Tag Archives: Aragorn

Happy St. Valentine’s Day!!!

Happy St. Valentine’s Day to all those who follow Thoughts on the Edge of Forever!! Here are some clips and photos to make the day a little more romantic…. 😉

First up, the theme music from one of the best romance films ever…!!!

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Wedge and Iella Antilles

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Jagged Fel and his wife, Jaina Solo Fel

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Marriage of Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade

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Jessica and Luke Cage – plus their daughter, Danielle

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And now, the piece de resistance….

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HAPPY ST. VALENTINE’S DAY!!!!

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Thundercats – HO!!

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I have been meaning to write a post about this subject for a while.  For those of you who have no idea what in the world I am talking about, no worries.  This blogger does not expect everyone to know everything about the things I enjoy, just as I hope no one expects me to know a thing about rocket science or the life span of a great white shark.  So hold on tight as I try to explain the subject of today’s post.   It might take a while.

Thundercats was a cartoon series which debuted back in the 1980s.  It focused on a species of humanoid cats.  The nobility among this race were called Thundercats, while the common folk were known as Thunderians.

I have always been a sucker for cats.  So when the series reran at odd hours during my childhood, I would scramble to watch the episodes.  To recap the general plot:  Thundera, the home of Thundercats and Thunderians alike, was a planet which somehow died.  Think Superman and Krypton; the core was unstable or something like that, and the planet went ka-blooey as a result.

A number of Thundercats and Thunderians escaped the planet’s destruction.  One such group of Thundercats included Cheetara, a character based on the cheetah; she could run 120 mph on a morning jog – and faster in combat.  There was also Tygra, based on the tiger, whose bolo whip could make him invisible to the naked eye.  He and Cheetara were hinted to be a couple.

Then there was Panthro, the strongest cat of the group; he was based on the panther.  There were the Thunderkittens, Wilykit and Wilykat, fraternal twins, sister and brother.  They were based on wildcats, but you could not be sure which kind from the look of them.

Jaga was the wise, Obi-Wan Kenobi magician/mentor in the group.  No one has any idea what kind of cat inspired his appearance.  And, last but most important, there was the young heir to the royal throne of Thundera – Lion-O, the future Lord of the Thundercats.  Yes, he was based on the lion.

Oh, yeah, and then there was Lion-O’s nanny, Snarf.  No idea what Snarf was based on; he was the only cat who walked on all fours most of the time.  The Thundercats walked like humans do, unless they had to climb or run up a steep mountain as fast as they possibly could.

Anyway, Lion-O and his escort, along with the convoy of ships following them, ended up under attack from a group called the Mutants.  The Mutants were humanoid animals, mainly resembling Lizards, Jackals, Vultures, and apes (these were known as Monkians).

The entire convoy except for Lion-O’s ship was destroyed.  The Mutants boarded their ship in the hope of recovering an ancient Thunderian weapon and the heirloom of Lion-O’s house:  the magic Sword of Omens.

Naturally enough, the Mutants were repelled.  But the ship was heavily damaged in the battle and would never make it to the Thundercats’ planned new world.  The best it could do was the third planet in a small solar system in a dinky galaxy.  (There was, apparently, intergalactic travel in the original Thundercats series.)

The trip was too long for the group to survive outside of suspension capsules.  Because he was the oldest, Jaga did not enter a suspension capsule, which could retard but not stop the aging process.  He piloted the ship to the Cats’ new home but died before the ship crash landed on Third Earth, a wild world with ancient secrets.

Lion-O was the second Thundercat to awaken from suspension, the first being Snarf.  Once he was awake, Lion-O realized he had grown to a full adult during his years of suspension.  The pod seemingly malfunctioned and did not slow his aging as much as it should have, since the Thunderkittens remained the same age as when they entered the pods – they were older than Lion-O.  He looks to be about thirty, if not slightly younger…

But his mind is all twelve year old boy.  Add a big dash of leonine pride to that, and you get the general recipe for the Thundercats series.

Third Earth at first seems hospitable enough.  But on an adventure out of camp, Lion-O runs into an ancient evil that has slept on Third Earth undisturbed for centuries:  Mumm-Ra, the ever-living mummy and self-proclaimed ruler of Third Earth.

Yes, this is kind of corny.  But there is a bonus point about this villain which I always liked.  Mumm-Ra could never stand the sight of his own reflection.  If soundly beaten in a fair fight by the Thundercats, he would retreat with dire warnings about how bad their next encounter would be.  If the Cats were hard-pressed, they would use any reflective surface that they could find to show him his own face.  The sight of how ugly he was would drive Mumm-Ra back to his black pyramid and into his sarcophagus, so he could regenerate and keep being “ever-living” – especially after the fright of seeing the evil etched into his own skeletal face.

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Three new Thundercats were later added to the roster.  Lynx-O, a blind Thunderian based on the lynx, became the team’s living voice of wisdom; Ben-Gali, based on the Bengal tiger, became the team’s new weapons expert.  Lastly we had Pumyra, based on the North American puma or cougar.  She and Ben-Gali looked to be about as perfect a couple as Cheetara and Tygra.

To a child, the world of the Thundercats, even if it is odd, is wonderful.  I never needed any explanation for anything when I watched the series re-air as a small viewer.  When I was older and looked up the series, I left the incongruities of the stories alone.  What mattered to me were the characters and the morals they imparted during every episode – because in the eighties, every cartoon series had a moral in each episode.  Or very nearly every series had a moral in every show.  Such contemporaries of the Thundercats as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe or Transformers, for instance, had a moral to each story.

