Tag Archives: Communists

Book Review: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

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In the Church of Our Lady Mary in Krakow, Poland, there is a special tradition. Every hour of every day, on the hour, one of the firemen of Krakow goes to the tower in the church and plays a special hymn on the trumpet. This hymn is called the Heynal, the Hymn to Our Lady. You can hear it in this video here:

If you listen carefully, you will notice that the hymn ends abruptly. It actually ends on a broken note. Why?

In thirteenth century Poland, the Tartars were invading. They were almost at the gates of the city of Krakow when they heard a song. It was a boy in the brick cathedral of the Church of Our Lady Mary, which at that time was outside the walls of the city. All the other buildings around the church had been burned by the invading Tartars. Only the church remained standing.

The boy was blowing the Heynal on his trumpet, as he had sworn to do in times of emergency. He knew doing this would get the Tartars attention and let them spot him. But it was his duty to play the Heynal on the hour, and the time had come for him to play. So he played.

And a Tartar took aim and fired at him, killing him with the arrow. This left the broken note of the Heynal, as the boy died before he could finish the tune. All who play the hymn today end the tune on the broken note, in memory of the boy who died fulfilling his duty to country, God, and church. Even during the years when the Communists had control of Poland, the Heynal would be played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary.

In the twentieth century, a student and teacher named Eric P. Kelly heard the Heynal being played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary in Krakow. The melody enchanted him almost as much as Poland did. And it inspired him to write The Trumpeter of Krakow.

In later centuries, after the Tartars were driven out of Poland, the Heynal was played not only on the hour, but to alert the city to the danger of fire. The watchman who would play the Heynal on the hour during the day or night (they rotated shifts, of course), would ring the bell and play the hymn to warn the city of invasion and other such dangers. But for the most part, during the fifteenth century, it was to warn against fires.

Krakow had a lot of wooden buildings at the time. One little set of sparks in the right place at the right time and – whoosh! There goes a third of the city up in smoke.

Pan (Mr.) Andrew Charnetski, his wife, and his son Joseph are headed into Krakow one day in July of 1461. Joseph is sitting on the back of the cart with the last possession of his family besides the cart itself, the horses, and the clothes on their backs – a pumpkin. The Charnetskis lived in the Ukraine until their house and property were burned to the ground by raiders.

Now they are headed to Krakow, on a market day. The road to the city is full of farmers headed to market with their goods, as well as with those coming to buy those goods. The Charnetskis are the only refugees of any import in this story.

As Joseph sits on the back of the cart, watching the world go by, he suddenly sees a man riding toward them. Getting his father’s attention, Joseph dives at once to catch hold of the animal’s reins when the stranger commands him to mind the horse. Young though he is – Joseph is fifteen – the youth senses something amiss with the stranger. There is something dangerous, something evil, in his expression.

The man introduces himself to Pan Andrew and talks to him rapidly in a low voice. Whatever he says, Pan Andrew does not like it. In fact, though no one can tell from his expression, the stranger’s words frighten him. He tells the man to be off, but the stranger is stubborn. He then asks how much Pan Andrew will take for the pumpkin.

Pan Andrew tells him it is not for sale, despite the fact that the man offers him far more than any pumpkin ought to be worth. When Pan Andrew continues to refuse to sell the pumpkin, the stranger draws his sword –

But Pan Andrew is better. He knocks the man off of the cart and to the ground. Thinking quickly, Joseph turns the man’s horse and slaps its rump, sending it running. He jumps aboard the cart and his father takes off, leaving the stranger cursing and shouting in the mud beside the road.

The family makes it to the city safely. On their way in Joseph hears the Heynal as it is played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary. Pan Andrew promises to tell him the story of the broken hymn later on. What poor Pan Andrew does not yet know is that all is not well in Krakow. Pan Andrew goes to see his relatives but finds his cousin has been killed in a feud between the tradesmen and the nobles. This leaves the Charnetskis with no place to stay, no money and, worst of all, no protection.

If you want to know what else happens in the story, readers, you shall have to chase down a copy of The Trumpeter of Krakow yourselves. I have whet your appetite, I hope, for this charming story. Someone I know read and went into raptures over the book a long time ago. I waited a long time to read the novel, unfortunately. Perhaps, if I had read it earlier, I would have enjoyed it more than I did.

Poland is left in the dust these days. For twenty years it did not even exist; it was divided between Germany, Russia, and Austria. By far Austria treated the Poles better than the Germans or the Russians. Poland has suffered much throughout her long history.

However, as the Japanese say, “Fall seven times, stand up eight!” Poland has suffered, but she has always stood back up at some point. It is time she was recognized for this strength. This post and, perhaps, others will help to put her back in the world consciousness, where she belongs.

God go with you, 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.

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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.

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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

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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