Tag Archives: Tony Stark

Captain America: Civil War – Helmut Zemo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But they are all alive.

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

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

‘Nuff said, readers. ‘Nuff said.

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Season 3 of Avengers Assemble Review

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

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

Let’s find out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avengers – ASSEMBLE!!!

A Review of Avengers Assemble’s “Inhumans Among Us”

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I have said many times that I do not enjoy the X-Men movies currently being produced by Fox Studios.  The films are focused mostly on special effects, noir themes, and have too little hopefulness in them.  The characters – aside from Wolverine and a fortunate few others – receive very scattered, haphazard treatments which do not help them grow and which do not exercise their individuality to the full.  I am continually bewildered by reviewers who proclaim that the latest X-Man film is a hit.  The X-Men franchise is barely treading water compared to the Avengers’ franchise, from the numbers I remember having seen.

What does this have to do with the Avengers Assemble episode “Inhumans Among Us”?  In this show, Blackbolt and the Inhuman royal family of Attilan descend on a town which has been doused in contaminated Terrigen Mist.  This results in a human from the town, who has Inhuman heritage, undergoing Terrigenisis – the process by which Inhumans gain their superpowers.

For those who do not know about the X-Men or the Inhumans, the two have their similarities and their differences.  Marvel’s X-Men are a superhero team composed of mutants.  In the Marvel Universe(s), mutants are humans born with an advanced X-gene.  This gene usually activates in the mutant’s teen years, giving them access to superpowers built into their DNA.  This occasionally leads to their transforming in appearance physically to resemble an animal or to appear non-human in some other manner.  Some mutants can use their powers or look different from birth, but most discover their abilities when they become teenagers.

Inhumans are only slightly different.  Descended from humans who were experimented on by the alien Kree millennia in the past, Inhumans are also born with superpowers programmed into their DNA due to Kree meddling all those years ago.  Which type of superpowers they will have is unknown to Inhumans initially.  Also, it does not seem that a certain power, such as hydrokinesis or super strength, is passed down from Inhuman to Inhuman through direct inheritance.  For instance, an Inhuman man who is a telepath can marry an Inhuman woman who is an empath, but their child will somehow end up with superhuman strength instead of either of his parents’ powers.

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Inhumans can live normal lives without their powers.  They will have above average strength, immunity, and longevity, but they will not manifest superpowers.  Their powers will be activated only through exposure to the Terrigen Mists, a gaseous cloud released by Terrigen Crystals taken from the Kree.

Terrigen Mist will not hurt normal humans.  But if a normal human so much as brushes up against a Terrigen Crystal without some sort of protection, it has an immediate and deadly effect on them.  The Terrigen Mist permeating the town in “Inhumans Among Us” thus does not harm Cap, Thor, Iron Man, Falcon, or the Hulk.  Admittedly, only Falcon and Cap would have had to worry.  Hulk is protected by his Gamma radiation, Tony by his armor, and Thor is Asgardian. Thus the Prince of Thunder is immune to so much as the common Earth cold.  Terrigen Crystals would be among the least likely things to harm him.

This episode serves as the Avengers’ first meeting with the Inhumans in Assemble.  Prior to this, only the Hulk had had contact with the Inhumans in the episode “Inhuman Nature,” a show from his own two season series Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.  Thor may have known of the Inhumans prior to this Avengers episode.  But if that is so he had not met them more than once or twice.  And in those cases he may have been on diplomatic missions to Attilan, or they might have been visiting Asgard for political reasons.

When the Avengers and the royal family discover a strange cocoon in the town library, the team fears the thing may be the result of a deadly virus capable of wiping out innumerable people.  But when the Inhumans recognize it and try to politely force the team out of the conversation – as well as the library – the Avengers realize that whatever the cocoon is, the royal family knows it is not dangerous.  And, what is more, they certainly do not want the Avengers finding out what it is.

But when Tony tells Blackbolt – rather politely, all things considered – that the Avengers are not going anywhere without answers, the alliance the two factions formed at the beginning of the episode disintegrates.  Gorgon responds to Tony’s statement by throwing him through the walls, across the street, and into the next building.  Then the rest of the royal family attacks the bewildered Avengers in order to “protect” the cocoon.

“Inhumans Among Us” was a very disheartening episode for me.  Why?  The Avengers went out of their way to be friendly and helpful to the Inhuman royal family.  They had no intention of hurting them, and once they knew that the cocoon was for a newly awakened Inhuman, they were ready to help Blackbolt and the others calm him down.  In contrast, the Inhumans looked xenophobic and intolerant, displaying violently the prejudices which they claimed the Avengers were demonstrating.

This is my key disappointment not only with the episode, but with the general trend in all things X-Men, Inhuman, and now most of Marvel.  The writers are devoting too much energy trying to make everyone in every demographic feel included.  The problem with this is that when you try to please everyone, you please no one.  Stressing differences between people instead of similarities fractures the very unity which you are trying to build.

The X-Men at the end of Marvel's X-Men: Evolution

The X-Men at the end of Marvel’s X-Men: Evolution

In the comics written from the turn of the century to 2015, all the X-Men did was whine about the fact that normal humans would never accept them.  They became so fixated on this that the team split in half; then one half went to war with the Avengers.  The royal family in “Inhumans Among Us” showed the same blasted tendency, leaping to the conclusion that since the Avengers had no idea what the cocoon was and feared it might be an infection, they would react with extreme intolerance against it.

Instead of doing the sensible thing, which was to explain what the cocoon was, the Inhumans went berserk and wrecked half a town attacking the Avengers – all without provocation.  It was suspicion and fear which motivated the Inhumans.  The Avengers were left trying to pierce that fog with clear reasoning; but reason makes no headway against deeply entrenched unreason.  Hence the destruction of half of a small town within the episode.

The Inhumans also assumed that since the person inside the cocoon was an Inhuman by inheritance, they alone would automatically be able to calm him down and get him to see sense.  They forgot that they had voluntarily cut themselves off from humans for so long that most people in the Marvel Universe(s) have no idea who or what they are.  What if the new Inhuman came out and, added to his confusion over his new powers, was confronted with people he had no idea he could trust?  What if, due to his confusion and fear of his unknown “rescuers,” he attacked them – his supposed “kind” – maybe even killing one or two of them in the process?

Even though they do not seek it, the Avengers are world famous.  They are easily recognized by anyone who has not been living without a television, radio, or the Internet.  Even the denizens of small towns know of and instantly recognize them.

In such a situation as exhibited in “Inhumans Among Us,” this would make the Avengers invaluable in helping to calm down a new Inhuman who had never known he was anything but human.  If the royal family had been thinking, not reacting, they might have realized the team would be an asset in this circumstance and not a threat or a hindrance.

But the writers ignored that possibility completely.  Why?  Why would they have the Inhumans jump to the conclusion of discrimination and fear?  Why would they write a story where the Avengers could be construed as aggressors instead of as calm, reasonable people?  (Interestingly, the episode portrayed them in this positive light instead of the intended negative view.)

The Avengers have accepted mutants, humans, Inhumans, aliens, androids, and at least one synthetic being as members throughout their history.  They do not care about a teammate’s skin color, gender, or what-have-you; they care about the person who wants to use their skills to help defend the world.  This is a proven track record that goes back to the time when Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, Gypsies and former enemies of the X-Men, were given membership on the team.  It goes back to Black Panther’s acceptance by the team.  Falcon’s membership in the team was accepted with facility as well, despite the government’s interference in the matter.  The Avengers are not a passel of small-minded bigots.  They never have been.

Yet recently there is a documentable effort to push them into this position.  While the team has never been anything short of hospitable to every proven hero, reformed convict, or good android, the Avengers keep getting thrown into conflict with people who claim they are not what they have shown themselves to be time and time again.  And these people, often allies of the Avengers, should know better than to claim this insanity.

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In recent comics, the X-Men are the guiltiest party.  Accustomed to being discriminated against, they had previously battled the Avengers several times, until someone calmed down enough to listen to the Avengers explain why they showed up.  This once led to reconciliation after reconciliation between the teams, something which was tossed out after the Avengers vs. X-Men event.  In an attempt to heal that mess, Cap started the Unity Squad, a team which was composed of Avengers and X-Men.  He hoped to bring the two factions together through this new team.

But his plan was in many respects an unmitigated disaster, as the X-Men refused to see eye-to-eye with their new teammates, particularly the Scarlet Witch.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, she wiped out most mutants’ powers earlier in the decade after going nuts and getting mad at Magneto.  How many times have members of the X-Men – not to mention mutants in general – wanted to be rid of their powers?  Besides which, by the end of A vs. X, the mutant population had been restored.  There was no reason to keep picking on Wanda – no reason except to spite her, Cap, and their Unity Squad teammates from the Avengers.  Who wants to put up with all of that negativity?  Not me, thank you.

Once upon a time, the X-Men were allowed to make friends with non-mutants in a TV series.  The 1990s series saw the team become friends with Senator – later President – Kelly.  A mutant-hating politician who came to recognize the humanity of mutants through the aid of the X-Men, he became one of their best supporters and friends.  Beast made friends with a human scientist in X-Men: Evolution, the same series where Nightcrawler had a normal human as a girlfriend.  And the number of normal humans the X-Men befriended in the comics is so long I would have to look it up to make a comprehensive list!

But by the time Wolverine and the X-Men TV series aired, this arrangement had largely been flushed down the toilet.  The episodes that came closest to making the point that humans and mutants were different in terms of genetics only were the introductory shows and “Code of Conduct.”  In that episode, Wolverine had to fight the Silver Samurai, who was married to his old flame Mariko Yashida, a normal human woman from Japan.  The rest of the series focused on the war brewing between mutants and humans because of the latter’s’ hatred for the former.  And the X-Men were bent on avoiding a blasted apocalyptic future where all but a few humans and mutants had been killed by the Sentinels.

Did the writers ever consider that by befriending normal humans the X-Men could make greater headway in circumventing this future?  No, they did not.  It was all X-Men vs. Brotherhood, X-Men vs. the MRD, or X-Men vs. Magneto and his Acolytes.  Let’s just lie down and die already, huh?

This different approach had started out in the comics, which began tearing the X-Men away from Professor X’s original dream of peaceful mutant/human coexistence.  It is as though, having reached a post-mutant-hating era, the writers decided to tear down all their good work and reset the original status quo.

But how exactly is this a good thing?  If you are so determined to build a platform of peaceful coexistence, why suddenly turn around and destroy it once it is built?  What can you possibly gain by this?

I once suggested an answer:  if everyone in the Marvel Universe became a mutant overnight, then the X-Men’s use as a team fighting for equality for mutants would go up in smoke.  Likewise, if you wipe out all mutants (an impossible task even for the Scarlet Witch), their reason for existence also disappears.  It seems that the Marvel writers, whether they realize it or not, are carrying out the second possibility – with unprecedented vigor.

In so doing they have neglected the third potential avenue for the team: could the X-Men not change their mission from peaceful coexistence to protecting the Earth, just as the Avengers do?  They have powers, gifts above the norm.  The achievement of one dream does not mean that you get to sit on your laurels or break off to follow your own pursuits.  It certainly does not mean you get to destroy your hard work.  It means you go out and get a new, better dream.

The imprisonment, death, or changed hearts of the X-Men’s old enemies does not mean they will never have new ones.  If the bigots who hate mutants are reduced, as had been suggested in comics in the early 2000s, to a minority, then that frees the team to fight on a wider field and for an even higher cause:  the protection of the two races from unsavory characters on Earth or in the galaxy.

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The Inhumans have suffered in a similar way.  Having existed as a race for millennia, they retreated from humanity to avoid persecution.  Living in hidden cities, they created their own culture, form of writing, and technology.  However, having made contact with humanity again, they continue to react intolerantly against normal humans first in an attempt to protect themselves.

How is this sensible?  How is this a “more highly evolved” attitude than that of normal humans?  If anything this reaction proves that you can build superhuman powers into humanity, but you cannot change human nature, no matter how hard you try.

Both of these teams have fallen into the bigoted tendencies that they either once fought against or retreated from facing.  Once the receivers – or potential receivers – of these attitudes, they are not willing to give rational normal humans the benefit of the doubt.  They instead react prejudicially toward them.

This is what saddens me the most about “Inhumans Among Us.”  Marvel, just like most other media institutions and academia, cannot let go of these hatreds.  Once seeking to fight against them, they have now become their biggest propagators.  They claim they are still combating intolerance when in fact they have embraced it.

This is the main reason I lost interest in the X-Men and never had much interest in the Inhumans.  If they are not willing to let go of past hurts and fears, then they will eventually become the new aggressors, the new bigots, the new haters.  Their writers have already fallen prey to this mentality, all the while thinking that they are helping to eradicate it in others.  They are not.  They are further dividing their audience, having succumbed to their own preconceptions of what is tolerant and intolerant.

This is a hard truth to speak, readers.  It is an even harder truth to hear.  We all like to think we are good people.  Only the most vile are exempt from this.  Everyone else thinks that because they have good intentions they are in fact good people.

But good intentions accomplished through bad means end up being evil deeds.  A lot of the people who supported the Nazi Party had good intentions.  They wanted their country to be strong again, they wanted their currency to be worth something, and they wanted their national and cultural identity to be respected.  But how many people – Jews, Catholics, Gypsies, and others – paid the price for those good things to “come about”?  How many died because the Russians who supported the Soviet system envisioned by Lenin and implemented by Stalin “just” wanted to make the lives of their fellows better?  And how many good-intentioned people ended up losing their heads under Madame Guillotine’s “gentle” administrations during the French Revolution?

The answer to these questions is:  too many.  Are we to repeat these well-intentioned people’s mistakes?  Mistakes are to be learned from but, if you learn the wrong lesson, you end up with the same result.  You just get there by a different path.

We learned the wrong lesson.  And we are beginning to pay the price.  If we do not stop and ask ourselves, honestly and without fear, what we are actually doing wrong…. then we will end up in the same place and in the same hellish circumstances.  And it will have happened all for the sake of “good intentions.”

The truth is all we need seek when we ask these questions, for the truth and The Truth are all that will set us free.  Everything else are traps and darkness, for the soul if not the body.   One is more precious than the other and needs greater care because of that.

Look for the truth, readers, and do not stop until you find it.  It is the only thing worth finding, the only thing worth living for…

And the only thing worth dying for.

The Mithril Guardian

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Captain America: Civil War – Sam Wilson/Falcon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Team Iron is standing in their way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ever higher, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

Captain America: Civil War – Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scarlet Witch fights Vision in 'Civil War'.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See ya around!

The Mithril Guardian

Scarlet Witch

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Iron Man/Tony Stark

Really, dude?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pepper and Tony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hulk SMASH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that only made things worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch ya later!

The Mithril Guardian

Iron Man

Avengers Assemble’s Third Season – How is it so far?

Earth's mightiest heroes — Hawkeye, Black Widow, Captain

Avengers: Ultron Revolution is in full swing now, readers! What do I think of it so far?

It is a definite improvement, in several respects, over the previous seasons. For one, the animation has gotten better. It is a subtle detail, and not one I usually notice. But reviewing some footage from seasons one and two, I realized season three’s animation is smoother and more streamlined. Certainly a plus!

On the subject of pluses, Hawkeye has done better over the first few episodes than he has in the prior two seasons. He is behaving in a less immature manner – although the writers have naturally maintained his penchant for overconfidence – and this has me really excited. Not only that, but Clint’s gotten some serious scenes as well, especially in the episodes Under Siege, Thunderbolts, and Thunderbolts Revealed. Fingers crossed that he only gets more like himself as the series plays on!

Black Widow has also improved. Firing off colorful quips and smiling more genuinely now, she has made a welcome change from her stoic, faux-Amazonian portrayal in previous seasons. More to the point, she and Hawkeye have yet to bicker petulantly as they did in the last two seasons of the series. Her strong friendship with Cap is also given the spotlight in Saving Captain Rogers, the third episode of the season. Let’s hope the writers keep this depiction up in future episodes, leaving the stereotype in the dustbin!

Hulk has done nicely so far this season, too. And we have had two episodes of Ultron Revolution give us a look at the new and improved Dr. Bruce Banner! We have not seen him in any real capacity since Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes! and two episodes of Assemble’s previous seasons. Those appearances were brief and left us wondering why we did not see more of him. Hulk is also showing a better balance between “rage-filled” smashing and “thoughtful” smashing. His character arc this time is shaping up to be very interesting.

Falcon’s in college as of Ultimates, and so far we have not gotten to see as much of him as I would like. However, he has proved himself to be even more capable now than he was in season two. It is clear the experiences he has had throughout the series have helped him to grow, and with him studying to be an engineer, Sam can only get harder to beat as the Ultron Revolution proceeds!

Cap’s character is still a little too stiff at times, but all in all he is doing fine. Saving Captain Rogers did not put him in the best light, though. I mean, how easy is it to hypnotize Captain America and keep him under the spell? The important thing is that he broke out of it, and hopefully it will be harder to get control of him in future episodes. 😉

Thor has become more familiar with Earth by this time, too, though he is not fitting in exactly. But watching him go trick-or-treating with a couple of his young fans was priceless! It also shows his softer side, and I like it when the heroes get to be kind to kids. It strengthens their character – and Thor’s moral fiber got a real boost at the end of Into the Dark Dimension!

As of this moment, Tony’s character is balancing on the thin line between “improved” and “about to crash.” This is natural, since there is a Civil War story arc in the series’ future, and the writers want to set up the basis for that conflict as early as possible. Tony feels responsible in the extreme for Ultron’s existence, proved in the first episodes of the new season: Adapting to Change and Ultimates. When he is fighting against the mechanical maniac, he is broody and has a propensity to act rashly, attacking with everything he has and making the safety of himself and his team a low priority.

This was nicely reversed, for a moment, in Saving Captain Rogers. Hearing a scream of pain from further inside Baron Helmut Zemo’s castle, Tony says, “If that’s Cap, I’m going to glue my fist to Zemo’s face!” (It was not Cap, but the sentiment is what counts.) The line reminds us of their friendship in previous shows and the older comics. Call me a nostalgic, but I still prefer that friendship to the “frenemy” status the writers have thrust upon the two these days. For one thing, it makes the stories more hopeful. And in today’s world, hope is a commodity in short supply!

Another great thing about this season was the introduction of the Thunderbolts, first in their criminal identities, later in their superhero “cloaks.” While I am still no fan of Moonstone/Meteorite and remain suspicious of Fixer/Techno, Atlas had a good introduction here. I have to say that I like this version of him better than his comic book counterpart. Mach IV, formerly the Beetle, also had an impressive showing in Ultron Revolution. It would be great to see more of him.

But the character I was most excited to see come on stage was Screaming Mimi/Songbird. Of all the criminals-turned-Thunderbolts who became heroes in the comics, Songbird was the only one who completely turned over a new leaf. Mach IV tagged along after her, not hard to do considering they were in love by that point. Songbird has since become a staunch hero worthy of fans’ admiration, and to see her journey in Avengers: Ultron Revolution was FANTASTIC!

What made it even better was the fact that Hawkeye was her inspiration and informal mentor in the episodes, with some help from Cap in Thunderbolts Revealed. In the comics, Hawkeye was the one who convinced the Thunderbolts to stop pretending heroism and to really take on the mantle. His leadership was a smashing success… at least as long as he was in charge of the team. Sometime after he left, Moonstone went back to her old ways, as did Fixer, though I think he continued to use the Techno alias.

Songbird, however, was the biggest triumph of Hawkeye’s time as leader of the Thunderbolts. So watching her turn into a heroine over the course of Under Siege, Thunderbolts, and Thunderbolts Revealed on his prodding and due to Cap’s faith in her was GREAT!!!! It not only showed Clint’s more serious side, it proved his ability to teach and lead by example. Those are characteristics of his which others often ignore, though they make him a great instructor in the MC2 universe, as well as the Avengers Academy in the old “mainstream” universe.

Speaking of the old “mainstream” universe, we cannot forget how Clint taught Kate Bishop in those comics. Even if she was supposed to be his female replacement somewhere down the line (Kate Bishop, Clint Barton – their names are too similar for this not to have been the writers’ intention), the fact that he decided to mentor her at all demonstrates that he cares. In some ways, Hawkeye is a little like Wolverine. He can be annoying and a jerk, overconfident and insulting… but underneath all that, he has a heart of gold. And if you can get past his prickly outer shell, he is a loyal ally, great friend, and willing teacher. The fact that Avengers: Ultron Revolution is FINALLY ready to show him as such is a welcome change for this fan!

The only thing I really want the writers to do now is hand the reins of the Avengers over to Captain America. If they could also make him less stiff and allow him to relax, then I would be very happy.

The series is doing well, but Cap playing second fiddle to Tony makes the show feel somewhat off balance. After all, Steve is team leader in the films, and he was the leader for the Avengers in the “mainstream” comics for YEARS. Seeing Tony run the Avengers while Cap stands aside feels like watching Batman run the Justice League as Superman sits by and takes orders from him. The JLA’s commander in chief is Superman, and Batman acts as his second, with Wonder Woman supporting the two of them. Putting Bats in charge of the League and having Superman as his “water boy” just feels off.

Cap can, is, and should be the head of the Avengers’ pyramid, with Tony directly on his right as his second in command. This fan/writer would appreciate it if the guys in charge of Marvel recognized and acted on that in Avengers: Ultron Revolution – not to mention the comics!!! (I won’t be holding my breath for that, though.)

The series is still young, of course, and there is time for it to grow. It already has developed a fair bit by this point. I am looking forward to seeing more heroes arrive as this season progresses, as well as the character growth in store for the seven Avengers who formed the team at the start of the series. Once Ultron Revolution is at an end, you may hear from me on this subject yet again, readers. Until that time….

Avengers Assemble!

The Mithril Guardian

Marvel's Avengers: Ultron Revolution