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Captain America: Civil War – Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Natasha is here….  Why is she here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Captain America: Civil War – Sam Wilson/Falcon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Team Iron is standing in their way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ever higher, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

Captain America: Civil War – Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scarlet Witch fights Vision in 'Civil War'.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See ya around!

The Mithril Guardian

Scarlet Witch

Stories Matter – Why Marvel Comics’ “Secret Wars” Is Not Marvel-Us

‘I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?’ (From J. R. R. Tolkien’s On Fairy-Stories, 1939, courtesy of www.interestingliterature.com)

I do not know how or why, but I have always been enchanted by stories. They are, to me, perhaps more than most other physical things in life. Stories are my biggest passion.   There are days I could forego lunch, a trip out of doors, or sleep if it meant a chance to read or see or hear a good story, which sometimes makes me wonder if I am not flaming crazy.

The above quote from J. R. R. Tolkien, taken from a post on Interesting Literature, is something I like to read to remind myself that I am not, in fact, crazy. I just happen to really like stories. Why? Well, why are some people passionate about surfing? Why are some people happiest while they are wood-working? Why are other people almost transported to another world while they are doing math?

We each have our talents, our passions. Stories and their characters are mine.

Escape was a word abused in Tolkien’s day as much as in ours. Then as now stories – whether they were fairy tales or great epics – were sniffed at by those who thought they had no worth.   “Oh, stories are good for little children,” they would – and will – snicker, “but once you are an adult, you don’t need them anymore.”

Uh-huh…. And when I reach adulthood, I can stop eating my veggies, right? I think several dozen fitness experts and dietitians would have an apoplectic fit if I pulled that stunt.

The thing I am trying to say, readers, and I may not be saying it well, is that stories matter. The characters in them matter. They always have and they always will, at least until time ends. Stories are avenues of escape.

But escape from what? Reality? Hardly. I may be addicted to stories, but I can tell you that they have not numbed me to reality in the least.

Stories are ways to escape the prisons forged out of despair, hatred, loneliness, and other evils. There are unfriendly things we have to deal with in this world if we are to survive it and discover our destiny. No one sniffs at the working mother whose husband buys her a ticket to the spa so she can get some down time, or the family that heads out to the park for an afternoon to kick a soccer ball around and enjoy each other’s company.

Yet begin talking about a story you enjoy, and you are suddenly accused of trying to escape reality.

I am no psychiatrist, no scientist, no sort of professional or “expert” whatsoever. But I know stories. I know they matter. I know because they are what make me happy, the same way a surfer is happy when he or she is out there shooting the curl. The same way a carpenter is glad when he planes a piece of wood or finishes a chair. The same way a mathematician receives untold pleasure in figuring out or making new numerical and formulaic puzzles. This is why I post about stories so much.

And this is why I have a problem with the direction the Marvel franchise is headed.

Marvel Comics is currently in the middle of some insane storyline called “Secret Wars.” The many alternate Marvel universes have collided with the “mainstream” – 616 – Marvel Universe which Stan Lee and his fellows created back in the 1960s. 616 Iron Man/Tony Stark and Nick Fury have been transformed into villains and have helped to bring this calamity about. Several characters from all the alternate universes are now struggling to survive alongside the 616 characters. The entire universe is in shambles. To top it off, Marvel is hyping an “All-New, All-Different” Marvel Comics line up for the next year (or more) with the roster for the Avengers completely rearranged – Miles Morales will be Spider-Man, Sam Wilson will still be filling in for Cap, Jane Foster will still be swinging Mjolnir and using the name Thor, and by now I cannot recall the other changes Marvel said were coming out.

I do not know who is alive in the Marvel Universe anymore, who is dead, which characters are wearing which superhero identities. My information is fragmented and despair-filled. The Marvel Comics currently in progress are not the Marvel Comics I enjoyed or, I think, that I could ever enjoy given who and what I am. In an alternate reality, I might. But not in this one, and this reality and the one that follows are the only ones that count.

Marvel knows that they can have all sorts of characters wear, say, Spider-Man’s costume, but the only character fans really want to see in the suit is Peter Parker. They know they can put anyone in the Captain America suit, but the only one who anyone truly wants to see holding the shield and standing up against evil is Steve Rogers. They know what works and they know what does not work. Why they have done what they are doing I cannot say. I only know that it has to stop, before irreparable damage is done to the characters they supposedly love as much as we fans do and, more to the point, which they are charged with protecting and strengthening.

They cannot be allowed to continue down this road, readers. If they do, there will be very little of what is good and right left in Marvel Comics for those who follow us in the near future. The films and cartoons based on their characters will suffer similar fates. For the comics are the roots of these newer forms of the tales and once the roots are poisoned the whole tree will die.

But why do I care about this, when there are so many more important things to think about, so many other calamities hitting the world and society? Well, why did Stan Lee care about this?

Why? Why did Stan Lee care? After the Second World War, all the comic book characters that were churned out for the U.S. soldiers and the kids back home in America were shelved. The comic book companies stopped producing stories for them; they started telling new tales with new characters instead. Though he may have lasted longer than some war-era comic book characters like Prince Namor and the original Human Torch, Cap was eventually put away as well.

Stan Lee saw it all happen. He watched Cap get shelved, along with all the other great characters made during World War II, after he had established his footing in the comic book world. He saw Cap, Bucky, Prince Namor, and others get set up on a high shelf by his bosses, because Cap and the others were “not needed anymore.”

Hah. For someone who is “not needed anymore,” Steve Rogers is awfully popular today, is he not, readers? Where would we (or Marvel, for that matter) be if Stan Lee had left Cap to collect dust on the shelves of Timely Comics, before he owned it and renamed it Marvel Comics?

Stan Lee liked Steve Rogers as much as any of us ever have. He brought Cap back because he knew we were always going to need him. He knew the suit did not make Captain America. Steve Rogers made Captain America. So Stan Lee made sure Steve could go on fighting for the nation he loved, inspiring generations of Marvel fans – outside and inside of the U.S. – to keep on fighting for what is right and true and good in this flawed, chaotic world.

He knew we would always need a rallying point, a character so thoroughly American that he could never consider giving up, not even for a moment. In the Avengers’ fourth issue, Stan Lee reinstated Steve Rogers in the fiction of the world. And we have reaped the benefits not only of Cap’s determination and strength but also of Stan Lee’s foresight and understanding of why we need great stories and great heroes.

And yet we are letting Marvel’s current hierarchy and their writers toss Steve around like a yo-yo.

Marvel knows I am displeased with the way they have taken their stories.  I have made no secret of it, sending them various notes showing my displeasure and suggesting how they might do things better since November/December of 2014.  But I am only one voice. I have no power with them, beyond what I have done.  They can, if they choose, ignore me easily. Odds are good that they will ignore me.

But they cannot ignore more than one voice raised against them in protest of their treatment of their characters.  They cannot ignore fans who tell them, “This stops here, and it stops NOW.”

You want to know something really funny about all this, readers?  Thinking about this post, about how to try and get my point across, I suddenly remembered Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  I recalled Steve Rogers speaking into a SHIELD microphone in the Triskelion, revealing to the World Security Council and the clean SHIELD agents that HYDRA had grown up right under their noses, and was planning to conquer the world through the agency that was supposed to protect humanity.

The part I specifically remembered was Steve saying, “The price of freedom is high.  It always has been.  And it’s a price I’m willing to pay.  And if I’m the only one then so be it.

“But I’m willing to bet I’m not.”

So maybe I am the only one who cares about what Marvel messes with in their comic book universe.  Maybe I am the only one in the world who cares about the characters as they were written and who wants to see that foundation built up, not torn down.  And if I am the only one who cares… then so be it.  I do CARE!!!

But, then again…maybe I’m not the only one.   I do not know.  I cannot know.

The U.S. Marines have a saying, “Is this the hill you want to die on?”  Not particularly. But if it is the hill I am forced to fight on, do not expect me to fight by halves.  A fight is all or nothing.  And if I have to die on this hill, standing beside the river of truth, well, you know – there are much worse hills out there on which to die.

So bring it on, Marvel.  I am willing to fight.

Are you?

The Mithril Guardian