically, mentally, and morally. If only the comic book writers were willing to treat him so!!!

(How come the film writers keep doing better than the comic book writers? Seriously, how? Are they more in tune with reason and logic than the comic book writers? Someone somewhere within the Marvel comic book writing system is not firing on all cylinders. There is a malfunction in the writing department, because they are not telling stories anymore. They are partying like Ferris Bueller.)

General Thunderbolt Ross does not appear to be a villain in Civil War, as he did in The Incredible Hulk. He does not scream and roar, nor skate on the edge of an apoplectic fit, the way he did in that movie. But his goal is no different now than it was before: he’s a trigger-happy jerk who wants control of the best weapons he can find. And the “best weapons” he can “find” are the Avengers. The irate General turned Secretary of State just made my I-want-to-punch-this-guy-list; he has outstripped even Loki. Now that is a feat!

Helmut Zemo – no baron in this movie – is a complete villain. They try to win the audience’s sympathy for him throughout the story. But for my part, I saw nothing I was able to even remotely empathize with in his character, and their attempts were little short of window dressing.

If you want my opinion, Zemo was born with a soul as black as the pits of Hell. The guy is Evil, with a capital E, no two ways about it. He is not dangerous for his powers – he has no enhancements as of this film. He is treacherous simply because he is intelligent and pure evil. Zemo is a totally terrifying villain. I do not know how Thanos can possibly upstage him – but I suppose that he will, somehow, manage to do that.

If you can, readers, you have got to see this movie while it is still in cinemas!!! And do not forget to stay for the mid and end credit scenes! As a side note, I will be leaving my “Whose Side Are You On?” poll open until December 2016. So if you have not yet chosen a side, now is the time!

GO CAPTAIN AMERICA!!!!!!!!!

The Mithril Guardian

A Contest of Wills

“Since when has the Lord of Gondor been answerable to thee?” said Denethor. “Or may I not command my own servants?”

“You may,” said Gandalf. “But others may contest your will, when it is turned to madness and evil.” – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Chapter Seven: The Pyre of Denethor by J. R. R. Tolkien

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Iron Man/Tony Stark

Really, dude?

Is there any superhero out there that happens to be in more hot water these days than Tony Stark? I am sort of out of the loop on comic book news, but it seems Tony Stark/Iron Man is one of the most despised and maligned superheroes in the genre of late.

Ouch. If it were not for Marvel’s manhandling of him, I would say Tony did not deserve this. In truth, the original Tony Stark does not merit this treatment at all. And that is the one thing which makes me go easy on the petulant, crass, self-absorbed Iron Man that Robert Downey Jr. plays to perfection. I may not respect the current iterations of Tony Stark, but his earlier portrayal when he first entered the world of comics is a character I do respect. That is the only reason I am willing to go relatively easy on him.

What is there to say about Tony’s part in Age of Ultron which I have not already stated in previous character-based posts about the movie? Hmm. Let’s see….

Tony starts out a hundred percent fine in Ultron. It is just another day at the office for him as he helps the Avengers – his friends – bust HYDRA’s most recent operation in the obscure Eastern European country of Sokovia. Cap, naturally, chastises Tony for using poor language for a minor annoyance; Hulk is having fun tearing things apart and scaring the HYDRA soldiers witless, and Widow and Hawkeye are tag-team fighting the goons. Meanwhile, Thor is bringing the thunder as he looks forward to reclaiming the scepter Loki used when he tried to take over Earth roughly three years ago.

Yup, it’s just another day at the office. And would you look at that – it even comes with a secret door!

Then Tony, with his eyes on the “glowstick of destiny,” suddenly sees a vision of a horrible future. His team – his friends – are lying dead or dying at his feet. Natasha is sprawled on her back, her eyes staring glassily into the distance. The Hulk, lying on the rock behind her, breathes his last, several alien spears projecting from his back.

Thor is on his back as well, but mercifully his eyes are shut. Across from him is Hawkeye, who is folded up and seems to have slumped into a sitting position as he died. All his arrows are spent. Worst of all, Cap is lying directly in front of Tony. His eyes are closed and his shield has been broken in two. Its halves lie haphazardly near his head.

These are Tony’s friends. People he once did not know and did not care to know. People he once would have had nothing to do with, unless it was to tease and belittle them. But through the course of the battles he has fought at their side, he has gotten to know them better. He has learned who they are – and thus he has learned to care about them.

Natasha, a super spy Tony once mistrusted and quite probably hated, is now a friend. She trades witty banter with him, is competent at her job, and much nicer than he initially believed her to be. Thor, whom Tony once called a ‘tourist’ and lost a fight with, no longer seems so out of place and backward as he did on the Helicarrier. Clint Barton, a man whom he knew only as a marionette pulled around by Loki, is someone Tony has come to respect and with whom he will now happily trade jokes. Bruce/Hulk, a fellow scientist who Tony saw as a person in straits like his own, was the easiest friend Stark had made in years. They clicked at once and stayed “science brothers” afterward.

And finally there is Cap, an old friend of the father Tony hardly knew. It is easy to picture the two, seated at a table in the Tower during the evenings when they were not Avenging the wrongs perpetrated by the bad guys, prior to Ultron. One can even surmise that, when Steve was in the mood, he would tell Tony stories about some exploit of his father’s during the war – stories which the younger Stark was never told as a child.

In this way, Steve and Tony became friends between Winter Soldier and Ultron. Tony has come to see in Steve what his father saw in him, while Cap looks at Tony and sees a link to a life he lost and can never regain.

For this reason, his is the first ‘corpse’ Tony rushes to check on. There is no way to know for certain what Tony was thinking at that moment, but his thoughts probably went a little like this:

No, no, they can’t be dead! Tony thinks. This is a nightmare. Just a nightmare. I’ll check on Cap, and then I’ll wake up. Maybe Steve’s still alive, and he’ll tell me to wake up. This isn’t real, this isn’t real…!

That is when ‘Cap’ suddenly grabs him and asks why he did not save his team, his friends. “Why didn’t you do more?” Steve’s ghostly, rasping voice accuses him just before the hypnosis breaks, returning Iron Man brusquely to reality.

With that scene haunting him, Tony leaps to a bad idea as he rushes to protect his friends at all costs. As was said in the post “Avengers: Age of Ultron – Bruce Banner/Hulk,” Tony has a great deal of faith in synthetics. Too much faith, frankly. He thinks he can cure the world, just as many other modern scientists do, with the next gadget or computer program.

Pepper and Tony

In his vision, Tony sees another alien invasion taking place. Clearly, this is a nod to the Post Traumatic Stress the writers gave him after Marvel’s The Avengers. Personally, this seems like a rather dumb handicap with which to have saddled him. In fact, I am not sure that Tony actually has PTSD at all. I think what happened to him during the Battle of New York was this: the rose colored glasses were yanked off of his eyes – forcefully, and very quickly.

You see, before Loki’s invasion attempt, all Tony’s battles were fun and games – after a fashion. He got into battles against opponents who were tough and definitely dangerous. But he was able to conquer them because their tech could not match his. There was nothing he faced that he could not handle with a new gadget or toy, one he had either built in the lab or on the fly.

Then, in The Avengers, he runs into aliens with machinery that beats every piece of machinery except that which is featured in the Star Wars films. Against beings who travel through space and have advanced biotechnology, what can Earth use to defend itself? Nukes? That worked on the Chitauri…

But what else is out there? Nukes will not hold back everybody.

Combat is a harsh reality, one for which Tony was not prepared. He had been playing on a much lower level, showing off in the varsity leagues. Cap was right in The Avengers; up to a point, Tony’s performance in battle was glorified showboating. So when Loki arrived and brought an alien army with him, Tony was suddenly dealing with an enemy more technologically advanced than he was. Everyone knows Stark tech is top-of-the-line. Nothing is more advanced than Tony’s gizmos. His is the pinnacle of human technology.

But being on top of the heap on Earth does not make you king of the galaxy. Tony was not thinking that far ahead. He still had his eyes on Earth, not the stars.

Loki forced him to look up. Way, way up – through a portal over his own building in NYC. Talk about being humbled in your own home!

This did not sit well with Tony, and he would not admit it. Not to his friends, and definitely not to himself. Oh, he has said they cannot handle the threats outside the galaxy, sure. But that is because he is looking at the matter solely as synthetics versus synthetics – tech against tech, if you will. He is looking at the battlefield as a tech guru, not a soldier.

Tony is not used to playing second banana to anyone – not in the technological department. He has always been one step ahead of everybody else; one computer program, widget, thingamabob above the rest. The attack on New York taught him that he was indeed the head of the Mech Pack on Earth. But in the universe, he was a small fry.

And that scared him. Tony does not have PTSD. He is simply terrified of not being able to technologically outmatch any and all opponents. If he cannot do it, no one on Earth can.

And he is right. No one person on Earth can stand against an army, no matter the whizz-bang machines they are using, and hope to win. That is just plain stupid. Or hubristic, depending on whom it is you are talking about. But Tony does not see it that way. He is so accustomed to doing everything with machines, and protecting those he cares about by the same method, that to be shown something he cannot defend against frightens him beyond words.

This is why he initially keeps his vision to himself. How can he make his friends understand his fear? How can he tell them, “I can’t protect you or the world because the technology out there is centuries, maybe millennia, ahead of what we’ve got here on Earth. It would take that long to study and copy it, and I don’t have that kind of time!”

Tony cannot admit that – to himself or to his friends. The implications alarm him too badly. If they go up against forces with superior tech which he cannot figure out how to beat, then as far as he can tell, it is all over. This is why he has nightmares about the Battle of New York in Iron Man 3. This is the burning fear he keeps banked and hidden in his mind afterward, where he does not have to look at it….

Until Wanda uncovers it, and fans it into flames at the beginning of Age of Ultron.

Tony’s main problem in the films is that he believes synthetics are the answer to everything. In his opinion, science is the answer to all problems. Tech will solve every dilemma, save every life, and stop every calamity. Isolated in his labs, Tony does not take time to look around and realize that there are things more powerful than machines in the universe. When he goes out, he does not “people watch,” as they like to say.

He does not observe a little girl who goes up to and hugs her dad at the store, or the smile her father gives her as she does so. He does not see a man drop his wallet and another person, noticing the wallet fall, pick it up and return it to its owner. Part of this is his father’s fault, in a way. Howard Stark was so busy trying to fix the world so Tony could grow up safely that he did not spend enough time just being with his son, teaching him that men make technology; technology does not make men.

Captain America

As a result, Tony sees little acts of kindness not as pebbles which start great rockslides but as solitary, random incidents with the lifespan of fireflies. They last a night, or maybe for the entire summer, and then they are gone. How can a human heart be more powerful than a machine?

This is where the other Avengers have the advantage over Tony – for the most part. Cap saw people make great and small sacrifices throughout World War II. Each one of these personal denials of self made a difference in the Allied war effort, no matter how seemingly trivial they were. The combined sacrifices of these people taught him to make the greatest self-surrender he could – joining the U.S. Army so he could be a shield to protect those who could not defend themselves. He faced the original HYDRA’s best war machines, and in doing so, he learned a valuable lesson: Machines of any kind, no matter how strong they are, can always be broken.

Men’s souls and hearts do not break nearly as easily.

Clint has seen the same thing, and more closely than Cap has, in a way. Loki took control of most of his mind and his whole body in The Avengers. But Clint learned he could resist the Trickster, albeit in small ways. Those small instances, however, had powerful consequences. Shooting at Fury’s heart, which was protected by body armor, meant the Director of SHIELD lived to coordinate the war against Loki. Missing Hill, when he would never otherwise have failed to take down his target, meant she was still alive to help in the war effort. Fighting Natasha the way the Black Widow fought best saved his life, and it allowed him to fight against his enslaver. So Clint understands that others may be able to bend him to their will for a time….

But he can choose to bend only so far. And he can choose not to break.

Thor learned when he met Jane Foster, Eric Selvig, and Darcy in New Mexico that the simple acts of kindness matter in the grand scheme of things. Jane was willing to help him when she met him first. She could have driven off and left him in the desert after broad-siding him with her vehicle. She could have ignored him and not told Darcy to get the first aid kit, focusing instead on the Asgardian markings in the sand. But she did no such thing. She took Thor to the hospital, took him to Mjolnir’s landing site later on, and stayed by his side to face the Destroyer – a machine nothing on Earth could stand against. Presumably, no Asgardian or other advanced being from the Nine Realms could stand against it, either. But Thor did. And you know what he learned when he fought his father’s favorite toy?

Even the best and mightiest machine is no match for a determined warrior. In the crunch, machines will always break before a man will.

Natasha knows this, too. It was Clint’s decision to spare her that lead to her redemption. If their positions had been reversed, the odds were against her showing any kind of mercy to him. She always accomplished her missions, always took down her targets. Clint, however, spared her. He had her on the ropes, could have killed her easily. But he did not. In allowing Natasha to live, he taught her that killing is a last resort, not a first. Clint showed her that orders may be wrong or evil, and in such cases they can successfully be countermanded by the individual’s decision. When he lowered his bow and told her he was not going to kill her, she learned something very important:

All the brainwashing and training in the world cannot take away a man’s choice. She, and others like her, could choose to be more than the machines they were programmed to be.

Bruce’s experience of becoming the Hulk taught him the futility of believing in technology as a solution to every problem. As the Hulk, he can break any piece of tech sent against him. It will take more than a bullet or a nuke to kill the Hulk. This means that it will take a lot to kill Bruce, too. Tech, Bruce knows, is not the answer to the world’s problems. No matter how indestructible it seems to be, there is always a way to smash it.

Hulk SMASH

Tony has not learned that lesson from his experiences. His main weapon in battle is a high tech suit of electromechanical armor. Tech is the way he defends himself. It is what he relies on to do his job, more so than any of his friends. Also, Natasha, Steve, Clint, and Thor have trained long and hard to be at their physical peak in combat. They are all athletic and have physical combat skills they can use to defend themselves if they lose their tech. Bruce does not need to train in this way, since he can turn into a nine foot tall green mountain of moving destruction when he releases his rage.

On the other hand, Tony’s training is limited. And he started late.

To be a good or great archer, one has to practice from childhood, usually around the 12-14 age range – if not younger. In the comics, Clint was around that age when he began learning archery, so it would make sense if he started out that young in the films. (Renner definitely has not been practicing that long!) Natasha was trained in combat and gymnastics from the time she could walk. Steve’s serum keeps him in peak health, strength, agility, etc. He does not need to train, but he does it all the same so he will not be caught flat-footed.

Thor comes from a realm of fighters. Apparently, up until Sif declared she was going to be a warrior for Asgard, the only ones in the realm who did not studiously train from a young age to become warriors were the girls. So Thor has had plenty of training – much more than any of his teammates!

Tony has none of these assets. He is not a superior athlete, and he does not maintain a regular training regimen. All he has is that “big brain” of his, and if he cannot use his intelligence to solve the problem, he feels stuck – temporarily, most of the time.

This is why he attempts to jumpstart Ultron with the Mind Stone. To him it is a/the most advanced energy source; energy which he, the ultimate technocrat, understands instinctively (which means he is looking at it wrong, and doesn’t understand it at all). If anything can give his tech the edge over whatever big, bad threats are lurking amidst the stars, it is the gem in the scepter. Remember, readers, that: “Magic is just science we don’t understand yet” – and Tony, in this case, doesn’t have a clue what that science is.

For all his flaws, the fact is that Tony really does care about his friends. He truly does want to keep them safe. They all want that for each other. If you watch the cartoons or look at the comics, you will see Thor or the Hulk jumping in front of bullets or snatching teammates out of danger while throwing themselves in harm’s way. You will watch Widow shove Hawkeye out of the line of fire, or you will see the archer shoot down a threat his partner has not seen coming. Cap will shield his friends as best he can if the situation calls for it, as will Tony.

This is what close-knit units of soldiers and friends will do for each other in a battle. They will forget their own safety and comfort to preserve that of their friends’, no matter the cost to themselves.

In this case, however, Tony took the principal way too far. Without thinking, without caution, he threw everything aside to prevent his friends and home from being destroyed in the far future.

And that only made things worse.

Have you ever done something wrong and then tried immediately to fix it, readers? I have. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, this makes the situation worse. When Tony realizes that Ultron was one of the biggest mistakes of his life, he tries to “fix it.” Wanda points this out to Cap in South Korea, but she makes a mistake in her warning. Tony does know the difference between saving the world and destroying it. In that regard, Wanda misread him. She is correct, though, when she says, “He will do anything to make things right.”

Tony carries a lot of guilt for letting people in his company sell the weapons he made under the table. And yes, some of that guilt is his and he has to atone for it. But doing “anything to make things right” is not the solution. Doing anything to “make things right” means you are open to doing exactly that: anything. If you are that desperate, then even if it is a really stupid, haphazard, bad idea, you will jump into it feet first.

This plan of attack just makes the problem worse. Cap knows this, and that is why he tells Tony and Bruce to shut down the Vision. As per usual, Tony will not accept that Cap is right and he is wrong in this matter. He has learned to take responsibility for his actions, but only to an extent. Beyond that point, his hubris tells him to stop listening because, as one of the three smartest men on the planet, he can fix anything with enough time and tech.

What Tony needs to do in the film franchise and newer comics is to sit down and realize that people are not machines. You can fix a buggy computer program, you can repair a broken tractor, and you can make a million whizz-bang gadgets which will improve the quality of life for the average man. But you cannot “fix” the world. You cannot “fix” other people’s flaws. Heck, an individual cannot even “fix” himself! Only the grace of God can “fix” those flaws, and you will not find that grace in a computer program or a car engine.   And you definitely will not find it in a chemistry set!

This is something Tony has not yet accepted. Somewhere after the Battle of New York, his reformation hit a snag on his newfound fear. Ever since, his progress as a hero has almost completely stalled. He has taken two steps back for every half-step of growth. He has not yet managed to learn his lesson. Hopefully, the writers will get around to changing that in the coming films. The comics would do well to start working in that direction, too.

Well, readers, this is the last character post I will be doing on Avengers: Age of Ultron. As much as I have enjoyed talking about the film, I am glad to be done with it. I hope these posts were as illuminating for you as they were for me.

Now, though, I have to go on to the next project – discussing the Avengers’ character growth in Captain America: Civil War!!!!

*Dramatic sigh.* Oh, the work I do for Marvel!

Just kidding – I don’t do it for them. I write for the fun of it! 😉

Catch ya later!

The Mithril Guardian

Iron Man