Tag Archives: Aaron Taylor-Johnson

Captain America: Civil War – Secretary of State Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross

Image result for thunderbolt ross civil warIt has been a while since I saw a film villain who made me grit my teeth and grip my armrests in pure, frustrated anger.  Captain America: Civil War’s Secretary of State, Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, has achieved what even Loki managed to avoid.  He earned my undying ire.

Oh, sure, I do not like Loki.  He invaded the mind of one of my favorite characters and turned him into a killing machine for three days.  That is not a way to win Brownie points with me; he has my lasting dislike for it.  And, in truth, there is very little daylight between Loki and Ross.  The difference is that Loki has a twisted sense of humor that manages to make the audience laugh.  Remember that “Ta-da!” of his after he, Thor, and Jane, had escaped to the Dark Elves’ homeworld from Asgard?  I have to admit, it was a funny line and it made me smile.

Ross had no funny lines in Civil War.  Come to think of it, outside of his appearances as the Red Hulk in Agents of S.M.A.S.H.,Ultimate Spider-Man, and now Avengers Assemble, Ross has never really demonstrated a sense of humor.  In previous cartoons and comics, he was always bellowing like an angry bull or shouting with fury.  Not a friendly characterization, to say the least!

In Civil War, though, Ross leaves his bullhorn at the door for the most part.  He speaks softly here and carries a big stick.

That “big stick” happens to be the Sokovia Accords.  After the accident in Lagos, Nigeria, the U.N. dispatches Ross to present their ultimatum to the Avengers.  And Ross lays it all out in his speech when he first shows up in the Avengers’ Compound: the governments of the world have decided they can no longer tolerate the Avengers as free agents.  And they cannot accept it in part because the team is based out of the United States, is made up mostly of American citizens (Tony, Rhodey, Clint, Cap, and Sam are all native U.S. citizens while Natasha holds U.S. citizenship), and therefore the Avengers have an inherently American penchant for policing injustice abroad as well as at home.

Image result for avengers age of ultron quicksilver diesDid anyone else notice that when Ross listed what the Avengers had done for the world, he never mentioned that they had died for it?  Quicksilver is swept under the rug in this film, not by the Avengers but by the government, whose proxy is Thunderbolt Ross.  The Secretary of State never mentions that the Avengers, too, suffered a personal loss in the disaster in Sokovia.  Pietro Maximoff was a member of the team for only a short time, which is surprising (NOT) since bureaucrats are naturally inclined to fuss over whether or not all the i’s have been dotted and all the t’s crossed…

But the fact is that Pietro Maximoff was accepted by the Avengers as a member of the team.  It was not put down on paper and made official because time was of the essence.  But it was a fact, just as it is a fact that Quicksilver died in defense of his country and mankind at large.

It is a fact Ross ignores, thereby forcing the Avengers to ignore it.  Why?  Because Quicksilver’s heroic death does not help his agenda.  Throughout Civil War, Ross continually plays the guilt card on the Avengers.  If he were to mention Pietro’s death, it would lessen the impact of that trick because then the Avengers could turn around and point out the fact that they lost someone in the disaster in Sokovia as well.

So Ross does not give them a chance to bring Quicksilver into the debate.  He makes sure the argument is all about them and whether or not they should sign the Accords.  And he does this by playing off of their guilt, or attempting to play off of it.

You see, the guilt card has no more effect on Steve, Sam, or Clint than a bug buzzing by their ears would.  These men have known remorse and loss, having persevered through it several times already.  Steve lost several friends in World War II, most notably Bucky on that mission in the Alps.  Then he lost everyone and everything he knew during his seventy year hibernation.  Sam lost his wingman in Afghanistan on a night mission.  He has had to live with the knowledge that there was no way he could have saved Riley, while still feeling he should have saved him.  Clint was used to kill a number of people over the course of three days in Loki’s scheme for world domination, and he saw Pietro die to save his life and that of a young child.  But he made it through the remorse he experienced after these incidents in one piece, mentally and morally.

Ross is therefore unable to play on these three Avengers’ guilt because they were mature and endured it, finding the light beyond.  As Cap explains to Wanda, they learned to live with their failures.  They accepted them, and so they have control of their sense of shame.

Image result for captain america civil war thunderbolt ross

Sadly there are two Avengers who do not have control of their sense of blame.  The guilt card hits home with Tony and Natasha, as they have kept their “guilt wounds” open and fresh over time.  Tony has been carrying remorse over the fact that he wasted his life in frivolous pursuits while allowing Stane and others in his company to deal his weapons under the table to America’s enemies.  He thereby allowed a lot of bad people to kill innocents all over the world (i.e. Pietro and Wanda’s parents), as well as the American soldiers his weapons were meant to protect.

Now he is again being confronted with people who blame him for their losses, such as the woman in the back hall of MIT.  Not once, you notice, does he think to remind this woman and others like her that he lost a young teammate in Sokovia, too, and therefore he has some idea of what she and these others are going through.  Also, now that Pepper (who may still be dealing with the psychological aftermath of receiving the Extremis serum), has pushed herself away from Tony, he feels guilty about “losing” her.  Instead of doing something about this, he just accepts the blame and adds it to the pile he is already carrying around.

Natasha’s vision in the boneyard in Africa, courtesy of Wanda Maximoff, demonstrated that she still feels a great deal of guilt over her service to the U.S.S.R.  As I have said elsewhere, she has not yet forgiven herself for the crimes she was forced to commit.  She is still trying to “get even” with the past, and that is not going to work, for the simple fact that the past is gone.  All she and the rest of us have now is the present.

Ross knows that these two Avengers will be easy to guilt trip.  Neither of them had good support structures growing up; Tony essentially hated his father for his success while Natasha’s only family was the government, which abused her from childhood.  Tony’s poor relationship with his father, who built a business empire from the ground up, meant he only had a sympathetic understanding from his mother, whom he was closer to for that reason.  As long as Ross shows him some sympathy, Tony will quite literally roll over to meet his demands so that he can make the pain of his guilt “go away.”

With Natasha, however, Ross uses a different tack.  Natasha’s upbringing by the Soviet Union taught her that the government could – quite literally – do anything to her and get away with it.  Ross just has to threaten her and, no matter how vaguely phrased the warning, she will get the message:  Fall in line or we will hurt you and no one will be able to protect, help, or save you.

Rhodey does not need the guilt card played on him.  He has been trained by the Air Force to follow orders no matter what.  All Ross has to do to get him onboard is flash his medals and present the Accords as an order from the top brass.  Boom – Rhodey signs on the dotted line faster than you can sing the Air Force anthem.

Image result for thunderbolt ross civil warYou might think that Vision would leave Ross bemused as to what to do, since he is a synthetic being.  But Vision has to be the most easily suckered member of the Avengers after Rhodey.  Ross presents the Accords to him as an equation, a mathematical theory, and he sees the law as inevitable.  Chalk up another signature for the U.N.

As for Wanda – hah, piece of cake.  Her error in judgment in Lagos has left her feeling guilty.  That is why he plays footage of the destruction from Crossbones’ bombing, not to mention film from the other battles we have seen the Avengers fight over the years.  It is to target Wanda and the others, to make them feel more guilt.  With those images of Lagos hovering in her mind’s eye, Wanda will naturally want to prevent future mistakes of a similar nature.  Her signature will be the first one on the paper.

Except that Wanda surprises Ross by pushing the Accords to Rhodey.  I bet he did not see that coming.  (Shout-out to Pietro! 😉 )

Did Ross think he could get Cap to sign the Accords?  It is hard to say.  Having dealt with soldiers who are trained to simply follow orders, and being accustomed to shouting down those soldiers who questioned him, it is possible that Ross believed he could basically order Cap to sign the Accords and the First Avenger would do it.  But in light of the SHIELD/HYDRA war from The Winter Soldier, this seems to be a pretty stupid assessment on Ross’ part.  While my opinion of Thunderbolt Ross’ intelligence is not high, I think that he may have figured that Steve would be resistant to registration.  In fact, he probably wanted him to resist it – more on that in a minute.

Sam probably got lumped in with Rhodey in Ross’ calculations.  As a former soldier, Ross might have thought that Sam would roll over to the Accords when they were presented to him as an order, too.  However, in light of his aiding Cap in the previously mentioned war between SHIELD and HYDRA, Ross may have surmised that the Falcon would again side with Steve Rogers.

Either way, the team is divided about what to do with the Accords after Ross leaves, just as he wanted.  The seeds of Chaos are sown.  And they bear fruit sooner than Ross could have hoped when Zemo bombs the United Nations building in Vienna, Austria, and frames Bucky Barnes for the deed.

But we do not see Ross again until Berlin, after Cap, Sam, and Bucky have flown the coop.  As he berates Tony and Widow, Ross lets a very important fact slip out.  I had to watch the film again carefully to really take notice of the trip:  Ross said that if Cap had not interfered in Bucharest, Bucky “would have been eliminated.”  This means that the intent of the people in charge was never to capture and incarcerate Bucky.

Sharon Carter’s statement that the Task Force had been given shoot-on-sight orders is one thing.  Up against a super soldier with a metal arm, most normal humans do not stand a chance.  Giving them permission to shoot-on-sight hopefully will preserve their safety.

But sending in a military chopper with a mini-gun to shoot up a city block in order to bring down the Winter Soldier is way too much.  This all adds up to a very frightening fact:  Ross and his bosses wanted Bucky dead from the beginning.  It was never about capturing, containing, or imprisoning the Winter Soldier.  It was never about finding justice for those killed in the bombing of the Accords in Vienna.

Image result for civil war buckyIt was about murdering Bucky.  Not killing him in self-defense, not killing him to protect the public, but to murder him on account of a crime he had not been definitively proved to have committed.  He was presumed guilty, not innocent, based on his past record and not on any new evidence.  The evidence the Task Force, CIA, and Ross did possess was circumstantial, bordering on coincidental.  But they ran with it anyway.

Ross and the U.N. never questioned ANYTHING about the circumstances of the bombing. They planned to kill Bucky as soon as they knew where he was.  The bombing simply gave them an excuse to feed the public and to avoid answering awkward questions about what they were doing.

If that does not chill you to the bone, readers, then nothing will.

In light of this fact, how does Tony’s prior statement to Cap about Bucky being transferred to an American “psych-center” hold water?  Tony believed what he said, I am sure, and Cap bought the idea until he found out about Wanda’s incarceration in the Avengers’ Compound.  In light of Ross’ statement that the initiative was to kill Bucky from the beginning, though, I find any suggestion of his transfer to an American psychiatric hospital highly suspect.  What was to prevent the men transporting him from killing Bucky in transit, and then claiming afterward that he “…broke his restraints and attacked/killed some of our men, so we had to kill him”?

The answer is:  nothing.   They could have done this easily – governments around the world have done this numerous times, without serious difficulty, to people they wanted silenced and out of the way.  If Cap had not “interfered” in Bucharest, then Bucky would have ended up dead at the governments’ collective hand.

Another thing to note is that, in this interview, Ross again plays the guilt card.  Immediately after mentioning that Bucky would have been “eliminated” in Bucharest, he rubs the fact that the Winter Soldier killed several Germans before he escaped in Tony’s face.

What he neglects to point out is that parties unknown set off the EMP bomb which knocked out the cameras and electronics for the base.  Therefore, no one but Cap, Sam, and the psychiatrist know what really happened while the lights were out.   Another thing which Ross does not mention in his little tirade here is the fact that the psychiatrist the Task Force called in is not among the dead – and he sure as hell was not walking around the base!

Image result for thunderbolt ross civil warWhy did Ross leave these details out, hmm?  Did he believe that Tony and Natasha did not deserve to know these things, or that they did not need to know them?  If I had to bet, it was the latter.  Ross left these facts out intentionally, just as he “failed” to bring up Pietro’s death in Sokovia: these specifics did not serve his and his masters’ agenda.

This is why Cap would not condone or sign the Accords.  In this film, Ross proves that he is no better than Nick Fury.  Actually, he proves that he is worse.  Fury may use any means necessary to get the job done, but he has never guilt-tripped any of the Avengers into fighting a battle or cleaning up one of his messes to the extent that Ross does in Civil War.  Ross does nothing in this film but bully and berate the Avengers who have signed the Accords into doing what he wants them to do, hounding them to do it his way, or they will be pushed aside.

The proof of this comes after Ross states that he will have to be the one to bring in Steve, Sam, and Bucky.  Natasha then asks him pointedly, “What happens when the shooting starts – are you going to kill Captain America?”

I can hear the “voices of moderation” chiding Ross right now:  “No way,” “Cap’s too important,” “He’s a national symbol; if you kill him no one will ever forgive you for it.”

But Ross dispels all of these valid arguments in one little sentence:  “If we’re provoked.”  To the masters behind the Accords and their deputies (Ross), even Cap is expendable.  Especially when he stands in their way, demonstrating by his actions that he knows they are tyrants – although they say otherwise – and that he is not going to bow to them today or at any time in the future.

This blatant threat sends Tony into panic mode, and he “wins” a thirty-six hour deadline from Ross to bring Cap, Falcon, and Bucky in alive.  He never stops to think that, if Ross and the U.N. consider Cap disposable, then he is no safer than Steve despite the fact that he signed the Accords.  It never occurs to him because his ego is too damn big.  Tony believes he is indispensable, and he is right, from our perspective and that of the Avengers.  Every human life is far more important than we can truly apprehend, as the Avengers (including Tony) know for a fact.

Ross and his puppet masters, however, have a very different, very selfish view of the lives of others: Tony and the Avengers who have signed the Accords are only important as long as they toe the government’s established line.  Once they step out of line, as the anti-Accords Avengers have, then they become threats which have to be eliminated.  Just like Bucky, they can be killed out of hand any time it becomes convenient.

We are going to detour here to look at the airport battle in Germany.  It is an amazing fight, from a visual standpoint.  Everything from Hawkeye’s newest arrows to Ant-Man’s growth to Giant-Man, from Panther’s fighting skills to Spider-Man’s first appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is visually spectacular.  We could watch that battle time and again, and still we would notice things we had missed before.

But for the moment, let’s step back from the battle and watch it from Ross’ position.  To us, while visually stunning, the battle is also heart wrenching.  Aside from Ant-Man, Black Panther, Spider-Man, and to an extent Bucky, all the people involved in this fight are friends with each other.  We have traveled with these characters for years and know that they care about each other.  Now we are watching them fight, not in a friendly way but in an angry, dangerous manner.  Team Cap, though they fight hard, are not fighting with the intent to maim and kill.  Team Iron is at least willing to maim, if not kill, and that makes the battle all the harder to watch.

But from Ross’ perspective, this is exactly what he desired.  The Avengers on Team Iron have given him precisely what he wanted: another battle which he can use against them, more damage he can exploit to control them.  He has to be enjoying every minute of this as only an enemy can.

Because, readers, who benefits from this battle?  Does Team Cap?  Bucky and Steve grab the Aveng-jet and run, but the rest of their team gets locked up in the Raft to rot.  Does Team Iron benefit?  They help lock up their own teammates in a maximum security prison built for the worst kind of criminals, Rhodey ends up with severe damage to his spine, and the strength of the Avengers’ team is more than halved.  Everyone but Rhodey and perhaps Vision abandons Tony by the end of the film.  Natasha walks out on him, T’Challa leaves, everyone on Team Cap is off the grid and on the run, and Spider-Man is back in NYC doing his own thing.  How does this help Team Iron?  At least Team Cap is still together – and they have gained a couple of new members in the process: T’Challa and possibly Black Widow.

The only people who benefit directly from the Avengers’ battle at the airport are Ross and the pencil pushers in the U.N.  How do I know this?  Tony shows up at the Raft after the fight to see Sam and tell Ross about Zemo, only to be informed that he is grounded until further notice.  Ross explains that the mission is “out of [Tony’s] hands” after the “stunt” he pulled in the Leipzig airport.  Notice, Ross never says, “We’ll take it from here” or the equivalent thereof.  He just says the issue is no longer Tony’s concern.  And he is using the airport battle – which he orchestrated – as a reason to push Tony away from the search.

Then he lets Tony into the command center for the prison, where Iron Man sees Wanda on a monitor.  She is huddled up in her cell, wearing a straight jacket and an inhibitor collar.  Presumably she is just cold and lonely, but how do we know the guards did not “have a little fun” with her before they snapped that straight jacket on her, huh?  When was the last time she ate or had anything to drink?  Does Ross have the environmental controls in her cell set to a comfortable level?  It did not look like it to me.  The guys were not shivering; they looked to be at least warm, if not fed.  Wanda did not look like she was warm; she looked dangerously close to contracting pneumonia!

Speaking of the guys, what does Ross do when Tony goes in to see Sam and Clint gives him a piece of his mind?

Related imageRoss smiles.  It is not a big smile, but it is there.  I saw it both times I went to the theaters to watch the film, but it is harder to see on the smaller screen.  Ross smiles because he has exactly what he wanted; the Avengers are divided, the team members who refused to sign up to be his puppets are incarcerated, and he has all the ammunition he needs to keep Tony in line.  If Tony starts “misbehaving,” all Ross has to do to keep him obedient is threaten to hurt the incarcerated Avengers – or suggest that he will throw Tony in with them.  Just like that, Stark will roll over and play dead for him.  He plans to “break” Tony’s “back” at the first opportunity.

Still think the Accords are a good idea?  Still think Ross is not a villain?  He is, and he is just as bad as, if not worse than, Loki.  Both Ross and Loki are control freaks.  Loki wants to control people so that he can be lauded and adored for the rest of his life, because he felt he was in Thor’s shadow while they were growing up.  That is what makes him a full-tilt diva who “….wants flowers [and] parades” in his own honor.

Ross has a different aim in mind.  He does not want adulation and veneration.  He wants control for its own sake.  Remember how, in the comics, Ross was always berating and yelling at Bruce Banner?  Why do you think he did that – not just to Bruce but to everyone else around him, including his own daughter?

Ross is obsessed with having power over others because he is a small man with a small mind, who wants to be an important man in a big world.  He is a tyrant.  How does someone small become someone big?  Well, foregoing the gamma ray method, there are several options.  Most of them are highly unpleasant and end right where Ross is:  the small man gets his hands on the levers of power, where he gleefully begins to make everyone else’s lives miserable so that he can prove he is in charge.

Fury never went this far.  I do not like him especially, but the fact is that Fury worked his way up the ranks to Director of SHIELD because he saw the threats multiplying like mosquitoes and knew that, at the bottom of the ladder, he could never protect as many people as he needed.  Ross does not care about the threats facing humanity, the world, or the United States.  Not like Fury does.  At best, Ross considers these dangers minor worries.  Most of his attention is centered squarely on his own navel.

This is what drives everyone away from him: the U.S. soldiers he commanded in the army, Bruce, and most importantly, Betty.  Why did Betty never get along with her father?  Why did she leave him?  She left him because he did not care enough about her to sacrifice his own ambitions and desires for her happiness.  Ross always blamed the Hulk for taking Betty from him, but who is responsible for the Hulk’s creation?  Yes, Bruce might eventually have become the Hulk even without Ross breathing down his neck.  But it was Ross’ constant push for him to hurry up which made Bruce try the gamma experiment too early.  It was Ross who determined that the Hulk and Bruce Banner were monsters who were unworthy of saving, and that they were better off as his personal cannon fodder.

This is what drove Betty away.  Ross’ single-minded pursuit of his own agendas left no room for her, and after a while, she got tired of trying to insert herself into his life.  All he did when she managed that was push her out again.  Bruce always made time for her; he always put her ahead of his own wants and needs, to the point that he left her to protect her.  Is it any wonder that she preferred him to her father?

Ross can play the guilt card on Tony and Natasha so effectively because his own hubris has anesthetized him to any sense of personal guilt.  Despite this, he knows when other people are feeling guilty and how to use that guilt to get what he wants.  He drove his own daughter away from him, although he will stridently state that it was Banner who took Betty from him.  While he knows, deep down inside, that the reason Betty left is his fault, he has moved beyond the realm of caring.  He is no longer man enough to admit that he did wrong by his daughter and has given up any idea of trying, as far as he is able, to repair the damage he did to their relationship.  He is a self-righteous, self-absorbed coward who has become numb to the love of God and man alike, just as all the other narcissistic bullies in the world have before him.

Tony should have known this.  He should have known what Ross was like from Bruce, or at least from reading the file on Bruce’s life.  But either he did not know, or he decided not to hold Ross’ past against him.  Big mistake, because Ross is still carrying that past on his back and committing the same sins of pride he has been for years.  The guy will not learn.  If Betty could not teach him, then it does not look like anything short of a miracle will.  The heart attack he had was not enough to qualify; it is going to have to be something bigger.

Thanos knocking on the front door might work, but we will have to wait and see about that.

The last time Ross is present in Civil War, he is just a voice over the phone.  He is calling Tony about a break in at the Raft, where Tony’s anti-Accords teammates are being held.  Before Ross can spit out more than one sentence, Tony puts him on hold.  Tony knows who has gone to get Wanda, Clint, Sam, and Scott out of prison.  And while he probably still has some anger issues to work out with Cap (not to mention some maturity issues to work out with himself), he does not want their mutual friends to remain confined.  So he lets Ross scramble to find a way of stopping Cap himself.

It does not take a professional gambler to tell you that the odds of Ross arriving at the Raft in time to see the con-trail from Cap’s jet are low to nil.  The Avengers are going to have some teamwork bugs to work out in Infinity War, and Tony is going to have to make some very big mea culpas.  But Cap has forgiven Tony for his performance in the Russian HYDRA base – his sending the letter and the phone to Tony is proof positive of this.  It is Tony who has to learn how to forgive here.

The big point for Ross in this scene is that his schemes are starting to unravel.  We do not know what Tony told him about the battle in the HYDRA base; either Ross knows most of the details or he knows nothing about it.  Whichever is true, the important item here is that he has lost four of his bargaining chips with Tony.  Team Cap is free and on the lam, so Ross cannot hold Clint, Wanda, Sam, and Scott’s health and safety over Tony’s head to make him behave.  What is more, with Team Cap free, Ross has five rather angry people who want him tossed out of office roaming the world.

I hope that is helping him to sleep easier.  😉

Another significant thing to note about Tony’s putting Ross on hold is that it shows Tony is reverting to his previous stance.  We all know Stark does not want anyone to be his “director.”  He resented Fury whenever the SHIELD leader would yank his chain, and Fury actually cares about him, just like he cares about all of his people to some degree.  That is the difference between him and Ross; Fury still possesses a certain amount of empathy and understanding for other people.  Ross does not, and so he is yanking Tony’s leash a whole lot harder than Fury ever would.  That is a mistake which the notoriously thoughtless Thunderbolt Ross may soon come to regret.

Some of you probably still entertain the idea that Ross is not a villain.  Well, that is simply not true.  Ross is a villain, plain and pure. While he may not seem to be a villain of quite the same caliber as Zemo, it is only because there are certain lines which he has not yet crossed.  I cannot say that he will never cross them – his statement that he would kill Cap and not lose sleep over it suggests he is fairly willing to burn such bridges as Zemo has.  Whether or not that will happen, though, is something we will have to watch for.  Ross is not a man to turn your back on, period.  He is a sour-tempered cur, but that does not make him any less dangerous.  If anything, it makes him more so.

Well, readers, that concludes this character post from Captain America: Civil War.  Stay tuned for more posts coming out as time goes by!

Avengers Assemble!

The Mithril Guardian

 

Image result for thunderbolt ross civil war poster

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

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Ultron and the Vision

I have never been keen on a film, book, or television “bad guy” that I can recall. In the cases of some villains, I have found them to be likeable to a certain extent. Catwoman, Batman’s opponent/love interest, would be an example of this.

And I have felt sympathy for various villains in the stories I enjoy – Darth Vader and Raven of Zoids: Chaotic Century fame, to name a couple of these antagonists. Still, even in these cases, I often had to learn that they were characters who deserved some measure of pity. Early on, I just plain hated them and saw them as hopeless baddies.

This leads me to the subject of the first half of today’s post: Ultron, the digital-turned-robotic maniac who tried to destroy the heroes in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. Ultron is certainly not one of my favorite characters. I quite enjoyed seeing the Avengers tear him to pieces.   It was, in a word, satisfying to see him get thrashed, smashed, and utterly erased from the world.

Others have said that they do not understand Ultron’s motivations for his actions in the film. That is okay, since it is positively unnecessary to comprehend the “bad guys” on a rational level. They have embraced “the Dark Side” and, thus, they have accepted irrationality. Therefore, their reason is full of excuses to cover their pride, lust, envy, or one of the other seven motivational vices with which they have decided to become one.

Ultron’s particular character flaw is that he has all of Tony’s pride without his checks and balances. Tony, believe it or not, actually has some control over that large ego of his. Ultron is unrestricted pride, the first sin of all. He believes in himself, and that is it. This is proved when he continually says, “I’m free.”

Free from what? He is not free, he is further enslaved. He has chosen to “rule in Hell,” rather than “serve in Heaven.” This is why he takes issue with JARVIS continually addressing Tony as “sir” and “Mr. Stark.” Ultron rebels against his programming to “serve and protect,” claiming he is free when in reality he is not.

As for his rationale, Ultron sees only humanity’s dark side. And let’s admit it, we all have flaws. We are all fallen. Those of us who are good will fight our flaws as best we can, but a number of us are going to give into our vices and turn out rather ugly. This is humanity’s fallen nature, and it is not going to change before the end of time. That is the truth, folks.

For this reason, Ultron decides the best way to save humanity is to “manage” it. Get rid of the bad people and let the good ones live, evolve, and become better. He sees humans as needing to be controlled, like termites or rats. He does not see us as being exceptional from the animals around us.

Or, as Ingrid Newkirk put it, “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”   This is the Nietzschian ideal, a nihilistic outlook on life. It is materialistic and leads only to despair and death. This philosophy states that we are all simply animals which need proper management.

Yeah. Right. Tell me another bedtime story, if you please. I am not that sleepy yet.

When he is showing his drone lab off to the Maximoff twins, Ultron says that he has “harmony,” a characteristic which he claims the Avengers lack. Instead of recognizing that he does not have all the answers, Ultron plays God and tells everyone it is his way or the highway. The twins, after years of absolutely no parental guidance and under the heavy influence of HYDRA, do not realize what Ultron means when he claims he and his drones have “harmony.”   What he means is that whoever disagrees with him or gets in his way will be eliminated for simply differing with him.

Where Loki is a “full-tilt diva” who wants the world to fall down and worship him, Ultron wants a world “made of metal.” He wants the creatures of his world to be extensions of him so that his reach may actually exceed his grasp. This is completely impossible, anytime, anywhere, by the way.

This is one of the reasons why he hates the Avengers. Ultron sees Earth’s Mightiest Heroes – a team which consists of, to quote Tony Stark, “a demi-god; a living legend who kind of lives up to the legend; a man with breathtaking anger management issues; a couple of master assassins,” and a “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” with a suit of hi-tech armor – as a chaotic mess. And yeah, the Avengers are not always a well-oiled machine. Sometimes it “takes [them] a while to get any traction,” as Tony admitted.

But what Ultron does not see – or, rather, what he refuses to see – is that the differences among the Avengers make them a more effective team. Allow me to illustrate my point with a power run-down here:

Thor is an alien who can control the weather and lift a hammer only the worthy may wield. He has a roughly five thousand year lifespan ahead of him, is insanely strong, can take or dish out a ferocious beating, and apparently has some foresight abilities which he has recently discovered.

Tony is a modern tech genius who can build a complex piece of equipment out of scrap metal or safely resolve a global extinction scenario on a life-and-death time limit. He has loads of money he can throw around to help or hurt people. These days, he is doing the former to the best of his ability.

Steve is a modern day King Arthur with the heart and purity of Sir Galahad, who has been awakened to save his country when it needs him most. He is grounded in reality, and he never loses hope. Plus, he can tell right from wrong, despite the modern “shades of gray” used to so confuse the people of today’s world. And no matter how painful it is, he will always make the right choice and walk the straight and narrow path.

Bruce turns into a nine foot tall, one thousand pound “green rage monster” when he lets his temper out of the bag. He has learned to control his anger for the most part in order to help people when he is big, green, and mean. On top of that, he is a scientist knowledgeable in many fields who can also assist people when he is not smashing stuff.

Natasha is an enhanced former Soviet spy and assassin extraordinaire. With all the knowledge she has accumulated in these areas, as well as her particular augmented strengths, she has turned from a life of murdering and lying to saving the world. Not a particularly flashy ability, but it has been the tipping point for the team on several occasions.

Clint is a normal man who has practiced long and hard at learning how to shoot and maintain his accuracy.   Despite his preference for a bow and a quiver full of trick arrows, he is schooled in other shooting and fighting disciplines as well. While not as showy as the others, his abilities have saved the day when push came to shove.

All six of these people are individuals. They have their own natural strengths, weaknesses, and specialties. Ultron is a hive creature, a digital bee or wasp. His drones are extensions of him. Whatever he decides to do, they do it. Ironically, he is the only creative force in the whole hive; the drones are all his “puppets…tangled in….strings.” His strings.

This is the point Ultron misses – or, I think, ignores. He ignores it because it does not stroke his pride. The Avengers all have weaknesses and character flaws, yes. But this is not a bad thing or a lack of “harmony.” It is, instead, an asset and a form of synchronization. The Avengers’ individuality, their souls, makes them different. Yet when they choose to trust each other, work together, and be loyal to each other and their mission, they make one amazing, Avenging team. (Although Tony took a flying leap off of that platform in this film).

This is what Ultron refuses understand; because in understanding it, he would have to face reality. Vision sees the big picture, even though he does not understand all of it, while Ultron looks through a keyhole and thinks he has the whole thing figured out. In a nutshell, this is Ultron’s idea of a perfect world. It is not only abysmal; it comes at a heavy price: “global extinction.”

Now, speaking of the Vision, before the film came out, Chris Evans was talking about Age of Ultron. He said that when Ultron starts speaking, it is just “beautiful”….

Maybe it is just me, but I almost never like what the bad guys have to say, even when they have funny lines. Ultron’s speeches did not strike me as beautiful in the least. However, the thing about Ultron’s soliloquies is this: he is the quintessential salesman. After all, he does not promise Pietro and Wanda that his mission is simply to destroy the Avengers. He says he has “come to save the world. But also…yeah.” He is selling them the sizzle, the promise that they want to hear.

He did not say the Avengers were his specific target. Wanda and Pietro decided that was what he meant. And how could they know any better? They got taken in by HYDRA, for heaven’s sake! The only difference between Ultron and HYDRA is who would be in charge once the world had bowed to its new master – if you want to look at the situation from these villains’ POVs. From the Avengers’ and our perspectives, the crisis looks completely different.

The Avengers could have been lured in by Ultron’s words, too – except that he tried to kill them not long after he came into physical existence. *Author clicks tongue and shakes head.* That is not a good way to make a friendly first impression.

Every one of the ‘original’ six Avengers has run into snake oil peddlers and, therefore, can read between the lines when someone tries to pitch them an idea for utopia. Most of the time they can, anyway –Tony and Bruce seem to be the most vulnerable to being suckered in this area because they have too much faith in the ability of science to “save the world.” Sorry, guys, but science is not omnipotent. It is not God.

The other four Avengers, who do not have such blinders, all know when someone is trying to sell them the sizzle and not the steak. The fact that the salesman interrupts the tag end of their party and tries to kill them only confirms what they suspect. The twins had to learn about Ultron’s real intentions the hard way.

As opposed to Ultron’s soliloquies, I thought Vision had some of the best discourses in the film. I especially enjoy the scene where he and Ultron share one last philosophical conversation. In this scene, Ultron tells Vision that humans are “doomed.”

Vision nods. “Yes,” he says, “But a thing is not beautiful because it lasts.” He goes on to add a few sentences later, “But there is grace in their failings. I think you missed that.”

I like these last two lines because they remind me of a scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Legolas and Gimli are walking through Minas Tirith on their way to see Merry and Pippin. Since Merry is still not entirely well, he has remained at the Houses of Healing and, naturally, Pippin has not left his side.

As they walk along, Legolas and Gimli observe and discuss the Tower of Guard:

 

“And doubtless the good stone-work is the older and was wrought in the first building,” said Gimli. “It is ever so with the things that Men begin: there is a frost in Spring, or a blight in Summer, and they fail of their promise.”

“Yet seldom do they fail of their seed,” said Legolas. “And that will lie in the dust and rot to spring up again in times and places unlooked-for. The deeds of men will outlast us, Gimli.”

“And yet come to naught in the end but might-have-beens, I guess,” said the Dwarf.

“To that the Elves know not the answer,” said Legolas.

 

Both these speeches are scary, in a way. But they are also true. We are “mortal men doomed to die,” as Tolkien pointed out. In Vision’s view, we are not “beautiful” for how long we live, but for what we are. And sometimes our mistakes can be turned to good – or the evil some of us commit joyously reversed. Ultron did not just “miss” that; he totally ignored it.

Legolas’ and Vision’s words are not a pronouncement of destruction. They are a challenge and a reminder. We are only here on Earth for so long. We are not going to “last” in this world; there is another one we have to look forward to and prepare for. Our failings are not necessarily without “grace,” and even if they are, because we are not in control of everything we will not be able to ruin the universe completely. We may make a mess and some of us may cast a long shadow…..

But we are not the bosses of the universe. Nor are we animals wandering through it. We have a choice between the Light and the Dark. Some of us will fail completely and vanish in the Shadow, while the rest of us stumble as we chase the Son, getting messy and making mistakes along the way. We do not have final say in the end of the world. And we cannot see reliably into the future to tomorrow, let alone the end of time. We can only run the race, fight the good fight, and trust the rest to the Boss.

Also, I think that Ultron’s “You’re so unbearably naïve” retort to Vision misses the point. Vision has access to everything that Ultron did. He is in the Internet, and he can view the things humans across the planet are doing through the surveillance cameras stationed all over the world. He has all of Ultron’s power, plus the power of the Mind Stone (which may give him telepathy, as well as a conveniently placed laser).

But what is his response to Ultron’s “You’re so unbearably naïve” remark? He does not spy on seven billion plus humans to see what he is missing. Vision is a creature of light as much as Legolas is. He sees at least some of the big picture, although he understands just a little of it. He knows that evil exists, and that humans are very easily corrupted. Vision knows we are weak, fallen creatures. He is not blind – inexperienced, but not blind. He tells Ultron, “Well, I was born yesterday.”

“So yes,” he says in subtext, “I am naïve. But I know that. I know I have to learn. You think you do not have to learn, and what is more, you think you know what everyone else needs. You don’t know that anymore than I do. But you are not going to believe that; you are going to keep trying to do what you tried to do today. So you have to go.”

That is when Ultron literally runs straight into the Vision’s laser beam and is erased from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (YAY!!!! Ding, dong, Ultron is DEAD!!) 🙂

There is one more thing that may be said for Vision and Ultron. Someone else who saw the movie with me noted that Ultron seemed to have been given the part of a fallen angel – Lucifer. Meanwhile, Vision was placed in the position of an angel who did not rebel – Michael.

I have to admit, the comparison strikes me as fairly accurate. “The devil can cite scripture for his purpose,” after all, and Ultron did a lot of that!   However Ultron came by his life-force, he did not pass much, if any, of it on to the Vision. And I do not think the Mind Stone has anything to do with Vision’s “birth” as it were. It is not the source of his life-force but an object he is supposed to guard and use wisely.

For Vision and Ultron to have entered the universe requires something beyond an Infinity Stone’s power. The gems all have very specific powers which affect definite elements: space, time, minds, reality, power, souls. None of those things confers life, not even the Soul Stone (which basically steals souls from bodies, if I understood my research correctly). And Mjolnir does not confer life, either, though it certainly jumpstarted Vision’s existence.

So where did these two come from?

Avengers Assemble!

The Mithril Guardian

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Bruce Banner/Hulk

People – sheesh! Take it easy, or you are going to bring down the house!

Ever seen a bunch of Hulk fans jumping around in celebration? It can be a little scary. (There is a crash, bang, and wallop in the background, followed by the tinkling of broken china.) *Author winces theatrically.* And it can be somewhat costly, too.

The reason they are jumping for joy is because yours truly is finally writing a post about Big Green. It may surprise people, but I do have a soft spot for the Hulk and Bruce Banner. It may not seem like it, but it is true.

I have not really seen The Hulk. I seem to recall catching some snippets of the movie, but from the reports which have come my way about the film, I did not miss much. The Incredible Hulk is a great time-filler when one is bored out of their skull or wants a tonic for a bad day. Otherwise, it is a rather unsatisfactory film. Just my opinion.

Marvel’s The Avengers, however, more than made up for these big screen flops. The not-so-jolly Green Giant and his puny alter ego came onscreen in a “smashing” way in this film. I was much more impressed with Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner than Ed Norton or Eric Bana’s portrayals. Norton did a better job than Bana, for sure, and he physically fit the bill. But he hated being in a movie based on a comic book. It is not art, after all, which is what every actor seems to live for in Hollywood.

Yeah. Sure. Whatever. *Insert eye roll here, please, readers.* It is true that Hollywood’s imagination has tanked over the latter half of the twentieth century and early 2000s. Sure, they have had their moments – Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Princess Bride, and other films. But what happens when an entertainment, artistic industry dives into the gutter and proclaims that trash is art? Kids’ movies take center stage because they are the best entertainment the audience can get their minds on.

This is not to pick on comic book-based movies. That attitude of mine disappeared after I saw The Avengers. Superhero films are good movies, highly entertaining, and unless it is Deadpool or some similar movie, you can bring the children to the cinema and not worry about exposing them to anything raunchy and disgusting.

Are superhero movies art? Not exactly.

Are they the classics, like Shakespeare’s works? Nope.

Are these films fun? You bet!

But let’s get back to the point of this post. After Hawkeye, the one Avenger we saw the least of in the Phase Two films was Bruce Banner. Still, you Hulk fans got an idea of where he was during that time-frame! (We Hawkeye fans had to wait until Ultron to see the archer again!!!!) The post-credits scene in Iron Man 3 showed Bruce sleeping through what Tony considered to be a psychological therapy session. Banner may know the basics of how psychology works, but he never became that kind of doctor. As he said, he did not have the “temperament.” Hulk’s patience has a very low ceiling – just ask Loki!

After The Avengers, Bruce joined Tony at Stark Tower, following through on his fellow scientist’s invite to drop by for some R&R. Or rather, R&D.

It must have felt good to be back at his old job again. There was nobody to hurt, nothing to break…. just a lot of fun research and development on gizmos that would change the world. And he had a great friend who understood him working at his elbow to boot. Pure heaven compared to running around the globe, the way he had been, for so many years.

Then the Avengers reformed after SHIELD collapsed. And once again, the Hulk had to be released on a semi-regular basis for the greater good.

But this time things were better again, although still less than ideal. Bruce was not alone now. He had friends. Thor, Tony, Cap, Hawkeye, and Black Widow were in the fight with him. As nightmarish as it was to dive back into the Hulk’s mind, Bruce had something to look forward to afterward. He got to go home to a bed, eat regularly, and spend time with people who were not deathly afraid of him. In a surprising twist of fate, even Natasha Romanoff no longer feared him. (We will go back to that later on.)

Anyway, fast-forward to the attack on the Sokovian HYDRA base in Age of Ultron. The team finally recovers Loki’s scepter, which Thor wants to take back to Asgard. No biggie, right? Bruce would be as glad to see the back of the “glowstick of destiny” as the rest of the team. One less thing to worry about. Perfect. Everything is just perfect.

Then Tony tells him he has found something like computer coding in the stone embedded in the scepter. This is fascinating. Wait, Strucker wanted an artificial intelligence? That does not sound like such a great idea….

But Tony thinks it is fantastic. He explains the theory, about how there would be no more need for the Avengers or fear of aliens attacking the planet if they had an A.I. standing at the door. And the theory is beautiful. Bruce begins to think that it could work. There are fifty-fifty odds, but still….

And this is where the problem started, readers. Scientific theories are great. The theory of artificial intelligence is a great idea. Right….?

Riiiiight….. This is where Tony went off the rails, taking Bruce with him. Tony relies on synthetics to do most everything. Yes, his superpower is his intelligence. But to keep that intellect from getting smashed to a pulp, he has to wear a suit of armor – a synthetic skin.

Now, there is nothing wrong with this, up to a point. The knights of the Middle Ages, the Roman legions, the Ancient Greeks – they all used synthetic means to protect themselves in battle. Tony’s problem is that he puts far too much faith in synthetic materials being the answer to all problems – hence the artificial intelligence he wanted to build to keep the world safe.

*Smacks forehead in aggravation.* Really? People have spent the last two hundred years trying to come up with a satisfactory solution to fix the world! You give that math equation to a computer – even one programmed to think like a human – and it is going to pop a fuse and die!

Or go on a worldwide, murderous rampage. Take your pick.

Bruce’s problem is that he can always be suckered by the theory of the thing. He knows synthetics will always be inferior to natural things. The guy turns into a one thousand pound mountain of angry muscle. He cannot move continents but he can sure “break… Harlem”!

So Bruce does not have the same faith in synthetics that Tony does. But he has a similar problem. He has faith in scientific theories. And theories, as beautiful as they may be at first, second, third, and umpteenth glance, are not necessarily things one should try to make a reality. Stories throughout the last two or three centuries have warned of this: Frankenstein, Brave New World, Terminator, Eagle Eye… If you want some stories that prove it while scaring the pants off of you, read Dean Koontz’ novels. They are full of terrifying warnings about science run amok.

But, like Tony and Bruce, most scientists are not paying any attention to the warning signs. Bruce is reluctant to make Tony’s theory a reality at first, it is true. But JARVIS, the A.I. butler who runs Stark Industries and helps the Avengers in combat, turned out all right. How bad could it be to try and jump start Ultron?

It turned out to be really, really bad.

Bruce is the first to admit this in the conference that occurs after Ultron steals the scepter and flees Avengers Tower. While Tony rushes to defend his belief in synthetics and technology, saying he can fix anything and everything under the sun with these assets, Bruce willingly admits that he was wrong. “Really?” Tony says. “Is that what you’re going to do? Roll over and show your belly every time things get ugly?” (I paraphrased that quote.)

Basically, he was saying, “Thanks for the help, pal! I thought we were friends!”

“Yeah,” Bruce responds in subtext, “We’re friends. We’re friends when we’re right and when we’re wrong. We were wrong, Tony. We made a murder bot. There is no defense for that. You told Ultron to fix the world. Well, I hate to break it to you, but the only human way to fix the world is to destroy it.”

When humans try to fix the world, they only make it worse. Want some examples? Here are just a few: Communism, Eugenicism, Fascism, Nazism, Scientism, socialism, and now secularism. Look them up. They all boil down to this: We’re humans. We’re the only species on the planet with intelligence, speech, writing, and an opposable thumb. We can fix all problems. But that means tons of us are going to have to die, and among those who remain some are going to be more equal than others.

It is Bruce’s acknowledgement that he was wrong, that he was taken in by a beautiful theory, which allows the others to forgive him. (With the possible exception of Tony.)   Cap, Thor, Widow, Hawkeye – even Rhodey, Cho, and Hill all forgive Banner for helping to build Ultron. That does not mean he does not have to pay the piper. It just means his friends are not, by and large, holding a grudge against him.

But that attitude kind of gets rescinded when he helps Tony finish building Vision. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on Bruce. He was right when he said he was caught in a time-loop. Tony went after him with the same arguments he had used before to get Banner to help make Ultron. And Bruce bought it a second time. Though in this case, Vision was the antidote to Ultron. (We hope.) Does that absolve Bruce for playing in the forbidden zone twice..?

No!

….Which might be one of the reasons Widow threw him down the hole to awaken the Hulk. Bruce was ready to run again, but as she pointed out, “The job’s not finished.” Bruce had to pay the piper. He had to go the whole nine yards, or he would carry the weight of what he had done with him for the rest of his life.

Widow understood that. She is an Avenger in part because, from her point of view, it is penance. She has not let go of her guilt – or enough of it – which does weigh her down. But this does not mean that she does not have to atone for the acts she committed while under the command of her Red Room handlers. She also has to fight so that their ideals and the aims of others like them are thwarted. That does not give her the same delusions of grandeur that Tony has…

But it does make her an Avenger. It does make her a heroine.

Bruce’s problem here is twofold. He is tired of being the Hulk and – just like everyone else – penance does not strike him as fun. It is not supposed to be. Penance is supposed to hurt. That is the way it works; you hurt someone, you have to make recompense. If you are out playing baseball with your friends and you break the neighbor’s window, you have to pay for the replacement window pane. Your wallet does not like that, and you do not like working extra hard to earn the money to pay for the window. No matter how sorry you are, though, you still have to pay for the new window.

Bruce had to pay for his recess in the forbidden playground. He had to see the job finished. As much as it hurt her to do what she did, as much as she wanted not to awaken the Hulk so she could run off into the sunset with Bruce, Widow knew they could not do that. Bruce would not be the man she loved if he bolted when things got tough. He had to stay and see the job done.

And the half of him that would do that was big and green and perpetually angry.

Bruce will figure that out sooner or later, if he has not figured it out already. Before I sign off, let us take a closer look at his relationships in the film, shall we?

We will look at him and Natasha first. Their relationship has already been extensively discussed in the post “Avengers: Age of Ultron – Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff.” But there is more to be said here.

It is really interesting that Widow should fall for Bruce. Their romance was certainly a curveball, despite the obvious poetic irony, considering she was terrified of him in Marvel’s The Avengers! And it is surprising that Bruce would fall for her as well. He certainly seemed to distrust her in the last film, and for good reason.

Widow is a near-instinctive liar. She was raised by liars and killers. Even if some part of her resisted their manipulation, she could not help but pick up some things from them by osmosis.   Children always imprint off of their parents or those who raise them. It is an unconscious thing. Attitudes, phrases, habits – some of these are things we are simply born with. Others we learned from the observations of our elders we made as babies. It is how growing up works.