Characters in He-Man would lecture the audience directly at the end of every show, whilst Transformers let the moral lie in the story.  Thundercats followed Transformers in that regard, being only a bit preachier in the way the characters spoke to each other.  ‘Course, they were trying to teach a twelve year old future king who had grown to adulthood in his sleep how to be mature.   They had a pretty good excuse.

Even after Thundercats was canceled, there was still a fan base to appease.  I have no idea how many older children watched and enjoyed the series when it came out first, but there must have been enough.  After a while comic books were made to show the ongoing adventures of the Thundercats.

And, as the saying goes, it all went downhill from there.

I looked up the comics when I was trying to find out more about my favorite childhood series.  What I discovered in this search was utterly appalling.  Thundercats had begun life as an innocent children’s show, and I was not the only one naïve enough to have expected the comics to maintain that tone.  What I and other fans of the show found was that the innocence of the series had been ravaged and destroyed by the comic book writers.

After a few glances through the descriptions, I stopped reading, since I wanted to be able to sleep at night.  So I only know of a few things which I can say against the comics.  But it is enough.  If you are a child or have a child with you, stop reading here and/or send the child away NOW.

The writers for the comics had Cheetara captured at some point in their stories and raped by Mutants.  This was bad enough for me; Cheetara had been my favorite Thundercat growing up.  It got worse, I quickly found:  somehow, the two Thunderkittens had also been captured by Mumm-Ra in the comics.  The Ever-living Mummy then decided to use them as sex slaves – both sister and brother – for his personal amusement.

Reading this the first time, I nearly threw up on the keyboard.  Thanks to the reviewers on Amazon who had not been so fortunate, I knew that I never wanted to pick up a Thundercats comic book in my life.  But the knowledge has never really changed my opinion of these “stories” and the writers who created them.

And the thing is, these awful incidents in the comics were not only disgusting, they were illogical.  Throughout the TV series the Thundercats always made sure to keep tabs on each other.  They always came to the rescue if one of them ended up in trouble.  The idea that Cheetara could be captured, let alone raped, without the Thundercats making sure that the perpetrators suffered the consequences is more than slightly unbelievable.

This also makes the capture and corruption of the Thunderkittens impossible to consider.  The Cats made sure to take care of the Kittens; if ever they went missing, the adults would tear off after them.  That they somehow allowed the Kittens to be captured by Mumm-Ra and never tore the planet apart in at least an attempt to find them is totally out of character.

From left to right: Tygra, Wilykit, Lion-O, Wilykat, Panthro, Snarf, and Cheetara

From left to right: Tygra, Wilykit, Lion-O, Wilykat, Panthro, Snarf, and Cheetara

This was one of the reasons why I became worried about the new series which aired in 2011.  The new Thundercats TV show drew a great deal from the comics.  It added species which had never been in the original series, gladiatorial combat, and made the entire storyline far less sunny and happy-go-lucky.  It also subtracted Mumm-Ra’s vulnerability to his own reflection, replacing it with the vampiric weakness to sunlight.  Previously, Mumm-Ra had never had a problem moving around in the day time.  He is, after all, an ancient mummy, not a vampire!

I did enjoy some of the additions to the new series, readers.  But always in the back of my mind was the worry of just what the writers might pull from the comics for the series.  The darker tone of the show did not ease my fears.

Pumyra 2011

Pumyra 2011

The last straw came at the end of the first and only season of the new series.  This episode saw Pumyra turn on the Thundercats and join with Mumm-Ra, who apparently had taken her as his paramour in the bargain.  The fact that the writers would turn the originally sweet, innocent Pumyra into this was absolutely infuriating.  I was more than glad that the series died quietly after this episode.

Nevertheless, that does not mean that the writers are off the hook for what they did to this character – and that goes double for the comic book authors!  The original Thundercats series, the writers for the new TV show reportedly said, was “too much like a Sunday morning cartoon,” to be appealing to modern day audiences.

Well, duh!  That was the point!!!  That was what it was!!!!  No one in the 1980s had a problem with Sunday morning cartoons.  They especially did not mind if they had kids!!!!!

As for no modern audience being interested in the original series or “Sunday morning cartoons,” what are I and other fans like me – cat food?  We enjoyed the original series just fine the way it was!

And that is just the point.  These new writers did not want to reboot the series from its original foundation.  They wanted to change the premise of the story entirely.  Doubtless, the comic book authors felt the same way when they began crafting the comics for the Thundercats.

This really stuck in my craw, for one reason and one reason only:  the new writers felt the original show was too guileless – too innocent – to attract audiences today.  And I believe they are flat-out wrong in this indictment of the earlier TV series and others like it.  If you follow the in-crowd, you never try anything new.  So how will you know whether audiences today do or do not like and want “Sunday morning cartoons”?

But it is what this attitude highlights that I find most upsetting.  What is it with the urge in our “modern” age to destroy innocence?  From abortion to kindergarten programs which teach children about sex, it is horrifying to see just how far we have fallen in so short a span of time.  The world will rip apart the innocence of childhood and children as they grow up.  Why do we have to help it with comics like the ones about the Thundercats?  Why do we have to have television shows which do the same thing?

The answer is:  we do not need these things.  We really, truly, do not.  The fact that too many of us want to make them in order to be “hip,” “cool,” and to impress the people in the “right circles” is not a need.  It is following the crowd and supporting, ironically enough, the status quo which these mainstream moguls claim they want destroyed.

Marvel, DC, and most other “children’s entertainment” venues are doing this as we speak.  Even Disney is engaged in this disgusting game.  Disney has more than a few live action television shows which degrade boys and girls, making caricatures of the players in the stories and thereby the actors who portray the characters.  They are supposed to be funny, but I can tell you that I have never found even one thing comedic in the advertisements for these shows, let alone the actual episodes.

I do not know about anybody else, but I am absolutely fed up with all of this.  I am tired of the implication that I am backward, out of touch, and a rube because I like innocent pleasures and naïve kids’ shows.  As if any of the writers who have turned the art of professions meant to entertain children into lewd pap has the moral authority to tell me or anyone else that!

This has to end.  It has to stop.  Too many children have already been hurt by this.  They have grown into hurting adults who hurt their own children, either on purpose or in a search to find what they have been told is “ultimate freedom.”  These writers and others like them have sold children into slavery to ideas and misconceptions which have landed them in prison, in poverty, in disease, or in addiction.  And they have sold those children’s children into the same situations.  It has to stop!

How do we stop it?

How was Sauron defeated in The Lord of the Rings?  Aragorn’s army did not stop him.  Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring, which betrayed itself when Gollum bit off his finger, did the trick.  This demonstrates that, eventually, every tempest of horrors imaginable will end in its own defeat.

And just like Frodo, we can help it along.  We can show our children what innocent shows like the original Thundercats look like.  We can make sure they read good books, see good movies, and hear good music.  We can keep them innocent for as long as possible by making damn sure they are exposed to as little of that other stuff as possible.  The battle started when the Enemy went after our children, readers…

It is past time we fought back the same way.

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Living on the Heights

Pippin remained behind. “Was there ever anyone like him?” he said. “Except Gandalf, of course. I think they must be related. My dear ass, your pack is lying by your bed, and you had it on your back when I met you. He saw it all the time, of course. And anyway I have some stuff of my own. Come on now! Longbottom Leaf it is. Fill up while I run and see about some food. Dear me! We Tooks and Brandybucks, we can’t live long on the heights.”

“No,” said Merry. “I can’t. Not yet, at any rate. But at least, Pippin, we can now see them, and honor them. It is best to love first what you are fitted to love, I suppose: you must start somewhere and have some roots, and the soil of the Shire is deep. Still there are things deeper and higher; and not a gaffer could tend his garden in what he calls peace but for them, whether he knows about them or not. I am glad that I know about them, a little. But I don’t know why I am talking like this. Where is that leaf? And get my pipe out of my pack, if it isn’t broken.” – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Chapter Eight: The Houses of Healing by J. R. R. Tolkien

One More Point in Saving Mr. Banks

You may or may not have seen a post I did a little while ago about the film Saving Mr. Banks, readers. In it, I spoke about a line Walt Disney uttered in the film: “See, that’s what we storytellers do. We bring order to the world. We give people hope, over and over again.”

I wrote then about the way this statement affected me personally. (Among other things, it made me cry quite a bit.) Thinking more about this scene, and the movie in general, another line in the film struck me.

Throughout the movie, which shows Walt Disney doing his utmost to convince Mrs. Travers to allow him to make a film out of her Mary Poppins book, Disney again and again says that he wants to “make something beautiful” out of her story.   And he does not just want her permission to do this. He wants her help to do it.

How many of us use the word “beautiful” in conjunction with a film? Really, how many of us do that? I know I do not use the word “beautiful” to describe a movie. In fact, listening to Disney say it, I was inclined to squirm a little. How can a movie be “beautiful”?

I guess the better question is, “How could it not be beautiful?”

We do not use “beautiful” very much these days, readers, with regard to stories. Whether they are in print, song, or on film, “beautiful” is an adjective rarely attached to a story. Or, if it is applied, it can sometimes be applied to a film for the wrong reason.

A viewer might say that he thinks films such as Pacific Rim, Star Trek (the latest reboot), or Noah are beautiful. By this he could mean that he believes the CGI effects are beautiful. I will not disagree that CGI effects are impressive. I like Avatar simply for the CGI effects, and I would indeed call them “beautiful.”

I cannot say that about the story in Avatar, which is simply cowboys and Indians on another world. And the Indians win. I believe that I have watched Avatar a total of two or three times since a friend sat me down to see it first.

In contrast, I have watched Mary Poppins too many times to count since I was introduced to it as a child. Of late I have not watched it as much, but compared to Avatar, I would say that the story of Mary Poppins is a “beautiful” story. The story in Avatar I would call, politely, “mediocre” – at best.

So why would Disney call a prospective Mary Poppins film “something beautiful”? He would say that because a good story, just like a good photograph, painting, or song, is an expression of beauty. Beauty lifts us up. It reminds us of what is good, true, and permanent. That there is more to life than what we see, and that we rarely experience the “permanence” we can often feel but are rarely allowed to see with our eyes.

Parents often complain – laughingly – that their children almost endlessly watch a particular movie or movies over and over again, until they (the parents) are well and truly fed up with it. Why do children do this? Why do they watch the same film(s) time after time, when they know every line by heart?

I would guess it is probably because children have a sense that attracts them to beauty, which is crushed – or tamed – out of them as they grow up. I remember watching lots of films several times in the same week as a child. I never got tired of them. I enjoyed new stories, but the older stories were my close friends, and I did not want to leave them out of my fun.

Today, however, many storytellers – whether they work in the medium of print or film – are running away from beauty. There are others who embrace it, such as those at Disney, if only because it is their bread and butter. Others continually try to tear it down and destroy it.

Do you want proof of this? Check out the films that have come out recently. Along with the latest Marvel films, Disney’s Maleficent, Cinderella, and Frozen, we have such movies as The Purge, The Purge 2, The Hive, Gallows, and other trash. Yes, I called those films trash, and I will do so again. They are garbage, the vile refuse of small minds that take pleasure in “tearing the old world down,” to quote Alexander Pierce of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

These “storytellers” are not telling stories. They are not making films. They are propagating nihilism. They are worshipping destruction, death, and horror. And they have the temerity, the unmitigated gall, to call it “art.” “Art doesn’t have to mean anything except to its maker,” they howl hoarsely. “We’re giving people what they want. We’re giving them reality!”

Pardon me a moment, readers, but this is nonsense. No, actually, it is worse than nonsense. It is lies.

Art is not a collection of carpet fluff glued together to resemble a poodle. Art is not a bed covered in empty vodka bottles or a canvas someone spilled thirty cans of paint onto, and art is NOT anything like The Purge or The Hive.

Art is a manifestation of beauty. Everyone can see and recognize beauty, and they can either love it or hate it. Everyone who loves beauty is gifted with expressing it in some way, from a waitress smiling at a customer to a director doing his utmost to turn a great book into a remarkable film.

And everyone who hates beauty will try to destroy it. They will try to destroy those who use their talents to express beauty. One of the first targets, therefore, will be the painters, songwriters, storytellers, and others who make beauty visible for all to see.

These haters of beauty try first to shout and beat these great artists into submission. Finding that shouting does not work on all, they instead whisper and sneer, making themselves look reasonable and more real than the beauty these artists portray.

Everyone says they can make art. And someone who makes a good movie, writes a good book or a song, or paints a beautiful picture, has proved their worth. But those who paint death, horror, destruction, and malfeasance of every kind yet call it “art” are liars, cads. They are the Wormtongues of our age, the useful puppets of the Sarumans that feed them the falsehoods and monstrosities they then display for all to see.

No longer is a storyteller believed to bring order to a chaotic, brutal world and give people a taste of what true reality looks like. No longer is a storyteller expected to bring hope to the people again and again, to give them characters that will live forever, safely cherished in the viewers/readers hearts.

No. Instead, the Sarumans say storytellers are supposed to revel in the transient. They are expected to give form to passing feelings, fleeting fads, and to lift up the slime at the bottom of the gutter and proclaim it art. This is now the anticipated path of an artist.

G. K. Chesterton said on his deathbed that there was only the light and the dark, and every man had to choose which he would serve, for which he would live and die.

What do these sides, the light and the dark, look like? Look to your heart, readers. Who rides there? Captain America? Aragorn? Luke Skywalker? They are the emblems of the light, the ideals of those who choose goodness, right, and truth. They are what these people truly strive to be. All who live according to the light, who love the day and the stars at night, they fight for the light. They are the true Avengers, the real Fellowship of the Ring, and the living Jedi Knights. To believe in beauty, to fight to keep it present in the world – that, readers, is choosing and fighting for the light.

What do those who serve the darkness look like? Whom do they carry in their hearts? Loki, Saruman, Hannibal Lecter, Thanos – these are examples of the outriders of evil. It is these who are carried in the hearts of those who serve the darkness. They, like these characters, have rejected the light. For them it is better to rule in the dark than to serve in the light. Non serviam, they say. Those who are minions of evil resemble these wicked characters in some manner.

It may not be an obvious resemblance, of course. Does not Crossbones wear a mask? Do not Saruman and Thanos hide behind useful puppets like Gríma Wormtongue, Loki, and Nebula? Does not Hannibal Lecter do his work where none can see and stop him? And was it not Loki who was told by Coulson, “You’re going to lose.”

“Am I?”

“It’s in your nature.”

“Your heroes are scattered,” Loki answered, “Your floating fortress falls from the sky… Where is my disadvantage?”

“You lack conviction,” was Coulson’s prompt, true answer.

Why would evil wear a mask if it were so utterly convinced that it had nothing to fear? Evil wears a mask because it does have something to fear, something far greater than itself. The Light is what it fears, and for that reason true storytellers serve the Light.

This is why I blog about stories which I know are beautiful. This is why I blog about characters and songs I know to be beautiful. This is why I write. There is no other reason for this blog. If there ever was another reason, it has long since passed away. Writing about beauty is one way of making beauty visible to the world again and again. Of bringing order, if only for a few paragraphs, to a chaotic society. Of giving hope, however small, where it is needed most.

Excelsior, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

Spotlight: Avengers – Iron Man/Tony Stark

Pepper and Tony

“I am Iron Man.”

Wow. Tony Stark has come a long way since he spoke those words in his first film. That movie revealed a lot about Iron Man to me. As I have said elsewhere, I once thought this super hero was a robot. Watching Marvel’s Iron Man a few years after it came out, I made the mistake of saying aloud, “Wait. Iron Man is a guy in a metal suit? I thought he was a robot!”

A friend of mine, who was present when I saw the film, confirmed – with great incredulity at my ignorance – that Iron Man had always been the rich, debonair Tony Stark. This compadre had mentioned that fact before, but I had never really been interested in Iron Man and the explanations had not truly stuck, as they should have. This friend watched the movie through with me and, at the end, said there was only one problem with it. What problem was that?

The problem was Tony’s playboy tendency to mock everything and everyone. Minute to minute, he was making fun of someone or something. Sometimes, it was a just and right criticism. Other times…not so much.

The Iron Man my friend grew up with is, in many ways, better than the Iron Man of today. Do not misunderstand – my friend and I both enjoy watching Robert Downey Jr. play Tony Stark. He is wonderful in the role and puts everything he has into it, and in the first Iron Man film, Tony Stark was – apparently – well on his way to becoming a great hero.

But the original Tony Stark of the 1960s was not a rich, “hip” debauchee who belittled and mocked the world and the people around him. Nor did he look at the world through the same dark, broody lenses Batman uses (though Bruce Wayne uses those lenses for understandable reasons), and he could be genuinely funny. But he did not behave like a fool just for the sake of it. The 1960s era Tony Stark was the epitome of the wealthy gentleman. He was charming, well-mannered, kind, generous, respectful, well-spoken – a modern day knight in hi-tech armor. And if that were not enough, he was also a technological genius.

Here it might be worthwhile to remind you all of the ancient axiom: that while money may indeed talk, wealth need only whisper. The Ersatz Stark is rich, but the Real Tony Stark is wealthy. The Ersatz Stark is “filthy rich” with an egotism and narcissism that demands commensurate notice. The Real Tony Stark is wealthy in so many ways that he needs neither fanfare nor self-congratulation.

Stan Lee has admitted that he based Tony Stark on American inventor Howard Hughes (something my friend deduced without any help). This is where the name of Tony Stark’s father – Howard – came from, and is something the FBI would call a clue. Like Howard Stark, Howard Hughes was contracted to work for the American military during World War II. He manufactured airplanes for them. He also made oil-well tools, and was an aerospace manufacturer (he built satellites). He was an accomplished pilot, and he often flew the planes he developed – as well as other planes – himself. Howard Hughes also made and acted in several movies (Hell’s Angels and Scarface, among others). He was a real American Hero who also happened to be a technological genius.

In the comics, Tony was a lot like Howard Hughes. The only difference between Howard Hughes and Tony Stark was that Tony focused on the development of weapons for the military more than on producing other technologies. This changed after a trip to Vietnam left him with a deadly heart injury. Though the story is modified for the first Iron Man film, it is mostly tailored to put it in today’s world. Dr. Ho Yinsen was the man who saved Tony in the comics as well as in the film, and Tony’s heart was injured in the comics when a weapon blew up near him, severely damaging his heart.

In the original comics, however, what kept Tony’s heart functioning was a magnetic chest plate that could be hidden beneath a business suit as well as his armor. The arc reactor is a creation of the films (Tony’s magnetic chest plate needed recharging every now and again, something the “self-sustaining” arc reactor does not require). Dr. Yinsen’s car battery-powered magnet is a nod to Tony’s original magnetic “pacemaker” device.

While Stan Lee held control of the helm of Marvel Comics, Tony did all right. And for some years after he left, the other Marvel writers respected Iron Man and left him largely unchanged – though they gave him a drinking problem to make a commentary on how getting drunk is bad for people. (This story arc was called “Demon in a Bottle.” How clever – and yes, I am rolling my eyes right now.) This policy of leaving Tony Stark’s personality intact was reversed in the late 1990s or early 2000s.

But for once, the reversal did not come directly through the “mainstream” comics. It came through the Ultimate Marvel Comics.

And the “mainstream” comics, as usual,were far too quick to capitulate to this character assassination from a separate universe.

This transformation introduced the world to the Tony Stark Robert Downey Jr. plays to perfection in the Avengers’ themed films. Instead of encapsulating the ideal of the wealthy gentleman, Tony Stark was made the representative of the hyped, hipster, spectator, wannabees, never-will-be types that are with us today.

It is a sad fact, but a good number of rich people today are no better than badly behaved children. When Marvel decided to “update” their characters in the Ultimate Marvel Comics, they determined that the Tony Stark we had known since the 1960s was staid, boring, and would no longer capture readers’ interest. After all, as the curator of the New York City Natural History Museum in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, told Larry Daley, “People want what’s next.” That is, they want the next attraction, party, fad, etc.

My friend is not one of those people. Neither am I.

That, however, has no bearing whatsoever on the writers/editors/managers at Marvel Comics. Therefore, in Marvel’s Ultimate comics, “mainstream” comics, and films, Tony became the typical rich brat raised with a silver spoon in his mouth who partied all night, was almost always drunk, and had twenty women all over him the minute he walked into a room.

The only thing he retained from his introduction in the 1960s was his genius intellect – which, if nothing else, has been increased.   According to Dr. Yinsen in the first Iron Man movie, Tony can give a coherent, fascinating speech on technology even when he is so thoroughly drunk it is a miracle he can stand up. Despite the effects of his drinking and partying, he still retains the capacity to speak about scientific facts without making a mistake.

However, this particular “good” alteration does not do Tony very many favors among the fans that prefer his previous depiction. His ability to fire off wonderful zingers notwithstanding, no one likes to see Tony Stark picking on Captain America – unless, of course, they are Cap-haters. No one likes to see him insulting Thor, telling Bruce off, or otherwise trying to cut down his teammates with words. That is, unless these particular people hate most of the other Avengers anyway.

The Tony Stark of the 1960s willingly deferred to Cap because of his experience and outstanding record on the battlefield. Likewise, Cap was quite agreeable to the idea of stepping back and letting Iron Man take care of anything that was scientifically out of his league. The two never jockeyed for command of the Avengers. They respected each other equally and were more than prepared to back each other up whenever they needed to do so. They were friends of the best and highest order, like Aragorn and Legolas in The Lord of the Rings.

As everyone (including me) who is expecting/dreading Captain America: Civil War knows, however, things did not stay this way between Cap and Tony. I am not sure, but it may be that Marvel is taking the same route as DC Comics. Originally – as far as I understand things – Batman and Superman were fairly good friends. They had their differences, their differing views shaped by different life experiences, but they agreed on the principles which were at the heart of their work as superheroes.

Some time ago – perhaps it was also in the ‘90s – this friendship between Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne completely tanked. Batman and Superman have fought each other nearly to the death in several dozen stories over the last few years. This rivalry, if that is indeed what it is, is the focus of DC’s next big film: Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Since they wrote the Civil War comic book story, Marvel has been playing up the same idea with Captain America and Tony Stark.

Does this mean that I think that Captain America: Civil War will be a terrible story? I will not know that until I see the film. It is entirely possible, as it is with any movie.

On the whole, though, I am looking forward to Captain America: Civil War. But one of the things in the movie that I am not looking forward to at all is the fighting between Tony Stark and Captain America. I am not looking forward to this anymore than anyone in the actual War Between the States enjoyed watching brothers on the Union and Confederate sides trying to kill each other. I do not enjoy this because Tony and Cap are, after a fashion, brothers.

They are not only brothers-in-arms (or brothers-in-Avenging) but they are brothers in that they each represent great aspects of the United States. Captain America represents the military prowess, patriotism, hope, and home and hearth values the United States was founded on and still stands on. For that reason, he will always be our best and most beloved super hero.

Iron Man/Tony Stark represents the collective ingenuity of the United States. Although the Marvel writers have long plagued him with the question, “Does the suit make the man, or does the man make the suit?” the fact is that this ‘question’ is stuff and nonsense. As I have said elsewhere, there would be no Iron Man suit without Tony Stark.

To return to the point, the original Tony Stark is the modern day knight. He comes from ‘old money’ (nobility), he works hard, and he is inventive. He does not need to go on knightly adventures and do knightly things. But he does these things because they are right and just.

Tony has enough money that he could comfortably sit at home and remote-fly his armor(s) across the battlefield. He does not need to fly into a fray with Kang the Conqueror, Galactus, Loki, Ronan the Accuser, or even low-budget villains like Batroc the Leaper. He could easily sit at home all day, making armors and fantastic machines, all the while whining about the fact that his heart has been damaged and he will never be “normal” again.

But Tony Stark has more Iron in him than that. He does not have to physically enter the battle but he still chooses to do so. He puts himself in harm’s way to protect people, to stand with his friends, to stand up for what is right and true and good. He may not stand as rock steadily as Cap, but let us remember that Tony’s suit can fly. Cap stays grounded so that he never loses focus. Tony, just like the American ingenuity he represents, is so nimble he can fly into space, fix a satellite, swing by a collapsing oil rig and rescue its workers, all before heading back to Avengers’ Tower to have breakfast.

Tony’s inventiveness is something he carries with him, the same way Hawkeye always has his skills, no matter if he has a bow or a gun on him or not. As Obadiah Stane pointed out in the first Iron Man movie, Tony built his first arc reactor in a cave, using nothing but scrap metal and the ramshackle machinery the Ten Rings terrorists had to hand. And they had not been kind to this machinery, either!

So no one can tell me with a straight face that the Iron Man suit made Tony Stark. If he can, in the dim, dank recesses of a cave, cobble together a suit of armor that would make Sir Lancelot Hulk-green with envy, then he is Iron Man – not the suit!

So why has Marvel pitted Tony Stark against his brother Avenger Steve Rogers? The surface reason – which is never more than skin-deep – is that civil wars always pit brother against brother.

Okay. Fine. If Marvel’s Civil War story arc was that simple, I might buy that explanation.

But it is not that simple. Civil wars start because of a divide within a country. In Marvel’s Civil War, however, the divide is something much deeper and of their own creation. Marvel’s “mainstream” writers did not simply turn Tony into a rich snob with a whiplash tongue and “No respect,” to quote Drax, after they followed in the Ultimate writers’ footsteps. They set him up as the fall-guy for the faux war between the “intellectuals” and those who believe in hope, patriotism, home and hearth. Then they went a step too far and had Cap, who believes in all those values, beat him. On top of that, they made Tony feel bad about Cap’s “death” (which was reversed, naturally, when Marvel learned they could not last more than three years without Steve Rogers as Captain America).

Now why did I call the ‘war’ between “the intellectuals” and the rest of us who cherish the principles of home and hearth a ‘faux war?’ I call it this because it is a manufactured war, a smoke screen designed to be used by a few proud snobs to ruin the link between the ideals of home and hearth and the nimble quick-thinking of the geniuses. Real intellectuals, real geniuses, are what the original Tony Stark once was; they are versatile knights with courtly manners who fight for truth and justice. Tony happens to wear a fancy suit of hi-tech armor when he goes out to do battle. The principles, of course, remain unchanged for those real people who are like Tony Stark.

I would, I think, enjoy Civil War and other recent story lines maiming Tony Stark more than I currently do if the writers had done one thing differently: Marvel should have made someone else their intellectual fall-guy and left Tony where he belonged, on the side of the Avengers, shoulder to shoulder with Captain America.

I will be watching Captain America: Civil War. And I do not doubt I will enjoy every minute of what Cap and his team say and do. But at the same time I will be mourning the decision of those who choose to follow Tony Stark in the film. Most of all, I think I will grieve greatly that the Invincible Iron Man – Tony Stark – has been laid low by the real people who “have no respect” for him.

No, Tony is not my favorite Marvel hero. But he was a hero, and dragging a hero into the mud is never a cause for celebration. It is, instead, a sign of a great lack of respect for what is good, true, and wonderful in this world – and in humanity.

Until next time.

The Mithril Guardian

Iron Man

Torches in the Dark

Captain America The Winter Soldier

Ideal (noun):

  1. A concept or standard of supreme perfection.
  2. A person or thing taken as a standard of perfection.
  3. A high principle; lofty aim.

Funk &Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary, Vol. 1, 1969.

“Mom, what does ‘humble’ mean?”

“Check the dictionary, dear!”

“Dad, what does ‘patriotism’ mean?”

“I’m a bit busy right now. Look it up in the dictionary and I’ll explain anything you have a problem understanding later, okay?”

 

I am one of those fortunate people who had parents who would tell me what a word I did not understand meant – once I checked it in the dictionary! If they themselves did not know its meaning, or were uncertain of it, they would grab one of the (many) dictionaries in the house and find the answer there. When I was old enough, they taught me how to do it.

For a while, I found it irritating, not least because some of the definitions were as confusing as the word I was looking up. But after a while I grew to enjoy it; these days, I could literally spend an afternoon perusing the dictionary just for fun.

Anyway, not long ago I was thinking about one of my favorite things in the world – fiction. I was thinking about how professional critics like to praise really nasty characters these days. You know the ones I mean – Hannibal Lecter, Dracula, Moriarty, or characters like them. And I was trying to figure out what these people see in such characters. What do they like about them? I wondered. What do they find so interesting in these black holes that are void of everything that makes a person good? Why do they hate the characters with principles and extol the characters that have none?

The only answer I was able to come up with is that a lot of these critics seem to hate the standards the good characters embody or aspire to achieve. As an example, one of the things I heard said about Captain America prior to The Winter Soldier’s release was that Steve Rogers had the “most colorful” uniform of the Avengers but the “least colorful” personality.

I was confused by the statement. “How can Cap be bland?” I asked. “He’s a great leader, a compassionate man, and he will protect people who cannot protect themselves. He’s magnanimous, he’s just, and he is someone who will stand up to evil no matter the cost to himself. What’s so dull about that?”

Apparently a lot, if you listen to some people.

In contrast to what they said about Cap, professional critics babble endlessly about the bad guys and how “great” they are. How much “depth” they have and how the reader/viewer/audience-in-general can “sympathize” with them when they see the reasons for their behavior.

I am not sure I sympathize with the likes of Magneto or Khan Noonien Singh. They are both men who will kill indiscriminately in order to gain power. After all, in a world ruled by mutants, should not the strongest lead? What government was Magneto planning to set up after he achieved global mutant dominance? If his rule of Genosha in Wolverine and the X-Men was any indication, he had a Fascist/monarchal government in mind. Khan’s ideas were about the same: “My race is supreme and I am the most supreme of them all. As for you – well, if you’re a normal human, then you’re just scum. If you’re enhanced, like me, then you’re simply less brilliant than I am.”

Nevertheless, I do pity Magneto and Khan. They are two brilliant men who squander their intelligence by trying to subject the world to their will. They are smart enough to help society in so many ways, but instead they choose to force their idea of perfection on everyone else. So they are unwilling to hear anyone say, “No, I don’t want to do that,” because those words offend their pride. Those words remind them that they have no business ordering other people to live by their twisted wills, and their pride will not accept that. It is this that makes them so pitiable.

However, while I feel sorry for these characters, I definitely do not sympathize with the likes of Hannibal Lecter or Moriarty. At least Magneto and Khan tried to be good initially. Lecter and Moriarty went bad almost the minute they were old enough to decide between up and down. Such a choice is not going to engender even a drop of pity from me.

“But how can the critics hate the good guys?” some may ask. “They never say they do!”

As a friend of mine likes to say, this is where language matters. And this is why it is a good idea to look up words in a dictionary – or read it just for fun.

Professional critics rarely state plainly that they hate fictional good guys. They know that anyone who likes fictional good guys will not listen to them if they state flatly, “I hate Superman/King Arthur/Frodo/fill-in-the-good-guy-of-your-choice because they’re good.” So instead they use language that makes the good guys seem weak, unreal, and thin. They label Cap a “Boy Scout,” old fashioned, or the old standby of “idealistic.”

Now you understand why I started this post off with a partial definition of ‘ideal,’ readers. The full definition has been cut in most modern dialogue so that its adjectival meaning alone is present. So when one hears phrases like “He’s very idealistic” or “He has great ideals,” one immediately thinks that the person being spoken of is not in touch with reality. They get the impression that the ideals the person espouses are “Capable of existing as a mental concept only; utopian; imaginary” (also from Funk &Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary, Vol. 1, 1969). In other words, ideals are about as tangible as rainbows and as real as the Sidhe of Irish mythology.

Yet the definition of ideal goes beyond that. An ideal is a “concept or standard of supreme perfection;” it is a torch in the dark that you take up to give you light as you walk around. An ideal is a goal, like a dream job or a trophy. If you want it, you have to work for it. And that is hard, daunting, labor to say the least.

The particular ideal(s) we want can be societal or personal. Societal ideals, such as justice and honor, are hard to achieve. Personal ideals such as compassion, self-sacrifice, and related virtues are even more difficult to achieve. I know – I have been trying to attain them and others for years. In fact I am still trying to reach them. So I know from my own small experience that working toward these ideals is a tiring vocation.

The thing to remember about achieving an ideal is that those who choose to pursue it are never satisfied that they have actually mastered it. For instance, others might consider a compassionate person a great hero, but that person will always feel as though they are not compassionate enough. So they practice it more and more, becoming even more heroic in the eyes of others. But in their own mind they will always sense that there is more for them to achieve – something that does not make the puzzle complete, something just over the next hurdle that they have to reach in order to be perfectly compassionate. And they will feel this way until they must transfer from this life of time to the life of eternity. Why? Because this life will never let them be perfect.

But you know something? That does not stop these committed people from continuing to work at being perfect – at least until they are in forevermore and do not have to worry about it. Because once such people are in forever they become as perfect as they can be.

So what does all this have to do with good guys and bad guys in fiction? Good guys are, as I said above, either the embodiment of an ideal or they are striving after an ideal. That ideal can be societal or personal, but it is an ideal all the same. Galahad is the ideal of knightly virtue, Cap crystallizes all the virtues that define the U.S. as a country in his personality, and Aragorn is the consummate model of a good and noble king. Other characters like Spock, Teal’c from Stargate SG-1, or Jason Bourne are all pursuing an ideal. Spock pursues the ideal of humility, recognizing that he and the entire Vulcan species are not superior to humans, while Teal’c and Bourne are each in pursuit of redemption for their past evil acts.

The most important fact about all these characters is that they are trying to be something better. Even Galahad, Cap, and Aragorn are not satisfied with their current levels of what we could call perfection. They are not as perfect as they can be and they know it. They are still striving after perfection. It will always elude them because, unlike us, they will be in this world for centuries to come. We will be here only for a short time, and one day we will be allowed through the curtain separating this life from eternity. They will not follow us because they are here to help keep us focused on the goal they are not designed to attain.

Some of the critics who go into raptures over the bad guys know this. What is more, they reject it. Why, I do not know. And as the old saying goes, “Misery loves company.” Rejection of ideals, of the race that we each feel the need to run toward perfection, leads to absolute misery in the here and now. And it is an awful thing to be miserable in solitude, because one knows precisely why he is miserable. Excuses for it make a thin shield which is only strengthened when more than one person is using them.

This is why, I believe, so much attention is being given to fictional bad guys by professional critics these days. No, not all professional critics are bad. But some are making everyone else toe their line, just as Magneto and Khan each tried to make the people of their worlds follow their wills. If there is no one to try and disarm these mistaken critics of their flimsy defenses, then they have no need to battle their own inner darkness and can sit pretty on it.

How can we combat this evil that they have accepted? By liking the fictional good guys and explaining why we like them. An even better method is to imitate the good guys’ virtues as best we can – after all, that is why they are here.

The best response, though, is to never stop trying to be better than we are today. Our own real competition is with our own bad tendencies. We are naturally inclined to choose good and not evil, despite what others may say. And as long as we stick with the good, as long as we fight to keep it and make it grow, we are running the great race and fighting the good fight. There is no greater challenge in life.

I do not know about you, but I enjoy a good fight. And if it is with my own faults, then that makes it an even better battle. I hope I win.

But more importantly, I hope you win your own inner battles, readers.

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian

The King and the Ringbearer

One of my favorite scenes in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy comes near the finale of The Fellowship of the Ring (this favorite scene of mine can be viewed via the video at the top of the page). It is the scene that comes just after Frodo has escaped from a maddened Boromir and the Eye of Sauron.

Scared, but knowing that the Ring has corrupted at least one member of the Fellowship, Frodo is preparing to leave his friends in order to protect them from the Ring’s influence. That is when Aragorn arrives, having tracked Frodo to the summit of Amon Hen using his Ranger skills.

Seeing Frodo so frightened, Aragorn’s first instinct is to try and calm his friend down. Having been confronted with the insanity of Boromir, Frodo is afraid to trust any member of the Fellowship. His statement that “the Ring has taken Boromir” causes Aragorn even greater concern. If the Ring has been lost or stolen, then Middle-earth will fall to Sauron’s evil.

Frodo misreads Aragorn’s concern for him and their quest in his fear and pulls away from him. Realizing that something very dire has happened, Aragorn pulls back and reminds Frodo that he is his friend. His concern is only for Frodo as his friend and for the safety of their quest.

But with the loss of Boromir, Frodo is not so sure of that. He asks, “Can you protect me from yourself?” and then holds out the Ring.

“The Ring!” Gandalf said. “What shall we do with the Ring, this least of rings, which Sauron fancies?” The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Ring is temptation in physical form; temptation for power. It whispers to Aragorn in Black Speech. What it tempts him with, who can say? I for one cannot understand Tolkien’s fictional Black Speech, which suits me perfectly.

Despite the persuasive hisses of the Ring, Aragorn closes Frodo’s hand over it and releases him. But while he has won this battle of wills with the One Ring, what about the next one? And the one following that? In this moment, Aragorn realizes that Frodo is right. One day he will not be able to resist the Ring’s power. One day Gimli will also fall under its influence. Legolas, Merry, Pippin, and even stalwart Sam cannot resist the Ring forever.

Still, he swore to protect the Ringbearer. He swore to protect his friend, for friends he and Frodo have become throughout their journeys together. He does not want to let Frodo go into Mordor on his own, but if he remains, then Frodo is in twice as much danger.

Scenes like this are among my favorites in film and literature. The bond between true friends is something second only to a true love bond between husband and wife. You can take a thousand hammers to it, you can try to destroy it anyway you want, but it will never break. Though Frodo’s best friend is perhaps Samwise Gamgee, the friendship he and Aragorn have is still very strong.

It is the strength of their friendship which allows Aragorn to step back and let Frodo go. He does not want to, he does not want to lose his small friend somewhere between Amon Hen and Mordor, but the risks of staying beside him are too great. Better for them to part now, on their terms, than to be pulled apart by the Ring’s seductions.

The timely arrival of a battalion of Orcs does not hurt, either.

Frodo and Aragorn’s friendship is fictional, but it does have a base in reality. Examples of true friendship can be found all through the ages, down through to today’s harried time. Many people today consider someone they can talk to readily to be a friend.

But are they really our friends? Friends are people who stick beside you through thick and thin, when you are proved right or wrong, when your decision turns out bad or good. Or when you decide you have to part ways for the greater good of the other person. Friends are tested by pain and danger – slight or great – whereby they earn real trust.

One of the jokes about Facebook is that you may have a thousand friends on the website but how many of them are going to show up and help you in a crisis? Is your coworker more likely to help you out of a bad situation, or are the twenty thousand followers you have on Youtube going to do that?

The worst solitude is to have no real friendships. – Sir Francis Bacon

Too true. The only thing worse than that to my mind, however, Sir Bacon, is to have a real friendship and then to somehow ignore it, misuse it, or abuse it completely. What friendships do we imperil because we are searching for what we already have?

   Until next time,

The Mithril Guardian