Tag Archives: Scarlet Witch

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!

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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!!!!

Captain America: Civil War – Helmut Zemo

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I really struggled when writing this post, readers, not because I doubted my own convictions – I believed from the start that Zemo was evil. Marvel, while turning a great deal in its comic book universe(s) upside-down and inside-out at the moment, was not going to change that fact for Civil War. Zemo has been an antagonist for too long; we all knew he was going to be the villain. My problem is the excuse implicit in the storyline that people would use to defend Zemo’s actions in the film.

Zemo’s grudge against the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War is based on his family’s dying when, in the previous Avengers film, Ultron raised half of his small country into the sky before trying to smash it into the Earth to destroy mankind. Zemo was smart enough to put his family up in a house outside the city before this occurred. Naturally, he did not anticipate the city getting lifted off the ground and bits of rock falling from it to land on top of his home.

There are people who would defend Helmut Zemo’s hatred for the Avengers and his diabolical plan to destroy them. Their arguments, in effect, would say, “But his family was killed! He was mad with grief! What right do you have to call him evil?! All he wanted was retribution for the deaths of his family!”

Retribution is not ours to seek any more than revenge, for which retribution is often a synonym. It is wrong and only causes more pain for more people. It breeds an endless, vicious cycle of violence, death, and darkness for everyone in the world. As for Zemo’s being “mad,” the proper understanding of its meaning is someone who is a danger to himself because he cannot take care of himself. It is not someone who stalks a group of people for a year and then tries to kill them. Zemo does not clinically qualify as “mad” or “insane.” But he does clinically qualify as evil.

How do we know this? He tells us. Zemo condemns himself in his own words, basing his choice on hatred and jealousy. After telling T’Challa about the deaths of his family, he says, “And the Avengers? They went home.” He says this as though it makes everything he has done and all those he has killed worth the cost. While I hate to break his soap bubble, I must ask: just what is it that Zemo expected the Avengers to do after destroying Ultron, saving humanity, and preserving the lives of as many of the civilians still in the city as they could?

What more, in short, could they have done to make him their friend? They could have gone back to the city after the battle and helped with the clean up.  But would that have won them Zemo’s respect? Would he have felt better if Thor, Cap, and Iron Man had helped him dig his family’s bodies out of the rubble? Would Zemo have felt better if they had helped him to bury his family? Would their tears over his loss have made him feel avenged (pun intended)? Since Zemo was ready to commit suicide after accomplishing his “mission,” this seems highly unlikely.

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You are probably wondering why I am making such a fuss about this, readers.   I take issue in this case because the writers did so, in order, I believe, to show how empty Zemo’s philosophy is.  I am also making an issue of this because those who professionally review films – the docents of decency, the perpetually petulant masters of modernity, and other “reformers” of reality (a.k.a. the culture Nazis) – have made this a tenant of their belief system. This belief and their system are both solipsistic and false.

How do I know this? There are several ways. Why, for instance, did the writers have Zemo deliver the above lines in these specific words and in this tone?   What is the big deal about the Avengers going home when their job (save the world) is done? How is it a crime for the Avengers to swoop into a certain place, stop the bad guys, and then go home to recover, the way that policemen and soldiers do? Just what is wrong with that picture, readers? Enlighten me, please; what is wrong with this situation?

The fact is that there is nothing wrong with it – absolutely nothing. The Avengers went home after Age of Ultron because they did not come to Sokovia as conquerors. They came as defenders of both Sokovia and mankind. No one – Avenger, commando, politician, civilian – could have predicted Ultron’s plan to raise the city and make it a destroy-the-human-race meteor. It was a surprise to everybody.

Before the city lifted off it was swarming with drones trying to kill those left in the city. The Avengers were busy protecting these people, leaving them precious little time to discern Ultron’s mad scheme let alone to chase down every bit of flying rubble coming off of the metropolis.

The team’s main concern was to stop Ultron and thereby save mankind. This included protecting the residents of Sokovia from homicidal drones. Intercepting debris from the airborne city was not a consideration due to the necessities of combat against overwhelming foes. It was not due to indifference and it was most certainly not due to selfishness on the part of the Avengers.

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Yet Zemo is unconcerned with these very obvious facts. Why should he? It is clear to him what happened. The Avengers showed up, destroyed the maniacal machine, and went home to a heroes’ welcome.   They did not care about his people or his family. They cared about getting the glory for saving the world. That was their plan all along, as evidenced by the fact that they did not return to Sokovia to clean up the mess, nor did they prevent the disaster from occurring in the first place. In fact, they are responsible for the entire debacle; Tony Stark created Ultron. If he had not done this, then everyone who died in Sokovia would still be alive. The evident conclusion one must reach is that the Avengers do not care about anyone but themselves – right?

No, it is not. We know it is not, readers, because we have walked beside these characters through ten plus films. We have seen them selflessly put their lives on the line to protect the masses. We know that the Avengers truly care about saving as many lives as they can. They are as altruistic as one could wish of mortal man. Even Tony Stark, who is still too self-centered, remains willing to put his life on the line for strangers he will never meet. The Avengers are in the fight because it is the right thing to do, and most of them would be quite happy to skip out on the fame they have gained while doing their jobs. They cannot escape it and so they ignore it as best they can.

This is how we know that Zemo’s profile of the Avengers is mistaken and selfish, not to mention blatantly foolish. It is not because we like the characters or are attached to them that we believe they are heroes. We are certainly attached to them, and we definitely like them. But that is because they have proven time and again that they are willing to do heroic things to protect others. It is hard not to like someone for that.

Considering his background, you might think that Zemo might understand that combat is not a place where one feels “an overwhelming sense of control,” to quote Nick Fury. You might even think that Zemo could recall battles which had not gone according to plan, where people whom he and his team were supposed to protect were killed in spite of their best efforts. You might also think he would recognize that the Avengers were in that same boat in Sokovia and thus they could not be held accountable for the loss of his family.

Here we come to the important distinction between Zemo and the Avengers: Zemo led a “kill squad.” He and his men were not just commandos; they were government-sanctioned assassins. This makes it likely that Zemo and his men had little care for the lives of others. The exceptions would have been the lives of those closest to them, such as Zemo’s wife, son, and father. He may not have a problem murdering a family in another country but he would have a problem with whoever killed his family.

This is not the Way of the Avengers. When the Avengers kill, they do it to save lives. They do not do it lightly or enjoy it when the time comes to pull the trigger. They do not lose sleep over it, but if they can avoid dealing out justice on the battlefield they will spare their enemies – although they may later wish that they had not done so. They could have killed Loki in the Tower at the end of The Avengers, readers. Thor was not exactly feeling chummy with his adopted kid brother at the time and, in The Dark World, he threatened to kill Loki himself if he was betrayed.

The team had all the logic in the world to convince them to finish Loki then and there, but they chose not to do this. They instead sent him to Asgard to stand trial and receive Odin’s judgment. Despite their moniker, the Avengers are not prone to dealing out what most people would think of as revenge. They stop – or ‘Avenge’ – evil by defeating the bad guys, and by saving as many people as they can when the crisis blows up in an unforeseen manner.

One of the reasons why Zemo decides to destroy the Avengers is he is used to killing. As an assassin he became accustomed to the idea of being judge, jury, and executioner. What is more, he came to like playing these roles.

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There are four things he did which prove this. One, Zemo killed a former HYDRA operative and a psychiatrist without blinking an eye.   Two, he detonated a bomb outside the U.N. building in Vienna without any qualms about the innocents who would be caught in the blast. This was in spite of his claim to the HYDRA agent that he would not enjoy using “bloodier methods” to get what he wanted.

Three, after he had control of Bucky Barnes in the German base, Zemo ordered him to kill the soldiers who came to put the Winter Soldier back under restraint. Without orders Bucky might very well have just stood there until Cap and Sam arrived to calm the situation. But to further destroy Bucky’s already blackened record, Zemo ordered him to kill these men in cold blood. He stood by and watched these men die, then feigned a bad injury to lure Cap and Sam into the room so Bucky could attack them. I can just feel the remorse radiating from him in these scenes where he used “bloodier methods” to get what he wanted, can’t you, readers?

Four, Zemo expected Iron Man would kill Bucky and then Cap would kill Iron Man. Or he believed that Cap and Iron Man would kill each other after Bucky was dead. Why did he think this? He said he studied Cap and the rest of the Avengers, did he not? Enough to realize suddenly that there was a bit of green in Cap’s blue eyes, he said. So why did he not expect Cap to save Bucky, while at the same time avoiding killing or truly harming Tony Stark?

For a professional such as Zemo, this kind of miscalculation is astounding. He is a practiced killer; if he wants to take down a target or convince a target to kill himself and another person, he has to study his prey very carefully. He had a year to study the Avengers and plan how he would kill them, or convince them to kill each other. So why, when you come to the most crucial point, did he fail to suspect that Cap would prevent Tony from killing Bucky, while at the same time not murdering Stark himself?

The reason he failed to completely destroy the Avengers – to kill them all or convince them to kill each other – is that he does not understand them. He did not, does not, and will never comprehend them as long as he maintains his choice to do evil rather than good. This is shown most plainly by his underestimating Captain America, the Galahad of modern literature. He expected Cap to react to pain and loss as he would. But Cap is not like other men; he is different. Where most men can achieve only a “good” status in this world, Cap has achieved a “great” status. This is not perfection but it is very, very close to it.

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Now some of you are going to say, “But what about Steve’s vow to kill every HYDRA operative after Bucky fell off the train in the Alps? That was revenge!”

No, it was not. What Cap specifically said was that he would not stop fighting HYDRA “until every HYDRA agent is dead or captured.” (Emphasis mine.) This means that he would capture and imprison those members he could, and kill those who resisted. He said and did this for the same reason the British wiped out the Thuggees, murderers who worshipped the Hindu death-goddess Kali. HYDRA is no better than the Thuggees; they need to be exterminated so that innocent people intent on living peaceful, happy lives will be safe to live and work as they choose.

Nothing that Cap said or did after Bucky fell from the train in The First Avenger was vengeful. He was not motivated by a desire for payback. He wanted the world to be free of the evil that was HYDRA so that Bucky’s sacrifice – and the sacrifice of thousands of other men on both sides of the war – would not be in vain. So that the world would be free of HYDRA’s evil once and for all.

By his own admission, Zemo was not trying to free anyone in Civil War. He was trying to destroy a team of people who routinely put their lives on the line to protect mankind from the evil without and within it. He wanted revenge, not justice. He wanted payback, not freedom. He was and remains willing to let the entire world fall into death, destruction, and slavery so that he can feel he has revenged the deaths of his family.

Readers, what is so admirable about Zemo’s choice? Why should we, as viewers, sympathize with a character that is willing to condemn the whole human race to an evil fate just so he can feel vindicated on behalf of his dead loved ones? Should we sigh, wipe away a tear, and say, “Yes, we feel your pain,” or “We understand you,” to a character who would throw away every human life on the planet to satiate his lust for blood? No, we should not. But this is what some people want us to do for Zemo.

I will not do this. I will not commiserate or identify with a character that would gladly doom millions to death and millions more to slavery in order to get vengeance for his family, who were unfortunate casualties in a battle. As Rocket Raccoon pointed out in Guardians of the Galaxy, “Everybody’s got dead people. That’s no excuse to get everyone else dead along the way.”

Zemo has no excuses for his choice to destroy not only the Avengers but the people they protect. He wanted to throw the rest of the world under the bus to fulfill his desire for vengeance. No one has the right to do that. But that is what Zemo tried to do with the world population when he targeted the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War.

Later, at the end of the film, we watch Martin Freeman’s character, Everett Ross (no relation to the General turned Secretary of State), visit Zemo. He begins gloating to Zemo about how his master plan has failed.

Like Thunderbolt and the U.N., Everett Ross believes that Zemo’s master plan has gone down in flames whilst the United Nations’ own has succeeded. They have four of the six members of Team Cap incarcerated while Iron Man, War Machine, and Vision are leashed and awaiting orders. Black Widow, Captain America, and the Winter Soldier are wanted fugitives who will soon be found and locked up with their friends. The private police firm known as the Avengers is now legally under the direct control of the bureaucrats and politicians in the United Nations. Zemo, meanwhile, is locked up and out of the way. Yes, their plan has worked flawlessly whilst Zemo’s has not.

Slowly, Zemo smiles and says, “Did it?”

At these words we get to watch the smile gradually slide off of Everett Ross’ face. (It is such a satisfying thing to see!!!!) Zemo is correct to point out that his plan did not entirely fail. But the fact is that Zemo’s plans did not accomplish his true goals.

None of the Avengers are dead, as Zemo desired. Their strength is halved, but they are all alive, and this makes a future reconciliation possible. Zemo does not see this because, as stated above, he sees the Avengers through a glass darkly. He cannot comprehend the gulf between his mind and their souls. Part of his plan has been accomplished; the Avengers are no longer what they were. They are weakened, and severely so….

But they are all alive.

The Avengers’ advantage over Zemo is their heroism; it will defeat him every time. Like the phoenix of old, like the sun on a daily basis, the Avengers will rise again. And they will be whole and stronger than before when this happens.

Evil will never win the war, as Zemo believes he has. He has won a battle. But the war was won a long time ago, and the Avengers are on the winning side. Even the arrogant ones, such as Tony Stark, will be victorious in the end. Their strength is not their own. It comes from Another, and He is watching over them, as He watches over all those who serve Him. He is their strength. As long as Zemo stands against the Avengers, he stands alone against Him, the irresistible and unconquerable. He will win, and Zemo will lose.

‘Nuff said, readers. ‘Nuff said.

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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 – James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine

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“Why do you hate War Machine so much?”

“I don’t hate him. He just doesn’t interest me. Why do you like him?”

“His armor’s got more guns than a military base. What’s not to like about that?”

This is a paraphrased version of a running argument a friend and I had going for some years about James “Rhodey” Rhodes. What I am only realizing now is that my friend and I never disagreed that the War Machine armor was cool. We were simply looking at the argument from different angles we neither expressed nor recognized. My friend was arguing from the position of someone who liked the War Machine armor, the gizmo that the character uses. I was not looking at the armor – I was looking at the character. And in the end, we both found Rhodey lacking in the character department. He earns a solid shrug and a “meh,” no matter how we try to measure him.

It is a real shame when a character is only memorable and likable for the tools they use rather than for themselves. And it is interesting that, in a comic book universe which usually eschews sidekicks, Marvel should go to the trouble of making one. Let me explain by contrasting Tony and Rhodey’s friendship with the friendship between Captain America and the Falcon.

No one can say that Sam Wilson is a foil for Steve Rogers and prove it capably. Falcon has his own personality, habits, life experiences, and a sense of humor that is all his own. His skills could not be more divergent from Cap’s if the writers tried to make them so. In the comics, Sam has a personal empathetic tie with his pet falcon Redwing, but he can also empathetically connect with and command any other bird in New York City. He can quite possibly reach beyond the city limits with this power, too. He wears a wing pack in combat, spending most of his time in a battle flying, darting in and around opponents to bring them down.

Even in the films, there remains plenty of daylight between Steve and Sam. The wing pack was never in Cap’s arsenal; the man hardly ever flies, although he can when he has to do so. For the most part, Cap is the quintessential soldier; he stays on the ground and fights the enemy on his terms there.

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Now compare this to Tony and Rhodey’s friendship. I am not quite clear on how long they have known each other in the comics, so I will stick with the films. Iron Man showed Rhodey as a down-to-earth counterbalance for Tony’s flights of juvenility, which is funny considering that James Rhodes is a “zoomie.” Then Iron Man 2 saw Rhodey grabbing one of Tony’s prototype suits on behalf of the government before literally trying to knock some sense into his drunken friend. Iron Man 3 did not portray him in a much better light. Although he liked the name War Machine for the armor he essentially stole from his best friend on behalf of the government, he allowed focus groups and the Air Force to change the name to the milquetoast “Iron Patriot.”

Rhodey is Tony’s babysitter for the first and second films, barely escaping that fate again in Iron Man 3. Then, when he tries to impress Tony and Thor with a story from his own repertoire of exploits in Avengers: Age of Ultron, it falls flat on them and the audience. Let’s admit it – while it is cute to imagine a general’s reaction to a tank being delivered to him by a man in a metal suit, it does not truly impress. It is a story that exposes the fact that Rhodey is a bouncer who can intimidate mid-level bullies, whilst the Avengers are the commandos sent in to dispense with hardcore villains such as HYDRA and Ultron. Sam recognized this when he told Cap, “Avenging is your world… and your world is crazy.” Rhodey could not take the hint from Thor and Tony’s expectant silence.

I think it likely that most people look at Rhodey and Sam and consider them to be nothing more than “sidekicks” or foils to Iron Man and Captain America. However, as I pointed out above, Sam does not qualify as either a sidekick or a foil. He is a man who can take care of himself, he has the strength to make his own decisions, and he can live with their consequences. The sad fact is that Rhodey cannot do this; he is always looking for orders, for guidance from above – which is cute because, as an Air Force pilot, he is usually “above” everyone else most of the time, physically speaking.

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The moment which best defines these differences between the two characters in Captain America: Civil War is the yelling match they have over the Accords after Ross leaves. What are the first words we hear out of Rhodey’s mouth in this battle of words? “Secretary Ross has a Congressional Medal of Honor, which is one more than you [Sam] have,” he says to Falcon.

Excuse me?!?!? Instead of actually arguing about the strength of the Sokovia Accords, Rhodey immediately jumps to the fact that Ross has a Congressional Medal of Honor??? Seriously?!

While we are on this subject just how, exactly, did Ross earn that Congressional Medal of Honor? Did he receive it after Bruce Banner became the Hulk, or after he turned Emil Blonsky into the Abomination in order to fight fire with fire? Maybe he received it for letting the Abomination wreck Harlem after he went rogue on Ross.

Yes, I am being very sarcastic here. The fact is that there is no way in the walls of the world Ross should have received that Medal. He did nothing to earn it. I would bet good money he got it for political expediency. He does not deserve the Medal; not now, not in the future, never.

But the fact that Rhodey thinks this is sufficient evidence that Ross has his and the Avengers’ best interests at heart is what is truly distressing. When someone holds a gun in his face and says, “Your wallet or your life,” should he consider it a sign that the mugger respects him? No, he should not, as we would not. Presuming he did not freeze and do what he was told, Rhodey would beat the mugger up, take his gun away from him, and call the cops. Yet Ross can throw down the gauntlet in front of him and the Avengers, but because he has a Congressional Medal of Honor, it is a sign of respect for Ross’ “greatness” that Rhodey and the team should immediately sign on to the Accords – in essence, hand over their wallet?

It only gets better when Rhodey says, “A hundred and seventeen countries have signed this, Sam. A hundred and seventeen! But you’re just like, ‘It’s cool, no big deal.’”

No, it is not a big deal! How many of those countries routinely violate human rights? China and North Korea are in the U.N., right? Is China a model of how a country must respect human rights? No, it is not. North Korea shoots off missiles to threaten the Orient and swagger in front of the U.S., they keep their own people in prison camps on the brink of starvation, and the rest of their population are stuck in grinding poverty – and in time. Their fashions and technology are still in (at least) the 1970s. They are an example of posturing, backward fools, not progress!

A good number of the other hundred seventeen countries which agreed to the Accords have records which are about as bad, if not worse. But does Rhodey mention that here? Does he even stop to consider it? Not in front of us. A hundred seventeen countries sign a document proclaiming him an attack dog which they want to leash, and just like that “it’s cool.”

It is not cool, and Rhodey cannot see that. What is more, he refuses to see it. He brags about Ross’ medals, yet the leader of the Avengers – his leader – has far more experience. Cap has earned and shunned more medals and honors than Ross could ever hope to gain… But instead of listening to him, Rhodey calls him “dangerously arrogant”? Something is very wrong here.

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It becomes worse when War Machine drops in to “stop” Cap, Sam, and T’Challa in their “fight” over the escaping Bucky Barnes at the Bucharest tunnel. “Nice job, Cap,” Rhodey says scathingly. “You’re a criminal.”

No mention of German Special Forces turning Bucharest into Swiss cheese in an attempt to kill Bucky I notice, Rhodey. Or are you more familiar with the range and danger of a mini-gun than most civilians walking down the street are? Of course you are; you are a U.S. Airman. They are civilians who are minding their own business when a Special Forces helicopter suddenly drops leaden rain from above trying to kill a wanted fugitive. I guess the U.N. does not have any statutes saying a man is innocent of a crime until proven guilty. Wow, what a shocker.

Cap’s attempt to reach out to Bucky – even the initial attempt by the German ground troops to capture him – was more sensible than that. But Rhodey’s scorn is not for the idiocy of the bureaucrats who called in a helicopter and ordered the men aboard to fire at Bucky regardless of potential “collateral damage” to the civilians he was running past. It is instead all aimed at Cap, who was fighting smarter, not harder.

We do not see Rhodey again until the battle in the Leipzig airport. Iron Man zaps Clint’s chopper with an EMP device and lands in front of Cap, War Machine right on his tail. The two take a moment to verbally beat up on Cap, and then the fighting starts.

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Cap keeps both T’Challa and Rhodey where he can see them at the beginning of the fight. For a guy with a metal suit, Rhodey does not do very well in personal combat with Cap. Yes, he is going for the knockout punch instead of a kill shot, but his fighting ability is still downright sorry in this confrontation. He has supposedly been working with and training under the greatest soldier of all time, whom he should know well enough to fight competently. But in practice he is getting his metal fanny handed to him on a platter.

Those are some quality learning abilities you have, Rhodes. Why were you put in the new Avengers lineup again? Oh, that’s right – for your suit.

In contrast, Falcon more than holds his own with Tony, bopping him in the head with Redwing at one point and thereby properly disorienting him. He has less physical protection than Rhodey, yet he does better fighting the Invincible Armored Iron Man than the “zoomie” Avenger does in his battle with the unarmored First Avenger!

It does not get any better for Rhodes when Lang has Cap throw a fuel truck at him, Panther, and Black Widow. Now how Scott could mix up even a German fuel tanker with a German water truck is beyond me, but the fact is that he managed to do it. And instead of smartly moving aside, catching the truck, or blowing it up, Rhodes just stands there and lets it hit him. Brilliant, War Machine – NOT!!!

Rhodey is dead weight for most of the following incidents in the battle. He is a convenient ragdoll for Ant-Man and an equally easy target for the Scarlet Witch. Where his teammates and everyone else on Team Cap show innovation and creativity during the battle, Rhodes makes himself nothing but a handy punching bag or darn-it doll.

Things only become worse when he tells Vision to get Sam off his back. Distracted by his concern for Wanda – whom Rhodey hit with a high-powered sonic – Vision does as he is asked and fires at Sam. But the nascent synthetic man is growing into a very human character, and this means that his shot is off from the get-go because of his concern for his friend. He misses Sam and hits the War Machine arc reactor, shutting down the armor and leaving Rhodey to fly the suit “dead stick.”

If anything, Rhodey ought to sue Tony for poor workmanship. The Iron Man armor(s) can go into the upper atmosphere, through a portal into space, help blast apart a floating city, all at low power capacity, and the War Machine armor cannot keep him from shattering several vertebrae after a two hundred foot free fall? Yeah, right!

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All this is not to make light of Rhodey’s significant injuries. To his credit, Rhodes takes the devastating news like a man. When Tony makes him a set of special leg braces and he inevitably falls down, he manfully refuses help and gets set to start practicing on his own again.

This scene was very good, but not necessarily for Rhodey. It was good for Tony because now, in this moment where his best friend is incapable of doing what he used to do – of being who he used to be, even – Tony gets a glimmering of what Steve has been doing since he learned that Bucky was alive. For three movies, Steve has fought to get his old battle brother back. And in this film, he stands beside and supports Bucky as the other man tries to find himself after years of being lost in a mental/emotional waste land.

Rhodey’s journey is more physical and less likely to get other people killed. But Tony is willing to do whatever it takes to help him get back on his feet. If he is ready to do that for Rhodey, why should he begrudge Steve for his desire to help Bucky relearn how to be a normal person?

Tony will probably take forever to forgive Steve in the next Avengers film(s). In this moment during the movie, he only has a slight understanding of what Steve is going through. And we all know that Tony is quite prepared and willing to rationalize away anything and everything he does not want to face or admit. He avoided accepting his grief over his parents’ deaths; he is still avoiding it now. And he has decided to avoid accepting responsibility for his actions by signing the Accords. Stark has no problem lying to himself about important matters until the eleventh hour.

But after a point, he cannot run from the truth. Sooner or later, it will occur to him that what he is doing for Rhodey is the same thing Steve is doing for Bucky, just on a less impressive scale. As for Rhodey, well, for the moment he seems to be a lost cause as far as recognizing the truth. If anything, he is better at rationalizing than Tony is. It remains to be seen how well that will work in Avengers: Infinity War.

Of course, with his back almost completely shattered, Rhodey might not have any part in the upcoming Marvel films. That would be a shame; it would be nice for War Machine to step out of Iron Man’s shadow and show some real character of his own for a change.

Given past experience, though, that does not look to be a very viable possibility at this time. Bummer.

Secret Avengers – Assemble!

The Mithril Guardian

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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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Captain America: Civil War – King T’Challa/Black Panther

Fans everywhere were practically over the moon when they heard that Black Panther/King T’Challa would be in Captain America: Civil War.  They also did a double-take when they learned he would be siding with Tony Stark/Iron Man in the movie.  T’Challa and Cap are very good friends in the comics, and it is rare for them to disagree over anything.  I cannot remember ever hearing about them arguing over something.  Not in the way that Tony and Steve have been fighting lately.

We do not see T’Challa until at least half an hour into Civil War.  In Vienna with his father for the signing of the Accords, T’Challa decides to take a moment to talk to Black Widow.  Natasha does not seem to recognize him, though when his father shows up the pieces fall into place very quickly.

Another odd thing is that, when King T’Chaka is making his speech about the greatness of the Accords, T’Challa is not sitting down in the audience of dignitaries, U.N. personnel, and reporters.  He is instead standing near the window behind and to the left of his father.  His arms are crossed and his posture indicates catlike ease and unconcern.  One could infer that he is bored out of his mind with the diplomatic proceedings.  His father’s implication that T’Challa has a palpable distaste for politics only reinforces this idea.

But this may be too easy an answer.  You see, T’Challa’s position in the room not only gives him a good view of the visiting dignitaries, U.N. workers, and journalists, it allows him to watch the buildings and streets outside.  Thinking about it now, I suppose T’Challa was acting as his father’s bodyguard.  He was watching, surreptitiously and under the cover of boredom, for attackers in the audience, snipers in the other buildings, and trouble on the streets.  So his ability to be surreptitious is pretty darn impressive!

This is how he spots the bomb squad checking out a van near the building.  Seeing the officers pull away quickly from the vehicle, T’Challa is just a little slower in shouting a warning to everyone else.  Natasha reacts in time, helping the person seated next to her to get under the table.

But T’Challa is not fast enough to reach his father, who also does not spring for cover immediately.  It is likely that he was too surprised by his son’s shout to do more than turn to look at him.  The bomb kills him, sends T’Challa flying, and kills a lot of other people on the floors below.

T’Challa was always close to his father, in the comics and in the film.  Unlike Tony, seeing his father die absolutely tears him up.

Any number of groups would want to kill several dozen of the politicos at the U.N. T’Chaka almost certainly had enemies who wanted him dead, too.  T’Challa was probably cataloging all of these people in his mind before he found out who was suspected of the bombing.  Once he learns it is the Winter Soldier, all other possibilities are forgotten.

Most people are going to lean on the idea that T’Challa went after Bucky simply for the sake of vengeance.  That is part of it.  How many of us could see someone we loved dearly die for no reason and not flip our lids over it?  Very few people could avoid that reaction.

The thing is that T’Challa is too reasonable to let pain and anger control him completely.  They are driving factors in his quest for Bucky, of course, but they are leashed emotions.  Most of T’Challa’s motivation here is justice.

Justice is not an amorphous idea.  Nor is it the “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life” mantra we inherited from ages past.  Justice is about making recompense to another person for some act committed against them.  It does not have anything to do with killing the man/woman who killed someone you loved.  That is revenge, and we have been warned never to seek that.  Revenge destroys not one life but two, and perhaps many other lives as well.

In this case, the bombing of the U.N. building was a futile event in that it destroyed lives.  A number of people – including King T’Chaka – were killed for no reason except to help Zemo gain his revenge.  They were not killed to protect innocent people but to destroy the Avengers.  Discounting Black Widow, T’Challa, and the security personnel, most of those within the U.N. building at the time were civilians.  They were, therefore, completely unprepared and unready to defend themselves if the need arose.

The attack was in this regard senseless and a waste of life, the most precious thing on earth.  Such a crime cries out for recompense, for punishment of the perpetrator.  That is the motivating force behind T’Challa’s decision to go after Bucky.

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Now there are several other things to consider here.  We are all attached, to some degree, to the film versions of Cap, Bucky, and the Avengers.  We are also attached to the previous portrayal of the Black Panther in the comics and cartoons.  This means we end up with a slightly skewed view of T’Challa’s character arc in the film, because we are looking at it through the lenses of past experience and deep familiarity.

What we forget is that, prior to this movie, T’Challa has never met any of the Avengers before.   Oh, he has heard about them.  He knows them by reputation.  But he does not know them as people.  He has never crossed paths with them up until he decides to speak to Natasha in Vienna.

Also, we forget that Bucky has been AWOL for two years.  During this time he has overcome his “programming.”  He remains unsure of himself, however, and he is riddled with honest guilt.  This makes him dangerous.  Everyone in the film universe knows he was HYDRA’s brainwashed attack dog.  They know his rap sheet is long and blood-soaked, and though they may pity him, they also fear him.  This is normal.  Even Cap is wary of Bucky and does not automatically trust him the way he once did.  Bucky is not the exact same person he was in the 1940s (thank you, HYDRA – NOT!!).

So it is utterly plausible for most people to believe Bucky went out and bombed the U.N.  Only Cap – and consequently Sam and Sharon Carter – stop to ask the pertinent questions about this event:  Why, after two years of hiding, would Bucky suddenly bomb a U.N. building?  What could he possibly hope to gain or to accomplish by bombing the signing of the Sokovian Accords?

The answer to these questions is: nothing.  Bucky had nothing to gain and everything to lose.  Whatever his personal feelings about the justice of the Accords, he was not going to come out of his hidey-hole and say anything about them – with his voice or with a bomb.  Definitely not with a bomb.  He has absolutely no motive to destroy the U.N. building in Vienna.

This is where T’Challa’s pain, grief, and anger have clouded his judgment.  He does not stop to think about these things.  After seeing his father die, we can hardly blame him.  Even Steve does not hold this against him.  When they first meet he is silent on these matters while in T’Challa’s presence.  Touching on such subjects would only drive him to further anger.

And Cap does not want that.  He knows T’Challa is a reasonable man.  It is evident in the control he demonstrates when he speaks and when he is in combat.  You cannot be that precise, that calm, without rational effort.  So T’Challa, Cap figures, is a rational man.  This means that to reach him, you have to be sensible in your response to him.  Emotion will not sway him to act; only clear reason will do that.

And in this moving world of shifting shadows, reason is what we desperately need.  It is what the Avengers need.

Image result for captain america civil war black panther and captain america

In the police car taking the three of them to the German base, Cap ends up making his first probe of the Black Panther.  He knows T’Chaka was killed in the bombing and he knows T’Challa holds Bucky responsible for his death.  He understands that T’Challa’s grief is clouding his thinking.  But he says nothing until Falcon pipes up with, “So.  You like cats?”

Not helping, Cap thinks as he reprimands, “Sam.”

“What?” the other counters.  “Dude shows up dressed like a cat and you don’t want to know more?”

The subtext of Sam’s question was, likely: Cap, this guy is reasonable.  Sitting quietly is not going to show him you’re reasonable, too.

Thereupon Cap shows interest in the Panther suit, asking for confirmation that it is made out of vibranium.  This has to impress T’Challa, at least a little.  Most people would not think of vibranium right off the bat.  Tony’s suit can deflect bullets, too, after all.  But someone who has worked with vibranium for a long time would be able to recognize the metal when he came into contact with it.  Someone such as Captain America.

T’Challa does not want to show that he is even this impressed, though.  His father is dead, and he almost had his suspected killer right where he wanted him.  Then Cap stepped in and ruined the whole thing, getting him arrested in the process.

Still, it is not like telling Steve Rogers the origin of the suit and his fighting skills is going to hurt anything.  He explains the history of the mantle of the Black Panther, simultaneously hinting at his own upbringing as he does so.  Then he asks, “How long do you think you can keep your friend safe from me?”

Instead of taking the bait and showing emotional attachment, Cap stays quiet.  He looks away.  It is an admission that he cannot protect Bucky all the time, everywhere.  But the nuance of the movement also communicates that he is sure as hell going to try.

T’Challa’s attitude toward the Winter Soldier is not lightened by their next meeting, when he tangles with Bucky in the German base’s cafeteria to protect Natasha.  He has to notice the difference in Bucky’s fighting style in this battle, as it is hard to miss.  When they last fought, Bucky was making a determined effort to get the hell out of Dodge.  Now he is suddenly attacking and fighting with the cold, mechanical precision of a robot.

This is different, but apparently not different enough to shake T’Challa from his determination to capture and, if possible, kill Bucky.  Maybe the guy has a split personality, or maybe he was faking his desperation to escape.  Whatever the reason, it is not good enough to make T’Challa decide to let Bucky go, proved when he accepts Natasha’s offer of help in finding him.

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This leads us to the airport battle.  T’Challa joins Tony, Rhodey, Widow, Spider-Man, and Vision in squaring off against Team Cap.  The rest of the Avengers are there to enforce the Accords.  T’Challa is only there to get his claws into Bucky.

He has to have been apprised of the fact that Team Cap has grown by this time to include Hawkeye and Wanda Maximoff.  That does not initially concern him.  In contrast, the sudden arrival of Ant-Man is a shocker for him, as it is for the others.

But it is when the fighting really starts that T’Challa receives his most jarring surprises.  None of Team Cap’s members are fanatically claiming that Barnes did not kill his father or the other people in Vienna.  None of them are wild-eyed partisans, screaming platitudes at the top of their lungs.  No, they are all calm, rational, capable people.  And they are not there for Barnes.

They are there for Cap.

When he finally gets to attack Bucky, the Winter Soldier takes the time to mutter, “I didn’t kill your father.”  Again, this has to confuse T’Challa on a rational level.  First Bucky ran, then he fought like a robot, now he is talking?  How many emotional or unemotional faces does this guy have?!

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Thanks to his vibranium suit and Bucky’s reminder about his father’s murder, though, Panther gets the upper hand and throws him around.  But before he can strike a deadly blow, he is stopped by the Scarlet Witch.

This is surprise number two for the Black Panther.  Wanda has no stake in the fight between him and Bucky.  And, more than any of the others, she understands where T’Challa is coming from.  Yet she not only halts his attack, she throws him through the air, far away from the battle, to save Barnes.

Why would she do that?  Why would she waste time and energy protecting a murderer?

Then Ant-Man becomes Giant-Man, taking a stand between T’Challa and his prey.  He even splinters the crates the King of Wakanda is standing on in order to keep him away from Cap and Bucky.  Only Rhodey and Spider-Man’s attack saves T’Challa from getting picked up and tossed through the air like a doll – again.

Clint is the next member of the team to face T’Challa down as Bucky and Cap continue their mad dash for the Aveng-jet.  Again, T’Challa has to be at least mildly bewildered on a rational level.  Here is a man who has a family.  He has a calm, deadly focus that can only be maintained through cogent thinking.  And he is bold enough to face an unknown opponent in battle.  He is so audacious he can be flippant about his challenge to the new King of Wakanda: “We haven’t met yet.  I’m Clint.”

“I don’t care!” Panther retorts.  But is that true?  Clint has all the motivation in the world to stay out of this battle.  Yet here he is, fighting T’Challa, a man who eventually knocks him down and defeats him.  By rights, he should not be here.  But he is.

Why?  Why would he leave his safe, happy home to protect Barnes?

The last straw is when Black Widow uses her stingers to halt T’Challa, allowing his quarry and Captain America to escape.  By way of explanation, she tells him, “I said I’d help you find him.  I didn’t say I’d help you catch him.  There’s…. a difference.”

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It is very hard for Team Iron not to see Natasha’s actions as anything less than betrayal.  Panther is especially upset, since he felt he had an ally and a friend in her.  But the question is why she would turn around and help Steve.  The idea that Natasha helped him simply because she could not stop him does not hold water.   She could have fought and at least detained him and Bucky until T’Challa arrived.  He would have taken Bucky while she held off Steve.  And the fact is that Natasha Romanoff is capable of fighting Steve Rogers and keeping him very busy indeed.

Instead, she shot T’Challa with her 30,000 volt stinger, restraining him long enough for the two to get away.  Why?  Why throw away her security and position to help Steve?

These questions have to be rattling around in T’Challa’s mind as he follows Iron Man to Siberia.  Perhaps he also heard the news about the psychiatrist Zemo killed and impersonated before he took off.  Either way, he does not immediately attack the duo when Iron Man joins up with them.

It would have been the perfect opportunity.  The minute they all turned their backs, he could have pounced on Bucky and quite possibly have killed him before they could react.

But T’Challa does not do that.  Instead, he follows the three at a distance, keeping to the shadows, moving quietly.  He gets an up close and personal view of the hellish pit where Bucky was frozen, tortured, and made into a weapon.  He watches them meet Zemo, hears the former Sokovian commando admit to bombing the U.N., and probably hears at least part of the tape that shows Bucky killing the Starks.

As the fight between the three breaks out, Zemo makes a run for it.  And Panther is left with a decision:  Should he stop the fight, or should he prevent Zemo from escaping?

The fight in the base will resolve itself best without him.  If he butts in and tries to stop Iron Man, he will only make matters worse.  More importantly, if Zemo gets away, justice will not be served.

So T’Challa goes back upstairs and finds Zemo, who is looking out over the mountains.  Their discussion I no longer remember clearly, except for certain sentences, like the part where Zemo apologizes for killing King T’Chaka.  Hah; some apology.  The bombing was not necessary in the first place.  Zemo only did it to destroy something good and wonderful – the Avengers.  He did not care about the innocents he killed.  If he did, he would not have detonated the bomb in the first place.

This is the wages of revenge.  Instead of “only” ruining the Avengers’ lives, Zemo has ruined hundreds.  He killed Panther’s father, an innocent psychiatrist (I cannot believe I just said that, either), and a number of other people.  And for what? – To make himself feel better?  He is ready to murder himself now that his “task” is done.  I’m fairly certain that this is NOT a sign of “feeling better.”

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“Vengeance has consumed you,” T’Challa says, shaking his head a little.  His eyes, though, never leave Zemo.  The man has lived this long simply because he wanted to destroy the Avengers.  T’Challa does not need anyone to tell him that empty shell of a man, plus gun, equals suicide plan.  “It is consuming them,” he adds, meaning the fight in the base.

I would not go so far as to say that, although Tony’s actions are certainly driven more by feelings of guilt than by rational thinking.  T’Challa knows what that is like.  With his father’s real killer now seated in front of him, he has realized what Cap, and by extension his team, did for him.  Likewise, he realizes what Steve is doing his best for Tony in the base below right now.

Cap, Wanda, Ant-Man, Hawkeye, and Natasha saved T’Challa from making a horrible mistake.  By preventing him from killing Bucky, they kept T’Challa from turning into a murderer little better than Zemo.  Sure, T’Challa would have been remorseful once he found out that he had killed the wrong man.  But that would not have undone the deed.  By averting the action in the first place Wanda Maximoff, Scott Lang, Clint Barton, and Natasha Romanoff preserved T’Challa from that fate.  They saved his soul.

Cap saved his soul.  Not once.  Not twice.  Several times Steve stood between T’Challa and Hell, and kept him from jumping in feet first.

And T’Challa, an honorable man, knows that he owes Cap for that.  He owes his entire team for that.

He also knows that Zemo’s soul, perhaps not in the best shape to start with, is now little better than a dark pit.  The man has the unmitigated gall to apologize for killing T’Challa’s father in a pointless search for revenge.   Zemo was not pursuing justice and he knows it.  He is holding a grudge against people who did their best to save lives but who were still unable to save everyone, including his family.  Zemo is not feeling remorse.  His words are an attempt to placate justice with an excuse.

But as Panther says, “Justice will come soon enough.”  Either in this life or the next, justice will be served.  So when Zemo tries to escape the justice of this world through suicide, Black Panther prevents him from killing himself.  It is not out of pity that T’Challa blocks the shot and captures Zemo.  As he says, “The living are not done with you yet.”

Zemo did not want justice for his family.  He wanted revenge.  Panther did not want revenge, though his judgment was clouded with it.  T’Challa wanted justice for his father.  He wanted his father’s murderer to pay for what he had done.

In combat, he was willing, almost eager, to kill Bucky.  But when they captured him the first time, T’Challa was also ready to accept Barnes’ imprisonment.  Bucky would not be able to kill anyone in prison, after all.  At least, he would not be able to kill anyone who did not deserve it.

Now that he knows it was Zemo and not Barnes; sees what Zemo has become since he gave into his grief and rage, T’Challa decides to let go of his own anger and anguish.  He will always miss his father, who was stolen from him in a terrible manner.  But he no longer wants to kill to satisfy his fury and sorrow.

And since Zemo is so eager to die, the best way to punish him is to keep him alive.  Until the natural end of his life, hopefully, he will have to eat, sleep, and use the bathroom like everybody else.  He has determined that he has no purpose in life except the destruction of the Avengers.  With that accomplished, for the moment, Zemo will have to remain living in a world he has concluded is not worth his time.

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The final time we see T’Challa in the movie is when Bucky is put into cryostasis in Wakanda.  It is obvious here that T’Challa is thanking Cap and his friends for saving him from making a monstrous mistake.

But there is more than mere appreciation in his giving asylum to Team Cap and medical aid to Bucky.  Bucky is a victim, as much as T’Chaka was.  While his father is beyond his reach, Bucky is a clear and present case he can help.  He once wanted the Winter Soldier dead for a crime he did not commit.  It is his duty now to see to it that Bucky has a chance to find some measure of peace in this life.

And Team Cap is not a gang of criminals, though the law says they are.  As Charles Dickens wrote, “The law is an ass, and it has never been married.”  It would seem that T’Challa recognizes now the injustice of the Accords.  He understands that the Avengers have done their best to save as many lives in every crisis where they have been present as they can.  However, this does not mean they are able to save everyone, and to blame them for the misfortunes of battle is unreasonable.

Panther is too logical to tolerate the irrational.

This is why, when Cap reminds him that the officials may eventually come for Bucky, T’Challa smiles.  “Let them try,” he replies confidently.  They may come, and if they do, they will find they have bitten off more than they can chew.  Wakanda is as advanced as any First World country, and it is inhabited by very strong warriors.  So if you want to tango with them, go right ahead.  The rest of us will start knitting your burial shroud as you march off to get cut to pieces.

We do not know, as of Civil War, if T’Challa has had to register under the Accords as a superhuman.  I imagine the legal ramifications of forcing the monarch of a sovereign nation to obey international registration laws are more than slightly complicated.  And T’Challa is smart enough to tie the U.N. into legal knots they would be centuries untying.  If they try to put pressure on him, they are going to regret it – big time.

Considering Cap’s statement of “if they find out he’s here,” it does not sound like Team Cap will be living as ex-pats in Wakanda between this film and Infinity War.  Cap said “he,” not “we.”  As I have stated before, they will probably drop in for a visit every now and then, or whenever Bucky is woken up for a new treatment.  T’Challa will most likely be there to meet them when they come, and I suspect that he will be supplying them with money, aid, and tech until Infinity War as well.  He may even call on them to help him out under the radar!

It would be nice if we got a glimpse of Team Cap in Wakanda during the Black Panther movie in 2018.  I have my fingers crossed that at least Cap will get to pop in and have a few lines.  Background appearances for the others would be the minimum appeasement for me.

But we will have to wait and see what happens in 2018.   Until then –

Secret Avengers – Assemble!

The Mithril Guardian

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