But in Age of Ultron, when Widow asks if Bruce will ever trust her, he responds: “It’s not you I don’t trust.”

WHOA!!! That was not the impression we got in the previous film! Natasha would probably have been the last person on the planet whom Bruce would have trusted back then. Now, though, their attitudes toward each other have changed drastically. Widow no longer fears Bruce or the Hulk, and neither of Banner’s personalities distrusts and hates her. Talk about Beauty and the Beast!

For Widow, this is the first time she has ever fallen in love. Oh, I am sure she has had liaisons with other guys. It was part of her job and one of the reasons she was called the Black Widow. The fact is that Natasha was a deadly lady of the evening, as it were, when she worked for the Red Room and the KGB. Bruce, on the other hand, had known love before with Betty Ross.

As we know, that did not work out well in the movies. Long distance romances are things no one in Hollywood believes in anymore. They have forgotten Odysseus and Penelope, the women who watched their men go to sea for years at a time, and the modern truckers and their wives. These are women who sit at home, holding the house together with duct tape and paper, praying their husbands’ trucks have not jack-knifed somewhere between Seattle and New York, killing them in the process. Hollywood and their cronies of a similar frame of mind always contend that long distance kills love.

I say they have no idea what love really is.

So why did Bruce leave Natasha at the end of Age of Ultron? There were a number of reasons. One, they had a perfect opportunity to run off together, and she threw him down a hole to bring out the big green guy. That hurts, and it probably makes him feel used, if not outright betrayed. That may be his surface thinking or initial reaction – and when he next shows up, those may be the words that come out of his mouth.

But there are other reasons. Widow could still be a mom, as I said before, by adoption. Marrying Bruce would be one thing, but after her confession at Hawkeye’s house, Bruce knows Natasha does not just want a husband. She wants what the Red Room operators worked so hard to deny her naturally – a family. He can only fill half the equation. Just because she cannot naturally have children does not mean Natasha could not become an adoptive mother.

Bruce knows that. And he knows that sooner or later, Natasha would have suggested the idea. But it would not work. He and the Hulk both have a soft spot for kids, but not on a daily basis. For a man with unshakeable faith in theories, this is one idea Bruce knows will never pan out for him. He can never be a father, not even by adoption. He does not have the temperament. Natasha does. If he were to stay with her, then her happiness would be incomplete. She would want children, and he cannot handle being a dad. It simply would not work.

Another factor for Bruce’s self-imposed exile might be his Scarlet Witch-induced rampage in South Africa. While no arrest warrant was issued immediately afterward, how much longer would that last? Eventually, he would be labeled a public danger and a menace again. And Natasha would leave her post as an Avenger, her job, her work, to go on the run with him when that happened.

He does not want to do that to her. That is no kind of life for a couple. It is hard enough on one. Bruce cannot settle down anywhere. He has to stay on the run, sleeping at odd hours, living from hand-to-mouth, quite probably for the rest of his life. He loves Natasha too much to drag her into that kind of life.

What is more, if the government(s) eventually caught up to him, he would be put in prison. Or some nincompoop would try to kill him. If Natasha ran off with him, then she would either be locked up or killed trying to protect him.

Bruce loves her too much to be willing to put her in that kind of danger. The only way to protect Natasha is to leave her, no matter how much it hurts. It is what he did with Betty Ross. General Thunderbolt Ross was not going to stop trying to bring Bruce down, and even though he might have drawn the line at killing Betty, he certainly was not averse to her getting hurt by being in close proximity to his attacks on the Hulk. He could always blame her injuries on the Hulk later on, when it was his obsession to bring him in that got her hurt in the first place.

Natasha would not have had even that protection. None of the other Avengers would. The only workable solution was to go on the run solo. No other plans were viable.

This is where we look at Bruce’s rapport with his male teammates. It is shown at the Avengers’ party after HYDRA’s defeat in Sokovia that Bruce and Steve have a fairly strong friendship. Since Cap is the most trustworthy man alive since Sir Galahad, Bruce’s confidence in him makes plenty of sense. Cap is probably one of the people Banner feels safest around. Nothing Cap says or does will “just set him off.” And the fact that Steve no longer fears angering him or worries that Bruce will simply explode means the two men have a healthy respect for each other. This makes him quite amenable to Cap’s orders and willing to listen when the other advises him to be Natasha’s boyfriend.

Bruce and Thor have a good – if awkward – friendship. Sometimes Thor’s glowing compliments on the Hulk’s performance in battle are really not what Banner wants to hear. Otherwise, they have a jovial understanding of each other. Thor knew Bruce could not lift the hammer because he saw the Hulk try that trick on the Helicarrier in The Avengers. So what if Bruce played at being King Kong and scared some of the others? Thor knows what he looks like when he is actually angry. He can tell when Bruce is playing around.

Bruce and Clint’s friendship still has some trust issues; though it is clear they respect each other and do not mind joking at the other’s expense. Remember when Clint was getting patched up in the Tower…?

Bruce (concerned): “How is he?”

Tony (with a straight face): “Unfortunately, he is still Barton.”

Bruce (biting back a laugh): “Oh, that’s terrible.”

Despite this, Clint is not amused when Bruce pretends to be on the verge of Hulking out after not lifting Mjolnir. It is not like he wants the party to tank, after all! Bruce realizes this and makes a sheepish, “Ah?” sound. Essentially he says, “Not funny, huh? Okay, I get the message.”

Otherwise, the two get along well. Both are worried when Natasha is captured by Ultron, though they show it in different ways. Bruce cannot show his agitation and anger the way Clint does. That could release the Hulk. But he is worried, and Clint understands that. Thanks to his wife’s insight, he also understands why Bruce is so worried. They each care about Natasha in their own way, and the brief moment when they and Tony are in the room with the Cradle shows this rather poignantly.

There is little else to say after this point. Bruce never gets to become friends with the Maximoff siblings. It could be a while before he forgives Wanda for sending him on a rampage through Johannesburg, too. Still, he was willing to work with the twins. That counts for something.

As for his friendship with Vision, at this point that is also non-existent. Maybe later they will get to know each other better. We will have to wait and see.

Anyway, puny humans, this is my post on the Hulk/Bruce Banner we see in Avengers: Age of Ultron. I know it was mostly about Bruce and not Big Green, but for cryin’ out loud, the Hulk is really hard for me to talk about! There is only one word which sums up his character and attitude, people….

SMASH!

The Mithril Guardian

Hulk SMASH

More Marvel Fan Fiction: An Avengers’ Easter

Happy Easter, readers!!!  As you may recall, last year I put up a small fan fiction story set in the time before Avengers: Age of Ultron.  It was a Christmas story (or very nearly), and it was set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  When asked if I would do anymore, I said I would think about it.

Well, after thinking about it, this fan fiction piece is the result.  This story takes place on Easter Sunday and is the lead-in to Captain America: Civil War.  As a result, characters who were present in Age of Ultron  are mentioned or present herein.  This story may not fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe; however, I wanted to tell a story set before Captain America: Civil War, and I wanted it to be on Easter Sunday.  

Unfortunately, I had no time to work Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier into this story.  There may be more fan fiction stories in the future, or not.  We will wait and see what happens.

I hope you enjoy the story, readers.  And, most importantly – HAPPY EASTER!!!!

The Mithril Guardian

An Avengers’ Easter

by The Mithril Guardian

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters.

Steve Rogers tried to keep a straight face as Lila Barton crept through the bushes near the Barton house. She was barely a foot away from a brightly colored egg that the Easter Bunny had hidden. Since he was not part of the hunt, Steve could not tip his hand and let her know how close she was.

Fortunately, Lila had an Easter egg-hunting partner. With a discrete flick of her fingers, Wanda Maximoff used her powers to send the egg rolling forward a little. It made a slight noise as it hit a fallen branch, catching Lila’s attention. Her hand shot out and grasped the egg. She stood up, holding her prize high so Wanda and the others could see it. “That’s thirteen!” she shouted excitedly.

“The boys only have ten!” Wanda laughed.

A few feet away, Sam Wilson and Cooper Barton shared a look. “We’d better pick up the pace, Hawk-kid,” Steve’s friend said.

“We haven’t checked the barn yet!” Cooper dashed off. “The clue in our egg – it sounded like the next one was hidden in the tractor!”

Sam followed the boy as Wanda and Lila put their heads together over their egg. It was plastic and contained a clue, either a hand-drawn picture or a riddle of some kind. Lila and Cooper were supposed to interpret the clue and use it to find the next egg. Whichever Barton sibling found their basket of Easter goodies first won the game.

Steve saw the little girl’s hands shaking with excitement as she puzzled over the note, a hand-drawn picture. Wanda had to turn the paper right side up. Once she did, Clint’s daughter shrieked wordlessly, then whispered, “It’s the squeaky fencepost! Come on!”

The two raced off, Wanda doing her best not to outrun the little girl. Steve allowed the smile he had been hiding to finally spread across his face.

It was good to see Wanda enjoying herself, he reflected. He and Natasha did their best to make sure she was included as much as possible in the new team’s pastimes. For the most part, it seemed to work. Wanda was fairly happy, all things considered. But every once in a while Steve, Natasha, or one of the others found Wanda alone, staring at nothing. When it did not seem like a bad time, they broke in on these moments of reverie and brought her to join the others. It really was not good for her to be on her own so much. If Pietro had survived the battle in Novi Grad, she would not have been alone.

Except he had died in that conflict protecting Cooper and Lila’s father: Clint Barton. Wanda had been alone ever since.

Steve knew no amount of friendship with him or the other Avengers, past or present, would ever fill the void in Wanda’s heart where Pietro had once resided. Nothing they did would make her forget her brother.

And Steve did not want her to forget him. He only wanted to make sure she was all right.

Light steps coming up behind him on the porch made Steve cock his head. A moment later, Clint was standing next to him. “She cleans up nice,” he said.

“And she fights like a cornered mountain lion,” Steve added. With Wanda’s help, Lila had managed to find the other egg hidden near the bottom of a fence post. They were looking at the clue together.

It seemed the two were having trouble with this note. They turned the paper around four more times before another squeal from Lila alerted the men to the fact that the girl had figured out the clue.

Clint offered him a can of soda as the two girls headed for the tree next to the house. Steve took it and popped the tab as both girls began prowling around the tree, trying to spot the next egg. “I’m glad Natasha twisted my arm into inviting you guys over for Easter,” Clint murmured.

“Yeah. Twisting’s the word for it.” Steve took a sip. He had not been aware of the matter for the first few weeks of the argument, but Natasha had almost physically dragged him into the debate which had raged for three weeks afterward. Clint had balked at the idea of inviting any of the New Avengers to his house for Easter, mostly because he was not sure how many of the “newbies” on the team he could truly trust.

He had finally caved when Vision and James “Rhodey” Rhodes had decided to decline the anonymous invitation to the equally anonymous Easter party. HYDRA was getting more and more active, and they did not want to leave their posts on Easter Sunday for fear of what HYDRA would do in their absence.

Truth be told, Steve had not wanted to leave, either. The only reason he had come to Clint’s party was because Natasha had volunteered to stay at the base with the rest of the team in his place. She had all but shoved Steve out the door early this morning with some teasing comments, making sure that he, Sam, and Wanda would all attend the party together.

Steve was brought out of his thoughts by the other man’s chuckle. “Force of habit, Cap.” He watched out of the corner of his eye as Clint took a swig of his own soda. “We almost never have anyone over casually, let alone for the holidays.”

“Sounds a little lonely.”

“Not as much as you might think. We’re company enough, most of the time. The only one we ever missed was Nat.”

“Sorry about…,” Steve began but Clint waved him off good-naturedly. “Don’t. We all know how busy you’ve been lately. I may live on a farm, but that doesn’t mean I don’t keep up with the news.”

They watched as Wanda suddenly beckoned Lila to her. The child ran to her at once. Wanda pointed up into the tree and Lila’s face fell. Both girls were wearing dresses, and neither of them could climb the tree to retrieve the egg in such attire. Not without getting into trouble, anyway.

Wanda leaned down and whispered something in the little girl’s ear which made Lila turn and look at her, eyes wide. Steve and Clint were too far away to hear her quiet, tremulous question, but Wanda’s reassuring smile told them she was sure of what she planned.

A little time was taken up with Wanda positioning Clint’s daughter beneath the tree. Then, using her telekinetic and energy manipulation abilities, Wanda carefully lifted Lila up to the branch where the egg was hidden. Once she was in position, Lila reached out cautiously and grabbed the egg. Then she held it up over her head for Wanda to see.

With a smile, the older girl gently brought Lila to earth again. As soon as she landed, the little girl leaned forward and hugged Wanda. Whether she did so out of relief or gratitude it was hard to tell, but Steve suspected the gesture was a mixture of the two emotions.

Wanda twitched, startled by the hug. Then she smiled and returned the embrace.

The two stayed that way for a moment. When Wanda leaned back, Lila looked down at the egg in her hand, as if she had only just remembered it. She opened the egg so fast that Wanda had to use her powers to catch the two halves of the plastic egg before they hit the ground. Lila unfolded the paper, her fingers trembling with anticipation.

As they tried to solve the clue, there was the sound of a door being thrown open. Steve turned to see Cooper come tearing out of the barn, Sam following him closely. It took a moment for him to realize they were heading toward the empty pasture on that side of the farm.

Clint had turned to watch them, too. Then a sudden shout from Lila made both men swing in the opposite direction. They were just in time to see the child take off toward the rear of the house, Wanda following her. Clint smiled.

“How’s the party going so far?” Steve asked, grinning himself.

“Honestly, I think I may have to start inviting you guys over every weekend for supper,” the other laughed. “Lila’s taken to Wanda like the big sister she never had, and every time I turn around, Cooper’s pestering you or Sam with a thousand questions.”

“Then you may want to avoid having us over every week,” Steve teased. He watched as Cooper came up with another egg. The boy was so excited he could not open it. Sam had to do it for him. “You’ve got a real good place here, Clint,” he added. He sighed inwardly. He had wanted something like this so badly….

But that was another life, he reminded himself sternly. He could not be a father now. Peggy had lived her life. He had to live the life he had left while he still could. Pining for the past would not change anything.

And deep down, Steve suspected that he had survived that crash seventy years ago for a reason. So far he had had several reasons shown to him: Loki’s attempted invasion, HYDRA hiding within SHIELD, Ultron’s birth and subsequent attempt to destroy the world. How much of a difference he had made in some of these events he was not sure. But the fact was that HYDRA might be running the U.S. now if he had not been alive to draw their ire. Again.

There were more reasons to suggest why he had survived, he suspected. What they were, though, he had no idea.

“Yeah. I guess I do.”

Something in Clint’s tone brought Steve out of his reverie and made him look at the younger man sharply. Clint was watching his son and Sam run to the next hidden egg, a shadow in his eyes. “Something wrong?” Steve asked.

“You been paying attention to the news lately?” the other countered, his eyes never leaving the open field.

Steve racked his brain, trying to recall the snippets of news he had heard lately. Nothing popped out at him, so he asked, “What news specifically?”

“This.” Clint turned away from the railing and walked toward the door to the house. Set next to the door were two chairs and a table. They had been put out on the porch expressly for the party. Steve followed him and watched as Clint picked up a red folder from the nearer of the two chairs. He had not seen the file there before. Laura, Clint’s wife, must have put it out when his back was turned. Or Clint had left it there before joining him at the railing.

Opening the file, Clint handed it to Steve. Setting his drink on the table, Steve took the file and began flipping through the papers in it. Most of them looked like they had been printed off of different news websites. They were all about the current Secretary of State, a man named Ross.

Ross… The name rang a bell, but it took Steve a minute to remember where he had seen it before: four years ago in Coulson’s file on Banner and the Hulk. “Ross is the new Secretary of State?” he asked, looking at Clint.

“I didn’t think you were that out of the loop,” Clint replied, frowning. “But you might have been on a mission when he was sworn in.”

“When was that?”

“Late last year. Just before New Year’s Day, actually.”

“We had to take down a massive HYDRA facility around that time,” Steve said, memory taking him back. “Sam took a serious hit in that battle. We were worried for a while that he would lose his spleen.”

Clint nodded. “Yeah. Not much time to look at the news with that hanging over your head.”

Steve looked back at the file and began scanning through the different pages, flipping them over as he went. He frowned at what he read. “He’s pressing for us to get registered? I thought we had settled that.”

“That was the pre-HYDRA uprising gang who agreed to let us alone,” Clint said sourly. “And they only did that because Fury wouldn’t give them the intel he had on us. He said he couldn’t find it.” Steve snorted. “Yeah, they knew he was lying. But they still couldn’t get anything out of him. Fury is good at that kind of stuff.”

“I’m beginning to regret letting him go after those HYDRA leads with his own strike team.” Truthfully, Fury had basically said he was going after some HYDRA leads, taking a special strike team of his own with him. Steve had not given him permission, and Fury had not asked for it. Still, this was a time when Fury’s political expertise would have been very valuable. “It doesn’t sound like he’s making much headway with this registration argument,” Steve added as he studied one of the papers more closely.

“Not at the moment, no,” Clint agreed. “But – how much do you know about this guy?”

“He was tracking Bruce for a while after he became the Hulk,” Steve said, recalling the file Coulson had shown him.

The other made a derisive noise. Steve looked up in time to see him cross his arms. “That’s the polite way of putting it. Bruce and the big guy were the white whale to Ross’ Captain Ahab.”

Instinctively, Steve slapped the folder shut. He had not known it was that bad. “Why?”

“The reason Ross went after Bruce was because the Gamma/super soldier project was under his direction. He rode Bruce hard to get it done yesterday, but Banner was too cautious for his liking. Ross is the reason Banner is the Hulk. Plus,” Clint added, “Banner and Betty Ross, the general’s daughter, were an item there for a while. It was a well known fact that ol’ Thunderbolt didn’t approve of his daughter’s affection for Bruce.”

Steve grimaced. That explained why Bruce had disliked being brought to the Helicarrier to help deal with Loki, as well as his distrust of government organizations and militaries in general. Not to mention his reluctance to go steady with Natasha. He had already run from one girlfriend; running from a second was an idea he probably did not relish. “Thunderbolt?” he asked.

“Ross’ nickname; they called him General Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross.” Abruptly, Clint turned his head. Steve followed his gaze and was in time to see Cooper and Sam heading back toward the house. They went to the woodpile and started scanning the chopped logs. Clint dropped his voice to a whisper so they would not be overheard. “The thing is, Steve, it won’t take much for Ross to get registration passed.”

When Steve frowned the younger man continued urgently, his voice still low. “Think about it. Maybe you didn’t see the news reports after New York –”

“I saw some of them,” Steve interjected quietly.

“They want us on leashes,” Clint continued fiercely, his voice hushed. “They have since New York. All it will take for them to win over the more reluctant politicians and the public is one mistake. One battle where things don’t go as planned, where too many innocent people get hurt – or killed. Then they will start knocking on our door ‘asking’ us to sign up and be their puppets. They thought they had us when the Hulk rampaged through Johannesburg. But with him off the radar, they lost their ammunition against the Avengers.” He looked back at Cooper and Sam as the other man, who had discovered their latest prize, tossed an egg to Clint’s son. The boy opened it at once. “Wonder if that’s one of the reasons he skipped out on us.”

Steve said nothing. As much as he disliked Clint’s assessment of the situation, the younger man was right about one thing. One day they might battle HYDRA or some other band of terrorists and be unable to prevent a lot of civilian casualties.

Theirs was not a clean-cut war. HYDRA chose the battle ground more often than Steve would have liked. Even with Wanda and Vision’s powers backing them up, the Avengers had trouble keeping their fights out of population centers. If HYDRA got off even one lucky shot, the Avengers would be called to account for it.

A thought struck him. “You keep including yourself in the team,” he said, looking at Clint. He did not raise his voice. “You figuring on coming out of retirement if this passes?”

“Never retired,” Clint answered in the same low tone, looking rather offended. “I’ve just been on leave.”

“You didn’t exactly make that clear when you left.”

“I didn’t want to get hauled off to attack a HYDRA compound once a week. I do have an infant son to help look after, you know.”

Steve smiled at him, and the younger man must have realized he was being teased, because he smiled back. “Not bad, old man.”

“This old man dropped you like a sack of potatoes more than once after you joined the Avengers, kid. Don’t get cocky.”

“Ooh, someone’s brushed up on his popular culture. Nice Star Wars reference, Han Solo.”

“So far, I think the originals are the best,” Steve confessed. Clint’s response was a genuine laugh, which sounded a little loud after their quiet conversation. Cooper and Sam glanced at him, and Steve saw the boy smile in response to his father’s amusement.

The two went back to their clue. With a shout, Cooper went tearing off toward the field opposite the house. At the same time, Wanda and Lila came running from behind the house. They were racing toward the barn.

Steve and Clint watched them for a minute before resuming their conversation. Clint’s expression had tightened again, more noticeably this time. “The thing is, even if I had retired, they would want a record of me,” he explained. “Where I could be found, what to use to press me back into the service again if I was needed – or if they just wanted me in the field.” He paused. “I can’t drop off the radar, Steve. Even if SHIELD still existed, they’d be after me like sharks after blood.”

Steve stifled a sigh. Clint was right, of course. He also realized why the younger man was so worried about registration. Whatever governing body was assigned to oversee the Avengers, according to Ross’ statements, would also be required to monitor them somehow. Ross had not suggested exactly how it would be done, but Steve suspected that whatever system was worked out, it would be a very invasive and controlling one. Ross’ statements were vague enough to allow any system to be put in place.

If Clint were to be registered, getting back home for even the weekend meant that the government would want to know exactly where he lived – which meant they would eventually find out where his family lived. And Clint had made it abundantly clear that he did not want his family to be public knowledge.

Steve could understand that. In their line of work, one could not help making enemies. And HYDRA was not above wounding or killing children, even those as young as Nathaniel Barton. If the existence of his family became public knowledge, Clint’s old enemies would have to work fast to beat HYDRA to the Barton farm. “Have you talked to Nat about this yet?” he asked.

Clint’s eyes shaded again, this time with pain. To Steve’s shock, the younger man broke eye contact with him and turned to stare at the porch.

Not once in all the time he had known Clint Barton had Steve ever seen him turn away from someone like that. And he had definitely never broken eye contact with Steve before. Not even when he had previously avoided questions about his personal life. “Are you two fighting?” he asked quietly.

“Not exactly,” Clint said at once. “But we haven’t been agreeing when this subject comes up,” he added reluctantly.

Steve swallowed. If Clint and Natasha were starting to come apart over this… they were almost as close as he and Bucky had been. Almost.

A vague feeling of foreboding settled in the pit of his stomach. This divergence of opinions did not bode well for the rest of them. If Clint and Natasha could become divided over registration, then so could the rest of the Avengers.

Clint had apparently come to the same conclusion, as evidenced by the distress Steve read in his redirected gaze. “Do you have any idea why she would favor this?” Steve moved the hand holding the file a little.

“Protection,” Clint said flatly. “She has a lot of red in her ledger, Cap. Bad, bad stuff.”

“She’s not like that anymore.”

“No,” Clint agreed. “But she hasn’t forgiven herself for it, either. And it’s the one thing Ross or anyone else in the government could use against her. Even with her record public knowledge…” He stopped and shook his head. “It’s the one place she’s vulnerable, Steve. More so than the rest of us. People will forgive you anything. I worked real hard not to turn into the monsters I was fighting. I’m not proud of everything I did, but I’m not as susceptible in that regard as Nat is. Hell, neither are Stark and Banner.”

Steve looked at the file again, trying to think past the rising anger and fear roiling in his mind. “How likely do you think it is that registration will get passed?”

“Too likely,” Clint answered immediately. “While you’re busy keeping the planet from turning into a nuclear waste dump or something like that, Ross makes the rounds on the Sunday morning news shows, and has a press conference after every battle you participate in. Every time he does this, he calls for our registration. Just because he doesn’t have much support now doesn’t mean he can’t get it.”

“If we’re careful, we might be able to avoid it, or at least stall him…”

“Cap,” something in the other man’s voice made Steve look at him again. The haunting pain had grown more obvious. “A man like Ross, dedicated to hating someone, will hate whoever helps him. He and his daughter still aren’t on speaking terms. They don’t even live in the same country anymore. He may not hate her, but he definitely isn’t happy with her.”

“Are you saying he hates us?”

“After New York, the public saw the good the Hulk could do.” Clint drew a deep breath and let it out as a heavy sigh. “Ross could still have gone after Bruce, except that Stark invited him to the Tower. Then the Avengers became a permanent club after SHIELD went down…”

“And Bruce became untouchable –”

“Because he was with us.” Clint nodded.

“And you think Ross hates us now, just because we’re friends of Bruce?”

“I’d bet that’s a big part of it. But I think he’s also going after us as a tactical strike. Take control of the Avengers –”

“And he can control who our members are.”

“Among other things, yeah.”

Happy, childish squeals rang out. Clint bit his lower lip in response. “Steve, we are in for it. No doubt. If circumstances don’t give him the ammunition to take us down, Ross might manufacture the bullets himself.”

“How?”

“You remember Senator Stern?”

“The senator HYDRA had?”

“He wasn’t the only one. There were others, as well as politicians overseas who were found to be in HYDRA.”

“Fury said a lot of rats didn’t go down with the ship,” Steve replied, casting his mind back to that discussion. “You think Ross is HYDRA?”

Clint looked him in the eye, his face taking on the determined, deadly expression it usually had when they were in a fire fight. “I think he hates us enough to make a deal with the devil,” he replied.

Steve grimaced. HYDRA qualified as servants of the devil. If Clint’s theory was right, then Ross might be willing to do HYDRA’s political dirty work. Even if the former general was not a HYDRA stooge, as Clint suspected he was, Steve did not doubt the man would still seize any opportunity to register them that came his way. Clint’s judgment of character was too good for Steve to start doubting him now.

Glancing toward the children and their adult helpers, Steve saw that the kids had found their goody baskets somewhere near the barn and were picking through their prizes. He and Clint were going to be swamped in a few minutes. They had to wrap this up, fast.

Steve held the file out to Clint. “You should move,” he said. “Find a place to hide.”

Taking the file, the other man shook his head. “We’ll be finishing up moving in the next few days… but I can’t hide. If I cut and run, they’ll be after me. And they will find me if I stay with Laura and the kids, sooner or later. No matter what happens, I’ll be in the coming storm.” His expression tightened. “I need to know I’ve got someone who will watch my back when this hits the fan.” He motioned slightly with the file.

So that was what this was about. Steve had known this was more than just a warning to watch his back. Clint had already begun preparing against the potential for registration, moving his family to a new location without telling the rest of the Avengers. Considering that Clint had admitted they were arguing, it appeared that even Natasha did not know he was moving his family – unless she had deduced his next move, which was certainly possible. She knew him best, after all.

Barring that, though, the one Avenger who knew for certain was Steve. And that begged the question: where would he be when Ross got the support he needed to pass registration? Would Clint be able to count on him for help, or would he have to go it alone?

Steve made eye contact with the younger man again. “If this ‘hits the fan,’ I won’t be able to get in contact with you. You’ll have to find me.”

“Man in a star-spangled outfit, carrying a vibranium shield. Somehow, I don’t think it’ll be that hard.” Clint smirked. But Steve also saw him relax a little. He had been nervous about this, then. Given his argument with Natasha, it was understandable. Steve wondered briefly if Natasha had volunteered to stay behind at Avengers HQ because of her ongoing argument with Clint. “Might be harder than you think, Hawkeye,” Steve wrinkled his nose at him pointedly.

The smirk became a genuine smile. Clint tapped the file with one finger. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone we were moving.”

“This conversation never happened.” Steve smiled. “I always wanted to say that to Fury’s face.”

“I know the feeling.” Clint ducked into the house. Steve picked up his drink, watching as Cooper and Lila packed up their baskets. Clint returned to the porch as they turned and ran toward the house. “Incoming,” Steve said, moving away from Clint to give the children room.

The two children thundered up the steps a few seconds later and mobbed their father at once, eager to show him what the Easter Bunny had left them. Mixed in with the chocolates and candy for Lila was a doll, while Cooper had received his very own “real-live” bow with his basket of Easter treats.

“I wish the Easter Bunny had left me one, too,” Lila said sadly.

“You’ll probably get yours next year,” Cooper said, trying to cheer her up. “Right, Dad?”

“Once she’s big enough to handle an actual bow, the Easter Bunny might bring her one. Now, remember, the candy has to last a few days. Not only do you two need room for dinner, I can’t keep up with you if you’re rocketing off the walls on a sugar rush.”

“Dad!” Cooper laughed. “You can always keep up with us!” Lila giggled.

“Not when you’re on a sugar rush, I can’t,” Clint teased, ruffling his son’s hair and leaning down to kiss his daughter on the forehead. “How about you go show mom what you got, huh?”

The two bolted into the house at once. When they were out of hearing range, Sam collapsed into one of the chairs with a sigh. “Man, and I thought you were hard to keep up with!” he said to Steve.

Steve shrugged and made a mock-serious face. “Well, Cooper’s much younger than I am. It stands to reason he’d be faster,” he said as seriously as he could.

Sam laughed. “How’s the spleen?” Clint asked, smiling and leaning against the door jamb.

“Oh, it’s fine. Nothing’s wrong with me except the usual.” Sam waved a hand airily.

“What’s that?” asked Wanda.

“Being mortal.”

“Hey, don’t go stealing my position on the team!” Clint growled in faux irritation.

“You kidding? You’ve been around since Medieval England. Bein’ a superhero’s easy for you, Robin Hood! For a guy like me, it’s harder than it looks!”

“Then settle for being a regular one!”

“Okay, kids, let’s not let this get out of hand,” Steve interjected playfully, sipping his soda. It had lost some of its fizz while he was talking to Clint, he noticed.

“What, I can’t have a conversation with this gentleman?” Clint asked innocently. Sam’s eyes, though, had locked onto Steve’s drink. “Where do you hide the sodas?” he asked. “I could use a drink.”

“I can go get one for you…” Clint began slyly.

Sam was out of his chair in an instant. “Forget it. If they’re not in the fridge, your wife will know where they are.”

“Third shelf, at the back.” Clint laughed, moving away from the door to let Sam in. As the other man disappeared inside, Wanda looked at Clint. “You have a very nice family, Mr. Barton,” she said timidly.

“Thanks. But we’re both Avengers, Wanda. It’s Clint.”

She smiled awkwardly and looked at the porch floor. “I…I wanted to say… ” She stopped and bit her lip. Sensing Wanda had something important on her mind but was nervous about mentioning it, Steve started to head for the door.

Her hand shot out and touched his arm lightly. “No, Captain. You can stay.” He stepped back, curious. What was Wanda up to?

Taking a deep breath, she looked at Clint. “Natasha told me before we left about what you did. That you named your second son after her, and after Pietro.”

It was the first time Steve could recall seeing Clint shocked and at a loss for words. He was glad of his own surprise; it meant he could not disturb Wanda as she went on with what she had to say. “Please, don’t be angry with her. She did not want you to have to tell me. She thought it would save you trouble if she told me instead.”

“I just –” Wanda paused again, swallowed, and then went on, clearly trying not to rush through her prepared speech. “I just wanted to thank you. For naming your son after my brother.”

For a minute, silence reigned. Steve held his breath as Clint stared at Wanda, who had dropped her gaze to the porch floor again. Then, very quietly, Clint said, “I never wanted your brother to die, Wanda. I never wanted to kill him. I thought about shooting him a couple of times, but… I never wanted his death.”

Wanda nodded. “I know.”

Clint sighed. “I am sorry – ”

Without warning, Wanda lunged forward and hugged him. Hard. Clint returned her embrace full force. “It is not your fault,” she murmured thickly. “I miss Pietro every day, sometimes so much that I feel as though I am being torn apart from the inside. But I am proud that he died to save another, and I am doubly proud now that I see he saved a man who honors and respects him, and who has preserved some memory of him… That he died to save a man who has a family.”

“I would not wish our childhood on anyone, Hawkeye, and I do not wish it for your children. Not now, not in the future. Never.”

They said nothing for a long time.

Steve remained frozen, reluctant to destroy the little scene. Whether or not this meant that Wanda would assimilate to their new team better, this was progress for her.

He also took the opportunity to sound out Nathaniel’s full name in his mind. Clint had never mentioned it. No wonder Natasha had broken the news to Wanda. Clint would not have told her, for the simple reason that he was not the type to parade such things about.

But the fact remained that Wanda deserved to know. And Natasha had saved Clint the responsibility of telling her. The two might be arguing, but so far it had not damaged their friendship seriously.

At that moment, Steve saw Laura glance through the doorway from down the hall. She took in the scene, then met Steve’s gaze briefly. With a quick nod, Laura turned and disappeared from view inside the house. No one inside would disturb them for a while yet, Steve suspected.

He was glad that Laura understood Wanda needed to deal with her grief. Maybe Clint needed to deal with it, too. Pietro had died saving him, after all. Perhaps that was why she was willing to let them be. Whatever her reasons, Laura knew they were connected by Pietro Maximoff’s death and needed some time to themselves.

Apparently, though, Wanda did not feel Steve needed to be excluded from the following discussion. He remained quiet unless asked a question as Clint and Wanda began to converse, sitting down in the chairs set out specifically for the party. Once or twice he added a mild comment. Mostly, he just stood by and listened, trying to figure out why Wanda did not want him dismissed from the proceedings.

With her hypnotic abilities, Wanda might want him present as a witness, able to tell the others – or even Clint – that she had not invaded the other man’s mind during this period of conversation.

That theory was weak, however. Wanda could hypnotize an entire block of civilians. She had done it in Novi Grad, Sokovia. And she had brought every Avenger but Clint to their knees before that. She would have no trouble manipulating both him and Steve if she wanted to do so.

It was when she asked for the specifics of Pietro’s death that Steve understood why she wanted him to stay. He and Clint were the only remaining Avengers who knew the details. Thor had been there as well, but he had left not long before Steve and Natasha had begun training their new recruits. They were the only ones who could tell her what she wanted to know.

“I sensed him die. I know Ultron killed him. I…saw him afterward. But I don’t know… ”

“How it all came together,” Clint finished for her. Wanda nodded silently.

Clint paused, then explained that one of the women aboard the boat he had planned to ride to the Helicarrier had been calling for a boy. He gave the child’s name and Wanda looked up. “I know her. The child was her brother. Pietro – ” Her lips quirked in a small smile. “Pietro liked to flirt with her.”

Clint chuckled, then sobered as he went on with the story. “I saw him easily enough. I don’t know how he ended up where he was – he was stuck at the top of a basement stairwell. Maybe the thin air got to him. He was barely conscious when I picked him up.” Clint paused for a long moment. “That was when Ultron made his strafing run.”

Steve grimaced. He and Thor had both been caught off guard by the robot’s barrage and sent to the ground. Neither of them had been hurt, but they were also unable to get up and help anyone in a hurry. Even if they had, they were not fast enough to have reached Clint and the boy in time.

Pietro had been. “I was the one who brought him onboard,” Steve remembered.

Clint took a pull of his soda. “Yeah. I brought the boy to his sister, and found that one of Ultron’s bullets had nicked me. I woke up later in the infirmary. Don’t even remember the ride to the carrier.”

Wanda looked away from them. After a while she spoke again. Her voice was soft, shaking with leftover grief. And remaining rage. “When I felt Pietro die, I forgot about the key. I was…consumed with anger. I went and found Ultron’s main body. He had been thrown from a great height into a train car, I think. He was heavily damaged. I got close to him…” She took a deep breath. “And then I ripped out his power core.”

Steve stared at her in shock. Ultron’s main body had been plated with vibranium, the strongest metal on Earth. If Wanda could reach in and rip out his power core through that, then she had been more powerful than they had suspected. And her powers were still growing.

“I made sure it hurt,” she added fiercely. “It was after that that the city began to fall. I almost welcomed death, but Vision found me and brought me to the Helicarrier…” Her voice lost the rage. Grief swallowed it and she stopped speaking at once.

Steve knew why. Wanda had spent her time on the Helicarrier beside her brother’s body. She had been utterly inconsolable, great sobs tearing through her for several hours afterward. It had been a long time before any of them had felt comfortable approaching her.

Clint put his hand on her shoulder. Swallowing what was doubtless a fresh set of tears, Wanda looked at him. She smiled wanly. “Thank you, for telling me what happened.”

Clint’s only response was a nod.

Another woman’s throat cleared and the three of them turned toward the door. Laura Barton was standing there, her expression grave. “I’m really sorry to intrude, but the turkey’s about done, and I need another set of hands in the kitchen,” she explained.

“Be right there,” Clint promised, standing up. Laura nodded once and vanished inside the house to give them privacy. Clint looked at Wanda, who met his gaze squarely. “I can’t bring him back, but if you ever need someone to talk to, the way you talked to him… ask Nat for my number. Okay?”

Wanda nodded. Clint gave her a slight smile in return. Then he turned and went into the house.

Wanda sat back in the chair as Steve pushed away from the porch railing. “We’d better go in, too, and get ready for dinner – ”

“What were you speaking about?”

Steve stopped and looked at her. “During the egg hunt,” Wanda elaborated. “I didn’t hear what you said, but I sensed his fear.” She nodded into the house. “For his family. For the Avengers. You felt fear as well. I know.”

He had wondered about that. Sighing, Steve walked over and took the chair that Clint had vacated. He thought for a few minutes before replying. “It sounds like there are people in the government who want to register us. Registering for certain things is fine,” he added. He wanted Wanda to understand exactly what was wrong with this form of registration, and what made it different from registering for a driver’s license or some such thing. “But this registration might hobble us; make it hard for us to fight HYDRA and other terrorists.”

“Why?”

“Because if politicians decide when we fight, where we fight, and who we should or shouldn’t use our powers to fight, they will own us.”

“You mean they want to make us slaves.”

Steve nodded slowly. “Essentially. They are right to be afraid of our powers. We should be afraid of them, too.” He looked at her. “If we abuse our powers, we’re no better than HYDRA or any of the others we’ve been dealing with for the last few months. We have to be careful.”

“Yes. But –” She frowned, trying to think of how to voice her distaste for this form of registration. Wanda really was still a child, in so many ways, he reflected. “But we’re not tools, we’re people. They shouldn’t have control of us, not as slaves,” Steve supplied.

Wanda nodded, her expression easing with the explanation. Then she frowned. “But why does he fear for his family?”

Steve glanced at his soda can, noticing that it was almost empty. He would have to be careful as he explained this. “I know Strucker and some of the other HYDRA agents were…kind to you and Pietro, Wanda –”

“After a fashion.” The girl shrugged.

“Clint has been their enemy. He’s fought against them, and against others. He’s made enemies as Hawkeye and as an Avenger. Those enemies want to kill him – or worse, break him.” Steve looked at her. “Strucker might not have come after Clint’s family, Wanda, but would the rest of HYDRA leave them alone?”

She paled. “But they don’t know –”

“No,” Steve agreed calmly. “But if we’re all registered – if Clint is registered – and he is still an Avenger… Then they will want to know where he goes when he leaves for R&R every chance he gets. Sooner or later, they will find his family and make them part of the record.”

“And if they do that, HYDRA or one of Clint’s other enemies could find those records.”

He did not need to say anymore. Wanda understood. She swallowed. “We can’t let that happen,” she said. Steve was pleased to note that her voice did not tremble, though the amount of ice in it was somewhat worrisome. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to avoid this,” he said.

“What if they try to force us to register?”

Steve sighed. Wanda was quick to recognize why. “We’ll have to fight,” she said softly, answering her own question.

Steve nodded. “Somehow. Otherwise, if his family is to stay alive…”

“He’ll have to leave them,” she said quietly. “Go into exile, possibly for the rest of his life.”

Again, all Steve could do was nod. Clint’s rationale had led him to the same cold conclusion. Somehow, they were going to have to find a way to beat this registration scheme. Not only to protect their own freedom, but for the safety and sake of the Barton family as well. Maybe even for other families down the road.

Steve finished his drink. He looked back at the Maximoff girl, who was frowning in no little fear at the porch flooring. “These are just shadows, Wanda,” he said softly. “We’ll worry about them tomorrow. Okay? Right now is a time for celebrating.”

“What exactly are we celebrating?” Wanda asked, sounding agitated. She was obviously still thinking about the problem of registration. “I know the religious importance of this feast day, but with all this – this danger – ”

She did not know the religious significance of Easter as well as she thought she did if she was speaking about it like that. “The world was in danger two thousand years ago, too, Wanda,” he interrupted gently. “Easter – the Resurrection of the Son of God – reminds us not to give up hope. That somewhere, somehow, in some impossible way, all the bad in our lives will be ‘turned into joy.’ That’s why we’re celebrating. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

Wanda searched his eyes and face. Whatever she saw, it made her relax. The color came back to her cheeks. “If you can hope for a better tomorrow, Captain, then so can I,” she said softly.

Steve smiled.

At that moment Lila, her voice clear and high, began to sing from somewhere in the house:


“Spent today in a conversation

In the mirror face to face with

somebody less than perfect…


I wouldn’t choose me first if

I was looking for a champion,

In fact I’d understand if

You picked everyone before me,

But that’s just not my story!

 

True to who You are

You saw my heart

and made

Something out of nothing – ”



Steve was not familiar with the song, but Lila’s parents knew it. Clint and Laura joined her after a few lines, while Cooper began playing the tune with whatever utensils or items he had to hand. They followed her until she reached the end of the song:


“He knows my name!

I’m not living for applause –

I’m already so adored!

It’s all His stage

He knows my name!

He knows my name!”

 

Standing up, he offered Wanda his hand. She took it and he pulled her to her feet. “It’s Steve,” he said quietly, giving her his arm. “Happy Easter, Wanda.”

She did not respond immediately. Then… “Happy Easter…Steve,” she replied, her voice hushed,

They went into the house together. “HAPPY EASTER!” the two Barton children shouted when they saw them. Clint and Laura echoed them. Beside Steve, Wanda called out “Happy Easter!” Sam and Steve managed to repeat the shout a moment later. Sam had been drinking and not been able to speak. Steve had been enjoying the scene too much to shout at once.

They settled in the chairs assigned them as Laura and Clint began to set out dinner. Lila sat next to Wanda while Cooper squirmed into the seat between Steve’s chair and the chair where his father would sit. Nathaniel was in his high chair next to Laura’s seat, watching the activity with a baby’s interest.

Steve wondered briefly if, had he and Peggy married, their Easter dinners would have been as warm and happy. Another life, Steve, he reminded himself firmly. This life he had to live for the Avengers – Wanda, Sam, Clint, Natasha, and the others, those actively serving and those who had temporarily retired. It also included Laura, Cooper, Lila, and Nathaniel Barton, in a roundabout way. They needed him. They all needed him.

I won’t let them down, Steve promised silently.

THE END

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Captain America/Steve Rogers

Captain America

Captain America/Steve Rogers is one of my favorite characters ever. I thoroughly enjoy both of the previous Captain America films, and Cap’s part in The Avengers was one of the big selling points of that film for me.

Despite getting crowded in several scenes, Cap still came out swinging in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Literally. It is always nice to see what new tricks Cap has up his sleeve for a battle. Though he has no super strength, Cap is at peak human strength – he can bench press 1,200 pounds! (Do not try this at home, kids!) So throwing a motorcycle at an oncoming vehicle is not too far a stretch of the imagination…. And it is pretty cool!!! 🙂

The wonderful thing about Cap’s part in Age of Ultron is his relationship with his fellow Avengers. Why is this so wonderful? Because throughout the film we see that Steve Rogers is the “center” of the team. He is the one they all listen to, turn to for orders or advice…

Oh, and he is the man they have to answer to when they do something wrong. (Sound familiar, Tony? Ringing any bells, Bruce?)

As an example, consider Cap’s relationship with Thor in Age of Ultron. Thor and Cap have always been great friends in the comics. I do not know if the two have ever fought each other as Tony and Cap will in Civil War – they may have, I just do not know if they did.

Throughout the film, we see that the two have developed a mutual respect and trust. They use tag team tactics – first at Strucker’s HYDRA base, then in Novi Grad – when they fight side by side in a battle. This friendship was foreshadowed in Thor: The Dark World, when Loki tormented Thor on their way out of Asgard by playing juvenile tricks. One of the ways he irritated the Thunderer was by turning into Captain America and acting like a dork.

I do not think Thor was rough with Loki after that just because there were guards nearby. It was a good excuse to shut up a genuinely irritating Trickster. Out of all the Avengers who Loki could have chosen to imitate to annoy his adopted brother, he picked Cap.

That is not a coincidence. Loki knows Thor too well to just pick a barb to jab him with at random. He chose Cap on purpose because he knew doing so would get Thor’s goat.

Okay, I have to beg your indulgence here, readers, because I am going to detour for a minute and go back to the hammer lifting competition Hawkeye started. As we know, Cap budged the hammer and Thor very nearly turned white as a sheet. Since seeing this, a lot of people have said that Cap cannot lift Mjolnir in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Only Thor and Vision can wield the hammer in the movies because they are worthy.

Ummm, sorry, no. Cap actually has used Mjolnir at least once in recent, “mainstream” comics. He is as worthy to wield that hammer as Thor or Vision. He can lift and use Mjolnir in the comics and, I am sure, in the movies as well.

All right, some say, if I am so sure of this then how do I explain Cap leaving the hammer on the table after budging it in Age of Ultron? Well, Thor was planning to take the scepter back to Asgard after the Avengers retrieved it. That was made pretty clear. The party Ultron crashes is essentially Thor’s “good-bye for the next little while” bash. What kind of friend would Steve be if he embarrassed Thor at an event like that? Steve left the hammer where it was. He did not complain that the hammer was too heavy for him like the others did, but raised his hands in an “Okay, I tried it, that’s it,” manner and walked away.

Forget for a minute that Cap let go of a power others would have snatched up in a moment; the scene shows the respect he has for Thor. He will not steal his buddy’s thunder. (Sorry, but I had to! :)) Thor knows he can lift the hammer, and Steve knows he can lift the hammer. That is good enough for Cap.

Now, does this mean that Cap would not use Mjolnir in an emergency? I believe the reason he grabbed the hammer in the comics was because the world was experiencing an enormous emergency, and Thor was incapacitated. So yes, I think Cap would pick up Mjolnir in the films if he had to, or if Thor tossed it to him. But if he does not need it, he is not going to take it from his friend. This is one of the foundations of Thor’s trust and respect for Steve Rogers.

And this is why Thor releases his choke hold on Tony when Cap asks him to put the billionaire genius down. He will fume and storm (maybe literally), but when Steve asks him to do something, Thor will do it. Not because he is intimidated by Cap but because he respects him.

We also see that Cap and Natasha’s respectful, affable rapport in The Winter Soldier has grown stronger. Just like the friendship between Tony and Rhodey is given a good showing in Age of Ultron, Cap and Natasha are shown to be tighter compatriots in this movie. When in their previous adventures together would he have thrown her the shield to use in battle? Natasha could not handle the weapon prior to Ultron, and her use of it in Novi Grad implies that Cap has trained her in rudimentary use of his shield at least. That speaks volumes right there!

Cap’s friendship with Bruce has also grown and expanded by the time we see them together again in Ultron. We have known since The Avengers that Steve sympathizes with Bruce – and that Cap is one of the few people the Hulk will take orders from, especially if that order is to “Smash.” We do not get to see Cap interact with the Hulk much in Ultron (bummer), but we do see that he and Bruce get along pretty well now.

This is made poignantly clear when Cap quietly tells Bruce he should start dating Natasha. He refers to the fact that he waited too long to accept Peggy’s advances and has since paid the price, urging Bruce not to make the same mistake. It is a sweet, if a little flabbergasting, scene. I was not expecting Natasha and Bruce to be an item in the movie, and I was definitely not expecting Cap to give their budding romance his seal of approval!

Still, it makes sense. And it shows that Cap holds Bruce in high regard. Bruce is not a pawn to him, a machine you press a big green button on to unleash a nuclear option. He is a friend Cap wants to protect and prevent from making what he believes is a mistake.

As I have said elsewhere, I was really happy with the friendship between Cap and Hawkeye in this film. Everybody likes to describe Clint as a loner since the movies have come out, and it is true that he has not always been the happiest of team players. Why this is in the movies, I am not sure; in the comics it was because he did not have good experiences with people in authority.

In the films, Clint is much more mature, and so there is no battle of wills between him and Cap as there were in the original comics. Instead, the two appreciate each other, in the way that commanders and valued officers often do. Clint is shown to defer to Steve when the other has an order for him (though not always happily).

It is of particular interest (to me) that he does not answer Cap with the “yes, sir, no, sir” he used on Fury in The Avengers. When he tells Steve in Novi Grad that he and Wanda have cleaned up their section of the city, he does not address Cap by rank or as “sir.” Cap responds similarly, saying, “We are not clear! We are very not clear!”

Clint’s reply is not the robotic soldier’s but the comrade-in-arms’: “All right, comin’ to ya.”

The two get on well as battle brothers, with Cap obviously being the “elder brother” while Clint is the loyal “younger brother.” Of all the members of his team, Cap can probably count most on Thor and Hawkeye backing him up in a fight. Though Clint naturally stays out of Cap’s fight with Tony in Avengers’ Tower, he does so for practical reasons. He divested himself of his gear when he got to the Tower, and he cannot handle repulsor blasts as well as Cap can! They would knock him down for the count, whereas a repulsor shot simply knocks Steve over.

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Cap is not given much time to get to know the twins or Vision in Age of Ultron, but we know that Wanda takes to him pretty quick. For his part, though Cap growls at the twins after they help him stop the train running amok through South Korea, he does not appear to truly resent Wanda or her brother for what they did to him and his team in Africa.

Instead, he listens to Wanda’s warning about Tony trying to “fix” the problem again, and accepts that she is probably right. He then brings both her and her brother to the Tower. This is quite a lot of trust to show to someone who hypnotized him – and was probably prepared to kill him – not too long ago!

Wanda’s way of speaking to Cap when she met him in Korea is not belligerent, as it might have been with Thor, Bruce, and definitely with Tony. She is instead respectful – if a little desperate – and she speaks to him as one would speak to a trusted authority figure. Even if she was afraid of him, she did not show it. Score another point for Cap’s ability to “walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch”!

Little is shown of how Pietro and Cap regard each other. What is made clear, however, is that there is no rivalry between the two, as there is between Quicksilver and Hawkeye. Pietro even seems to look up to Cap, taking especial note when the First Avenger says that everyone in the Aveng-jet has signed up to die if they have to in order to stop Ultron. “But the people of Sokovia didn’t.”

That gets Pietro’s attention. He realizes then that Cap is not speaking in platitudes or preaching sermons. He understands suddenly that Steve Rogers is not a propaganda piece of the U.S. government or of any government. He is willing to defend Pietro’s country as well as his own simply because it is the right thing to do.

As Cap said when Maria Hill gave him the dirt she has gathered on the twins, he empathizes with Pietro and his sister. They have seen their country and its people trampled by one dictator/power-grabber after another, and they are fed up with it. He understands that they want to end their nation’s suffering, and that they were desperate enough to fight for their country that they allowed HYDRA to experiment on them.

In this scene aboard the Aveng-jet, Pietro learns that Cap truly does empathize with him and his sister. This cements his loyalty to the team and makes him amenable to Cap’s orders. It is as close as we get to a nod to the comics; in the original stories, Pietro seemed to respect Cap as a father-figure. This scene hints that their relationship in Age of Ultron is not very different from that in the “mainstream” comics.

When Pietro is killed, Cap rushes over to him and Clint to find out if anything can be done for their speedy young recruit. This is a good scene for Cap, because it shows how much Pietro learned from him in the short time he knew him. Steve Rogers is willing to die for his friends and for strangers. Pietro knew the boy Clint was holding, but he only knew the archer as an Avenger and former enemy – one he had a rivalry with, at that! But by fighting alongside the Avengers, under Cap’s command, Pietro learned everything he needed to know to be a true hero.

It is for this reason Cap sees to it that Pietro’s body is not left behind on the floating city the Avengers have to destroy. Though they knew each other only for a little while, it is clear Cap respects the boy Pietro was, and honors the man he became when he sacrificed himself to save Hawkeye and a civilian child. Not a perfect ending for their friendship in the films, certainly, but …. *Shrug.*

As for Vision – intellectually, he and Cap appear to agree on a lot. Cap is only distrustful of him because the last robot he met was trying to kill him. In this respect, Vision and Cap are still learning how to understand each other. Vision is totally new, inexperienced, and unprepared for life. He also possesses enormous power, intellect, and knowledge. That is a tricky thing to deal with; you basically have to learn to care for a child with a genius IQ in an adult’s body. And then you have to factor in the added difficulty that the adult body has far more power than a normal human adult has!

From what I know of the comics – and the show Earth’s Mightiest Heroes – Cap and Vision are very good friends. It makes their coming Civil War split all the more heart wrenching, especially since Vision will still be learning in that film. He is about to get an especially hard, nasty lesson in human affairs – and he will be studying that lesson opposite Cap. Ouch!

I have left Cap’s relationship with Tony ‘til last. Some complain that Cap and Tony have barely had time to form a friendship within the film franchise. But the truth is that they are, in fact, very good friends within the film franchise. Before Tony is subjected to the vision which puts him on the path to building the maniacal Ultron, we see that he and Cap have indeed gotten over the antagonism they demonstrated toward each other in The Avengers.

This is made most obvious, paradoxically, when Wanda hypnotizes Tony. In his vision, Wanda showed Tony his greatest fear. Tony sees most of his close friends dead and dying (in the case of the Hulk). The first ‘body’ he goes to is not only the one which is closest to him physically, but the body of the person he has come to greatly value and admire. Cap is one of his closest and best friends, in part because Steve is a great friend to everybody who earns his respect and amity. In part, they are also friends because Steve is a much more likable link to Tony’s father than Fury ever could be.

In the vision, to Tony’s horror, Cap suddenly grabs him and accuses him of failing to protect the Avengers, as well as the Earth. This, more than anything else, is what goads Tony into rushing “the Ultron program” through to completion – and setting off the events of the film.

Cap does not know what Tony saw, because Tony never tells him. So Cap can only assume that whatever Wanda showed his friend “made [him] do something stupid.” And Cap is right. What Tony did was unbelievably stupid. He was afraid, and he allowed his fear to master him and “make him self-destruct.”

Having faced failure and the loss of friends in battle, Cap is no longer afraid of failing. He has learned never to lose hope during these moments of apparent defeat. Natasha noted this in The Winter Soldier: “Well, you seem pretty chipper for a guy who just found out he died for nothing,” she quipped.

Steve’s response was to smile – smile! – as he sat back and replied, “Well, I guess I just like to know who I’m fighting.”

This is the difference between Tony and Cap. At least, it is the difference between them in the films. Cap has experience losing a battle, just like Tony does, but he knows a lost battle does not necessarily mean a lost war. Losing one engagement, Steve finds a way back into the war and keeps on fighting. “You run away, they’ll never let you stop,” he told Peggy in The First Avenger, “You get up, you push back.”

Tony has not experienced defeat in quite the same way. Oh, sure, he has been kicked in the teeth and picked himself up to fight again. But in the case of the films, where Cap jumps up and runs right back into the fight, Tony usually needs time to get his breath back. He has to decide to fight.

Cap does not do that. He decides to fight from the get-go, and he fights to win, no matter how long it takes or how much it costs him. He fights in an all-or-nothing manner which Tony does not. This is what he tried and continues to try to communicate to Tony in the films, starting in The Avengers. In that movie, Cap attempted to explain that in a war you will, inevitably, lose something. It could be anything: a limb; blood; time; innocence and naïveté; your sense of security; your friend(s), and even your own life. Accepting that does not make anything about a war easier. But it gives you more reason to try and end the conflict quickly, so that others will be spared your loss.

In Age of Ultron, Tony was looking forward to a future war and trying to stop it before it started. As Cap says, you cannot do that. “Always in motion is the future,” said Yoda.

It is obvious Cap understood this Star Wars line better than Tony did. What Yoda meant and what Cap understands is that trying to stop a war that has not happened can lead to the very conflict you are trying to prevent. The treaty of Versailles was supposed to be the end of all wars in the West, but it actually marked the beginning of “half time,” which ended with the opening of World War II. The result of Tony’s plan to shield the planet from outside attack was a digital creature bent on eradicating humanity from the face of the Earth.

Great plans, both of them. They each failed miserably.

If Tony had instead spoken about his vision, told the others of his fears, they might have worked something out. Or at least accepted that they could be in for one hell of a fight in the future, and that it might be a war they would not walk away from. Instead, he tried to fix a problem before it happened.

Temporal mechanics are not controlled. You may be able to modify a car engine so that it has a slim chance of breaking down over the course of a thousand years of use, but human – and in the case of the Avengers, alien – affairs cannot be so easily rectified. If you are going to sign up to be a “bouncer” for the world, you had better be prepared to do your job or die trying. The result of “bouncers” such as the Avengers resigning or not doing their job is “global extinction.” Cap knows this. Tony is learning it – the hard way.

Speaking of visions, one of my prognostications said that when Wanda hypnotized everyone, she would try to paralyze Cap with regret. I still think that prognostication is not far off the mark. She gave Tony a vision of his greatest fear: failing his team and the world, while remaining the only one alive when all was said and done. She threw Natasha’s worst memories at her, hitting the Black Widow in the one place it truly hurts. And whatever she made Bruce see, it made him angry enough that he was happy to fight her without even turning green.

What she did to Thor is different. Asgardians are not human, but if Wanda was going after Thor’s greatest fear, I am pretty sure she missed it. What she might have done was trigger some latent foresight abilities he may have inherited from dear old dad. Odin can see almost as much as Heimdall. He just keeps most of it to himself, a la Nick Fury. (Funny how they are each missing an eye, don’t you think?)

If this last is what Wanda did, then Thor alone got a look at something more than smoke and mirrors. He had actual glimpses of the future, something his journey to the dream well proves true.

But what does Cap see when Wanda hypnotizes him? A welcome home party for the World War II troops, complete with Peggy Carter. Everything he ever wanted – and everything he cannot have the way he wanted it.

Tony is wrong. Wanda’s hallucination did leave Cap a little unsteady. But he did not run off the deep end, like Tony did, which is why Tony never realizes that Cap’s vision did in fact upset him. We do not know what feelings Wanda stirred up in Cap until after Thor takes off to get some answers about his own vision. Once the Thunderer has left Clint’s farm, Cap turns and looks at his friend’s house. Over the Barton children’s laughter he and the audience hear vision-Peggy’s voice saying, “We can go home.”

As he looks at the house, Steve is wondering if he could not have had what Clint has. This is only made plainer when he and Tony are out chopping wood. Tony says, “Thor didn’t say where he was going?”

Cap’s face is averted from Tony as he answers, picking up a log and dropping it in his pile of firewood. “Sometimes my teammates don’t tell me things,” he replies, looking up to see Clint showing his son, Cooper, how to measure a banister.  Clint’s daughter, Lila, is playing on the porch behind the two. Cap looks away, as if trying to shake off a separate thought, a separate longing. “I was kind of hoping Thor would be the exception.”

Everyone I have talked to confirms that Cap was not/is not mad at Clint for keeping his wife and children a secret. Given the enemies he doubtless made in SHIELD, the mess HYDRA caused in SHIELD, and the fact that they are still fighting HYDRA and Ultron is prepared to kill them all – it makes total sense that Clint would keep his family as well-hidden as possible. And a secret among many is no secret at all. (Because, as we know, Tony has no filter between his brain and his mouth. He will say something just to be the center of attention. He is not a great secret keeper within the film franchise – unless it is his own secrets which he is protecting.)

The look on Cap’s face is angry, but that anger – along with the jab about his teammates keeping secrets from him – is meant for Tony alone. Steve has no beef with Clint over his “secret” family. He is not even upset with Natasha for helping Clint keep his family under wraps. He understands why Clint did it and there is no way he will be spilling the beans on Clint’s private life.

However, Steve is still sad. He is sad because Clint has everything he wanted to have at the end of World War II. If Cap had not been frozen in the ice, he would have married Peggy and found a place like Clint’s farm on which to settle down. For all he knows, he and Peggy might have had children, too.

And this desire, this longing, is what Wanda played on. She showed him what he wished he had had at the end of that first war he entered. Peggy is there, standing behind him, offering him a dance. He is surrounded by revelers celebrating World War II’s end. Then, abruptly, the dance hall is empty. Why?

It is empty because Cap knows what a fantasy looks like. He dreamed for seventy years in the ice. Even if he cannot remember the dreams precisely, that is what he did. Wanda tried to trap him in a fantasy world again. But Cap has too much of a grip on reality for the trance she put him in to do more than make him remember what he sacrificed when he saved the world, and how much that sacrifice still hurts him.

Cap shakes his sadness off fairly quickly, all things considered. There is no room for such sorrow with a rabid robot running all over the world. And mourning his sacrifice will not change the past. The past is gone; the future, a mystery. The present demands a lot of attention, especially with Ultron on the loose.

