Tag Archives: Avengers: Age of Ultron

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

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Iron Man/Tony Stark

Really, dude?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pepper and Tony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hulk SMASH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that only made things worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch ya later!

The Mithril Guardian

Iron Man

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Ultron and the Vision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where did these two come from?

Avengers Assemble!

The Mithril Guardian

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Thor Odinson

Okay, okay, settle down! There is no need for that much cheering! I know Thor has not been the center of a post on this blog before, and that may lead some to believe he is not well liked by yours truly. It is true that I have never been extremely fascinated with the Prince of Thunder, as others are. Why? Well….I do not really know. Thor just never caught my attention the way that other Marvel characters did. I like him – just not the way many of his fans do.

However, his strength, courtesy, and fierce fighting ability have always impressed me. From the time I saw him in Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes! to the couple of comics that made their way into my collection which featured him, I have respected Thor Odinson.

This made his first movie in 2011 a bit of a disappointment to me when I initially viewed it. Here is the Prince of Thunder, star of his very own movie, and he is acting like a spoiled child…? All I could think was, “This is not the Thor I have gotten to know. Why did they make him such a petulant baby?”

Kind of a scathing opinion, I know. But you Thor fans should be happy to hear that my attitude toward the first movie starring the Thunderer has softened significantly since that early viewing of the film. First impressions are often wrong, and mine was mistaken.

In contrast to his appearance in Thor, the son of Odin came out swinging (literally!) in Marvel’s The Avengers. THIS portrayal of Thor was much more enjoyable for me. Since The Avengers was on my ‘to watch’ list before Thor, it may explain my disappointment with the prior film. I did not realize how much Thor had had to grow and change before The Avengers.

The Dark World continued his story arc, and while the plot may have been a bit thin in places, it was a genuinely good showing for him. Anyone could have been fooled by Loki’s death scene; though we can rest assured that as soon as he is unmasked, the Trickster will be rubbing Thor’s nose in the fact that he was hoodwinked. Again. (Ouch.)

Regardless, Thor came out of The Dark World stronger than ever. He became a true prince, worthy not only of using Mjolnir but of ruling Asgard. How do I know this? The acid test is that Thor understands by the end of the film that being a king is not all fun and games. He knows now that there is “more to being king than getting [his] way all the time.” (Pardon The Lion King reference, readers, but it was begging to be done!)

And this brings us to Avengers: Age of Ultron.

WOW. Thor did very well in this movie. Understandably, he is shown to still be unfamiliar with Earth culture here. But Thor’s naturally limited knowledge of Earth and its cultures does not, after a point, interfere with his friendships. To start off, we will discuss the Avengers Thor seems closest to since the team reassembled sometime between The Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron.

First up, Cap. As was discussed at length in the post “Avengers: Age of Ultron – Captain America/Steve Rogers,” Thor and Cap are very good friends. This is especially interesting because of their different backgrounds. Thor and Steve share similar attitudes, it is true. They protect the innocent, fight for truth and justice (though Thor is a little more emphatic on the ‘fight’ part of that clause), they are each loyal to their values and friends, and they are both in positions of authority.

Where they diverge is that Thor, by his birthright, is heir to an entire realm. He could be a complete wimp (which he is NOT!), or a total fathead with an ego to rival Jupiter (which he almost was), and despite these flaws he would still be the rightful heir to the Asgardian throne.

Thor, however, has become humble enough to turn down his birthright, at least until such time as he cannot avoid taking it up. In contrast, Steve is a commoner. His parents were not rich or well-off by any stretch of the imagination, and he lived in very poor conditions – possibly even before the Great Depression.

Now, just for the sake of clarification, let me say that being a soldier is not the same thing as “following orders,” something Whedon had Cap say in The Avengers. A soldier is not a robot or a puppet, and his function is not to simply “follow orders.” If a soldier is stuck behind enemy lines, or is in some other way unable to get in touch with the guys in charge, then how can he “follow orders”?

Good soldiers are not reliant on orders a hundred percent of the time. They are trained to be true to a code of conduct, the center piece of which is usually patriotism (love of country), and the willingness to defend their fellow citizens against outside aggressors or – God forbid – internal threats.

Too many people today see soldiers as mere marionettes or war machines (sorry Rhodey). Not so. Soldiers are men trained to serve and protect at all costs – even that of their own lives. If you train soldiers to be machines that respond to commands instead of individuals with the brains to accomplish their missions when the situations they are in get worse every minute, then you do not have an army, navy, marine corps, etc. You have robots you can sacrifice at will.

Soldiers are human beings. And human beings are NOT robots.

Soldiers are the thin line of defense between regular civilians and the bad guys. They are asked to deal with horrible, terrifying situations no one should have to experience. But they respond to the call anyway, often without realizing that in doing so they are signing up to be expendable.

Even those who do realize they are agreeing to be “pieces in a game” (thanks, Peeta), will still sign up to be soldiers willingly. They sign the contract and agree to defend their otherwise defenseless fellow citizens. This is why soldiers, true soldiers, are loved by their nation. And this is why traitors are hated so bitterly, as much by the country they side with as the one they betray. A traitor is someone whose only interest is themselves and their own well being. Why should others trust and love them, when they trust and love no one except themselves? (Brutus or Benedict Arnold, anyone?)

The point of the discourse, readers, is that Cap and Thor are in reversed positions. Steve is a soldier; Thor is a prince. The age old order would state that Thor ought to be the man in charge. His is the birthright, and therefore the responsibility of leadership. Right?

In the opening sequences of Thor, the son of Odin would have agreed with that sentiment. But he has learned humility since then. Humility is not, as the popular notion would have us believe, a groveling or simpering attitude toward others. Nor is it excessive self-deprecation, i.e., a great chef may say that he is a simple cook to avoid getting a fat head. (And by saying this, the chef is getting a fat head; because he is making himself proud of his self-perceived humility.)

Real humility is what Thor has shown since he first appeared on the silver screen (in a good way) in 2011. He is a prince and a great warrior. But these things do not prevent him from making breakfast for his friends Erik Selvig, Jane Foster, and Darcy. His heritage does not prevent him from falling in love with a mortal woman, or admitting that he does not have all the answers. And his humility allows him to acknowledge that Cap is the better leader of the Avengers.

This all means that Thor, who already knew how to lead, has learned to follow. In the comics, Thor is reported to have said that not only is Steve the only mortal he will take orders from, but he will follow him to the “gates of Hades” if Steve is leading an attack on the place. (Guess who he would side with if he was in Civil War – and yeah, I know Thor’s clone was on Tony’s side in the comic book conflict. That just goes to show he was a FAKE!!!)

Cap and Thor’s friendship is not founded merely on a “you are better than me” mentality. It is based mostly on respect. Thor, along with anyone else who has half a brain, recognizes Cap’s moral authority over him and the rest of the team. For that reason he is quite amenable to Steve’s leadership and willingly defers to him. It is not about who has the better résumé or pedigree – it is about respect.

Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis had similar friendships between Earth humans and alien humans. Jack O’Neill, leader of the four man SG-1 team, commanded the respect of the Jaffa member of the group: Teal’c. That was why Teal’c joined the SG program, let alone followed Jack’s orders. In Stargate: Atlantis, Colonel John Sheppard commanded the respect of the Satedan warrior and former Wraith runner Ronan – who was not known to respect too many people prior to joining the Atlantis crew! And in Ultron, Thor and Cap show the respect they have for each other through dialogue, tag team tactics, and small gestures of mutual esteem.

This brings us back to the hammer lifting competition Hawkeye began, doesn’t it? What does Thor think of Steve since the latter budged his hammer? It gave him a start, for sure! But if Thor could warm to Vision’s ability to lift Mjolnir, I do not see him grudging Steve use of the weapon.

Does this mean he would have been able to accept Steve lifting the hammer during the after party at the Tower? A debatable point …. perhaps. It was a competition, and Thor was being razzed pretty badly by Tony and (to a lesser degree) by Clint. If Steve had lifted the hammer and proved beyond anyone’s doubt that he was also worthy, Tony and the others would never have let Thor hear the end of it. So Thor would have been in a “bit of spot,” as the British like to say, if Cap had lifted the hammer at the party.

This is, as I have said before, the reason that Steve left the hammer on the table. He budged it. Just touching the hammer should have let him know that he could lift it – a slight tingle of power (unbelievable power, at that), racing up his arms, the hammer vibrating with anticipation, the movement as it shifted in response to his slight tug…. He could lift it. Mjolnir let him know he could.

But doing that would allow everyone present, already poking fun at Thor, to howl with triumph as Steve lifted Mjolnir. Poor Thor would be sitting there, stunned, as the jeers and catcalls flew in joyous exultation when it was proved that he was not the sole beneficiary of Mjolnir’s loyalty.

Steve was not going to do that to Thor. As much as Thor respects him, Steve admires the Prince of Asgard in a similar way. So instead of raising the hammer and giving Thor a “there-you-go” smile, Steve just shifted it. Not enough for everyone to see – but enough for Thor to notice, to remind his friend not to get a swelled head. “Being worthy is a neat trick,” Cap essentially said, “but the enchantment says ‘Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall wield the power of Thor.’ It doesn’t say that you alone can wield it. Anyone who is worthy can use it. Even a kid from Brooklyn.” 😉

Then, to prove that he has no interest in using Thor’s toy, Steve lets it go, raises his hands in rejection, and walks away. Galadriel did something similar in The Fellowship of the Ring, except that she had to make a bigger point to Frodo. Anyone, even the mighty Galadriel, was susceptible to the One Ring’s incredible lure. But temptation can always be refused, as the Lady of Lothlorien refused it. In a similar way, Steve Rogers refused the temptation to take the “power of Thor” for himself.

With that subject ‘hammered’ to death, we will continue down the roster. It is interesting, as I noted in previous posts, that Thor would abandon the battle on Baron Strucker’s HYDRA base in Sokovia to bring the injured Clint Barton to the Aveng-jet. The last time we saw the two in The Avengers, they were arguing over who had first dibs on Loki’s carcass. And Thor still enjoys a good scrap, as all Asgardians do, so leaving in the middle of a fight for any reason is a notable decision of his.

In Ultron, Thor offers to take Clint back to the Aveng-jet for preliminary medical treatment. This is probably a nod to Thor’s original, secret alter ego in the first Marvel Comics: Dr. Don Blake. Thor’s secret identity in those stories as the lame American doctor of Scandinavian descent meant that he had extensive knowledge, as Thor or Blake, of medicine and healing. In other words, he was one hell of a doctor – even as the mighty Thor!

This made him invaluable in a life-or-death situation during the early comics, and the Avengers’ inability to reach Blake when Thor wasn’t present on Midgard often left the team scrambling to find a doctor at least half as capable as he was. It was rare that Thor/Blake had no idea how to help an injured Avenger, as shown in “Even Avengers Can Die!” for instance. (See the post on Marvel Masterworks #2: The Avengers for details on that comic book story – unless you hate spoilers, of course!)

You would think, readers, that when Hawkeye starts the hammer lifting competition in the Tower, Thor might have been inclined to verbally batter his irksome teammate. Conversely, Thor says, “Be my guest,” and gestures toward the hammer. This shows that he respects Clint – even when the latter is being something of a jerk – and is quite willing to humor him.

Thor also does not appear to be utterly bowled over by the revelation that Clint has a family. He seems a little surprised, perhaps, but also accepts Clint’s secret with more equanimity than Tony or Bruce. Cap is only a few seconds slower, as the revelation is a bit of a shock for him and hits him in the wounds Wanda reopened in the African boneyard.

Thor’s “easy” acceptance of Clint’s secret family may be due in part to the fact that his mind is primarily occupied with the vision Wanda showed him in South Africa. Although, considering the frown he shot at the billionaire genius when the other said, “This is an agent of some kind,” about Hawkeye’s wife, this may be a wrong assessment. Thor is much more polite and courteous than Tony ever has been in the film franchise. That would be the reason he shot Tony a “don’t be rude” look for smarting off in front of – and about – their mutual friend’s wife.

On a lighter note, it is funny to see Thor step on Lila Barton’s LEGOs, then try to hide the damage under the table. It seems Thor has finally met a girl who is unimpressed with him. Lila is not happy that her dad’s friend just broke her toy, and it is obvious Thor retreats an inch or two when Lila glares up at him. He is a mighty warrior, but how exactly does one apologize to a friend’s young daughter for accidentally breaking a toy one did not see? They do not really cover that in etiquette classes – Asgard’s or Midgard’s etiquette classes – and that makes Thor’s retreat a hundred percent understandable.

From what I know, Thor and Hawkeye have never truly been at odds with each other in the comics. Oh, I am sure they have argued – and if Clint never took verbal potshots at the Thunderer in the comics, then he was either very sick or unconscious. Clint will shoot his mouth off to anyone, friend or foe, no matter how powerful they are!

Despite this, Hawkeye and Thor are shown to have a fairly strong friendship in Ultron. Though he does not understand why Thor would help bring Vision to life in the Tower, Clint seems willing to believe that Thor would not activate the new being just for kicks. He is more dubious of Wanda’s opinions, but she can manipulate minds, as we know. She brought down the whole team, and Clint’s been on the inside of a “mind control thing.” That kind of thing leaves one naturally wary of trusting a person capable of messing with other people’s brains.

Still, this wariness was directed toward the Maximoff girl. If he had had the time, Clint might have asked Thor point blank, his expression somewhat perplexed: “Just what are you doing here, exactly? First you plan to choke the life out of Stark for building Ultron, then you turn around and help bring this new android of his and Ultron’s to life? There really should be a point to all of this.”

And Thor probably would have responded by shrugging in a “yeah, I know, but listen” manner and gone on with the explanation he gave in the film.

Thor and Clint’s friendship is not built on the same kind of respect that is the base of the son of Odin’s allegiance to Cap. Hawkeye and Thor are not peers; they have very little in common with regard to their backgrounds or skills. But Clint does respect the Prince of Asgard – and not because of his rank. He has a high opinion of Thor’s dedication to protecting the Earth, as well as his humility. You have to have some respect for a guy who is willing to abandon a battle midway through for your sake, readers. It is rather ungrateful if you do not, first and foremost; more to the point, it is stupid not to appreciate the gesture.

It is possible that Thor respects Clint precisely for his penchant for throwing jibes that are aimed as well as his arrows. Clint is a complete mortal – he has none of his teammates’ assets. Yet he still faces everything they fight against without complaining, even when he is injured. It is hard not to admire a guy who will take a pounding and pick himself up afterward to keep on fighting. Clint is not an incautious man. Thor learned that when he found out the archer had a family. But he is a brave man and Thor, like all Asgardians, holds courage in more esteem than any other characteristic.

Plus, it helps to have someone who is willing to say, “You’re getting a fat head, pal,” without showing fear of the possible repercussions. As Thor learned when Cap budged the hammer, Clint was partially right: the enchantment was not a trick, but the prince of Asgard was getting cocky and sliding toward old, bad habits. Clint probably knew deep down that he did not have a prayer of being able to lift or move Mjolnir. But he figured someone on the team did, and whether or not he suspected that person would be Cap, Thor still learned that he was not the only Avenger capable of lifting the hammer.

This was slammed home to him especially when Vision handed him the hammer Steve had so ceremoniously refused to lift a couple of days earlier. Thor is shown talking to the android on the balcony not long after this, while the team is gearing up for the showdown with Ultron.

We have no idea what they are speaking about, but Thor is arguably the one Avenger capable of outmatching Vision’s power. He also knows that Vision has just been “born.” Ultron went berserk after he was “born,” and that was despite J.A.R.V.I.S.’s best efforts to calm him down! Thor does not want Vision to follow the same path, so it would make sense that he would take special care to talk to Vision, making sure he had not just helped Tony Stark compound his first mistake.

Another mark of Thor’s growing friendship with Vision is the chat they have in the church in Novi Grad. Finally, Thor gets to talk about Mjolnir with someone who knows the weapon almost as well as he himself does! Cap, after all, never actually lifted the hammer. He knows it is powerful, but he does not know how “terribly well-balanced” it is or how to “avoid losing power on the swing,” and so on. Thor, not necessarily the most trusting Avenger, shows a great deal of faith in the Vision when he tells Cap and Tony not to worry about the android keeping the Mind Stone. It remains to be seen if he is right not to worry, of course, but it is quite the gesture on Thor’s part.

Thor’s relationship with Natasha and Bruce is not easy to determine right off the bat. Obviously, Widow should not have asked the Thunderer for a report on the Hulk’s job at the Sokovian HYDRA base. (Seriously, what did she expect?!?) Coming from a realm where it is still bad manners not to treat a woman like a lady, Thor certainly seems to hold Natasha in high regard as a friend and fellow warrior, to a lesser extent than he regards Sif. But the fact is that he’s known Sif longer than he has known Natasha. We know that Jane Foster holds his heart, but Thor appears to consider the Black Widow a good friend and capable teammate.

For her part, Natasha shows Thor a great deal of deference. She does not accept the challenge to lift Mjolnir, saying self-deprecatingly, “Oh, no. That’s not a question I need answered.” What she was saying, of course, is that she knew she was not worthy. She had nothing to prove in the competition and nothing to lose by avoiding it. That about sums up her friendship with Thor right there.

As for Bruce, I do not think Thor was very angry at him for helping to build Ultron. Most of his ire was directed at Tony, since he was the mastermind behind the plan. Besides, Bruce admitted that he had been wrong to help build Ultron. Instead of apologizing for building a “murder bot,” Tony defended his actions. Since Tony can talk almost anyone into doing practically anything, for that reason, Thor probably decided to let Bruce slide.

Considering the fact that Thor tried very hard to walk back what he thought was a compliment on the Hulk’s performance at Strucker’s base, it is reasonable to assume he is sympathetic to Bruce’s issues. He makes it clear that he respects the Hulk for the other’s strength. But he also respects Bruce for the strength it takes to control the “Beast.”

Thor’s friendship with Tony is somewhat rocky in this film. It was never the greatest to start with – which is Tony’s fault. Who went and knocked the Prince of Asgard off a cliff again? Oh, yeah: Tony Stark, the self-described “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.” Tony, as a Marvel fan, I have something to tell you. You are brilliant – unequivocally so. But you ain’t that bright!

Now, Tony and Thor actually have a lot in common. They were both “born to the purple,” and – for a certain amount of time – they were both idiots. No, Thor never sank to Tony’s lows, but he was still a monumental egotist.

The point where they diverge is in their separate reactions to their past sins. Tony has reacted by feeling guilty and trying to make up for the wrongs that he committed in the past. This has led to him making successively worse mistakes in his present. Thor, on the other hand, reacted by finding and then walking the straight and narrow road. Where Tony refuses to take correction when he makes a mistake, Thor is quite willing to listen when Cap, Hawkeye, or one of the others says, “Time to make a course correction, big guy. You’re slipping again.”

It might be that this is one of the reasons why Thor is so ticked with Tony for building Ultron. Making up for past mistakes is not possible. You can say, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me,” but then you have to live with the other person’s response and the consequences of your mistake. You cannot get even for the past, as a friend of mine says. “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery,” as Master Oogway from Kung Fu Panda said. Tony is too busy feeling the weight of his past while fearing and peering into the future to see beyond the end of his own nose. Thor, on the other hand, knows the next half of Oogway’s admonition, “…today is a gift! That is why it is called the present!” and he therefore lives accordingly.

The reason Thor “doesn’t get” why Earth “needs” Ultron is because he understood that Ultron was not necessary. Earth had him and the Avengers as its champions. And if they fell, others would rise. Thor clearly has a great amount of faith in the human or ‘mortal’ race. Tony does not, and furthermore, he will not admit that. He tried to justify building Ultron, essentially disrespecting himself and all of humanity with the statement that Earth “needed” Ultron for protection from outside aggressors. That really got under Thor’s skin and made him angry.

Now unlike Tony, Thor did get a glimpse of future events when Wanda messed with his mind. He knows that the dancing of dead Asgardians in Hel was probably an illusion – but there was truth mixed in with the fantasy. That is what he goes to find when he searches out Eric Selvig and the “water of sight” after leaving the Barton farm.

But does this mean that Thor’s vision in the dream well changed his attitude toward Iron Man? After all, he helped activate the Vision.

No, I do not think Thor’s faith in humanity has been shaken just yet – if it ever will be. Thor understands that his vision was not a prophecy of destruction but a warning. He knows the future is not written in stone, that these “shadows” need “not remain unaltered.” Somewhere down the line, one simple act of kindness or goodness can upend an evil plan like that. (*Author snaps fingers.*) Thor realizes that his vision was a notice that he and his friends were being used. Through his dream he learned that things are about to get much, much harder. And they are going to get hard very fast.

This again highlights the differences in Thor and Tony’s reactions to past sins. Thor’s response to his vision was different from Tony’s reaction to his hallucination. He did not act in fear; he looked for answers. And when he found those answers, he pursued a specific course of action to prepare for the battle he knows is building somewhere on the horizon.

Thor realizes in the dream well that the Infinity Stones have something to do with the coming storm. Knowing what he does about the Infinity Stones, Thor recognizes that they have to be guarded. Locking them up in the basement on Asgard or the core of a dead, dark world are not good enough precautionary measures. These powerful rocks have an ungraciously bad habit of being discovered by the wrong people and then being used for destruction.

The Stones have to be hidden, yes, but they also have to be kept separate. And they need to be protected. This is why the Tesseract is in Odin’s basement, the Collector was given the Aether, the Nova Corps is keeping the Power Stone… and this is why Thor helped bring Vision to life. The Infinity Stones are powerful enough to wipe out and then remake the universe a number of times over when used together, according to Marvel lore. They cannot be entrusted to just anyone. (This, naturally, makes one wonder why Sif and Volstagg gave the Aether to the Collector. Whatever Loki has up his sleeve, it is going to be nasty.)

Thor saw Vision in his…vision. And he saw him as an ally. Learning about Tony’s latest science project, he recognized the android from his vision and helped bring the creature to life.

This is why he spends so much time with Vision prior to the battle in Sokovia. Thor wants to make sure that this new being understands the universe around him, his place in it, and the very important job Thor is entrusting to him. He is handing Vision the job of watching over his friends while he leaves to take care of other business. Essentially, he is entrusting the keys to his treasure vault (Earth and the Avengers), to a totally new being with zero experience. He does not want to hand that responsibility off to just anybody. Whoever he entrusts the Avengers to has to be of good character and a worthy person. Lifting Mjolnir kind of gave Vision the bulk of the necessary “street cred,” as it were.

But it was not enough. Thor trusts his hammer, but he also wants to interview the candidate. That is what I think he did at the Tower, in the church, and before he left Midgard. His questions, hurried as they may have been, were answered to his satisfaction nonetheless. This is the reason he tells Cap and Tony not to worry about the Vision. “He can lift the hammer, he can wield the Stone. It is safe with the Vision.”

Tony is not willing to do that sort of thing. Instead of relying on his friends, he tries to “control what won’t be,” to quote the Vision. Thor learned long ago that this is stupidity of the highest order. While he eventually mellows toward Tony again – perhaps remembering that, in the past, he was as capable as Tony of making similar, or worse, mistakes – he learned and changed. Maybe, just maybe, Thor hopes, Tony will learn, too.

Then the more impatient part of him adds, He’d better learn it soon, or I AM going to hit him this time around.

Well, readers, this is not the glowing report I was planning to write about Thor’s part in Age of Ultron, wandering off topic as I did. But Thor is not easy for me to write about. I enjoy him, but not as much as other characters. It is hard for me to get inside his head after a point.

Hopefully this article was still illuminating to some degree. I really did like Thor’s portrayal in Age of Ultron, and this post is my first post talking about him. So, without further ado, readers…

For Asgard (and Midgard)!!!

The Mithril Guardian

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Bruce Banner/Hulk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are superhero movies art? Not exactly.

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

Are these films fun? You bet!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It turned out to be really, really bad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I say they have no idea what love really is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce (concerned): “How is he?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SMASH!

The Mithril Guardian

Hulk SMASH

More Marvel Fan Fiction: An Avengers’ Easter

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

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

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

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

The Mithril Guardian

An Avengers’ Easter

by The Mithril Guardian

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters.

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

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

“The boys only have ten!” Wanda laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sounds a little lonely.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. I guess I do.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When was that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She’s not like that anymore.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you saying he hates us?”

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

“And Bruce became untouchable –”

“Because he was with us.” Clint nodded.

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

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

“And he can control who our members are.”

“Among other things, yeah.”

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

“How?”

“You remember Senator Stern?”

“The senator HYDRA had?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s that?” asked Wanda.

“Being mortal.”

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

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

“Then settle for being a regular one!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wanda nodded. “I know.”

Clint sighed. “I am sorry – ”

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

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

They said nothing for a long time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clint’s only response was a nod.

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

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

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

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

“What were you speaking about?”

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

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

“Why?”

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

“You mean they want to make us slaves.”

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

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

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

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

“After a fashion.” The girl shrugged.

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

She paled. “But they don’t know –”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve smiled.

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


“Spent today in a conversation

In the mirror face to face with

somebody less than perfect…


I wouldn’t choose me first if

I was looking for a champion,

In fact I’d understand if

You picked everyone before me,

But that’s just not my story!

 

True to who You are

You saw my heart

and made

Something out of nothing – ”



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


“He knows my name!

I’m not living for applause –

I’m already so adored!

It’s all His stage

He knows my name!

He knows my name!”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE END