Tag Archives: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Captain America: Civil War – Helmut Zemo

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I really struggled when writing this post, readers, not because I doubted my own convictions – I believed from the start that Zemo was evil. Marvel, while turning a great deal in its comic book universe(s) upside-down and inside-out at the moment, was not going to change that fact for Civil War. Zemo has been an antagonist for too long; we all knew he was going to be the villain. My problem is the excuse implicit in the storyline that people would use to defend Zemo’s actions in the film.

Zemo’s grudge against the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War is based on his family’s dying when, in the previous Avengers film, Ultron raised half of his small country into the sky before trying to smash it into the Earth to destroy mankind. Zemo was smart enough to put his family up in a house outside the city before this occurred. Naturally, he did not anticipate the city getting lifted off the ground and bits of rock falling from it to land on top of his home.

There are people who would defend Helmut Zemo’s hatred for the Avengers and his diabolical plan to destroy them. Their arguments, in effect, would say, “But his family was killed! He was mad with grief! What right do you have to call him evil?! All he wanted was retribution for the deaths of his family!”

Retribution is not ours to seek any more than revenge, for which retribution is often a synonym. It is wrong and only causes more pain for more people. It breeds an endless, vicious cycle of violence, death, and darkness for everyone in the world. As for Zemo’s being “mad,” the proper understanding of its meaning is someone who is a danger to himself because he cannot take care of himself. It is not someone who stalks a group of people for a year and then tries to kill them. Zemo does not clinically qualify as “mad” or “insane.” But he does clinically qualify as evil.

How do we know this? He tells us. Zemo condemns himself in his own words, basing his choice on hatred and jealousy. After telling T’Challa about the deaths of his family, he says, “And the Avengers? They went home.” He says this as though it makes everything he has done and all those he has killed worth the cost. While I hate to break his soap bubble, I must ask: just what is it that Zemo expected the Avengers to do after destroying Ultron, saving humanity, and preserving the lives of as many of the civilians still in the city as they could?

What more, in short, could they have done to make him their friend? They could have gone back to the city after the battle and helped with the clean up.  But would that have won them Zemo’s respect? Would he have felt better if Thor, Cap, and Iron Man had helped him dig his family’s bodies out of the rubble? Would Zemo have felt better if they had helped him to bury his family? Would their tears over his loss have made him feel avenged (pun intended)? Since Zemo was ready to commit suicide after accomplishing his “mission,” this seems highly unlikely.

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You are probably wondering why I am making such a fuss about this, readers.   I take issue in this case because the writers did so, in order, I believe, to show how empty Zemo’s philosophy is.  I am also making an issue of this because those who professionally review films – the docents of decency, the perpetually petulant masters of modernity, and other “reformers” of reality (a.k.a. the culture Nazis) – have made this a tenant of their belief system. This belief and their system are both solipsistic and false.

How do I know this? There are several ways. Why, for instance, did the writers have Zemo deliver the above lines in these specific words and in this tone?   What is the big deal about the Avengers going home when their job (save the world) is done? How is it a crime for the Avengers to swoop into a certain place, stop the bad guys, and then go home to recover, the way that policemen and soldiers do? Just what is wrong with that picture, readers? Enlighten me, please; what is wrong with this situation?

The fact is that there is nothing wrong with it – absolutely nothing. The Avengers went home after Age of Ultron because they did not come to Sokovia as conquerors. They came as defenders of both Sokovia and mankind. No one – Avenger, commando, politician, civilian – could have predicted Ultron’s plan to raise the city and make it a destroy-the-human-race meteor. It was a surprise to everybody.

Before the city lifted off it was swarming with drones trying to kill those left in the city. The Avengers were busy protecting these people, leaving them precious little time to discern Ultron’s mad scheme let alone to chase down every bit of flying rubble coming off of the metropolis.

The team’s main concern was to stop Ultron and thereby save mankind. This included protecting the residents of Sokovia from homicidal drones. Intercepting debris from the airborne city was not a consideration due to the necessities of combat against overwhelming foes. It was not due to indifference and it was most certainly not due to selfishness on the part of the Avengers.

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Yet Zemo is unconcerned with these very obvious facts. Why should he? It is clear to him what happened. The Avengers showed up, destroyed the maniacal machine, and went home to a heroes’ welcome.   They did not care about his people or his family. They cared about getting the glory for saving the world. That was their plan all along, as evidenced by the fact that they did not return to Sokovia to clean up the mess, nor did they prevent the disaster from occurring in the first place. In fact, they are responsible for the entire debacle; Tony Stark created Ultron. If he had not done this, then everyone who died in Sokovia would still be alive. The evident conclusion one must reach is that the Avengers do not care about anyone but themselves – right?

No, it is not. We know it is not, readers, because we have walked beside these characters through ten plus films. We have seen them selflessly put their lives on the line to protect the masses. We know that the Avengers truly care about saving as many lives as they can. They are as altruistic as one could wish of mortal man. Even Tony Stark, who is still too self-centered, remains willing to put his life on the line for strangers he will never meet. The Avengers are in the fight because it is the right thing to do, and most of them would be quite happy to skip out on the fame they have gained while doing their jobs. They cannot escape it and so they ignore it as best they can.

This is how we know that Zemo’s profile of the Avengers is mistaken and selfish, not to mention blatantly foolish. It is not because we like the characters or are attached to them that we believe they are heroes. We are certainly attached to them, and we definitely like them. But that is because they have proven time and again that they are willing to do heroic things to protect others. It is hard not to like someone for that.

Considering his background, you might think that Zemo might understand that combat is not a place where one feels “an overwhelming sense of control,” to quote Nick Fury. You might even think that Zemo could recall battles which had not gone according to plan, where people whom he and his team were supposed to protect were killed in spite of their best efforts. You might also think he would recognize that the Avengers were in that same boat in Sokovia and thus they could not be held accountable for the loss of his family.

Here we come to the important distinction between Zemo and the Avengers: Zemo led a “kill squad.” He and his men were not just commandos; they were government-sanctioned assassins. This makes it likely that Zemo and his men had little care for the lives of others. The exceptions would have been the lives of those closest to them, such as Zemo’s wife, son, and father. He may not have a problem murdering a family in another country but he would have a problem with whoever killed his family.

This is not the Way of the Avengers. When the Avengers kill, they do it to save lives. They do not do it lightly or enjoy it when the time comes to pull the trigger. They do not lose sleep over it, but if they can avoid dealing out justice on the battlefield they will spare their enemies – although they may later wish that they had not done so. They could have killed Loki in the Tower at the end of The Avengers, readers. Thor was not exactly feeling chummy with his adopted kid brother at the time and, in The Dark World, he threatened to kill Loki himself if he was betrayed.

The team had all the logic in the world to convince them to finish Loki then and there, but they chose not to do this. They instead sent him to Asgard to stand trial and receive Odin’s judgment. Despite their moniker, the Avengers are not prone to dealing out what most people would think of as revenge. They stop – or ‘Avenge’ – evil by defeating the bad guys, and by saving as many people as they can when the crisis blows up in an unforeseen manner.

One of the reasons why Zemo decides to destroy the Avengers is he is used to killing. As an assassin he became accustomed to the idea of being judge, jury, and executioner. What is more, he came to like playing these roles.

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There are four things he did which prove this. One, Zemo killed a former HYDRA operative and a psychiatrist without blinking an eye.   Two, he detonated a bomb outside the U.N. building in Vienna without any qualms about the innocents who would be caught in the blast. This was in spite of his claim to the HYDRA agent that he would not enjoy using “bloodier methods” to get what he wanted.

Three, after he had control of Bucky Barnes in the German base, Zemo ordered him to kill the soldiers who came to put the Winter Soldier back under restraint. Without orders Bucky might very well have just stood there until Cap and Sam arrived to calm the situation. But to further destroy Bucky’s already blackened record, Zemo ordered him to kill these men in cold blood. He stood by and watched these men die, then feigned a bad injury to lure Cap and Sam into the room so Bucky could attack them. I can just feel the remorse radiating from him in these scenes where he used “bloodier methods” to get what he wanted, can’t you, readers?

Four, Zemo expected Iron Man would kill Bucky and then Cap would kill Iron Man. Or he believed that Cap and Iron Man would kill each other after Bucky was dead. Why did he think this? He said he studied Cap and the rest of the Avengers, did he not? Enough to realize suddenly that there was a bit of green in Cap’s blue eyes, he said. So why did he not expect Cap to save Bucky, while at the same time avoiding killing or truly harming Tony Stark?

For a professional such as Zemo, this kind of miscalculation is astounding. He is a practiced killer; if he wants to take down a target or convince a target to kill himself and another person, he has to study his prey very carefully. He had a year to study the Avengers and plan how he would kill them, or convince them to kill each other. So why, when you come to the most crucial point, did he fail to suspect that Cap would prevent Tony from killing Bucky, while at the same time not murdering Stark himself?

The reason he failed to completely destroy the Avengers – to kill them all or convince them to kill each other – is that he does not understand them. He did not, does not, and will never comprehend them as long as he maintains his choice to do evil rather than good. This is shown most plainly by his underestimating Captain America, the Galahad of modern literature. He expected Cap to react to pain and loss as he would. But Cap is not like other men; he is different. Where most men can achieve only a “good” status in this world, Cap has achieved a “great” status. This is not perfection but it is very, very close to it.

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Now some of you are going to say, “But what about Steve’s vow to kill every HYDRA operative after Bucky fell off the train in the Alps? That was revenge!”

No, it was not. What Cap specifically said was that he would not stop fighting HYDRA “until every HYDRA agent is dead or captured.” (Emphasis mine.) This means that he would capture and imprison those members he could, and kill those who resisted. He said and did this for the same reason the British wiped out the Thuggees, murderers who worshipped the Hindu death-goddess Kali. HYDRA is no better than the Thuggees; they need to be exterminated so that innocent people intent on living peaceful, happy lives will be safe to live and work as they choose.

Nothing that Cap said or did after Bucky fell from the train in The First Avenger was vengeful. He was not motivated by a desire for payback. He wanted the world to be free of the evil that was HYDRA so that Bucky’s sacrifice – and the sacrifice of thousands of other men on both sides of the war – would not be in vain. So that the world would be free of HYDRA’s evil once and for all.

By his own admission, Zemo was not trying to free anyone in Civil War. He was trying to destroy a team of people who routinely put their lives on the line to protect mankind from the evil without and within it. He wanted revenge, not justice. He wanted payback, not freedom. He was and remains willing to let the entire world fall into death, destruction, and slavery so that he can feel he has revenged the deaths of his family.

Readers, what is so admirable about Zemo’s choice? Why should we, as viewers, sympathize with a character that is willing to condemn the whole human race to an evil fate just so he can feel vindicated on behalf of his dead loved ones? Should we sigh, wipe away a tear, and say, “Yes, we feel your pain,” or “We understand you,” to a character who would throw away every human life on the planet to satiate his lust for blood? No, we should not. But this is what some people want us to do for Zemo.

I will not do this. I will not commiserate or identify with a character that would gladly doom millions to death and millions more to slavery in order to get vengeance for his family, who were unfortunate casualties in a battle. As Rocket Raccoon pointed out in Guardians of the Galaxy, “Everybody’s got dead people. That’s no excuse to get everyone else dead along the way.”

Zemo has no excuses for his choice to destroy not only the Avengers but the people they protect. He wanted to throw the rest of the world under the bus to fulfill his desire for vengeance. No one has the right to do that. But that is what Zemo tried to do with the world population when he targeted the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War.

Later, at the end of the film, we watch Martin Freeman’s character, Everett Ross (no relation to the General turned Secretary of State), visit Zemo. He begins gloating to Zemo about how his master plan has failed.

Like Thunderbolt and the U.N., Everett Ross believes that Zemo’s master plan has gone down in flames whilst the United Nations’ own has succeeded. They have four of the six members of Team Cap incarcerated while Iron Man, War Machine, and Vision are leashed and awaiting orders. Black Widow, Captain America, and the Winter Soldier are wanted fugitives who will soon be found and locked up with their friends. The private police firm known as the Avengers is now legally under the direct control of the bureaucrats and politicians in the United Nations. Zemo, meanwhile, is locked up and out of the way. Yes, their plan has worked flawlessly whilst Zemo’s has not.

Slowly, Zemo smiles and says, “Did it?”

At these words we get to watch the smile gradually slide off of Everett Ross’ face. (It is such a satisfying thing to see!!!!) Zemo is correct to point out that his plan did not entirely fail. But the fact is that Zemo’s plans did not accomplish his true goals.

None of the Avengers are dead, as Zemo desired. Their strength is halved, but they are all alive, and this makes a future reconciliation possible. Zemo does not see this because, as stated above, he sees the Avengers through a glass darkly. He cannot comprehend the gulf between his mind and their souls. Part of his plan has been accomplished; the Avengers are no longer what they were. They are weakened, and severely so….

But they are all alive.

The Avengers’ advantage over Zemo is their heroism; it will defeat him every time. Like the phoenix of old, like the sun on a daily basis, the Avengers will rise again. And they will be whole and stronger than before when this happens.

Evil will never win the war, as Zemo believes he has. He has won a battle. But the war was won a long time ago, and the Avengers are on the winning side. Even the arrogant ones, such as Tony Stark, will be victorious in the end. Their strength is not their own. It comes from Another, and He is watching over them, as He watches over all those who serve Him. He is their strength. As long as Zemo stands against the Avengers, he stands alone against Him, the irresistible and unconquerable. He will win, and Zemo will lose.

‘Nuff said, readers. ‘Nuff said.

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Season 3 of Avengers Assemble Review

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Last year I did a post called “Avengers Assemble Season Three – How Is It So Far?” That post covered the first eight episodes of the third season. Reading it, you will find that I was most pleased with what I had seen at the time.

Now that the “Ultron Revolution” has run its course and “Secret Wars” – hopefully no relation to the lousy 2015 comic book event – are in our viewing future, you might be asking yourselves: what did I think of the rest of season three?

Let’s find out.

Since I wrote individual posts on the episodes “Inhumans Among Us” and “Captain Marvel,” these stories will not be discussed at length herein. If you wish to know what this writer thought of those episodes, use the search engine to find the posts about “Inhumans Among Us” and “Captain Marvel,” readers.

“The Inhuman Condition” was much better than its predecessor, “Inhumans Among Us,” in my book. There was no angst, no fuss, no muss, just cooperation between the Avengers and Black Bolt. Lockjaw giving Cap a few licks was good, too, since it showed that even a dog can recognize how great Steve is. It was wonderful to watch Hawkeye being his usual confident self instead of a doofus. It was also nice to hear Tony actually ask for help for a change, and watching Thor smash Ultron is always fun. Ah, I love the sound of Mjolnir hitting maniacal robots in the morning, don’t you?

Now “The Kids Are Alright” I had some problems with, and there are friends of mine who have issues with it as well. One, for instance, hated that Khan interrupted Cap when he gave the kids a tour of the Tower. Another friend considers Khan to be nothing more than an annoyance during the episode’s run, since she has no purpose in the narrative of the show. She did not demonstrate any depth of character, either; she is just a fangirl who got lucky and ended up with superpowers.

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What is this author’s opinion? I am no fan of Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel. To me, she is no more entertaining than her namesake. Also, Khan was not allowed by the writers to make any mistakes in combat during this show. She and Inferno had been using their powers for all of, what, a week? And yet she is a better fighter than he is? I am sorry but no, no, no, and no. Rookies do not do that well on the job in their first weeks; it does not happen unless they are extremely talented and/or lucky. Luck I will admit Khan has, but as for talent, it does not take much to imitate Mr. Fantastic – who should at least be mentioned in this series, by the way!

I thought that Inferno got short shrift here, too, being portrayed as the cocky kid who runs into a situation without thinking. I can handle a callow youth or a hothead, but the fact is that these often unwelcome traits do not necessarily add up to stupidity, which is the direction the Marvel writers appeared to be heading with the character in “The Kids Are All Right.” Inferno can do much better, but it does not seem that the writers want him to do better. They ought to bring Dante into “Secret Wars” as part of the Earth-bound Avengers just to give him a better showing than the one he got in season three.

On the bright side, Cap and Hawkeye did well in this show. Cap was his usual charming and encouraging self while Hawkeye got to prove (again) that although he may not be a super genius, this does not mean he is stupid. The sad thing is that they are the only saving graces in an otherwise politically correct, namby-pamby, wishy-washy, feel-good episode. You can tell I was not “feeling the love” from this show, can’t you, readers?

In contrast, I thought that “The Conqueror” and “Into the Future” were much better installments in the series. Bringing Kang into the story sets up a primary villain for season four, and no one can say that Kang is a fifth rate villain. He is no Dr. Doom (despite his mysterious relation to him), nor is he Magneto, but he probably ranks third behind those two masterminds of evil. Having Tony tweak him and get him angry was a good trick for the first episode, and showing Cap best him in the Jurassic period was the highlight of “Into the Future.”

My one problem with “Into the Future” is that none of the male rebels, aside from Thor, got a speaking part. Layla was a good character, and the hint that the red-headed girl who had tried to improve Tony’s Omega suit could be his great-great-great-great-great granddaughter was nice. The nod to Kate Bishop also did not go unnoticed by yours truly. In fact, the whole idea of a rebellion against Kang’s rule was genius, in my opinion. I wish someone had thought of it years ago!   (For all I know they did, but if so, I never heard about it.)

But the fact remains that some of the guys in Thor’s rebellion should have been allowed to say at least one word. Having Thor as their leader and letting him give the speeches was good; along with the rebellion twist, it made a lot of sense. He is Asgardian and immortal – practically speaking, anyway. Of course he would live into the thirtieth century, where he would start a rebellion against Kang’s tyranny, and of course he would end up bald as Odin. But at least ONE of the male rebels in Thor’s band should have been allowed to talk instead of being used as scenery filler.

This is a minor quibble with an otherwise excellent episode, but it is an important one to make. Marvel is trying to feminize its franchise, from Iron Man to Thor to Hawkeye and beyond. I am tired of it. The company already has great female leads; they do not need a bunch of milksop fems strutting across the screen, attempting to be something they are not. If they want to add new characters to help tell new stories, that is fine. But trying to replace the originals with newbies like Khan does not work; to the best of my knowledge, it never has. And when they try to make all their heroes female, the writers make matters worse. Remember, I like Steve Rogers, Clint Barton, Tony Stark, Thor Odinson, Bruce Banner, Bucky Barnes, Sam Wilson, Vision, Quicksilver, and many of the other male leads in Marvel because they are male. And I am not the only one. I wish that Marvel would get this fact through its thick, corporate head already and let me save my breath on this issue.

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Now we will go back to business. In “Seeing Double” we watch as Natasha faces off against Black Widow wannabe Yelena Belova. I have read about the character but never seen her, and this episode is a very impressive introduction for her. It fleshed out Natasha’s character in the bargain, and the hint that maybe she did not throw away the thumb drive said to contain her real memories was an unexpected twist. Making the Hulk into a large, green version of the Winter Soldier was something that I did not see coming. My only disappointment is that we never got to see Bucky here or during season three.

Then we have “A Friend in Need,” where Vision is introduced to the team. It was a nice installment, from Thor’s taking him to Asgard and teaching him about friendship to Vision’s nearly permanent sacrifice to save his friends. The three-way training session with Cap, Widow, and Hawkeye was a good bonus point, as was Vision playing video games with Hulk and Thor at the end. Very cute scene!

After this we had “Panther’s Rage,” an episode that presented T’Challa/Black Panther, Wakanda, and the Dora Milaje in an interesting way. Hawkeye’s flirting with Aneka was somewhat irritating, but their resultant friendship had a much better vibe to it. Cap and Thor’s ability to understand Panther and their subsequent friendships with him were believable and fun as well. And watching the pack of them kick Klaue’s fanny was great, as usual. But I am kind of getting tired of T’Challa always showing up on the Avengers’ doorstep angry. How about a little variety next time, Marvel writers?

“Ant-Man Makes It Big” was a fun episode in which Marvel proved that, despite many changes over the years, they still like to poke fun at themselves from time to time. Thor teaching a snobby actor the reality of life was a plus, as was Hawkeye’s easy acceptance of Scott and his new job. Having Widow angry at Scott for leaving the Avengers was an interesting and compelling development. It is nice to see that they have completely separated her from their original Amazonian stereotype and allowed her to be the character she always has been.

After this came “House of Zemo.” This show is one of my favorites and it had many good points, one of these being the redemption of Cap’s father after the debacle where Marvel tried to make the First Avenger a secret operative of HYDRA in the comics last year. In search of a photo he can use to draw a picture of his father, Cap leaves Avengers Tower on his birthday (July 4th), in order to clear his head and jog his memory. Hawkeye, who actually had a lousy father in the comics and apparently in Assemble as well, still palpably empathizes with Cap’s desire to remember and draw his father’s face. The rapport between the two is handled with an artist’s touch here and makes this episode an adventure worth remembering. 😉

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There was one thing about “House of Zemo,” however, that felt off to me: Helmut Zemo’s “redemption” at the end of the show. It felt forced and tacked on. I agree that he can reform; that is not what bothered me. It is that the writers brought about his change of heart too fast to be believable and satisfactory. They jammed it into an otherwise moving story, as though they thought no one would like an episode where Hawkeye, the fatherless, anchorless Avenger, helped the most grounded member of the team reconnect with his own father.

Maybe they were right, but I doubt it seriously. Of course, perhaps they thought Helmut Zemo could make the leap with ease, since in this series he is in fact a very old man, but he looks and acts young thanks to taking his father’s variant of the Super Soldier Serum. It still feels cheap to me, though, and that is why I make such a fuss about it.

The episodes “U-Foes,” “Building the Perfect Weapon,” and “World War Hulk” were great installments. The U-Foes, I think, would make viable fifth-rate villains in season four, but I do not like Widow’s taking offense when Red Hulk labeled everyone on the team “men” at the end of “World War Hulk.” No, she is not a man, but his use of the term is normal and hardly material for an affront, unless he is addressing a room full of women. This he definitely did not do within the show. I would think any female Avenger would ignore this unimportant phrase and deal with the bigger issue – the fact that Red Hulk thought he was the team’s leader. Who died and made him king?

Another thing which irritated me in these shows was how Cap acquiesced to Hulk wearing the inhibitor collar. His unabashed appreciation of Red Hulk’s military analysis of situations was equally bothersome. Just because Ross was once a U.S. general with a modicum of talent, it does not make him a great guy. I found it irksome that the writers thought Cap should appreciate Red’s ability to tactically assess a base –especially since he showed that this skill did not stretch nearly far enough. Cap is better than that, people. Stop treating him like a cookie-cutter tin soldier. He is no such thing!

One of the things I did enjoy here is that Hulk got to stay on Earth, instead of being tossed off-world and ending up in a gladiatorial arena. Another beautiful touch to the “World War Hulk” episode was the hint of romance between Big Green and Black Widow. Though they have done it before, in this Hulk-centered episode, it had more than its usual impact for viewers.

The romance the writers have developed between Natasha and Hulk in Avengers Assemble is something I have come to like quite a bit. It fits the narrative and it gives me hope that, should the writers bring Mockingbird and/or Sharon Carter on the scene, they will be able to handle a Romance Reel with them and their guys as well as they have managed Natasha and the Hulk’s duet. It also lets me hope that when Cap and Tony meet Peggy Carter in season four, the writers will be able to portray that romance with the same adroit touch they have used for Natasha and Hulk.

The “Civil War” story arc was truly impressive. For one thing, it was really, really, REALLY nice not to have Tony and Cap trying to kill each other here. The pluses continued to mount when the Mighty Avengers were formed as the antagonistic team, with Princess Sparkle Fists (a.k.a. Captain Marvel) at the head of the group. My only regret is that the writers did not hand her off to the Hulk during the battle. At least he would have actually hit her.

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The moment when Hawkeye convinced Songbird to leave the Mighty Avengers for the Avengers was superb. I had hoped to see Songbird before season three’s conclusion as part of the Avengers or as the leader of the Thunderbolts. The writers surpassed my wildest dreams in this regard for her, and they outdid themselves on Hawkeye’s characterization in this moment. His general deportment throughout the “Civil War” conflict was perfect. I am really happy with the fact that they have stopped using him as the team pratfall in every episode. 😀

Ant-Man and Falcon fighting while flying was a great nod to the film franchise, as was Vision’s accidentally injuring Cap with Mjolnir. It was also highly satisfying to watch Little Miss Stretch pull one of Iron Man’s moves from Age of Ultron, hitting Hulk when he was not expecting it. Rookie though he is, even Inferno would have known better than to do that.

But the most surprising moment in the season finale came when Ultron hacked Tony’s suit and arc reactor, thereby taking control of both his mind and body. It was the biggest shock of the event. I did not see that coming, which was the entire point. The Marvel writers truly pulled a rabbit out of their hat when they did it. I only hope the team can purge Ultron from Tony’s system during season four’s “Secret Wars.” Otherwise, I am not going to be a happy camper.

To sum up, there are only a few things I have left to say, and they are about the next season of Avengers Assemble. Season three broke new ground for the team by bringing in new players such as Songbird and the Thunderbolts, along with Inferno, Vision, and Black Panther.

The additions of villains such as Yalena Belova, Kang the Conqueror, the U-Foes, Egghead, and others expanded Assemble’s villain cadre nicely. Not every season has to revolve around Ultron, Thanos, and Red Skull, after all. And the Avengers do not have to fight Dracula or MODOK every day, either. It is nice to see old enemies with new schemes fighting our heroes. They should get to fight some B, C, and D rated villains like Egghead every now and then. Save a city instead of the planet – piece of cake. Although I do miss watching the team as they tangle with Dr. Doom and Magneto. Doom has disappeared from Assemble and since Marvel is not interested in mixing mutants into its Avengers cartoons anymore, any chance to see how the team would slap down the Master of Magnetism has evaporated. Rats. I would have liked to view that.

The upgraded characterizations of our favorite heroes righted the problems I noted in posts about the first and second seasons of the show. They were overdue, but better late than never. These changes have made Assemble much stronger as a series than when it began. I hope that, when it comes time to replace Assemble, I will not have to lecture the writers again on the issues which I pointed out in those prior posts. I will not, however, be holding my breath on that hope.

With regard to the original seven Avengers on the team, I would like to ask the Marvel writers to keep up the good work. Leave the stereotypes in the trash, where they belong, and run the characters according to the tried and true formula which you know actually works.

Secondly, I would like to ask the writers to please, please drop Jane Foster/“Thorette” from the line-up for season four!! She will be a DISASTER, people! Do not shoot yourselves in the foot here!

Three, let Inferno grow and learn from the Avengers. And while I applaud the addition of Black Panther, Songbird, Vision, and soon the Wasp to the series, do not stop there. We want Mockingbird, Spectrum, War Machine, the Winter Soldier, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Iron Fist, Power Man, and many of the other heroes from the comics to at least get a mention in season four. If we are going to have more than the four seasons, then by all means, add them to the cast list. Just because they are not part of the films and live action TV shows, this should not prevent the writers from adding them to the cartoon series. And Scarlet Witch is, in fact, part of the film franchise. So why have she and Quicksilver been left out of Assemble?!?!? It makes no sense to leave the twins out, Marvel writers!

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Last but most important, I wish to remind the writers that we watch the Avengers because we like good stories with great characters, not because we are looking for a lecture on social justice or the latest cause celeb. If we want any of that junk, we will turn on the news or go to a tabloid stand. Since we are coming to you, it means we want to get away from those things for a little while.

Just tell us some good stories, okay? That is all any of us want out of fiction writers. Good stories, well told, with enduring characters. All right?

Avengers – ASSEMBLE!!!

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.

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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

 

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Captain America: Civil War – Sam Wilson/Falcon

Anthony Mackie is the best choice for Falcon that the film directors could have made. I liked him right from the get-go. And, while I sympathize with the actor’s wish that his costume was more like the comic book hero’s, the thing is that he still has a neat outfit.

Like his part in The Winter Soldier, Mackie’s Sam Wilson is still “doing what [Cap] does, just slower.” In this film, however, his role in Steve’s life has grown and changed somewhat from its initial parameters. How do we know this?

While Natasha is the only Avenger from the previous iteration of the team to remain an active member, Sam’s position on the new team actually seems higher than hers. Natasha is acting as Cap’s second as a trainer for the “New Avengers.” On the battlefield, though, Sam Wilson is Steve’s right-hand man.

During the fight in Lagos, Falcon consistently acts as Steve’s second. His close bond with the First Avenger has strengthened by this time. Where the two were casual war buddies in The Winter Soldier, they have now upgraded to trusting teammates. Sam followed Steve in Soldier. Now, in Civil War, he backs his friend up on and off the field of combat. It is not following so much as “sticking with” his close friend.

It is interesting to note just how vehement is Sam’s refusal to sign or acknowledge the authority of Accords. In Civil War, Sam and Rhodey have a loud, angry argument about the Accords. Their best friends sit this part out. In comparison to their heated exchange, Steve and Tony argue far more calmly. If they had been having an on-air debate, they would have been the ones on the TV screen, not Sam and Rhodey.

Sam does not need his drone Redwing to tell him that the Accords are chains with hungry maws, determined to steal his freedom and that of his friends. He can read between the lines just fine. When Steve asked Sam if he was happy “to be back in the world” in Winter Soldier, Falcon replied that the number of people “giving [him] orders [was] down to about…zero? So yeah.”

Wilson has shown he is a responsible, calm, and clearheaded man. He can make his own decisions and live with their results. The fact that the U.N. thinks he is a brash, swaggering teenager not only rankles his self-respect; it is a downright insult to him.

“How long will it be before they LoJack us like a bunch of criminals?” he asks Rhodey pointedly after Ross’ visit. War Machine, the “model” soldier accustomed to taking orders without question, is horrified by Sam’s claims. Falcon knows that what Cap says a few minutes later is perfectly true: agendas change. And when the agendas of the people in power change, the agendas of those who serve them have to change as well – whether those people like it or not.

Everyone is startled when Steve gets up and leaves after he receives a text message telling him Peggy Carter has died. When we next see him, Sam is sitting beside Steve in the church, attending Peggy’s funeral. The silent statement is that he will support Steve anytime, anywhere. No matter the crisis, he is not going to abandon his friend.

It is kind of cute when he elbows Steve after noticing Sharon is the niece of the other’s now deceased girlfriend. Cap is not particularly happy to have this secret exposed so publicly, which Sharon knows. Her speech is as much an apology/explanation to Steve as it is public praise for her dearly departed aunt.

But the poignant point for Sam here is that he saved Steve some minor embarrassment. Once Sharon started talking, Steve would have looked up immediately and had less time to compose himself. Sam saved him and Sharon that trouble. His quick action kept the matter discreet for all concerned.

This rapport between the two makes it hard for Sam to adjust to Steve’s friendship with Bucky. Of course, part of this is the fact that Bucky has never been very nice to Sam. If my calculations are correct, he tried to kill Sam at least twice: once on the Insight Helicarrier in Soldier, and again in Germany after Zemo reactivated his programming.

It is not that Sam really hates Bucky. He says, “I hate you,” later on but I do not think he truly meant it. It was just a way of blowing off steam and annoyance. No, Sam’s problem is that he is Steve’s close friend, too. Sam’s wariness of Bucky is due to the fact that he has only known him as a bad guy. He has none of Steve’s memories of the numerous times Bucky saved Cap from being worked over by a big bully in a back alley. Sam and several others fear/accuse Steve of being too blinded by his affection for Bucky to see how dangerous the former assassin is.

While Steve is lenient toward Bucky, he also does not completely trust him. Their old friendship does not blind him to his friend’s ability to commit more heinous crimes. It simply means that he is not going to recoil from Bucky and treat him like a ticking time bomb. He is wary but not in a way that will reinforce his friend’s feelings of guilt and loneliness. After all, readers, Sam and Steve were in the warehouse where Bucky woke up following their escape from the German Special Forces base. And Sam did not finagle Bucky into that vise on his own!

Sam’s suspicions mean that he does not behave in his usual warm, friendly manner to the former HYDRA operative. One of the best demonstrations of this is when, while they are both seated in the VW Bug, Bucky asks him to move his seat up and Sam says, “No.”

Now, Bucky knows he has thrown Sam around a fair bit in the past. At the least, he remembers their battle on the Helicarrier. So to Bucky it makes sense that Sam would distrust and dislike him. He does not really like and trust himself, either, proven when he practically asks to be put in cryostasis in Wakanda at the end of the movie.

But this hardly dispels his aggravation with Sam. After all, Bucky knew Steve before Sam was even born. Sam does not know Steve nearly as well as Bucky still does. The clown car the three used as a “getaway car” is representative of the small space which they share in orbit around Steve. They are both close to him, but to get too close to each other in the process will lead to a catastrophic collision!

Can one have two best friends who do not feel at least slightly jealous of each other? This question is never really settled within the film. But the scenes which show Bucky and Sam skating on the edge of shoving each other away from Cap are unbelievably fun!!!!

There is also a rather big discrepancy in the smiles Sam and Bucky give Steve after he kisses Sharon. Bucky’s smile is large and awkward; mostly because he is reminded once again of how “invisible” he is compared to Steve. Sam’s smile is much smaller, more relaxed, and happy. His friend is getting more accustomed to his place in the world and is finally showing interest in someone other than those who help him with his job. Progress is slow, Sam figures, but that does not mean it is impossible.

When Sam shows up again, it is in the parking garage where Hawkeye and Wanda are waiting to join the fight. Then Clint kicks a sleepy Scott Lang out of the van, and Sam gets a questioning look from Steve as the new recruit completely geeks out.

Sam knows Scott does not look like much to the others, but he also does not want to explain how he knows Ant-Man can be of use to the fight. Sure, the guy is a newbie who is too enthusiastic. But Sam is NOT going to admit he got beat by a guy who can shrink to the size of an insect. It was embarrassing enough when none of the others were there to see it. If they found out, he would never hear the end of it.

The next proof we have that Sam is Cap’s second-in-command comes during the airport battle. He is the one who finds the quinjet Team Iron used to get to Germany. And when the opposing Avengers finally face each other, it is Sam who asks, “What do we do, Cap?”

Natasha and Spider-Man both throw Tony an “Are we really going to do this?” look, which he ignores. No one on Team Cap looks at Steve that way. They know what they have to do, although they do not want to do it. Sam’s question was for all of them, “Do we have to do what we think we have to do?”

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is yes. Zemo has to be stopped, and the only way to get to him is to find some aerial transportation. Clint’s chopper is out of commission, and the other planes on the tarmac are either not fast enough or they are too far away. The only viable transportation the team can get their hands on is the quinjet.

And Team Iron is standing in their way.

As the Avenger vs. Avenger battle progresses, it becomes clear to Sam and the others that the only way to win this fight is for Steve and Bucky to go to Siberia as a duo. They cannot all get to the quinjet; the other Avengers are too powerful and know them too well for them to simply knock them out and keep them down.

When Cap states they need to draw out the flyers, adding that he will take Vision, Sam puts the kibosh on the plan, both as Steve’s second-in-command and as his close friend. “No, you go!” he replies. “Both of you! The rest of us aren’t getting out of here!”

Instead of reprimanding his friend, Steve accepts his sharp retort and his reading of the situation. He allows Sam to call the next play. Sam does not break a sweat as he is handed command of the four Avengers who will remain behind, telling them that what Cap and Bucky need is a distraction.

Scott Lang answers the team’s need for a diversion by reversing his shrinking ability to become Giant-Man, perfectly distracting Iron Man, Spidey, and Rhodey. Clint holds T’Challa at bay, allowing Cap and Bucky to make a run for it.

Sam watches as Ant-Man and Hawkeye are knocked down, followed by Wanda after she prevents a building from dropping on the two men’s heads. Once the jet takes off, Tony and Rhodey make a run for the engine.

Falcon, the only operative member of Team Cap, goes after them. That is when Rhodey calls on Vision to get Falcon off his back. Vision, distracted by his concern for Wanda and his sudden doubts over the rightness of the fight, misses Sam and hits Rhodey’s arc reactor. In a telling move that shows the high-mindedness of Team Cap, Sam dives to save War Machine at the same time Tony does.

Neither man is able to make the save. Their suits cannot go that fast toward the ground without getting them killed in the process. Rhodey crashes into the dirt and suffers severe spinal injuries as a result.

The scene must bring back some pretty bad, ugly memories for Sam. He saw his old wingman, Riley, shot out of the sky on a night mission in a similar way. Knowing how hard it is to lose a friend, Sam empathizes keenly with Tony, summed up in his statement of “I’m sorry.”

Tony’s response, unsurprisingly, is to childishly shoot Sam in the chest via his right repulsor.

When we next see Sam, though, he does not hold any ill will toward Iron Man for being shot. He understands how hard it is to watch a friend die; it is no stretch of the imagination to think of how hard it is to see a friend injured for nothing. No, Sam shows more concern for Rhodey than for his own injury at Tony’s hand. What gets him mad is Tony’s apparent attempt to play the “good cop” to Ross’ “bad cop.”

Of all the Avengers in the Raft, the one Tony goes to for information about Cap’s whereabouts is Falcon. Why? Because of the incarcerated Avengers, Sam is the one closest to Steve. Of all the scenes in the movie which show Falcon as Steve’s right hand man in Civil War, this is the absolute clincher. All four members of Cap’s team knew they were supposed to go to Siberia to stop Zemo.

Only Sam knew precisely where in Siberia they were going to go.

Our final look at the Falcon is at the end of the movie when, for some reason, he turns around in his cell. Slowly, Sam starts to smile at someone the audience cannot see. We can guess from the mess in the rooms leading to the cells who the person is, but we get positive confirmation when Steve steps out of the shadows and smiles back at his buddy. The other Avengers, while not losing confidence in Steve, have probably begun to wonder if maybe it would be safer for him if he left them in prison.

Sam alone is absolutely certain Steve will wade into the Raft, ready and willing to punch his way through the U.S. Navy guards watching them, to get his people out. His smile is not a non-verbal “what took you so long?” so much as it is a, “This is a really stupid thing to do from some people’s perspective. But you will never think it’s stupid. Nice to see you, Cap.”

Steve’s answering smile says, “Nice to see you, Sam. Those bars look bendable. Or would you prefer I used the key?”

Wherever Steve chooses to go between Civil War and the Infinity War films, Sam will still be “do[ing] what he does, just slower.” The two will never be as close as Steve and Bucky are, but that does not prevent them from being strong friends. Steve has enough room in his heart for Bucky and the Avengers; no one can say he has a “heart which is two sizes too small.” It is not even one size too small. Steve cares about all of his friends. Just because he understands and connects with some better than others does not mean his affections are limited. He cares about them all equally – even those on the side of the Accords.

Sam and the others will probably be “off screen” until Infinity War. If they show up in the films in between, I will not be complaining but celebrating! It would be awful to have to wait so long to see them! But, whether they appear in the intervening films or not, they are still the Avengers.

Ever higher, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

Captain America: Civil War – Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch

Okay, I have an apology to make here. In the posts where I talked about the rumors that were circulating prior to Captain America: Civil War’s release, I rather disparaged the character of the Scarlet Witch. I was not exactly nice to some of the other characters either, and for that I also apologize. The movie did much better by its heroes than most of us thought it would. “Anger, fear, aggression – the Dark Side of the Force are they…” Obviously, I need to start practicing some Jedi calm when it comes to checking out rumors of any kind – but especially those found in the Internet mill.

Anyway, without further ado, let us turn our attention to the character that we came together to discuss: Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch!

Wanda is the first Avenger we see. Sitting at a café table in Lagos, drinking coffee (or tea), she is dressed incognito. After a moment, someone addresses her over the comm. asking her to describe what she sees. Her list of observances is small, and they add up to “a quiet day on a quiet street.”

Then the rest of the Avengers, her teachers, go on to point out what she has missed. Steve goes first, mentioning that there is an ATM up the street. He lets her remember that where there is an ATM, there are also cameras. He then draws her attention to a Jeep further up the street. Wanda says it is “cute.”

Natasha tartly breaks in and points out that the vehicle is cute and bulletproof. “Which means private security, which means more guns, which means more trouble for somebody, probably us,” she adds. When Wanda reminds them of her powers, the Black Widow tells her that “looking over [her] shoulder” has to become “second nature.” Sam lightens the mood by accusing Widow of being paranoid. Natasha turns the tables on him, and Steve reminds his crew that they are looking for Crossbones, not an afternoon chat.

This scene is sweet because it shows Wanda’s position on the team. She is the “greenie” – the new kid on the job. Her abilities are impressive, wonderful, and fascinating. But they are no substitute for training in the arts of observation, close combat, and the other fighting disciplines “normal” people must use. To over-rely on her powers puts her at risk of harm.

Another great thing about this scene is how it reinforces the relationships Wanda has with her teammates. Sam, acting in the capacity of a good friend, takes the sting off of Natasha’s brisk, motherly reprimand. Steve’s gentle questions and quiet prodding easily skid across the thin line between the positions of mentor and trusted father figure. Though Wanda’s connection to Clint is far stronger in that regard, it is impossible not to see the paternal affection with which Steve treats her.

After this brief lesson in observation, Sam and Steve figure out that Crossbones’ target is not the police. It is instead something much bigger – and far more sinister.

Following on Steve and Sam’s heels, Wanda arrives at the IFID building in time to help Cap get inside. Sam helps protect her back as she gets rid of the knockout gas Crossbones and his men, who were possibly HYDRA agents like himself, used to render the employees in the building unconscious.

We then lose track of Wanda until Rumlow tries to blow up Cap and a city bazaar. That is when the Scarlet Witch, who has followed Steve while Sam and Natasha hunt down the bio-weapon, contains the blast with her power. In order to keep the people around them safe from the explosion, Wanda throws the flaming HYDRA agent into the sky, where he can incinerate himself and no one else.

However, she throws him too close to a nearby skyscraper. Also, the bomb vest’s explosive yield is higher than anyone anticipated. Whatever explosives Rumlow used/concocted, they packed more of a bang than TNT (which rates a 1 on the explosive scale) or C4 (which rates something like a 1.4 on the same scale).

So when the bomb goes off, instead of dissipating in midair as a firework display does, it blows out the middle floors of a skyscraper. The blast, which did not look terribly big in the bubble Wanda had around it, vents sudden fury into the building. At least three floors fall victim to Rumlow’s failsafe plan.

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Wanda watches in horror along with Steve as the explosion kills twenty-six people. Since he is the leader of the team, Cap takes point on the accident. It is easy for us to see he holds himself responsible for what happened. He leaves Wanda where she is, perhaps feeling that she does not need to get too close a look at the carnage. Even without her mental powers, she has to know that people have died in the blast. And, naturally enough, she blames herself for their deaths.

Now, readers, this explosion is not entirely Wanda’s fault. Sure, she released her hold on the bomb too soon. Yes, she threw the whole concoction too close to the building. But she did not intentionally blow up three center floors of a skyscraper and kill twenty-six people. It was an accident.

But the academic/journalistic complex; which in Age of Ultron would have supported and empathized with Wanda when she was an activist/HYDRA “secret weapon,” is not inclined to cut her the slightest bit of slack now. No, since she is an Avenger, they lay all the blame for the mishap on her. It does not matter to them that her desire was to save lives. Nor are her youth and inexperience factors which they will take into account. All that matters is that she is outside the control of the ‘elites.’ And whatever the ‘elites’ want, their toadies in the media will bend over backwards to get for them.

This is why there is such a large journalistic attack on Wanda throughout the first half of Civil War. As a member of the Avengers, a private police force which goes around hunting HYDRA and its allies, Wanda and her friends have a big, fat political target painted on their collective back. The media, who were wailing and screaming for heroes during Loki’s invasion in The Avengers, does not want them around for such “mundane things” as stopping the theft of a deadly bio weapon. (Gee, I wonder why…?)

Other than when aliens are raining from the sky, the Avengers are, essentially, an advanced, private police firm. Their operation in Lagos had all the hallmarks of a covert operation being run by the NYPD, NCIS, FBI, or some other agency which works in the government alphabet soup. Sam and Cap were out of sight and ready to move, while Wanda and Natasha were the undercover “eyes on the ground.” Their mission in Nigeria was no different than any other stakeout set up by the police –

Except that they were not on the leash of any government on the planet. They had no one telling them, “Do not engage. This attack has to go down so we can ride the diplomatic repercussions since we will never let a crisis (especially one created by us) go to waste.” This is antithetical to the Avengers’ creed which is the belief that every life is important, and crises are to be avoided. The Avengers were there to prevent a disaster – that bio weapon would have killed millions, give or take a few extra hundred thousand, if it had been released. The Avengers stopped it from falling into the wrong hands.

The people killed in Crossbones’ Viking funeral were an unfortunate loss. But their deaths were not the intent of Wanda or her teammates. Many, many more people would have died if Rumlow and his men had escaped with the pathogen. The death toll would also have been higher if Wanda had not contained the initial detonation and tossed the rest skyward.

Readers, we have to keep in mind that the rest of the team is not going to throw live grenades, bombs, or explosives at Wanda and tell her, “Hold the explosion in until it loses power.” That is cruel. Doing that could kill her – or them. This was something she did in a situation which required quick action and swift thinking.

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Under the circumstances, Wanda did some very fast calculating. If she had not contained the initial blast, Cap and the bazaar – along with the base of the skyscraper – would have been blown to pieces. Also, given her understanding of conventional explosives, throwing Rumlow sky high should have allowed the detonation to finish in a relatively safe manner. C4 will not vent that much power, and certainly not in the direction of the skyscraper. At most, C4 would have blown out the windows and wrecked a couple of offices, probably only injuring anyone standing in those rooms.

Wanda’s biggest – and only – mistake here was that she did not throw Crossbones in the proper direction. There may be a good reason why she made that mistake. Considering how expansive the explosion which hit the skyscraper was, we can guess that the initial detonation would have been much bigger if Wanda had not contained it. It is not easy to control so large an explosion for very long by normal means. Holding that sort of thing contained with her telekinetic powers would have put a serious strain on Wanda’s mind. As the explosion gained strength, it would have become more and more of an effort for her to keep it bottled up.

If you pull a rubber band to a certain length, readers, it will snap back and sting your fingers. Pull it too far, and the rubber band breaks, stinging your fingers even more than it did previously.

Minds are nothing like a rubber band. They are not elastic; they either hold out or they break. Wanda must have instinctively felt herself coming up on her breaking point, while at the same time she was struggling to get Crossbones’ suicide pyre up where it could not harm anyone else. This is likely the reason she tossed Rumlow too close to the building. She was concentrating very hard on holding the explosion contained. Wanda did her best and held out as long as she could…

But something had to give, and her natural strength is not yet up to the task of containing such a big bang – if it ever will be. Her reasoning for throwing it into the air, far away from everyone around her, was completely sound. She cut her power when she thought it would be safe.

Unfortunately, Wanda was not aware of how big the blast would become when released. And she forgot, or did not realize, that she was holding the blast too close to the skyscraper.

Anyone else in Wanda’s position would be just as horrified by the resulting destruction and loss of life as she is. When we next see Wanda, one month later, she is “moping” in her room and accepting the slavering media’s verdict on what happened in Lagos.

Steve comes in, shuts the TV off, and sits beside her. He knows what the media and the ‘elites’ do not even deign to consider: Wanda will never be able to forget that she threw the explosion in the wrong direction, and this led to the deaths of those twenty-six people in Lagos. She will carry that responsibility with her for the rest of her life. No one can take it from her, even if they or she wanted them to do so. It is her burden to bear – and his.

As he pointed out, he is as responsible as she is. Crossbones distracted him so he would not look for the bomb vest. If he had stayed focused, he could have prevented the explosion altogether. He was sidetracked, and that cost them all – mostly the people in the building who died and Wanda, a kid he is supposed to be protecting and teaching.

But if he can teach her how to win, it is also Steve’s duty to teach her how to lose. Cap knows that wallowing in guilt gets no one anywhere. Not every battle will be a win-win scenario; the initial objective (grab the bio-weapon) may be won while the secondary goal (protect all civilians) is lost. Sometimes it will be the other way around. On really bad days, both objectives may be lost. Combat is not a sure science and it never will be. “This job,” he tells her slowly, “We try to save as many people as we can. Sometimes… that doesn’t mean everybody. If we don’t find a way to live with that then, next time, maybe nobody gets saved.”

This is what Wanda struggles with for the first half of the film. What she has to learn here is that taking responsibility for one’s actions means mourning the mistakes, recognizing them, then picking up and moving on. “Moping” will not bring back those Crossbones killed – because it was Crossbones who pulled the pin. And if she continues to “mope,” then the next time she is needed, she may not be able to save anyone because she will not be focusing on anything but her last failure.

The reason this is such a struggle for Wanda is partly because she is a young girl raised in an age that has an extreme fascination with guilt. Also, youths tend to magnify their problems – even when they think they are not trying to magnify them. Experience is what helps the young grow up, but I do not recall a phrase that said becoming an adult was easy. If it was, everyone would do it, and we know this is unfortunately rarely the case.

Another reason Wanda is struggling has to do with the fact that she is under mental pressure/assault from several directions: Ross, the media, and the Accords are all hammering home the blame factor. In the comics and cartoons, Thunderbolt Ross’ Red Hulk persona had a certain charm. But as his human self, Ross has never been anything short of a raucous bully.

Wanda may sense this about him initially in the film, but what can she do? She lacks what the academy of nihilism likes to call “authority issues.” She trusts all of the authority figures – Steve, Sam, Rhodey, Tony, Clint, and Natasha – in her life. (Vision is smart, but he is a one year old. He has even more to learn than she does.) How can she tell Ross to buzz off? In this one respect, the former General has learned something of value (to him): politicians need only speak to enforce their will on others, rather than scream their throats raw, the way he once did.

As for the media, that is the same problem, but magnified in the hundreds, if not thousands. Many television reporters seem to be under the impression that being a reporter is akin to being ordained by God, the government, or some other entity with above-human powers of insight and understanding. This is the way they treat Wanda in the film. They and the talking heads ask what “right” has she to do what she has done.

They do not care that Wanda was under a lot of strain in that moment and was not focusing on much except keeping the fireworks display contained for as long as possible. They do not care about this because they are the wise ones; they are the ones who understand all higher things and the proper uses of every thing to frame every event. They would never have been there in the first place. That would be the only thing they got right; they do not possess the courage to enter a combat situation as a participant. They would rather watch the situation from afar, after the fact, and carp about the results.

How many of these hacks have telekinesis? How many of them have been in a combat situation? How many of them have had to telekinetically restrain a violent chemical combustion in a crowd of innocent people and, finding the bang is not getting any smaller, thrown it skyward while trying to maintain control of it?

None of them have done that. What is more, none of them would or will ever do that. They think they understand when they have no idea what it takes to have and use such powers in combat for five minutes, let alone for one’s whole life.

But that does not prevent them from pontificating about how such power should be used or maintained. That does not prevent them from making Wanda out to be a bloodthirsty monster. It does not stop them from saying a twenty-odd year old girl, who saw her mistake kill twenty-six people, should be locked up in a prison somewhere as though she was Hannibal Lecter’s niece. These jackals, who have not got enough courage as a group to fill a teaspoon, are picking on a girl with more guts than many people twice her age.

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The third barrier Wanda has to clear is the Accords. Ross’ handing the U.N. booklet specifically to her in the Compound is in fact a tactically brilliant move. Not only are the Accords named after her home nation, which she saw destroyed, but she holds herself responsible for the deaths in Lagos. Giving the Accords to her first, Ross probably thinks he has an easy win with Wanda. She is so distressed and confused that she will doubtless be the first to sign up.

Except that Ross, like Zemo, has placed his bets without considering Cap. In this case, he does not know how much influence Steve has over the Avengers. Cap put his trust in the twins (Wanda and Pietro) in South Korea during Age of Ultron. He trusted that they were really interested in saving lives and doing the right thing; that they were actually willing to let go of their desire for revenge and that they would not let him down. It is also very probable that he is the one who offered Wanda a place on his team. Steve has been watching her back, guiding and teaching her, since she joined the Avengers. Of all the voices raised in the debate over the Accords, his is the one Wanda harkens to first and foremost.

Also, Ross has forgotten that Wanda has been taken in by bright speeches and flowery words before. Baron Strucker called for volunteers to be tested for a human enhancement process in Sokovia, and Pietro and Wanda answered the advertisement. Taking the easy path out with Strucker went soooo well last time, didn’t it?

Once bitten, twice shy. Wanda was fooled once. She will not be taken advantage of again so easily.

So Wanda Maximoff, Ross’ oh-so-easy-mark, proves she has more mettle than he guessed. She pushes the Accords away – literally. She does not declare she will never sign them, but neither does she sign on the dotted line as fast as she can. If Steve did so, then Wanda would be inclined to follow him. But he is wary and will not sign, at least not until there are safeguards put in place. And so Wanda follows his lead….

….discovering soon afterward that Steve’s arguments have some very real-life concerns for her. With Cap and Sam abroad to attend Peggy Carter’s funeral, Natasha going to the signing of the Accords, and Rhodey and Tony off somewhere else, Wanda and Vision are left to “mind the house.” Or so she thinks. Later on, Vision admits she is essentially under house arrest until the puppet masters behind the Accords are sure she will not cause them any trouble. It is at this point that she realizes Cap’s fears are well founded.

Up until this moment, Wanda was free to go wherever she wanted whenever she wanted. While it is likely she had company on these prior outings, she has probably been out on her own just as often. And she lived with only Pietro for company from the age of ten. She is naïve and inexperienced in many things, but walking around town alone is not one of them. Now, though, she is being “locked in her room” by Tony Stark at the behest of Ross and the faceless, “silent, deadly men” who give him his orders.

Why? Why is she being interned in her own home? Lagos was a combat situation. She did not perform perfectly in that arena, but how can one equate the accident in Nigeria with running to the store to grab some paprika?

The answer is that the two cannot be equated. They are mutually exclusive events. Contrary to all the yelling on the TV, most people would probably be quite happy to either wave at Wanda or to avoid her out of fear, and that would only happen if they recognized her. It would be an idiot – or a pack of idiots – who would challenge someone with Wanda’s abilities just to show their machismo. All they would be proving was their stupidity and cowardice.

This idea that she is dangerous, however, starts to seep into Wanda’s mind after Vision’s admission. Maybe she is too dangerous to be allowed out. Maybe she is, in fact, a monster.

Scarlet Witch fights Vision in 'Civil War'.

Into this whirling maelstrom of self-doubt strides Clint a few nights afterward. As I said before, Wanda is not inclined to laugh off the fact that she almost stabbed Hawkeye in the forehead. While she trusts Steve as a father-type guardian, this is even truer of her relationship with Clint. Cap was the first one to believe Wanda and her brother could change. Clint, though, was the first to give her direct guidance when she needed it most. Steve understood her decision to protect her country and save lives. Clint understood her when she was having an emotional meltdown.

Their bond is stronger in this area because Clint is, actually, a father. Steve can “walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,” but this is one area where Hawkeye has more experience on him. He has handled more childhood crises than any of the other Avengers for the simple reason that it comes with the territory of being a dad. Plus, Clint is practically always self-assured. Without that self-belief, he would never get anywhere.

And if she loses her own self-belief, Wanda will not get anywhere, either. Cap calls Clint to pick up Wanda for the apparent reason that he cannot just go and get her himself. But he might have had another motive for calling Clint. Even if he was not told about their “chat” in Sokovia, Cap still has to sense the fact that the two have a strong rapport. If anyone can get Wanda out of her funk, it is Hawkeye.

And he does, delivering her an ultimatum in the Compound, just as he did in Sokovia. “I need your help, Wanda,” he tells her. “You wanna mope; you can go to high school. You want to make amends, then you get off your ass.”

Though his delivery in this film is markedly different from both the comics and the cartoons, the point Clint makes is no less finely nailed home: either Wanda gets up and helps, or she stays home. Those are the only two options anyone in the Avengers’ line of work has. Do your job, or step aside and let everyone else do theirs.

Wanda does, most certainly, want to make amends for her mistake in Lagos. Wanda also does not want to get left out. And she does want to help Steve – not for the simple reasons that he is her mentor or because he took her in when she had nowhere else to go. She wants to help him because he is her friend.

She also wants out of the Compound. As she told Vision, she cannot control the fear(s) of others. But she can control her own fear. If she lets her apprehension rule her, she will become the monster others believe she is. She will fall to the Dark Side. So it is past time to put her fear aside and get on with her life.

There is no occasion for her to explain that to Vision in the Compound. Maybe she does not yet understand her situation enough to explain it at length. But she knows it, even if she cannot say it in the way I just have. She explained it to Steve in Germany as Hawkeye explained it to her: “It was time to get off my ass.”

Perhaps it is her memory of her incarceration in the Avengers’ Compound which is the reason Wanda holds nothing back in the battle at the airport. If they lose this fight, they will all get locked up – Clint, Wanda, Sam, Scott, and Steve. Bucky would most likely be killed. The stakes are too high for Team Cap to “pull… [their] punches.”

During the battle, Wanda is almost literally everywhere at once. She saves Bucky from Panther’s claws, reminds Clint that this is not a training session by tossing Natasha away, and drops about ten or more cars on top of Iron Man in quick succession. This emphasizes the point that she is not going to get locked up again. Not without a fight. If people want to be afraid of her, then Wanda Maximoff is going to give them something to fear!

If she is so desperate not to get caught, you may ask, why does she throw herself to the wolves along with Clint, Scott, and Sam? She could have bolted. She was the most powerful of the four remaining members of Team Cap. Even stunned by War Machine’s sonic weapon, she could still have made tracks and at least gotten into the city, especially after Vision left her to check on Rhodey.

The clear answer is that she is a loyal Avenger. Wanda understands the meaning of honor. She understands that when you give someone your word, when you make a promise to someone, breaking that bond of you own volition is to forever forsake faith with them to some degree. To quit when the going gets tough is to become a coward.

And while all the heroes in Marvel’s stories have flaws, NONE of them are cowards.

The loyalty aspect aside, Wanda knows as well as the others do that Steve will come back for them. The main mission is to stop Zemo and save as many lives as they can. If the price of saving lives is incarceration, then that is the price she and the others have to pay to see the job done.

And pay they do. Wanda, however, is subject to higher scrutiny than the men are. Their powers are all derived from their gear, skills, and technology. Her power comes from inside of her. There is no way to take it from her; it can only be suppressed. The way the Raft guards choose to do this by locking her in a cell, throwing an inhibitor collar on her, and wrapping her in a straight jacket.

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Although she knew Steve would come for her and the others, had to know that Clint and probably Sam are very worried about her, Wanda looked pretty miserable in her cell. Of course, it would be hard not to be despondent, since she is locked up in solitary. It also appeared that Ross and his cronies were not inclined to keep the room at a comfortable temperature. But maybe Wanda was shivering with fright and depression rather than cold.

If all the Avengers had signed the Accords immediately, this might have happened to her at the beginning. I doubt that Tony came up with that “Walking Weapon of Mass Destruction” quip by himself. It sounds like something which would have come out of Ross’ mouth. Witty as Tony is, he was quoting someone else when he said that.

Remember when I said Ross wanted control of the best weapons he could find? The government took lots of blood samples from Cap in the hopes that they could make more Super Soldiers in the future. This is likely where Howard Stark acquired the five packs of the viable Super Soldier Serum which Bucky stole in ‘91; the scientists had at last managed to synthesize a working serum from Steve’s blood. In the 1940s, the government and its scientists were at least willing to ask for his blood before taking it.

But would Ross and his masters in/behind the U.N. have asked Wanda for permission to “make more” powered people like her by asking her to take some tests so they could see what makes her “tick”? I highly doubt it. If the whole team had signed the Accords at the start, then they would have also signed Wanda’s one way ticket to a cell where she could be studied as a lab rat. Ross and his handlers – whoever they are, and whether he knows they are “handling” him or not – want more people like her. They want more enhanced humans and they want to be their puppet masters.

I imagine there were some tears shed when Steve and the others picked up Wanda. In her position, tears would be totally understandable, a sign of pent up stress and/or relief. The guys are not going to let her out of their sight any time soon, this is for sure!

If the writers decide to hold Wanda on the back burner until Infinity War, we will not be seeing her any time soon. Should that be the case, then it is safe to assume, for the nonce, that Wanda will be staying with Team Cap and doing some Secret Avenging until that time. One thing is for certain: Wanda’s powers are only going to grow. This means she will be a formidable opponent when she next appears on the silver screen.

What that will look like, we can but guess. Anyway, readers…

See ya around!

The Mithril Guardian

Scarlet Witch

Captain America: Civil War – Clint Barton/Hawkeye

As anyone who has followed this blog knows, I am a huge Hawkeye fan. In the comics, the cartoons, and the movies, I always look forward to seeing him. Captain America/Steve Rogers is also one of my favorite characters, something I have said before as well.

So to FINALLY have my two favorite characters in a Captain America film is UNBELIEVABLY GREAT!!!!!!!!!! 😀 What makes it even better is that Renner and the Russos at last deliver a truly vintage Hawkeye performance. Clint’s snappy patter, skills, and determination are all taken directly from the comics in this movie.

Clint’s part in Civil War is far more limited than I was hoping for. Now, I am not looking a gift horse in the mouth here, people! I am thrilled he got to show up in the movie at all! It is just that my enjoyment factor would have been higher if he had been in the movie longer.

But, yeah, you probably noticed that by now.

Anyway, on to the film! Some people are saying that Clint’s main reason for joining Team Cap was the debt he owes Wanda. Because her brother saved his life, he feels he is indebted to her. He also basically inaugurated her Avenging career in Sokovia, and so he is at least partly responsible for her growth into her role on the team.

True, true, and true…except for the part where these people say these are Clint’s only reasons for siding with Cap. Renner did not help much, saying before the film came out that, “Cap was the first guy who called.”

(*Author slaps forehead and growls in irritation at the general population’s inability to speak or write well.*)

No, Cap did not call Clint first. Tony did – through Natasha. She asked Hawkeye if he would sign the Accords and Clint said, essentially, “No.” Then Cap phoned a couple of days later, whereupon Clint left home, busted Wanda out of the Compound, picked up Ant-Man, and arrived in Germany within hours of the phone ringing.

What was that about Cap calling first again…? I think I missed it.

For those who say that Hawkeye was truly retired at the start of this movie, I have this to answer in response: Clint Barton, Hawkeye, hang up his bow for good? Don’t make me laugh! Being a hero is his job. And when his job needs doing, he will do it.

This is why he refuses to sign the Accords. Steve and Clint are both cut from the same cloth. Did you notice that, in Age of Ultron, Clint has two very large American flags on his property? One is hanging from the side of his house; the other is tacked up in the barn. And oh, yeah, there is a third, somewhat smaller U.S. flag pinned up over the tractor in the barn, too.

Clint seems awfully patriotic. Steve Rogers is, too, or he would not be Captain America. They both recognize the danger in the Accords, which the U.N. wants to force on them and the U.S. They both know that a government or governing body of any type is almost always run by people with agendas. And agendas are dangerous, because the people who have them often place more value on their schemes than on doing what is right.

Clint had to know that to decline signing the Accords while claiming retirement was a holding action at best. He also had to know that the location of his family’s house is now blown. Sooner or later, it will be discovered. If the writers have not had him move, he could be in serious trouble. (Which means that the writers will be in serious trouble with ME!)

If he is half as smart as I know he is, then Clint should have moved his family not long after returning to the farm at the end of Age of Ultron. He would not tell any of the other Avengers about doing this – Tony, Rhodey, Natasha, and Vision have signed the Accords. And Tony has now blabbed about the Barton family on film and video tape. What a typical, unfiltered, big mouth reaction. (*Author rolls eyes.*)

The one Avenger he might tell, if he has moved his family, is Cap. But he would only do that in private, when they were sure no one was listening. Natasha would be able to figure it out, eventually. They have worked together for years and therefore think alike on such matters. Heck, they have probably helped each other come up with contingency plans for this sort of problem!

The point here is that Hawkeye joined Cap’s team because, to borrow and paraphrase Emily VanCamp’s description of her character and Evans’, “They have similar moral compasses.” Clint and Steve both know the difference between right and wrong. When told to move by the world, they will both “plant [themselves] like a tree, look them [those who are telling them what is wrong is right] in the eye, and say, ‘No, YOU move.’”

Natasha knows this. It is why she is alive, as well as Cooper, Lila, and Nathaniel Barton’s “aunt.” She knows Clint’s claim of retirement is baloney and code for, “The U.N. can go bark at the moon. I am not signing away my freedom.” It is this certainty on the part of her two friends which leads her to question the Accords and her own decision to sign them.

This is going to sound like a fan rant, but follow me through please, readers. I loved it when Clint fired three arrows at Iron Man, only for them to get shot down. The basis for this scene is taken straight from the comics. Like many villains, Tony mistakenly believes Clint has finally missed his target…

Clint just smiles smugly and retorts, “Made you look.”

When Hawkeye shoots at you but does not hit you, then he was not aiming for you in the first place. Tony does not know him as well as he thinks he does if he had to learn that fact the hard way. Anyone who has known Clint for any period of time knows that this archer does not miss, whether he is using arrows, bullets, assorted bits of junk, or his own fists. Whatever the tool, Hawkeye’s aim is always true.

Speaking of the internecine fight at the airport, Wanda was right – Clint was pulling his punches with Natasha. He is physically bigger and stronger than she is. Their dance should not have gone the way it was heading. We all remember their duel on the Helicarrier in The Avengers. While I am sure Hawkeye was pulling his punches as best he could in that fight, the thing is that he was holding back even more in Civil War.

Black Widow was not.

It is understandable that Clint would hold back in a fight with Natasha. They are very close friends, almost as close as Steve and Bucky still are. On some level, I think Hawkeye never stopped believing in Natasha after she signed the Accords. He knew she doubted the rightness of what she had done, that she was worried she had made a mistake. He had faith that she would realize she had made the wrong choice and would reverse that decision sooner or later. In the end, he was right. And so he is glad he pulled his punches.

And that Wanda pulled Natasha’s.

Nevertheless, Clint takes Wanda’s admonition on not pulling his punches to heart for the rest of the battle. For Exhibit B to prove that he joined Team Red, White, and Blue out of loyalty to Steve and the belief that Cap was in the right, who held Panther off while Steve and Bucky ran for the quinjet?

Clint did. And while he is not as strong as Panther, Hawkeye put up a great fight. He knew he would not be able to beat T’Challa, or even stalemate him. Not for long, at least. But he was going to go down fighting – hence: “I don’t think we’ve been introduced. I’m Clint.”

The new King of Wakanda is not in the mood for witty banter, let alone name-trading, as he demonstrates with his pithy, angry, “I don’t care!” Clint knows that. But if he cannot get his digs in one way, he will do so by other means. T’Challa can be stronger than Clint all he wants, but he will never outdo the archer in the gallows humor department. Hawkeye will see to that!

To backtrack a bit, our first look at Hawkeye in the film is when he goes to pick up Wanda from the Avengers’ Compound. Wanda senses someone enter the room and, preparing for the possibility that the intruder means her harm, uses her power to grab a butcher knife from the kitchen counter and throw it at the potential cat-burglar.

She must have figured out who her “intruder” was before she hit him, because she stops the blade in the nick of time. Hawkeye stares at the knife as it hovers just in front of his forehead, briefly surprised. Then he smiles faintly. “Guess I should’ve knocked,” he says, calmly pushing the knife away with two fingers.

Wanda lets it drop to the floor and races over to him with a gasp. “Oh, my gosh, what are you doing here?” she asks, horrified. She came that close to killing a friend, and after her inability to fully contain Crossbones’ funeral pyre/revenge plot in Lagos, this near miss is no laughing matter to her.

But Clint brushes it off, apparently unconcerned. It was his fault, as he admitted. Someone sneaking into the room after an explosion draws out the Vision – what was Wanda supposed to think? She was prepared, which was a good thing. If it had not been him, she would have needed to defend herself. As it is, he is still breathing and in one piece, so no harm, no foul. Leaving a temporary Vision-catcher set up to keep the android out of their hair, he grabs Wanda and tries to bolt.

That is when Vision returns. Using his wit and fast mouth, Hawkeye waits until Vision is stuck in the electrical field generated by the arrows he planted for the purpose of holding the android in place. Satisfied that the field will keep Vision trapped for the necessary time to initiate an escape, he goes to leave.

Wanda does not follow him.

This scene was fantastic because it shows Clint’s teacher side. He understood how overwhelmed Wanda was when Novi Grad began to fly, and he understands her hesitation now. Like everyone else, she does not wish to make the same mistake twice – or a worse error. But her fear is crippling her. Never one to lose confidence in himself for more than five seconds, Clint once again restores Wanda’s self-assurance in two or three sentences.

Enough time for Vision to break free of his trap and make a fight out of what otherwise would have been a relatively easy extraction.

This following scene probably harkens back to the original comics from the early sixties, where Hawkeye and Vision had a “debate” over who held Wanda’s affections. However, in Civil War, though the fight is again over the Scarlet Witch, Clint has no romantic inclinations toward her at all. His attachment to her here is entirely different.

She is a kid he convinced to be a heroine, and she is being held under house arrest because she did her best and people died anyway. She did what she could to save as many people as she could, and the media have been tearing her to pieces ever since. She does not deserve that treatment, but the political hacks and media harpies are quite happy to ignore her youth and inexperience so they can further their agendas.

Clint, however, will not ignore these factors. He knows her. He cares about her. In some way, she has to make him think of his own daughter. If it was Lila in Wanda’s situation, Clint would want someone to watch out for her and take care of her. Wanda has no family anymore, and since the rest of the Avengers have either acquiesced to her imprisonment or are not able to get her out themselves, he will stand up for her because they cannot or will not.

Vision, who seems to be as smitten with Wanda in the films as he was in the comics, wants to protect her. Lulled by false rationalism and logic, Vision has decided that he and Wanda are too dangerous to be liked or understood by the public. But in keeping her “housebound,” Vision is not helping Wanda. He is only aiding in the crippling of her belief in herself. He cannot, however, see that…

But Clint can. When Vision breaks out of the trap, Hawkeye knows the android will not let Wanda go without a fight. And while he is not a super genius, it does not take a 190 point IQ (or whatever Tony has), to know that Vision far surpasses him in strength and power. There is no way any of the Avengers, other than Wanda and perhaps Thor or the Hulk, could hope to at least hold their own with the Vision.

So Hawkeye does not put all his chips on beating Vision. He knows he cannot do that. He also knows that Wanda is aware she is being imprisoned, does not like it in the least, and that she wants to help Cap as much as he does. So he fights and, as he knew, is put out of action by Vision. But so what if he cannot beat Vision?

Wanda can.

And she does, showing that Clint’s faith in her is not misplaced. Though they both like Vision and consider him a friend, the stakes are too high to waste time talking. Even if they had the time, Vision will not be swayed easily. So Wanda throws him down a hole to cool off…

Clint takes a moment to look down it, too, probably thinking, Boy, am I glad that’s not ME down there. But if Wanda wanted to defeat or incapacitate him, this is not the way she would do it. (The butcher knife would be more effective and less tiring.) And he knows it. Wanda’s demonstration of her abilities in that moment would have scared most people out of their skins –

It did not scare Clint because he does not see just her powers. He sees Wanda Maximoff, a sweet young girl working at learning how, when, and where to do the right thing with her amazing abilities. She will make mistakes as she learns, just like everybody else, but he has nothing to fear from her. He knows that.

And now, she knows it, too. This crisis of self-assurance over with, wrapped up, and taken care of, Clint tells her they need to make a pick up on the way to meet Steve. This leads us to the meeting in the parking garage outside the German airport, where Clint tells Cap he is “doing [him] a favor” and that he “owe[s] a debt.”

This is where people – including me – got a little confused. Remember when I said there was no way Hawkeye would hang up his bow for good? He loves his family more than words can say, but he still has a job to do out there. As he said when Vision returned from investigating his distraction, he “retired” for “like, five minutes” and the world went to hell in a hand basket. Message received: retirement is not going to work for him.

Some will say this is overconfidence or hubris, and while it carries a bit of the former, Clint told Wanda in Sokovia that saving the world was his job. Hawkeye is a fighter; he always has been. Like Steve, he has been standing up to bullies his whole life. In the original comics, those bullies usually held an authority position over him while he was growing up.

We do not know as much of his MCU back story as I wish we did, but it would not surprise this author if it was very similar to his “mainstream” universe history. Because, in the MCU, as in the original Marvel “mainstream” universe, Clint has no more patience for tyrants – big or small – than Steve Rogers does.

So even when he is happily married and playing with his children, Clint’s hands will occasionally itch to be holding a bow and an arrow, sighting an enemy and taking him down. Targets are great, but they are for practice. Hawkeye’s skills are not meant for the target range alone. He has to be out, just like Steve, actively making a difference. He is not made to sit on his hands. He has to be doing his job, at least some of the time.

He is lucky Laura understands that and supports him when he does it; Pepper should spend some time with her. Maybe then she will stay with Tony instead of marching off in a huff because he is still making suits and Avenging.

This is why Clint says Cap is doing him a favor. A year out of action is long enough for his hands to start getting very itchy for a good fight.

As for the debt, that goes without saying. Hawkeye is indebted to the Scarlet Witch for her brother’s sacrifice, and he is a man who pays his debts. The weight of that obligation is equally balanced, however, by his respect for Wanda and Steve, as well as the knowledge that tyranny is rearing its ugly head again. Despotism casts a long shadow, and Clint does not want that touching the lives of his wife and children. If he was unworried about it, he would not be living off the grid as he is.

Now we go to the last time we see the World’s Greatest Marksman in Civil War. When Tony goes to get information from Falcon in the Raft, Clint is the first one to “greet” the great “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.” Hawkeye is one of those “guys with none of that” who Steve once said were “worth ten of [Tony].”

Clint did not receive the codename Hawkeye simply for his keen eyesight and unerring accuracy. The man sees with his head and his heart as well as with his eyes. Although he may not always possess the vocabulary to express what he knows, the fact is that he knows this: “There’s right and there’s wrong. You gotta do one or the other. You do the one, and you’re living. You do the other, and you may be walking around, but you’re as dead as a beaver hat.” (John Wayne in The Alamo.)

One can accuse Hawkeye of many things, but being “dead as a beaver hat” is not one of them.

Tony tries to wriggle out of the lecture, but Clint will not let him. His own imprisonment, and that of Scott and Sam, is bad enough. They are fighting the good fight and the government, angry that they have remained out of their control for so long, has thrown them in jail ‘til they either sing “Kumbaya” or rot. Fine. That bites, but it was to be expected, and Clint can take a beating when he has to without giving in to his captors.

No, the worst thing about his imprisonment, the part which stings most, is that Wanda is not imprisoned with the men. His family is safe. He made sure of that before he left, I would think, probably guessing that Tony would open his big mouth and mention them when they met face-to-face at last.

But since the fracas at the airport, Clint and the others have no idea where Wanda is or what has happened to her. She is not imprisoned on their level; she is a girl and they are all guys.

That, however, is only half of the equation. The other half is that Wanda is the single enhanced member of Steve’s team besides Cap and Bucky. Ross, the guards at the Raft, and their collective bosses in the U.N., are all terrified of her power. They see her abilities. They do not see the person who uses them.

Steve does, Clint does, and Sam does. Doubtless, Bucky can see past her powers to the girl wielding them. Even Scott Lang sees her as a person. Remember when he is geeking out over meeting Cap? He turns to Wanda after a few seconds, points at Steve, and says, “Wow, Captain America… I know you, too. You’re great!”

No one on Team Cap sees a dangerous weapon when they look at Wanda. Tony, however, needs his eyes checked.

If you add this fear of Clint’s to Tony’s betrayal of the Avengers’ agreed upon leader (Cap), and the fact that he has been incarcerated as a criminal for doing his job, you have a recipe for a big bowl of righteous fury. Clint is quite happy to throw the whole soup of his displeasure in Tony’s face. Cap was right: Tony tore the Avengers apart when he signed the Accords. He has betrayed himself, Steve, Clint, Sam, Vision, Rhodey, Natasha, and – worst of all – Wanda.

The betrayal of Wanda is the worst because, of the Avengers, she is the weakest. Not physically or in terms of power quotients. No, Wanda is weak because she is inexperienced and needs guidance from people she can trust, people who care about her and will protect her. She is a child who needs teaching and attention – not house-arrest, fear, and jeers.

Tony called her a “Walking Weapon of Mass Destruction.” He held her under house arrest in the Compound. Now, the government has taken her and locked her up, adding a straight jacket for extra insurance. (I hear it is not impossible for people to get out of those things. The fact that Wanda did not free herself says a lot about her – and a lot about the people who put it on her in the first place.)

Tony has the good sense to be ashamed for the first half of Clint’s reprimand. Clint knows it will not last, and he makes sure to give Tony both barrels as fast as possible, reloading just as quickly. Tony does not like it, further endangering his friendship with Clint by throwing the matter of his family in the other man’s face and asking why he did not sign the Accords for their sake. The mention of his family in a bugged and camera-filled cell, when they are a secret he revealed to Tony with the utmost confidence as a close friend, makes Clint really mad.

Still, despite it all, there is evidence to support the fact that Clint is not willing to abandon Tony to his mistakes. He warns Tony to “watch his back” with Ross, since the Secretary of State, “might just break it!”

Clint’s warning, following on the heels of Natasha’s similar angry remonstrance at the Avengers’ Compound, has some effect on Tony. He does not tell Ross what Sam confides in him. Later, when Steve goes to break their mutual friends out of the Raft, Tony does nothing to help Ross. He puts the other man on hold, as he had promised.

So Clint is mad at Tony – and he is right to be angry at him. But he has not given up on him, just as Cap has not. That says volumes right there.

While the final scene where we see Steve stepping out of the shadows as Sam smiles at him is charming and applause-worthy, I kind of wish we could have seen Clint and the others’ reactions to Steve’s arrival as well. I love picturing the four trading quips as Steve unlocks the cell doors, then going down (or up) to the level where Wanda is being held so they can break her out. Alas, it can only be imagined. Unless Marvel makes a comic book about their escape, we have no other recourse.

Most likely, Clint will not stay in Wakanda as an ex-patriot. Neither, I think, will Steve. The two will perhaps make trips to visit the country so that they can keep tabs on Bucky’s progress or walk about more freely, but neither of them could stand to be away from the U.S. for very long. And Clint still has a family to take care of, so he would have more reason to go back than anyone else but Scott Lang.

No, I think Clint will return to his family, as Scott will go back to San Francisco to be with Cassie. Steve, Sam, and Wanda may stay in Wakanda for a little while longer, but they will return to U.S. soil as well. Wakanda is a nice country, but America – that is home. And there is no place like home.

The three can easily go off the grid together and visit Clint from time to time when they come back. Because Natasha disobeyed the Accords, there is a chance that she will hook up with them, or that they will find and “recruit” her. From now on, Team Cap will be the “Secret Avengers.” They will do their job without the “oversight” which Tony, Rhodey, and Vision must put up with. This will give them ample time to get stronger and more prepared for Infinity War, Part 1 & 2.

It will also give Tony time to reevaluate his choices, allow Vision a chance to do more calculations, and who knows? Perhaps Rhodey will wake up to reality by the next Avengers’ film.

We can but hope. Until then –

Let’s do this, Secret Avengers!

The Mithril Guardian

Captain America: Civil War – Tony Stark/Iron Man

Iron Man

I once said that Tony Stark/Iron Man was one of the most beaten and maltreated comic book characters of the current era. It does not appear to be a wrong assessment. Captain America: Civil War showed just how far the mighty had fallen, though the comics blazed the trail long ago.

Once, Tony Stark was a self-contained, reasonable, calm character. Even when he was angry, he did not fly off the handle for more than five minutes – at most. Debonair, dashing, and as chivalrous as any knight of the Round Table, you could not catch Tony Stark or Iron Man being rude just for the sake of doing it. In fact, even when someone deserved an impolite comment, he did not deliver it. He possessed a sense of humor, certainly; the difference is that it was not nasty and/or derogatory.

But that was another era, a period when the people of United States were at least trying to maintain a just society. Once, it was understood here that using foul language in public was serious business. Now, it is the current parlance. Once, it was understood that all women were to be treated as though they were worth a million dollars. Now, they are sized up like mares at a stock fair.

Tell me again how much we have improved.

All these gadgets, computers, cures, and medical techniques are mostly useful. But does that mean we have to treat each other like trash and call it affection?

It is no such thing. But the new Tony, the modern Tony, the oh-so-up-to-date Stark, would not believe that if you showed him a thousand statistics to prove the truth of it. He would go right on as he has always done.

The thing is… he was getting there. He was improving. Then, after the Battle of New York and the Battle of Sokovia, he got scared out of years of growth. He was reduced once again to a narcissistic, petulant child. How do I know this?

He kicked Bucky Barnes when the other was already down.

You do not do that. Not even to your worst enemies, not even to the people who are the slime of the Earth, or the trash in the gutter. You never, EVER kick a man when he is down, unless he is on his way up to kill you. Bucky was not doing that.

But Tony kicked him anyway.

How the mighty have fallen. How the invincible have become so weak. Bucky had just lost his robotic arm and was down for the count. There was no reason – none whatsoever – for what Tony did. Other than that he wanted to do it. Other than the fact that he wanted to treat an abused man living with a guilt greater than he could ever bear like slime. The only reason to beat a fallen man is to feel superior to him – when, in fact, it is the other way around.

From Iron Man to Marvel’s The Avengers, Tony Stark was a changed man. His sense of humor was still nasty and derogatory, he still had issues with authority, and he still had no filter between that “big brain” and his mouth. But he was not the selfish playboy we saw at the beginning of Iron Man.

Then, in Iron Man 3, he slid back again. Oh, he did not go back to his philandering ways. Pepper had no need to “[take] out the trash” anymore. He was hardly drunk, and he did a bang up job rescuing his girlfriend. Literally, there were, like, a lot of bangs when he fought to get her back. (Yes, I am using Tony’s phraseology to make a point.)

And then he threw it all out the window in Age of Ultron. He abandoned his responsibilities because he was afraid he could not handle them anymore. And instead of being sensible about it, instead of telling his friends and seeking their collective guidance, he tried to put a Band-Aid over his fears.

The result was a digital revolutionary bent on “global extinction.” People died because of Ultron, who was Tony’s mistake. The PR war on him, which for the most part had changed to adulation over the last few years, returned in full force. Grieving people blamed him for the deaths of their loved ones, and he was seen as a monster again. Maybe, if Pepper had not gotten mad at him, he would have kept his footing better.

But he did not stop jetting off in the Iron Man armor to save the world, and so she did get mad at him. (*Author pinches the bridge of nose and sighs deeply.*) You know, Gwyneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman both lack the sense God gave to dead plants. They landed parts in a veritable gravy train, and then they decided they only wanted to ride it halfway. The others are all either signed up for several movies or are extending their contracts so they will have billions by the time they absolutely have to hang up their superhero costumes. But these ladies do not want to stick around because the films are based on comic books, and they are for kids, so how can they be art?

Did no one ever tell these women you do not, under ANY circumstances, look a gift horse in the mouth? They had the easiest gigs on the planet, which paid some of the biggest bucks in the world – and they threw it away. Not even Robert Downey Jr., who says he is getting on in years and may soon hang up his armor, has done that.

The fact is, by the time we see Tony in Civil War, he is on tenterhooks. He is carrying guilt over the fact that Ultron was his bright idea, which got 177 civilians killed, plus one Avenger. Every time he gets into a fight innocent people die, and their relations or activists of one stripe or another all want to hang him for it. They wait for him in hallways, throw pictures and stories at him, and how can he protest that he did not want their relatives to die? What he wants and what he has are two very different things.

There is a true life parallel to this. If there is a battle which involves U.S. troops and there are civilian casualties, the U.S. soldiers are almost always the ones who receive the blame. It does not matter that the guys who were shooting at them held women or children in front of their bodies as human shields; it does not matter that the enemy holed up in a hospital run by international doctors who voluntarily went into a war zone. The only thing that matters is the U.S. soldiers were there, and civilians died.

Wars are hell. People die in wars – soldiers, civilians, men, women, and children. If bullets, bombs, close combat, shells, or knives do not get them, then disease or starvation will; or bad water, or accidents. But will those within and without America who hate the U.S. ever face the fact that wars have always been like this? That it is “well war is so terrible, else we would grow too fond of it”?

No. It does not matter to the academic/journalistic crowd in the slightest because it is not part of their agenda. They hate the U.S. military, all branches of it, and they want it utterly destroyed. The truth and The Truth have no hold on them whatsoever because they have forsaken both for their insular and personal agendas. (Now you know why Cap would not sign the Accords.)

Throughout history, people living or working in war zones have risked death. In the West, nations have done their utmost, in recent years, to limit civilian casualties. Then America clashed with the Soviet Union’s proxies in Vietnam, and found that their new enemies had no such scruples. Viet Cong soldiers routinely used nearby civilians as human shields, suicide bombers, or they threw them into other monstrous war services which Americans found horrific and barbaric. But the Viet Cong, the real culprits, were never to be held liable for what they did. Instead it was the American soldiers trying to fight them, forced to shoot through innocent people by an immoral enemy, who were held responsible.

That is going on again in Iraq and Afghanistan, as merciless enemies with no regard for life use women and children to do their killing work. Or they abuse them in other ways. But once again it is the big, bad Americans who are the enemy. It is their fault all this is happening; they should never have gotten involved. Not even to save the lives of those the enemy is using as expendable tools.

In Civil War, this is what Tony is dealing with. He is dealing with the hatred of people who have either been taught to accuse him and the Avengers for their losses, or who simply want to blame someone other than the real culprits for the death of their loved ones.

Neither attitude is right. Both are lies fabricated for various reasons. The one that will be trotted out is that grieving people always want someone to blame for the death of a loved one. That is true, but only up to a point. Once rational thinking takes over, grieving people realize they are holding grudges against a person or persons who were not responsible for their loss. Wanda and Pietro learned this in Age of Ultron when they fought alongside the Avengers; Tony did not kill their parents. The person who stole and fired his missiles into their apartment did.

It is a lesson Tony forgot. Or, perhaps, he never really learned.

Yes, Tony built Ultron. But Ultron chose to do what he did. Last time I checked, Tony was two for three; JARVIS and FRIDAY both turned out to be competent and sane AIs. This means that Tony’s responsibility for Ultron’s actions only goes as far as his creation. After that, the lives lost are on Ultron’s head.

And Tony certainly had nothing to do with Loki’s invasion of New York. But do you want to bet he has been held responsible for those killed in that battle, too?

As Cap said, saving as many people as one can does not mean that everybody gets saved. This is what the talking heads will not accept. They will not accept that sometimes you do all that you can, all that is humanly possible to do, and still innocents die. Some give their all to the fight, as Quicksilver did, but that does not mean no one else dies. It does not mean there are no more injuries, that there is no more pain. “Life is pain, Highness,” Westly said in The Princess Bride, “Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.”

Yes, they are. They are selling a recipe for control, for power.

Few people these days are willing to recognize that. Some simply do not know enough to recognize it.   The heroes do the best they can, and sometimes, their best is not enough to protect everyone. Yet these people still have to blame someone else for what the real bad guy(s) did. It has to be the rescuer’s fault; it has to be the soldier’s fault. It can never be the actual culprit who is responsible.

Yikes!!

The thing is that Tony is just as infected by this philosophy as most other people are today. He blames Bucky and Bucky alone for the deaths of his parents. Under the grip of strong emotion, anyone could succumb to that temptation. If that was the only reason for Tony flying off the handle at the end of Civil War, it would be more forgivable.

But it was not. Tony never stopped thinking during that fight. I believe it is literally impossible for him to stop thinking, and in most circumstances, that is not a bad thing.

In this case, however, it was.

Bucky was a man abused until he could be programmed and controlled. The kernel of his soul which he could still call his own was banked and hidden; else the cold wind of the Russian arm of HYDRA would blow it out. He fought a war for the survival of his soul for seventy-five years. It was a war which consumed all his time; he could not fight to stop HYDRA’s programming or commands. He was one against an underground army. Those are lousy odds, physically speaking. Spiritually speaking, Bucky fought and managed to remain in control of at least part of his soul.

But it was a war which took all his time – allowing HYDRA to kill hundreds by using his hands.

As a side note, in the comics, it was hinted that Bucky did not like killing women. Just before Cap found out he was alive in the books, Bucky took Sharon Carter captive and agreed – hesitantly – when his handler told him to kill her if he had to. He did not kill her, thankfully, but he would have if she had been a danger to his mission.

This is HYDRA’s legacy. They forced Bucky to do their killing for them. A man who robs a bank commits a crime. A man who robs a bank because some coward is holding a gun to his wife’s head a mile away commits a crime on behalf of someone else. And that is worse than if the man with the gun had gone in and robbed the bank himself; he has forced another man to do what he is too afraid to do. There is no audacity in stealing from a bank, but there is even less valor when a man threatens someone else’s life unless a different man commits the crime.

Bucky was not threatened with death. He was mentally and emotionally torn apart, turned into a cold, calculating hunting dog which would obey orders – whether he liked them or not.

Tony would not admit that. I do not know why. It is understandable for him to lose himself to fury for at least half of the fight. But by a certain point he could have ended it. He could have shut down the suit and agreed to the fact that the real killer of his parents was HYDRA. He did not.

Why?

Because someone had to pay? Because Bucky did the deed? So did Natasha. The one Avenger who knows precisely what Bucky is going through, Natasha was subjected to the same programming that Bucky was. And she had it beaten into her from childhood. She had even less defense against it than Bucky did.

And what about Clint? Loki invaded his mind, turned him into an automaton, and had him kill several dozen people over the course of three days. Some of those people were fellow SHIELD agents. It is conceivable a few of them were his friends. Loki did to Hawkeye in minutes what it took HYDRA and the Red Room years to do to Bucky and Natasha.

Yes, in Tony’s case, the deaths were far more personal. And that explains his leaping anger and initial assaults. But that was no reason to continue the fight.

It was no reason to kick Barnes when he was down.

Just like Clint, the faces of those he killed while on HYDRA’s chain will always haunt him. Like Natasha, he will be doing penance for committing other people’s crimes for the rest of his life.

Yet somehow this is not good enough for Tony?

It was personal and understandable – until Tony kicked a downed man. That was not the action of a man infuriated beyond reason. That was the act of a man determined to kill.

This is why Cap attacked and would not let up on Tony. This is why he tells his friend, “I can do this all day.” He does not want to do it all day. But he will if that is the only way he can save Bucky’s life and Tony’s soul. Because of all the things Tony has flushed down the toilet, the most valuable thing he almost threw away was his soul at the end of Civil War.

Cap stopped him. He stood between Tony and the abyss, then he carried his friend back from it. He jumped into the breach, not for thanks or for a reward. He did it because Tony is his friend, a friend so determined to blame the man HYDRA made into a weapon that he was unwilling to show him the same mercy and understanding he had previously shown two others with similar histories.

Tony repaid Cap’s selfless act with bitterness and bile, babyishly claiming he did not deserve the shield which Howard Stark had made for him. So Cap left it behind, because it was not worth his friend’s soul to keep it. Tony stopped growing up in Iron Man 3, but it was in Civil War where he made his greatest regression. He humiliated himself by acting like a spoiled, angry child, averse to admit that he was wrong, and Cap was right.

He played right into Zemo’s hands, all the way around. Tony played right into Ross’ hands as well. Ross knew Tony was unprepared for the ire of brainwashed, self-absorbed, grieving people bent on blaming a hero for a criminal’s work. He banked on the belief that Tony would be willing to roll over to registration to make the pain “go away.” Zemo bet Tony would take out his vengeance on Bucky, infuriating Cap and making the super soldier determined to get revenge for his childhood friend’s injury or death.

What Zemo never could understand, however, was Captain America himself. “How nice to find a flaw,” he said when he noticed that there was green in Steve’s blue eyes. (*Author scoffs.*) As if Steve thought of himself as an angel! Cap has never thought of himself as anything but a simple kid from Brooklyn. He never said he was perfect. Others say it about him, but he knows he is not. He is a man. And men in this world are not perfect – though some of them may come awfully close.

Cap battered and fought Tony not out of anger but in an attempt to knock some sense into his friend. He had no intention whatsoever of killing the son of Howard Stark. He had every intention of protecting him from himself. So when the beatings on Tony’s helmet did not work, Cap pulled the plug on his suit. His goal was to make sure his friend did not become a murderer. He had already lost Bucky to HYDRA. He was not going to lose Tony to them, or to that demon others named Helmut Zemo.

By the end of the film, when Stan Lee arrives with a package for ‘Tony Stank,’ he seems to be working that out. Tony may lack the vocabulary to express what he is thinking about, but he is thinking. Otherwise, he would not have put Ross on hold. He would also have torn up the letter after reading it and trashed the phone.

Where Cap’s shield is, we do not know as of Civil War’s end. But without Steve Rogers to wield it, the shield is just a shiny discus hanging on a wall or lying in a box. One of these days, Tony will look at it and realize that. If he thinks deeply enough (a rare feat for him in the films), he may just figure out how close he came to throwing away his immortal soul.

And when he remembers that, when he discovers what exactly he did wrong, he will realize that there was someone “standing in the gap” for him. Not to hurt him, and certainly not to kill him. To save him, Steve fought the hardest, most grueling, worst battle of his life. He threw his soul into the rift to protect Tony’s. And he held, even when his friend churlishly berated and belittled him for it.

Everyone misreads the kid from Brooklyn. Even the stupendously brilliant Tony Stark does not ‘get’ him. Not yet, at any rate. Maybe, just maybe, he will learn what type of friend he has in Steve Rogers.

Only time – and more movies – will tell us that, though.

Excelsior!

The Mithril Guardian