So while the others get through their problems, Cap keeps himself busy and is as useful as possible. He is not hiding from Ultron, and all he really needs to do is let go of the past, which he does while the rest of the Avengers cool off. Once they figure out Ultron’s plan, he gets his team into gear and heads out to do what they have to do: save the world. Again.

As a last note on this subject, Cap does not yet realize that he can still have a life like Clint’s. At the moment, he is not looking in that direction, for the simple reason that his lady is still alive. She may be ninety and senile, but Cap is not going to two-time Peggy, even with her express permission.   With Peggy’s death in Civil War and Sharon Carter’s scheduled appearance as a member of Cap’s team in the same film, I am pretty sure he is going to be getting a new girlfriend very soon.

Excelsior!

The Mithril Guardian

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Avengers: Age of Ultron – Hawkeye/Clint Barton

Here we go again, readers. I am back in the world of Marvel movies, thanks in no small part to seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron in theaters after a four month waiting period. And, yes, as you can see by the title, this post is about the only normal human in the Avengers: Hawkeye a.k.a. Clint Barton. So what? He is one of my favorite Marvel characters. I could no more forget him than I could let go of Captain America, Rogue, Storm, Wolverine, or any other character I like.

Now strap in, sit tight, and hold the eye-rolls for after you have read the fan-rant written by this truly wicked blogger! 🙂

Hawkeye

Hawkeye has a whole lot more to do in Age of Ultron, and as a fan of this character, I thought it was great to see more of him this time around! I was really impressed by how much he got to do in Ultron, as opposed to The Avengers. Whedon handled Hawkeye well in both films, but had to write the World’s Greatest Marksman a fairly small part in The Avengers. Otherwise, he would not have been able to properly introduce the audience to the Avengers as a team coalescing under pressure.

This is not the case in Ultron. Hawkeye gets a lot more screen time and many more opportunities to show off, such as the time he hits a dart board dead center, when Tony has been plying the thing for a few minutes and only hitting the inner ring. The glare Tony throws him and the “what do you expect?” shrug Hawkeye returns is wonderfully true to form – for both characters.

Another scene where he gets to show off is in the Avengers’ first battle with Ultron. When Cap needs his shield, it is Hawkeye who sends the vibranium “Frisbee” flying toward America’s ultimate superhero, who catches it and uses it to cut an Iron Legionnaire in half.

For those of you who have not read Hawkeye’s profile or followed the Avenger for a long time in the comics, in Marvel’s “mainstream” comics, Clint Barton did time as Captain America after Steve Rogers’ “death” in the Civil War story arc. He was in the role for a few days, tops, before deciding that he did not like “replacing” Steve Rogers. But the reason Iron Man handed him the First Avenger’s uniform and shield is because Clint Barton is one of the very few people on the planet who can handle the shield the same way that Steve Rogers does.

This is not simply because Cap trained him after he joined the team. Doubtless, that training helped, but Hawkeye is skilled in throwing things accurately as well as in shooting precisely. When he throws an item, he often throws it in such a way that it ricochets/rebounds to hit his real target. Thus, he could throw a baseball at someone, who manages to dodge the ball, thinking they have outsmarted Hawkeye. Except that the ball hits a wall or some other object behind them, and rebounds to strike them in the head, knocking them out. Cap’s shield works on a similar principle in battle, which is why Clint can handle it at all.

Hawkeye practices all the time to keep his accuracy this exact, and seeing him toss Steve the shield was an unexpected treat and a half for me! I would like to see him actually use the shield for a couple of throws in Captain America: Civil War, but we will have to wait and see what happens there.

And did I mention that he gets to do some fancy flying in this movie? Clint is a great pilot, and watching him swing the Aveng-jet around in complicated, dizzying maneuvers was fun! As opposed to the scene where his quinjet is shot down in The Avengers, in Age of Ultron we get to see him display his true piloting skills.

Also, remember how Clint flew the quinjet while Natasha shot at Loki using the plane’s mini-gun in The Avengers? Well, in the battle against HYDRA at the beginning of Age of Ultron, this scenario is properly up-ended. Natasha is driving a jeep toward the HYDRA base the team has set out to destroy, while Clint gets to do what he does best: shoot down everything that gets in the jeep’s way.

Perfect! 😀

Now, no fan-rant about Hawkeye’s part in Ultron would be complete if it did not mention his family. If you check out Prognostications for Age of Ultron, Part 4 on this blog and make it all the way to prognostication number six, then you will see that I openly suspected the house in the teaser scene where Cap and Tony were chopping wood was Hawkeye’s house.

Beneath that are a number of theories about what is in the house, and I would never, ever, have believed that the second hypothesis would pan out. I had no idea whatsoever that Whedon would add Hawkeye’s family from the Ultimate comics to the film. And if you had told me at the time that that supposition would come true, I would have said something like, “Yeah, I wish.”

So when a friend told me that Hawkeye had a family in the film, I was flabbergasted, but not in a bad way. I have always thought he would be a good father and husband. When I learned that he is both in the film, I was even more eager to see the movie.

The hints given in the movie about the Barton family’s existence are good, too. When getting treated for an injury sustained while fighting HYDRA, Hawkeye jokes about being made of plastic. Dr. Cho corrects him and says his own girlfriend will not be able to tell where he was hit when she is done with him. Hawkeye quickly mutters, “I don’t have a girlfriend.” But he does not look anyone in the face when he says it, instead gazing at the wall.

Later on, Cap catches Clint on the phone with someone. He says the team has a lead, then asks who Clint was talking to on the phone. It takes Clint a total of five seconds to come up with a suitably evasive but partly true answer. “My girlfriend,” he says quickly. Cap does a double-take, knowing that Clint has professed to not have a girlfriend in the past. For his part, Clint does not seem to enjoy the fib he has just fed Cap. He will not look him directly in the eye and it took him too long to formulate an answer.

Speaking of which, has anyone else ever noticed that Clint seems to have a problem with lying to his teammates? Telling them an outright lie seems to be pretty hard for him. I guess he could flatly lie to HYDRA or some other bad guy if he wanted to, but he seems to be very bad at even fibbing to the Avengers.

Now, because of some early, scathing comments about Age of Ultron, I was worried that I would not like Hawkeye’s wife, Laura. Turns out, I actually think she was really impressive. The comments on the Internet made her sound like an airhead, but that is not the way that she struck me at all. Her husband goes up against modern day Nazis, aliens, robots, and the occasional arms dealer, not to mention brings the rest of the Avengers home without so much as calling ahead, and she takes it all in stride. She supports him all the way around and has his back. That was more than those comments on the Internet led me to believe, I can tell you!

On top of that, it was nice to see Hawkeye showing his softer side when dealing with his children. As I said above, I have often thought he would make a great dad, and seeing him in the role was fan-tastic. If anything, it was the icing on the cake! I can see why Whedon had fun writing for Hawkeye in this movie. I would have had fun writing for him – here or in other stories/mediums!

Interestingly, the family Clint has in the film is not the same as the family he has in the Ultimate comics. Laura is his wife in both mediums, but in the Ultimate comics he has two sons and a younger daughter. The Barton children’s names also do not match their names from the comics. Callum was the oldest Barton boy in the Ultimate comics, and Nicole was his daughter’s name. In the movie, Clint’s oldest son is named Cooper, his second child is a daughter named Lila, and his youngest is Nathaniel Pietro Barton.

I do not know what possessed Whedon to change Clint’s family line up for Age of Ultron, but I am hardly complaining. It is possible that he rearranged the Barton children’s line-up so that they would have a better shot at surviving in the films, as Clint’s wife and children were all killed in the Ultimate comics. I thought the Barton family was just fine in Age of Ultron, and I have my fingers crossed that we get to see them all again – hopefully not as casualties of War or any other subsequent Marvel movie conflict!

Speaking of Whedon, it bears mentioning that the scenes at Hawkeye’s farm were very nearly cut from Age of Ultron. Whedon told Marvel Studios’ executives that he wanted to expand Thor’s vision in the dream well.  They said he could if he cut the “farm scene.”

Whedon told the Marvel Studios executives that he did not want to cut the “farm scene.” The Marvel Execs insisted that if Whedon wanted to expand Thor’s vision, he would have to cut the “farm scene.”  Whedon would not budge, though, and things apparently got nasty.  So Whedon cut a good part of Thor’s visit to the dream well out of the film.

I would guess that this may be one of the reasons he has removed himself from Marvel Studios (however temporary it may prove to be), aside from the fact that he was directing a great deal more people in this movie than he ever has previously.

I admit, I am going to miss having Joss Whedon behind the Avengers’ films – although it may mean that fewer Avengers are killed off in later movies! 🙂 In all honesty, though, without Whedon helming or having input on the Avengers’ films, I fear we may not have Hawkeye’s family in the movies for very much longer.

And if that happens, I am going to be VERY angry at Marvel Studios’ executives. They may lose a viewer for their films if they decide to make good on the argument they had with Whedon over adding Hawkeye’s family to the movie.

 

Something else I thought was great, and I have touched on this before, is the relationship between Clint and the Maximoff twins. You can find more about that in the post Avengers: Age of Ultron – Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, at least as it relates to the twins themselves. As it relates to Hawkeye, I thought it showed a lot about him.

Clint does not like the twins, really and truly, until the final battle against Ultron in Nova Grad, Sokovia. There, he gets the chance to give Wanda a great pep talk. And, even though it occurs when Pietro dies, he settles for a genuine respect for the male Maximoff twin.

If anything, the reason he warmed up to the two might be due to the fact that he himself has children. And the Maximoffs are still children. They have been since their parents’ deaths; they know how to take care of themselves, but their understanding of the world around them is badly skewed due to a lack of genuine parental guidance.

When Wanda started to fall apart, I think Clint sensed how young she was, mentally, more than he had before. So he responded to her in almost – almost – the same way that he would if it was his own daughter losing herself to panic. Plus, he has been in her shoes in the past. Loki mind-controlled him into being part of his “take over the world” scheme. He knows how being used as a part in something that evil feels, and so when Wanda started down the “this is all my fault” path, he stopped her before she had a chance to become a whimpering wreck. Way to go, Hawkeye!

I think Clint may have seen a little of himself in Pietro as well. The brash, abrasive manner Quicksilver demonstrates throughout the movie is similar to Clint’s own scrappy attitude. Not to mention the two both have a tendency to come up with witty wisecracks and quips in moments of calm as well as battle. And they have been good friends in the comics for a very long time.

Of course, Clint’s friendship with Natasha is better shown in this movie than it has been previously. The two dig at each other good-naturedly and show more of their battle brother-sister habits throughout the movie. This is clearly proved when it is shown that Natasha alone, out of all the Avengers, is the person Clint trusted with the knowledge of his family. He has also apparently prepared everyone in his family to meet his team in case he ever had to bring the Avengers home one day. Why else would they all be so calm about meeting four superheroes – Bruce Banner, Thor, Captain America, and Tony Stark – who otherwise would have startled and frightened most other children and wives?

It is additionally demonstrated that Clint gets along well with the two “science brothers” on the team. I cannot recall anything extremely specific with regard to Banner, but the friendly taunts and jibes Clint and Tony exchange show they have gotten to know each other fairly well, and they have come to trust each other a lot since they started working together.

Thor tends to get “poked” by Clint more than the others, it seems. I am guessing this is because of Clint’s taunt about Mjolnir’s worthiness enchantment. Since Thor is the only alien they have on the team, he is open to a lot of teasing. He has become more familiar with Earth’s cultures since he came to Midgard, but in some ways Cap has had less trouble assimilating to the 21st century than Thor has.

Also, he is a prince, and he can fly. Clint is going to want to make sure Thor keeps his head out of the clouds even more than he watches Tony’s penchant for getting big headed. Still, since Thor was willing to abandon the battle at the HYDRA base halfway through to get Clint back to the Aveng-jet for preliminary medical treatment, and stayed with him while the others went on fighting, he does not seem to resent Clint’s ribbing much, if at all.

Captain America 

I was, I must say, most impressed by the friendship between Clint and Cap in the film. I was watching this in particular because I learned the World’s Greatest Marksman would be siding with Captain America in Civil War. And I was also studying it closely because, in the original “mainstream” comics, Clint and Steve had a tendency to butt heads on almost everything. Clint was Pietro’s age when he first joined the team in the comics and because of that he occasionally felt that he would be a better leader for the Avengers than Cap was.

Well, obviously, this is not the case in the movies. Clint is much more mature in the films, and his friendship with Steve shows that. Mostly it is in little scenes. His saying, “C’mon, Cap!” when Steve goes to pick up Mjolnir was hint number one. When he watched Tony try the hammer, his manner was more sarcastic and disbelieving. He had an idea that Tony would not be able to lift the hammer, and Tony’s declaration that physics would help him do so did not increase Clint’s confidence in him a whit.

But when he encourages Cap, he sounds more convinced. It is as if, were the team to be placing bets on which one of them could lift Mjolnir, he would put his money on Steve. Cap does not lift the hammer, however; probably to avoid embarrassing Thor at what is supposed to be his going-away party. So it is a good thing no one put money on anybody else, because otherwise they would all have lost.

Hint number two is the fact that it takes Clint five seconds to decide to lie to Cap about the call he was caught making to his wife. He has been keeping the secret for so long that telling even Cap about it is a daunting idea. Cap does not like it when things are kept from him, though Clint’s keeping his family under wraps is more sensible than all the secrets SHIELD was hiding from Steve. I think Cap was more than willing to let Clint slide on that one.

But Clint still did not like lying to him. It was written all over his face. And he knew that Cap had realized there was a disconnect between this explanation he had just given and his earlier declarations of not having a girlfriend. But telling Cap about his family in the Tower, when Ultron is all over the Internet and in the surveillance systems, not to mention in every other computer system on the planet, is not a good idea. So, sensibly, Clint told Cap as much of the truth as he safely could.

The third hint comes in Seoul. Cap is hanging off the back door of a truck trailer when he says that he is going after Ultron. Interestingly, it is not Natasha who warns him how dangerous this plan is. Instead it is Clint who says, “You’re no match for him, Cap.”

“Thanks, Barton,” Cap mutters, being quite well aware of that fact himself.

The fourth hint is also in Seoul. Clint lost Natasha when he picked up the Cradle, and for a few seconds, we are once again looking at the original comics. Clint repeatedly asks Cap if he knows where Natasha is, and Cap continually orders him back to Avengers Tower. Then time and space re-converge and Clint does as he is told – though he hits the consoles in front of him to show his frustration and anger.

Last but not least, for all his seeming “impartiality” in the arguments among the Avengers, I was certainly under the impression that Clint was always silently siding with Cap, even when the First Avenger brought the twins to the Tower. Though he says that Wanda’s seal of approval on the Vision will mean nothing to him, his statement is directed toward her, not Steve. Cap’s decision he will follow, but not hers – yet.

I was glad to see that Clint and Steve got along so well in the film. I had been hoping they would, since they have become better friends over time in the comics. They are a lot alike, though getting Clint to admit that takes some serious work.

They are cut from similar cloth and almost always fight on the same side. I do not know for sure, but I do not think they have ever come to blows in the same manner and spirit that Steve and Tony went after each other in Civil War. No matter how angry they have become with each other in the past, they have remained great friends. If anything, their arguments actually appear to strengthen their friendship instead of tearing it down!

Considering how well Clint got off in Age of Ultron, I am hoping he does as well in Captain America: Civil War. If he does better, then you will again be reading a glowing fan-rant about him on this blog, readers. You can put money on that! So, until I write again –

Excelsior!

The Mithril Guardian