Tag Archives: SHIELD

Avengers: Infinity War – A Review, Part 1

How Avengers 4 Is and Isn't Infinity War Part 2

Wow. I knew going in that this film would be intense, but… Whoa…

Yes, I know that I am very late in reviewing this movie. However, this blogger needed to process a lot of what she had seen in order to write a cogent analysis of the film. It’s not much of an excuse for leaving you hanging, readers, but it’s the truth. I had to do a lot of thinking about this film. It’s dense and not for the faint of heart.

This was a great movie. But there were some small items which bothered me while watching the film. These will be discussed today, while the more enjoyable aspects of the movie will be addressed later on.

Because Thanos got most of the screen time here (arrrgh!), I cannot do the characterization posts I enjoyed writing for Age of Ultron and Civil War. He took up too much screen time for more than a couple of the heroes to really stand out. So these reviews are probably going to just be lists of things I enjoyed/noticed in the film which point to the true, the good, and the beautiful.

All right, with that said, now it is time to get down to “tacks of brass” and tell you what I disliked about this movie. Most of these are minor quibbles, really; they do not detract from the film in any major way. But they were kind of annoying.

The first thing I had real trouble buying was Loki’s decision to save Thor after he told Thanos he could kill the King of Thunder. Someone who watched the film with me reminded this blogger that Loki wants to kill his brother himself, and it has to be said that there is some part of the Trickster which may be redeemable. There is good in him – somewhere. Still, although we saw that goodness on display more in Ragnarok than we have in prior installments, I’m not sure this film gave the transition proper justice. They didn’t do badly, but they might have been able to do better.

My next problem came with Pepper. As we see at the beginning of this movie, she is still trying to get Tony to abandon being Iron Man. My response to this is no, No, and NO!!! Good grief, what happened to the Pepper from The Avengers? The one who, like Penelope of old, understood that Tony had a responsibility to protect the Earth, not just himself and her? This selfish twit is a pale shadow of the Pepper Potts we saw in The Avengers and I AM NOT PLEASED WITH HER!!!

What Tony comes to realize here, and what Pepper has forgotten as of this movie, is Spider-Man’s motto: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Tony was not the first superhero, true, but the fact is that after he became Iron Man, he became accountable for more than himself. It is his job to defend America specifically and Earth as a whole from threats foreign and domestic.

Epicstream

If she truly loves Tony, then Pepper will have to learn to love all of him – including his alter ego. Despite what she and he (to a lesser degree) seem to think, the two are not separable; he is both Iron Man and Tony Stark. For him to abandon that responsibility destroys a good part of his identity.

This leads us, neatly enough, to my problem with Hawkeye’s mention in the movie. Believe it or not, I can actually handle the fact that he does not appear in Infinity War. It is disappointing but understandable; with all the other people running around in this film, the odds of him getting decent – if brief – screen time were pretty darn slim. So while I missed him, his lack of presence here was not the problem.

No, my problem was that the writers had him take a deal from the government. What the Sam Hill….? That makes no sense. None. I can see why they would need to do this for Scott Lang, given the plot for Ant-Man and the Wasp, but not for Hawkeye. Knowledge of Scott’s family is a matter of public record. There was no way for him to take Cassie, his ex-wife, and her new husband into hiding. In order to see his daughter in a safe, meaningful way, he would have had to capitulate and take a deal. This is why it makes perfect sense for Scott to be under house arrest in Ant-Man and the Wasp.

It does not make ANY sense for Hawkeye to be under house arrest during Infinity War, which is where Widow says he is. The whole point of Clint’s rebelling against the Accords was to protect his family, to keep them secret. That’s why he smacked the bars on his cell after Tony opened his big fat mouth in the Raft. The absolute last thing he would do would be to sign a deal with the government which kept him under house arrest, since this requires the government to look in him and his family regularly, just as they did with Scott.

Clint made it abundantly clear in Age of Ultron that he wanted knowledge of his family to stay off the record. Even after Tony blabbed about his family, it would have been more sensible (and easier) for Hawkeye and the Secret Avengers to keep his wife and children hidden. All they would have to do was move his family to a new location, either in the U.S. or by seeking asylum in Wakanda. Without a way to track Clint or the Secret Avengers, the government could not use the Barton family as bargaining chips. This would have at least enabled Clint to “retire” with them in relative safety and comfort, if not continue his Avenging career with the rest of the anti-Accords gang every now and then.

For the writers to subvert Clint’s choice like this really bugs me. It also contradicts his previous portrayal and plays directly into the stereotypical trap that Pepper has fallen into. Clint Barton is a father and a husband first and foremost, yes, but if he wants to keep his family’s lives secure, he has avoid letting the government know about them at the least. There are no two ways about this and the writers should have handled it better than they did.

New Avengers: Infinity War trailer knows that Black ...

One of my other issues with the film came at the end of the story, when the “Snapture” begins to take a universal effect. Most of the unnamed people who are erased in Wakanda are guys. It appears from the camera shots that almost all of the Dora Milaje – T’Challa’s bodyguard and ceremonial wives’ corps – are left standing. I guess the writers and directors figured they wouldn’t be able to get past the Hollywoond censors if they wiped out half the women warriors in Wakanda.

Personally, I think erasing Okoye rather than T’Challa might have made more sense to the narrative and had more of an impact on audiences. But, heck, what do I know? I’m just a fan.

Another point of contention I have with the film is Thanos’ sacrifice of Gamora to gain the Soul Stone. The idea, as expressed in the film, that this works because he “loves” her is…sticky in one sense but, in another, it works pretty well. As Gamora herself says, what Thanos feels for her is not true love. He loves her as a reflection of his own brilliance and glory, not for herself. Technically, because he does not truly love Gamora, throwing her off a cliff to her death should not “earn” him the Soul Stone.

On the other hand the Stone may not be able to determine the difference between real love and selfish love. It may recognize and respond to either type, or just to the fact that a soul has been offered to it. Any one of these three things could make it acquiesce to being taken by the sacrificer. There is no clarification given in the movie for how this works, though, so viewers don’t know which it is for certain.

My final complaints about the film were the three-on-one fight with Proxima Midnight and the scene where Gamora cries after she thinks she has killed Thanos. In a way, both of these things make sense. But the method in which they were accomplished left something to be desired for this viewer.

We will deal with the cat fight first. It has been shown throughout this film franchise that the male Avengers are naturally chivalrous. They tend to go easy on their female opponents. This is demonstrated best in Civil War when Scott Lang/Ant-Man sheepishly admits that he doesn’t want to hurt Natasha, who promptly does a number on him. Therefore, if you want a no-holds-barred fight with Proxima Midnight, sending the Black Widow, Wanda Maximoff, and Okoye after the leader of the Black Order means there will be no need to tear off the kid gloves.

Infinity War: Scarlet Witch's Accent Explained by the ...

The quandary comes in the portrayal of Okoye and Natasha’s trading nods like equals. As far as we have seen, here and in previous films, the two have never met or spent much time together. These slight nods that hint at a friendship between the two therefore have no weight, since we never saw them together before this film came out.

More importantly, Natasha and Okoye are not equals. Okoye is a general, a soldier. War is her business and her element, as shown in Black Panther. The woman practically lives for the thrill of battle.

In contrast, Natasha is a super spy. She was raised to be a solo operative who got in and out of areas and scenarios no one else could. Subterfuge is her expertise and her greatest weapon, even now. Fighting alongside the Avengers does not make her a soldier, since as Tony said in The Avengers, they ARE NOT soldiers. They are, rather, para-military commandos. A situation arises, the Avengers ride in, dispatch the bad guys, pull the plug on their evil scheme(s), and go home. That is it.

Even when they end up in situation like that seen at the start of Age of Ultron, the team is operating in the manner that Special Forces units do. The field of combat there may be wider than the one Natasha was accustomed to when working for the KGB and SHIELD, but in form it is not that different. When she is in the field with the Avengers she is doing what she has always done the way that she has always done it.

Avengers: Infinity War 4k Ultra HD Wallpaper and ...

As we saw in Black Panther, Okoye has very little patience for the arts of subtlety and guile. She can’t keep up a cover identity for more than fifteen or twenty minutes, tops. Unlike the patient Widow spinning a web to ensnare a foe, Okoye is a tigress who hunts in the open because she revels in the fear she inspires in her opponents. The two are nothing alike, and to suggest that they are in any way similar through these minute gestures was a stupid move on the part of the writers. It completely upset the tempo of the otherwise magnificent fight with Proxima.

Finally, we come to Gamora crying over Thanos. While it is true that she hates Thanos for everything he did to her and everything he made her become, the fact is that she does share a relationship with him. In a twisted, dark way she owes him her life. There is no way for Gamora to really escape that fact, even though she wishes she could. This scene also makes it clear that she sincerely pities the Mad Titan for his blindness to real love and beauty. It makes total sense that she would start crying after “killing” him.

What does not make sense is that she didn’t see through his Reality Stone ruse. Nor does it make sense for her to break down so completely in this moment. And as an assassin, she ought to know that it is better to mourn in private, after she has made sure her target is really dead. The fact that she falls apart here shows she is letting her feelings rule her.

This is a weakness she cannot afford in this war, but which she gives into anyway. While it is understandable and excusable from our point of view, it is neither within the context of the story. Her breakdown here was more than a little annoying for that reason. The universe is at stake and yet she stops to fall on her knees and cry over Thanos? Doesn’t it make more sense to do that in her room AFTER she is sure that the universe is safe and daddy’s not coming back to kill half the cosmic population? *Sigh….*

These are, as I noted above, very small nitpicks with this film. On the whole, this movie is fantastic!!! And with Avengers: Endgame set to be released in April/May of this year, we won’t have that much longer to wait until we know how it all ends. Here’s hoping it is one of those finales where, as Samwise Gamgee’s gaffer would say, “…all’s well as ends better!”

‘Til next week – Avengers, Assemble!

A Review of Marvel’s Avengers: DISK Wars

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Marvel’s Avengers: DISK Wars

Recently, I learned that Marvel has again gone to Japan to have a new anime series written utilizing its heroes. So far, the prospective series is titled New Future Avengers. It will spotlight the Avengers Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Wasp training children who have somehow acquired superpowers.

I did not learn this through my usual sources, readers; they were rather lacking in details on the series. No, I learned this through a search in my WordPress Reader, discovering that someone had posted the handful of available particulars for Marvel fans to find on their blog.

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New Future Avengers

There was one thing the writer said which upset me. When he or she mentioned that the Wasp would be part of the show, the writer added “Finally!” to the sentence.

For a moment, all I could do was blink at the screen. My next reaction was, “What do you mean ‘finally’? Wasp is one of the main protagonists in Marvel’s Avengers: DISK Wars, which finished its run almost three years ago. She hasn’t exactly been forgotten, and the fact that she was in DISK Wars makes it no surprise that they would add her to the roster in New Future Avengers.”

Longtime readers might know that I like Marvel’s Wasp/Janet Van Dyne very much. Her performance throughout Earth’s Mightiest Heroes was my first introduction to the character. She made me laugh, and I usually agreed with her when she threw out the zingers along with the sting blasts. When I watched DISK Wars three years ago, I was impressed with Wasp’s characterization in that series, along with the depictions of her fellow heroes. My impression of the series made it into the long-winded post Three Marvel TV Shows here at Thoughts on the Edge of Forever.

To save you the time of looking that article up, let me add that after seeing this person’s post on New Future Avengers, I decided to go back and watch DISK Wars. I wanted to see if I had rated the show rightly three years ago. Some of the posts which this author has been reading about other, older Japanese anime series inspired me to go back to see how I would describe this series now that I am (hopefully) somewhat wiser than when I watched it first.

Going back to DISK Wars, I felt a little anxious. What if it wasn’t as good as when I had first enjoyed it? What if I had been wrong to praise it so much? Not all Japanese anime, just like not all American entertainment, is great stuff. They have R and X-rated shows in Japan, too, you know. Despite the jitters, I went to Google and found a source where I could watch DISK Wars with English subtitles again. (I speak next to no Japanese and read even less.)

About three episodes into the series, my nerves melted away as I remembered just how much fun the show is. Undoubtedly, most of this is due to the spot-on depiction for Cap, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Wasp, Spider-Man, and the other Marvel characters that appear in the story.

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Some modern concessions were made in the series, of course; it is not entirely an homage to the original comics. Iron Man is much like Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, Fury resembles Samuel L. Jackson, and Hawkeye works for SHIELD. He is a little stiffer than I would like, but he is allowed to show some of his normal personality on occasion, so I let that slide.

The villains also act in-character; while MODOK, Whirlwind, Diablo, and a few of the others behave in a sillier manner than we are accustomed to seeing here, the fact is that it is kind of hard to take a floating head with miniature arms and legs as seriously as you would the Red Skull. The Japanese writers’ decision to make MODOK act to the ridiculous degree that he appears is hardly an insult to fans, new or old, in this viewer’s opinion.

And the thing is that this propensity for being outlandish does not make MODOK less dangerous. It just makes it more fun to watch him get thrashed. I mean, when was the last time we were allowed to have an absurd villain get beaten handily – not to mention outright laughed at while he was defeated?

That actually used to happen in the original Marvel Comics. If you read Hawkeye’s first encounter with the Beatle, you will understand why I say this. It never hurts to hand the heroes a hilarious villain they can knock down without breaking a sweat. Sometimes, it really is that easy to win a battle with a bad guy – at least the first time around.

The third clincher for the series is the children who end up partnered with the Avengers. This bears some explaining; at the beginning of DISK Wars, we learn that Tony has developed a new type of super villain capturing device called a DISK. Using the DISKs, the authorities or the bad guys can digitally secure a villain – or a hero – in an alternate dimension where the subject doesn’t require food, sleep, or trips to the bathroom, as a friend who recently began watching the show pointed out.

Now Tony does not develop the DISKs on his own. He has the help of a brilliant Japanese scientist, Dr. Akatsuki, who has two sons still living in Japan. Dr. Akatsuki is aiding Tony in designing and building the gizmos, which are the size of a wristwatch. His two boys are named Hikaru and Akira. Seeing how much he misses his sons, Tony decides to invite them to the presentation for the DISKs so their father can spend some time with them after being absent for two years. How can such a plan go wrong?

Well, let’s see you hold a demonstration for a powerful new device at a maximum security super villain prison and see how things go for you.

Yes, Tony has the venue for the DISKs set up at the Raft on Ryker’s Island. Pepper apparently told him this was a bad place to have the party but, typically, Tony blew off her concerns by saying, “What could possibly go wrong?”

Uh, Loki could hire five celebrities and use them as his DISK-controlling minions, thereby freeing the villains from their cells so they could fight the heroes at the party? And he manages to have them export a few villains to the SHIELD Helicarrier, too, effectively hamstringing the agency so they cannot send the heroes the backup they desperately need.

Yeah, no one would have seen something like this coming at all – especially not the stupendously brilliant Tony Stark.

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Finally, one of the villains ties up Pepper, forcing the assembled heroes to stand down or she will be killed. This allows Loki to entrap the heroes present at the Raft in DISKs. Spider-Man, whose alter ego Peter Parker has been Tony and Dr. Akatsuki’s lab assistant for the past two years, is the one hero in attendance who avoids getting locked in a DISK.

Enter the kids. Turns out, the DISKs can only be controlled by a person who has had something called a “Biocode” installed in their body. This Biocode allows the user to connect with one of the five classes of DISKs: Tech, Energy, Animal, Fight, and Power. Tech is obvious; a hero or villain who uses technology in his crime spree/hero work gets locked in a red or Tech DISK. A villain/hero with animal characteristics or an animal codename gets a yellow DISK, while one who uses martial arts and weapons’ training lands in a blue Fight Class DISK. The villain/hero that can produce energy gets put in a purple DISK. Power Class DISKs are for villains or heroes with enormous physical strength; this class of DISK is green.

You can see where this is going, right? Tony, because of his armor, is part of the Tech Class. Cap is Fight Class since he relies on his martial arts and shield throwing skills in battle. Wasp gets an Animal Class DISK because her codename belongs to an animal; even though her stings are energy based, her moniker puts her under the animal label. Hulk, clearly, qualifies for Power Class due to his enormous strength while Thor lands in Energy Class for the simple reason that he can generate lightning – a form of energy.

Hikaru and Akira, along with three other lucky children attending the shindig, receive partial Biocodes when the Installer Akira was tasked with protecting is damaged. Loki already had a Biocode installed in his body and those of his celebrity minions; his is a master Biocode that can release a villain from any and all of the five classes. Naturally, he did not want his superstar henchmen to try and overpower him, so they have a single Biocode installed, which means they can release a villain from just one of the five classes. (Yes, they still follow Loki anyway. How long would they last if they tried to ditch him, hmm?)

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The reason that Loki wanted Akira’s Installer destroyed is he does not want anyone he cannot control using a Biocode. And, since the Installer is damaged, he is somewhat successful in avoiding having direct challengers who can fully release the heroes trapped in the DISKs.

Because their Biocodes are limited, the kids can release their Avenging partners for a maximum of five minutes. At the end of that time, the heroes instantly return to their DISKs. Though the children can speak to the Avengers using a holographic interface, which allows holographic miniature images of the heroes to interact with the real world, they have to wait up to six hours for their Biocodes to recharge before releasing their battle partners again.

As you can guess, this causes no end of headaches for everyone concerned. Not only are the Avengers forced to haul three tweens and two teenagers into combat with them, they are entirely dependent on the children and Pepper for social interaction. When the World Security Council accuses Colonel Fury of conspiring with Loki, arrests him, and puts SHIELD on lock down, matters are further complicated for the team. Things go from bad to worse when they have to escape to Tokyo after said Council forces the U.S. president to register all superheroes living in America in order to keep them off the streets.

If you are wondering why anyone would want to do this in such a crisis, ask yourself who has the most to gain by keeping the heroes and SHIELD out of his way.

Got the answer yet?

Yep, it’s Loki pulling the strings that force the Avengers to set up shop in Tokyo. They get away with this by striking a deal with the strongest and most dangerous villain in Japan; the Silver Samurai, head of one of the biggest Yakuza organizations in the Land of the Rising Sun. He owns more politicians and officials than Loki, and he is so feared that when he tells them to do or not do something, they listen. Even the powerful World Security Council cannot trump good old-fashioned Mafia connections – especially in Japan.

While some may be put in mind of Pokémon by the Avengers’ forced residence in DISKs controlled by children, to me, that is a non-existent issue. I admit that it is a little odd and even hard to swallow. But come on, who among us has not wished to have a personal guardian angel we can call into plain sight for help? We all have one but most of us never get to see them in this life.

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More to the point, there are many themes in DISK Wars that make it well worth watching. Although not as pronounced as in Zoids: Chaotic Century, this series also hammers home the idea of fighting to reach one’s full potential, adding the caveat that you cannot steal it from someone else. You have to work for it because it is yours alone; only you can find it in battle with yourself, the world, and the villains who will challenge you throughout your life.

The most prevalent theme in DISK Wars is that despair is not stronger than hope. Loki and Red Skull, who takes over as the main villain in the series for five or ten episodes, say many times that they wish to see the heroes and children lose heart. These men hate the good guys’ optimism, their belief that circumstances can improve, even if the heroes themselves do not live to see things change for the better. It was a timely admonition three years ago and it is an apt reminder now: despair is one of the worst evils in the world, an evil which only hope can conquer.

Cap gets a speech at the end of episode two that is not just in-character, it absolutely makes a viewer want to stand up and cheer as it emphasizes another theme in the series. At this point in the story, Loki has the heroes on their knees, held down by various villains they have fought and defeated many times over the years. Noticing Steve’s defiant stare, he hits the First Avenger in the gut and taunts him by asking if it hurts.

Admitting it does, Cap quickly adds that the physical pain will eventually fade, so it means nothing in the long run. Loki’s gleeful torment of the heroes, however, has hurt them all far worse. And that, Cap says, means that they or someone else will stop Loki at some point in the future.

Mirroring his speech to Coulson on the Helicarrier in The Avengers, Loki asks who could possibly make him pay for his actions if the Avengers are all in DISKs. Cap promises that sooner or later those who believe in justice will rise up to fight and defeat Loki, although the heroes who inspire them may no longer be available to defend them.

While he speaks, the five children who will receive partial Biocodes are already on their way to save Pepper so the heroes can fight back. It is a crescendo moment that does not lose its potency three years after a first viewing. If anything, it takes on a deeper meaning as time goes on.

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Finally, you have to enjoy the interplay between the Avengers and the kids, not to mention the familiar mannerisms and speeches of the Marvel heroes. I do not know if New Future Avengers will be allowed to keep to the heroes’ original patterns, as DISK Wars did, and at the moment it really does not matter. New Future Avengers will be what it will be. DISK Wars is an entirely worthwhile series to watch – though I admit, I would not have put Deadpool in even one episode, let alone the two wherein he has a part. Despite this, however, the series does justice to its audience and its material, so I do not mind watching it.

My biggest wish in regard to the story is that Marvel and Japan would send DISK Wars stateside. I do not see how the series could not take off here; it is almost as good quality as Zoids: Chaotic Century, and we know how much of a success THAT was in the States. The zoid models sold like crazy!

Watching the show in Japanese is fun – I enjoy listening to the Japanese voice actors, although I would have no idea what they were saying ninety percent of the time without the subtitles. But subtitles are not for everyone, and that makes this show hard to share with others, which would not be the case if Marvel had it translated for the American market.

They have already done this with a couple of other anime series based on Marvel characters. The short Japanese Iron Man series was condensed into a film, translated into English, and sold on DVD here in the United States. DISK Wars is too long for such condensing, but released as a serial on Cartoon Network or Disney XD – I think it would take off faster than some people might believe.

But that will probably never happen. Or if it does, DISK Wars will bypass the television and go straight to DVD. Either way, do not knock the series until you try it, readers. It really is a good show.

Avengers, Assemble!…

…Or should that be “D-Smash”?

Season 3 of Avengers Assemble Review

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

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

Let’s find out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avengers – ASSEMBLE!!!

Captain America: Civil War – Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch ya later, True Believers!

The Mithril Guardian

A Review of Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War Opens to $200.2 Million Overseas

WHA-HOOOOO!!!!!! Readers, Captain America: Civil War has to be one of the absolute BEST Marvel movies ever!!!!

I will attempt to keep the spoilers out of this review, and start my character analysis posts somewhere in the middle of the summer, when more people have had time to see the film. But I will “spoil” one thing here: in the movie, NO AVENGERS DIE!!!  YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, with the enthusiastic fan victory lap out of the way, we can get to the meat of the matter. Civil War is a movie so action packed it is almost too heavy on the fighting. Almost. The Russos just manage to keep Cap at the center of the whirlwind, despite the number of players within the story.

That being said, Tony probably takes second place to Cap in this tale. His arc is the most painful to watch, since his actions are the primary reason for the major conflicts in the film. Cap’s journey is much less agonizing; not once did he compromise his moral compass, even at the end of the climactic battle in the HYDRA base.

This was the best part of the film, second only in one other factor, which I will mention momentarily. In an era when the ‘intellectuals’ want Americans to ‘get with the times,’ and submit to the angst-filled, beaten, and beastly façade that they insist is the new America, Steve Rogers remains “bloody, but unbowed.” (This quote is from a poem called Invictus, written by William Ernest Henley. Invictus is Latin, and loosely translated, it means “undefeated,” “unconquerable,” or “indefatigable.” You can find the full poem somewhere on my blog if you wish, readers.) It is nice to have a hero who is so thoroughly American that it is impossible to ruin him – not without losing tons of money, anyway.

The second great thing about Civil War is that it has a hopeful ending. Notice I did not say it has a happy ending; that is up to the individual viewer to find, if they can. But it does have a hopeful ending. And as Napoleon said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” And I have to say, in the United States of America, we never needed hope as much as we do today. The assaults are coming thick and fast from every conceivable direction – and even from some heretofore inconceivable angles. It is too bad Steve Rogers is a fictional character. We could sure use an American Galahad right about now.

But if we have to settle for one who dwells on the silver screen, I think we can live with that.

As for the other Avengers in this show, Hawkeye and Ant-Man do not really have character arcs within this film. That is understandable. Hawkeye’s arc was pretty impressive in Age of Ultron, and while I have my fingers crossed that we will get to see him in another film at some point, he proved again in Civil War precisely why I like him. 😉 His part was not everything I wanted it to be, but it was still great! (But can’t they refer to him as Hawkeye at least twice within the same movie?!? I do not mind calling him Clint or Barton, but he has a codename, too, ya know!!!)

Ant-Man’s character arc in his own film last year was so well done that we did not need much of an introduction to him this time around. Still, he does grow a little here (there is a pun in this statement). For a previously solo act in the super-powered sphere, he shows he can adjust to working with a team fairly well…. But he and Hawkeye still have some teammate issues to figure out.

Vision and Wanda’s character arcs constantly shift between active and passive. Some of their character growth is on the battlefield; other moments are in the serenity of the Avengers’ compound. As a side note, there is a visual reference to X-Men: Evolution near the end of the film for Wanda. If you do not spot it, then do not worry. I will do my best to make a mention of it in my next post about her. Remind me if I forget, please. 😉

Though we missed Pietro’s presence in this film, there were others we did not miss. Spider-Man’s character arc, while limited, adhered to his roots – for once. He shows he is greener than either Wanda or Scott Lang, but he has as much “heart” as either of them. I am not sure I buy the method Tony used to recruit him. Though it is quite Stark-esque, it almost grated on my nerves, since I wanted to see more of Cap and felt dragged away from him by the detour to pick up the webslinger!

Black Panther fans need not fear for his character. This longtime ally and friend of Steve Rogers came through the movie fantastically. In fact, one of the friends who watched this film with me came to admire him during the course of the story, when said friend had previously stated that T’Challa was “boring.” Bonus points for an already great part in an excellent film!!!

On the subject of characters who came out well in the movie, Natasha pulled through with flying colors. She may still be fighting the Soviet mold, but she proved that she can conquer it. 😉 GO BLACK WIDOW!!!

Let’s see – who did I miss? Ah, Rhodey! Other than his influence on Tony, Rhodey came across as rather dense in this film. His reasons for signing the Accords were beyond dumb. The U.N. is nothing like SHIELD, which is quite a compliment to the spy agency. But the World Security Council had plenty in common with the U.N. And the fact that Rhodey cannot see this is very sad and does his character no favors whatsoever.

Sam Wilson, however, has the sight of his codename. No way is the Falcon going to get hoodwinked that easily. Speaking of Falcon, his little drone, Redwing, is a very neat addition to the team. Too bad it’s not a bird, as it is in the comics. Sam’s character arc is fun to watch and harkens back to his days of Avenging as Cap’s particular partner in the older comics. He proves he is an able field commander and combatant in Civil War, and I think it will be hard for the writers to top his part in this film.

I think the only hero I have not covered yet is the Winter Soldier. Yes, I called him a hero. He is an abused hero, but a hero all the same. It is odd; I actually related better to him in this film than I did in The Winter Soldier. He was someone to be pitied in that film. In Civil War, compassion comes into play more, as he gets to actually show some personality this time. He is not the same man he was in World War II, and he can never be that person again. But neither is he the coldly terrifying hunter of men we saw in Cap 2. On the whole, this portrayal of him is probably the best one yet.

Now, about those villains…. contrary to popular statements, I do not think Tony qualifies as a villain in this film. I would not even put him down as an antagonist. He sets off Civil War as he set off Age of Ultron: through childish hubris, an overly guilty conscience, and blind fear. A little anger is mixed in at the end of the film, rather understandably, making him emotionally revert to being a young boy again.

Cap’s treatment of him reflects that. The ending of the film is substantially different than the end of the comic book war, for which I am grateful. From what I know of the comic book conflict, I think I can say the film’s ending is by far the better one. I know I will not be reading the Civil War comics – the first collection or the second set Marvel Comics is preparing to release sometime soon – when I can watch this film! As painful as the fight between the two heroes is, for me, there is a slight sweetness amid the sorrow. Cap came through the fight bloody, but in one piece – physically, mentally, and morally. If only the comic book writers were willing to treat him so!!!

(How come the film writers keep doing better than the comic book writers? Seriously, how? Are they more in tune with reason and logic than the comic book writers? Someone somewhere within the Marvel comic book writing system is not firing on all cylinders. There is a malfunction in the writing department, because they are not telling stories anymore. They are partying like Ferris Bueller.)

General Thunderbolt Ross does not appear to be a villain in Civil War, as he did in The Incredible Hulk. He does not scream and roar, nor skate on the edge of an apoplectic fit, the way he did in that movie. But his goal is no different now than it was before: he’s a trigger-happy jerk who wants control of the best weapons he can find. And the “best weapons” he can “find” are the Avengers. The irate General turned Secretary of State just made my I-want-to-punch-this-guy-list; he has outstripped even Loki. Now that is a feat!

Helmut Zemo – no baron in this movie – is a complete villain. They try to win the audience’s sympathy for him throughout the story. But for my part, I saw nothing I was able to even remotely empathize with in his character, and their attempts were little short of window dressing.

If you want my opinion, Zemo was born with a soul as black as the pits of Hell. The guy is Evil, with a capital E, no two ways about it. He is not dangerous for his powers – he has no enhancements as of this film. He is treacherous simply because he is intelligent and pure evil. Zemo is a totally terrifying villain. I do not know how Thanos can possibly upstage him – but I suppose that he will, somehow, manage to do that.

If you can, readers, you have got to see this movie while it is still in cinemas!!! And do not forget to stay for the mid and end credit scenes! As a side note, I will be leaving my “Whose Side Are You On?” poll open until December 2016. So if you have not yet chosen a side, now is the time!

GO CAPTAIN AMERICA!!!!!!!!!

The Mithril Guardian

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Iron Man/Tony Stark

Really, dude?

Is there any superhero out there that happens to be in more hot water these days than Tony Stark? I am sort of out of the loop on comic book news, but it seems Tony Stark/Iron Man is one of the most despised and maligned superheroes in the genre of late.

Ouch. If it were not for Marvel’s manhandling of him, I would say Tony did not deserve this. In truth, the original Tony Stark does not merit this treatment at all. And that is the one thing which makes me go easy on the petulant, crass, self-absorbed Iron Man that Robert Downey Jr. plays to perfection. I may not respect the current iterations of Tony Stark, but his earlier portrayal when he first entered the world of comics is a character I do respect. That is the only reason I am willing to go relatively easy on him.

What is there to say about Tony’s part in Age of Ultron which I have not already stated in previous character-based posts about the movie? Hmm. Let’s see….

Tony starts out a hundred percent fine in Ultron. It is just another day at the office for him as he helps the Avengers – his friends – bust HYDRA’s most recent operation in the obscure Eastern European country of Sokovia. Cap, naturally, chastises Tony for using poor language for a minor annoyance; Hulk is having fun tearing things apart and scaring the HYDRA soldiers witless, and Widow and Hawkeye are tag-team fighting the goons. Meanwhile, Thor is bringing the thunder as he looks forward to reclaiming the scepter Loki used when he tried to take over Earth roughly three years ago.

Yup, it’s just another day at the office. And would you look at that – it even comes with a secret door!

Then Tony, with his eyes on the “glowstick of destiny,” suddenly sees a vision of a horrible future. His team – his friends – are lying dead or dying at his feet. Natasha is sprawled on her back, her eyes staring glassily into the distance. The Hulk, lying on the rock behind her, breathes his last, several alien spears projecting from his back.

Thor is on his back as well, but mercifully his eyes are shut. Across from him is Hawkeye, who is folded up and seems to have slumped into a sitting position as he died. All his arrows are spent. Worst of all, Cap is lying directly in front of Tony. His eyes are closed and his shield has been broken in two. Its halves lie haphazardly near his head.

These are Tony’s friends. People he once did not know and did not care to know. People he once would have had nothing to do with, unless it was to tease and belittle them. But through the course of the battles he has fought at their side, he has gotten to know them better. He has learned who they are – and thus he has learned to care about them.

Natasha, a super spy Tony once mistrusted and quite probably hated, is now a friend. She trades witty banter with him, is competent at her job, and much nicer than he initially believed her to be. Thor, whom Tony once called a ‘tourist’ and lost a fight with, no longer seems so out of place and backward as he did on the Helicarrier. Clint Barton, a man whom he knew only as a marionette pulled around by Loki, is someone Tony has come to respect and with whom he will now happily trade jokes. Bruce/Hulk, a fellow scientist who Tony saw as a person in straits like his own, was the easiest friend Stark had made in years. They clicked at once and stayed “science brothers” afterward.

And finally there is Cap, an old friend of the father Tony hardly knew. It is easy to picture the two, seated at a table in the Tower during the evenings when they were not Avenging the wrongs perpetrated by the bad guys, prior to Ultron. One can even surmise that, when Steve was in the mood, he would tell Tony stories about some exploit of his father’s during the war – stories which the younger Stark was never told as a child.

In this way, Steve and Tony became friends between Winter Soldier and Ultron. Tony has come to see in Steve what his father saw in him, while Cap looks at Tony and sees a link to a life he lost and can never regain.

For this reason, his is the first ‘corpse’ Tony rushes to check on. There is no way to know for certain what Tony was thinking at that moment, but his thoughts probably went a little like this:

No, no, they can’t be dead! Tony thinks. This is a nightmare. Just a nightmare. I’ll check on Cap, and then I’ll wake up. Maybe Steve’s still alive, and he’ll tell me to wake up. This isn’t real, this isn’t real…!

That is when ‘Cap’ suddenly grabs him and asks why he did not save his team, his friends. “Why didn’t you do more?” Steve’s ghostly, rasping voice accuses him just before the hypnosis breaks, returning Iron Man brusquely to reality.

With that scene haunting him, Tony leaps to a bad idea as he rushes to protect his friends at all costs. As was said in the post “Avengers: Age of Ultron – Bruce Banner/Hulk,” Tony has a great deal of faith in synthetics. Too much faith, frankly. He thinks he can cure the world, just as many other modern scientists do, with the next gadget or computer program.

Pepper and Tony

In his vision, Tony sees another alien invasion taking place. Clearly, this is a nod to the Post Traumatic Stress the writers gave him after Marvel’s The Avengers. Personally, this seems like a rather dumb handicap with which to have saddled him. In fact, I am not sure that Tony actually has PTSD at all. I think what happened to him during the Battle of New York was this: the rose colored glasses were yanked off of his eyes – forcefully, and very quickly.

You see, before Loki’s invasion attempt, all Tony’s battles were fun and games – after a fashion. He got into battles against opponents who were tough and definitely dangerous. But he was able to conquer them because their tech could not match his. There was nothing he faced that he could not handle with a new gadget or toy, one he had either built in the lab or on the fly.

Then, in The Avengers, he runs into aliens with machinery that beats every piece of machinery except that which is featured in the Star Wars films. Against beings who travel through space and have advanced biotechnology, what can Earth use to defend itself? Nukes? That worked on the Chitauri…

But what else is out there? Nukes will not hold back everybody.

Combat is a harsh reality, one for which Tony was not prepared. He had been playing on a much lower level, showing off in the varsity leagues. Cap was right in The Avengers; up to a point, Tony’s performance in battle was glorified showboating. So when Loki arrived and brought an alien army with him, Tony was suddenly dealing with an enemy more technologically advanced than he was. Everyone knows Stark tech is top-of-the-line. Nothing is more advanced than Tony’s gizmos. His is the pinnacle of human technology.

But being on top of the heap on Earth does not make you king of the galaxy. Tony was not thinking that far ahead. He still had his eyes on Earth, not the stars.

Loki forced him to look up. Way, way up – through a portal over his own building in NYC. Talk about being humbled in your own home!

This did not sit well with Tony, and he would not admit it. Not to his friends, and definitely not to himself. Oh, he has said they cannot handle the threats outside the galaxy, sure. But that is because he is looking at the matter solely as synthetics versus synthetics – tech against tech, if you will. He is looking at the battlefield as a tech guru, not a soldier.

Tony is not used to playing second banana to anyone – not in the technological department. He has always been one step ahead of everybody else; one computer program, widget, thingamabob above the rest. The attack on New York taught him that he was indeed the head of the Mech Pack on Earth. But in the universe, he was a small fry.

And that scared him. Tony does not have PTSD. He is simply terrified of not being able to technologically outmatch any and all opponents. If he cannot do it, no one on Earth can.

And he is right. No one person on Earth can stand against an army, no matter the whizz-bang machines they are using, and hope to win. That is just plain stupid. Or hubristic, depending on whom it is you are talking about. But Tony does not see it that way. He is so accustomed to doing everything with machines, and protecting those he cares about by the same method, that to be shown something he cannot defend against frightens him beyond words.

This is why he initially keeps his vision to himself. How can he make his friends understand his fear? How can he tell them, “I can’t protect you or the world because the technology out there is centuries, maybe millennia, ahead of what we’ve got here on Earth. It would take that long to study and copy it, and I don’t have that kind of time!”

Tony cannot admit that – to himself or to his friends. The implications alarm him too badly. If they go up against forces with superior tech which he cannot figure out how to beat, then as far as he can tell, it is all over. This is why he has nightmares about the Battle of New York in Iron Man 3. This is the burning fear he keeps banked and hidden in his mind afterward, where he does not have to look at it….

Until Wanda uncovers it, and fans it into flames at the beginning of Age of Ultron.

Tony’s main problem in the films is that he believes synthetics are the answer to everything. In his opinion, science is the answer to all problems. Tech will solve every dilemma, save every life, and stop every calamity. Isolated in his labs, Tony does not take time to look around and realize that there are things more powerful than machines in the universe. When he goes out, he does not “people watch,” as they like to say.

He does not observe a little girl who goes up to and hugs her dad at the store, or the smile her father gives her as she does so. He does not see a man drop his wallet and another person, noticing the wallet fall, pick it up and return it to its owner. Part of this is his father’s fault, in a way. Howard Stark was so busy trying to fix the world so Tony could grow up safely that he did not spend enough time just being with his son, teaching him that men make technology; technology does not make men.

Captain America

As a result, Tony sees little acts of kindness not as pebbles which start great rockslides but as solitary, random incidents with the lifespan of fireflies. They last a night, or maybe for the entire summer, and then they are gone. How can a human heart be more powerful than a machine?

This is where the other Avengers have the advantage over Tony – for the most part. Cap saw people make great and small sacrifices throughout World War II. Each one of these personal denials of self made a difference in the Allied war effort, no matter how seemingly trivial they were. The combined sacrifices of these people taught him to make the greatest self-surrender he could – joining the U.S. Army so he could be a shield to protect those who could not defend themselves. He faced the original HYDRA’s best war machines, and in doing so, he learned a valuable lesson: Machines of any kind, no matter how strong they are, can always be broken.

Men’s souls and hearts do not break nearly as easily.

Clint has seen the same thing, and more closely than Cap has, in a way. Loki took control of most of his mind and his whole body in The Avengers. But Clint learned he could resist the Trickster, albeit in small ways. Those small instances, however, had powerful consequences. Shooting at Fury’s heart, which was protected by body armor, meant the Director of SHIELD lived to coordinate the war against Loki. Missing Hill, when he would never otherwise have failed to take down his target, meant she was still alive to help in the war effort. Fighting Natasha the way the Black Widow fought best saved his life, and it allowed him to fight against his enslaver. So Clint understands that others may be able to bend him to their will for a time….

But he can choose to bend only so far. And he can choose not to break.

Thor learned when he met Jane Foster, Eric Selvig, and Darcy in New Mexico that the simple acts of kindness matter in the grand scheme of things. Jane was willing to help him when she met him first. She could have driven off and left him in the desert after broad-siding him with her vehicle. She could have ignored him and not told Darcy to get the first aid kit, focusing instead on the Asgardian markings in the sand. But she did no such thing. She took Thor to the hospital, took him to Mjolnir’s landing site later on, and stayed by his side to face the Destroyer – a machine nothing on Earth could stand against. Presumably, no Asgardian or other advanced being from the Nine Realms could stand against it, either. But Thor did. And you know what he learned when he fought his father’s favorite toy?

Even the best and mightiest machine is no match for a determined warrior. In the crunch, machines will always break before a man will.

Natasha knows this, too. It was Clint’s decision to spare her that lead to her redemption. If their positions had been reversed, the odds were against her showing any kind of mercy to him. She always accomplished her missions, always took down her targets. Clint, however, spared her. He had her on the ropes, could have killed her easily. But he did not. In allowing Natasha to live, he taught her that killing is a last resort, not a first. Clint showed her that orders may be wrong or evil, and in such cases they can successfully be countermanded by the individual’s decision. When he lowered his bow and told her he was not going to kill her, she learned something very important:

All the brainwashing and training in the world cannot take away a man’s choice. She, and others like her, could choose to be more than the machines they were programmed to be.

Bruce’s experience of becoming the Hulk taught him the futility of believing in technology as a solution to every problem. As the Hulk, he can break any piece of tech sent against him. It will take more than a bullet or a nuke to kill the Hulk. This means that it will take a lot to kill Bruce, too. Tech, Bruce knows, is not the answer to the world’s problems. No matter how indestructible it seems to be, there is always a way to smash it.

Hulk SMASH

Tony has not learned that lesson from his experiences. His main weapon in battle is a high tech suit of electromechanical armor. Tech is the way he defends himself. It is what he relies on to do his job, more so than any of his friends. Also, Natasha, Steve, Clint, and Thor have trained long and hard to be at their physical peak in combat. They are all athletic and have physical combat skills they can use to defend themselves if they lose their tech. Bruce does not need to train in this way, since he can turn into a nine foot tall green mountain of moving destruction when he releases his rage.

On the other hand, Tony’s training is limited. And he started late.

To be a good or great archer, one has to practice from childhood, usually around the 12-14 age range – if not younger. In the comics, Clint was around that age when he began learning archery, so it would make sense if he started out that young in the films. (Renner definitely has not been practicing that long!) Natasha was trained in combat and gymnastics from the time she could walk. Steve’s serum keeps him in peak health, strength, agility, etc. He does not need to train, but he does it all the same so he will not be caught flat-footed.

Thor comes from a realm of fighters. Apparently, up until Sif declared she was going to be a warrior for Asgard, the only ones in the realm who did not studiously train from a young age to become warriors were the girls. So Thor has had plenty of training – much more than any of his teammates!

Tony has none of these assets. He is not a superior athlete, and he does not maintain a regular training regimen. All he has is that “big brain” of his, and if he cannot use his intelligence to solve the problem, he feels stuck – temporarily, most of the time.

This is why he attempts to jumpstart Ultron with the Mind Stone. To him it is a/the most advanced energy source; energy which he, the ultimate technocrat, understands instinctively (which means he is looking at it wrong, and doesn’t understand it at all). If anything can give his tech the edge over whatever big, bad threats are lurking amidst the stars, it is the gem in the scepter. Remember, readers, that: “Magic is just science we don’t understand yet” – and Tony, in this case, doesn’t have a clue what that science is.

For all his flaws, the fact is that Tony really does care about his friends. He truly does want to keep them safe. They all want that for each other. If you watch the cartoons or look at the comics, you will see Thor or the Hulk jumping in front of bullets or snatching teammates out of danger while throwing themselves in harm’s way. You will watch Widow shove Hawkeye out of the line of fire, or you will see the archer shoot down a threat his partner has not seen coming. Cap will shield his friends as best he can if the situation calls for it, as will Tony.

This is what close-knit units of soldiers and friends will do for each other in a battle. They will forget their own safety and comfort to preserve that of their friends’, no matter the cost to themselves.

In this case, however, Tony took the principal way too far. Without thinking, without caution, he threw everything aside to prevent his friends and home from being destroyed in the far future.

And that only made things worse.

Have you ever done something wrong and then tried immediately to fix it, readers? I have. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, this makes the situation worse. When Tony realizes that Ultron was one of the biggest mistakes of his life, he tries to “fix it.” Wanda points this out to Cap in South Korea, but she makes a mistake in her warning. Tony does know the difference between saving the world and destroying it. In that regard, Wanda misread him. She is correct, though, when she says, “He will do anything to make things right.”

Tony carries a lot of guilt for letting people in his company sell the weapons he made under the table. And yes, some of that guilt is his and he has to atone for it. But doing “anything to make things right” is not the solution. Doing anything to “make things right” means you are open to doing exactly that: anything. If you are that desperate, then even if it is a really stupid, haphazard, bad idea, you will jump into it feet first.

This plan of attack just makes the problem worse. Cap knows this, and that is why he tells Tony and Bruce to shut down the Vision. As per usual, Tony will not accept that Cap is right and he is wrong in this matter. He has learned to take responsibility for his actions, but only to an extent. Beyond that point, his hubris tells him to stop listening because, as one of the three smartest men on the planet, he can fix anything with enough time and tech.

What Tony needs to do in the film franchise and newer comics is to sit down and realize that people are not machines. You can fix a buggy computer program, you can repair a broken tractor, and you can make a million whizz-bang gadgets which will improve the quality of life for the average man. But you cannot “fix” the world. You cannot “fix” other people’s flaws. Heck, an individual cannot even “fix” himself! Only the grace of God can “fix” those flaws, and you will not find that grace in a computer program or a car engine.   And you definitely will not find it in a chemistry set!

This is something Tony has not yet accepted. Somewhere after the Battle of New York, his reformation hit a snag on his newfound fear. Ever since, his progress as a hero has almost completely stalled. He has taken two steps back for every half-step of growth. He has not yet managed to learn his lesson. Hopefully, the writers will get around to changing that in the coming films. The comics would do well to start working in that direction, too.

Well, readers, this is the last character post I will be doing on Avengers: Age of Ultron. As much as I have enjoyed talking about the film, I am glad to be done with it. I hope these posts were as illuminating for you as they were for me.

Now, though, I have to go on to the next project – discussing the Avengers’ character growth in Captain America: Civil War!!!!

*Dramatic sigh.* Oh, the work I do for Marvel!

Just kidding – I don’t do it for them. I write for the fun of it! 😉

Catch ya later!

The Mithril Guardian

Iron Man

Book Review: Marvel Masterworks #2: The Avengers

Come on, readers – you knew it had to happen at some point! I am a Marvel fan. Of course I would get around to acquiring a Marvel book!

Actually, I have several. 🙂 The particular book which I am describing here, Marvel Masterworks #2: The Avengers, is one of my favorites. Marvel Masterworks are books which contain a certain number of original comic book stories within them. And in this case when I say original, I mean original! Marvel Masterworks #2: The Avengers contains ten stories – issues 11 through 20 – of the Avengers’ first adventures from 1964-65.

WARNING: MAJOR spoilers ahead!!! Read on at your own risk!

Inside this volume, true believers, you will find – Captain America! The Invincible Armored Iron Man! The Mighty Thor! Ant-Man and the Wasp! All in their original costumes and settings, with the quirky tools and fantastic adventures that could only be dreamed up by Stan Lee and his friends during the early 1960s!

Yeah, I just borrowed Stan Lee’s introductory style of the time. So what? 🙂

Okay, so the first story is issue eleven of the Avengers, or The Avengers #11, December 1964: “The Mighty Avengers Meet Spider-Man!” A sinister enemy watches the team from the far future. Kang the Conqueror, still smarting from his last defeat at the hands of the Avengers, is determined to have his revenge. But how shall he get it?!

Painstakingly, he searches the past for someone – anyone – who would be powerful enough to defeat our heroes. Finding such a person, he makes a robot duplicate and sends it back in time to fight the Avengers who have to deal with the confusing situation of a nefarious duplicate of the good guy they know. Who is the robot a duplicate of, you ask? None other than our friendly neighborhood webslinger, Spider-Man!

The next story is “This Hostage Earth!”, and we see on the first page that Ant-Man is greatly agitated. His ants are telling him that someone below ground is trying to destroy the Earth! However, none of the other Avengers take his warning seriously. He is upset because the ants are telling him something is wrong?! How silly!

Even Wasp and Cap do not listen to Hank. In an angry huff, Ant-Man shrinks down to investigate the matter himself –

And finds Mole Man has a created a machine which will induce tremors on the Earth’s surface. If the governments above do not heed his demands, Mole Man will make the surface world uninhabitable!

Next ish (ish is short for issue, non-comic readers 😉 ), we find our heroes lured into a trap by Count Nefaria. The villainous count is more than a little miffed that the team has been ruining his Maggia operations stateside. As part of the plan, Nefaria frames the Avengers as power-hungry tyrants who want to take control of the world! The team manages to stop him and clear their names but, in the process, Wasp is injured and left on the brink of death!

In “Even Avengers Can Die!”, the team races against time to find the one doctor on Earth who can save their only female teammate. They are truly desperate; even the Mighty Thor. This is because even his mortal alter ego, Dr. Don Blake, magnificent physician that he is, does not have the expertise to save her!

Then, in issue #15, Baron Zemo and his Masters of Evil – the Enchantress, the Executioner, the Melter, and the Black Knight – spring a trap on the team. Kidnapping Rick Jones, Zemo lures Captain America to his South American base while the rest of the Avengers remain behind to fight the Masters. Then, in “The Old Order Changeth!”, Cap and Rick Jones work their way back to the States. In the meantime, Thor goes back to Asgard for a “Trial of the Gods.” After he leaves, Iron Man, Wasp, and Giant-Man realize they are plum tuckered out. They need a break from Avenging or they will be wrecks by the end of the year!

So they call for new heroes to step up and take their places on the team. Many apply but only three are chosen: Hawkeye, a former enemy of Iron Man, is chosen to join the team. Not long after, twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff are accepted as members of the team. Once enemies of the X-Men, the siblings known as Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch now seek redemption as part of the Mighty Avengers!

In “Four Against The Minotaur!” Cap and his new teammates head out to the desert to find the Hulk in an attempt to build up their strength. Cap learns some of the limits and characteristics of his new recruits along the way. He has little trouble managing the twins but finds Hawkeye mouthy and as hard to control as an unbroken bronco. Despite this, Cap feels Hawkeye will make a splendid Avenger – once his rough edges are smoothed over! Meanwhile, in a separate part of the desert, Bruce Banner appears to die after a fight with the Leader.

The next ish shows us the fictional communist country of Sin-Cong, which is run by a ruthless Commissar. In a plot to show how strong the Commissar is, the Communists lure the Avengers to Sin-Cong for a “demonstration.” Trying to get a job with SHIELD, Cap is eager to answer the call – as is the ever-belligerent Hawkeye. Soon the Avengers are fighting the Commissar. But all is not as it seems and when the “weakest” Avenger, Wanda Maximoff, goes up against him, the Commissar gets more than he bargained for!

The last two issues in the book introduce us to the Swordsman, Hawkeye’s former mentor. Arriving one day at Tony Stark’s mansion – which is on loan to the Avengers – the Swordsman is greeted, ah, “warmly” by the Maximoff twins. The man escapes after a furious Cap reveals the Swordsman is wanted in a number of countries for theft!

But Cap has something else on his mind, too. He has applied to SHIELD, but Fury has not yet answered his letter, and he does not understand why. What Cap does not know is that his letter is on a desk in a decoy office Fury set up for HYDRA to watch. The director of SHIELD has not even laid his eye on the letter! (How it ended up in the decoy office is another mystery, readers!!!!)

Sadly, the note makes its way to the Swordsman, who uses it to trap Steve. Things get hairy when Cap’s three young friends track the two down, but the New Avengers are equal to the task and the Swordsman’s plot is foiled. Then the Mandarin takes a hand in the matter, and manages to get the thief accepted by the Avengers through some masterful trickery. But the Swordsman is only there to plant a bomb in their headquarters, to be detonated remotely by the Mandarin when Iron Man (the Mandarin’s arch-enemy) returns to the team!

However, the Mandarin eventually decides he is tired of waiting and tells the Swordsman he will be activating the bomb ahead of schedule. The scoundrel has to make a choice: leave the Avengers to die, or save them – even if doing so incurs the wrath of the deadly Mandarin!

I would say that issues 11, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, and 20 are my favorite stories in this book. All the comics in this book are, to those of us born in this late age, rather kooky and silly at first, second, and even third glance.

Perhaps that is not a bad thing, and I do not think I should cast aspersions on the past. If anything, this difference in eras shows not only how far we have come (or fallen, as the case may be), but how much our current storytelling in Marvel Comics has declined. Sure, we can tell great stories without resorting to fancy “image projectors” or suspended animation tricks and such things as we find in these stories…

But the modern stories in Marvel Comics lack the cheerfulness, flair, and optimism which characterize the company’s older stories in copious, startling amounts. The old stories are positive, chipper, and see the future as a bright road leading to a better tomorrow. The new stories – not so much.

As a last note, one of the things about “Even Avengers Can Die!” that I love is on the end page. There, the Watcher comments that many men have prayed for the Wasp’s recovery, adding that “the power of prayer is still the greatest ever known” in the universe. And the end caption for the last panel on the page in this issue adds, “Let us now leave the Avengers! Strong men should not be seen with tears in their eyes! Nor should they be disturbed as they lift their faces heavenward, in solemn, grateful thanksgiving!

I really, REALLY miss those kinds of statements – not only in our modern comics, but in all our current stories. This is what makes “Even Avengers Can Die!” one of my favorite original comics in the book.

Readers, if you someday decide it is worth a look, I hope you enjoy this volume of original comics as much as I do. And if you are totally uninterested not only in this book but in Marvel Comics in general, well, I hope you found at least a little happiness and sunlight in this post. That will satisfy me as much as anything else would.

Excelsior!

The Mithril Guardian