Tag Archives: The Wasp

Avengers Assemble – A Long Way from Home

Ahoy, readers! Ar ye ready to sail in uncharted waters? Avast! It is time we be spinning tales of those famed heroes from Earth, the Mightiest of Champions – the Avengers!

You will see why I played around with the pirate lingo when we reach the end of the post. 😉 Normally, piratical speech is not my thing. It is used way too much these days for effect – or as a form of mockery for pirate tales – which means it tends to irritate me. So when one of Avengers Assemble’s episodes played around with the vernacular, I had to grit my teeth from time to time. It was either that or cover my ears, and since I wanted to keep track of the story, I put up with it.

The first episode we will discuss aired before Christmas of 2017. Titled “New Year’s Resolutions,” it starred Tony, Cap, Howard Stark and – at long last – Peggy Carter, voiced by Haley Atwell herself. Yay…!

Mostly. Sorta. Kind of.

Okay, okay, I had major problems with Peggy’s portrayal in the cartoon. The writers had her showing Steve up too much and generally did not let her be the Peggy I saw and enjoyed in Captain America: The First Avenger. I am guessing this has something to do with her depiction in her own series, Agent Carter, which leaned heavy on the Femi-Nazi and light on the story/character.

From what little I know of the series Agent Carter, Peggy came across as an angry, “let-me-prove-I’m-just-as-good-as-the-men” character, something which was certainly not the case in The First Avenger. It was more than a little sad to see her get short shrift in this episode, which I had been looking forward to viewing for some time. Peggy had her moments here, but they were few and far between.

Thankfully, “New Year’s Resolutions” was not all bad news. The interplay between Tony and Howard in this episode almost made up for Peggy’s disappointing deportment. We actually got to see the younger Stark bond with his father WITHOUT being a total brat or jerk about it. It was an unexpectedly sweet touch to what otherwise would have been a depressing, watered-down show.

Speaking of pluses, watching the four beat Kang was pure fun. And Arno Stark got to show up as Tony’s descendant rather than his hidden, younger brother. There was no Arno-should-have-been-Iron-Man stupidity here, for which I am very thankful. Although I must admit, I would have liked to have heard the thirtieth century Stark toss out a zinger or two, just to show the genes had not faded over the millennium between him and Tony.

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All of this is to say that “New Year’s Resolutions” is an episode worth watching, despite its substandard treatment of Peggy Carter. Now if Marvel would just do what I asked and give the Avengers an adventure that took place on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, showing the team celebrating the holiday, I would know we were making some progress here. (No, I am not holding my breath while waiting for them to do that.)

Next we come to “The Eye of Agamotto, Parts 1 & 2.” By a stroke of good fortune, I got to see Doctor Strange before these episodes came out. Strange has never been anywhere near my Favorite Marvel Characters’ list, so the film and his appearance in the shows served more as filler material than anything else for me. But the fact that I got to see the movie meant I was prepared for Strange’s changed look; prior to the movie, he had long hair in Assemble. It is now shorter and much more practical.

Part 1 one of “The Eye of Agamotto” showed the Avengers – Cap, Hawkeye, Falcon, Black Panther, and Carol Danvers – defending a SHIELD storehouse from HYDRA agents. Well, mostly defending it. The bad guys got away with whatever magical doohicky they wanted, but Cap and Panther succeed in tracking it down.

Unfortunately, said gem is already in the hands of Strange’s arch nemesis, Baron Mordo. (The artists did a good job making him look like his film counterpart.) This is Panther’s first encounter with a bonafide sorcerer, but he handles himself pretty well here. We also see him getting calls from his little sister, Shuri, who has to ring him up for Wakandan business at the most inopportune times. It gets so bad that he shunts her calls to voicemail.

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So when she shows up on his and Cap’s six unannounced, it nearly ends in disaster. Declaring that “no one puts [her] on voicemail,” Shuri insists on tagging along for the adventure, triggering the traps Mordo set up with a bracelet gizmo she designed herself. She has to help T’Challa and Steve best Mordo after the latter uses a spell to steal Cap’s powers.

T’Challa does well in this episode and so does Steve – for the most part. While I enjoyed seeing Shuri at long last, the writers could not resist plugging the “girl power” motif during this adventure. It was not simply annoying, it was Matronizing, and obviously so. I can handle Shuri having a list of degrees which nearly circles the world, but that should not be what makes her interesting. She comes from a culture of warriors, people! For Pete’s sake, her brother’s personal bodyguard corps is made up entirely of women so that peace can be maintained among Wakanda’s tribes. I do not think they have any of our “problems” with “women’s representation.”

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Shuri

In this episode, Shuri is used to pantomime the idea that “brains beat brawn” – especially if they are female brains to men’s brawn. No, Marvel writers. No, no, no, and no. Women are not physically strong enough, as a general rule, to overpower men, yes. Having Shuri outsmart Mordo was great, yes. But if you want her to be T’Challa and Cap’s equal, show her not as a snobby, easily offended young woman looking down her nose at them, but as a young woman who can roll with the punches when she cannot dodge ‘em. The writers did not do that properly here, which rankled. Badly.

Other than this irksome theme, we got a good show which demonstrated the strength of Cap and Panther’s friendship, and which showed Steve being his usual, gracious self. It also put the spotlight, however briefly and dimly, on Shuri, which is great. All in all it was not a bad romp. It could have been better, but it was not bad.

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Part 2 of “The Eye of Agamotto” was very entertaining, and it made up for the lousy element in Part 1. Following their previous adventure, Cap and Panther bring an odd sorcerer back to Avengers’ Compound after he tells them he needs to see Stephen Strange. We only see them doing this after a cute exchange between Hawkeye and the Hulk, as the archer is busy going through receipts for the damage Big Green dealt out – accidentally or on purpose – while doing his job. (I am surprised the piles of receipts were not bigger and taller.)

Strange arrives at the Compound while this is going on, launching an attack against Cap and Panther while they are trying to land. It takes him awhile, but he eventually manages to explain that he was not shooting at them per se. Whatever or whoever is with them has some bad magic which is making the Eye of Agamotto that Strange wears go bonkers.

Turns out, the man Cap and Panther met at the end of the last episode is Agamotto himself. He’s come back to get his eye (guess what the Eye of Agamotto is in Assemble, readers), and casts a spell which knocks down Cap, Panther, Hawkeye, and Kamala Khan. At the same time they get knocked out, evil shadow duplicates of them appear to attack Strange and the Avenger who depowered to avoid getting magicked – Hulk/Bruce Banner.

You will want to see this episode for the ending alone, readers. It is a hoot, a scream. About halfway through I was laughing so hard that it is amazing I could keep up with the dialogue for this show. I mean it – this episode was pure, undiluted fun! Strange and Hulk even became friends by the end of the show. Bonus points!

After these episodes came the first four “Secret Wars” installments which gave the season its name. The first episode here was “Beyond.” At the start of the show, the Avengers arrive in Central Park when a glowing crack appears in the ground. Then they try to fall back as it widens and white light erupts from it. Seconds later (as far as anyone can tell), the team wakes up in a desert at night. Right on cue, Avengers Tower rises out of the sand next to them. Naturally, they go inside to see if this is really their old home, finding it is and that everything inside is in perfect working order.

During their investigation, they also find an uninvited guest. Having spread a feast on the table for them, he invites them to sit and chow down while he explains everything. No one sits down, of course, or starts eating. They just demand to know who this guy is and what the Sam Hill he has done to them.

For those new to the Marvel universe(s), this unwelcome guest is the Beyonder. He is far different from the Beyonder I met in the 1990s. That Beyonder was not a sick, twisted megalomaniac – at least, I did not think he was. I do not know what he is/was like in the comics, so I cannot say how true his appearance in either series is to the original material, but the Beyonder in the ‘90s was a sight nicer than this guy. Another difference here, aside from his personality, is that this version of the Beyonder uses advanced technology for his little experiment. In the ‘90s he was some cosmic magician who could snap his fingers and do almost anything he wanted.

You are probably getting the idea that I was expecting to see the Beyonder this season. I certainly had a suspicion he would appear; the ‘90s “Secret Wars” arc of the Spider-Man TV series was one of my favorites. Like the original Star Trek episode The Savage Curtain, the animated ‘90s “Secret Wars” saw the Beyonder send Spider-Man to an alien world that had never known evil. The Beyonder introduced some of the worst villains from Earth to this world, then dispatched Spidey to choose a team of superheroes to stop the bad guys, proving once and for all whether good was really stronger than evil.

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Secret Wars – ’90s Style!

Spidey and his team won, of course, but it was this storyline which made me expect to see the Beyonder in Assemble. I was looking forward to seeing him again, though in light of the 2015 sham “Secret Wars,” I was worried about what would become of our heroes in the cartoon. Now I see that I should have been worried about the Beyonder, too. But maybe he was originally an evil super genius bent on satisfying his curiosity at all costs, making this portrayal of him a return to the norm. I don’t know which it is, though, so I will leave this subject alone now.

Anyway, after pinning our heroes to the walls with his tech, the Beyonder explains that he has taken pieces from different worlds and dimensions to create a new planet he calls Battleworld. (Battleworld comes from the 2015 “Secret Wars” and, from what little I know of that travesty to comicdom, Beyonder’s description here sounds about right for that Battleworld as well.) Like in the ‘90s, he is apparently trying to determine here whether good or evil is stronger.

The big problem with his plan in Assemble – aside from the fact that he took everyone from Earth, Asgard, and every where else without a by-your-leave – is that the longer the separated chunks are away from their homeworlds/dimensions/what-have-you, the more unstable those realms become. So, if the pieces are not returned to their proper places (and fast), the whole universe/multi-verse is going to explode and die. Not a pretty picture for our heroes, to be sure.

“Beyond” sees the team spread out to learn the layout of Battleworld and begin finding a way to put everything back together again. The particular part of Battleworld where Avengers’ Tower is situated is called Egyptia. Why it is called this I do not know, unless there is another realm/dimension/thing out there called Egypt. So far, Egyptia just seems to be a distorted Egypt from Earth.

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Back to the show; Cap and Widow are the ones reconnoitering Egyptia. Finding a pyramid in the middle of the dunes, they go to investigate and run into a bunch of sand mummies/zombies. Things look grim for the home team but, luckily, the wandering super genius known as Iron Man drops in to save the day. The Beyonder took part of the dimension he was trapped in for his Battleworld. That part of the “planet” is called No-Tech Land, presumably because most modern machinery does not work there. This allows Tony to reunite with his friends, and the high jinks and battles ensue before he, Cap, and Widow rejoin the rest of the team at the Tower.

“Underworld” is the follow-up episode, and it begins with Loki raining on the reunion by declaring he wants to join the Avengers because the Beyonder wrecked Asgard for his little experiment. Predictably, the answer to Loki’s request is a lot of lightning bolts, repulsor blasts, arrows, and punches – none of which land, sadly. “Capturing” him, Thor, Tony, and Hulk learn that Loki is the one who told the Beyonder Earth’s location, giving them more reason to be angry at him. But since parts of Asgard are now mushed into Battleworld, and because Loki has personal knowledge of the Beyonder, Tony states that they need him and the four head out to New York City.

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The reason this episode is called “Underworld” is because NYC is under a rock – literally. When Beyonder ripped it off of Earth, he put the city underground. And beneath New York, he put a bunch of Asgardian rock trolls. So when the Avengers show up, they have to defend the New Yorkers who were transported along with their city from the rock giants.

Loki does his whining “why-do-we-have-to-save-the-humans” routine, but turns into a big help when the Enchantress shows up. He almost sacrifices himself to fix the Bifrost, which is underground with New York, but Thor stops him and they escape. Then the Beyonder shows up and Hulk jumps at him to do his smashing gig –

…Only for the Beyonder to split the Hulk and Banner personalities into two people with his tech. Did not see that coming, and I have to say, it worries me. Bruce came out the worse for wear either before or after 2015’s “Secret Wars.” I am pretty sure he went nuts, and I know who “killed” him (you are in so much trouble for that, by the way, Marvel writers), so I worry that we will see something similar in Assemble. If what I think may happen does occur, then the “writers” running Marvel are in even BIGGER trouble with me.

Aside from this one worrying point, this show was a hoot. Hulk had the most fun here at Loki’s expense, and the only thing I want more than to see Hawkeye finally give the Trickster what he deserves is to watch Hulk pick on him. As for Loki turning “hero,” I predict that that will not last long. There may be a little good in Loki, but the problem with that is it is too darn small a piece of good. The bad outweighs the good, and while the Trickster of Asgard may be an open and shut case of “hope over experience,” I believe the Avengers should temper hope with sense by keeping their hands close to their weapons.

Next we have “The Immortal Weapon.” This episode was good, clean fun, and it actually gave me something I have been begging the writers for since the series started: a new hero. Iron Fist at last makes his debut in Avengers Assemble here. Though he is voiced by the same actor from Ultimate Spider-Man, Iron Fist is unquestionably an adult in Assemble. It was nice to see him again; he got short shrift from season three of Ultimate Spider-Man onward, and it is good to have him back in the spotlight no matter how briefly he appears.

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Anyway, among the many things the Beyonder stole from Earth was K’un-Lun. But unlike New York, K’un-Lun is above ground and it is peaceful. Everyone is going about their daily business as if nothing has changed, puzzling Falcon and Black Panther, who have been sent here to pick up an item to repair the destroyed Bifrost. Things get even more confusing when the two explain to Iron Fist that they need Heimdall’s sword to help rebuild the Bifrost and set everything right. For no apparent reason, Danny attacks the two, stating emphatically that they cannot take the sword.

Neither Avenger listens when Iron Fist repeatedly states that taking the sword will unleash a great evil. So both are surprised when Falcon retrieves the weapon and Dracula pops out of the stone where it was embedded. (Nice sword in the stone reference, Marvel jerkfaces.) Turns out, Danny could not explain why the sword had to stay put because Dracula cursed him so that he could not say his name, period, in relation to anything. If anyone had asked Iron Fist about Bram Stoker’s novel, it is likely that Danny would not have been able to name the book because of the curse.

But Falcon and Panther, who have been having the “I’m-not-a-kid-anymore/I’m-a-king” argument from the start of the show, did not stop to put two and two together. Danny gets a really good scene when this argument starts back up again, putting one hand to his face and shaking his head, before telling the two to knock it off and get their act together. Tension is added to the show when the three learn of a familiar alien substance that has bonded to Dracula to make him immune to sunlight. The vampire king plans to find more of these familiar substances to make an army of daywalker vampires, but our heroes put the kibosh on the plan.

Really, this episode was nigh flawless. I had no real reservations while watching it or after it ended. It was a fun caper with no dark portents for the future of the series, and it gave all three heroes a chance to shine brightly for a change. This one earns a big, wholehearted “YAY!” from this viewer.

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Finally, we have “The Vibranium Coast.” This is the show which gave vent to the piratical turns of phrase you encountered at the beginning of this post, readers. Ant-Man and Kamala Khan are headed to the Vibranium Coast – the one part of Battleworld, so far, which does not appear to be related to Earth at all – to pick up the Vibranium Tony and Loki need to rebuild the Bifrost and fix everything.

Scott is nervous about the job, feeling the pressure of not messing the mission up royally, while Khan continues to be her annoying, useless self. She misidentifies a pirate ship as Atlantis or another place, and the first misidentification should not have popped out of her mouth. For Pete’s sake, even on Battleworld, Atlantis would have to be under water. Most Atlanteans cannot breathe air or stay on land for long periods of time, and so far, the Beyonder has not demonstrated a desire to wipe out the populations of the places he steals all in one go. If they die over time, he will shrug it off, but the fact that NYC and K’un-Lun still have inhabitants shows he wants live specimens for his “experiment,” not cities full of dead bodies.

But we digress. Scott and Khan’s jet is shot out of the sky by the ship and the two are picked up by Typhoid Mary, who lays on the pirate act and lingo real thick. I have to say, my first introduction to Typhoid Mary did not make me like her. She reminds me too much of Harley Quinn, the Joker’s sidekick from DC Comics. Whether that is the intention of the writers or not, the fact is that her resemblance to the Joker’s apprentice wins her no favors with me.

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Despite this, Typhoid Mary actually made this zany episode palatable for me. Having Red Skull and Crossbones playing pirates makes them seem silly, until you are faced with the even crazier Typhoid Mary. After her, anything else out of the ordinary looks mild. Her part in the story took the edge off the foolishness of seeing Red Skull be called “Dred Skull,” the master of the “Dred Skull Sea.” 😉

Ant-Man did not do badly in this show, which was a real improvement over his first four episodes this season. He got to be smart, manly, and funny without compromising his character or his masculinity. That alone would make this episode worth watching, but with Typhoid Mary’s craziness thrown in the mix, I suggest you check out the show for the laughs, too. There is also a GREAT scene at the end which had me in fits because it was so perfect. You should definitely watch this episode, readers. It is FUN!

However, despite this glowing review, I must admit that I had my usual problems with Khan here. The writers are working overtime to make her appeal to viewers, and it is not helping. Aside from a few verbal mistakes, Khan does not trip or fall flat on her face the way a normal rookie would in this show. Scott’s and the other Avengers’ care for and kindness to her are great for them, but it does nothing to make Khan more appealing or enhance her part in the series.

If you put Inferno or Firestar or Spectrum in her place in “The Vibranium Coast” as the new rookie on the team (no matter their age), it would work better because the writers would not be bending over backwards to make the audience love them the way they are for Khan. Seriously, everything they do for Khan is pure political pandering, and it shows. Somehow, in this episode, she is the only Avenger present who knows how to use swords, all because her parents let her take fencing lessons?!?

That does not fit with what little I remember reading about the concept behind Khan’s creation. There it was stated that her parents are terrified of letting her anywhere near a boy her own age, forget an adult man. So why would they suddenly let her take fencing lessons? In fact, why is she even allowed out of the house in normal clothes? Shouldn’t she be wearing something more traditional? And why not let her use her powers or natural skills to duck and dodge swordstrokes? If she is so great, then why do the writers have to give her the simple, Feminista out of, “And she can fence, too!”?

The more the writers set her up to be an uber woman settling into her place in the Avengers, the less interesting she becomes, just like her namesake. Khan adds nothing to the Marvel universe(s) or Assemble.

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Dust

Dust was more interesting because she was actually allowed to make mistakes, worry about her traditional upbringing and her career as an X-Man, and learn to stretch her wings. Khan is not allowed to even voice such fears or problems in the show; she has no vulnerabilities – other than a penchant for geeking out when she meets a famous hero/villain – and it makes her dull as dishwater. She is useless, plain and simple, and she is getting on my nerves.

I do not expect the Marvel writers to change Khan and make her more interesting, readers. I expect them to double down on her portrayal with a vengeance. They cannot be wrong, while we peons are always wrong and should hate ourselves for it. (Bah.) If they want to think that way and try to financially survive while they are doing it, then they can knock themselves out. Nothing anyone says to the contrary will stop them.

This leads to my final points. For the most part, as is obvious from this article, I enjoyed these episodes. However, the higher you fly, the farther you can fall. It is quite possible that whatever comes next will be an absolute disaster for fans of the true, the good, and the beautiful who love not only Assemble, but Marvel in general. We could end up with a serious mess on ours hands when the next installment of Avengers Assemble: Secret Wars rolls around.

We could just as easily rise to new heights with only little pinpricks of annoyance (and irritating, politically correct sham characters) to bother us from here on out. While I hope for that, I intend to try and follow my own advice to the Avengers about Loki: be prepared for experience to trump hope again. When it comes to mortal man, experience is something to be remembered, even when hope begs for “just one more chance” to get things right.

I have my keyboard ready, Marvel. I am still watching you. Mess up, and expect to see me say something about it. Because if you play “the heroes and heroines are actually villains and the villains are heroes” card too much more, you will go out of business. I do not want that for you, but you are sure acting like that is what you want. Do not think I will avoid speaking my piece about it. You should know me better than that by now. 😉

‘Til next time, readers – Avengers Assemble!!!

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Avengers Assemble: Secret Wars – Rescuing the Heroes

It is not usual for me to review Avengers Assemble in bits and pieces. Previously, the closest I came to doing that was with season three of the series. And that was because the showrunners and writers did not air the episodes one after another – not on a regular basis, at least.

This is what they are doing again now, but with longer breaks between installments. Remember, readers, “Avengers No More” came out in August. It is now October, and they have aired eleven other episodes only in sporadic chunks over the course of two months.

Personally, I find this irritating. I do not know enough about television schedules to say why Disney XD is splitting the series up like this; maybe it is to make room for shows from other series that air on weekends. The timetable seems to have no rhyme or reason, though, and that always drives me a little crazy.

Since I did a review of “Why I Hate Halloween,” I will not include that episode in this post. Although I will say that it is definitely one of my favorite installments in this series so far, and it seems to have been set before the Avengers were teleported across the Marvel universe. I say this because (spoiler alert), in “The Once and Future Kang” we find one of the Avengers has been transported into the future. And he has subsequently aged.

By this episode, the Avengers’ B Team has been keeping Earth safe while Dr. Jane Foster searches time and space to find the original Avengers. In “The Once and Future Kang,” she tells the B Team that she has discovered their locations. In order to rescue the team, however, she has to send the Mighty Avengers after them. The way they will return is by using a “tether” – a device that acts as a teleporter – to pull themselves and the Avengers back to the present time and place.

Jane does this after the B Team has had to stop a monster from destroying the Statue of Liberty. She accidentally brought said creature to NYC when working on the devices to bring back the Avengers. And while I still do not like her, I admit that watching Carol Danvers rescue a deaf girl from the Liberty torch was a good scene. Yes, I still think she is useless, but the fact is it was a good scene.

Anyway, “The Once and Future Kang” shows Wasp and Vision teleported to the future to rescue the Avenger trapped there. They do not know who it is, but they know who is running the place – Kang. They soon learn that the Avenger they are after is none other than Falcon, now twenty years older than he was when the cabal transported him out of the present time.

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My main problem with this episode is: what’s his mom going to say? Sure, it is cool to have a Falcon who looks and sounds like Anthony Mackie’s film counterpart. But what in the world is Sam’s mother, who is alive in the Assemble universe, going to say about his rapid growth? One day he was a seventeen/ninteen year old kid going to college. Now he is suddenly an adult. Both she and the Avengers missed his transition from boy to man, meaning there should be a period of adjustment needed on all sides.

This is not the first time Marvel has pulled such a stunt, of course. In the X-Men comics, Colossus’ baby sister was kidnapped by an interdimensional bad guy who trained her in his arts and her powers for six or seven of his dimension’s years. But for the X-Men, seconds passed between Ilyana Rasputin/Magick’s disappearance and reappearance. She vanished as a frightened six year old and returned as a scarred, yet bright and chirpy, thirteen year old girl.

Colossus, as you might imagine, had a hard time wrapping his head around this. I am having a similarly hard time wrapping my head around Falcon’s transformation. It is not that I do not like him – I think Falcon is a really cool hero. It is just the whole idea of sending someone off into the future (or another dimension), and bringing them home at an older age which gets me.

Other things to like about this episode were Vision and Wasp. Vision, as usual, stole at least half of the show without really trying. And it appears that Wasp has finally lost that chip on her shoulder. Hooray!

There is also the fact that we got a glimpse of Kang’s face beneath the blue mask he wears, showing he grew older, too. I may have a hard time reconciling my heroes’ accelerated ages, but when it comes to the bad guys, I rarely have any sympathy for them. Kang does not get any tears from me.

Next on the list is “Dimension Z.” Scott Lang, a.k.a. Ant-Man, gets sent to rescue an Avenger from what is apparently 1930s New York. This version of the city is under the thumb of Arnim Zola. Here, Scott finds three of his teammates: Captain America, Hawkeye, and Black Widow. He helps them escape Zola’s HYDRA goons and they take him to their hideout, explaining that they are not actually in the 1930s when they get there. (Whew! I had had enough time travel at that point, anyway!)

Zola captured the gang early on, but they escaped and have been trying to free the people of Dimension Z from his control ever since. This has not been easy because Zola has the people wired with cybernetic implants. If they disobey him, he fries them. This also rules out using an EMP to fry him. That certainly is convenient, isn’t it?

The episode is a good one for Hawkeye. Although he plays around with the 1930s New York accent and slang, it’s less of a joke this time and more him trying to lighten the mood. Widow is usually aggravated by his period repartee, but she slips a couple of times and uses the lingo herself, showing his attempts to cheer everyone up aren’t wholly failures. Cap does not seem to mind the fun Hawkeye and Widow have with the jargon either way, which is nice.

Despite her fussing, Widow comes through the show with flying colors, too. While growling at Hawkeye for his attempts at humor, she works well with him here. This is a far cry from their earlier team-ups in the series, which had her constantly bickering with him when they were on a mission. She gets to give Scott a “suck it up and have some confidence in yourself” pep talk as well, which is in keeping with her character.

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Scott does nicely here, as compared to previous episodes in season four which present him as a bumbling, fumbling fool. (No, I am not counting “Sneakers” when I talk about those shows.) He gets to prove his brains and his heart, which is a pleasant change from the writers’ earlier treatment of him.

Captain America does not, sadly, get by nearly so easily. For some bizarre reason, the show writers decided to reference Marvel’s HYDRA Cap fiasco in “Dimension Z.” Though Cap is freed of the HYDRA influence fairly quickly, and while I can see how having him under Zola’s spell serves the episode’s plot, I really wish that the writers had not done this to him. Bad enough they have to demean me and other readers by mistreating him in the comics; when they start  messing with him in their other media, I become even less amused.

With this caveat out of the way, I have to say Steve did not do terribly outside of this event, which literally was not his fault. The whole reason Zola wanted him in Dimension Z was so he could highjack Steve’s body; doing this would mean he would not have to rely on those mechanical bodies we have seen him using thus far in the series.

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At first, Steve resisted Zola’s attempts. But he and Hawkeye were captured together, so Zola zapped Clint to make Cap stop fighting him. While I still do not approve of the HYDRA Cap reference, I have to admit, this scene hit me right in the “feels.” It showed the brotherly affection between the First Avenger and Hawkeye, who stubbornly insisted Steve not surrender despite the fact that another zap would have killed him.

In a way, this scene bridged the gap between the original – and better – comics and the new ones today. I only wish the writers would show these relationships between the Avengers more often in Assemble. It is truly inspiring.

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T’Challa got sent after the Hulk in “The Most Dangerous Hunt,” which was actually more fun than I was expecting. Transported to Asgard, Panther finds Hulk being hunted for sport by Skurge the Executioner. Using a magic crystal in the head of his axe, the Executioner can control Banner’s transformation. When Banner gets too tired to run, Skurge says a spell to make him the Hulk. When the Hulk gets within a hair of smashing him, the Asgardian hunter speaks a counter spell which makes him Banner again.

The whole yo-yo effect has left Bruce terrified. He has been in control of his power for so long now that not being able to change at will scares him more than his previous, involuntary transformations did. It is actually kind of nice to see Banner this vulnerable; before we only saw his distaste for becoming the big guy, period. Since the writers have allowed him to control the change, it adds a new dimension to his character.

Only one thing in this episode really annoyed me. This was Hulk returning to his old baby speech pattern for most of the adventure. While I doubt I will have much of a problem with it in Thor: Ragnarok, here it kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I guess it was because it made Hulk sound more like a beast than a person – which was the point. Skurge considered him nothing more than an animal, after all, not a fellow sentient being.

Panther came out of this show very well, too. He got to demonstrate his intelligence, his honor, and his heart. We also got to see what he is like when enraged, since Skurge was able to reverse the spell and use it on T’Challa. No one understands wrath like Bruce does, and watching him assist the suddenly helpless Black Panther was a great moment.

I have to admit, though, that I did not see the Hobbit reference coming. Really, Marvel writers? Stealing from Tolkien now, are you? Too bad you won’t study him rather than pilfer from the surface of his work. Maybe if you actually learned from him, your comics would be entertaining again.

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“Under the Spell of the Enchantress” was not quite as torturous as I thought it would be, mostly because by the end, Thor got to be Thor. I still find Captain and Miss Marvel to be awful, flat characters, but having the Son of Odin break Amora’s spell when he saw Miss Marvel in danger was a good scene for him. I think the reference to Frozen might have been a bit much, though.

Thor’s characterization was just as good in “The Return.” Here we learn that Loki orchestrated the events of “Avengers No More.” We also see that he is now suddenly taller and has more brawn here than he did in prior episodes. By the way, fellow writers, what the Sam Hill is up with that five o’clock shadow you gave him?

Anyway, this episode was pretty good. Though no one seemed the least bit phased by Falcon’s age, which felt a little off, the story was quite the pick up from the season’s earlier fare. Cap got his shield back and Hawkeye actually got to figure out how to save the day – using an idea this author had considered five or so minutes before the crisis point of the show arrived, no less. 😉

Thor, as I said, shined in “The Return,” but so did Vision. I won’t spoil anything, but I will say that Loki badly underestimated him. Scott got to notice an important fact, which Miss Marvel unsurprisingly missed and dismissed, while Jane Foster was allowed to be the super genius she is. And she did not even have to leave her apartment to do it. I really hope they do not give Mjolnir to her. It would spoil her part in “The Return” so badly.

Finally, I have to say that I enjoyed the various nods to Thor: The Dark World in this show. The film itself did not have a great plot and got bad reviews for it. I liked Dark World nonetheless, mostly because I never go to a Marvel movie to watch the bad guys. I go to see the heroes, and I thought the second Thor movie did right by them. Watching the writers tip their hats to it was fun.

On the whole, I was more impressed with these five episodes than I was with four of the ones I reviewed previously. But as I said in my post on “Why I Hate Halloween,” now is not the time to become complacent and think Marvel is cleaning up its act. Certainly, these recent shows offer us fans some hope that the company will value our patronage more than PC grandstanding. But now is not the time to bank on such an assumption.

Part of the reason I say this is Loki’s gleeful warning at the end of “The Return.” “Strange things are coming,” he tells Thor’s back when the Prince of Asgard leaves the detention center. Tony still has not come home yet, and the writers here did nod to the HYDRA Cap debacle. I find these small instances in the show more than a little worrisome.

So we are not out of the woods. These are hopeful signs and, if unaltered by the future, I could say they were a turning point. But the future is not the present. Therefore, I advise caution before commitment, as well as the firm hope matters will change for the better.

But to quote Aragorn, son of Arathorn, the only thing we can do now is say, “We shall see.”

Avengers – Assemble!

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Avengers Assemble’s Secret Wars – I Am Not Impressed

Forgive the deep sigh, readers, but after Avengers Assemble’s satisfying third season I did not expect to begin tearing into the show’s writers again. I never seem to learn my lesson about these people.

Avengers Assemble is taking a dive into the current comics’ attempt to rewrite reality through its “All New, All-Different” character roster. Now I have absolutely no problem with the addition of Black Panther, Vision, and Ant-Man to season four’s character lineup. I have already stated that I wanted them on the team, so actually having them here is great. But I was surprised and saddened at this series’ depiction of the Wasp. Since I have already listed my issues with the two Marvels elsewhere, I will not go into that here.

The two-part introductory episode “Avengers No More” began well enough. In this installment we had our wonderfully forged team of interesting, fun, beloved heroes trying to rescue Tony Stark from whatever dimension Dr. Strange sent him to last season.

We also got to meet this universe’s Jane Foster, who did quite nicely during her debut. The hint that she and Thor know each other from a prior time, not to mention the romantic spark which passes between them in the first episode, was a nice touch. Hawkeye and Panther trading quips was a great throwback to the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and I had hoped we would get to see them do it more often.

There was only one thing which bothered me in this episode, and that was Thor’s fixation on protecting his teammates. It seemed to be a bit overplayed; the writers looked like they were trying to give him PTSD or something. At the very least, I would say they were a tad too heavy-handed with this aspect of the show.

The second half of “Avengers No More” is where I had A LOT of problems. Panther came through the show with flying colors, naturally, and Vision is always fun to see. I actually rooted for the Enchantress when she tangled with Captain Marvel, but I was not happy with Scott Lang’s reduction to the team joke. I enjoy his quips and his fun-loving attitude, but the man is NOT stupid. He can get touchy-feely from time to time, not to mention be serious when the situation calls for it. The episode “Sneakers” proved this.

But it seems that the writers have decided that if they cannot make Hawkeye the class fool, they will do it to Scott Lang instead. Newsflash, people, we do NOT want our heroes to be fools of any kind. We do not mind it when they make mistakes, or goof up, or when they occasionally pull pranks. They are human and we like to see them behaving like real human beings do.

What is going on here, however, is none of the above. One of the reasons that this overdose of juvenility on Ant-Man’s part does not work is because it is so utterly inhuman (pun intended). No one who is that goofy can last in a position of authority, power, and danger for very long. To make us try to believe that they can will not work because the world will not let it work. Sooner or later, it will beat the truth into us that humor and goofiness has its place – and that place is not in the middle of a firefight.

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Wasp (Hope Van Dyne)

My other problem is with the Wasp. Originally, I looked forward to having her in the series; Janet Van Dyne is one of my favorite Marvel heroines. She has been since EMH. So although this Wasp is her daughter, Hope, I thought she might at least come close to the fun, cheerful character Jan was in Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. I had also thought to see her come into the series perfectly synchronized with her partner, Scott Lang.

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Wasp (Janet Van Dyne)

What I got instead was a character with a chip on her shoulder, determined to dominate the man who should be her colleague. As in “Prison Break,” Hope has realized that no one can or is holding her back except herself. However, she still comes across as hard nosed, grim, and anti-social. This prevents her from connecting in any meaningful way to Scott, something I have faint hopes of seeing as the season progresses.

More to the point, readers, this is not the Wasp I enjoy watching. Hope is not her mother, and I respect that difference. But I will not accept a character which is so obviously designed to carry a grudge against the world in general and her teammates in particular. I do not want or need that kind of negativity.

To tell you the truth, I find the difference in her deportment in this series puzzling. From what I saw of Hope in the Ant-Man film, she was not angry with her father because he would not let her use the suit. That was part of it. Most of the reason she was angry at him was because he would not tell her what had actually happened to her mother; he shut her out of his life after Jan’s disappearance, and this is what made her so angry with him.

By this point, Hope should have no reason to carry her anger into Assemble. While she has thrown out some good zingers in the show (not counting the ones at Ant-Man’s expense), the fact is that Wasp was never an “I am Woman, hear me roar!”-type character. Even in the film, there was none of the “Girl Power!” motif to be found in the axe she ground against Hank Pym.

Her dad wanted to keep her safe, both because he loved her and because she was the living link he to the wife he could not protect. Kevin Feige went to the trouble of specifically saying that Hank did not think Hope couldn’t handle the power of the Ant-Man suit. Feige said the reason Hank would not let her use the suit was because he did not want to lose his only daughter as he had his wife. There was no “holding Hope back” in the mission statement; there was only “shield Hope at all costs.”

Is this impractical? Yes, but any mother or father worth her or his salt will have that kind of reaction regarding their child/children. It is how they handle it which may need work or may deserve praise.

Also, my heart hit my shoes when the phrase “All New, All-Different” was used in the second half of “Avengers No More.” In the comics the “All New, All-Different” tagline is shorthand for “let’s make the elites and critics happy and who cares if we alienate our loyal, paying fanbase while we do it.” This has led to Captain America being reworked as a Nazi/Fascist and many other equally destructive “rewrites” to well-beloved heroes and heroines.

Marvel, as I have said elsewhere, is no longer run by people who want to build up the characters and tell good stories with them. It is managed by those who have an unhealthy and destructive agenda which they are now trying to force feed us through the cartoons.

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This must make you wonder why I bothered to watch the next five episodes of season four. Aside from the fact that it is good to know what the other side is doing, I have already invested a lot of ink/pixles in reviewing the series Avengers Assemble for you. If I were to stop now I would fail you, my audience, as well as myself. No one said I have to watch the season or like it, but my duty seems clear to me here: I started reviewing this series and so it behooves me review it to the finish, whatever that may be.

I must admit to disliking most of the episodes which follow “Avengers No More.” Not only do these shows avoid telling us where the original Avengers are, they essentially try to sell us a silk purse made from a sow’s ear. For instance, “The Sleeper Awakens,” wherein the Avengers’ B Team has to face down the Red Skull, is only saved by Vision.

When the newbies move into Black Panther’s ambassadorial mansion, their headquarters for the season, Ant-Man suggests Vision get a pet calculator after the android makes a comment about his large pet ant. Scott comes to regret this proposal when Vision reprograms one of Red Skull’s robots to think for itself and asks if he can keep it for a pet.

The byplay between Vision and “Skully” is the only saving grace for the show. Panther has to pull the rest of the weight for the episode while Scott is allowed some helpful hints. But in the end, the only reason to watch “The Sleeper Awakens” is Vision.

As for “Prison Break,” watching that show was nothing short of pure torture. It started out on a good note, with Wasp promising to take down Captain Marvel in a ping-pong match. While I would still like to see that happen, the rest of the episode was nothing less than “I am Woman, hear me roar!” pandering.

The major battle in this installment takes place in the Vault, a high security supervillain prison built into a mountain. Yelena Belova, now going by the moniker Crimson Widow, attacks and tricks the B Team into taking her to the prison. This is so she can get rich by freeing the villains held there.

Once inside, she takes down her escorts – Danvers and Wasp – before freeing Zarda and Typhoid Mary. Danvers and Wasp come to and then have an insipid heart-to-heart, during which Hope admits she thinks everyone in the universe is trying to hold her back. The only thing which was even mildly entertaining here was watching Zarda throw Danvers around. Why?

During “Prison Break” there was no sense of tangible threat to the heroines. We knew going in that Zarda would get beaten by Danvers; just because the writers and animators let her get kicked around first didn’t change that fact. We also knew that Crimson Widow and Typhoid Mary were going to lose. Danvers was the big stone around the show’s neck, but the second biggest was the chip on Hope’s shoulder.

Her “daddy/Scott/the Avengers held me back” speech was moronic. She is new to the gig, so the Avengers either did not know about her or they wanted her to get some more experience under her belt before they gave her a call, the same way you have to have something on your resume before you send it in to get a high-paying job. Scott could not hold Hope back, up, or down if he tried, and we already discussed the fact that her father was not holding her back from her full potential at the beginning of this post. It was blatantly obvious in “Prison Break” that the only thing holding the Wasp back was Hope Van Dyne.

And I am sorry, but the contest between Captain Marvel and Zarda was not worth getting excited about in any way. They are two macho women who like to punch down people/walls/buildings, and hearing Zarda list Danvers’ myriad false praises to the skies almost made me physically sick.

If the writers had pitted an actual heroine such as Mockingbird, Lady Sif, the Scarlet Witch, Spectrum, Firestar, or even She-Hulk against Zarda, I would have been more interested. But a struggle between equally strong opponents when the outcome can never be in doubt is a boring way to spend an episode.

Some of you are now doubtless shouting at the screen, saying, “How can you say that Zarda and Danvers are equally strong opponents, Mithril?! Zarda’s an immortal from Utopia – she’s even more powerful than Thor! How can you say that Danvers, who only has Kree DNA bonded to her body, is Zarda’s equal?!?”

My response: Oh, give me a Hulk-sized break!!!! First, we do not know if Zarda is more powerful than Thor. Her Sledge of Power operates on a different principle than Mjolnir does. It takes more power to be worthy than to be strong or “powerful,” readers. Zarda will never be able to lift the hammer for the simple reason that all her strength and prowess does not make her worthy. It just makes her a good bully.

Also, remember that Danvers and Zarda are both narcissistic, they both have more muscles in their upper bodies than between their ears, and there is no way in Nick Fury’s underwear drawer that the writers would ever avoid letting Danvers K.O. Zarda. We knew that going in because the big, flashing neon sign screaming “Girl Power!” was melting our eyes from the minute that Wasp and Danvers first clashed with Belova in Panther’s mansion. This told us everything we needed to know about the plot and the outcome of the episode before we were ten minutes into the show.

Now the reason that I say having Sif fight Zarda would have been more interesting is because Sif is not a Femi-Nazi. She made it into Asgard’s warrior corps on her own merit; she is interesting, vulnerable, and fun. And, what is more, she would never have let Zarda throw her around like a ragdoll just so she could look cooler when she finally flattened the Princess of Utopia.

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Spectrum (Monica Rambeau)

Put Spectrum up against Zarda, and you have the potential for a good to great fight. Monica Rambeau can become intangible and fire energy beams from her hands, not to mention turn her own body into a beam of light or energy. She is a former cop and a member of the New Orleans Harbor Patrol. She maintains her own patrol boat for this reason, she has spunk, and she has her weaknesses. Are you telling me she couldn’t handle Zarda? She could take her down without strain or sweat if she wanted to do so!

If you threw the Scarlet Witch at the Princess of Power, she would be dancing to keep up with Wanda’s skillful, smart attacks. Firestar is a mutant capable of flight and generating heat/fire blasts from her hands. You think she couldn’t have handled Zarda in an interesting way and still beaten her? Yeah, right!

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Firestar (Angelica Jones)

Heck, putting Zarda up against She-Hulk would have been more interesting. While Jennifer Walters’ alter-ego barely escapes the Strong Female Character stereotype, the fact is that she is no pushover and she is (rarely) bland. A fight between her and Zarda would have at least been attention worthy; the fight between Danvers and the Princess of Power was so dull that I barely glanced at more than a few scenes of it.

Mockingbird (Bobbi Morse)

But for my money, setting up a match between Mockingbird and Zarda would have been the ultimate catfight. Bobbi Morse has no superpowers (or she should not). A normal woman with extensive hand-to-hand combat and SHIELD training, I would have loved to have seen Mockingbird wipe the floor with Zarda by continually outsmarting her.

But the writers did not go for smart, just as they did not go for classy. And they certainly did not set up a battle between equally deadly foes. “Prison Break” was nothing but a root-for-us-because-we-are-strong-women piece with Marvel-ous window dressing. It was a rigged match from the start that meant absolutely nothing because it had no stakes, which gave the audience zero satisfaction when the conflict finally ended. The chip on Wasp’s shoulder made her defeat of Belova just as tedious.

Things did not improve overmuch in “The Incredible Herc.” I do not know if Marvel’s Hercules has always been this much of a nitwit, but color me unimpressed with his exploits in this chapter. This is a shame because I like the mythical stories about Hercules. I am also a fan of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys with Kevin Sorbo. Show this character (or Sorbo) any disrespect and you sink in my estimation.

Another irritating thing in this episode was watching Captain Marvel and Black Panther vie for leadership of the B Team. It is not that I cannot see this fight occuring; I can totally see Danvers trying to wrest control of the team from Panther. What I cannot see is Panther claiming “male privilege” to secure his position.

This is obviously the point behind his words when he says “I am a king!” during the debate over who should be leader of the Avengers’ B Team. The fact is that Panther is not a better leader than her for the reason that he is a king or due to the fact that he “sees the big picture.” He is the better leader because he is actually capable of analytical thought and all she wants to instinctively do is smash obstacles to pieces while taking all the glory from the battlefield.

My ability to swallow his respect for Captain Marvel, whom the writers have set up in Cap’s place in the series while he is bopping around the multi-verse, is nil. Danvers is a loose cannon, just like Hercules, but with far less charm and value. The writers think they can keep the message they want her to bear and not lose her while doing it.

But the fact is that this will not work. It never has. This is why she was never allowed to “take center stage” before. Danvers melts in the spotlight, demonstrating spectacularly to the audience that the Feminist claims she embodies are nothing more or less than lies.

This is something Marvel’s previous writers knew and which they did not allow to happen. But Marvel’s new writers have bought the lie hook, line, and sinker, leading them to try and amp up the power behind the broadcasting system. So they are surprised that people have continued to tune out the message, leading them to try to increase the power to the circuit so they can get the “necessary” attention.

It will be interesting to see their reaction when the whole thing self-destructs in their collective face.

I managed to miss the first few minutes of “Show Your Work,” readers, but the truth is that there was not much to miss. The episode was nothing less than an attempt to make Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan look good, and you cannot make a token character look good any more than you can make pyrite real gold.

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Not once during this installment did Khan show any real vulnerability to Taskmaster’s supposed charm. Her claim that she saw through his charade from beginning to end also defeated the purpose of the entire subplot between the two of them. Other characters might have pulled it off, but because of her flawed design, Khan is completely incapable of making her emotional reactions look real – even when she geeks out while meeting a new hero/heroine.

Besides, in Ultimate Spider-Man, Taskmaster did not show near this much interest in or respect for any of the kids he encountered. The one-eighty degree turn he does in this episode for Ms. Marvel’s benefit absolutely smacks of politically correct condescension on the part of the writers.

Taskmaster is not a nice guy, readers; he respects nothing and no one. He fights and kills for cash, and he would keep doing it until the Earth blew up underneath him. Whoever he is/was under that skull mask, he is a ruthless murderer bent on getting as much money and pleasure out of his job as he can. Softening him up for Khan’s benefit is nothing short of patronization toward the audience on the part of the show’s writers.

Khan’s statement to Taskmaster that “Reboots are all the rage right now” was another demerit for the show in my book. A reboot, as I understand things, is supposed to revive a television series and its characters in a fresh way for a new generation. They do this by tweaking the original stories and characters, not by fundamentally rewriting them and their universe.

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This means there is nothing fresh or good in the “reboots” Marvel has been feeding us since 2015. If we can have the ancient myths, the Tales of King Arthur, and The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood retold to us over and over and over again with just a few minor changes to the original platform, then what makes Marvel’s writers think we cannot handle the same thing in regard to their heroes?!?!

Vision was the only bright spot in this show, and he did not save it. Duct tape would not have been able to save this episode. Wasp still had a visible chip on her shoulder here, Scott was made to look the fool again, and Panther was not allowed to really flex his leadership muscles. As a result, “Show Your Work” earns one big, long, drawn-out “Booo!” from this viewer.

Now “Sneakers” was actually a good chapter because it played to T’Challa’s strengths and Scott was allowed to be more than the team pratfall. The two had to work together to save Wakanda from Baron Zemo (strange how I knew his redemption in season three would not last).

They did it in an interesting way and, while Scott did not come out of the battle totally free of juvenile “humor,” he did not play the useless waste of skin the writers made him appear in the earlier episodes. Vision also had a cameo or two which lent vigor to the show and the dialogue. All of this made “Sneakers” the only one of the five premier installments for Secret Wars worth watching.

So far, I am more than a little frustrated with Avengers Assemble’s season four. I had a sense it would disappoint – the title Secret Wars was the giveaway. And the retitling of the series’ fifth season (Black Panther’s Quest) does not inspire confidence in the upcoming period, either. How can it be Avengers Assemble if Black Panther is the lead – or possibly the ONLY – character in the series at this point?

None of this is to say that I would not love to see him in season five. T’Challa is one of the best, most well-developed and intriguing characters Marvel has, and I enjoy watching him. But I do NOT want to see more of T’Challa at the expense of Cap, Hawkeye, Hulk, Black Widow, Falcon, Iron Man, and Thor. I want to see him fighting alongside them, learning with them, and integrating into their team. A Black Panther and Avengers team up, or a Black Panther plus his Avenging sidekicks storyline, will not deliver on this.

With the arrival of new villains such as Skurge and the Enchantress, I would also like to know why we cannot have more heroes and heroines added to the Avengers’ roster in this series. I am still waiting for the appearance of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, everybody. And I would like to have Spectrum, Bucky Barnes, Mockingbird, War Machine, Firestar, Lady Sif, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and many others appear here as well. Having Songbird and at least one or two of the Thunderbolts return would be great, too, as would the reappearance of Inferno.

And seriously, why do we not have the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and other Marvel heroes weaving in and out of this series? Just what is wrong with that idea? No one ever seemed to have a problem doing it before. Why the hesitation now?

The Marvel Universe is – or was – a dynamic and varied place with plenty of amazing characters to enjoy. The fact that the writers will now build stories using only the critically “sanctioned” heroes and heroines (often with a liberal twist) is assinine. It limits them as storytellers; they have gone from “going where no man has gone before” to “going where no one wants to go.”

It is a weak, stupid move, and it is hurting them just as much as it is hurting their audience. But Marvel’s current writers and hierarchy won’t stop doing this – not in short order, anyway – which means we are going to suffer along with our heroes through mile after mile of relativist swampland until the people in charge clean up their act.

This seems like a sour note to end a post with, doesn’t it? I will not end a post on a sour note if I can help it, so here goes with the positivity: things can be repaired. New, good stories can be told using the same great characters. The continual retellings of the ancient myths, the stories about King Arthur and Robin Hood, prove that you do not need to “get with the times” to have relevant heroes, heroines, and stories, readers. A good story, well told, with great characters is all you need to entertain/instruct an audience.

One of these days, someone at Marvel is going to figure this out. Or they will hire someone who knows this. Or they will be bought out by someone who knows it and who will hire people who know it. Eventually, the tide will change, the trash will be swept out, and the house will be refurbished.

We just have to hold out until that happens. We have to hold on to the characters and stories so we can clean up the mansion and put everything to rights again at some point in the future. So, rather than say, “Make mine Marvel no more!” I will say this –

Avengers – ALWAYS!!!

Spotlight: Strong Women – A Return to the Question

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We had met as equals, rarely a good thing in such matters, for the woman who wishes to be the equal of a man usually turns out to be less than a man and less than a woman.  A woman is herself, which is something altogether different than a man. – (Emphasis added.)

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This quote is from The Walking Drum, written by Louis L’Amour.  While Mr. L’Amour is best known for his Western fiction, the truth is that he wrote a great many other stories as well.  He served in World War II and “yondered” much of his early life.  He was many things and he saw many things.  The Walking Drum is a novel he wrote – and it is set in the twelfth century.

Why start a post off with this quote?  Because it is a timely admonition.  A woman ends up being less than herself when she is trying to be something she is not.  And yet we have no end of “experts” proclaiming that women are equal to men.  It makes the observant wonder just what they are selling.

The research I did for the post “Offended, Insulted, and Not Shutting Up” is what got this article rolling.  And before anyone asks, no, I have not shifted my position on Marvel’s decision to make Jane Foster the latest version of “Thor.”  It is a stupid decision which they will soon learn is not helping them.

My research into the opinions of others regarding “Thorette” allowed me to find comments and articles that expressed what I have thought for some years.  They were not all as delicate in their statements as I would have been but, to borrow a line from Mr. Spock and the Vulcans, that is part of the wonder of living in a world of “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.”  With this research tumbling around in my head, I began to think not only about “Thorette” but about what the intelligentsia says we are to praise in the female characters being created these days.

This brings us back to the question I asked in the previous “Strong Women” post.  Just what makes a strong woman?  Looking at “Thorette,” it seems safe to say that many writers and artists think a woman is only strong when she has an above-normal muscle structure.  This sort of physique also happens to look good in some form of armor-plated swimsuit or underwear, which conveniently guarantees a male audience of some size.  (These are probably not the guys a girl should accept the offer of a date from, by the way.)

Being a curious observer, I have a question to ask the writers and artists at Marvel and elsewhere.  Do they know how many female fans Carol Danvers has?  Do they know how many women are in Thundra and “Thorette’s” fan clubs?  Has anyone taken a poll of female Marvel fans to ask them what they think of these characters – not to mention what they think of all the other heroines on Marvel’s roster?

If Marvel were to poll its female fans, I believe that they may get answers like mine.  For instance:  I have never liked or admired Carol Danvers.  And I cannot seriously contemplate Thundra, a character from an alternate dimension where women are the dominant sex, without stifling the reflexive urge to throw up.  She has to be one of the few characters Marvel has created which I find utterly repulsive.  I know and prefer her only as a convenient villainess.

My opinion of Jane Foster/“Thorette” is well documented.  Jane Foster has been warped and nearly destroyed as Marvel’s writers, editors, managers, et al attempt to gain fashion and political points from her “new look.”  But what they fail to comprehend – or perhaps to admit – is that she looks horrible!

Now, does everyone feel this way about these characters?  Hardly.  But in my humble view, these female characters do not appeal enough to be worth any kind of money.  Judging by “Thorette’s” anemic reception and the letters Marvel received about Carol Danvers years ago, I do not think I am that alone in disliking them.

What kind of female characters, then, impress me?  Allow me to pull out another quote from Mr. L’Amour to illustrate my answer:

 

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A man you can figure on; a woman you can’t.  They’re likely either to faint, or grab for a gun, regardless of consequences. – from Chancy

 The Cherokee Trail

These are the kind of women who fascinate me, and whom I wish to emulate.  Remember, fainting can easily be faked.  How is a man to know a real faint from a false one without putting himself in danger?  Louis L’Amour’s female characters are like this.  They are iron-willed women who have bones of steel.  They can handle a pistol, a rifle, or they can use some other object as a weapon.

You will not find any of L’Amour’s female characters holding up stages, taming broncos, or riding the range as cowgirls, it is true.  But you will find women in his stories that are leading cattle drives, managing ranches, and defending their homes from Indians or bandits.  And plenty of his women are quite happy to back up their men in a fight by holding a shotgun on the group of ruffians looking to make trouble.  The women in L’Amour’s novels of seafaring and in his football stories are no different.  Admittedly they do not carry guns in the vicinity of a football game, but they are just as determined and forceful as the frontier women who were their ancestors, in spirit if not in fact.

What does all of this have to do with Marvel?  The comic book company already has a Rolodex of formidable heroines.  To name a few, there is the Wasp, the Black Widow, Mockingbird, Wanda Maximoff, Silverclaw, Jean Grey, Rogue, Storm, the Invisible Woman….  The post “Offended, Insulted, and Not Shutting Up” has a more comprehensive list, if you would like to learn of more heroines in Marvel’s Universe(s).

The fact is these women can all hold their own in a fight.  Yes, these characters have an extra asset of some kind during combat.  Mockingbird and Black Widow have extensive hand-to-hand combat training, while Storm, Rogue, and Jean Grey have mutant powers.  Many other female characters within the Marvel brand also have superpowers.  But a pistol or a rifle is an asset, too, and no frontier woman who wanted to survive would shun either weapon because it was not natural to her.  It was often the only thing standing between her and harm – or death.  You respect that kind of tool; you do not toss it aside.

So do any of these Marvelous assets cheapen who these women are as characters?  No, they do not.  Nor do they enhance their characters; they are simply stand-ins for the rifles, pistols, or the various weapons women have used throughout the centuries.  Sometimes they are even extensions of the abilities women have always had:  intelligence, mental agility, and outright strength of will.

As a result one never knows just what any of these heroines are going to do in a given crisis.  One can never know just how they are going to play the game, how they are going to react to the villain’s bait.  They may play on his arrogance or they may pretend to be simpering, frightened damsels.  Whatever they do it is bound to be interesting and exciting, for the simple reason that it has the potential to be totally unexpected.

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Carol Danvers or Thundra, in comparison, can always be counted on to hammer at a problem until it goes away.  Why is this so?  It is so because they are women who are less than women.  The writers have decided to make them something they are not.  As a result, they have personalities that are as stilted as a puppet’s limbs, making them very uninteresting.

The other heroines do not have this built-in handicap.  They are women who are not afraid of being women.  This means that they do not think like the men around them.  This gives them their edge in a battle.  It is not their superpowers, skills, or weapons.  It is who they are as people, as women.

When these heroines are safely captured, they are often deemed by the villains as no longer a threat because they cannot use their powers, kung fu, or technology.  With Danvers or Thundra this is usually a true assessment.  They are not used to thinking outside the box – or thinking much at all, from what I have seen.  In a pitched battle they simply react.  This makes them relatively easy for their opponents to overcome or dispatch.

Many of Marvel’s other heroines, however, never stop thinking.  They are always watching, listening, assessing, and working out a plan of some sort.  If the only possible plan they can make is to wait for back up, then that is what they have to do.  Their male counterparts have experienced similar crises, though you will not hear these mentioned by very many critics.  If they could survive the wait and not be diminished by it, then why can’t their female counterparts?

From Marvel to DC, from Star Trek to Andre Norton’s Witch World series, from Star Wars to Howl’s Moving Castle and its sequels, there is no end of proof that women can be as bold and brave as the men in their lives – and they can be as bold without compromising their womanhood.

This is what modern writers, filmmakers, and artists no longer consider.  In fact they are actively running away from this truth because it has become passé to portray a woman as she actually is.  Instead a fictional heroine must be displayed as something other than a woman.  You go to the theaters to see the latest films and most of the women in these movies have no problem cutting off men’s heads or disemboweling them.  Not only do they have no physical problem doing it, which many of them should, but they also have no moral qualms about doing it.

Image result for wonder woman filmThe Wonder Woman movie out next year promises to be a case in point.  I was once a big fan of Wonder Woman.  This was not because of her strength or because of her Lasso of Truth.  No, I liked her because of these things and the fact that she was still a woman.  Throughout her adventures with the JLA, Diana learned to respect and like her male teammates, to appreciate their abilities and welcome them as friends.  Later series even had her dating Batman!

But recent rewrites by DC Comics have turned Wonder Woman into a bloodthirsty man-hater.  It is true that in the coming film she is going to fall in love with Steve Trevor (portrayed by Chris Pine).  While she is doing that, though, she will also be happily carving men to pieces and telling women that being secretaries is the equivalent of slavery.  You would think she came from an alternate universe and not an island inhabited by Greek warrior women.

All of this detracts from the real power of women.  By portraying a woman as what she is not, these writers and artists are not elevating women.  They are demeaning and demoting them.

The fictional heroine who easily encapsulates what a real warrior woman can and should be is Éowyn of Rohan from The Lord of the Rings.  Secretly joining the Rohirrim’s army as it marches to battle in Gondor, she is the one who defeats the Witch-king, the leader of the Nine Ringwraiths or Názgul.  Merry, taken into Gondor by her when she wore the guise of a male Rider, helps her with a well-placed sword-thrust.  But it is Éowyn who ultimately strikes the fatal blow and wins a great victory in the glorious Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

Still, many Feminists go into apoplectic fits over Éowyn’s role in The Lord of the Rings novels despite her amazing display of courage and fighting skill.  Why?  They do this because Éowyn leaves war behind forever when she decides to accept Faramir’s proposal of marriage after recovering from her battle with the Witch-king.  That particular passage reads thus:

Image result for eowyn battle of pelennor fields

Then the heart of Éowyn changed, or else at last she understood it. And suddenly her winter passed, and the sun shone on her.

‘I stand in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun,’ she said; ‘and behold! the Shadow has departed! I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.’

Image result for eowyn and faramirThe thing Feminists do not understand – or the thing which they absolutely refuse to accept – is that Éowyn’s triumph in battle does not define her.  She did an amazing, wonderful thing, which most other people could never accomplish.  Her decision to marry Faramir does not render her defeat of the Witch-king any less; rather, her decision to marry is the reward she earned in that fight.

Éowyn’s part in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields does not define her identity, and most Feminists want that stereotype to define and limit her.  This is most of Éowyn’s own problem in the trilogy until she falls in love with Faramir.  Up to that point, she believes that battle will give her satisfaction.  Poisoned along with Théoden by Wormtongue’s whisperings, in her confusion and slow descent into despair Éowyn decides that only death in battle will give her a chance at glory and renown.

Now, readers, the fact is that death is not a fulfillment of life.  It is the end of life, and if you ally yourself with death, you are allying yourself with the Enemy.

In Minas Tirith – originally named Minas Anor or ‘Tower of the Sun’ – Éowyn finally comes to see that battle is not where she can be most useful when she is at last confronted by Faramir’s genuine love for her.  Being a warrior is not her calling, although she can certainly wield a sword as well as any man.  Her vocation in life is being a woman, a wife, and eventually a mother.

Through Éowyn the author of the trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien, demonstrates that a woman is not made by her fighting ability.  She is distinguished by her will, her womanhood and – if she is lucky – by her motherhood.  “For the hand that rocks the cradle is that hand that rules the world.”  Mothers shape their children, daughters and sons both.  These daughters and sons will grow up to change the world through the things they do, the things they create, and the children they bring into the universe.

Modern media has largely forsaken this understanding of womanhood at the behest of the Hegelian/Nietzschean complex, the modern incarnation of Sauron.  There has been a war going on for the past century or three which most have not paid heed to.  This has led to nothing but a lot of pain for women, who have been persuaded as a group to throw away the knowledge that they once possessed. Their honor is their womanhood and it is our societal honor to know them as such.

Mockingbird

This is why I have taken issue with Jane Foster’s identity change, not to mention the identity change of several other formerly male characters.  This is why I have written two posts on strong women.  It is an attempt to remind women of what we truly are and what we can actually achieve.  For when women stop valuing themselves as women, society stops valuing them as well, and then that society sooner rather than later treats them like chattel.

ISIS does this on a daily basis.  Slave traders and sex traffickers rely on such attitudes to do “business.”  The shout of “I am Woman, hear me roar!” has led to nothing but pain and sorrow for millions of women.  They have chosen to debase themselves.  This means they are no longer worthy of special respect and value to men.  For if women do not value themselves as women, as potential wives and mothers, then why should men?

Does all this mean that a woman cannot fight?  Pshaw.  Éowyn fought, did she not?  It is not possible that she forgot how to swing a sword after marrying Faramir.  She simply did not make a living fighting – and for the record, neither did he!  The heroines of Marvel Comics fight; the women in Star Trek and Star Wars fight.  The will to fight is the influential factor.  Just ask the mothers and wives who grabbed a gun to help defend against Indian raids or bandits back in the Old West!  Or those that defend themselves and their families similarly today.

But if a woman wants to make a career as a warrior, she cannot try and be the equal of the men.  This can never be, for the simple fact that no amount of human interference – psychological or scientific – can overwrite what she is.  And if a woman decides she wishes to be a “shieldmaiden,” then she had better be prepared for what could happen to her on the field of battle.  Torture, the loss of life and limb, rape – these are just some of the risks which I can see ahead of a female soldier.  An enemy who does not value life – and there are many of those today – can be abominably creative in the management of prisoners.  Just ask Dean Koontz.

Han and Leia

Does all this mean that I believe a woman should not be prepared to fight?  Civilization is a very, very fragile construction.  One small thing goes out of whack and entire nations fall to their knees.  Women definitely need to know how to defend themselves.  They have always needed to know this.

But what women need to relearn is that it is not battle which will define them.  Battle does not define a man, so how can it define a woman?  A man or a woman is defined by who and what they are.  A man is defined by his manhood, a woman by her womanhood.  That is all there is to it.

This is not weakness.  It is not slavery.  Knowing who and what you are is not a defect; it is a strength.  Being proud of being a man or a woman is what gives one the will to fight, to protect oneself from those who do not appreciate you for who and what you are.  Muscles, weapons, skills – these are the tools.  They are not the determining factors.  We, men and women, are the weapons.

Until writers at Marvel, DC, Star Trek, and elsewhere figure that out, though, we will have to endure continuous watered-down portrayals of heroines in many stories.  Until these “artists” ask themselves, “What really makes a strong woman?”, they will continue coming up with the wrong answers.

Readers, I will give Mr. L’Amour the last word on this subject:

Image result for the warrior's path by louis l'amour

She’ll stand to it.  There’s a likely craft, lad, and one to sail any sea.  You can see it in the clear eyes of her and the way she carries her head.  Give me always a woman with pride, and pride of being a woman.  She’s such a one. – from The Warrior’s Path

Amen, readers.  Amen!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review – Marvel Masterworks #3: The Avengers

Image result for Marvel Masterworks #3: The Avengers

Well, readers, we are back in the wonderful world of Marvel, as Stan Lee and his friends originally wrote it. Get ready for a jaunt into the Marvelous, original mainstream Marvel Universe!!! Here is the review for Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers, Vol. 3!!

As with Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers, Vol. 2, this book contains a collection of original comics from the early 1960s. There are ten issues in this book in all – plus an introduction straight from Stan “The Man” Lee’s pen. The language in these comics is better, in some ways, than it is today.

Now when I say “the language is better,” I am not referring to these old comics’ lack of profanity. That is certainly a point in these stories’ favor, but it is not the main point. What I mean is that the vocabulary used by the characters herein is wider and makes allusions to the classics. This means that the characters not only convey precisely what they mean to each other, and thereby to the readers; it also allows them to give the readers lessons in world history, myth, etc.

Yes, there is a great deal of contemporary slang in the stories in this book. But there is a great deal of contemporary slang in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, too, and only a few boneheads want to complain about that. The comics are not perfect, but they are better in several respects than today’s comics. The stories in this volume are real stories, the characters are really who and what they look like, and the artistry is well-done.

Is it quite as good as today’s artistry? Allow me to answer that with a question. Are comic books about art, or are they about story? Illustrations for a comic book should be high quality, of course. But if the art is the only thing in the comic book which is good, then the comic book is not worth very much, other than as a tableau showing off the artist’s talent.

The writers of the modern comics are more focused on the fleeting fads of the world than on good storytelling. The artists for the comics want to make a splash rather than help to tell a good story. The parts are all trying to get the credit for the same cake, and in the process they are destroying the recipe. This means that the finished product comes out looking more than a little unappetizing.

So, readers, we have to read these old stories. We have to learn the recipes in this volume. Because when the wannabes are finally driven from the kitchen, guess who is going to have to come in and clean up the mess. That is right – we are. And if we do not know how to bake the cakes, then we are going to make messes as big as this one which is about to blow up in Marvel’s collective face.

Below is a description of the comics that can be found in this Masterworks volume. Some details are missing, but that is intentional. A lot is getting mentioned here in order to whet your appetite for the main course. For those who would rather not do anything other than smell the aroma of the bread, then you had better stop reading right…now. Because, without further ado, here is the description I promised –

WARNING: Spoilers follow!!!

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In this volume, you will watch as Captain America and his “new Avengers” – Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch – are handed their first defeat. Tricked into damaging property by the Enchantress and accused of trying to elbow out the newest hero on the block, Power Man, the Avengers are forced to disband. And the ever-antagonistic Hawkeye is only too willing to lay the blame on Captain America!

However, Steve Rogers is not ready to let the Avengers’ torch gutter and die. While his team searches for new, legit work, he sets out to prove they were set up in “The Road Back!” He succeeds, naturally, and the Avengers are reinstated as heroes. But the team is rocked by another surprise when Cap throws in the towel and strikes out on his own!

Following this catastrophe, Hawkeye finds that leading a team is not as easy as he thought it would be. Wanda misses Cap’s presence along with Quicksilver. Even Hawkeye privately admits that he regrets Cap jettisoning free of the team – especially as the twins prove they are not that easy to order around.

Meanwhile, having found work training a boxer, Cap is making a living on his own for the first time since awakening from the ice. He likes the work but soon discovers that he cannot close his eyes without seeing his team. He misses them as much as they miss him.

Unknown to our four heroes, they are being watched. From his domain in the far future, Kang the Conqueror decides that the Avengers are finally vulnerable to his revenge! He kidnaps Hawkeye, Pietro, and Wanda to the 30th century and holds them captive…

But Kang has an audience besides us, for once. He is in the last remaining kingdom which he does not rule. No, this little postage-stamp nation is run by Princess Ravonna and her father. Both consider Kang to be evil and they despise him, Ravonna making no secret of the depth of her contempt for the Conqueror. Kang, though he rants against her, admits that he is unwilling to destroy the kingdom – because Ravonna has conquered his heart without half-trying!

Hearing on the radio about the Avengers’ disappearance, Cap makes tracks for the Mansion. Discovering that Kang is responsible for his friends’ abduction, he challenges the 30th century genius to transport him to the future as well. With Ravonna watching, Kang is only too happy to oblige…

And from here, it is all-out war, as Kang finally decides that he will take Ravonna and her kingdom by force!

After their adventure in the 30th century, the Avengers are lured to Latveria in the issue entitled “Enter…Dr. Doom!” Eager to challenge the Fantastic Four again, Doom wants a trial run before he squares off with Reed Richards and his family. He gets more exercise than he was bargaining on when the Avengers prove to be as mighty as the Four – maybe even mightier!

Next ish, the Avengers receive a distress call from founding member the Wasp. She tells them that Attuma has captured her and plans to destroy the surface world. He has built a machine which will induce tremors in the earth, causing tsunamis and floods which will destroy the human world. Once that is done, the Ghengis Khan of the undersea world plans to march onto what was once dry land to claim it as his own!

This plan goes about as well as you would expect. The Avengers whip Attuma, destroy his machine, and set him back several thousand sea-dollars, only to arrive home to another crisis. This one again involves the Wasp, who made it to the Mansion but has since disappeared!

Unable to stand losing her, Hank Pym returns to active duty on the team, taking the name “Goliath” in order to help find the love of his life. The Avengers soon meet with Wasp’s abductor: Tanaleer Tivan. Better known to most as “The Collector,” he captured the Beetle and decided he wanted a superhero team for his collection as well. His target: the Avengers!

The team breaks out of this problem and hits another snag. In rescuing the Wasp, Pym stayed giant-size too long. Now he is trapped at ten feet tall – and hating every minute of it.

Things go from difficult to worse in no time. Hawkeye is over-the-moon ecstatic when Cap tells him SHIELD has heard that Black Widow is alive and is returning to the U.S. He then gets angry when Steve points out that the Communists would only release her if they had managed to brainwash her again.

Unwilling to forget his love for Natasha, Hawkeye leaves the Mansion to find her. He does indeed meet up with the Black Widow – plus Power Man and the Swordsman! Natasha then reveals that she has been put back under the Reds’ control, and she wants Hawkeye to rejoin her in their service.

Well, Hawkeye still cares about Natasha, but he is not willing to join the Commies for her. Luckily, Cap was afraid the whole thing was a trap and dispatched Wasp to monitor the situation. She speeds back to the Mansion, but does not return until everyone else is captured. Only she and Goliath are still free to fight…

The last story sees Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch taking a leave of absence from the Avengers. Also, with Cap’s permission, Hawkeye takes on Widow and her stooges solo. He manages to best the Swordsman, his old mentor, but Power Man is not going to be nearly as easy to defeat….

Meanwhile, Hank Pym is desperately searching for a way to return to normal size. Hearing about an old colleague who has disappeared in South America, he heads there to find him in the hopes that the man can help reverse his condition. Instead, he finds a “Frenzy in a Far-Off Land!” ready and waiting to jump him!

Readers, I hope I have not spoiled these stories too much for you. I know they are “retro” and probably of interest to very few of you. With Marvel’s recent alterations, which they are hailing as the new Modern, most of you probably do not care to learn where the heroes we have seen on the big screen for the last decade and a half started.

But I believe that we need these stories now more than ever. Yes, they are kooky and silly, with a dash of weird in the bargain. They will not appeal to everyone; least of all will they appeal to Marvel’s blind Hierarchy of Seneschals.

Still, they are the germ of the stories we have now. Without them we would not have Chris Evans playing Captain America, or Robert Downey Jr. doing a bang-up job as Tony Stark. The cast of the films owe their careers to these characters, and to forget where these fictional heroes came from is just plain bad. It means we are forgetting ourselves with them. If our memory only goes as far back as yesterday, we will never be able to make a future.

Marvel is so determined to build a shiny “modern” future that it is rewriting its past, and not in a healthy way. The bosses at Marvel can make whatever changes they want. But in the end, they cannot change the past. They cannot change us. And that will be their undoing, not ours.

If we forget, however – if we allow what we have learned and remember to be wiped away – then we will be undone. By learning where Marvel came from, the company can one day be cleaned up and put back on the road to goodness and then greatness. This book will help us in that.

If we let it…

Avengers Assemble!

The Mithril Guardian

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

Spotlight: Strong Women

Pepper and Tony

The scene I want to Spotlight! today occurred during Marvel’s The Avengers. It is the scene where Coulson arrives to enlist Iron Man’s help in stopping Loki, ruining “twelve percent of a moment” between Pepper Potts and Tony.

In this scene, Pepper realizes that something important is in motion and, to stop it, SHIELD needs Iron Man’s help. Tony, naturally, does not want to help SHIELD. Apart from the fact that he rightly distrusts the huge ‘peacekeeping’ agency, he does not want to leave Pepper. She is, quite frankly, the first woman he has ever truly loved in his life, and people do not want to part from those they love.

But Pepper, on seeing the “homework” Coulson has detailed for Tony, realizes that their “moment” must wait a little longer. Tony is needed elsewhere, and as much as she would prefer he stayed with her, if he does they may still be separated later on and in a worse way. So she does the sensible thing and tells him to go help SHIELD. Pepper does not tell him to do this because SHIELD needs help, but because there are lives at stake, maybe even their own. In verbal shorthand, she instructs Tony to go out and save the world; she will be waiting for him when he returns.

From my perspective, this is Pepper’s strongest moment so far in the Avengers’-themed films. In this scene, Pepper proves herself the fictional descendant of Ulysses’ wife Penelope. Penelope waited for Ulysses’ return from both the Trojan War and his years of roving. The Trojan War took ten years, and Ulysses went wandering the seas for ten years. So Penelope waited for Ulysses’ return for twenty years, during which time everyone else in his home town believed him dead. Waiting for him to come back took determination, to say the least!

Now allow me to contrast Pepper with another female Marvel character. This may get me in hot water, but I have yet to learn why so many people fawn over Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. For those of you who have never encountered the character, Carol Danvers was a U.S. Air Force pilot who ended up with Kree abilities (the Kree are a humanoid alien species which inhabit the Marvel Comics universe). Danvers possesses the capabilities of near supersonic flight, near invulnerability, the ability to fire energy blasts from her hands, and apparently the ability to predetermine her opponent’s moves in battle – though this one is news to me and seems to be a recent addition to her power roster.

I have to admit, Danvers’ powers are impressive. The sad fact is that Danvers’ powers are the only remarkable things about her. If a person stands Danvers next to other female Avengers such as Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Wasp, Rescue (Pepper Potts), or Mockingbird, that person quickly gets the impression that a novice’s sculpture has suddenly and inexplicably been set amidst statues fashioned by the Ancient Greeks. Danvers seems too clean cut, too perfect, when compared with her fellow Avenging females. She has immense power, yet she thinks and reacts like a California “Valley girl” (which may explain why she is so susceptible to psychic attacks and mind control).

I have considered Carol Danvers to be a “hollow character” since I first researched her. Her existence as a character appears – to me – to be based solely on her physical strength and not on the force of her personality (or lack thereof). In contrast, Pepper has a lot of personality: she is witty and smart, but also kind and compassionate – sometimes to a fault. Danvers lacks the former traits and if she has the latter then they are, at best, exhibited lukewarmly and infrequently.

Why do I bring up Carol Danvers in relation to Pepper Potts and her best scene from The Avengers? Because of the two, Danvers has received more acclaim from reviewers and fans than Pepper. Most seem to think Danvers is strong and Pepper is not – at least, they do not think Pepper is “strong” until she swallows an unstable Super Soldier Serum and gains inhuman abilities from it.

Today we are constantly inundated with news reporters or other TV talking heads yapping about what makes a strong woman. Hollywood frequently praises female leads that shoot impossibly large guns, use martial arts, super powers, or some other weapon when fighting their enemies. I know what you are thinking, and what you may well think throughout this post on this often-argued topic. So first let me state that I am not belittling the achievements of women anywhere.

No, I am asking a question, one I think too many people forget to ask. That question is, “What makes a strong woman?” Who is the strongest female character you have ever encountered, readers, and why is she strong? I do not mean what makes her physically strong, but what makes her a strong woman?

Most of us can think of a number of popular, strong female characters off the top of our heads. Storm, Black Widow, Wasp, Princess Leia Organa Solo, Mara Jade Skywalker, Stella from Silverado, Katniss Everdeen, Seven of Nine, Captain Janeway, and Lieutenant Uhura are all strong ladies who jump immediately into many minds.

But what do these women possess that makes us consider them strong? Is it their super powers (i.e. Storm, Wasp)? Is it their skill with a gun (Princess Leia, Lieutenant Uhura) or a bow (Katniss Everdeen)? Is it their skill with science and technology (Captain Janeway, Seven of Nine)? Or is it their spy skills (Black Widow, Mara Jade)?

If you answer yes to these questions and follow the reasoning to its conclusion, you find a rather thin strength, do you not? After all, what happens in a situation where Storm cannot access her powers, Uhura loses her phaser, or Black Widow is trussed up tighter than a Thanksgiving Day turkey and cannot use her martial arts skills to fight her way out of a tight spot?

And yet, all these fictional women – and a great many others – have fought their way through such situations regardless of the loss of powers, weapons, technology, or skills.

But, by continuing to use the reasoning that said these women were strong because of their assets – powers, weapons, etc. – we are left with a flimsy, incomplete picture of these fictional heroines. After all, if Storm loses her powers – the abilities that make her “strong” – then she is no longer strong when she cannot use them.

As a fan of the X-Man Storm from youth, when I was younger I would have found such a statement insulting to her. “Storm is strong without her powers!” I would have shouted angrily.

Thankfully, time brings growth, and I am at least old enough now to know that not all battles can be won by shouting – although that may be my initial, instinctive reaction. Suppose that, today, someone was to say to me, “Storm’s great, but she’s only strong as long as she has her powers.”

Stifling my kneejerk reaction to shout and lose my temper, I would stumble and say, “No, she’s strong even without her powers. If Storm were to lose her powers – which she has, on occasion – she would still be a force to be reckoned with. Because even without her powers, Storm is determined to survive – when she fights, she fights to win.”

And that is the point right there. “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog,” as they say. Storm and the other leading ladies I have listed here all have a strong will, the determination to survive adversity and evil. These fictional women are not disposed to yield to those who threaten them and/or those they love. They will fight anyone who threatens them. Whether they fight with weather warping abilities, or with something as “simple” as a spoon or a rock, they will fight to the death to protect themselves and those they care about.

So is the true strength of a woman (or of a man) to be judged by how much they can physically do? Should it be judged by the flash, flamboyance, or elegance with which they do it?

Or should the true strength of a man or woman be judged by the force of their will to be strong?

History is already witness to many women with strong wills achieving great things. Women such as Artemisia, Boudicca, Margaret of Provence (queen of France and wife of Louis IX), Catherine of Siena, Maria Theresa of Austria, Isabella I of Spain, Madeleine de Verchères, and Catherine the Great were all strong-willed women who achieved much in their lifetimes. Actresses Hedy Lamarr, Lucille Ball, and Maureen O’Hara accomplished much in their lives as actresses and as career women.

Yet still there are those who see only the outer shell, or who refuse to see it. Still you will hear the shrill Cabbage Patch dolls on TV or in Hollywood proclaim that this leading female in that film is strong simply because she can swing a sword, shoot a gun or a bow, use magic, or ride the wind and cast lightning bolts out of a clear sky. It is sad that so many in this age choose to view women in this light.

So then what do I think makes a strong woman, readers? I think a strong woman is defined by her will to keep fighting, by her determination to do her part, small though it may appear to be. No matter how much it hurts or how unfulfilling it appears, how thankless or humble a job it is, these fictional heroines have kept going. Theirs is an honorable position, whether it is Pepper’s waiting for Tony to return to her or Captain Janeway guiding Voyager on its journey home. It is an honorable duty they each work to fulfill to the best of their abilities. They should be given respect for that strength of will, not for their physical skills.

In conclusion, I will say this, readers: I preach no sermon, I advocate no crusade. I simply ask you an honest question:

“What do you think makes a woman strong?”

Later,

The Mithril Guardian