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Captain America: Civil War – Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow

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There is very little in the Black Widow’s life that is straightforward.  While competent and practical, Natasha has not always made the right decision in every situation.  This is normal enough; everyone makes mistakes.  It is part of being human.

The problem comes when a person refuses to admit and acknowledge that he has blundered.  Cap is quite willing to admit that he and his team have made mistakes.  It is impossible not to do so.  The idea that slip-ups can be eradicated from humanity is silly.  The sad thing is that some of the Avengers have been infected by this notion that accidents, errors, and mistakes can be “removed” from humanity.  These Avengers would be none other than Tony Stark, James Rhodes, Vision, and Natasha Romanoff.

Now Vision has an excuse, because he is a one-year-old who is still learning about the world from the position of an adult.  Tony, Rhodey, and especially Natasha, do not have any such shield.  They are older and they have far more experience.  They should know better; they should know how to close their ears to such siren calls.  Unfortunately, neither the guys nor Natasha appear to have learned their lessons.

Our first look at Natasha is in Lagos, Nigeria.  And one of the most obvious things about her appearance is that she has again let her hair grow out.  Changing hairstyles, however, are soon shown to be the least of the upgrades Natasha has made.  It is shown that she has also moved up to the full-bore “stingers” of the comics.  These neat little gizmos fire out miniature bolts or “stingers” which act as tazers, minus the strings.  They can deliver up to 30,000 volts into an opponent’s body and they hurt.

But apparently they do not bother Crossbones very much.  Perhaps he now has a far higher tolerance for pain than he did previously.  After Widow tries to zap him unconscious or at least dizzy, he simply rolls his neck and proclaims, “That don’t work on me no more!”  Rumlow then ungraciously beats her up and throws her into his own attack vehicle, tossing in a grenade for good measure.  Natasha downs the two goons sharing the improvised hearse with her, using one as a shield to block the worst of the explosion.  But she is still left gasping and groaning on the ground afterward.

Once she is able to get up and move around, her next act is to track down two of the four mercenaries helping Crossbones and possibly carrying the bio-weapon he has stolen.  Lucky her, the prey she is chasing happens to have the germ in hand.  And they are quite willing to drop the bug on the ground so that it will infect the city and spread out from there.  Only the timely arrival of Sam’s drone, Redwing, allows her to grab the bottled death and save everybody.

There follows a cute trading of quips as Sam tells her to thank Redwing instead of him, with Widow maintaining that she will not, under any circumstances, thank a machine.  Sam’s suggestion that she pet Redwing probably went over like a lead balloon, too.

The moment ends when three floors of a skyscraper are destroyed by Rumlow’s failsafe plan, twenty-six people are killed, and Wanda lands in the media hot seat for not paying as much attention to her surroundings as she could have.  Yay….

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With this big PR mess in the Avengers’ collective lap – the biggest since Age of Ultron – Secretary of State Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross swoops in for the kill.  Raised in the Soviet mold from childhood, Natasha has never quite shaken off its the residual influences.  No, she is not a Communist or a Soviet, the main proof of this being her respect for and her love of children.  Under the Communist regime, children were taught to spy on their parents and report them to the government for any number of “traitorous” activities, especially teaching or practicing Christianity.

Natasha has not forgotten that the government is bigger than her, stronger than her, and if it decides to hurt her it can do whatever it wants to her – and no one will be able to stop it.  This is the legacy of the Red Room in Natasha’s life.  They not only made her their weapon, forcing her to kill people in their place, they abused her in order to make her their “hand.”  Along with the other girls the Red Room operators did their best to “mold” her to their design, resulting in a finished product without soul and scant – if any – of her individual self remaining.

Recognizing that the U.N. wants to shut the Avengers down, Natasha becomes afraid.  Having escaped from the prison that was the Soviet Union, only to become chained to a SHIELD that had been corrupted by HYDRA, Natasha truly desires to fight for truth, justice, and the American Way.  She wants to make a difference, she wants to save lives.  The best way to do that is by maintaining her Avengers’ membership.

But remembering all the things she has done wrong in the past, Natasha decides that she may need oversight at this time in her career.  She says as much in the discussion in the Compound.  Then Tony points out that she has, for the first time in living memory, publicly agreed with him and she admits that she wants to take her words back.  Even while she is holding out her hands and waiting for the cuffs to be slapped on her wrists, Natasha admits that she really does not want to do this.

That is what she said about the Red Room’s “graduation ceremony,” too, though, and we know her protests did not stop that.

The next time we see Natasha, she is talking to Steve after Peggy Carter’s funeral.  He knows that there is more than mere friendliness in her visit.  Though the vote was split on whether or not to sign the Accords as a team, Ross’ deadline has come and gone.  Natasha and the others have agreed to put on the invisible shackles the U.N. wanted them to wear.  That was obvious in the meeting.

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Having lost the last, best link to his old life, dreams, and aspirations, this news is more than Steve feels that he can bear.  You can hear it in the way his voice creaks as he asks, “Then why are you here?”  The die is cast.  The Rubicon has been crossed.  War is looming, because Cap will not rescind his membership in the Avengers, and he will not bow to the tyrants in the U.N. who are demanding that he kneel before them.  But some of his teammates, his friends, have done this.  This can only mean one thing: war.

This is the first time Natasha has ever seen Steve on the brink of breaking down.  She has never known him to be anything less than rock solid, just like the planet she stands on.  But with his voice nearly cracking, it hits her just how much pain he is in.  The loss of Peggy is bad enough; her death on top of the Accords, the division of his team, is overwhelming for him.  He is dangerously close to an emotional collapse.

Natasha’s reply is a shaky one as she tries not only to keep her empathy from spilling over, but to hold herself together despite her fear and the premonition of impending disaster.  “I didn’t want you to be alone,” she answers.  Following this, for the first time in recorded Marvel Cinematic history, she throws down the emotional barricade she uses to protect herself and hugs Steve.

It has to be one of the most powerful scenes in the movie.  I was stunned, and not by Cap’s emotions; I sympathized with him keenly.  But Natasha’s response to him was astounding.  She has never been what one would call touchy-feely; she prefers to keep her emotional distance from most people.  Bruce was a notable exception – and a surprising one.

This makes her hugging Steve Rogers when he is so emotionally low an enormous event.  They are close friends, but the only one Natasha has ever let inside the “garden gate” of her emotional domain that we have seen is Clint.  And they never touched each other in that encounter, since the circumstances and time were not on their side.  Her decision to hug Steve when he is at his lowest ebb, to be an emotional support for him in such a painful moment – this is huge, readers.  It is out of the usual bounds of her character.  Black Widow is typically the epitome of the “suck it up and move on” mentality.  And so when she ends up in the emotional dumps, it is her friends who need to support her.

But here she is, hugging Steve Rogers when he really needs a friend.  She is the one giving moral support, and to a man we think would never need it.  Here Natasha disregards all of her customary caution in order to be an emotional life preserver for Captain America.  It is a momentous decision, and it colors a lot of what she does later in the movie….

…Starting with her attendance of the ratification of the Sokovia Accords.  Having spent most of her life out of the public eye, Widow looks completely ill at ease amidst the dignitaries, journalists, et al within in the U.N. building.  But when a polite young black man comes up and addresses her, she manages to relax a little.

At least, she relaxes until the King of Wakanda, her conversation partner’s father, walks up and greets her.  Then she realizes the young man she has been trading easy banter with is none other than the prince and heir apparent to the kingdom of Wakanda:  T’Challa.

When T’Chaka brings up the fact that Steve has not signed the Accords and is not even attending the ratification of the law, Widow swallows.  Their last meeting being what it was, and the knowledge that she is essentially breaking faith with a man who has never broken faith with her, means that T’Chaka’s words make Natasha very uncomfortable.  Hiding her feelings as best she can, she thanks T’Chaka and then quickly but politely goes to find her seat.

Listening attentively to the King of Wakanda’s speech not long afterward, Natasha is almost as startled by his son’s warning shout as everybody else.  Then her well-honed combat instincts kick in, allowing her to help the person seated next to her dive for cover –

And then there is an explosion, glass is flying, and smoke is clawing its way down her throat.  By the time she gets up – and as an Avenger, I would think it was a very short time – Natasha realizes that several people have died in the blast.  King T’Chaka is among them, but his son has somehow survived.  The scene following the explosion, which shows T’Challa trying to find his father’s pulse and then breaking down into tears as it becomes clear he is dead, is probably the first thing Natasha saw when she got out from under the table.

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While she barely knows T’Challa, Natasha finds herself once again in the position of offering what comfort she can to a wounded soul.  Where Steve knew he needed the supporting strength of a true friend, though, T’Challa’s pain pushes everything except the ache in his heart away from him.  Natasha is not pushed back as far as some.  She was there and saw what happened; she understands at least a little about T’Challa and his relationship with his father.  So he does not push her away completely.  He makes it clear, though, that she can no more dissuade him from his mission to hunt down his father’s murderer than anyone else could.

Natasha watches him go and sighs.  What a hell of a day it has been for her.  As if things were not bad enough, now Steve’s old friend has been thrown into the mix.  And the new king of Wakanda is determined to kill him.  Yippee….

Things go from bad to worse when Steve calls her and asks if she is okay.  Hearing the European sirens on the phone line, Natasha realizes Steve is not far away, possibly watching her.  And if he is this close, then he knows that Bucky has been accused of the bombing.

Knowing Steve as well as she does, Natasha rightly surmises that he intends to go after Bucky himself.  Since he did not agree to the Accords, which are now law, this will make him an international vigilante and criminal, along with whoever helps him in any way.  That earlier foreboding of impending disaster growing inside her soul, Natasha desperately tries to make Steve reconsider what he is going to do.  But having been in a similar situation when Loki bespelled Hawkeye, she knows she will not be able to discourage him.  When Steve makes it plain he will be going after Bucky, to hell with the Accords, Natasha blurts out, “Why?!

Steve points out the obvious: if Bucky has truly gone off the deep end, only he stands a chance of bringing him in without dying in the attempt.  The other unspoken point which Natasha knows is that, if Bucky is somehow innocent of the bombing, Cap will not leave his old friend to be murdered for a crime he did not commit.

Now she has two people hunting the same man, each with totally different objectives in mind.  Great.  Just great.

Later, after German Special Forces bring Cap, Falcon, T’Challa, and Bucky in, Natasha cannot help rubbing Steve’s face in it a little bit.  “See?” she says.  “This is what worse looks like.”

Translation: “Now everybody wants your star-spangled hide along with Barnes’.  And Sam’s jet pack would go well with both, in their opinion. You have just made everything so much harder for all of us with your blind sentiment for this guy.”

The translation of Steve’s response – “He’s alive” – is this:  “I’d have done it for any one of you, Natasha.  And this war was not my idea.  It wasn’t Bucky’s, either.  I’m not blind, I know he’s not who he used to be, but the fact is that something else is going on here which we don’t see yet.  Keep your eyes open.”

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Natasha does this, which means that she sees Sharon Carter turn on the intercom so Steve can hear Bucky’s “evaluation.”  Instead of tattling on them, or going in herself to shut off the intercom, Natasha simply turns away and acts as though she saw nothing.  Why?

It is hard to say.  Maybe she has been playing with the situation in her head for the last few minutes, too, and has noticed that something is not adding up.  Like the others, she still assumes that Steve is too blinded by sentiment to see what a danger Bucky can be.  Either way, something must have been niggling at her, though friendship alone would have demanded that she “see nothing” for a moment.

Not long after this, the lights go out and Bucky gets loose.  Natasha knows that Steve and Sam have nothing to do with knocking out the base’s power.  It is not their style.  Besides which, Steve does not want to use underhanded tactics to clear Bucky.  He wants the truth.

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With Tony and Sharon’s help, Natasha attempts to bring down the Winter Soldier.  But things go about as well this time as they did before, and the pre-programmed detachment which has overwritten his mind means that Bucky is quite willing to kill her – again.  What is different this time is that it is T’Challa who comes to her rescue, not Steve.  (Working his way up from the bottom of an elevator shaft, he had a good excuse.)

After this battle Steve, Sam, and Bucky fly the coop.  Then Ross barges into the building as Natasha and Tony are licking their wounds, telling them that things have gotten out of hand completely again and he is the one who has been deputized to clean up the mess.  Natasha, growing more and more uncomfortable with Ross’ threats, finally growls, “What happens when the shooting starts – are you going to kill Captain America?”

It is her only ace in the hole: the U.S. government would not kill their beloved national icon –

Right?

Ross crushes that hope faster than he would a cigarette.  “If we’re provoked,” is his flat retort.  Tony, as desperate to protect Steve as Natasha is, talks Ross into giving them time to track down and catch the three on their own.  After all, there is no way any unit of men and women – short of the whole U.S. military, Ross’ bludgeon of choice – could bring down two Avengers and a former Soviet killing machine.

Ross agrees to the bargain, but states that they only have thirty-six hours, not the requested seventy-two.  He stomps off and Tony leans back in his seat with a tired sigh.  This is again a case of the remedy being worse than the disease – if the freedom to be responsible and to do your duty can be deemed a “disease.”  The Accords have not saved or helped anyone.  They have only led to more injury and death.  And, even without Bucky’s presence in this kerfuffle, the U.N. and Ross would be using the bombing to tear the Avengers apart.  Ross admitting that they will kill Cap if he gets in their way has nothing to do with his affection for his old pal Bucky.  It has everything to do with the fact that he is operating outside of Ross’ and the U.N.’s control.

Natasha and Tony discuss their options, with Widow observing that the numerical odds are not in their favor.  Tony asks if she has any idea of where the Hulk may be, to which she asks, “Do you really think he would be on our side?”  Thus the Hulk remains “lost” for the rest of the film, prompting the two to go off to recruit new allies.

Tony zips away to Queens to pick up Spider-Man while Natasha goes downstairs to recruit T’Challa, almost fighting a member of the Dora Milaje in the process.  I agree with the Black Panther: it would be highly entertaining to see the Black Widow in a match with a member of the King of Wakanda’s bodyguard/ceremonial wives corps.  While my money is on Natasha winning the engagement, the thing is that it would be an amazing duel to watch.  Popcorn and a soft drink would be mandatory for the viewing.

Now we come to the battle which has been brewing since Ross proposed the Accords:  the Avengers, divided into two factions, fight each other in an evacuated German airport.  Natasha has been sensing it coming, like the buildup of a thunderstorm in the air.  She knew it was on the horizon.  She just hoped it could be avoided.

But it cannot be circumvented, not now.  Things have gone too far – Team Iron has gone too far.  This is shown most pointedly when Natasha nearly kicks her old partner in the head, only to be stopped by the Scarlet Witch.

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Wanda’s response to Natasha’s attack is actually very controlled and not nearly as hard as it could be.  Remember, the girl dropped something like ten cars onto Iron Man’s head.  T’Challa and Rhodey both get harder treatment from her as well; she threw Black Panther about a football field away from Bucky to save his life, and she had no problem banging Rhodey in the head with whatever big, heavy metallic objects were nearby.  So she has no qualms about playing rough.

In marked contrast, she threw Natasha a much shorter distance.  Though she threw her hard enough to keep her down, she could have done far worse.  Instead, she just whammed Natasha into a small trailer hard enough to put a decent dent in the metal and keep Widow out of the fight.

This is probably where that scene from the trailer, which I noted early last year in the post “Captain America: Civil War – Trailer 2 Break Down,” came from.  While it is cut from the theater version of the film, I bet that the scene of Natasha standing up in front of that trailer, tears forming in her eyes, fits into the fight not long after Wanda tells Clint that he was “pulling [his] punches.”

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Why does Natasha begin to cry?  She begins to cry for the same reason that we flinched, whimpered, and bit back moans as we watched certain parts of the battle in the airport the first time.  She is watching her battle family as it is torn apart.  And she is realizing that this is not Steve’s fault; he is just doing his job.  Even if Bucky were not involved in this fiasco, Steve would be here.  He is, as Ultron pointed out, “God’s righteous man.”  He serves God, and when God’s laws are broken – as they were in Vienna – Cap is going to go after the perpetrator because it is the right and just thing to do.  The rest of the people on Team Cap are the same way.

But what about Team Iron?  Why are they here?  Spider-Man is along for the ride because he has stars in his eyes.  He is in awe of Tony; what is he going to do, turn down his idol’s request for help?  T’Challa is in the battle to pursue vengeance/justice for his father’s death.  Vision is here because – as the quintessential academic without real world experience – the Accords appear rational and therefore reasonable to him who is too “young” to consider the possible and probable secret agendas of those who have propagated this “law.”  Plus, they need numerical support to bring in the “rogue” Avengers.  Rhodey is here because orders are orders; he is a “perfect” soldier who follows orders to a T, whether he likes them or not.  Tony is here because he signed the Accords, thinking it would be a nice insurance policy for the team.

And Natasha is here….  Why is she here?

The question hits her like a bolt out of the blue.  Why is she here?  Why is she trying to hurt her friends?  She knows Steve, Clint, Sam, and Wanda very well.  She knows that they would never go against a law without a very good reason.  They would never drag a stranger (Ant-Man), into a fight without an extremely compelling motive.  They would never, ever fight their teammates without a damn good cause.  The fact that they are doing all of these things means that they have to have an earth-shatteringly good purpose for being here.

So who should she trust more – some empty suits in the U.N., or the people who have become her family?

The answer is obvious: she trusts and loves only the people who have proved that they trust and love her.  No matter her past sins and mistakes, no matter her foibles and flaws, these people care about her, who she is and who she can be.  The U.N. does not care about Natasha Romanoff.  They are using her, Tony, Rhodey, Vision – and through them T’Challa and Spider-Man – to gain control of the Avengers for their own purposes.  Not once have any of the Avengers ever used her.  They have given her nothing but their friendship and trust.

And right here, right now, she is breaking that trust, all in the name of protecting her friends and the human race.

This is why she leaves the main battlefield and retreats to the Aveng-jet, where Steve and Bucky meet her.  When Natasha says, “I can’t stop you,” to Steve, what is she really saying?  Is she saying, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”?  Is she saying, “You’re going to go on no matter what I say or do, so I may as well throw my lot in with you”?

Or is she really saying, “I can’t stop you because you’re right, your cause is just, and I have made one of the biggest mistakes of my life by getting in your way and signing the stupid Accords”?

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The latter seems to be the more probable answer.  Instead of shooting Cap or Bucky with her stingers, Natasha zaps T’Challa – several times.  Getting out of the duo’s way and her own path, she finds that fighting is suddenly a whole lot easier.  She likes T’Challa, of course, but the fact is that he is hunting the wrong man and planning to hurt her friend Steve to do it.  She cannot and will not let that happen.

So she holds T’Challa long enough for Steve to get the jet in the air.  Then the jet’s landing gear does the rest.

When we see Natasha next, she is trying to reach out to Tony to make him straighten up and fly right.  She points out that Steve is not going to stop.  He cannot stop.  He has to be out, fighting for an honorable cause, promoting God, truth, and justice because it is his nature.  Tony and the Accords cannot take that away from him.  It is impossible.

So the only way that the two of them, along with Rhodey, Vision, and the other Avengers can survive is to join with Steve, not fight him.  Fighting him is fighting a losing battle; as El Cid (played by Charlton Heston) pointed out in the movie of the same name, “It matters not how many are the foes, my cause is just.”  A man on a just mission is unstoppable, because justice is one of God’s attributes.  Whoever is on the side of true justice is on God’s side.

Tony is in no mood to hear this, least of all from Natasha.  Rhodey’s injury in this foolish battle has angered him, but so has Cap’s persistent refusal to come to his side.  Tony wants to be liked, confusing it for being right.  That is why he refuses to let Steve go and to let Natasha off the hook for allowing Cap to take the jet, accusing her of holding tight to her history as a spy and an assassin playing both sides of the argument in the process.

This was the wrong thing for him to say to her.  For a start, it was cruel and childish; he said what he knew would hurt her most.  Second, it showed that Tony was in this fight now not because he believed it was the right thing to do, but because his ego was damaged.

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That is what makes Natasha angry enough to say, “Are you incapable of letting go of your ego for one god-damn second?”  Then she extrapolates, telling him, “We played this wrong.”  She is not just referring to the airport battle.  She is talking about the whole fracas with the Accords.  From the moment Ross threw the booklet down at their feet, she, Tony, Rhodey, and Vision have “played this” whole thing the wrong way.  They have been in it only for themselves.

Steve, Clint, Sam, and Wanda have been fighting for the greater good.  Team Cap has been fighting the real fight, the true battle, the just war.  They are the ones who have actually been fighting for a higher cause: the protection of the human race.  Team Iron has been fighting simply to justify their collective mistake.

Tony proves he is unmoved by her argument when he warns her that “they’re comin’” for Natasha.  The manner of his speech, the way he turns to face her, the sad smirk he gives her – it is all so condescending.  His body language screams, “I am warning you just because we were friends, not because you earned it.  You cost me my battle and my friend’s back.  You are dead to me.”  Like a petty child, he is not willing to stand and fight to protect her.  He will warn her under the radar that she has to run, but as for helping her to avoid imprisonment, she is on her own.

This is betrayal.  And it infuriates Natasha for two reasons.  One, it implies that Tony only cares about her when she agrees with him.  Otherwise, he could give a fig for her.

And two, Rhodey’s injury is not her fault.  Neither is it Steve’s, Bucky’s, or Team Cap’s responsibility.  Vision is the one who shot Rhodey’s arc reactor.  And, as a friend pointed out during another viewing of the film, Vision missed Sam even before he moved to avoid his shot.  Vision’s aim was off from the start.  Even if Sam had not gotten out of the way, the laser would have missed him and hit Rhodey.  Rhodey’s lifting up slightly and banking left probably saved his life.  It put his arc reactor in the line of fire rather than his direct center of mass.

So if Rhodey’s injury is Vision’s fault, what does that mean? Let me answer that with another question:  who is responsible for Vision’s creation?

That is right, Tony is.  He made Ultron, who made Vision’s body, which the Avengers then stole and Tony reprogrammed (with Bruce’s help).  When you come right down to it, the reason Rhodey was shot was because of Tony.  Tony helped bring the android which fired the shot into the world.  And this “civil war” which tore apart the Avengers began when Tony signed the Accords.  The entire mess can be laid right at his iron-booted feet.  Again.

Are the Accords truly “splitting the difference”?  How is signing up to be the U.N.’s lapdog working out for Tony now, huh, readers?

It is not working out for Natasha.  Right after warning Tony to “watch [his] back”, Black Widow vanishes from the scene, abandoning Stark rather than following him into further error.  Where she is and what she is doing now is anybody’s guess; whether or not she has joined or will link up with the “Secret Avengers” remains to be seen.  We can certainly hope that she will join them, but it appears that she, Team Cap, and T’Challa will be officially “off the grid” until Infinity War and its sequel.

It is going to be quite the reunion during the next Avengers film, nyet, readers?

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A Review of Avengers Assemble’s “Inhumans Among Us”

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I have said many times that I do not enjoy the X-Men movies currently being produced by Fox Studios.  The films are focused mostly on special effects, noir themes, and have too little hopefulness in them.  The characters – aside from Wolverine and a fortunate few others – receive very scattered, haphazard treatments which do not help them grow and which do not exercise their individuality to the full.  I am continually bewildered by reviewers who proclaim that the latest X-Man film is a hit.  The X-Men franchise is barely treading water compared to the Avengers’ franchise, from the numbers I remember having seen.

What does this have to do with the Avengers Assemble episode “Inhumans Among Us”?  In this show, Blackbolt and the Inhuman royal family of Attilan descend on a town which has been doused in contaminated Terrigen Mist.  This results in a human from the town, who has Inhuman heritage, undergoing Terrigenisis – the process by which Inhumans gain their superpowers.

For those who do not know about the X-Men or the Inhumans, the two have their similarities and their differences.  Marvel’s X-Men are a superhero team composed of mutants.  In the Marvel Universe(s), mutants are humans born with an advanced X-gene.  This gene usually activates in the mutant’s teen years, giving them access to superpowers built into their DNA.  This occasionally leads to their transforming in appearance physically to resemble an animal or to appear non-human in some other manner.  Some mutants can use their powers or look different from birth, but most discover their abilities when they become teenagers.

Inhumans are only slightly different.  Descended from humans who were experimented on by the alien Kree millennia in the past, Inhumans are also born with superpowers programmed into their DNA due to Kree meddling all those years ago.  Which type of superpowers they will have is unknown to Inhumans initially.  Also, it does not seem that a certain power, such as hydrokinesis or super strength, is passed down from Inhuman to Inhuman through direct inheritance.  For instance, an Inhuman man who is a telepath can marry an Inhuman woman who is an empath, but their child will somehow end up with superhuman strength instead of either of his parents’ powers.

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Inhumans can live normal lives without their powers.  They will have above average strength, immunity, and longevity, but they will not manifest superpowers.  Their powers will be activated only through exposure to the Terrigen Mists, a gaseous cloud released by Terrigen Crystals taken from the Kree.

Terrigen Mist will not hurt normal humans.  But if a normal human so much as brushes up against a Terrigen Crystal without some sort of protection, it has an immediate and deadly effect on them.  The Terrigen Mist permeating the town in “Inhumans Among Us” thus does not harm Cap, Thor, Iron Man, Falcon, or the Hulk.  Admittedly, only Falcon and Cap would have had to worry.  Hulk is protected by his Gamma radiation, Tony by his armor, and Thor is Asgardian. Thus the Prince of Thunder is immune to so much as the common Earth cold.  Terrigen Crystals would be among the least likely things to harm him.

This episode serves as the Avengers’ first meeting with the Inhumans in Assemble.  Prior to this, only the Hulk had had contact with the Inhumans in the episode “Inhuman Nature,” a show from his own two season series Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.  Thor may have known of the Inhumans prior to this Avengers episode.  But if that is so he had not met them more than once or twice.  And in those cases he may have been on diplomatic missions to Attilan, or they might have been visiting Asgard for political reasons.

When the Avengers and the royal family discover a strange cocoon in the town library, the team fears the thing may be the result of a deadly virus capable of wiping out innumerable people.  But when the Inhumans recognize it and try to politely force the team out of the conversation – as well as the library – the Avengers realize that whatever the cocoon is, the royal family knows it is not dangerous.  And, what is more, they certainly do not want the Avengers finding out what it is.

But when Tony tells Blackbolt – rather politely, all things considered – that the Avengers are not going anywhere without answers, the alliance the two factions formed at the beginning of the episode disintegrates.  Gorgon responds to Tony’s statement by throwing him through the walls, across the street, and into the next building.  Then the rest of the royal family attacks the bewildered Avengers in order to “protect” the cocoon.

“Inhumans Among Us” was a very disheartening episode for me.  Why?  The Avengers went out of their way to be friendly and helpful to the Inhuman royal family.  They had no intention of hurting them, and once they knew that the cocoon was for a newly awakened Inhuman, they were ready to help Blackbolt and the others calm him down.  In contrast, the Inhumans looked xenophobic and intolerant, displaying violently the prejudices which they claimed the Avengers were demonstrating.

This is my key disappointment not only with the episode, but with the general trend in all things X-Men, Inhuman, and now most of Marvel.  The writers are devoting too much energy trying to make everyone in every demographic feel included.  The problem with this is that when you try to please everyone, you please no one.  Stressing differences between people instead of similarities fractures the very unity which you are trying to build.

The X-Men at the end of Marvel's X-Men: Evolution

The X-Men at the end of Marvel’s X-Men: Evolution

In the comics written from the turn of the century to 2015, all the X-Men did was whine about the fact that normal humans would never accept them.  They became so fixated on this that the team split in half; then one half went to war with the Avengers.  The royal family in “Inhumans Among Us” showed the same blasted tendency, leaping to the conclusion that since the Avengers had no idea what the cocoon was and feared it might be an infection, they would react with extreme intolerance against it.

Instead of doing the sensible thing, which was to explain what the cocoon was, the Inhumans went berserk and wrecked half a town attacking the Avengers – all without provocation.  It was suspicion and fear which motivated the Inhumans.  The Avengers were left trying to pierce that fog with clear reasoning; but reason makes no headway against deeply entrenched unreason.  Hence the destruction of half of a small town within the episode.

The Inhumans also assumed that since the person inside the cocoon was an Inhuman by inheritance, they alone would automatically be able to calm him down and get him to see sense.  They forgot that they had voluntarily cut themselves off from humans for so long that most people in the Marvel Universe(s) have no idea who or what they are.  What if the new Inhuman came out and, added to his confusion over his new powers, was confronted with people he had no idea he could trust?  What if, due to his confusion and fear of his unknown “rescuers,” he attacked them – his supposed “kind” – maybe even killing one or two of them in the process?

Even though they do not seek it, the Avengers are world famous.  They are easily recognized by anyone who has not been living without a television, radio, or the Internet.  Even the denizens of small towns know of and instantly recognize them.

In such a situation as exhibited in “Inhumans Among Us,” this would make the Avengers invaluable in helping to calm down a new Inhuman who had never known he was anything but human.  If the royal family had been thinking, not reacting, they might have realized the team would be an asset in this circumstance and not a threat or a hindrance.

But the writers ignored that possibility completely.  Why?  Why would they have the Inhumans jump to the conclusion of discrimination and fear?  Why would they write a story where the Avengers could be construed as aggressors instead of as calm, reasonable people?  (Interestingly, the episode portrayed them in this positive light instead of the intended negative view.)

The Avengers have accepted mutants, humans, Inhumans, aliens, androids, and at least one synthetic being as members throughout their history.  They do not care about a teammate’s skin color, gender, or what-have-you; they care about the person who wants to use their skills to help defend the world.  This is a proven track record that goes back to the time when Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, Gypsies and former enemies of the X-Men, were given membership on the team.  It goes back to Black Panther’s acceptance by the team.  Falcon’s membership in the team was accepted with facility as well, despite the government’s interference in the matter.  The Avengers are not a passel of small-minded bigots.  They never have been.

Yet recently there is a documentable effort to push them into this position.  While the team has never been anything short of hospitable to every proven hero, reformed convict, or good android, the Avengers keep getting thrown into conflict with people who claim they are not what they have shown themselves to be time and time again.  And these people, often allies of the Avengers, should know better than to claim this insanity.

Image result for wolverine and the x-men

In recent comics, the X-Men are the guiltiest party.  Accustomed to being discriminated against, they had previously battled the Avengers several times, until someone calmed down enough to listen to the Avengers explain why they showed up.  This once led to reconciliation after reconciliation between the teams, something which was tossed out after the Avengers vs. X-Men event.  In an attempt to heal that mess, Cap started the Unity Squad, a team which was composed of Avengers and X-Men.  He hoped to bring the two factions together through this new team.

But his plan was in many respects an unmitigated disaster, as the X-Men refused to see eye-to-eye with their new teammates, particularly the Scarlet Witch.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, she wiped out most mutants’ powers earlier in the decade after going nuts and getting mad at Magneto.  How many times have members of the X-Men – not to mention mutants in general – wanted to be rid of their powers?  Besides which, by the end of A vs. X, the mutant population had been restored.  There was no reason to keep picking on Wanda – no reason except to spite her, Cap, and their Unity Squad teammates from the Avengers.  Who wants to put up with all of that negativity?  Not me, thank you.

Once upon a time, the X-Men were allowed to make friends with non-mutants in a TV series.  The 1990s series saw the team become friends with Senator – later President – Kelly.  A mutant-hating politician who came to recognize the humanity of mutants through the aid of the X-Men, he became one of their best supporters and friends.  Beast made friends with a human scientist in X-Men: Evolution, the same series where Nightcrawler had a normal human as a girlfriend.  And the number of normal humans the X-Men befriended in the comics is so long I would have to look it up to make a comprehensive list!

But by the time Wolverine and the X-Men TV series aired, this arrangement had largely been flushed down the toilet.  The episodes that came closest to making the point that humans and mutants were different in terms of genetics only were the introductory shows and “Code of Conduct.”  In that episode, Wolverine had to fight the Silver Samurai, who was married to his old flame Mariko Yashida, a normal human woman from Japan.  The rest of the series focused on the war brewing between mutants and humans because of the latter’s’ hatred for the former.  And the X-Men were bent on avoiding a blasted apocalyptic future where all but a few humans and mutants had been killed by the Sentinels.

Did the writers ever consider that by befriending normal humans the X-Men could make greater headway in circumventing this future?  No, they did not.  It was all X-Men vs. Brotherhood, X-Men vs. the MRD, or X-Men vs. Magneto and his Acolytes.  Let’s just lie down and die already, huh?

This different approach had started out in the comics, which began tearing the X-Men away from Professor X’s original dream of peaceful mutant/human coexistence.  It is as though, having reached a post-mutant-hating era, the writers decided to tear down all their good work and reset the original status quo.

But how exactly is this a good thing?  If you are so determined to build a platform of peaceful coexistence, why suddenly turn around and destroy it once it is built?  What can you possibly gain by this?

I once suggested an answer:  if everyone in the Marvel Universe became a mutant overnight, then the X-Men’s use as a team fighting for equality for mutants would go up in smoke.  Likewise, if you wipe out all mutants (an impossible task even for the Scarlet Witch), their reason for existence also disappears.  It seems that the Marvel writers, whether they realize it or not, are carrying out the second possibility – with unprecedented vigor.

In so doing they have neglected the third potential avenue for the team: could the X-Men not change their mission from peaceful coexistence to protecting the Earth, just as the Avengers do?  They have powers, gifts above the norm.  The achievement of one dream does not mean that you get to sit on your laurels or break off to follow your own pursuits.  It certainly does not mean you get to destroy your hard work.  It means you go out and get a new, better dream.

The imprisonment, death, or changed hearts of the X-Men’s old enemies does not mean they will never have new ones.  If the bigots who hate mutants are reduced, as had been suggested in comics in the early 2000s, to a minority, then that frees the team to fight on a wider field and for an even higher cause:  the protection of the two races from unsavory characters on Earth or in the galaxy.

Image result for avengers assemble Inhumans among us images

The Inhumans have suffered in a similar way.  Having existed as a race for millennia, they retreated from humanity to avoid persecution.  Living in hidden cities, they created their own culture, form of writing, and technology.  However, having made contact with humanity again, they continue to react intolerantly against normal humans first in an attempt to protect themselves.

How is this sensible?  How is this a “more highly evolved” attitude than that of normal humans?  If anything this reaction proves that you can build superhuman powers into humanity, but you cannot change human nature, no matter how hard you try.

Both of these teams have fallen into the bigoted tendencies that they either once fought against or retreated from facing.  Once the receivers – or potential receivers – of these attitudes, they are not willing to give rational normal humans the benefit of the doubt.  They instead react prejudicially toward them.

This is what saddens me the most about “Inhumans Among Us.”  Marvel, just like most other media institutions and academia, cannot let go of these hatreds.  Once seeking to fight against them, they have now become their biggest propagators.  They claim they are still combating intolerance when in fact they have embraced it.

This is the main reason I lost interest in the X-Men and never had much interest in the Inhumans.  If they are not willing to let go of past hurts and fears, then they will eventually become the new aggressors, the new bigots, the new haters.  Their writers have already fallen prey to this mentality, all the while thinking that they are helping to eradicate it in others.  They are not.  They are further dividing their audience, having succumbed to their own preconceptions of what is tolerant and intolerant.

This is a hard truth to speak, readers.  It is an even harder truth to hear.  We all like to think we are good people.  Only the most vile are exempt from this.  Everyone else thinks that because they have good intentions they are in fact good people.

But good intentions accomplished through bad means end up being evil deeds.  A lot of the people who supported the Nazi Party had good intentions.  They wanted their country to be strong again, they wanted their currency to be worth something, and they wanted their national and cultural identity to be respected.  But how many people – Jews, Catholics, Gypsies, and others – paid the price for those good things to “come about”?  How many died because the Russians who supported the Soviet system envisioned by Lenin and implemented by Stalin “just” wanted to make the lives of their fellows better?  And how many good-intentioned people ended up losing their heads under Madame Guillotine’s “gentle” administrations during the French Revolution?

The answer to these questions is:  too many.  Are we to repeat these well-intentioned people’s mistakes?  Mistakes are to be learned from but, if you learn the wrong lesson, you end up with the same result.  You just get there by a different path.

We learned the wrong lesson.  And we are beginning to pay the price.  If we do not stop and ask ourselves, honestly and without fear, what we are actually doing wrong…. then we will end up in the same place and in the same hellish circumstances.  And it will have happened all for the sake of “good intentions.”

The truth is all we need seek when we ask these questions, for the truth and The Truth are all that will set us free.  Everything else are traps and darkness, for the soul if not the body.   One is more precious than the other and needs greater care because of that.

Look for the truth, readers, and do not stop until you find it.  It is the only thing worth finding, the only thing worth living for…

And the only thing worth dying for.

The Mithril Guardian

Image result for Inhumans among us images

Captain America: Civil War – Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier

Well, masterleiaofasgard, here I go again! Let’s see if I understand Bucky any better now than I did previously.

In a prior post, I said that I found Bucky Barnes more relatable during Civil War than I did in Winter Soldier. That is not hard, since Bucky got the programmed automaton treatment in Soldier, as Clint had it in The Avengers – just with more ice. And, as Bucky said in The First Avenger, he became a bit invisible to a certain section of the population after Steve received the Super Soldier Serum. To be honest, my whole attention in The First Avenger was on the American Galahad because…. he is Galahad. So I did not pay his best friend the attention he deserved – shame on me!

But Bucky was neither the invisible man nor a pitiable human robot in Civil War. He was a man who had become an urban hermit. With HYDRA’s programming still locked up in his brain, going off the radar meant the bad guys could not find and “retrain” him. To stay away from them, though, meant staying away from his best friend – the one person on the planet who believed in him.

Perhaps Bucky thought – or hoped – his old friend would not miss him. He had new friends now, a good job, everything he needed. He was taken care of and… safe. Bucky could live with that. If he came out of the shadows, it would not be long before Steve lost his friends, his position with the Avengers, and everything else he had gained and earned after awakening from his nap in the Greenland ice trying to protect Bucky.

It was rather surprising and sweet to see Bucky shopping for fresh fruit in a Bucharest market. He even smiled. That is new. He was not much of a smiler in Winter Soldier, of course, and his grins in The First Avenger carried more swagger and bravado.

In this scene, his smile is not nearly as big. Instead it is a small sign of some comfort and happiness, showing that Bucky has adjusted to his new mode of living. It is not what he wants, necessarily, but it is better than being HYDRA’s attack dog.

Then, as he leaves the market, he realizes someone is watching him. Looking around carefully, he spots the person. It is a newsstand owner, who disappears after Bucky turns toward him. With a horrible sinking feeling, Bucky goes to the newsstand –

And finds he is the prime suspect in a U.N. bombing in Vienna.

Uh-oh. There goes his newfound peace and quiet. It is time to run, before he is killed. Or, worse, before a HYDRA operative or someone else uses the programming they burned into his brain to make him do their dirty work.

But he cannot run with just the clothes on his back. Going on the run, it is a good idea to have some supplies with you. And Bucky left his supplies at his apartment. He goes to grab them and get out…

And finds his old friend has done exactly what he knew he would do. The minute he was in trouble, Steve came running to help him.

Bucky does not want his help. It is not because he is angry at Steve that he wishes to avoid his old friend. Nothing which happened to him after the fall from the HYDRA train in the mountains was Steve’s fault. That was HYDRA’s doing, just like the experimentation which allowed him to survive the fall in the first place.

No, Bucky wanted Steve to stay away from him lest he get dragged down into the morass which is the result of the other’s long, forced servitude to HYDRA. He was not avoiding Steve out of anger. He was hiding in order to protect him.

But Steve does not want protection. He wants his brother back, even if it means fighting with the police, the government, and the Avengers. Nevertheless, Bucky still tries to escape. He has to stay away from Steve.

But the world has changed more than even Bucky realizes. He learns this when a guy with serious hand-to-hand combat skills, a vibranium suit, and a lot of strength tries to kill him. Only the timely intervention of a German Special Forces helicopter gives him the opening he wants to get away.

(I am curious. If the U.N. was so darn concerned about civilian casualties resulting from the Avengers’ battles, THEN WHY DID THEY SEND IN A CHOPPER TO SHOOT UP A CITY BLOCK IN BUCHAREST?!?! Methinks they do not actually care about civilian casualties at all – nein, readers?)

Unfortunately, from his perspective, Bucky does not escape. He gets caught, and he knows the only person who thinks he is worth saving is going to fight to protect him. His main concerns from this point on are that Steve will lose everything he has acquired by fighting for him, and that he himself will lose what little freedom he has had since The Winter Soldier.

That last fear is proved justified when a man posing as a psychiatrist uses HYDRA’s programming to force Bucky to kill again.

But, as he always has, Barnes’ best friend comes through in the clutch to rescue him. Bucky probably thinks it would be better if he was dead. Then Steve would be safe, along with sooo many other people.

When Steve asks what the fake psychiatrist wanted, Bucky tries to stave the question off. He does not remember it exactly. He does not even remember how he got from a prison cell to an old warehouse. But he knows whatever the guy wanted will lead to trouble for his friend.

Then he remembers what the infiltrator asked, and suddenly he realizes there is a threat too great for any of them to ignore, for any reason. “I’m not the only Winter Soldier,” he says, shocking and horrifying Steve and Sam. He explains about the others, a group of HYDRA’s best killers transformed into super soldiers. With the serum used on Steve in their bodies, everything inside is magnified. In Steve’s case, “good becomes great.” In the case of these guys, bad became much, much worse.

This guy – Zemo – has to be stopped, no matter the cost, before he releases these other Soldiers. So Bucky joins his old friend and the new guy (Sam) to bring down Zemo.

This is, as they say, somewhat awkward. Sam has his own rapport with Steve, and he is none too trusting of Bucky. Though he cannot remember everything he did to Sam, Bucky must figure that the distrust is well warranted. Most of their problem, though, revolves around the fact that they are both close to the same friend and do not want him hurt.

Hence his request: “Can you move your seat up?” and Sam’s flat, “No.” That wreck of a VW bug was not the only cramped space the two inhabited!

Bucky’s fear only mounts when he sees Steve kiss Sharon Carter. Great – now not only is he invisible, he is a wanted assassin with the blood of hundreds on his hands, dragging his best friend into a battle where he could lose everything – plus a new girlfriend. And, as icing on the cake, what girl is ever going to be interested in him now?

I think the phrase going through Bucky’s head at the time would have been something like, pardon my crudeness, readers: My life really SUCKS right now.

Then Steve drives out to meet the rest of his team, and Bucky gets an up-close look at them: Clint Barton, a man Steve did not want to haul out of somewhere private, personal, and apparently happy; as well as Wanda Maximoff, a girl who is barely out of her teens and a current media darling for all the wrong reasons. He knows their names and abilities – he has to have seen those in the newspapers at least, if not on television or on the Internet. The guy in the van is new, and he is definitely enthusiastic. Too enthusiastic, but he is in the fight now all the same.

These are Steve’s new friends. Three of them have been through battle and fire with him, and they trust him with their lives and the lives of others. Bucky does not think he is worth the effort to keep himself alive, and these people have no stake in his fate. But they are loyal to Steve, and since Steve believes Bucky is worth saving, they will follow him where he leads. Even if it means they have to fight the other Avengers.

Now being the center of this mess truly sucks. (Sorry again for the language, guys. Sorry, Cap! 😉 )

It only gets worse as the team falls to fighting. At least Bucky’s determined opponent is not, technically, Steve’s friend. But Bucky does not want to kill anymore. Nor does he want T’Challa to believe a lie. So he tries to explain that he did not bomb Vienna and kill King T’Chaka.

But the new Black Panther will not hear it, so determined for vengeance as he is. And all the while, the false psychiatrist is headed to Siberia, closer and closer to five human nuclear weapons who could wipe out the world….

Steve’s new friends know it, too. And they know this fight is a complete waste of precious time. They therefore throw themselves to the wolves (or the Panther) to buy Bucky and Steve time to get away. Once the two old friends are on their way, Bucky asks, “Am I really worth all this?”

Cap’s answer is a resounding yes, though it is an answer Bucky is not certain he can accept. But he has to admit that it feels good to be back with his old friend again.

Until they find the other five Winter Soldiers dead, and Zemo reveals his plot. Then Bucky realizes he has been the bait used to ruin Steve’s life, just as he was afraid he would be. And on top of that, he seems to have ruined another man’s life in the bargain: the son of his old friend, Howard Stark.

Battle ensues, and during the fight Tony has the temerity to ask him whether or not he remembers killing his parents. How can Bucky forget? How can he forget any of the faces of those he killed? He watched his hands put their lights out, and remained unable to stop himself from doing it. How can he distance himself from what he did – unwilling though he was to do it? “I remember all of them,” he tells Tony.

He remembers because there is no possible way for him to forget. Despite the constant memory wipes, HYDRA could not make Bucky forget who he was or where he came from. They could control his mind, not his soul. He fought for that, so hard that he never lost it. The price of that battle is that he remembers everything he did for the evil, secret societywhen he is clear-headed or not under the influence of HYDRA’s programming.

He remembers every kill, everyone HYDRA told him to destroy. He remembers the ones who deserved to die – HYDRA would not have wanted competition, after all. But the ones who did not deserve to die, like Tony’s parents, he will always remember more clearly. They were victims, as much as he was. But, from his perspective, they suffered more. Bucky will wake up, every night, for the rest of his earthly life, recalling those he killed and wondering, Why didn’t I fight back?

He could not fight back. Not physically. Not in a way that would have saved anyone. The only fight Bucky could keep up was the battle for his soul. And he won it – but at a high price.

If it was just the two of them, then perhaps Bucky would not have put up a fight. Maybe he would have let Tony kill him. But Tony is so determined to injure as he has been injured that he goes after Steve and Bucky. Bucky cannot – he will not – stand for that anymore than Steve will stand for an attack on him. Steve had nothing to do with the Starks’ murders; those are on Bucky’s conscience, not his. Tony’s attack on Steve is uncalled-for. He does it just to make himself feel better.

Bucky does not want to kill Tony. He killed his father and his mother, the last thing he wants to do is kill their heir, even in self-defense. But neither will he let Tony beat up on Steve. They are brothers in all but blood. Growing up, they stuck together through thick and thin. Neither of them liked bullies; that was why they joined the army in the first place to fight against the Nazis and, later, HYDRA. Bucky always protected Steve – even when Steve got big enough to handle himself.

Those old instincts are stronger than any kind of programming. They make Bucky go for Tony’s arc reactor. He cannot kill Tony, but he can shut him down. Only, in trying to do that, his metal arm is blasted off. Stunned by the loss, Bucky knows that he has now lost the same arm twice.

Despite lying dazed on the floor after this, Bucky still sees the fight which rages on without his participation. He sees it, and he sees the senselessness of it. Even more clearly, he sees what Steve is doing for Tony. He is fighting to save the younger man’s soul from his own anger and pain. Steve fought a similar battle for Bucky’s soul on Project Insight’s Helicarrier two years prior. He won that fight…

And against all the odds, Steve pulls it off a second time. Again, he wins the battle, for the simple reason that his cause is just. If Steve is willing to go to such great lengths for the two of them, then he sees something in both which they cannot yet see in themselves. Leaving Tony on the floor, unharmed but unable to fight, Steve steps over to Bucky and holds out his hand. You’re not done yet, Buck, the gesture says. You’re still you, underneath all the scars. You ARE still worth it. Will you let me prove it to you?

Steve never forces his ideas or choices on anyone. He lets other people make their own decisions. It is Bucky’s choice to stay on the floor, or accept Steve’s proffered hand. He can stay and die, or he can get up and rediscover that spark in his soul which resisted HYDRA the only way it could – by staying lit.

Bucky grabs Steve’s hand and allows his old friend to get him on his feet. I don’t see the way out, he admits with this gesture, while also acknowledging his physical weakness, But you do. I’ll follow the fellow kid from Brooklyn who was too dumb to run from a fight. Because you knew all those fights were winnable, and I didn’t. I don’t see how to win this one, but you do. So lead the way.

Then Tony acts like an absolute baby. That stings Bucky as much as it hurts Cap. They both know that Tony has regressed to a little kid in his anger. He is safe, but only because his armor has no power to follow his commands. Once it is back online, how long will he stay away? Neither Steve nor Bucky can continue the fight. They cannot continue to protect him. They are both too tired by the previous battle.

Yet again, Steve has the answer. If Tony wants the shield that badly, he can have it – minus Steve. Without Captain America, the shield is just a big metal “Frisbee.” Tony has not got the skill to use it. He never will. The shield is not a symbol, it is a tool. And Steve can use any tool he chooses in a battle.

Although he is unsure if it will solve anything, when Steve leaves the shield behind, Bucky is assured that at least Stark will not immediately chase after them. That they have time to get away, and the younger Stark has time to sit down, cool his heels, and allow his overheated reason and logic “circuits” to start working again. Tony has time to realize what Steve did for him, as Bucky found time to relearn just what a great friend Steve is.

However, there is the matter of the code words which HYDRA programmed into his brain. As long as he has those in his head, Bucky is a danger to Steve and everyone else on the planet. Zemo knows the trigger words, and others can find them – or get them from Zemo. Until they are purged from his mind, he has to stay out of the way of other people in order not to harm them.

So he goes under again. Doubtless, the Wakandan cryogenic freeze is less uncomfortable than the HYDRA process. It certainly does not seem to be as painful. Maybe, unlike during his naps in Siberia, Bucky will actually be able to get some real sleep this time.

Let’s just hope he does not outlive Steve while he is doing that!

Since Sebastian Stan has a nine picture deal with Marvel, and he has only used up three of those nine films, I think we might get to see him again soon. Maybe it will be in the Black Panther film that will come out in 2018. (If so, I want to see that movie!)

It would also make sense (to me) to bring the Winter Soldier into Infinity War, at least during Part 2. Going up against Thanos is going to require all hands on deck, and that means the Avengers will have to reassemble and call in every ally they can find. If the Wakandans are smart – and they are – they will give Bucky a vibranium arm to replace the one Tony blasted off. Then he can punch Thanos with it!

Until then, we will have to be satisfied with Civil War. That will not be hard. Although it is much more serious than the previous Marvel films, with more language, family fights are never fun. And the Russos were right; this was a big family row. Bucky will never quite fit in with the Avengers, but that does not mean he could not become their ally.

And no matter what, he will always be Cap’s best friend. If HYDRA could not undo that, then Thanos has no prayer of accomplishing the feat!

Catch ya later, True Believers!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Escape from Warsaw (formerly The Silver Sword) by Ian Serraillier

Warsaw, Poland. 1942. Germany has invaded, and for the Balicki family, this is very bad news. The family consists of Joseph, his wife, and his three children: Ruth, Edek, and Bronia. Joseph is taken to a Nazi prison camp called Zakyna not long after the occupation begins. He escapes back to Warsaw about a year later, only to find his home rubble, his wife taken to Germany by Nazi storm troopers, and his children assumed dead.

With nowhere else to go, Joseph decides to head to Switzerland. He and his wife had decided that this was where they would meet if they were separated, and the children know to head there as soon as they can. With the help of an orphan boy he meets prowling the ruins of his house, Joseph escapes Poland. But not before telling the boy, Jan, to keep an eye out for his three children. He also entrusts a silver letter opener he once gave to his wife, shaped like a sword, to the street urchin who found it in the rubble.

For the rest of the war Ruth, Edek, and Bronia manage to scrape a living from the ruins of Warsaw. Things become harder for the girls when Edek is caught by the Nazis and shipped to Germany to labor on their farms. It is not long after this that they meet Jan, who joins up with the two Balicki girls.

To keep herself busy, Ruth starts a makeshift school for the other Polish orphans living amid the rubble. When the war ends, Ruth begins searching for her parents and younger brother. She seeks help from the local Russian outpost and, when one of the soldiers comes to deliver supplies for her school, he tangles with Jan. In the process, Jan’s treasure box, which he always has with him, is smashed.

Out falls the silver sword, sending Ruth into a fit of tears since she recognizes the letter opener her father gave to her mother. Jan reveals that, with the intervening years, he had forgotten his promise to their father. But, now that he remembers, he is willing to help the two Balicki girls find their parents.

Thus begins the trek of the three children as they head to Switzerland in search of Mr. and Mrs. Balicki. They pick up Edek, who has contracted tuberculosis and is in rough shape, along the way. The four endure many deprivations and hardships, but also manage to make a great many friends on their journey. Ruth manages the four of them, protects and leads them, and is the only one who can handle the kleptomaniac Jan.

Throughout their adventures, friend and foe alike are impressed with the Balicki children’s determination to find their parents. This fidelity to a mother and father who might well be dead inspires many to help them, even at great risk to themselves.

Escape from Warsaw is a good story, and I quite enjoyed reading it. It is easy to read. If you know someone who is a World War II buff, then this book would not be a bad recommendation for them, whether they are adults or children.

It is important to note that Escape from Warsaw puts Poland in the spotlight, highlighting much of what it and Eastern Europe endured during World War II and its aftermath. While the details of Communist treatment of the Polish are not dwelt on in this story, it should be noted that the Balicki children left Poland before the U.S.S.R. had cemented its control over the country. Given their determination to reach Switzerland, I do not blame any of the characters for deciding to stay in that country rather than returning to a Poland under Soviet rule.

Until next time,

The Mithril Guardian

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff

Black Widow

Okay, I have to swallow a prognostication I repeated several times in my predictions’ posts, readers. Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner really do have a romance going on the side in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

It was, honest to goodness, a surprise to me. I did not believe Whedon would do it. But I also did not think Hawkeye’s family would be in Age of Ultron, so I am batting a thousand on several fronts.

All in all, the Natasha/Bruce romance was not so bad, in my opinion. Whedon may have made it a little sugary in places, but Natasha telling Bruce exactly how messed up she was by her Red Room trainers was very eloquent.

That scene also reveals Natasha’s low opinion of herself. She explained there that she sees herself as a monster. Never mind the fact that she is practically Hawkeye’s adopted sister, that she’s been an Avenger for almost three years, and has helped to save countless lives since Clint redeemed her from the “Dark Side.” She still has not forgiven herself for what she was trained, forced, and chose to do in her past.

That weighs her down. She has been forgiven by her friends and her “battle brother” has children who adore her like she was their blood aunt. But because she has not forgiven herself, she is still securely chained to her past, as we saw when Wanda hypnotized her in the bone yard in Africa.

Readers, we unfortunately cannot discuss Natasha Romanoff’s role in Age of Ultron without mentioning that there was a lot of rage about her portrayal in the film going around after the movie premiered. Though this is not something I empathize with at all, I have strong beliefs about the “rage” that sent certain people into a flurry of Internet activity. Also, this post is discussing Natasha’s role in the film, as well as her character, both of which were savaged in the hours following Ultron’s theater release. So the “rage” that ran rampant on the Internet has to be addressed.

Apparently, there were several groups who had gripes about Widow’s part in the film. One offended group said that having Ultron lock her up in a cell was demeaning.

Excuse me?! He rips her off the Cradle, flies her back to his base, during which time she is completely stunned by the impact of his attack. When she comes to in the HYDRA base Ultron commandeered in Sokovia, she finds herself facing an eight foot tall robot who could snap her like a twig – especially with his new, vibranium-plated body!

No amount of kung fu in anything less than the Iron Man armor would have protected her from him if he had decided to stop playing games and kill her. When faced with a metal monstrosity one cannot physically beat, the only sensible way to stay alive is to get as far away from it as one can. Natasha very wisely backs away from Ultron and into a room, which turns out to be a prison cell, where he locks her up (as he intended). She cannot bust the lock with the little equipment she has on hand, and he physically outmatches her. The only possible way she can survive long enough to help stop Ultron is to sit tight and signal her team – or rather, Bruce Banner – to come and get her out.  (Not to mention tell the Avengers where Ultron is.)

I see no problem with this scene, in so far as Natasha wisely keeps herself alive to fight later on. Any other captured member of the Avengers would have done something similar, as the cell was the nearest accessible point of refuge. And Natasha’s rescue, as far as I am concerned, was perfectly normal. It was also a great way to show that Beauty does not always need to rescue the Beast (sorry, Bruce).

Another crowd was apparently angry about the scene at Hawkeye’s farm, where we learn that Natasha was sterilized by the Red Room operators and, as a result, is unable to have children.

*Sigh.*

Okay, either these people did not – and do not – want to do their research on Marvel’s characters, or they take everything in the films at face value. Both of these attitudes are preposterous, because the filmmakers cannot, after a point, make up the characters and the stories out of whole cloth. Marvel will not and cannot let them do that if they are to preserve the integrity of their characters and storylines for their fans. It will not work, because the movies will not sell if it is attempted.

So I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the fact is that in the “mainstream” comics, it was already a well established fact that Natasha Romanoff and the other Black Widows were all sterilized. The film version of the process is actually more thorough than the comic book depiction. In the comics, it was the Soviet version of Cap’s super soldier serum, which the Red Room handlers used to enhance their “charges,” that rendered the Black Widows sterile.

Was this a result of the Red Room serum’s inferiority to Dr. Erskine’s serum, or was it a planned “defect” the Soviets purposefully added to the mix? The point is debatable, but I lean toward the latter argument. If the Widows could not have children, it was “one less thing [for their handlers] to worry about.” And why should a Widow respect the lives of others when her own life had been so completely and carefully stolen from her?

The people who trained/raised Natasha wanted “a liar and a killer” who would do whatever they told her to do. They brainwashed her and the other girls, tore them down mentally and emotionally over and over again, until the girls could and would be whoever and whatever they needed them to be to get what they [the handlers] wanted. Natasha Romanoff was a tool, a slave, which they could remote control. They tried to erase everything – everything – in her that would possibly make her want to stop working for them. They did not manage to erase everything, which Clint figured out real quick, but the fact is that they wiped out a whole lot.

The most important thing they erased was Natasha’s ability to have children. All the brainwashing and training in the world cannot get rid of the potential that a female operative in Natasha’s line of work might have children. The one thing left that could probably unlock the chains the Red Room handlers had wrapped her in was that if, during a mission, a Black Widow had a child.

The child did not necessarily have to be born; it just had to be conceived. Once that happened, there would be no threat on earth, no chain under heaven, which could possibly convince Natasha or any other Black Widow to keep on playing the role of killing machine. Not when they had an innocent life they wanted – needed – to protect. The best way the Red Room could make certain that Natasha and the other Widows remained loyal slaves of the Soviet regime was to remove any chance that these women could have children.

The thing to remember, readers, is that Natasha can still lead a fairly normal life. This is something Bruce knows and she has not yet realized. Natasha cannot physically have children, but she could still get married and adopt a child or a number of children. She is fond of children. Bruce saw that at Hawkeye’s farm. In all truth, I think Natasha would make one hell of an adoptive mother. Having been deprived of her innocence, she knows how precious it is and is therefore willing to protect innocents – children especially – with everything she has. That is basically all you need in a mother.

But because Natasha will not forgive herself for her past, she has not moved on to that chance at a mostly normal life. She stays where she is, still chained by her guilt, by the idea that she is a monster manufactured by even worse fiends. Frankly, I am glad Whedon put this note about what the Red Room did to her in the movie. It ties back to the original comics and it adds a dose of hard reality to the film and the franchise. I think it needed to be there.

Of course, some other offended viewers also say that Natasha’s part in these scenes is demeaning because it makes her “less of a role model” for young girls. Pardon me for being so “backward thinking,” but I dare say that if Natasha Romanoff herself heard the words “role model” applied to her, she would laugh in the face of whoever called her such a thing!

Natasha Romanoff’s code name is the Black Widow, people. It happens to be a name she shares with a poisonous North American spider that is supposed to kill and eat its male mate. In her role as a Soviet spy, Natasha killed hundreds of people. And not just men, though they were very likely her primary category of targets. The stories about real black widows say that they kill and eat their male mates, after all.

But a deleted scene from The Winter Soldier shows the main villain of the film, Alexander Pierce, mentioning that Natasha had a role in something called the “Children’s War.” So it would appear that the Soviets were indiscriminate when they told Natasha who to target. If her handlers told her to take someone down, she did it. No reservations, no mercy, no regrets; she killed whoever they marked for death. End of one hellaciously ugly story.

So if the Black Widow, a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff, is a role model for young modern girls, does that mean we want our girls to grow up to be “liars and killers” like she was – and still is, occasionally? That is what Natasha would ask, and what she would see as the implication in people calling her a role model!

If Natasha wanted young girls to turn out like her, I do not think she would be letting Lila Barton draw pictures of butterflies or encouraging her in other traditionally “girly” pursuits. Considering Natasha supports the child in these activities, I think she wants Lila to turn out more like Laura than like her!

All of this is not to imply, readers, that I think young girls should not admire Natasha Romanoff. I admire and like her quite a lot, actually! However, I would be much happier if people allowed girls to admire and look up to Natasha for the right reason.

That reason is this: Natasha was raised to be a “liar and a killer.” But one day, she chose to be something else. She chose to do the right thing when she had been brainwashed and programmed into believing that making such a choice was to choose weakness. Despite years of training and programming, Natasha did something her handlers had believed was impossible for her to do: she made a choice of her own free will.

And that choice was to be someone good, someone who was not the “liar and killer” her handlers had spent so much time and energy molding her to be.

In making this choice, Natasha found herself. She left the Darkness behind and entered the Light. This is an extremely brave choice to make, something girls who admire Natasha should understand. Her choice had to have scared her to death on some level. Going from complete Darkness to bright sunlight for someone in her position is quite the change. But she did it anyway.

She was alone, seemingly, when she made this decision. But, as we know, she was not alone after she made her choice. No one who makes the choice to leave the Darkness for the Light ever walks alone; they are always provided with a guide of some sort. In Natasha’s case, her guide was Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye. This is the reason that they are best friends in the films. Hawkeye was there for her when she needed someone to help her learn to see in the brightly lit world she had just entered. Let’s face it; you are going to stumble around when you blink a lot. And Natasha probably did a lot of “blinking” in order to get her feet under her after she chose her new path. (So she was very lucky she had a guide with the eyes of a Hawk!)

All this talk about Natasha “learning to make choices for herself,” is from people who are not looking at her properly. Natasha has already made a series of independent choices, starting with the one where she said to herself, “I will do what I know, in the law written on my heart, is right,” and followed through. She then made the choice to join up with Clint and follow him into SHIELD. In making that decision, she chose to protect people. Then she chose to become an Avenger when Loki tried to take over the world. In The Winter Soldier, she chose to help Cap stop HYDRA, even when it meant letting the world see her gruesome past sins. After this painful episode, she decided to be an Avenger full-time.

Hulk SMASH

These are all very big choices that Natasha has made in Marvel’s movies, perhaps without truly realizing the full implications of what she was choosing. And in Age of Ultron, Natasha made another big choice. She chose to fall in love with Bruce Banner.

Think about it. She was very likely trained to believe that love of any kind was weakness. But she fell in love with Hawkeye as a brother figure, she who had never known even the love of sisters, since the Red Room violently discouraged the sisterly instincts of the Widows it manufactured. (Check out the Agent Carter episodes on the Red Room to learn more about that.) Then Natasha found sisterly love with her battle brother’s wife Laura, and learned to love like an aunt by interacting with the Barton children.

But with her own ability to have children gone, how could she possibly find love with a man? If she fell in love with a man who wanted children, how would he react to the news that she simply could not have any? How would she take being married to the man of her dreams but being without the ability to make their marriage a family life?

So she shut herself off from romantic love. “Love is for children, I owe him [Clint] a debt,” she told Loki in The Avengers. It was not a lie; it was a way of protecting herself and others from disappointment. Loki thought he had found a woman like Sif: a warrior female who loved battle but who would also willingly surrender her warrior duties to have a family at the first opportunity of finding real love. He never realized that Natasha did not have any such designs for her future, for the simple reason that others had denied her that dream long ago. The only thing she felt she had left was her job at SHIELD, and later, her job as an Avenger.

But in Age of Ultron, Natasha did fall in love – with Bruce Banner. And he could not have children, either, so it was a total win-win scenario for the both of them, right?

Sadly no, it was not, and Bruce knew it. Even if he could not articulate it, he knew it. Natasha, once she lets go of her past and starts thinking the way she should, will realize that normalcy is not something unattainable for her. She could easily fall in love with a guy, marry him, and adopt a few children. There is nothing abnormal about that process and, as I said above, I think Natasha would make one hell of an adoptive mother.

Yes, readers, Bruce also left Natasha because she threw him down a hole to awaken the Hulk so they could “finish the job.” Right when Bruce was perfectly prepared, for once in his life, to run off and leave the “job” unfinished. But I do not think Bruce hates her for it. The Hulk certainly did not look furious when he shut down the comm. on the Aveng-jet. But he did look very sad.

Why?

Because he and Bruce both know that they have no room in their life for anything or anyone normal. Bruce cannot be a father. It just will not work. Hulk cannot be a father either. There is nowhere in the world they can go without risking hurting someone. They can never give Natasha what they both know she deserves and is almost ready for: a husband and a family.

Even though the fact that Bruce and Natasha cannot have children is something they have in common, Bruce would not be the greatest adoptive dad in the world. The Hulk wants his say in everything in Bruce’s life. Bruce and the Hulk may be able to avoid being a threat to Natasha, but what about children? The Hulk has a soft spot for kids, sure, but not on a daily basis!

Natasha has not quite worked that out yet, from what we can tell. She fell in love with a man, for the first time in her life, and she knows that Bruce shut off the comm. to protect her. But – as of the end of Age of Ultron – Natasha may not yet truly realize just why and what he is protecting her from. Bruce can never lead a normal or semi-normal life. Never. Until the day he dies, he will always be contending for physical/mental space with “the big guy.” There is not room in his earthly life for anyone else.

But Natasha can have a mostly normal life, and Bruce knows it. He also knows that denying her that opportunity for such a life would make him just as bad as her old Red Room handlers. And he loves her too much to do that to her. The best thing Bruce can do for her – the only thing he can do for her – is to let Natasha go and find someone she can live a normal life with. He had to do the same thing for Betty Ross. If anything, Natasha needs the opportunity more than Thunderbolt Ross’ daughter ever did.

Before I sign off, readers, there is one more thing I should say about Natasha’s role in Age of Ultron. It was a good role, and viewed as she should be, Natasha Romanoff is a character any girl can admire and enjoy. She deserves that admiration, not for her skills or her knowledge, but for her decision to do the right thing, no matter how much it hurts her. Hopefully, she will keep up the good work. We will have to wait to see the end of Civil War to know just how well she gets off in Phase Three of Marvel’s film franchise.

As a fan of Natasha’s, I sure hope she makes the right choice again in Civil War. Otherwise, she will just be left with more guilt and sorrow. I do not wish that on her or anyone else, readers.

Excelsior!

The Mithril Guardian

Captain America The Winter Soldier

Book Review: Sniper’s Honor

Image result for Sniper's Honor

Written by the same man who wrote the story that became Shooter, Sniper’s Honor tells the next adventure in the life of the now older Bob Lee Swagger, a Vietnam veteran sniper who is now sixty-odd and retired. And hating it.

So when a journalist friend of his sends him a photo of a female Russian sniper named Ludmilla Petrovna, Swagger decides to travel with his friend to Eastern Europe to learn more about her.

Petrovna – known as “Mili” to her friends – was a top Russian sniper during WWII. The Nazi soldiers she did not kill called her “the White Witch” for her blonde hair and striking beauty. But somewhere just before the end of World War II, Mili disappeared from Russia. She was then subsequently erased from Russian propaganda history. No one knows what happened to her.

Now, Swagger and his friend are hunting down leads on an eighty year old cold case. Unfortunately for them, someone else does not want Mili’s history uncovered. And they are willing to kill to keep her last mission a mystery. What Swagger and his friend want to know as they dodge the shadowy operatives trying to kill them is why.

Swagger’s determined to find out what happened to Mili. It is not just her beauty that has ensnared him but the fact that, like him, she was a sniper. Every warrior has a code, and Swagger’s particular sense of Sniper’s Honor will not let him allow some invisible bigwig or batch of bureaucrats to bury Mili’s history.

It has been a while since I read Sniper’s Honor, so unfortunately this post is rather flimsy and dim when it comes to describing the story. I hate to leave you hanging like this, readers, (I have often been infuriated when reading such simple notes of praise myself).  Sadly, this post is the best I can manage at the moment regarding Sniper’s Honor. The book deserved better than this.

That being said, I really enjoyed this book. I think I read it in my free time in around two or three days, maybe less. This is especially true since I know very little about Communist Russia. Most of what I know does not refer to Russian snipers, and what I know of Soviet agents is basically filtered through Marvel Comics and the Black Widow. Not a super-great source, I know, but hey. You work with what you have.

Sniper’s Honor opened up a whole new chapter of history for me. I knew that the Soviets were quite willing to send women into combat (especially as spies, it seems) but I had not heard of female snipers. Not even Russian female snipers.

The book is fast paced and bursting with historic detail. The characters – Swagger, Mili, and all the others – are drawn very well. I love stories from WWII, and this one is no exception. Although, I must warn you, it is not a book for younger readers. There is a lot of language and adult material in the story.

Still, Sniper’s Honor is definitely worth the read. And remember – you can learn as much from fiction as from a textbook. Sometimes, you can even learn more!

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian