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Avengers: Infinity War – A Review, Part 2

Avengers: Infinity War (2018) News - MovieWeb

Whoo! Last week this blogger did a quick rundown on the (minor) issues she had with Avengers: Infinity War. Having covered those irritating incidents, we can now dive into what was truly enjoyable about this film. And there is a lot to like (warning – there will be spoilers 😉 ).

On a technical level, the film is pretty close to flawless. It never loses track of its story. It doesn’t wander off into the hinterlands or backtrack into the ancient past; neither does it throw flashy special effects in a viewer’s face, hoping to dazzle them with movie magic. No, the movie is a self-contained story that proceeds in a straight line at break neck pace. Ten years of cinematic storytelling have been building up toward this moment, this ultimate battle of good versus evil. It’s been comparable to water building behind a dam until it reaches capacity and bursts.

While this blogger hates the Mad Titan with more passion than Loki or even Thunderbolt Ross, I have to admit that his disproportionate amount of screen time here was necessary. Until now, we have never seen Thanos in action. We have heard the rumors, the horror stories, and have gained some vague idea of what he is capable of accomplishing.

But it all pales in comparison to the truth. Thanos is the single scariest villain in the MCU to date. He is as charismatic as a snake and has a tongue like honey. Trying to reason with him or tell him that he is wrong is like trying to tell a tidal wave to stop. It doesn’t work due to his arrogant certainty that he is right and the rest of the universe is wrong. He wants to be God, and has convinced himself – more or less – that he is, in fact, a deity.

No where is this better demonstrated than with the portrayal of his chief henchman, Ebony Maw. Maw practically worships Thanos and, by extension, death. The only member of the Black Order to receive decent screen time, Maw exhibits a chilling, slavish reverence for the Mad Titan. His speeches about how those whom he is going to murder on his master’s behalf have now had meaning injected into their previously “pointless” lives highlights the evil he and Thanos are perpetrating on innocents throughout the galaxy. It is a scary nod to what some people in real life who followed Hitler or Stalin believed about them and their bloody aims.

Avengers Infinity War deaths: Did [SPOILER] die or is it ...

Of course, this means that watching Maw get blasted into space was one of the most satisfying moments in the entire film. That was a good scene! I wonder if he found the meaning in his formerly pointless life upon being forcibly ejected into hard vacuum…

Probably not – or at least, not the kind that he was expecting. 😉

Speaking of good scenes, the heroes had plenty of those as well. While the majority did not receive as much screen time as I would have liked, the time they got was used well. This is most true, in my opinion, with regard to Vision and Wanda. They had some of the best scenes in the film. While they play second fiddle to Thanos, their tune is just as impressive (if not moreso) than his was or can ever be.

The trailers didn’t lie; despite the split in the team and the threat of the Accords, Wanda and Vision are dating by Infinity War. Apparently Cap and Tony have been arranging for the two to have some “alone time” in different parts of the world for a few days/weeks for the past two years. Vision turns off his tracking tech and disappears to be with Wanda, giving her a break from being on the run with the rest of the Secret Avengers. At the end of the agreed upon time, he goes back to being an official hero and she returns to being an outlawed heroine.

Their relationship is very, very well presented. Though Paul Bettany has made some joking comments about it (i.e. “I’m an android, [Olsen is] a witch – how does this work…”), that attitude never shows in their performances. They absolutely nailed Vision and Scarlet Witch’s romance in this movie, and they should receive awards for their work. I doubt they will, but they really, really should! 😀

Tony, too, did well in this film. He starts out hemming and hawing over the fact that he was wrong and “broke up the band” in Civil War, but the fact that he deliberately looks the other way when Vision goes to meet Wanda suggests he’s realized that the signing the Accords was a really bad idea. The fact that he also flies off to handle Thanos solo (more or less on purpose) only goes to show that he still hasn’t quite relinquished his irritating tendency to think/say/act like he can “fix” everything with his genius.

3 characters most likely to die in Avengers: Infinity War ...

But as the battle escalates and the true extent of the threat becomes more and more apparent, his arrogance melts away. Faced with the fact that his nightmare is real – and far worse than he thought – Tony rises to true heroism in his personal battle with Thanos. It’s a great moment (and a terrifying one), when the Mad Titan almost kills him. Strange’s bargain almost seems to be a cheat, as it interrupts Tony’s transformation and seeming achievement of the pinnacle of heroism.

It is, however, nothing of the sort. While Tony has reached a great height, his work is not yet done. He’s the resident super genius of the Avengers, which means that they need him to stop Thanos. Strange’s exchanging the Time Stone for his life makes plenty of sense on that level.

On a more personal one, which the good Sorcerer Supreme may have known as well, Tony hasn’t reached the peak of heroism yet. There is still some unfinished business he has to take care of back home before he is ready to face the final test. He has to patch things up with Steve.

As discussed in the posts about Cap and Tony’s character arcs in Civil War, most of the fallout from the final battle in that film lies squarely on Iron Man’s shoulders. He made the decision to sign the Accords; he fell for Thunderbolt Ross’ honeyed promises, and he is the one who forced the confrontation at the airport in Germany. Nothing Cap did was anything more or less than defensive counter maneuvers to block a literal or figurative punch.

Even when Steve avoided telling Tony about Bucky’s involvement in the murder of the senior Starks, while it wasn’t exactly right, it was certainly not comparable to what the younger man tried to do in Siberia. That entire fiasco, the rift between Tony and practically everyone else on the team, is his fault, not Cap’s. And he has to deal with that; he has to face it. Steve is more than ready to do make amends and move on….

…But when Tony had a chance to begin the catharsis and healing during Infinity War, he didn’t take it. His heroism on Titan is admirable (and Downey Jr.’s acting is fantastic), but it is not yet perfect. And although there are other factors leading up to the Avengers’ loss, his choices are a big part of why the team fails to stop the Mad Titan’s ambitions.

For Iron Man to become a true hero, a real modern knight, he has to face that fact. He has to admit he was “wr-r-r-ong,” to quote the Fonz, and he has to do it to Steve’s face. Cap is more than ready to let bygones be bygones, he just needs Tony to man up and say the word, none of which will happen if Tony is dead. And that’s a big part of why Strange gives the Mad Titan the Time Stone in exchange for Iron Man’s life.

Speaking of those left alive at the end of the movie, Chris Hemsworth pulled off a fantastic performance as the grieving, vengeance-hungry King of Asgard. Thor has been through a lot in a short amount of time, and though he bears up pretty well under it all for most of the film, it’s not hard to see him straining. He’s watched his home, his people, his friends, and his remaining family murdered for nothing. And it’s not hard to see how all of this is affecting him.

The really cool thing is how he shows it in small moments. Rubbing at his wrists with impatience when he thinks no one’s looking. Staring out the windows at nothing but the past. Avoiding eye contact or being a bit more terse and regal than he needs to be to make his point. The anger, pain, grief, and desire to avenge his losses at Thanos’ hands – it’s all there in the little gestures and glances he gives. This has to be one of his best performances yet.

Avengers 4 May Wrap Filming in January | Screen Rant

And that goes for the rest of the crew as well. Though they don’t get near enough screen time, the rest of the Avengers and Guardians each get their due. Whether it’s Gamora singing along to one of Quill’s songs at the same time he is or watching Bucky lift Rocket in the air so they can turn in a circle and cover all their bases, the heroes each get a moment to show how far they have come in ten years. It’s a beautiful thing to watch ….

…Which leads us to the biggest and best thing about the otherwise heart-wrenching finale for Infinity War. After all their hard work, the heroes are defeated, and more than half their numbers are erased. It is not at all uncommon to hear modern academics speculate lovingly about how we could save the planet if we murdered eighty or ninety percent of the population. There was a professor some years ago who openly hoped that a mutant Ebola virus would wipe out ninety percent of humanity in order to preserve the environment. (And yes, he received a standing ovation. Why do you ask?)

Infinity War takes these academics’ theories out of the classroom or lecture hall and explores them on the big screen with characters audiences everywhere have come to know and love deeply. Thanos has spent years systematically murdering fifty percent of numerous alien populations throughout the galaxy – up to and including the already halved Asgardian people, who have just lost their homeworld (which was apparently more sparsely inhabited than we thought, given the relatively small number of refugees who got loaded onto the Statesman at the end of Ragnarok).

Right out of the gate, Infinity War offers a very clear presentation of what the world would look like if those who desire the eradication of large numbers of human beings had their way. The Asgardians are practically on the verge of extinction; by Thanos’ own stated objectives, they should be safe from his culling.

But they are not. The Mad Titan walks aboard their ship, ostensibly searching for the Space Stone/Tesseract, and slaughters innocent civilians. Men, women, and children – none are spared, not even the (somewhat improbably) redeemed Loki. According to his mission parameters, there should be no reason for him to do this. Yet he wipes them all out without batting an eye anyway.

His actions put the lie to his rationale that in order to save the environment of the cosmos, he has to bring “balance” to a population that is already teetering on the edge of annihilation. Thanos is no savior, he’s a mass murderer. And those who espouse a similar worldview in real life are no less genocidal than he is.

Most importantly, the final shots for Infinity War and early footage for Endgame show the results of his policy. Panacea is not achieved throughout the universes; instead, chaos reigns. On Earth, planes crash into buildings, raising the death toll even higher as their remaining crews and passengers die in the resultant conflagrations. Uncontrolled vehicles crash into buildings and people, reducing the population again. Governments and infrastructure crumble, leading to anarchy as the rule of civilization dissolves. Food, gas, medicine, and electricity become luxuries as the factories and power plants which supplied them fall out of use, leading to mass starvation and death by disease.

The environment takes a hit with each loss as well. Fires rage from the plane and vehicle crashes; rains erode the carefully maintained terraces on farms and in parks, or lead to floods from dams that overflow with no one to open the channels that will send the water to other areas in a controlled manner. Pets starve when their owners don’t return to feed them, zoo animals die without the care of their handlers, as do animals in farms, labs, and animal shelters worldwide.

“But that’s not what killing eighty or ninety percent of the human race would do!” some cry. They are correct; wiping out more than fifty percent of the global population would make things worse. Entire cities would be fit only for ghosts, and the remaining people would not get to live in mansions with free Wi-Fi, running water, and endless supplies of food. They would have to go out and live in the heat and the cold, hunting and gathering and dying like their ancient ancestors did.

From what we see in both Endgame trailers, this has already happened. Clint is out killing Yakuza who have moved into the power vacuum in a city somewhere, while a refugee camp has been established around the Statue of Liberty, probably by the Avengers. They almost certainly set it up there because it was clean and provided easy access to a food source: fish, crabs, lobsters, and other sea creatures.

Thanos said he would go and watch the sun rise over a grateful universe after he had achieved his goals. But what kind of universe is thankful when half of the people that made it worth living in are turned to ash by a crazy man’s snap? The Titan is truly mad if, in the depths of his soul, he believes the cosmos is actually happy following his deeds. No platitudes of his will make up for the lost children, the vanished spouses, the beloved grandparents, or the acclaimed rulers. If Thanos were to go to New York expecting a warm welcome, he would have to powder more people as they rushed at him in a rage born of grief.

Unlike Loki, however, the Mad Titan has enough of an ego to believe that he can hear the crowds cheering from the fields of his new farm. He does not actually believe the people or the cosmos is appreciative of his actions. If he did, then he would go looking for praise. No, as Gamora said, his only love is for himself and his desires. Being alone on his farm like a“twisted Cincinnatus,” as someone said, is reward enough for his labors.

I, for one, can’t wait to see how the Avengers are going to bring him down. There is the chance that this will be the last hurrah for some of them, and if that is the case, I will be sorry to see them go – especially if they are given a poor send-off.  Or if they are replaced with lackluster characters (*cough* Carol Danvers *cough*). For the future of the Marvel Universes and audiences everywhere, I hope Endgame ends better than Infinity War did, with the team back together, the world safe, and Thanos gone for good.

Well, readers, it’s been a fantastic ten years of cinema. And it has to be said that, without them, I would not be here at Thoughts writing to all of you. It’s been a fun ride. I have no idea where things are going to go from here, but I know that everything leading up to this point has been great.

Until next time, readers:

Avengers, Assemble!

Avengers Endgame : la bande-annonce est enfin là, préparez ...

Remembering Stan “The Man” Lee

Stan Lee Confirms Three Upcoming Marvel Movie Cameos

As many, if not most, of you know by now, Stan Lee died on the morning of November 12, 2018. It was sad news for all the Marvelites who had enjoyed his universe and characters since childhood. We knew that someday Stan would have to go on the Great Adventure all his heroes were preparing us to face in the future, naturally, but we put all thoughts of his departure as far from our minds as possible.

This made it a blow when we got the news that he had passed through the curtain to the Other Side. I hope his wife and his second daughter were waiting for him when he got off the train. But as with my own fate, what has become of him now will remain a mystery until it is my turn to go through the curtain.

To say that Stan Lee and his friends at Marvel impacted this blogger’s life enormously would be an understatement. Without him and his compatriots, most of whom predeceased him, Thoughts on the Edge of Forever would not exist in the form you know it, readers. The first post I wrote here focused on Marvel’s The Avengers, the big box office hit of 2012 that kicked off roughly ten years of cinematic fun. And as long time readers know, most of the criticism on this site has been aimed at Marvel’s current hierarchy precisely because they were dishonoring Stan Lee’s legacy before he had even said his last, “Excelsior!”

None of this is to imply that Stan Lee was perfect. That would be ridiculous; he was a man, a fallen, flawed human being like me and everyone else in this world. I don’t think he was perfect. Perfect isn’t the point. He was a good storyteller and a good friend to all those who loved his and his company’s work, whether they met him in person or not.

Without his heroes – his flawed, human heroes – lots of people would have thrown in the towel on life and limb a long time ago. Captain America, Hawkeye, Spider-Man, Wasp, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Storm, Cyclops, Rogue, Gambit, Wolverine, Mirage, Black Widow, Falcon, Sunfire, Luke Cage, Namor the Submariner, Hulk, Thor Odinson, Black Panther, Professor X, Silver Sable – they all inspired someone. They all faced evils we could relate to, or could see ourselves encountering some day. They could have turned back from fighting evil lots of times under Stan’s leadership, but they didn’t. They all thought, “I can’t hang on much longer…!” only to come to the conclusion that they had to hang on longer, even if it killed them. Without their strength, many of us would have stopped holding on and fighting years ago.

So I will be forever grateful to Stan Lee for bringing these characters to the world, and for each story he wrote, approved, or spearheaded. Quaint or odd as it may seem, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without his help, distant though it was. Keep on going “ever higher,” Stan. We’ll be rooting for you until it’s our turn to finally glance over our shoulders, give everyone behind us a thumbs up, and say: “’Nuff said.”

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An Avengers: Infinity War Trailer Breakdown – Sorta

Finally – FINALLY!!! The trailer for Marvel’s third Avengers film has been released! The first major teaser trailer for Avengers: Infinity War appeared on the Internet yesterday, readers. And it is a doozy!

You can find another breakdown of the trailer here, which I enjoyed reading immensely. But while I was watching (and rewatching, and rewatching….) the trailer myself the other day, I noticed a few things which Mr. Finn did not mention. Being the Avengers’ fan that I am, it seemed reasonable for me to do a trailer breakdown myself. I need some way to burn off my excitement and trepidation, after all, and this appears like a good way to do it.

Why the trepidation? Well, for a start, this is Infinity War. This is the battle between Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and the Mad Titan, Thanos, wannabe paramour of death’s female incarnation himself. The way he plans to woo her is by uniting all six Infinity Stones to wipe out most of the universal population. (Hence the title Infinity War, Mr. Pine; it isn’t about ‘infinite war’ but six mega-powerful rocks which can reshape the universe from the ground up at the whim of whoever holds them. They’re so powerful the energy they produce is incalculable, i.e. infinite.)

At least, in the comics, Thanos’ aim is to make Death fall in love with him. In the movies he might just be a galactic overpopulation nutjob worried that the universe is becoming too crowded, which means everything has to be put in ‘balance’ again. (Translation, a lot of people “have” to die – fast.) And since he is the best and brightest guy who noticed the rising population in the first place, it makes total sense for him to be the bringer of that balance to the cosmos. Yeah, sure; please insert scoffing raspberry here, readers.

Of course, this means that all our heroes are on the chopping block. We can be sure that a few will survive to be in more movies, but for others, there is no guarantee. Nada. Zip. Zilch. This brings me to my first observation about this trailer….

WHERE THE SAM HILL IS HAWKEYE?!?!?!?! (And Ant-Man, can’t forget about him….)

Two whole minutes of trailer, and my favorite archer does not even get a cameo?!?!?! Are you kidding me?!?! Where is Clint Barton? Why isn’t he in this trailer, at least as a voice? I thought we established waaay back in Age of Ultron and Civil War just how important Hawkeye is to the team. But he doesn’t show up AT ALL in this trailer. Neither does Ant-Man, who would be a BIG help when our guys run into hordes, multitudes, and fireteams of alien monsters.

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Where are these two?

Okay, now that I got the big problem out of the way, we can delve into the trailer.

The first picture we see is of a storm-tossed desert planet, followed by a shot of Tony sitting down somewhere. He is rocking back and forth on his heels, apparently trying not to cry. From later shots, it looks like this is a world where he and Spider-Man get trapped after they first face Thanos.

I’m guessing Peter gets seriously hurt here. I say hurt and not killed because Tom Holland still has two or three Spider-Man films in his contract. These films are set between the Avengers’ movies, so they cannot afford to knock off Peter Parker here. Not yet, anyway, or at least not permanently. We also have a voice over throwback to The Avengers where Fury explains the Initiative to Steve on the Helicarrier. But it is Fury’s only line in the trailer as Tony, Vision, Thor, and then Natasha finish his speech for him.

The next scene shows Dr. Strange and his buddy Wong looking down at a confused and shirtless Bruce Banner, who has literally dropped into the Sanctum Sanctorum from above. Aside from the fact that this is another nice nod to The Avengers, it apparently has something to do with the end credits for Thor: Ragnarok. I am guessing, since I have not yet seen the film, that Hulk somehow got blown off of Asgard when it went BOOM and has landed, as Banner, in Dr. Strange’s house. I thought he left Asgard with Thor, but apparently he decided to take the quick way home. Probably for the best, considering what we see later on….

Next image we have shows Paul Bettany, sans Vision makeup, throwing curtains open on a rainy day/evening/dawn. Now if you watch this clip and do not stop it, you will miss an important thing. You will miss the fact that Wanda is in this room as well. Look to the left of the frozen image and you will see her in a bed. THIS IS A BEDROOM, PEOPLE!! AND SHE IS SHARING IT WITH A HUMAN VISION!!!!

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Holy cow, I did not see this coming, although I did see the romance part coming. (Spoiler alert, they married in the comics. It was fine for a while, but then the writers abused them, so it got weird.) Looking at this still shot, it appears that Viz woke up and went to look out the window at something, waking Wanda up in the process. But why is he human? And when did they start rooming together (or did they actually get married in the films after all)?

Unfortunately for Wanda and/or Vision, I am pretty sure this is a hallucination. Or someone is poking around in their head(s), looking at their desires/dreams, taunting them by using these fantasties. (Vision cannot ever be physically human, readers; that is why I say this is a fantasy.)

One of the reasons I think this may be a hallucination is because the Black Order, five or six alien warriors who follow Thanos and who want to bring death to everyone everywhere, are said to be a part of this film. Given that the next scene shows the Mind Stone still in Vision’s forehead, I am thinking Ebony Maw or Supergiant, two telepathic/psychic members of the Black Order, are playing around with either his fantasies or Wanda’s. If it is Wanda they are messing with, I hope the Scarlet Witch pastes them. If it is Vision, the Black Order might have captured him, meaning that they may be trying to interrogate him.

Another theory I have for this scene is that this is Wanda’s fantasy, and Vision is working to snap her out of it. Or Vision has found a way to disguise himself so that he looks human, which means that he and Wanda are actually living together here. This might explain a later scene which makes it appear that the Scarlet Witch hasn’t been hanging out much with Team Cap. If she’s been living with Vision, then the guys on Team Red, White, and Blue knew she was safe and happy, so they let her go with Viz to live off of the U.N.’s radar while they kept Avenging.

Our next throwback scene shows Thor looking out of what appears to be the Milano’s viewports. How he ended up with Quill and the gang when he was supposed to be taking care of the Asgardians he saved in Ragnarok is anybody’s guess at this point. I think those who have seen the film probably have better theories about the how than I do, so let me finish by saying why this is a throwback scene. Anybody remember Fury standing in a similar position aboard the Helicarrier in The Avengers? I sure do!

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Next we have Bruce, in full attire, standing beside a Hulkbuster fist in what is apparently Wakanda. He is sharing a smile with a blonde Natasha Romanoff. (Really? Blonde? She originally had black hair in the comics, what was wrong with that color…?) I do not know if they will be picking up their relationship where they left off in Age of Ultron. I kind of hope they do; it was so unexpectedly sweet and suited them so well that I would really like to see them get back together. But we may get a Natasha/Bucky romance during Infinity War and its sequel instead. I would be happy with that, too, mind you, but the romantic in me still wants Bruce and Natasha to start dating again.

Up next we have scenes of Tony, Bruce, Strange, and Wong in the Sanctum, with a voice over by Thanos. We follow this up with Peter Parker’s arm hairs rising. This could be a sign of his Spider sense activating, or it could be that the massive alien teleportation ring we see hovering over New York is generating enormous amounts of energy. Static electricity, after all, makes hair stand up straight. The energy the ring is producing may not be powerful enough to make long hair stand up, but it could make arm hairs raise. Just saying.  🙂

Then we have Tony, Bruce, and our two sorcerers standing out in the street staring at the big Ferris wheel in the sky. At least Strange and Wong are powered up and prepared to fight. Even Bruce is standing in ready position. Tony’s the only one doing the “Oh, bleep!” blind staring act here.

Does he have another arc reactor in his chest? It is hard to see, since Tony’s jacket is almost zipped closed, but I think there is actually another arc reactor powering his heart here. How did that happen? I thought it was removed in Iron Man 3. Did he have it taken out, or just replaced? If the latter, why haven’t we seen it in the other films? Or is this a new, fancy Iron Man suit that he can hide under normal clothes, like some of the ones he has in the comics?

Well, we’ll find out one way or the other. After this we see someone stepping over the bodies of a lot of dead people, followed by a shot of Loki holding the Tesseract out to Thanos. (Big surprise there – that rotten little weasel would get away from a dying Asgard with the Infinity Stone he promised to deliver to Thanos way back in The Avengers….grrrr.) From the looks of the backdrop and the apparel on the dead bodies, I would say this scene occurs in Knowhere.

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Loki, you @#%*$!!!

This is very bad, since this could be where Thanos goes to pick up the Aether/Reality Stone from the Collector. Not to mention it seems he killed a whole lot of people here for no good reason…. But then, he wants to kill everyone for no good reason. So this scene isn’t really a surprise at all.

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And Spidey got an Iron Spider suit. Shiny – and it is good at grabbing the rotating innards of that portal gizmo. Nice. Does it come with missiles and extra legs, too? Those would be helpful right about now…

Whoops, looks like Thor is standing in the center ring of an even bigger portal doohicky. And he is trying to tear it apart. Or is he trying to activate it? Those look like the controls for the Milano in his hands, but that big bubble-wand is not Peter Quill’s ship. So what are we looking at here, exactly? And what is Thor trying to do?

All right, quick, stop that next scene!!! Did you see that?!?!?

No? Try again, as many times as you have to. We know who catches the glowing blue trident, but did you see who threw it?!?!

If you missed her despite your best efforts, don’t worry, I did, too. A lot. But then I managed to catch a glimpse of her. That, my dear readers, is Proxima Midnight – one of the leaders of the Black Order and a nasty, nasty lady. Did I say she was nasty? She gives nasty a bad name. That trident is her signature weapon.

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Proxima Midnight

It is hard for me to say just where she is standing. Looks like it could be an airport or a subway tunnel; maybe a factory or a gas station. Either way, it is dark, so someone cut the power here, or this scene happens at night. Proxima Midnight – Near Midnight. Ha-ha, very clever, Marvel.

The person she threw the trident at is none other than Captain America. (Seriously, let the man shave already!!! Beards are not meant for combat – they’re too easy for an opponent to grab and hold. Evans may get away with a beard, but Cap does not!!!) He is still shieldless but just as clearly still on the job.

I say this last because of the next scene where we see Steve. After Proxima tries to shish-kabob Cap, we see him step out of the shadows, looking like Star Wars RebelsAgent Kallus. Nevertheless, Wanda appears to be very happy to see him. To me, she almost seems ready to cry at the sight of him. Judging by the stuff in the background and the fact that her hands are glowing, it looks like Wanda engaged Proxima first, which means Steve came to back her up.

But if she is about to cry on seeing him, that might mean she was not expecting him to show up. This concerns me; Steve may not be using his Captain America moniker for the beginning of Infinity War, but he is not the kind of man who will sit back and let evil have its day. The fact that he shows up fully suited and combat ready, if a little scruffy, suggests he has been maintaining his superhero status since the end of Civil War.

I thought the rest of the anti-Accords Avengers would be with him. But if Wanda is so near tears when she sees him stop Proxima’s trident, plus the fact that she is wearing civvies and looks like she showed up to the fight underdressed, does that mean Cap disbanded his team and went solo? That doesn’t add up. They’re stronger and safer together, at least in pairs. I also don’t see the guys letting Wanda run around on her own, not after Ross locked her up in solitary on the Raft in Civil War. That is not like them.

Of course, maybe she didn’t give them a choice. Maybe she left of her own volition and has been staying off the radar her own way. If I were the guys, I still wouldn’t be willing to let her go off alone. The fact that no one kept an eye on Wanda in the early ‘90s after she had suffered a serious string of bad luck was one of the factors which led to her going crazy in the Avengers: Disassembled and House of M comics. If the writers are planning to go in this unhealthy direction in the films, I will not be happy. But if this is the result of the fact that she has married, or is living with, Vision – that I will accept.

Yes, I know I skipped T’Challa’s speech. But the part here with Wanda was really important. T’Challa’s words are totally in keeping with his character, and they do him immense credit, so I do no think I have to really dwell on them. Though I will say that I went a little squeaky when T’Challa said, “And get this man a shield.” Eeeek! Way to go, Panther! Make sure it is colored right, please! Yay!!!!! Captain America forever!!!!

Okay, next we see a new and improved (we hope) Hulkbuster in Wakanda, followed by Natasha jabbing someone in the midsection with a staff. Judging by the scenery behind Widow, I would say this is the same fight where Cap shows up to help Wanda battle Proxima Midnight. (Please let Natasha be stabbing Proxima Midnight, please let Natasha be stabbing Proxima Midnight, please, please, please…!)

Then we have Dr. Strange relaxing/freaking out (?) after doing a little magic (I mean, super-duper fast quantum calculations). Then we have a giant black pyramid thing – one of several – landing in what appears to be Wakanda. I am with Mr. Finn; if the Soul Stone is not in Wakanda’s basement treasury, I will be surprised and disappointed. There is no way Thanos and his aliens are after the vibranium – not when they can get better, stronger material in space. They have to be after something else here.

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After this we see Cap (without a shield), Panther, and a lot of Wakandans mixing it up with four-armed, big-toothed aliens. Then we see Spidey get slammed into the dirt by Thanos, followed by a shot of a distressed, unsuited Tony Stark. Next we see someone standing on Vision’s chest while stabbing the Mind Stone in his head, using a staff shaped like the one Loki had in The Avengers. This begs the question of whether or not Loki is the one doing the stabbing; looking at the shape of the stabber’s feet, I am inclined to say it is actually Ebony Maw or Corvus Glave, but I could be wrong.

I was actually much happier to see Bucky than I expected to be. That is a really nice gun, there, Buck. And you have a shiny new arm! (Please tell me it is made of vibranium; please tell me it is made of vibranium…!) Then we see T’Challa turning to look at the screen. If you freeze the shot, you will notice that Natasha is standing next to him. Her hair is in the lower right corner.

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Go get ’em, guys!

This is followed by assorted scenes of combat, as a horde of aliens tries to invade Wakanda. The only Avengers we can confirm are present in this battle so far are Cap, Widow, Bucky, Hulk, Panther, Falcon, and War Machine (I guess they fixed his back). Finally, we get a glimpse of Thor asking who in the Sam Hill the Guardians of the Galaxy are.

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The Guardians of what again?

You can just see the air go out of Quill’s tires when he says that. Four years on the job as Guardians and yet the Prince – now King – of Asgard has not heard of him and his crew? Come on, man!

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The Guardians of the Galaxy

This is going to be a rip-roaring ride. I cannot tell who may or may not die. Personally, I hope Thanos and the Black Order all get obliterated from the universe during this film, or during Avengers 4. And if bad stuff does happen to our heroes – and I do not see how they can escape scars, bruises, etc. here – I hope that six of ‘em each get a hand on an Infinity Stone and use the rocks’ combined power to set things right.

Some will say that is cheating, and maybe it is. But as I have said elsewhere, I do not go to these movies for the villains. I do not go to them to be told, “Lie down and die.” If I wanted that message, I would go to a DC film or to see the latest installment in the X-Men franchise.

I go to the Avengers films because they tell good stories, using heroes I love, and they give me hope. That last is in VERY short supply in most of the fare we receive from Hollywood these days. Only the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit movies gave me the same sort of satisfaction as the Avengers have, with Star Trek a close runner up. I would not even be going to cinemas now if it were not for the Avengers cinematic saga.

So whether anyone likes it or not, I am not raffling off any of the heroes for death in this movie or its sequel. If the writers kill them, I am stuck; if the actors who play them have quit and necessitated the killing, I am stuck. I will not complain if they are sent off with honors. However, whether they live or die, I will not desire their deaths or the deaths of any other heroes in the films.

I do not worship death, as some of the people who follow these movies seem to do. I worship God, Whose hand I have seen in most of these stories. If the film writers turn away from Him, then they can kiss my cash goodbye. It has been a great ride, and I hope they end it well. If they do not, it will be a tragedy; but I have trusted God to steer them right so far. I trust Him to do it again. After Avengers 4, I will be able to either peacefully enjoy what comes next, or disengage from the franchise with a fond farewell. What shall be is not yet determined. It is out of my hands; I can only wait and see.

Ha, haha. For once, waiting does not seem quite as hard for me now as it has been in the past.

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Avengers – Assemble!

Why I Hate Halloween – Or, My Hallowe’en Candy Came Early

Normally, I would wait to review the Avengers Assemble episode “Why I Hate Halloween” until more of season four had aired. But given how good an episode it was, and how often I rant and rave against Marvel’s PC posturing, I figure they deserve to know when I think they have done something right.

And I have to tell you, readers, they did “Why I Hate Halloween” just right!!! 😀

For one thing, this episode was entirely lacking in PC appeasement. For another, neither Captain nor Miss Marvel was present. When I saw the title for this show listed on Wikipedia, I thought for sure I would have to sit through another episode featuring Khan and Danvers trotting across the screen, belting out the lyrics to “I am Woman, hear me roar!” for half an hour. I was not looking forward to this episode.

When it started, though, I realized my old friends were back on screen. And it was Hawkeye, one of my top two favorite Avengers, rattling off the introductory details through a series of hilarious zingers.

On top of this, Hulk was smashing down doors and HYDRA goons; Cap was slinging his shield while Iron Man, Black Widow, Thor, and Falcon attacked the bad guys as well. I began to smile, feeling my tense anticipation of a lecture dissolve as I did. Far from finding an episode I would hate, a treasure had been dropped in my lap. So I did not look said gift horse in the mouth but accepted the original Avengers’ reappearance with happy eagerness.

I have to tell you, readers, this show delivered. Bonus points, it is almost entirely centered on Hawkeye, who is tasked with protecting HYDRA scientist Whitney Frost (a.k.a. Madame Masque) from King Dracula and his vampire hordes.

According to Assemble, this is not the first time Drac has had issues with HYDRA. Back in World War II, he formed an alliance with Cap and the West to protect his home turf, Transylvania, from a HYDRA invasion. And no, Cap was not exactly happy to be working side-by-side with the vampire-in-chief. But at the time HYDRA was a bigger threat, so he did his duty and protected Transylvania, fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with the leader of vampires everywhere while he did it.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” only goes so far, though. In the present day Cap and Drac are far from allies or friends.

And on this particular day – Halloween – things really are not going the Avengers’ way. Having just mopped up Frost’s HYDRA base, they find the genius scientist has been trying to augment HYDRA soldiers using vampire DNA.

Yeah, I know. This is a stupendously brilliant idea. Use vampire DNA to make an army of keen-sighted, super strong, super fast soldiers. On paper, it sounds great and nothing could possibly go wrong with it.

But anyone with a lick of sense knows better than to tick off one vampire, let alone the vampire king. This brainless HYDRA woman has just bought herself a mess of trouble, which she does not realize until vamps start popping up in the HYDRA base to get her. Dead vampires are a whole lot less scary than the ones that can jump on you and turn you into a vamp, readers. Just ask Harry Dresden.

Well, the Avengers being the heroes they are, they defend Frost from this first wave of attacking monsters. But they cannot keep her among them and prevent the vampires from getting to her, or her from running away when their backs are turned. So Cap orders Hawkeye to take Frost to one of the team’s hidden bunkers called “the Beach House.”

What is Hawkeye’s immediate reaction? “What?! No way! C’mon, you know I hate the Beach House!”

I nearly laughed out loud. As it is, I was smiling so hard I’m lucky my face did not crack.

Despite his protest, Hawkeye does as he is told. Using a HYDRA sky cycle, he takes Frost to the Beach House, which is actually in the mountains in Vermont. He sets up the defenses for the place and brings Frost inside to wait out the night.

But things get complicated when HYDRA tries to spring his charge from house arrest. They send Crossbones and Crimson Widow (Yelena Belova) to evac Frost, but the two only succeed in getting caught inside the house when Drac and an army of vamps show up.

The king of the vampires tells them to hand over Frost and he will let them all live. (Yeah, sure…) Again, Hawkeye has the perfect comeback, “Not gonna happen, Tooth Boy!”

Again, I nearly laughed out loud.

Hawkeye points out that vampires cannot enter houses unless invited in, stating he knows the rules about how they operate. Since they need an invitation, Hawkeye can keep them out simply by telling them to take a hike. Drac admits he has a point, but then asks what good that will do if there’s no house in which he and the others can stand. He subsequently orders his minions to start tearing the Beach House down, leaving Hawkeye to take charge of the three HYDRA villains in order to fulfill his duty to protect Frost.

I will do my best to avoid spoiling the rest of the story, readers. If I have succeeded in whetting your appetite, please take the time to find this show and watch it. It is worth the almost thirty minutes of your time that it will take up.

But, you ask, why do I like this show so much – other than the obvious reason that it stars one of my favorite characters? It is not just the fact that “Why I Hate Halloween” focuses on Hawkeye. It is how Hawkeye behaves in this episode which made me like it so much.

Going back in Thoughts on the Edge of Forever’s archives, you will find a number of posts about Avengers Assemble’s first and second seasons. In most of them, you will find I have a big bone to pick with Marvel’s writers. During the show’s first two seasons, they portrayed all the Avengers – but especially Hawkeye – in varying stereotypical, liberal ways. Of the seven, Hawkeye got the shortest end of the stick, and I was NOT pleased with that. (See previous posts to learn why.)

Season three of the series changed tack, allowing the heroes to act more like themselves than they had in the prior arcs. This gave Hawkeye a chance to shine, and I duly admitted my contentment with this change. Accordingly, I also expressed my displeasure with the first few episodes of season four when he and the others were forcibly removed and replaced with two PC characters (Danvers and Khan) and one with a liberal chip on her shoulder (Wasp).

This episode showed the World’s Greatest Marksman doing everything I had ever wanted the writers to allow him to do in one half hour package. During this installment Clint got to show his resourcefulness, his compassion, his skills, his sense of humor, and his confidence to the utmost. The writers finally let him prove that he is very intelligent, not to mention quite capable of thinking on his feet when others could be or are panicking. From start to finish, the writers let Clint Barton be Clint Barton. They let him be the mature, confident marksman with the snappy patter and heart of gold which he has been for years in the comics. (High falutin’ time they did this, too!)

They also let the HYDRA jerks pick on him and call him the weakest Avenger, an old jibe which has never failed to get under his skin and make him wonder whether or not he actually belongs on the team comprised of “Earth’s Mitghtiest Heroes.” Hearing it delivered in varying ways throughout the show would have made me angry if Clint had not managed to hide how much the taunts actually bothered him. Only at the end did he admit that the sneers had started to undermine his confidence. Seeing him vulnerable, for just a minute there, made up for the mistreatment the writers heaped on him in the first two seasons.

In turn, the writers also let him teach Frost a lesson or three. A proud woman who is supposedly a genius, I have to say, she came off as dense for most of the episode. Which, actually, is true to life; joining the Dark Side does not make you smarter, readers. If anything, it makes you stupid. Case in point would be this dame’s decision to subject vampires to scientific tests to augment living humans’ natural abilities. Vampires – seriously?! How harebrained is that?! Do you WANT to die?!?

But the most important point here is that the writers for this chapter at long last did justice to their character and his environment. They made a compelling standalone show of great value which restores Clint’s dignity as a character, a superhero, and an Avenger. I am not kidding when I say my Hallowe’en candy came early with this episode. It did, and it was long overdue, readers!

By this I mean that I finally got to see one of my favorite Marvel heroes being everything I knew he was and could be. At the end of this show, I was cheering with delight – even when the writers resorted to the old gag of getting Clint in trouble with the Hulk. Since this time it was the result of an honest mistake on his and Big Green’s part, I can let this one joke slide. It seemed to round out the episode nicely – although why Hulk would think to wear that particular costume after a night fighting vampires is beyond me!

Speaking of the not-so-jolly Green Giant, Hulk came through this show with flying colors, too. So did Cap. Neither of them had huge amounts of screen time, for transparent reasons, but what time they did have was used well and artistically. They also behaved according to pattern, and Cap actually got to tell a joke without looking stiff or uncomfortable doing it. I mean, the only thing the writers did not do with this episode was gift wrap it. It was practically a present to Marvel fans – and Cap, Hawkeye, and Hulk fans in particular. It was almost like a thank-you letter straight from the writers’ desk to the fans.

Of course, some may wonder if this is a sign that things are looking up in the Marvel Universe(s). I rather doubt that. This episode was wonderful, stupendous, and utterly amazing – and it could very well have been a one off. Marvel has a new series of “Legacy” comics out now which I do not like the look of at all. Sam is still using Cap’s suit and shield (and still spewing anti-American claptrap); Jane Foster is still prancing around as Thor, and Ironheart has replaced Tony, who has somehow vanished. This is after he had been in a coma since Civil War II. Apparently, they had him using a holographic interface to communicate with the outside world before he pulled a Houdini (putting the lie to the myth that comas equal permanent vegetative states or brain death when they did this).

It also turns out that HYDRA Cap was some kind of clone or something, not the real Steve Rogers. This means that the Real Cap is dealing with the fallout his dopplegänger caused while he was elsewhere. It seems that HYDRA Cap took over half the world and put a lot of people in front of firing squads or some such thing. Naturally, this totally ruined Real Cap’s reputation now that he has returned from the Nevernever – or whatever Marvel equivalent there might be – to clean up the mess.

You know, maybe they should rename it “Awful Comics” instead of Marvel Comics. There is not much marvelous in these new stories; just a lot of depressing horse pills which leave a lousy taste in readers’ brains.

So no, I do not think “Why I Hate Halloween” marks the beginning of a trend. At least, I do not believe that right now. Considering the pleasant surprise the writers handed me this week, I could be in for more. While such a hope is faint, “hope springs eternal in the human breast,” and I am not going to lose hope that Marvel can right their ship. I am just not going to hold my breath while I hope for it to happen. I like living too much to try the opposite.

Anyway, readers, take the time to look up “Why I Hate Halloween.” This is good Marvel fare, believe me. If you are a Hawkeye hater, you can at least enjoy it for Cap and Hulk. Or the explosions. Or the vampires. And if none of that will win you over… (Author shrugs.) Oh, well. I tried.

Avengers assemble!

Do Marvel Fans Hate Women and Diversity? Not Hardly.

Hey, readers! Did you happen to hear that Marvel’s comic book sales are declining?  If you did not, then you probably missed what Marvel’s VP of Sales, Mr. David Gabriel, had to say about it.  Read on to find out just what he said:

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“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales.  We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character [sic], people were turning their nose up against.  That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked.”  (Source:  http://www.express.co.uk/entertainment/films/787249/Marvel-comics-diversity-Ironheart-Kamala-Khan-female-Thor-Iron-Man-Avengers-Infinity-War)

This is news Marvel apparently got from the retailers selling its comics. While some retailers saw an influx of new clientele, most saw a big drop as people ignored the new comics because their favorite characters – Captain America, Iron Man, Falcon, Hulk, Thor, etc. – were being killed off and/or humiliated, which means that their audience felt depressed and/or mortified.  Marvel’s comic book sales have weakened in proportion to the steady stream of replacement, politically correct characters and stories the company has been trying to shove down our throats for the past three or four years.

I was astounded to see this statement from Mr. Gabriel. I have known for years that Marvel would lose revenue if it abused its audience by maltreating or destroying its characters.  If you have followed my blog for a while, you know this is so.  What surprised me was that a member of Marvel’s hierarchy actually admitted that sales were dropping because of the “new materiel” they were introducing.  I told ‘em this was going to happen, but did they listen to me?  ‘Course not.  And now they are shocked that people do not want to buy comics that make fools of and/or destroy their favorite characters.  Well surprise, surprise, surprise, Marvel!  How could you have missed that fastball?

I can hear some of you fainting right now. You think I am an awful person for celebrating this news, no?  That I hate women and diversity, too, n’est pas?

Well, no, I don’t. Allow me to explain what made me rejoice over Mr. Gabriel’s statement:  what made me happy about his announcement was that he has finally admitted, on behalf of the company he serves, that politically correct characters are turning fans off of the Marvel franchise.  He has finally acknowledged the obvious; that so-called “characters” like Jane Foster/Thorette, Amadeus Cho/New Hulk, Riri Williams/Ironheart, Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, and Gwen Stacey/Spider-Girl, along with other “new,” “diverse,” and “legacy” protagonists – which are supposedly “meant to bring women and minorities to the forefront of social consciousness” – are really hurting instead of helping Marvel’s brand.

So if I like what Mr. Gabriel had to say, then why am I writing this post? I am writing this post because he and his colleagues are missing the point of why their sales are falling.  Mr. Gabriel says what they believe; that legions of Marvel’s fans hate women and diversity, and so they need to keep doing what they are doing in order to win their “deplorable” fans – you and me – over to their view of the world.  In essence, they are accusing the thousands of people who support their business of widespread bigotry, intolerance, and stupidity; completely ignoring the beam in their own eye to pluck out the mote in ours.

This is what has Marvel fans so upset. This is why they have stopped buying the new comics.  Marvel fans definitely do not hate diversity or women.  The latter is proved by the fact that Marvel already has hundreds of established female characters with existing fanbases – although you would not know that if you were new to the Marvel multi-verse or have only heard about it from the mouths of twits (most comic book film critics).  Go to my post “Offended, Insulted, and Not Shutting Up” for a roll of Marvel’s female characters and a link to a longer list where you can learn about more of them.  The fact is that these reviewers could care less that Marvel has a panoply of female characters for the simple reason that it is not part of their agenda.

As for the idea that Marvel fans hate diversity, this is a laughable argument because it is so easily invalidated. Marvel has been diverse since it was founded, something that is shown through characters like Storm, Falcon, Black Panther, Misty Knight, and Luke Cage, all of whom are black.  Separate sources have consistently claimed that either Black Panther or Falcon was the first black superhero to appear in comics, beating out DC’s Black Lighting.  I think that Storm might predate the three of them, but I am not sure.

Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are Gypsies, readers.  Red Wolf, Mirage, and Thunderbird are American Indians; and Colossus and the Black Widow are Russians who have become U.S. citizens.  Then there is Nightcrawler, who is German and who barely resembles a human; Silverclaw, who is Brazilian; Sunfire, a Japanese man who follows the tradition of the samurai, and Bengal, a Vietnamese superhero who lives and works in Vietnam.

If Marvel were not diverse, readers, then these characters would never have been created by Stan Lee and the original writers. If Marvel’s fans hated diversity, none of these characters would have lasted more than one issue.  Before 2015, they were all alive in the Marvel multi-verse, which means they have, collectively, been around for nearly seventy years.  How can people who have kept these characters “alive” for so long hate diversity?  Answer:  they cannot, and therefore they do not, hate diversity.

So if Marvelites do not hate women or diversity, then why is Marvel losing revenue on its new comic books? Hmmmm…. Maybe these books are doing poorly because the fans, new and old, actually like Thor Odinson as the Prince of Thunder and not some prancing female using his hammer and claiming to be something she is manifestly not. Maybe fans truly liked Bruce Banner as The Incredible Hulk and really hate the fact that Marvel had one of his best friends kill him. Maybe fans are in fact more than a little bit upset by Marvel’s decision to make Steve Rogers a secret agent of HYDRA and a flaming NAZI. Maybe they genuinely like Tony Stark as the Invincible Armored Iron Man who can build his way out of a trap with a broken laptop and some chewing gum, instead of a fifteen year old science whizz-kid who could do her own thing instead of shoehorning herself into his act.

And maybe they do not like one of the first black superheroes – Falcon – being shoved into the role of Captain America, since it smacks of condescension and patronization.  This move by Marvel is obviously meant to appease the PC police.  And by doing this to the Falcon, Marvel’s writers are essentially stating that they think Sam Wilson – and therefore his fans – should not be satisfied that he is one of the first two black superheroes in comicdom.  They would rather destroy the Falcon to make a new, “modern” Captain America that is anything BUT an American.

So maybe the reason sales are dropping is because fans think that pushing Falcon into Steve’s suit, handing him Rogers’ shield, and leaving him to spout anti-American claptrap like a ventriloquist’s dummy actually demeans African-Americans instead of “elevating” them or making Sam “more relevant” to the times.

Yeah, I think these facts may have more to do with your declining sales than sexism or racism, Mr. Gabriel.  Too bad you and everyone else at Marvel have not realized this yet.  Or, realizing it, you have decided that you know what we want because you are the “better and the brighter” of society and YOU are never wrong.  We are just peons who cannot see the mote in our eye.  That might be true, but you are missing the enormous beam in your own eye, buster.

So much for the customer is always right, eh, readers?

The reason I am writing all of this is because the people presently helming Marvel – and their enablers/cheerleaders in the world of critics – do not want more diversity or female characters. They want an emasculated male populace and homogeneity.  They want black to be white, left to be right, and the population of the world to be nothing less than mental clones of them.  Though they are doomed to failure, this does not mean that we can simply sit on the sidelines and let them ruin the Marvel universe(s).  It means that we have to fight back against their dehumanizing push for sameness.

This leads me to another problem that Marvel is currently experiencing. An article at http://io9.gizmodo.com/marvel-vp-blames-women-and-diversity-for-sales-slump-1793921500 states that another reason for the drop in Marvel’s sales is due to the increasingly schizophrenic story arcs the company has been churning out for two years. I actually think this problem goes back to at least the Disassembled and House of M story lines.  The reason I trace the problem back that far is this is when I noticed that Marvel was going off the rails. Disassembled and House of M may not have been the starting points, but they were the arcs which made me bite my lip and think, “@&*!, here we go with the death, despair, darkness, your-heroes-are-really-villains-in-disguise downward spiral.”

Just think about it, readers. After House of M the Marvel universe – which was originally upbeat, positive, and generally told decent to good stories – took a nosedive into the muck.  After House of M we were fed the atrociously immoral and disgusting “Ultimate Universe.”  Then we were handed the insipid “New Avengers” storyline and endured the advent of the largely lukewarm “Young Avengers” crew.  We were handed the demoralizing Civil War arc next.  Then we had the sickening Avengers vs. X-Men event; the asinine “Unity Squad” story line, and the Original Sin plotline which led to the putrid rewrite of the Marvel universe(s) in the Secret Wars event of 2015.

According to Beth Elderkin, the writer of the article at io9.gizmodo.com, there have been “at least 12 events and crossovers [in the past two years]. Events, in particular, have become more of a chore than a reward. There’s little build-up or anticipation because you know another one’s right around the corner. They also can completely screw over beloved characters for the sake of drama, like turning Captain America into a fascist as Sam Wilson has taken [on] his mantle.

She says this makes it hard for new readers to focus, and I will not argue that these endless events do not help new fans to get their footing in the Marvel multi-verse – or, rather, what is left of it. But the problem she does not address is that none of these events or crossovers is positive. These stories are all negative and thus display brazenly the idea that Marvel’s management, who believe themselves the “best and the brightest” (but are truly the dumb and the dimmest), know what’s best for the rest of us. They also continue to drive the homogeneity mantra onto readers’ minds like a suffocating pillow. Not one of these events leaves a reader feeling uplifted and ready to face the world again. How do I know this?

Because that is what simply reading descriptions of these story arcs did and still does to me. And I am not alone, something which Mr. Gabriel’s admission about moribund comic book sales proves. Every last one of the story arcs I listed above may be compelling and addictive to some readers, but to most of us they reek of negativity, despair, and nihilism. How many people want to stew in an emotional/mental/spiritual refuse pile like this? If the downturn in Marvel’s comic book sales is as steep as Mr. Gabriel seems to believe it is, then I think I am safe in saying that ninety percent of normal, everyday people do not want this junk. This means that Marvel is selling to a narrow market which is shrinking day by day.

But why is Marvel having this problem at all? If the difficulty is too many dispiriting events, the company could easily fix the problem by turning the characters over to new authors, right?  Possibly, but from what Beth Elderkin says this entire problem is born of the fact that “….There’s been a steady decline in Marvel’s talent pool, because of better offers and independent retailers. One retailer mentioned at the summit that it’s especially hard to keep talented writers and artists when they can make creator-owned books at publishers like Image. Not only does it give them more flexibility to tell the stories they want, but they also keep way more of the revenue.”

Again, I will not argue with her. Though I have no idea what Marvel pays its artists and writers, I do know that the writers they are allowing free reign in their universe(s) at the moment should not be allowed anywhere near a keyboard or a pen. The “stories” that many of these writers are pumping out are evidence that they are intellectual hamsters running inside fetishified exercise wheels decorated with death’s heads.

So finding new writers for Marvel who have positive attitudes and a love of truth, beauty, and goodness is going to be a challenge. Believing that Marvel would hire these people seems to be asking for a miracle. And if Marvel currently has writers who want to tell true, good, and beautiful stories with their characters, these writers appear to be few and far between. And these people are either barely hanging on to their jobs or they have left for greener pastures.

“All right, Mithril,” some of you say, “if these are the problems, just what are we supposed to do about them? Marvel is a big company and they won’t let just anyone in. They specifically tell aspiring artists and storytellers, ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you.’ How are we going to fix a company that doesn’t want to be fixed?”

Good question. There are several options available to fans, readers. If you are like me and my friends, and you do not like the stories which Marvel is publishing, keep doing what you have been doing: avoid their new comics like the plague. This means that their sales will keep plummeting and they will, sooner or later, be forced to clean up their act in order to stay in business. Or they will finally hire people who will do this service for us. Either way, remember that money talks. If your money is not going into their pockets, then the silence will get their attention.

Another option is to become a writer yourself. If you write good stories and books and they sell well, are positively reviewed, and have the masses talking with mouths and wallets, then Marvel will probably notice you.   Then maybe – just maybe – you will get lucky and they will tap you to write for them.

If you do manage to accomplish this feat, then I would add the caveat that you do your best to keep your eye on the prize. Put your slippers under your bed, as Denzel Washington advised, so that you always have to kneel down to get them in the morning. You got where you are by telling good, true, and beautiful stories, and this is what you want to do with Marvel’s heroes. Keep that goal in mind and you should be fine.

If you are not much of a storyteller, and you are already speaking by not buying Marvel’s comics, then you can always write letters to Marvel in order to explain your displeasure with them. This is what I do; I watch Marvel’s movies, read the older comics, and critique the cartoons. Besides blogging about the characters I enjoy as much as I can, I also write letters to Marvel’s top echelons, telling them what I think of their new comics (and I don’t think much of them).

You can do this, too, readers. Marvel has five different email addresses where you can send letters, as well as a section for general feedback on their website. I have never gone that route, so I cannot tell you what to expect if you try it. However, if you write letters to Marvel, put OKAY TO PRINT alongside your email’s subject heading and send it to one or all of the following addresses: onlinesupport@marvel.com, spideyoffice@marvel.com, officex@marvel.com, mheroes@marvel.com, and/or mondomarvel@marvel.com. And do not be threatening when you write to them.  Believe me; they will notice your letters, even if they are politely phrased.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and we Marvel fans have more right to be squeaky than that posse of small-minded critics and “cultural gatekeepers” do. Unless these people actually buy Marvel’s comics in droves (which they very obviously do not), they are not the audience the company has to please. It was our money that made Marvel what it is today, not the critics’ pens. I say it is high time we reminded Marvel of this fact.

For myself, I will continue to do all of the above. I know I sound as though I am crusading against Marvel’s hierarchy, and I guess I am, after a fashion. But I am doing so as a customer who desperately wants to preserve an enjoyed and admired product, so that I can pass it on to others to enjoy in the future.

I want to be entertained by Marvel for many more years, readers. Right now, they are not entertaining me OR legions of their fans. They are trying to force their view of the world on us through these “new,” PC characters, destroying the good and great and true ones in the process. That is cultural bullying, which is a form of intellectual tyranny. It must be stopped. The only way that we can convince Marvel’s management to right the ship is to tell them why we are not buying their product. But we have to actually tell them if we are to have any hope of returning Marvel Comics to the good, the great, and the true, which is timeless.

Until next time, readers….EXCELSIOR!!!!

Season 3 of Avengers Assemble Review

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

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

Let’s find out.

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

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

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

Image result for avengers assemble ultron revolution The Kids Are Alright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avengers – ASSEMBLE!!!

Captain America: Civil War – Secretary of State Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross

Image result for thunderbolt ross civil warIt has been a while since I saw a film villain who made me grit my teeth and grip my armrests in pure, frustrated anger.  Captain America: Civil War’s Secretary of State, Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, has achieved what even Loki managed to avoid.  He earned my undying ire.

Oh, sure, I do not like Loki.  He invaded the mind of one of my favorite characters and turned him into a killing machine for three days.  That is not a way to win Brownie points with me; he has my lasting dislike for it.  And, in truth, there is very little daylight between Loki and Ross.  The difference is that Loki has a twisted sense of humor that manages to make the audience laugh.  Remember that “Ta-da!” of his after he, Thor, and Jane, had escaped to the Dark Elves’ homeworld from Asgard?  I have to admit, it was a funny line and it made me smile.

Ross had no funny lines in Civil War.  Come to think of it, outside of his appearances as the Red Hulk in Agents of S.M.A.S.H.,Ultimate Spider-Man, and now Avengers Assemble, Ross has never really demonstrated a sense of humor.  In previous cartoons and comics, he was always bellowing like an angry bull or shouting with fury.  Not a friendly characterization, to say the least!

In Civil War, though, Ross leaves his bullhorn at the door for the most part.  He speaks softly here and carries a big stick.

That “big stick” happens to be the Sokovia Accords.  After the accident in Lagos, Nigeria, the U.N. dispatches Ross to present their ultimatum to the Avengers.  And Ross lays it all out in his speech when he first shows up in the Avengers’ Compound: the governments of the world have decided they can no longer tolerate the Avengers as free agents.  And they cannot accept it in part because the team is based out of the United States, is made up mostly of American citizens (Tony, Rhodey, Clint, Cap, and Sam are all native U.S. citizens while Natasha holds U.S. citizenship), and therefore the Avengers have an inherently American penchant for policing injustice abroad as well as at home.

Image result for avengers age of ultron quicksilver diesDid anyone else notice that when Ross listed what the Avengers had done for the world, he never mentioned that they had died for it?  Quicksilver is swept under the rug in this film, not by the Avengers but by the government, whose proxy is Thunderbolt Ross.  The Secretary of State never mentions that the Avengers, too, suffered a personal loss in the disaster in Sokovia.  Pietro Maximoff was a member of the team for only a short time, which is surprising (NOT) since bureaucrats are naturally inclined to fuss over whether or not all the i’s have been dotted and all the t’s crossed…

But the fact is that Pietro Maximoff was accepted by the Avengers as a member of the team.  It was not put down on paper and made official because time was of the essence.  But it was a fact, just as it is a fact that Quicksilver died in defense of his country and mankind at large.

It is a fact Ross ignores, thereby forcing the Avengers to ignore it.  Why?  Because Quicksilver’s heroic death does not help his agenda.  Throughout Civil War, Ross continually plays the guilt card on the Avengers.  If he were to mention Pietro’s death, it would lessen the impact of that trick because then the Avengers could turn around and point out the fact that they lost someone in the disaster in Sokovia as well.

So Ross does not give them a chance to bring Quicksilver into the debate.  He makes sure the argument is all about them and whether or not they should sign the Accords.  And he does this by playing off of their guilt, or attempting to play off of it.

You see, the guilt card has no more effect on Steve, Sam, or Clint than a bug buzzing by their ears would.  These men have known remorse and loss, having persevered through it several times already.  Steve lost several friends in World War II, most notably Bucky on that mission in the Alps.  Then he lost everyone and everything he knew during his seventy year hibernation.  Sam lost his wingman in Afghanistan on a night mission.  He has had to live with the knowledge that there was no way he could have saved Riley, while still feeling he should have saved him.  Clint was used to kill a number of people over the course of three days in Loki’s scheme for world domination, and he saw Pietro die to save his life and that of a young child.  But he made it through the remorse he experienced after these incidents in one piece, mentally and morally.

Ross is therefore unable to play on these three Avengers’ guilt because they were mature and endured it, finding the light beyond.  As Cap explains to Wanda, they learned to live with their failures.  They accepted them, and so they have control of their sense of shame.

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Sadly there are two Avengers who do not have control of their sense of blame.  The guilt card hits home with Tony and Natasha, as they have kept their “guilt wounds” open and fresh over time.  Tony has been carrying remorse over the fact that he wasted his life in frivolous pursuits while allowing Stane and others in his company to deal his weapons under the table to America’s enemies.  He thereby allowed a lot of bad people to kill innocents all over the world (i.e. Pietro and Wanda’s parents), as well as the American soldiers his weapons were meant to protect.

Now he is again being confronted with people who blame him for their losses, such as the woman in the back hall of MIT.  Not once, you notice, does he think to remind this woman and others like her that he lost a young teammate in Sokovia, too, and therefore he has some idea of what she and these others are going through.  Also, now that Pepper (who may still be dealing with the psychological aftermath of receiving the Extremis serum), has pushed herself away from Tony, he feels guilty about “losing” her.  Instead of doing something about this, he just accepts the blame and adds it to the pile he is already carrying around.

Natasha’s vision in the boneyard in Africa, courtesy of Wanda Maximoff, demonstrated that she still feels a great deal of guilt over her service to the U.S.S.R.  As I have said elsewhere, she has not yet forgiven herself for the crimes she was forced to commit.  She is still trying to “get even” with the past, and that is not going to work, for the simple fact that the past is gone.  All she and the rest of us have now is the present.

Ross knows that these two Avengers will be easy to guilt trip.  Neither of them had good support structures growing up; Tony essentially hated his father for his success while Natasha’s only family was the government, which abused her from childhood.  Tony’s poor relationship with his father, who built a business empire from the ground up, meant he only had a sympathetic understanding from his mother, whom he was closer to for that reason.  As long as Ross shows him some sympathy, Tony will quite literally roll over to meet his demands so that he can make the pain of his guilt “go away.”

With Natasha, however, Ross uses a different tack.  Natasha’s upbringing by the Soviet Union taught her that the government could – quite literally – do anything to her and get away with it.  Ross just has to threaten her and, no matter how vaguely phrased the warning, she will get the message:  Fall in line or we will hurt you and no one will be able to protect, help, or save you.

Rhodey does not need the guilt card played on him.  He has been trained by the Air Force to follow orders no matter what.  All Ross has to do to get him onboard is flash his medals and present the Accords as an order from the top brass.  Boom – Rhodey signs on the dotted line faster than you can sing the Air Force anthem.

Image result for thunderbolt ross civil warYou might think that Vision would leave Ross bemused as to what to do, since he is a synthetic being.  But Vision has to be the most easily suckered member of the Avengers after Rhodey.  Ross presents the Accords to him as an equation, a mathematical theory, and he sees the law as inevitable.  Chalk up another signature for the U.N.

As for Wanda – hah, piece of cake.  Her error in judgment in Lagos has left her feeling guilty.  That is why he plays footage of the destruction from Crossbones’ bombing, not to mention film from the other battles we have seen the Avengers fight over the years.  It is to target Wanda and the others, to make them feel more guilt.  With those images of Lagos hovering in her mind’s eye, Wanda will naturally want to prevent future mistakes of a similar nature.  Her signature will be the first one on the paper.

Except that Wanda surprises Ross by pushing the Accords to Rhodey.  I bet he did not see that coming.  (Shout-out to Pietro! 😉 )

Did Ross think he could get Cap to sign the Accords?  It is hard to say.  Having dealt with soldiers who are trained to simply follow orders, and being accustomed to shouting down those soldiers who questioned him, it is possible that Ross believed he could basically order Cap to sign the Accords and the First Avenger would do it.  But in light of the SHIELD/HYDRA war from The Winter Soldier, this seems to be a pretty stupid assessment on Ross’ part.  While my opinion of Thunderbolt Ross’ intelligence is not high, I think that he may have figured that Steve would be resistant to registration.  In fact, he probably wanted him to resist it – more on that in a minute.

Sam probably got lumped in with Rhodey in Ross’ calculations.  As a former soldier, Ross might have thought that Sam would roll over to the Accords when they were presented to him as an order, too.  However, in light of his aiding Cap in the previously mentioned war between SHIELD and HYDRA, Ross may have surmised that the Falcon would again side with Steve Rogers.

Either way, the team is divided about what to do with the Accords after Ross leaves, just as he wanted.  The seeds of Chaos are sown.  And they bear fruit sooner than Ross could have hoped when Zemo bombs the United Nations building in Vienna, Austria, and frames Bucky Barnes for the deed.

But we do not see Ross again until Berlin, after Cap, Sam, and Bucky have flown the coop.  As he berates Tony and Widow, Ross lets a very important fact slip out.  I had to watch the film again carefully to really take notice of the trip:  Ross said that if Cap had not interfered in Bucharest, Bucky “would have been eliminated.”  This means that the intent of the people in charge was never to capture and incarcerate Bucky.

Sharon Carter’s statement that the Task Force had been given shoot-on-sight orders is one thing.  Up against a super soldier with a metal arm, most normal humans do not stand a chance.  Giving them permission to shoot-on-sight hopefully will preserve their safety.

But sending in a military chopper with a mini-gun to shoot up a city block in order to bring down the Winter Soldier is way too much.  This all adds up to a very frightening fact:  Ross and his bosses wanted Bucky dead from the beginning.  It was never about capturing, containing, or imprisoning the Winter Soldier.  It was never about finding justice for those killed in the bombing of the Accords in Vienna.

Image result for civil war buckyIt was about murdering Bucky.  Not killing him in self-defense, not killing him to protect the public, but to murder him on account of a crime he had not been definitively proved to have committed.  He was presumed guilty, not innocent, based on his past record and not on any new evidence.  The evidence the Task Force, CIA, and Ross did possess was circumstantial, bordering on coincidental.  But they ran with it anyway.

Ross and the U.N. never questioned ANYTHING about the circumstances of the bombing. They planned to kill Bucky as soon as they knew where he was.  The bombing simply gave them an excuse to feed the public and to avoid answering awkward questions about what they were doing.

If that does not chill you to the bone, readers, then nothing will.

In light of this fact, how does Tony’s prior statement to Cap about Bucky being transferred to an American “psych-center” hold water?  Tony believed what he said, I am sure, and Cap bought the idea until he found out about Wanda’s incarceration in the Avengers’ Compound.  In light of Ross’ statement that the initiative was to kill Bucky from the beginning, though, I find any suggestion of his transfer to an American psychiatric hospital highly suspect.  What was to prevent the men transporting him from killing Bucky in transit, and then claiming afterward that he “…broke his restraints and attacked/killed some of our men, so we had to kill him”?

The answer is:  nothing.   They could have done this easily – governments around the world have done this numerous times, without serious difficulty, to people they wanted silenced and out of the way.  If Cap had not “interfered” in Bucharest, then Bucky would have ended up dead at the governments’ collective hand.

Another thing to note is that, in this interview, Ross again plays the guilt card.  Immediately after mentioning that Bucky would have been “eliminated” in Bucharest, he rubs the fact that the Winter Soldier killed several Germans before he escaped in Tony’s face.

What he neglects to point out is that parties unknown set off the EMP bomb which knocked out the cameras and electronics for the base.  Therefore, no one but Cap, Sam, and the psychiatrist know what really happened while the lights were out.   Another thing which Ross does not mention in his little tirade here is the fact that the psychiatrist the Task Force called in is not among the dead – and he sure as hell was not walking around the base!

Image result for thunderbolt ross civil warWhy did Ross leave these details out, hmm?  Did he believe that Tony and Natasha did not deserve to know these things, or that they did not need to know them?  If I had to bet, it was the latter.  Ross left these facts out intentionally, just as he “failed” to bring up Pietro’s death in Sokovia: these specifics did not serve his and his masters’ agenda.

This is why Cap would not condone or sign the Accords.  In this film, Ross proves that he is no better than Nick Fury.  Actually, he proves that he is worse.  Fury may use any means necessary to get the job done, but he has never guilt-tripped any of the Avengers into fighting a battle or cleaning up one of his messes to the extent that Ross does in Civil War.  Ross does nothing in this film but bully and berate the Avengers who have signed the Accords into doing what he wants them to do, hounding them to do it his way, or they will be pushed aside.

The proof of this comes after Ross states that he will have to be the one to bring in Steve, Sam, and Bucky.  Natasha then asks him pointedly, “What happens when the shooting starts – are you going to kill Captain America?”

I can hear the “voices of moderation” chiding Ross right now:  “No way,” “Cap’s too important,” “He’s a national symbol; if you kill him no one will ever forgive you for it.”

But Ross dispels all of these valid arguments in one little sentence:  “If we’re provoked.”  To the masters behind the Accords and their deputies (Ross), even Cap is expendable.  Especially when he stands in their way, demonstrating by his actions that he knows they are tyrants – although they say otherwise – and that he is not going to bow to them today or at any time in the future.

This blatant threat sends Tony into panic mode, and he “wins” a thirty-six hour deadline from Ross to bring Cap, Falcon, and Bucky in alive.  He never stops to think that, if Ross and the U.N. consider Cap disposable, then he is no safer than Steve despite the fact that he signed the Accords.  It never occurs to him because his ego is too damn big.  Tony believes he is indispensable, and he is right, from our perspective and that of the Avengers.  Every human life is far more important than we can truly apprehend, as the Avengers (including Tony) know for a fact.

Ross and his puppet masters, however, have a very different, very selfish view of the lives of others: Tony and the Avengers who have signed the Accords are only important as long as they toe the government’s established line.  Once they step out of line, as the anti-Accords Avengers have, then they become threats which have to be eliminated.  Just like Bucky, they can be killed out of hand any time it becomes convenient.

We are going to detour here to look at the airport battle in Germany.  It is an amazing fight, from a visual standpoint.  Everything from Hawkeye’s newest arrows to Ant-Man’s growth to Giant-Man, from Panther’s fighting skills to Spider-Man’s first appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is visually spectacular.  We could watch that battle time and again, and still we would notice things we had missed before.

But for the moment, let’s step back from the battle and watch it from Ross’ position.  To us, while visually stunning, the battle is also heart wrenching.  Aside from Ant-Man, Black Panther, Spider-Man, and to an extent Bucky, all the people involved in this fight are friends with each other.  We have traveled with these characters for years and know that they care about each other.  Now we are watching them fight, not in a friendly way but in an angry, dangerous manner.  Team Cap, though they fight hard, are not fighting with the intent to maim and kill.  Team Iron is at least willing to maim, if not kill, and that makes the battle all the harder to watch.

But from Ross’ perspective, this is exactly what he desired.  The Avengers on Team Iron have given him precisely what he wanted: another battle which he can use against them, more damage he can exploit to control them.  He has to be enjoying every minute of this as only an enemy can.

Because, readers, who benefits from this battle?  Does Team Cap?  Bucky and Steve grab the Aveng-jet and run, but the rest of their team gets locked up in the Raft to rot.  Does Team Iron benefit?  They help lock up their own teammates in a maximum security prison built for the worst kind of criminals, Rhodey ends up with severe damage to his spine, and the strength of the Avengers’ team is more than halved.  Everyone but Rhodey and perhaps Vision abandons Tony by the end of the film.  Natasha walks out on him, T’Challa leaves, everyone on Team Cap is off the grid and on the run, and Spider-Man is back in NYC doing his own thing.  How does this help Team Iron?  At least Team Cap is still together – and they have gained a couple of new members in the process: T’Challa and possibly Black Widow.

The only people who benefit directly from the Avengers’ battle at the airport are Ross and the pencil pushers in the U.N.  How do I know this?  Tony shows up at the Raft after the fight to see Sam and tell Ross about Zemo, only to be informed that he is grounded until further notice.  Ross explains that the mission is “out of [Tony’s] hands” after the “stunt” he pulled in the Leipzig airport.  Notice, Ross never says, “We’ll take it from here” or the equivalent thereof.  He just says the issue is no longer Tony’s concern.  And he is using the airport battle – which he orchestrated – as a reason to push Tony away from the search.

Then he lets Tony into the command center for the prison, where Iron Man sees Wanda on a monitor.  She is huddled up in her cell, wearing a straight jacket and an inhibitor collar.  Presumably she is just cold and lonely, but how do we know the guards did not “have a little fun” with her before they snapped that straight jacket on her, huh?  When was the last time she ate or had anything to drink?  Does Ross have the environmental controls in her cell set to a comfortable level?  It did not look like it to me.  The guys were not shivering; they looked to be at least warm, if not fed.  Wanda did not look like she was warm; she looked dangerously close to contracting pneumonia!

Speaking of the guys, what does Ross do when Tony goes in to see Sam and Clint gives him a piece of his mind?

Related imageRoss smiles.  It is not a big smile, but it is there.  I saw it both times I went to the theaters to watch the film, but it is harder to see on the smaller screen.  Ross smiles because he has exactly what he wanted; the Avengers are divided, the team members who refused to sign up to be his puppets are incarcerated, and he has all the ammunition he needs to keep Tony in line.  If Tony starts “misbehaving,” all Ross has to do to keep him obedient is threaten to hurt the incarcerated Avengers – or suggest that he will throw Tony in with them.  Just like that, Stark will roll over and play dead for him.  He plans to “break” Tony’s “back” at the first opportunity.

Still think the Accords are a good idea?  Still think Ross is not a villain?  He is, and he is just as bad as, if not worse than, Loki.  Both Ross and Loki are control freaks.  Loki wants to control people so that he can be lauded and adored for the rest of his life, because he felt he was in Thor’s shadow while they were growing up.  That is what makes him a full-tilt diva who “….wants flowers [and] parades” in his own honor.

Ross has a different aim in mind.  He does not want adulation and veneration.  He wants control for its own sake.  Remember how, in the comics, Ross was always berating and yelling at Bruce Banner?  Why do you think he did that – not just to Bruce but to everyone else around him, including his own daughter?

Ross is obsessed with having power over others because he is a small man with a small mind, who wants to be an important man in a big world.  He is a tyrant.  How does someone small become someone big?  Well, foregoing the gamma ray method, there are several options.  Most of them are highly unpleasant and end right where Ross is:  the small man gets his hands on the levers of power, where he gleefully begins to make everyone else’s lives miserable so that he can prove he is in charge.

Fury never went this far.  I do not like him especially, but the fact is that Fury worked his way up the ranks to Director of SHIELD because he saw the threats multiplying like mosquitoes and knew that, at the bottom of the ladder, he could never protect as many people as he needed.  Ross does not care about the threats facing humanity, the world, or the United States.  Not like Fury does.  At best, Ross considers these dangers minor worries.  Most of his attention is centered squarely on his own navel.

This is what drives everyone away from him: the U.S. soldiers he commanded in the army, Bruce, and most importantly, Betty.  Why did Betty never get along with her father?  Why did she leave him?  She left him because he did not care enough about her to sacrifice his own ambitions and desires for her happiness.  Ross always blamed the Hulk for taking Betty from him, but who is responsible for the Hulk’s creation?  Yes, Bruce might eventually have become the Hulk even without Ross breathing down his neck.  But it was Ross’ constant push for him to hurry up which made Bruce try the gamma experiment too early.  It was Ross who determined that the Hulk and Bruce Banner were monsters who were unworthy of saving, and that they were better off as his personal cannon fodder.

This is what drove Betty away.  Ross’ single-minded pursuit of his own agendas left no room for her, and after a while, she got tired of trying to insert herself into his life.  All he did when she managed that was push her out again.  Bruce always made time for her; he always put her ahead of his own wants and needs, to the point that he left her to protect her.  Is it any wonder that she preferred him to her father?

Ross can play the guilt card on Tony and Natasha so effectively because his own hubris has anesthetized him to any sense of personal guilt.  Despite this, he knows when other people are feeling guilty and how to use that guilt to get what he wants.  He drove his own daughter away from him, although he will stridently state that it was Banner who took Betty from him.  While he knows, deep down inside, that the reason Betty left is his fault, he has moved beyond the realm of caring.  He is no longer man enough to admit that he did wrong by his daughter and has given up any idea of trying, as far as he is able, to repair the damage he did to their relationship.  He is a self-righteous, self-absorbed coward who has become numb to the love of God and man alike, just as all the other narcissistic bullies in the world have before him.

Tony should have known this.  He should have known what Ross was like from Bruce, or at least from reading the file on Bruce’s life.  But either he did not know, or he decided not to hold Ross’ past against him.  Big mistake, because Ross is still carrying that past on his back and committing the same sins of pride he has been for years.  The guy will not learn.  If Betty could not teach him, then it does not look like anything short of a miracle will.  The heart attack he had was not enough to qualify; it is going to have to be something bigger.

Thanos knocking on the front door might work, but we will have to wait and see about that.

The last time Ross is present in Civil War, he is just a voice over the phone.  He is calling Tony about a break in at the Raft, where Tony’s anti-Accords teammates are being held.  Before Ross can spit out more than one sentence, Tony puts him on hold.  Tony knows who has gone to get Wanda, Clint, Sam, and Scott out of prison.  And while he probably still has some anger issues to work out with Cap (not to mention some maturity issues to work out with himself), he does not want their mutual friends to remain confined.  So he lets Ross scramble to find a way of stopping Cap himself.

It does not take a professional gambler to tell you that the odds of Ross arriving at the Raft in time to see the con-trail from Cap’s jet are low to nil.  The Avengers are going to have some teamwork bugs to work out in Infinity War, and Tony is going to have to make some very big mea culpas.  But Cap has forgiven Tony for his performance in the Russian HYDRA base – his sending the letter and the phone to Tony is proof positive of this.  It is Tony who has to learn how to forgive here.

The big point for Ross in this scene is that his schemes are starting to unravel.  We do not know what Tony told him about the battle in the HYDRA base; either Ross knows most of the details or he knows nothing about it.  Whichever is true, the important item here is that he has lost four of his bargaining chips with Tony.  Team Cap is free and on the lam, so Ross cannot hold Clint, Wanda, Sam, and Scott’s health and safety over Tony’s head to make him behave.  What is more, with Team Cap free, Ross has five rather angry people who want him tossed out of office roaming the world.

I hope that is helping him to sleep easier.  😉

Another significant thing to note about Tony’s putting Ross on hold is that it shows Tony is reverting to his previous stance.  We all know Stark does not want anyone to be his “director.”  He resented Fury whenever the SHIELD leader would yank his chain, and Fury actually cares about him, just like he cares about all of his people to some degree.  That is the difference between him and Ross; Fury still possesses a certain amount of empathy and understanding for other people.  Ross does not, and so he is yanking Tony’s leash a whole lot harder than Fury ever would.  That is a mistake which the notoriously thoughtless Thunderbolt Ross may soon come to regret.

Some of you probably still entertain the idea that Ross is not a villain.  Well, that is simply not true.  Ross is a villain, plain and pure. While he may not seem to be a villain of quite the same caliber as Zemo, it is only because there are certain lines which he has not yet crossed.  I cannot say that he will never cross them – his statement that he would kill Cap and not lose sleep over it suggests he is fairly willing to burn such bridges as Zemo has.  Whether or not that will happen, though, is something we will have to watch for.  Ross is not a man to turn your back on, period.  He is a sour-tempered cur, but that does not make him any less dangerous.  If anything, it makes him more so.

Well, readers, that concludes this character post from Captain America: Civil War.  Stay tuned for more posts coming out as time goes by!

Avengers Assemble!

The Mithril Guardian

 

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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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More Marvel Fan Fiction: An Avengers’ Easter

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

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

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

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

The Mithril Guardian

An Avengers’ Easter

by The Mithril Guardian

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters.

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

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

“The boys only have ten!” Wanda laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sounds a little lonely.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. I guess I do.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When was that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She’s not like that anymore.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you saying he hates us?”

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

“And Bruce became untouchable –”

“Because he was with us.” Clint nodded.

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

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

“And he can control who our members are.”

“Among other things, yeah.”

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

“How?”

“You remember Senator Stern?”

“The senator HYDRA had?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s that?” asked Wanda.

“Being mortal.”

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

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

“Then settle for being a regular one!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wanda nodded. “I know.”

Clint sighed. “I am sorry – ”

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

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

They said nothing for a long time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clint’s only response was a nod.

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

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

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

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

“What were you speaking about?”

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

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

“Why?”

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

“You mean they want to make us slaves.”

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

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

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

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

“After a fashion.” The girl shrugged.

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

She paled. “But they don’t know –”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve smiled.

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


“Spent today in a conversation

In the mirror face to face with

somebody less than perfect…


I wouldn’t choose me first if

I was looking for a champion,

In fact I’d understand if

You picked everyone before me,

But that’s just not my story!

 

True to who You are

You saw my heart

and made

Something out of nothing – ”



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


“He knows my name!

I’m not living for applause –

I’m already so adored!

It’s all His stage

He knows my name!

He knows my name!”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE END