Tag Archives: Tony Stark

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff

Black Widow

Okay, I have to swallow a prognostication I repeated several times in my predictions’ posts, readers. Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner really do have a romance going on the side in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

It was, honest to goodness, a surprise to me. I did not believe Whedon would do it. But I also did not think Hawkeye’s family would be in Age of Ultron, so I am batting a thousand on several fronts.

All in all, the Natasha/Bruce romance was not so bad, in my opinion. Whedon may have made it a little sugary in places, but Natasha telling Bruce exactly how messed up she was by her Red Room trainers was very eloquent.

That scene also reveals Natasha’s low opinion of herself. She explained there that she sees herself as a monster. Never mind the fact that she is practically Hawkeye’s adopted sister, that she’s been an Avenger for almost three years, and has helped to save countless lives since Clint redeemed her from the “Dark Side.” She still has not forgiven herself for what she was trained, forced, and chose to do in her past.

That weighs her down. She has been forgiven by her friends and her “battle brother” has children who adore her like she was their blood aunt. But because she has not forgiven herself, she is still securely chained to her past, as we saw when Wanda hypnotized her in the bone yard in Africa.

Readers, we unfortunately cannot discuss Natasha Romanoff’s role in Age of Ultron without mentioning that there was a lot of rage about her portrayal in the film going around after the movie premiered. Though this is not something I empathize with at all, I have strong beliefs about the “rage” that sent certain people into a flurry of Internet activity. Also, this post is discussing Natasha’s role in the film, as well as her character, both of which were savaged in the hours following Ultron’s theater release. So the “rage” that ran rampant on the Internet has to be addressed.

Apparently, there were several groups who had gripes about Widow’s part in the film. One offended group said that having Ultron lock her up in a cell was demeaning.

Excuse me?! He rips her off the Cradle, flies her back to his base, during which time she is completely stunned by the impact of his attack. When she comes to in the HYDRA base Ultron commandeered in Sokovia, she finds herself facing an eight foot tall robot who could snap her like a twig – especially with his new, vibranium-plated body!

No amount of kung fu in anything less than the Iron Man armor would have protected her from him if he had decided to stop playing games and kill her. When faced with a metal monstrosity one cannot physically beat, the only sensible way to stay alive is to get as far away from it as one can. Natasha very wisely backs away from Ultron and into a room, which turns out to be a prison cell, where he locks her up (as he intended). She cannot bust the lock with the little equipment she has on hand, and he physically outmatches her. The only possible way she can survive long enough to help stop Ultron is to sit tight and signal her team – or rather, Bruce Banner – to come and get her out.  (Not to mention tell the Avengers where Ultron is.)

I see no problem with this scene, in so far as Natasha wisely keeps herself alive to fight later on. Any other captured member of the Avengers would have done something similar, as the cell was the nearest accessible point of refuge. And Natasha’s rescue, as far as I am concerned, was perfectly normal. It was also a great way to show that Beauty does not always need to rescue the Beast (sorry, Bruce).

Another crowd was apparently angry about the scene at Hawkeye’s farm, where we learn that Natasha was sterilized by the Red Room operators and, as a result, is unable to have children.

*Sigh.*

Okay, either these people did not – and do not – want to do their research on Marvel’s characters, or they take everything in the films at face value. Both of these attitudes are preposterous, because the filmmakers cannot, after a point, make up the characters and the stories out of whole cloth. Marvel will not and cannot let them do that if they are to preserve the integrity of their characters and storylines for their fans. It will not work, because the movies will not sell if it is attempted.

So I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the fact is that in the “mainstream” comics, it was already a well established fact that Natasha Romanoff and the other Black Widows were all sterilized. The film version of the process is actually more thorough than the comic book depiction. In the comics, it was the Soviet version of Cap’s super soldier serum, which the Red Room handlers used to enhance their “charges,” that rendered the Black Widows sterile.

Was this a result of the Red Room serum’s inferiority to Dr. Erskine’s serum, or was it a planned “defect” the Soviets purposefully added to the mix? The point is debatable, but I lean toward the latter argument. If the Widows could not have children, it was “one less thing [for their handlers] to worry about.” And why should a Widow respect the lives of others when her own life had been so completely and carefully stolen from her?

The people who trained/raised Natasha wanted “a liar and a killer” who would do whatever they told her to do. They brainwashed her and the other girls, tore them down mentally and emotionally over and over again, until the girls could and would be whoever and whatever they needed them to be to get what they [the handlers] wanted. Natasha Romanoff was a tool, a slave, which they could remote control. They tried to erase everything – everything – in her that would possibly make her want to stop working for them. They did not manage to erase everything, which Clint figured out real quick, but the fact is that they wiped out a whole lot.

The most important thing they erased was Natasha’s ability to have children. All the brainwashing and training in the world cannot get rid of the potential that a female operative in Natasha’s line of work might have children. The one thing left that could probably unlock the chains the Red Room handlers had wrapped her in was that if, during a mission, a Black Widow had a child.

The child did not necessarily have to be born; it just had to be conceived. Once that happened, there would be no threat on earth, no chain under heaven, which could possibly convince Natasha or any other Black Widow to keep on playing the role of killing machine. Not when they had an innocent life they wanted – needed – to protect. The best way the Red Room could make certain that Natasha and the other Widows remained loyal slaves of the Soviet regime was to remove any chance that these women could have children.

The thing to remember, readers, is that Natasha can still lead a fairly normal life. This is something Bruce knows and she has not yet realized. Natasha cannot physically have children, but she could still get married and adopt a child or a number of children. She is fond of children. Bruce saw that at Hawkeye’s farm. In all truth, I think Natasha would make one hell of an adoptive mother. Having been deprived of her innocence, she knows how precious it is and is therefore willing to protect innocents – children especially – with everything she has. That is basically all you need in a mother.

But because Natasha will not forgive herself for her past, she has not moved on to that chance at a mostly normal life. She stays where she is, still chained by her guilt, by the idea that she is a monster manufactured by even worse fiends. Frankly, I am glad Whedon put this note about what the Red Room did to her in the movie. It ties back to the original comics and it adds a dose of hard reality to the film and the franchise. I think it needed to be there.

Of course, some other offended viewers also say that Natasha’s part in these scenes is demeaning because it makes her “less of a role model” for young girls. Pardon me for being so “backward thinking,” but I dare say that if Natasha Romanoff herself heard the words “role model” applied to her, she would laugh in the face of whoever called her such a thing!

Natasha Romanoff’s code name is the Black Widow, people. It happens to be a name she shares with a poisonous North American spider that is supposed to kill and eat its male mate. In her role as a Soviet spy, Natasha killed hundreds of people. And not just men, though they were very likely her primary category of targets. The stories about real black widows say that they kill and eat their male mates, after all.

But a deleted scene from The Winter Soldier shows the main villain of the film, Alexander Pierce, mentioning that Natasha had a role in something called the “Children’s War.” So it would appear that the Soviets were indiscriminate when they told Natasha who to target. If her handlers told her to take someone down, she did it. No reservations, no mercy, no regrets; she killed whoever they marked for death. End of one hellaciously ugly story.

So if the Black Widow, a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff, is a role model for young modern girls, does that mean we want our girls to grow up to be “liars and killers” like she was – and still is, occasionally? That is what Natasha would ask, and what she would see as the implication in people calling her a role model!

If Natasha wanted young girls to turn out like her, I do not think she would be letting Lila Barton draw pictures of butterflies or encouraging her in other traditionally “girly” pursuits. Considering Natasha supports the child in these activities, I think she wants Lila to turn out more like Laura than like her!

All of this is not to imply, readers, that I think young girls should not admire Natasha Romanoff. I admire and like her quite a lot, actually! However, I would be much happier if people allowed girls to admire and look up to Natasha for the right reason.

That reason is this: Natasha was raised to be a “liar and a killer.” But one day, she chose to be something else. She chose to do the right thing when she had been brainwashed and programmed into believing that making such a choice was to choose weakness. Despite years of training and programming, Natasha did something her handlers had believed was impossible for her to do: she made a choice of her own free will.

And that choice was to be someone good, someone who was not the “liar and killer” her handlers had spent so much time and energy molding her to be.

In making this choice, Natasha found herself. She left the Darkness behind and entered the Light. This is an extremely brave choice to make, something girls who admire Natasha should understand. Her choice had to have scared her to death on some level. Going from complete Darkness to bright sunlight for someone in her position is quite the change. But she did it anyway.

She was alone, seemingly, when she made this decision. But, as we know, she was not alone after she made her choice. No one who makes the choice to leave the Darkness for the Light ever walks alone; they are always provided with a guide of some sort. In Natasha’s case, her guide was Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye. This is the reason that they are best friends in the films. Hawkeye was there for her when she needed someone to help her learn to see in the brightly lit world she had just entered. Let’s face it; you are going to stumble around when you blink a lot. And Natasha probably did a lot of “blinking” in order to get her feet under her after she chose her new path. (So she was very lucky she had a guide with the eyes of a Hawk!)

All this talk about Natasha “learning to make choices for herself,” is from people who are not looking at her properly. Natasha has already made a series of independent choices, starting with the one where she said to herself, “I will do what I know, in the law written on my heart, is right,” and followed through. She then made the choice to join up with Clint and follow him into SHIELD. In making that decision, she chose to protect people. Then she chose to become an Avenger when Loki tried to take over the world. In The Winter Soldier, she chose to help Cap stop HYDRA, even when it meant letting the world see her gruesome past sins. After this painful episode, she decided to be an Avenger full-time.

Hulk SMASH

These are all very big choices that Natasha has made in Marvel’s movies, perhaps without truly realizing the full implications of what she was choosing. And in Age of Ultron, Natasha made another big choice. She chose to fall in love with Bruce Banner.

Think about it. She was very likely trained to believe that love of any kind was weakness. But she fell in love with Hawkeye as a brother figure, she who had never known even the love of sisters, since the Red Room violently discouraged the sisterly instincts of the Widows it manufactured. (Check out the Agent Carter episodes on the Red Room to learn more about that.) Then Natasha found sisterly love with her battle brother’s wife Laura, and learned to love like an aunt by interacting with the Barton children.

But with her own ability to have children gone, how could she possibly find love with a man? If she fell in love with a man who wanted children, how would he react to the news that she simply could not have any? How would she take being married to the man of her dreams but being without the ability to make their marriage a family life?

So she shut herself off from romantic love. “Love is for children, I owe him [Clint] a debt,” she told Loki in The Avengers. It was not a lie; it was a way of protecting herself and others from disappointment. Loki thought he had found a woman like Sif: a warrior female who loved battle but who would also willingly surrender her warrior duties to have a family at the first opportunity of finding real love. He never realized that Natasha did not have any such designs for her future, for the simple reason that others had denied her that dream long ago. The only thing she felt she had left was her job at SHIELD, and later, her job as an Avenger.

But in Age of Ultron, Natasha did fall in love – with Bruce Banner. And he could not have children, either, so it was a total win-win scenario for the both of them, right?

Sadly no, it was not, and Bruce knew it. Even if he could not articulate it, he knew it. Natasha, once she lets go of her past and starts thinking the way she should, will realize that normalcy is not something unattainable for her. She could easily fall in love with a guy, marry him, and adopt a few children. There is nothing abnormal about that process and, as I said above, I think Natasha would make one hell of an adoptive mother.

Yes, readers, Bruce also left Natasha because she threw him down a hole to awaken the Hulk so they could “finish the job.” Right when Bruce was perfectly prepared, for once in his life, to run off and leave the “job” unfinished. But I do not think Bruce hates her for it. The Hulk certainly did not look furious when he shut down the comm. on the Aveng-jet. But he did look very sad.

Why?

Because he and Bruce both know that they have no room in their life for anything or anyone normal. Bruce cannot be a father. It just will not work. Hulk cannot be a father either. There is nowhere in the world they can go without risking hurting someone. They can never give Natasha what they both know she deserves and is almost ready for: a husband and a family.

Even though the fact that Bruce and Natasha cannot have children is something they have in common, Bruce would not be the greatest adoptive dad in the world. The Hulk wants his say in everything in Bruce’s life. Bruce and the Hulk may be able to avoid being a threat to Natasha, but what about children? The Hulk has a soft spot for kids, sure, but not on a daily basis!

Natasha has not quite worked that out yet, from what we can tell. She fell in love with a man, for the first time in her life, and she knows that Bruce shut off the comm. to protect her. But – as of the end of Age of Ultron – Natasha may not yet truly realize just why and what he is protecting her from. Bruce can never lead a normal or semi-normal life. Never. Until the day he dies, he will always be contending for physical/mental space with “the big guy.” There is not room in his earthly life for anyone else.

But Natasha can have a mostly normal life, and Bruce knows it. He also knows that denying her that opportunity for such a life would make him just as bad as her old Red Room handlers. And he loves her too much to do that to her. The best thing Bruce can do for her – the only thing he can do for her – is to let Natasha go and find someone she can live a normal life with. He had to do the same thing for Betty Ross. If anything, Natasha needs the opportunity more than Thunderbolt Ross’ daughter ever did.

Before I sign off, readers, there is one more thing I should say about Natasha’s role in Age of Ultron. It was a good role, and viewed as she should be, Natasha Romanoff is a character any girl can admire and enjoy. She deserves that admiration, not for her skills or her knowledge, but for her decision to do the right thing, no matter how much it hurts her. Hopefully, she will keep up the good work. We will have to wait to see the end of Civil War to know just how well she gets off in Phase Three of Marvel’s film franchise.

As a fan of Natasha’s, I sure hope she makes the right choice again in Civil War. Otherwise, she will just be left with more guilt and sorrow. I do not wish that on her or anyone else, readers.

Excelsior!

The Mithril Guardian

Captain America The Winter Soldier

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Captain America/Steve Rogers

Captain America

Captain America/Steve Rogers is one of my favorite characters ever. I thoroughly enjoy both of the previous Captain America films, and Cap’s part in The Avengers was one of the big selling points of that film for me.

Despite getting crowded in several scenes, Cap still came out swinging in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Literally. It is always nice to see what new tricks Cap has up his sleeve for a battle. Though he has no super strength, Cap is at peak human strength – he can bench press 1,200 pounds! (Do not try this at home, kids!) So throwing a motorcycle at an oncoming vehicle is not too far a stretch of the imagination…. And it is pretty cool!!! 🙂

The wonderful thing about Cap’s part in Age of Ultron is his relationship with his fellow Avengers. Why is this so wonderful? Because throughout the film we see that Steve Rogers is the “center” of the team. He is the one they all listen to, turn to for orders or advice…

Oh, and he is the man they have to answer to when they do something wrong. (Sound familiar, Tony? Ringing any bells, Bruce?)

As an example, consider Cap’s relationship with Thor in Age of Ultron. Thor and Cap have always been great friends in the comics. I do not know if the two have ever fought each other as Tony and Cap will in Civil War – they may have, I just do not know if they did.

Throughout the film, we see that the two have developed a mutual respect and trust. They use tag team tactics – first at Strucker’s HYDRA base, then in Novi Grad – when they fight side by side in a battle. This friendship was foreshadowed in Thor: The Dark World, when Loki tormented Thor on their way out of Asgard by playing juvenile tricks. One of the ways he irritated the Thunderer was by turning into Captain America and acting like a dork.

I do not think Thor was rough with Loki after that just because there were guards nearby. It was a good excuse to shut up a genuinely irritating Trickster. Out of all the Avengers who Loki could have chosen to imitate to annoy his adopted brother, he picked Cap.

That is not a coincidence. Loki knows Thor too well to just pick a barb to jab him with at random. He chose Cap on purpose because he knew doing so would get Thor’s goat.

Okay, I have to beg your indulgence here, readers, because I am going to detour for a minute and go back to the hammer lifting competition Hawkeye started. As we know, Cap budged the hammer and Thor very nearly turned white as a sheet. Since seeing this, a lot of people have said that Cap cannot lift Mjolnir in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Only Thor and Vision can wield the hammer in the movies because they are worthy.

Ummm, sorry, no. Cap actually has used Mjolnir at least once in recent, “mainstream” comics. He is as worthy to wield that hammer as Thor or Vision. He can lift and use Mjolnir in the comics and, I am sure, in the movies as well.

All right, some say, if I am so sure of this then how do I explain Cap leaving the hammer on the table after budging it in Age of Ultron? Well, Thor was planning to take the scepter back to Asgard after the Avengers retrieved it. That was made pretty clear. The party Ultron crashes is essentially Thor’s “good-bye for the next little while” bash. What kind of friend would Steve be if he embarrassed Thor at an event like that? Steve left the hammer where it was. He did not complain that the hammer was too heavy for him like the others did, but raised his hands in an “Okay, I tried it, that’s it,” manner and walked away.

Forget for a minute that Cap let go of a power others would have snatched up in a moment; the scene shows the respect he has for Thor. He will not steal his buddy’s thunder. (Sorry, but I had to! :)) Thor knows he can lift the hammer, and Steve knows he can lift the hammer. That is good enough for Cap.

Now, does this mean that Cap would not use Mjolnir in an emergency? I believe the reason he grabbed the hammer in the comics was because the world was experiencing an enormous emergency, and Thor was incapacitated. So yes, I think Cap would pick up Mjolnir in the films if he had to, or if Thor tossed it to him. But if he does not need it, he is not going to take it from his friend. This is one of the foundations of Thor’s trust and respect for Steve Rogers.

And this is why Thor releases his choke hold on Tony when Cap asks him to put the billionaire genius down. He will fume and storm (maybe literally), but when Steve asks him to do something, Thor will do it. Not because he is intimidated by Cap but because he respects him.

We also see that Cap and Natasha’s respectful, affable rapport in The Winter Soldier has grown stronger. Just like the friendship between Tony and Rhodey is given a good showing in Age of Ultron, Cap and Natasha are shown to be tighter compatriots in this movie. When in their previous adventures together would he have thrown her the shield to use in battle? Natasha could not handle the weapon prior to Ultron, and her use of it in Novi Grad implies that Cap has trained her in rudimentary use of his shield at least. That speaks volumes right there!

Cap’s friendship with Bruce has also grown and expanded by the time we see them together again in Ultron. We have known since The Avengers that Steve sympathizes with Bruce – and that Cap is one of the few people the Hulk will take orders from, especially if that order is to “Smash.” We do not get to see Cap interact with the Hulk much in Ultron (bummer), but we do see that he and Bruce get along pretty well now.

This is made poignantly clear when Cap quietly tells Bruce he should start dating Natasha. He refers to the fact that he waited too long to accept Peggy’s advances and has since paid the price, urging Bruce not to make the same mistake. It is a sweet, if a little flabbergasting, scene. I was not expecting Natasha and Bruce to be an item in the movie, and I was definitely not expecting Cap to give their budding romance his seal of approval!

Still, it makes sense. And it shows that Cap holds Bruce in high regard. Bruce is not a pawn to him, a machine you press a big green button on to unleash a nuclear option. He is a friend Cap wants to protect and prevent from making what he believes is a mistake.

As I have said elsewhere, I was really happy with the friendship between Cap and Hawkeye in this film. Everybody likes to describe Clint as a loner since the movies have come out, and it is true that he has not always been the happiest of team players. Why this is in the movies, I am not sure; in the comics it was because he did not have good experiences with people in authority.

In the films, Clint is much more mature, and so there is no battle of wills between him and Cap as there were in the original comics. Instead, the two appreciate each other, in the way that commanders and valued officers often do. Clint is shown to defer to Steve when the other has an order for him (though not always happily).

It is of particular interest (to me) that he does not answer Cap with the “yes, sir, no, sir” he used on Fury in The Avengers. When he tells Steve in Novi Grad that he and Wanda have cleaned up their section of the city, he does not address Cap by rank or as “sir.” Cap responds similarly, saying, “We are not clear! We are very not clear!”

Clint’s reply is not the robotic soldier’s but the comrade-in-arms’: “All right, comin’ to ya.”

The two get on well as battle brothers, with Cap obviously being the “elder brother” while Clint is the loyal “younger brother.” Of all the members of his team, Cap can probably count most on Thor and Hawkeye backing him up in a fight. Though Clint naturally stays out of Cap’s fight with Tony in Avengers’ Tower, he does so for practical reasons. He divested himself of his gear when he got to the Tower, and he cannot handle repulsor blasts as well as Cap can! They would knock him down for the count, whereas a repulsor shot simply knocks Steve over.

10869325_591589580977275_2778898650041679518_o

Cap is not given much time to get to know the twins or Vision in Age of Ultron, but we know that Wanda takes to him pretty quick. For his part, though Cap growls at the twins after they help him stop the train running amok through South Korea, he does not appear to truly resent Wanda or her brother for what they did to him and his team in Africa.

Instead, he listens to Wanda’s warning about Tony trying to “fix” the problem again, and accepts that she is probably right. He then brings both her and her brother to the Tower. This is quite a lot of trust to show to someone who hypnotized him – and was probably prepared to kill him – not too long ago!

Wanda’s way of speaking to Cap when she met him in Korea is not belligerent, as it might have been with Thor, Bruce, and definitely with Tony. She is instead respectful – if a little desperate – and she speaks to him as one would speak to a trusted authority figure. Even if she was afraid of him, she did not show it. Score another point for Cap’s ability to “walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch”!

Little is shown of how Pietro and Cap regard each other. What is made clear, however, is that there is no rivalry between the two, as there is between Quicksilver and Hawkeye. Pietro even seems to look up to Cap, taking especial note when the First Avenger says that everyone in the Aveng-jet has signed up to die if they have to in order to stop Ultron. “But the people of Sokovia didn’t.”

That gets Pietro’s attention. He realizes then that Cap is not speaking in platitudes or preaching sermons. He understands suddenly that Steve Rogers is not a propaganda piece of the U.S. government or of any government. He is willing to defend Pietro’s country as well as his own simply because it is the right thing to do.

As Cap said when Maria Hill gave him the dirt she has gathered on the twins, he empathizes with Pietro and his sister. They have seen their country and its people trampled by one dictator/power-grabber after another, and they are fed up with it. He understands that they want to end their nation’s suffering, and that they were desperate enough to fight for their country that they allowed HYDRA to experiment on them.

In this scene aboard the Aveng-jet, Pietro learns that Cap truly does empathize with him and his sister. This cements his loyalty to the team and makes him amenable to Cap’s orders. It is as close as we get to a nod to the comics; in the original stories, Pietro seemed to respect Cap as a father-figure. This scene hints that their relationship in Age of Ultron is not very different from that in the “mainstream” comics.

When Pietro is killed, Cap rushes over to him and Clint to find out if anything can be done for their speedy young recruit. This is a good scene for Cap, because it shows how much Pietro learned from him in the short time he knew him. Steve Rogers is willing to die for his friends and for strangers. Pietro knew the boy Clint was holding, but he only knew the archer as an Avenger and former enemy – one he had a rivalry with, at that! But by fighting alongside the Avengers, under Cap’s command, Pietro learned everything he needed to know to be a true hero.

It is for this reason Cap sees to it that Pietro’s body is not left behind on the floating city the Avengers have to destroy. Though they knew each other only for a little while, it is clear Cap respects the boy Pietro was, and honors the man he became when he sacrificed himself to save Hawkeye and a civilian child. Not a perfect ending for their friendship in the films, certainly, but …. *Shrug.*

As for Vision – intellectually, he and Cap appear to agree on a lot. Cap is only distrustful of him because the last robot he met was trying to kill him. In this respect, Vision and Cap are still learning how to understand each other. Vision is totally new, inexperienced, and unprepared for life. He also possesses enormous power, intellect, and knowledge. That is a tricky thing to deal with; you basically have to learn to care for a child with a genius IQ in an adult’s body. And then you have to factor in the added difficulty that the adult body has far more power than a normal human adult has!

From what I know of the comics – and the show Earth’s Mightiest Heroes – Cap and Vision are very good friends. It makes their coming Civil War split all the more heart wrenching, especially since Vision will still be learning in that film. He is about to get an especially hard, nasty lesson in human affairs – and he will be studying that lesson opposite Cap. Ouch!

I have left Cap’s relationship with Tony ‘til last. Some complain that Cap and Tony have barely had time to form a friendship within the film franchise. But the truth is that they are, in fact, very good friends within the film franchise. Before Tony is subjected to the vision which puts him on the path to building the maniacal Ultron, we see that he and Cap have indeed gotten over the antagonism they demonstrated toward each other in The Avengers.

This is made most obvious, paradoxically, when Wanda hypnotizes Tony. In his vision, Wanda showed Tony his greatest fear. Tony sees most of his close friends dead and dying (in the case of the Hulk). The first ‘body’ he goes to is not only the one which is closest to him physically, but the body of the person he has come to greatly value and admire. Cap is one of his closest and best friends, in part because Steve is a great friend to everybody who earns his respect and amity. In part, they are also friends because Steve is a much more likable link to Tony’s father than Fury ever could be.

In the vision, to Tony’s horror, Cap suddenly grabs him and accuses him of failing to protect the Avengers, as well as the Earth. This, more than anything else, is what goads Tony into rushing “the Ultron program” through to completion – and setting off the events of the film.

Cap does not know what Tony saw, because Tony never tells him. So Cap can only assume that whatever Wanda showed his friend “made [him] do something stupid.” And Cap is right. What Tony did was unbelievably stupid. He was afraid, and he allowed his fear to master him and “make him self-destruct.”

Having faced failure and the loss of friends in battle, Cap is no longer afraid of failing. He has learned never to lose hope during these moments of apparent defeat. Natasha noted this in The Winter Soldier: “Well, you seem pretty chipper for a guy who just found out he died for nothing,” she quipped.

Steve’s response was to smile – smile! – as he sat back and replied, “Well, I guess I just like to know who I’m fighting.”

This is the difference between Tony and Cap. At least, it is the difference between them in the films. Cap has experience losing a battle, just like Tony does, but he knows a lost battle does not necessarily mean a lost war. Losing one engagement, Steve finds a way back into the war and keeps on fighting. “You run away, they’ll never let you stop,” he told Peggy in The First Avenger, “You get up, you push back.”

Tony has not experienced defeat in quite the same way. Oh, sure, he has been kicked in the teeth and picked himself up to fight again. But in the case of the films, where Cap jumps up and runs right back into the fight, Tony usually needs time to get his breath back. He has to decide to fight.

Cap does not do that. He decides to fight from the get-go, and he fights to win, no matter how long it takes or how much it costs him. He fights in an all-or-nothing manner which Tony does not. This is what he tried and continues to try to communicate to Tony in the films, starting in The Avengers. In that movie, Cap attempted to explain that in a war you will, inevitably, lose something. It could be anything: a limb; blood; time; innocence and naïveté; your sense of security; your friend(s), and even your own life. Accepting that does not make anything about a war easier. But it gives you more reason to try and end the conflict quickly, so that others will be spared your loss.

In Age of Ultron, Tony was looking forward to a future war and trying to stop it before it started. As Cap says, you cannot do that. “Always in motion is the future,” said Yoda.

It is obvious Cap understood this Star Wars line better than Tony did. What Yoda meant and what Cap understands is that trying to stop a war that has not happened can lead to the very conflict you are trying to prevent. The treaty of Versailles was supposed to be the end of all wars in the West, but it actually marked the beginning of “half time,” which ended with the opening of World War II. The result of Tony’s plan to shield the planet from outside attack was a digital creature bent on eradicating humanity from the face of the Earth.

Great plans, both of them. They each failed miserably.

If Tony had instead spoken about his vision, told the others of his fears, they might have worked something out. Or at least accepted that they could be in for one hell of a fight in the future, and that it might be a war they would not walk away from. Instead, he tried to fix a problem before it happened.

Temporal mechanics are not controlled. You may be able to modify a car engine so that it has a slim chance of breaking down over the course of a thousand years of use, but human – and in the case of the Avengers, alien – affairs cannot be so easily rectified. If you are going to sign up to be a “bouncer” for the world, you had better be prepared to do your job or die trying. The result of “bouncers” such as the Avengers resigning or not doing their job is “global extinction.” Cap knows this. Tony is learning it – the hard way.

Speaking of visions, one of my prognostications said that when Wanda hypnotized everyone, she would try to paralyze Cap with regret. I still think that prognostication is not far off the mark. She gave Tony a vision of his greatest fear: failing his team and the world, while remaining the only one alive when all was said and done. She threw Natasha’s worst memories at her, hitting the Black Widow in the one place it truly hurts. And whatever she made Bruce see, it made him angry enough that he was happy to fight her without even turning green.

What she did to Thor is different. Asgardians are not human, but if Wanda was going after Thor’s greatest fear, I am pretty sure she missed it. What she might have done was trigger some latent foresight abilities he may have inherited from dear old dad. Odin can see almost as much as Heimdall. He just keeps most of it to himself, a la Nick Fury. (Funny how they are each missing an eye, don’t you think?)

If this last is what Wanda did, then Thor alone got a look at something more than smoke and mirrors. He had actual glimpses of the future, something his journey to the dream well proves true.

But what does Cap see when Wanda hypnotizes him? A welcome home party for the World War II troops, complete with Peggy Carter. Everything he ever wanted – and everything he cannot have the way he wanted it.

Tony is wrong. Wanda’s hallucination did leave Cap a little unsteady. But he did not run off the deep end, like Tony did, which is why Tony never realizes that Cap’s vision did in fact upset him. We do not know what feelings Wanda stirred up in Cap until after Thor takes off to get some answers about his own vision. Once the Thunderer has left Clint’s farm, Cap turns and looks at his friend’s house. Over the Barton children’s laughter he and the audience hear vision-Peggy’s voice saying, “We can go home.”

As he looks at the house, Steve is wondering if he could not have had what Clint has. This is only made plainer when he and Tony are out chopping wood. Tony says, “Thor didn’t say where he was going?”

Cap’s face is averted from Tony as he answers, picking up a log and dropping it in his pile of firewood. “Sometimes my teammates don’t tell me things,” he replies, looking up to see Clint showing his son, Cooper, how to measure a banister.  Clint’s daughter, Lila, is playing on the porch behind the two. Cap looks away, as if trying to shake off a separate thought, a separate longing. “I was kind of hoping Thor would be the exception.”

Everyone I have talked to confirms that Cap was not/is not mad at Clint for keeping his wife and children a secret. Given the enemies he doubtless made in SHIELD, the mess HYDRA caused in SHIELD, and the fact that they are still fighting HYDRA and Ultron is prepared to kill them all – it makes total sense that Clint would keep his family as well-hidden as possible. And a secret among many is no secret at all. (Because, as we know, Tony has no filter between his brain and his mouth. He will say something just to be the center of attention. He is not a great secret keeper within the film franchise – unless it is his own secrets which he is protecting.)

The look on Cap’s face is angry, but that anger – along with the jab about his teammates keeping secrets from him – is meant for Tony alone. Steve has no beef with Clint over his “secret” family. He is not even upset with Natasha for helping Clint keep his family under wraps. He understands why Clint did it and there is no way he will be spilling the beans on Clint’s private life.

However, Steve is still sad. He is sad because Clint has everything he wanted to have at the end of World War II. If Cap had not been frozen in the ice, he would have married Peggy and found a place like Clint’s farm on which to settle down. For all he knows, he and Peggy might have had children, too.

And this desire, this longing, is what Wanda played on. She showed him what he wished he had had at the end of that first war he entered. Peggy is there, standing behind him, offering him a dance. He is surrounded by revelers celebrating World War II’s end. Then, abruptly, the dance hall is empty. Why?

It is empty because Cap knows what a fantasy looks like. He dreamed for seventy years in the ice. Even if he cannot remember the dreams precisely, that is what he did. Wanda tried to trap him in a fantasy world again. But Cap has too much of a grip on reality for the trance she put him in to do more than make him remember what he sacrificed when he saved the world, and how much that sacrifice still hurts him.

Cap shakes his sadness off fairly quickly, all things considered. There is no room for such sorrow with a rabid robot running all over the world. And mourning his sacrifice will not change the past. The past is gone; the future, a mystery. The present demands a lot of attention, especially with Ultron on the loose.

So while the others get through their problems, Cap keeps himself busy and is as useful as possible. He is not hiding from Ultron, and all he really needs to do is let go of the past, which he does while the rest of the Avengers cool off. Once they figure out Ultron’s plan, he gets his team into gear and heads out to do what they have to do: save the world. Again.

As a last note on this subject, Cap does not yet realize that he can still have a life like Clint’s. At the moment, he is not looking in that direction, for the simple reason that his lady is still alive. She may be ninety and senile, but Cap is not going to two-time Peggy, even with her express permission.   With Peggy’s death in Civil War and Sharon Carter’s scheduled appearance as a member of Cap’s team in the same film, I am pretty sure he is going to be getting a new girlfriend very soon.

Excelsior!

The Mithril Guardian

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Prognostications for Avengers: Age of Ultron, Part 4

Whew – was it just me, or did that last Age of Ultron trailer, which came out during the final college football game of the year, skate on the edge of being extremely depressing?

The trailer has very little to add to the speculation we impatient fans have been tossing around for, like, years. For the most part, it is a big exercise in frustration – although it does succeed in giving some of us an adrenaline rush!

I have to admit that this Age of Ultron trailer has largely left me speechless. I am not sure what I can say about it or the movie it hypes. But I have been thinking about it, and the film, a fair bit, and I do a have a few theories to put out there. So, once again, if you are a dedicated fan who wants to know what happens in Age of Ultron only when you see it in theaters (and, later, on DVD), then read no further. If you are one of those fans crawling up the walls trying to guess what is in the pipes for our favorite heroes, here are my theories for where things might go.

Speculation #1: The Avengers in this trailer all seem to be quite willing to tear each other apart. Or, at least, Thor, Tony, and Bruce are.   So far Cap, Widow, and Hawkeye are the only Avengers we have not seen mixing it up with their teammates. However, a glimpse of the middle of Age of Ultron previewed at an event sometime last year hints that Tony and Cap are not feeling too chummy with each other during Age of Ultron.

This trailer shows us old footage of Thor lifting Tony up by the throat, but adds the little tidbit that, before this happened, Thor was chastising Tony for meddling where no man should. While I cannot say that picking Tony up by the jugular was a good way to emphasize his point, the thing is that Thor nailed this one. If I were a member of the Avengers – even if I was only their janitor – and I heard that Tony was building or rebooting an AI to take over the Avengers’ job, I would have told him, “This is a very, VERY bad idea!” (Not that he would have listened to me, of course. Since when has anyone been able to tell the great Tony Stark what he should and should not do?)

The trailer, however, has A LOT of new footage of Tony and the Hulk bashing each other to pieces in the middle of a city. Some people – including me – think that the Scarlet Witch might be the cause of this battle. The reason I feel this way is because, near the end of the new sequence where Tony is battling the Hulk in his Hulkbuster suit, Big Green turns to the screen and we see that one of his eyes is swollen and kind of red. This indicates one of two things. One, Tony hit him in the eye really, really hard. Two, Wanda hexed the Hulk to go on a rampage.

Either theory could be true. But right now, we cannot say for sure. What might be said for sure is that Widow and Hawkeye appear to be the only Avengers who are not angry at a particular teammate. This may be a presumptuous conclusion, but so far they do not seem inclined to start a fight with anyone on their team as Thor, Tony, and Bruce Banner/Hulk do.

Speculation #2: Widow is most certainly getting more screen time in this trailer, and it seems she will be getting a fair amount of limelight in the upcoming film. The new trailer shows pictures of her walking into what must be a fight, carrying some very heavy artillery (for her, at least, it is heavy artillery), as well as a sequence that shows her getting thrust onto an operating table when she was younger. It would seem that we will definitely get to travel with her down memory lane for a glimpse of her dark history, a past that may be darker than even she recalls.

We also get a look at her evolving friendship with Bruce and the Hulk in this new trailer. It appears that, while she and Bruce may have started out on the wrong foot in Calcutta, they have smoothed things over by now. Judging by the fact that she is standing so close to Bruce when Ultron crashes the Avengers’ party, it looks to me like she might have become his unofficial battle partner/handler.

That does not mean they are romantically engaged. It is a possibility, of course, but something about that idea just does not add up for me. Bruce and Widow were never anything more than friends in the comics (as far as I know). Also, Betty Ross, Bruce’s first girlfriend, is still a part of the MCU to the best of my knowledge. I do not think it would be all that healthy if Bruce started to date Widow while his old girlfriend was still out there waiting for him. But I am not in charge of Marvel Studios, so what do I know?

Regardless, Widow’s friendship with Bruce and the Hulk has apparently strengthened to the point that she can calm him down. It remains to be seen whether or not she is the one who ends the Hulk/Hulkbuster battle in the city or not, but I would say the odds are pretty good that she might be the reason the Hulk cools off.

Plus, it is cute to hear her say in the trailer, “Oh, boy.” Yeah, no kidding, Widow! Everybody duck, Big Green’s coming through!

Speculation #3: Andy Serkis gets a brief, though more detailed appearance in this trailer than he did in the previous ones. When I first saw him in the earlier trailers, I could not even name him. I saw him and I thought, “Is that Strucker? No, it can’t be – this guy doesn’t look anything like him. But he looks awfully familiar. Who is he?”

Now, for you Serkis fans out there, I am sorry if this offends you. You will just have to keep in mind that I have not seen Andy Serkis playing anyone but Gollum before, and that when he has been interviewed on television, he has appeared entirely different from the character we see in the new Age of Ultron trailer. So I apologize to everybody (including Mr. Serkis) for not recognizing him immediately. If anything, his makeup artist is to be applauded for making him so unrecognizable that he can hide in an Age of Ultron trailer and a few peons will not know him.

So, now that I know this is Andy Serkis dressed up as the vibranium-obsessed Ulysses Klaw, I can at least tell where he is in it.

Speculation #4: Another scene in the new trailer that has sent the Internet into a tizzy shows an African woman in a cave taking off her coat. The scene has me totally baffled. At first, I was not even sure that the person in the shot was a woman. My first thought was, “Is that a young Black Panther? No way, it’s a woman – wait, is it?”

My next thought was, “What does this have to do with Age of Ultron anyway?” And that thought has not left my mind. The scene is a throwaway in my opinion, and it ruins the flow of the trailer, leaving this viewer with more questions than answers. Some people think the mystery woman might be part of the Black Panther’s all-woman bodyguard corps. For now, that is the only answer to the riddle, though my question still stands: What is this scene even doing in a film that shows the Avengers battling an intelligent AI called Ultron, since it appears totally unrelated to all the previous trailers’ contents?!?!? Only viewing the film will tell….rats…

Speculation #5: Near the end of the trailer, we see a shot of Thor getting lit up by lightning. Some theorize that, since the scenery around Thor is Asgardian, this might be the part of the film where he runs back to Asgard after Wanda has shown him a vision of what is to come. Some have even suggested that, since his hammer is not visible in this scene and it appears that he is not generating the lightning but is, instead, being hit with it, Thor’s powers are being taken from him. Again.

I am not sure I buy that theory. It is a possibility, to be sure, and we are still not certain that the Avengers will not be scattered hither and yon across the Marvel Universe by the end of Age of Ultron. But I think this scene is more likely a shot of Wanda messing with Thor’s mind. How else could she scare him back to Asgard in the first place but by bedeviling him with visions of his home being torn apart? But we cannot be certain what is going on in this scene until we see the movie. Sorry, guys.

Speculation #6: There is one thing that has bothered me since I found that clip showing Tony and Cap chopping wood. It is not the scene itself but its setting: The Avengers have clearly been whipped at this point in the film and are taking a breather somewhere in Middle or Suburban America. The problem I have with this scene is the house itself: Who owns it?

I have a few theories. The first is that the Avengers have shown up on some suburbanite family’s doorstep, beaten and bloody, and asked for asylum. This idea, however, has a big flaw in it. After all, if the Avengers have just had their fannies handed to them on a platter by Ultron at this point in the movie, what couple in their right minds would let the Avengers bunk down and hide in their house, possibly bringing a hoard of human-hating robots down on theirs and their children’s heads? It is possible that they might shelter the Avengers despite the risk, but I think most parents’ immediate reactions would be, “Not on your life!”

The second idea I had is that a member of the Avengers set up the house as a refuge, in case something happened and the team had to go underground. The problem with this is that I cannot see Tony selecting a house in a small-town neighborhood as a team hideout. It is inconspicuous, quiet, and simple – the exact opposite of Marvel’s cinematic Tony Stark.

Likewise, Bruce has not had a place all his own since he became the Hulk. He was on the run until Tony invited him to Stark/Avengers’ Tower to play in the lab with him. While Bruce’s fortunes may have improved because of that, I still do not see him having a house, even as a worst-case scenario hideout for the team. Cap and Widow are both more comfortable in the city; the chances of either of them having a house as a refuge for the team that is in the middle of a small town are slim to nil.

If they have to, Cap and Widow will fade away into the lesser known areas of a city or another such place. Houses in the suburbs are not things they automatically call to mind when they decide to disappear. And Thor stays wherever anyone lets him stay here on Earth; his real home is Asgard, so there is no way he has the house. I am not even sure he thinks in terms of Plan A and Plan B to Z and beyond, like the other Avengers would.

That leaves us with the one Avenger we know next to nothing about: Hawkeye. If the house behind Tony and Cap does in fact belong to him, then that could mean four different things:

One: If Marvel’s Ultimate comic book line – which the company started to get Hollywood’s attention – is as strong an influence on the MCU as I think it may be, this might be the house Hawkeye’s family lived in. In the Ultimate comics, Hawkeye was married and had three young children; he worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. and was partnered with Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent senior to him. Just after the Ultimates – this comic line’s alternate Avengers – were formed, Hawkeye’s wife and children were brutally murdered. The deaths of his family left Hawkeye suicidal and easily angered; his attitude only got worse when Widow was revealed to be the murderer of his family. He later killed her when she was in the hospital recovering from injuries sustained after she had betrayed the Ultimates.

While it seems Widow is not going to be traveling down that road in the MCU (the audience loves her too much for the writers to do that, I think/hope) this does not mean Whedon could not have found a way to retell this incident in Age of Ultron. After all, in The Avengers, we can account for Hawkeye’s whereabouts while he was under Loki’s command only twice before he arrived on the Helicarrier, where Widow snapped Loki’s control over him: the time where he learned Selvig needed iridium and the theft of said metal from Stuttgart, Germany. Besides those two incidents and the Helicarrier, we have no idea where Hawkeye was or what he was doing for the majority of the film.

And we all remember Loki threatened to have Hawkeye kill Widow “in every way he knows [she fears]” during The Avengers. I do not think Loki would be above having Hawkeye lead him to his family’s house so that he could kill his family while Hawkeye stood by and watched. Knowing that worm, we could also surmise Loki would think it was a lot of fun to just stand back and have Hawkeye murder his family himself, as Lorelei had a man shoot his own wife on her orders in the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Also, a photo has been posted on marvel.com that shows Tony, Thor, and Cap all standing on the porch of what appears to be the same house where Cap and Tony went out to chop wood. Their expressions each border on horrified. They could be listening to anyone, but there is an outside chance they are listening to Hawkeye tell his gruesome story.

This is one theory I really hope does not pan out, readers. I am not sure Disney would let such a story into one of their movies, but Whedon could very well have written this whole scenario into Age of Ultron. I hope he did not, but the thing is that it is a possibility I have been considering for some time now, and it deserves a mention.

Two: The other theory is that this is Hawkeye’s house, but his family is still alive and using the place. I do not know how likely this theory is – Hawkeye only had a family in the Ultimate comic line; other alternate versions of the character occasionally have him married to his “mainstream” ex-wife Mockingbird, and occasionally he has a son named Francis. (Hawkeye’s full name is Clinton Francis Barton, so that’s where his son gets his name.) Some versions of the character have a daughter instead, but I will not go into those; they are too confusing and ugly.

If this theory is the true one – and I have to say I like it better than my first idea – then it would explain why there are so many people on the porch behind Cap and Tony while the two are out chopping wood.

Three: Another option with regard to the house possibly belonging to Hawkeye is that it might be his childhood home. This would tie in with the original comics pretty well; “mainstream” Hawkeye grew up in rural/suburban Iowa. His father was not the greatest, being prone to drinking and abusive to Hawkeye, his mother, and his older brother. If the house is Hawkeye’s childhood home, then that explains how he would own it and why he would bring the Avengers there. Why on earth would he go back to such a place except in the worst of circumstances? If the team just got kicked in the teeth, there would be no better place to hide them then in the very home Hawkeye tried to forget.

Four: The house may be Hawkeye’s childhood home, but he may not be the one who owns it. Remember that brother I mentioned a moment ago? I do not know if Charles Bernard “Barney” Barton was ever in the Ultimate comics, but he is a feature of Marvel’s “mainstream” comics. In the “mainstream” comics, he and Hawkeye had a falling out years ago, then seemingly reconciled just before Barney was killed.

However, Barney survived the incident and was kept on ice by the very same villain who was supposed to have killed him. Ten or twenty years ago, the writers for the “mainstream” comics brought Barney back, this time as a direct antagonist for Hawkeye, though the two have again seemingly buried the hatchet. (Yeah, sure. I still do not buy the easy solution to that feud. Marvel enjoys complicated reconciliations too much these days to let things go that quietly.)

If Whedon decided to play around with this story instead of the Ultimate comics’ story (not likely, but possible) then it could be that Barney lives in the house with his own family. Whedon might have written it so that Barney is the one with a family and Hawkeye is not; he could easily have written the story so that the two brothers do not see eye-to-eye, while leaving Barney still willing to take the Avengers in for a short period of time.

Of course, all these theories could be completely and totally wrong. In that case, I can honestly say that I think I would be largely relieved; some of these theories are things I would be happy to have not come true, readers.

Speculation #7: Two other possible explanations as to who owns the house where Cap and Tony go out to chop wood are these: the house is a former S.H.I.E.L.D. safe house Fury tells the team about, or Maria Hill purchased the place on the off-chance that the Avengers might someday need an inconspicuous hidey-hole to assemble where they could lick their wounds in peace.

Either of these theories seems more plausible than the ones I detailed above. We have no idea what Fury shows up to tell the Avengers; it could very well be that he wants to give them a list of S.H.I.E.L.D. safe places to hide, as he did in the “mainstream” comics’ Civil War story arc (which will be, apparently, the premise for 2016’s Captain America: Civil War).

Maria Hill may work for Tony now, but there is no way in heck that she would abandon her S.H.I.E.L.D. training. I think she would probably rather stop breathing than being a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, at heart if not in fact. It would make perfect sense to her to buy a place where the Avengers could lay low until they were ready to enter the public eye again.

A third option in this direction is that the house belongs to Erik Selvig. This seems unlikely, but it is possible, I think. Still, we cannot know anything for sure until we see the movie later this year.

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Wow…. That was some serious speculating, readers. Some of it probably counts more as mere hype and questions rather than conjecture, but this Age of Ultron trailer did not have enough new material for me to write a lot about. I had better sign off now, before my fingers fall off with exhaustion.

Later,

The Mithril Guardian

Prognostications for Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, Part 3

Wow, the rumors just keep coming, readers! They are flying so hard and fast I can barely keep up with ‘em.

Nevertheless, I thought I would venture some of my own theories on Marvel’s upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron. As you may have noticed, like Marvel’s master archer, I have very little problem offering my opinion on something. I see no reason to stop now.

If you are a sensible Marvel fan and you do not want to hear any speculation about Age of Ultron, stop reading here. If you are finding this extended wait for The Avengers’ sequel as trying as I am, then read on!

  1. Loki and Heimdall will make an appearance in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Idris Elba let this little fun fact slip out in an interview at some point not too long ago, sending the rumor mill into Warp Factor 5. Whedon promised to give him at least a slight scolding for the “slip,” if slip it was. Most speculators say that Wanda Maximoff will show Thor a future Asgard that gives us a glimpse of Heimdall and Loki. A clip from the middle of Age of Ultron supports the theory that whatever she shows him, Wanda genuinely scares Thor.

While I do not doubt Heimdall may show up in Thor’s vision, I am somewhat skeptical that Loki will. After all, as much trouble as Thor has had with his kid brother, we know of one Avenger who is still angry with the Prince of Lies since the events of The Avengers. In my second “Prognostications” post, I theorized that Hawkeye may be immune to Wanda’s manipulations, and I still think that is a possibility. It is certainly something I would have wanted to explore, if I had had a hand in writing Age of Ultron.

All the same, what if Wanda does beguile Hawkeye with a vision, not of his future but of his past? What if Loki’s cameo appearance is a memory Wanda forces Hawkeye to relive at some point in the movie? She could, of course, just as easily use Loki only to torment Thor, but we cannot forget who the Trickster harmed most on his last trip to Midgard. Naturally, we will not know anything for sure until May 1, 2015.

  1. Someone is going to die.

The amount of gossip going around the Internet about the possible death of an Avenger is so thick, readers, you could use it to butter toast. We have some mighty murderous Marvel fans out there, by all appearances. I cannot understand why so many people seem to be begging for an Avenger’s death. I would prefer it if they all survived, as you are well aware by now. Fiction is showcasing enough death and despair, thank you very much. How about some optimism and positivity, people?

Anyway, several theories have been advanced to explain Whedon’s nerve-wracking “Death, death, and death” statement. People are raffling off the Avengers they think should die – with most putting Hawkeye at the top of the list, never mind the fact that Renner has said he survives Age of Ultron. (As you may have surmised, Hawkeye is one of my favorite Marvel characters, so I am getting a little annoyed with everyone who is nominating him for death. BACK OFF ALREADY, YOU BLOODTHIRSY PIRAHNAS!!!)

Others suggest that Ultron will wipe out an entire fictional Eastern European country (which he apparently did in the comics of years’ past), thus fulfilling the “death” quota these fans seem to be hoping for. Still others theorize that Whedon’s hint “Death will play a part” in Age of Ultron refers to “Mistress Death” – the female form of Death itself. Thanos has been trying to court her for years and, so far as I know, he has still come up empty on that front.

These are all possible answers to Whedon’s “death” hints. My own theory on what Whedon meant when he said that “Death will play a part” in Age of Ultron is that Ultron is afraid to die.

Think about it a moment. Ultron is artificial; he is a machine. He has no humanity – whatever humanity Tony tried to give him, it did not translate properly. He is unnatural in the same way Doctor Frankenstein’s monster is inhuman. Frankenstein’s monster knew he was not human; he did not come into the world as a human being, with his own soul, his own personality. He was a desperate man’s cooked-up lab experiment. (Boy, is Tony’s statement that Cap is a “laboratory experiment” going to come back to bite him hard.) What will happen to Ultron if he is destroyed?

He will cease to exist. Period. That is a terrifying thought, is it not? And for something unnatural like Ultron, it would probably scare him straight out of his circuits if he thought about it too much. The Avengers – they are not afraid to die. Not even Black Widow or the Maximoff twins are afraid of death. Do they want to die? Heck no. But if the price of preserving another’s life – or the life of the whole human race – is their death, then they will sacrifice their lives to protect others.

Ultron is not going to do that. His own survival will be his number one goal in the film. He is not going to sacrifice himself to preserve anyone else’s life – if he were willing to do that, then he would not have turned on the Avengers in the first place. He is too egocentric and self-centered to think of anyone but himself. In contrast, the Avengers are selfless. Even Tony will allow himself to be killed if it means saving lives. He was willing to fight to the death against the Chitauri in the first film. Why wouldn’t he still be ready to die in defense of others in Age of Ultron?

And yes, I know he might just get that chance. We will see what happens.

  1. Vision will join the team.

This is practically a given. The only thing to guess at is how Vision will join the team. If I had to make a suggestion, I would surmise that it will be the Avengers’ willingness to fight an apparently hopeless battle, their readiness to sacrifice themselves for each other or for others, which will be the factor that convinces him to abandon Ultron.

I could be wrong, of course. If Vision is based on JARVIS, and JARVIS is based on the personality of Tony’s father’s butler – Edwin Jarvis – then maybe Tony will be able to talk him into turning on Ultron. We will have to wait and see.

  1. Black Widow’s dark past will be showcased in the film.

This has been known almost since day one. My only thought on this is that Wanda may be the one forcing Natasha to relive her dark history. I would not be surprised if, at some point early in the film (or in the middle of it), the Black Widow and the Scarlet Witch went toe-to-toe. The two are fighting women. Pitting them against each other – that is a catfight screaming to be written. I doubt it would be a fair fight but, oh, readers, it would be a fight!

The rest of what I have to say relates to jumbled scenes from the trailer(s) which caught my attention:

Scene #1: Pietro is at one point seen racing through a train car in slow motion. If you pause the video while watching it on a big screen, you will notice that Cap is sitting in the train car, and that Pietro is pushing someone – or something – out the door of the car. Either that, or he is throwing whoever or whatever it is out a hole someone has punched in the side of the train.

It is impossible to tell what part of the film this scene comes from. It could be early on, when the twins are initially enemies of the Avengers. Or it could be after they have decided to join the team. I suspect the latter because, from my perspective, it appears that Quicksilver has just zoomed through the train car to save Cap’s life. I think what he is throwing off the train is an Ultroid (a droid under Ultron’s control). I could be wrong, of course, but this is what I think is going on in this scene.

Scene #2: The ballet lesson seen near the end of the trailers looks to be a flashback. It might not be, but if it is, I suspect it is related to Natasha. In the “mainstream” Marvel Comics, it was revealed that Natasha received extensive memory alterations from the Red Room operators during her time in service to the U.S.S.R. One of the false memories they gave her was that she had been trained to be a ballerina. This was a lie; she was only ever taught the arts of assassination and espionage – though she is graceful and poised enough that she could be a ballerina, if she so desired. So this scene could be a memory she recalls – or is forced to recall – at some point in the film.

Scene #3: At one point in the trailers for Age of Ultron, we see a scene depicting cargo ships beached on what appears to be a sea floor. It looks like the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, or the Caspian Sea to me, but it could easily be the floor of any one of the earth’s oceans.

What does this scene mean? Anything is possible, but check out the following video and transcript before you read my theory.

 

Stark: Thor didn’t say where he was going for answers?

Rogers: Sometimes my teammates don’t tell me things. I was kind of hoping Thor would be the exception.

Stark: Yeah, give him time. We don’t know what the Maximoff kid showed him.
(This would be a reference to Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, who is able to reveal the future, look into the past, and reveal alternate realities.)

Rogers: I don’t know what she showed you. I just know it made you do something stupid. (Shakes his head.) “Earth’s mightiest heroes …” They pulled us apart like cotton candy.

Stark: Seems like you walked away all right.

Rogers: (Straightening.) That a problem?

Stark: I don’t trust a guy without a dark side. Call me old-fashioned.

Rogers: Well, let’s just say you haven’t seen it yet.

Stark: Banner and I were doing research …

Rogers: That would affect the team.

Stark: That would end the team. Isn’t that why we fight, so we can end the fight, so we get to go home?

Rogers: (pulls a log apart barehanded before speaking) Every time someone tries to win a war before it starts, innocent people die. Every time. – Courtesy of several moviepilot.com articles.

 

What if the scene with the grounded cargo ships is part of whatever vision Wanda uses to antagonize Tony? Perhaps she shows him a world where he loses his company, or a world destroyed by the Avengers? This last theory would explain why Tony built the Hulkbuster armor, and why he and Banner were doing research that would “end the team.” The Avengers are so powerful that plenty of people are afraid they will go nuts and destroy the world. Wouldn’t Tony come up with plans to stop and destroy his fellow Avengers if they ever “lost it”?

This is certainly a story angle Whedon could – and may be inclined to – play around with. It would also tie in to the future Captain America: Civil War film planned for 2016. But once again, this is all pure conjecture. We will know nothing until May 2015.

Scene #4: The 1940’s clip showing Cap and Peggy Carter walking into a ballroom is thought by many to be a flashback. It may be, but it might also be a scenario Wanda tries to use against Cap. After all, he “still owes his girl a dance,” does he not?

Elizabeth Olsen has reported that Wanda can see into the future, the past, and alternate universes/realities. What if this scene of Cap and Peggy in a ballroom is a vision of an alternate future, where Cap did not end up on ice for seventy years but still saved the world and got to marry Peggy in the bargain? This theory would explain, to me, why Cap was able to “walk away all right” from whatever it is Wanda shows him.

We know Wanda can do many things, but if in the Cinematic Marvel Universe she can alter time, that has not been stated. Since she cannot send Cap back to do things differently, he would doubtless recognize that the vision she showed him of Peggy and himself dancing was nothing more than smoke and mirrors. He would accept that the vision might have been but he would know it was not real and could never be real. He would simply recognize it and go on. If this is what happens, then Wanda does not show Cap his “dark side,” she merely tries to paralyze him with regret.

Not gonna work, honey.  Not gonna work at all.

Scene #5: Now, about Cap’s “dark side.” I will admit that this whole scene has irritated me – Cap does NOT have a dark side! He is perfect, just like Galahad and Aragorn before him.

But Cap does have a temper. As someone I know explained to me, Banner has stated that he is “always angry.” Who says Cap is not skating on the edge of being “always angry”? Every battle the Avengers fight, they are fighting against someone or something that is pure evil. Would not a totally good person be furious at the atrocities committed by someone or something totally evil? We have seen Cap lose his temper with the Red Skull, Arnim Zola (in computer form), Loki, and, to a lesser extent, with Black Widow, Nick Fury, and the Winter Soldier.

But Tony has never seen Cap in a rage. What if the “dark side” Tony has not “seen yet” is a truly enraged Captain America?

I don’t know about you, readers, but I would be more afraid of an irate Captain America than I would be of an angry Hulk, no matter how incensed Big Green became!

Scene #6: Initially it was reported that, when Ultron makes his first, primitive entrance in robot form during the Avengers’ party, everyone in the room was “weaponless.” Well, anyone with a cork eye knew Thor had his hammer on him; otherwise the team could not attempt to lift it, as depicted in the trailer previewed at the San Diego Comic Con.

However, the newer trailer showed a brief scene where Maria Hill is cocking a gun she has brought with her to the party. It is gratifying to know that she is not so brainless as to attend an Avengers’ shindig without a weapon. Since she came to the party prepared, I suspect that Hawkeye and Natasha also have weapons stashed on their persons. What they will be armed with I cannot say, but anyone who makes enemies on a regular basis should never go anywhere unarmed.

I would guess Hawkeye also has a gun on him, as well as at least one knife. If you read my post “Hawk’s Strike,” then you know that Hawkeye can use practically anything he can get his hands on as a weapon. Watching him fight a bunch of Ultroids without his bow and arrows should be fun. And I would be willing to bet that he will not miss one Ultroid in this fight, or any of the following ones, as he managed not to shoot Maria Hill in The Avengers. (See “Hawk’s Strike” for more on that.)

Natasha’s hand-to-hand combat tactics may not be very effective against Stark-built Ultroids. If she has not got a gun on her, she will probably have at least a knife within easy reach. She had one in New York; I do not see why she would not be wearing one to the party. Like her old SHIELD partner, she would also be able to use nearby objects as weapons. Perhaps she would do it with less speed, but you get the idea.

Cap may also have brought a weapon to the party. If he did not, though, I do not see him having much of a problem battling the Ultroids. He ripped a log apart without trouble in the above clip – who says he cannot decapitate an Ultroid barehanded?

For Rhodey and Tony, things are going to be a little squeakier. Rhodey has not got his armor within reach, and he cannot summon it. Tony can summon his armor, but Ultron could easily block or override his signal, leaving him unarmored in the face of the onrushing Ultroids. Since Rhodey’s a zoomie (zoomie is the generic nickname given to a member of the U.S Air Force) he may have thought to take a gun with him to the party. But he just as easily could have left it home, thinking nothing bad would happen at Avengers’ Tower.

Claudia Kim’s character – whoever she is – looks as though she is going to be a weak spot for the team. Unless Kim’s unnamed character has some hidden talents no one is yet aware of, the Avengers are going to have to protect her throughout this first battle.

And while Banner could certainly Hulk-out and clean Ultron’s clock, something tells me he does not want to wreck Avengers’ Tower.  This might be the one battle in the entire movie which he sits out – as the Hulk, at least.  He could always use a fork to fight with, if push came to shove.

Maybe.  We will have to wait and see.

Well, there you have it, readers. These are some of my new theories for Age of Ultron. Whether they are right or wrong we cannot yet know, but it has been fun to share them with you. If you have your own ideas on what may happen in the film, feel free to mention them to me in a comment below. This is one conversation I could carry on until the cows come home!

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian

Spotlight: Strong Women

Pepper and Tony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you think makes a woman strong?”

Later,

The Mithril Guardian

The Science of Heroes

Avengers

Hello, Marvel Writers!

In my last note I mentioned the ongoing torture of our many Marvel favorites.   I cannot help but think that part of the reason you are mutilating the Marvel greats, fellow writers, is because you are attempting to play the role of scientist or psychologist, whichever one of these two you endeavor to shadow.

Here is the basis for this hypothesis of mine.  Some years ago I found an article in an edition of The Saturday Evening Post which talked about heroism.  The first case the writer(s) for the article used to illustrate his/her point was an incident where a man pulled over to put out a fire in the engine of a school bus.  The driver of the car did not know the bus driver, nor did he know any of the children.   But he still made the decision to pull over and assist.

To ask why he and numerous others have done such things is good.  It is always good to ask why someone did something heroic, or why they did something terrible.  This is why stories (whether they are in comic book form or not) are so important.  They are character studies that help the readers better understand the difference between right and wrong.

The problem here comes when the questioners lose sight of their objective, as the writer(s) for the Post did.  As you have done.  The questioners lose sight of the question when they ‘answer’ their question with such things as, “He just reacted.”  Or, “It was his abusive childhood that made him do/not do x.”  Or, “It is a programmed response due the effects of thousands of years of evolution.”

I am sorry, but these are not answers.  People do not simply ‘react’ unless they have either: a) trained themselves to react in a certain way (such as by practicing a family fire escape drill); or b) have been trained to react in a certain way (as soldiers are trained to react to certain situations before they go into the field).  And even then, they have a choice of reactions.

Other cases of ‘reaction’ are actually a combination of the decision to do something (i.e. pull someone free when they are trapped beneath a car) and the ability to keep thinking during a crisis.

Some would call this last instance a fluke.  In a way, they would not be mistaken; people more often than not freeze or panic when they are frightened.  So when someone keeps thinking and finds a way out of a bad situation, they are an exception to the general rule – in essence, a fluke.

In the other cases I referred to above, a person’s environment, previous or current, does not entirely influence their actions.  Case in point for the comics, Hawkeye’s lousy boyhood would suggest to some that he would take up a life of crime instead of a life as a hero, costumed or otherwise.  Did Clint Barton automatically become a criminal when he reached adulthood?  No.  This is because Hawkeye had a choice before him: follow his father, the Swordsman, and the first Trick Shot’s bad examples or choose a better path.

He chose – chose – to become a hero.  And he remains an Avenger, whether he is actively serving on the team or not, to this day.  (Once an Avenger always an Avenger.)  So his past, and the past of other characters, is not a complete or proper answer to his actions in the present.

As for heroism being a programmed response after thousands of years of evolution, it does not answer why one person in a particular crisis would choose to stop and help instead of running away screaming; or maybe even pushing the crisis along a little bit.

Crime shows such as CSI, NCIS, Castle, etc., prove that this theory does not hold water for individuals.  If heroism were an ingrained human response, like the knee-jerk reaction all doctors are familiar with, then there would be fewer crimes committed – on and off screen.

You know, fellow writers, in a way you are scientists.  You are trying to figure out “What causes a man to turn right instead of left at just the time when it is needed; a woman to say yes instead of no; a child to laugh at something instead of running away in fear.” (Star Trek: Crossroad by Barbara Hambly.)  This is the science of philosophy, the search for the truth for its own sake.  The problem here is that you are chasing down all the wrong answers.

So what IS the right answer, you ask?  I think that the right answer is this: it comes down to a choice.  The choice the individual has to make between good and evil.  Why would a child “laugh instead of running away in fear”?  Perhaps he would laugh because there was nothing to be afraid of in the first place, and he recognized this somehow.

Why would a woman “say yes instead of no”?  No is easy to say.  Yes is much harder.  How easy was it for Susan Storm to say ‘yes’ when Reed Richards asked her to marry him?  She could not be sure that they would have children.  If they did, there were certain factors which had to be considered.  The children could be born mutants.  There was, and there remains, the very possible chance that someday Franklin and his sister will be orphaned.  Someday, both Sue and Reed fear that they may have to give their lives so their children can live in relative safety, leaving their two children, whom they love dearly, in the care of others.

Yet the Invisible Woman still said, “Yes.”

Why would a man “turn right instead of left”?  Maybe he went right because the path to the left was just too easy.  Maybe because, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” (Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back).  It is much harder to climb upward than it is to descend downward.  Skiing is good proof of this.  How easy is it to walk all the way up the mountain after going down?  If it were easy, they would not have invented ski lifts.

This is the best answer I have been able to find for the question of why people do heroic things.  Every man, woman, and child has to make a decision between right and wrong.  Characters that choose to do what is right – characters such as Hawkeye, Luke Cage, Falcon, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Wolverine, the Hulk, and oh, so many others – prove that good is the better choice although it is also the harder one.  They stand as witness to the rewards of a hard choice.

Just so, characters such as Trickshot, Sabertooth, Emma Frost, Dr. Doom, Mister Sinister, Magneto, Mystique, the Red Skull, etc., stand as warnings about the cost of taking the ‘easy’ path.  When Hawkeye stands face to face with Trickshot, it is easy to see that, while they are brothers, one is the stronger of the two.  And I will tell you this: it is not Trickshot who stands firmer than his younger brother!

In the end, who would we rather be?  The scarred hero or the comfortable villain (I am thinking about the Kingpin here)?  Even with all its hardship, good has more rewards than evil.

So what will it be, fellow writers, fellow philosophers, fellow scientists of the human condition?  What will your choice be?  Do you continue chasing the red herrings, or do you hunt the fox?

For my part, I will continue to hunt the fox.

EXCELSIOR!!!!

Sincerely,

Mithril (A Philosophical True Believer)

Avengers Assemble!

Marvel's Avengers Assemble!

Heeey, DiNozzo!

Here’s day four of Torture Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo Week served up to you on a bright silver platter, DiNozzo!

Come on, Tony! You had to know that I was going to work a Marvel series in here somehow! The only problem was deciding which one it would be. 😉

I’ll admit that this may be a bit of a premature review for a series. Only a few episodes have aired on television. There’s no knowing how high and far the story could go. Not yet.

But you know what? I simply can’t resist talking about it!

All right, so we’ll start with the all important aspect of a story: how it begins.

As first episodes go, Marvel’s Avengers Assemble was pretty good. The two-part opening in May showed the Avengers had disbanded on Tony Stark’s, ummm, order, I guess. Despite this, Tony still keeps an eye on his fellow bachelor Avengers (for some reason he doesn’t keep tabs on Black Widow). Seeing Captain America suddenly losing to HYDRA and the Red Skull, Tony dons his armor and takes off.

Only, it seems, to get in on the fight too late to save Cap from being killed by the Red Skull.

This leads Tony to call the Avengers back together. While Hulk, Thor, and Hawkeye are at first less than thrilled to be back with the guy who so arrogantly broke up the band, the three change their tune when they see Cap’s ‘death.’

The four, of course, head out to avenge Cap by taking down the Red Skull. Widow joins them at the HYDRA base the villain currently calls home, and that’s when Tony discovers (surprise) Cap is not dead. Blasting his way in to get to Cap, Tony is met with a rude revelation: because he is dying, the Red Skull has switched bodies with Cap.

Wait, wait, I’m not finished, DiNozzo! Red Skull’s super soldier serum in this series is incomplete; it can no longer keep the man alive. Cap’s serum is quite complete; it will take a lot more than mere time to do in the First Avenger. That’s why the Skull captured and switched bodies with him.

Quickly incapacitated, Tony and ‘Cap’ are rescued by Iron Man’s secret weapon/new protégé – Sam Wilson, a.k.a. the Falcon.

With the band back together again, the Avengers and Falcon beat Skull and undo the switch. But after the round of pats on the back, the seemingly incapacitated Skull pulls another trick from up his sleeve. Using the machinery in the room they are standing in at the HYDRA base, Skull rips Tony’s suit off his body. He crushes the helmet and deprives Stark of his arc reactor, the only thing keeping the billionaire hero alive.

As the Skull escapes, the Avengers race back to their base to save Tony. They manage it in the proverbial nick of time. However, according to Tony the Skull isn’t going to be a problem anymore. He proceeds to again disband the team. Everyone but Cap and Falcon walks out on him in disgust. Falcon flops onto the floor in dejection because in answering Tony’s call for aid he got fired from SHIELD.

But an attack by the Skull (Hah! Not so defeated after all, Mr. Stark! Hmm, another fat-headed Tony ….) leads to the team having to fight and defeat him again. Beaten twice in one day – ouch. The Avengers’ Mansion is destroyed in the battle and the Skull flees. When the Skull calls on other super villains to form a cabal with him to conquer the world, Tony is finally convinced to keep the team together.

After this decision, Cap nominates Tony for leadership of the Avengers and Falcon is invited to join them. The team’s next step is to set up base in Stark Tower since the Mansion is a wreck. At the end of the show they jet off to China when the Great Wall abruptly stands up and heads for Beijing.

So far the series is doing pretty well. But I do have some questions and observations about it, a few of them less than flattering.

To kick these off, we’ll begin with the disbanding and reforming of the Avengers. Avengers Assemble is supposed to be a continuation of the television series Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes! which ran for the last three or four years. At the same time Assemble is also supposed to capitalize on the 2012 film Marvel’s The Avengers.

Heroes ended with the Avengers as a well-honed, tight-knit fighting team. There was no hint that they were considering disbanding, which makes sense because it was the end of that series and any such hints would only drive fans bonkers. As others have noted, Assemble seems to shadow the 2012 movie rather than its television ‘prequel.’ This is evidenced by such scenes as Cap knocking a punching bag off its chain in the episode ‘Blood Feud’; the Hulk’s statement of “I’m always angry!” in ‘The Avengers’ Protocol, Part 2’; and Hawkeye telling Cap, when ordered to fire on Dr. Doom in ‘The Serpent of Doom,’ “After what he did to me it’ll be my pleasure!” These and other small incidents echo the movie and have nothing to do whatsoever with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!

Now we come to the characters. For the most part, Iron Man doesn’t feel too changed. After the depth of character Robert Downey Jr. imbued in him, it would be hard to radically alter Tony Stark. But this doesn’t keep Tony’s arrogant and somewhat high-handed leadership style from grating on my nerves every five minutes in an episode’s run.

Ooops, I think I crossed my characters again! Was I talking about Tony Stark or Tony DiN…

Okay, okay! Don’t get mad! Moving on….

Then there’s the Hulk. Unlike the movie, this Hulk speaks in proper sentences. There are also a few added twists, such as the Hulk keeping a spotlessly clean room full of glass figurines no higher than an inch. It seems the new series’ writers want to portray the Hulk as a rather calm nine-foot tall wall of muscle until it’s time to start SMASHING! This dainty portrayal even extends to the Hulk carefully getting himself a PB&J sandwich in ‘Blood Feud,’ and then stealing Justin Hammer’s cocktail in ‘Super Adaptoid’ without breaking the glass.

In all honesty, I don’t really mind this turn of events for the big guy. Ol’ Green could use some quiet moments. I do wonder, though, if the crystal critters may not have been a step too far.

Next there’s Thor. In the two-ipart opening of Assemble I was under the impression that this version of Thor is a bit of a party animal. During the quinjet ride to Avengers’ Mansion, Hawkeye asked Thor what was on the social calendar for Valhalla that night. Thor’s enthusiastic reply was a little too enthusiastic for a minute; I thought he might actually start up a tavern song. Even though the Prince of Thunder sobered in the next few seconds, it hinted at a change in Thor’s proud and regal bearing.

This image of Thor having a “PARTY!!!” motto was emphasized in the third episode, ‘Ghost of a Chance.’ While trying to help Falcon settle in at the Tower, Tony showed him Thor’s room. If it hadn’t been for a sudden noise, the two wouldn’t have been able to avoid Thor as he tumbled to the floor while wrestling his ‘pet’ Bilgesnipe (an Asgardian creature also mentioned in the 2012 movie by Thor). Thor’s obvious lack of concern for his teammates’ near miss was his cheerful statement that they shouldn’t worry about him, as Bilgesnipe enjoyed fighting.

Uh, excuse me? Thor nearly pancaked his team leader and the new kid yet he thinks they’re worried about him? I’d say Tony and Falcon were more worried about what the Bilgesnipe might do to the rest of the Avengers if it ever got out of Thor’s quarters. Not to mention what it might do if it got out of the tower.

There appears to be some hope that Thor is getting a little calmer and more regal. I don’t mind him being jovial, but I draw the line at him behaving as if he’s had one too many gulps of ale while he’s lounging around the Tower.

Next there’s Hawkeye (thank goodness they didn’t put him in that Red Arrow knock-off costume!). While the other three members of the team are the most noticeable for their powers or size (one would have to have severe macular degeneration to miss the Hulk, let alone Thor), Hawkeye manages to retain the audience’s attention. How does he keep himself in the spotlight?

Simple. He runs his mouth.

This is nothing new. Hawkeye was always a talker, even in the original comics. I think this is a way for him to feel as if he’s keeping up with his super-powered teammates. It also distracts his opponents. When they say, “You missed!” after dodging an arrow, they’re jinxing themselves. If they avoided the arrow, then Hawkeye was aiming for something else. So I don’t have too much of a problem with Hawkeye’s constant string of repartee. The rub for me lies in that he seems to have been given the role of team clown.

For instance, do you remember when I said the Hulk was making himself a PB&J sandwich in the episode ‘Blood Feud’? Well, he had the jam and the bread, but some “dead man” had stolen the peanut butter from the fridge.

The so-called ‘dead man’ was in the gym, watching Cap work out while fisting into the peanut butter with his hand. And his name happened to be Hawkeye.

Throughout these episodes Hawkeye has repeatedly fired off remarks or done things which have gotten the Hulk upset with him. While you will never hear me advocate for the World’s Greatest Marksman to go back to the days when he was constantly riding Cap, I don’t think it’s exactly safe for him to ride the Hulk, either. This is also a departure from the friendship Hawkeye and the Hulk developed in Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but that seems to have no bearing on Assemble.

Next we have Cap. Despite the fact that the two opening episodes feature the Avengers banding together again precisely because of Cap, he remains a background figure. This continues in ‘Ghost of a Chance’ and ‘The Serpent of Doom.’ So far ‘Blood Feud’ and ‘Super-Adaptoid’ are the only episodes which give Cap more than ten lines and the same amount of time in the limelight.

This also ties in somewhat with what I was saying about Tony earlier. Iron Man is not a bad team leader. If he was, the team would have been dead a long time ago. But the most capable leader of the Avengers has always been, and I believe always will be, Cap. Tony’s good, but he hasn’t got the experience that leadership requires. Cap does.

I think this is another indication that Assemble follows the movie more than the TV show Heroes. By the end of Heroes, Cap was team leader for the Avengers. In the movie, Iron Man and Cap were sharing leadership up to a point. For the most part, though, it was Cap who called the shots. Literally. This is what seems to be going on in Assemble, showing once more that Heroes has no actual bearing on the new series.

Now for Sam. Falcon is, according to some, supposed to be the “eyes and ears of the audience.” In ‘Ghost of a Chance,’ Falcon indeed serves this purpose by finding his way around Avengers’ Tower and stopping the Space Phantoms from invading Earth. But in episodes like ‘The Serpent of Doom’ and ‘Blood Feud,’ he’s the nearest thing to a go-fer the Avengers have ever had. In ‘Blood Feud,’ he’s also the one who predictably falls into the trap of trying to answer a plea for help, only to get caught for his troubles.

It’s a characteristic mistake in film and television, one the rookie always makes. But it would be nice to see at least one rookie, particularly one as bright as Falcon, not fall into that trap for once.

As for the Black Widow, she is present sporadically throughout the aired episodes. She was there for the team in ‘The Avengers’ Protocol, Parts 1 and 2,’ ‘Ghost of a Chance,’ ‘Hyperion,’ and ‘Molecule Kid.’ But in ‘Blood Feud’ she showed up under the control of Dracula.

I know. I’ll get back to the lead vampire in a minute.

Because Widow is supposed to be an Avenger “when she wants to be, and ONLY when she wants to be,” I wouldn’t expect her to be a regular in the show for the first season of the series. This means that she won’t get too much character development initially. But her girlishly pitched question, “Oh my gosh, am I a vampire?!?” in ‘Blood Feud’ was rather revealing because it proves she can be frightened. That’s a plus.

In a way, having Widow as an on-and-off member makes sense. To the Black Widow, espionage is as essential as oxygen. If she stops spying it’s because she’s dead. She has never stopped her espionage work in Marvel history, despite joining up with other heroes and teams several times. Bred and trained to be a spy she will never aspire to be anything else, not even something as prestigious as an Avenger.

Okay, okay, now we’ll go back to Dracula. When he got added to the Marvel roster of villains I don’t know. I would guess he’s been around as long as Blade the vampire hunter. I’m sorry, but when you’re going to Bram Stoker for a bad guy you’ve either run out of imagination or are following a ‘trend.’ Worse, you could be doing both. In my opinion Malekith or the Kingpin would have been better additions to the Cabal line-up than ol’ fanghead, but that probably won’t happen. Not any time soon, at least.

The other observations I have about the series have left me with questions. Lots of them.

In the first two episodes the audience is never told why the Avengers disbanded. How Marvel is going to twist an answer out of pAssemble’s supposed combination of the 2012 movie and Heroes I don’t know. But it better be good, or they’ll be hearing from yours truly.

In those same episodes our two ‘master assassins’ leave us perplexed on several counts. First, Hawkeye is shown standing in front of a statue in the Avengers’ “Hall of Fallen Heroes” (pardon my naming it as such). The statue’s features aren’t clear but it appears to be a woman’s likeness. Is it a statue of Mockingbird? Does that mean she’s dead in this series, or that everyone thinks so? Or was he just standing in a convenient place to think/reminisce?

In a small tussle in ‘The Avengers Protocol, Part 2,’ Widow and Hawkeye both accuse the other of being a traitor. Why? Why did they make these accusations? Does Widow feel betrayed because Hawkeye left SHIELD? Does Hawkeye feel betrayed because she didn’t follow him out of SHIELD? Or is the answer something totally different?

(If the writers start a romance up between Widow and Hawkeye, they’d better be ready to hear from me. Remember my post ‘Romantic’ Tension?, DiNozzo, and you’ll know what I mean.)

What made Tony disband the team in the first place? Where did Falcon come from, and why did Iron Man choose to mentor him? If some big calamity made him split up the Avengers, it would stand to reason Tony wouldn’t abruptly do a one-eighty and suddenly decide to teach Sam to be a superhero.

Why is Hawkeye riding the Hulk? Where has Thor been? Why is Cap so reticent? This is definitely another nod to the movie, as Heroes saw Cap completely at ease with the 21st century and his team by its end episode. Assemble shows him still acclimating to a time gap, as mentioned (several times) in ‘Super Adaptoid.’

Why is Widow watching the Avengers? What does Fury fear they’re going to do that he has his best agent working with them? Odds are that every fight she participates in, Widow writes a report about it that lands on Fury’s desk promptly afterward. Any fight she merely observes probably gets the same treatment.

The Avengers have to be aware of that. Hawkeye should suspect it since he once worked with her. Why are they still letting her be a part of the team? Do they trust her implicitly or are they watching Fury watch them?

There’s still time for these questions to be answered. The series is just starting.

Yes, Tony, I’ll be watching it. And Marvel better remember that, because if I don’t like something, they’ll be hearing from me about it.

Anyway, that’s my take on Avengers Assemble. It has potential, and I am looking forward to seeing where it goes. But don’t be surprised if I bring it up again in a few months or so. More episodes will have aired, and I will probably want to talk about them.

After all, I am pretty heavily invested in Marvel characters.

See you around, DiNozzo!

Later,

Mithril

Assembled