Tag Archives: X-Men

Five Decades of the X-Men edited by Stan Lee

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Today’s topic is an odd one because normally I don’t read books about the Marvel characters I enjoy. This is due mostly to the fact that there are so few novelizations that don’t relate specifically to the comics. The Marvel Masterworks anthologies contain replicas of the original comic books, not black and white original tales or blow-by-blow accounts from the comics themselves.

Five Decades of the X-Men is a collection of short stories, one of which is almost certainly a translation from the first X-Men comic ever written. Published in 2002, the writing here isn’t very good. I don’t know if Stan Lee himself actually edited it but typos, bad grammar, and similar errors abound throughout the anthology. That doesn’t hurt the stories in any major way but it is annoying.

As the title suggests, each piece within this collection is from a different decade of the X-Men’s extensive history. The first tale is from the 1960s, the second from the ‘70s, and so on until the early 2000s, just before Marvel went really crazy. They were drifting that way in the mid-90s, but everything began truly falling apart around ’05, with the famous/infamous Civil War arc.

That’s a topic for another day, though. Five Decades of the X-Men begins, fittingly enough, with a near-direct translation of the first X-Men comic. Titled “Baptism of Fire, Baptism of Ice,” it is told from Bobby Drake/Iceman’s viewpoint. Jean Grey is introduced to the X-Men just before the team has their first battle with Magneto. In the finale, while on a date with a pretty girl, Iceman ends up in a fight with (possibly) a Frost Giant from Jotunheim.

As a story, this installment is just fine. It demonstrates the problems which Jean (known as Marvel Girl early in her career) had to face joining a team full of curious and flirty teenage boys. Since he was the youngest boy and uninterested in dating her, Bobby caused Jean less trouble on this front than Angel and especially Beast did. Surprisingly, Beast made some pretty blatant, determined passes at the new girl during this tale. Given his later, more mature depictions, I never expected to see this kind of behavior from him.

The end for this story was good, in no small part because it showed Stan Lee’s recognition that not everyone fears mutants on sight. Some actually like them and think they are amazing. Although these normal humans might be surprised by a display of astonishing powers, that doesn’t mean they automatically hate mutants. But on the downside this translation adheres far too closely to the original comic’s perspective. It is clearly a narration of a visual story. It gets a little better toward the end, but not by much.

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The original team of X-Men: Marvel Girl, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, and Angel.

 

Following this tale is “First Commitments.” This piece is much better written than the previous story. Jay Sanford, a normal human, is waiting for a job interview at a company called Genetech. Sitting beside him is Hank McCoy – The Beast. To pass the time the two strike up an amiable discussion. Jay feels far inferior to Hank during their chat, as the latter’s intelligence is evident even in a relaxed conversation. So he isn’t surprised when the X-Man gets the job and he is passed over.

However, he is surprised when Genetech calls a few days later and offers him the job Hank supposedly got.

Jay sets to work with a will, studying mutant cells “donated” to Genetech for research purposes. Unfortunately, what he discovers too late is that the company is a front for an organization called the Secret Empire. As power hungry as HYDRA but a bit more subtle, the Empire has infiltrated almost every government branch, police force, etc. in the U.S. In the comics, they actually managed to frame Captain America for a crime and make him a wanted fugitive – until he defeated them on live television on the White House lawn, that is. 😉

Right now, though, the Secret Empire is still in the clandestine stage. And they have used Jay’s discoveries to turn mutants – specifically a number of captive X-Men – into human batteries. Angry and afraid, Jay cannot report the Empire to the authorities because they have been infiltrated to such a degree. Then he gets an idea. Slipping away from the spies that he knows are watching him, Jay manages to get the X-Mansion. Once there he tells the X-Men what he knows and asks for their help.

This has to be my favorite story in the collection. Jay is presented as a thoroughly decent guy who doesn’t care that mutants are different from normal humans. He only cares about what is right, to the point that he risks his life to help stop the Secret Empire in the only way he can. It’s an excellent tale, and possibly the best in the anthology.

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 “Up the Hill Backwards” is next. Set in the 1980s, it takes place after a battle in NYC that decimated the Morlocks and left a number of X-Men severely wounded. The Morlock survivors and injured X-Men have been taken to the Muir Island Research Center to recover. Since it is run by friend of the team Moira McTaggert, they know they can convalesce without fear of being attacked. But until the injured team recovers, the X-Men are officially out of commission while the downed members to recover.

While they are doing this, Storm and Wolverine head out to deal with some…personal matters. This means they can’t train the new X-Men – Rogue, Psylocke, Dazzler, Longshot, and Havok – who will be required to maintain Professor X’s dream of human/mutant coexistence. So Storm asks Sean Cassidy – formerly known as Banshee – to teach the newbies the ropes.

It is not an easy assignment. Psylocke is arrogant and far too sure of herself, while Rogue is still regarded as a potential enemy due to her mishap with Ms. Marvel. Dazzler is withdrawn, nervous, and has a grudge against Rogue due to an entirely different misunderstanding. And Longshot is as naïve as a child because he’s from an entirely different dimension and has no idea what this world is like.

Worst of all is Havok, Scott Summers’ younger brother Alex. Banshee hopes he will lead the team, but Alex doesn’t want to do it. This isn’t just because he is tired of super heroics and desires a normal life. He’s certain that Sean only wants him to lead the team because of his relationship with Scott, the legendary leader of the X-Men.

That’s not Sean’s intent at all, but Alex won’t listen to reason. He doesn’t recognize his own leadership potential, and combined with his distaste for the role, he only succeeds in making things harder for Banshee. Until an exercise with British intelligence goes horribly wrong, the group looks more like a band of squabbling children than a united team of superheroes.

In terms of storytelling, this installment is very good. Unfortunately, it comes with an attached Warning for Younger Readers. There is a fair bit of foul language present in this tale, which surprised me. I was under the impression that sort of thing crept into the comics in either the ‘90s or the 2000s. Apparently that wasn’t the case. There is also quite a bit of gore, but it isn’t particularly graphic. Not by my standards, at least. So “Up the Hill Backwards” is still a good read, but the language and gore may be a serious problem for some young readers.

Now “The Cause” I disliked a fair bit. Set in the ‘90s, this story revolves around the release of one of the X-Men’s enemies from prison. Reverend Striker – no preacher in the X-Men films – is being released on good behavior. But that performance doesn’t extend to mutants in general or the X-Men in particular.

What is more, Striker’s followers are letting them know it. Led by his right hand man Gabriel Merritt, the “Striker Crusade” has been murdering mutants left and right to send the message that they are ready and willing to kill them all regardless of race, sex, or age. They’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest that has started race riots all over the country. Merritt is pleased with these events but he is not so happy with one of his Crusaders.

More than a little crazy, this girl has developed an intense crush on Merritt. She makes her murders or the murders she participates in more gruesome and twisted for that very reason; she is hoping to impress him and make him fall in love with her. So when he gives her the cold shoulder, she’s more than a little upset. And when his attempt to boost the Crusade by having Striker murdered goes awry, “the voices in her head” give her a new target to focus on. (Hint: it isn’t Striker.)

Thinking back, I believe that this story probably qualifies for a Warning for Younger Readers, too. “Cause” starts with the brutal murder of a young mutant making a living as a stage magician, and it’s about as cruel as you can imagine. So this is a story some younger readers may wish to pass over for a few years along with “Up the Hill Backwards.”

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Finally, we have “Gifts.” Set in the early 2000s, this tale follows a more mature Rogue, a humbled Psylocke, and Nightcrawler as they race to save people from Laguardia Airport during an apparent earthquake. With Cerebro detecting mutant activity in the area, the X-Men know they are dealing with one of their own. The problem is they don’t know who they are dealing with. The damage has no discernable pattern or purpose, no one claims credit for the wreckage and, luckily, no one is killed. It looks less like their new mutant is trying to make a statement and more like he/she is just having a temper tantrum.

In addition, each of the X-Men experience strange sensations of increased power during their midnight rescues. The source isn’t immediately visible to these mutant combat veterans/ first responders, but it proves to be as amazing as it is dangerous. By the time they get everything sorted out, dawn is coming.

I enjoyed this story almost as much as “First Commitments.” “Gifts” is vintage X-Men, following the team of three as they search for a mutant just discovering the power they have. There are no villains here and, aside from the constant trouble with earthquakes, no huge stakes. Best of all, this story is very young reader friendly. No curse words, no gore, and no sex. 😉

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Pick up Five Decades of the X-Men at your earliest convenience, readers. Despite the poor grammar (and “The Cause”), this is one Marvel book anyone would be proud to have on their shelf!

‘Til next time!

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Remembering Stan “The Man” Lee

Stan Lee Confirms Three Upcoming Marvel Movie Cameos

As many, if not most, of you know by now, Stan Lee died on the morning of November 12, 2018. It was sad news for all the Marvelites who had enjoyed his universe and characters since childhood. We knew that someday Stan would have to go on the Great Adventure all his heroes were preparing us to face in the future, naturally, but we put all thoughts of his departure as far from our minds as possible.

This made it a blow when we got the news that he had passed through the curtain to the Other Side. I hope his wife and his second daughter were waiting for him when he got off the train. But as with my own fate, what has become of him now will remain a mystery until it is my turn to go through the curtain.

To say that Stan Lee and his friends at Marvel impacted this blogger’s life enormously would be an understatement. Without him and his compatriots, most of whom predeceased him, Thoughts on the Edge of Forever would not exist in the form you know it, readers. The first post I wrote here focused on Marvel’s The Avengers, the big box office hit of 2012 that kicked off roughly ten years of cinematic fun. And as long time readers know, most of the criticism on this site has been aimed at Marvel’s current hierarchy precisely because they were dishonoring Stan Lee’s legacy before he had even said his last, “Excelsior!”

None of this is to imply that Stan Lee was perfect. That would be ridiculous; he was a man, a fallen, flawed human being like me and everyone else in this world. I don’t think he was perfect. Perfect isn’t the point. He was a good storyteller and a good friend to all those who loved his and his company’s work, whether they met him in person or not.

Without his heroes – his flawed, human heroes – lots of people would have thrown in the towel on life and limb a long time ago. Captain America, Hawkeye, Spider-Man, Wasp, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Storm, Cyclops, Rogue, Gambit, Wolverine, Mirage, Black Widow, Falcon, Sunfire, Luke Cage, Namor the Submariner, Hulk, Thor Odinson, Black Panther, Professor X, Silver Sable – they all inspired someone. They all faced evils we could relate to, or could see ourselves encountering some day. They could have turned back from fighting evil lots of times under Stan’s leadership, but they didn’t. They all thought, “I can’t hang on much longer…!” only to come to the conclusion that they had to hang on longer, even if it killed them. Without their strength, many of us would have stopped holding on and fighting years ago.

So I will be forever grateful to Stan Lee for bringing these characters to the world, and for each story he wrote, approved, or spearheaded. Quaint or odd as it may seem, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without his help, distant though it was. Keep on going “ever higher,” Stan. We’ll be rooting for you until it’s our turn to finally glance over our shoulders, give everyone behind us a thumbs up, and say: “’Nuff said.”

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Penelope – A Review

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Last year at some point, a friend happened to turn on the tag end of the film Penelope. Though convinced to watch the next running of the show, I was less than enthusiastic about it. Too often films have a premise that sounds interesting, only to devolve into lectures on how we should despair, kick the bucket, or otherwise lie down and die. (Yeah, not my fictional forte, thank you very much.)

Anyway, I sat down to watch Penelope, and soon ate my thoughts about how bad this movie was going to be.

Penelope is a fairytale. It starts back in the nineteenth century, when the heir to a rich or “blue blood” family has a fling with one of the servants. She ends up pregnant and he declares to his family his intention to marry her. Well, the family “soon shows him how silly this idea” is and he marries a different woman, a rich heiress and fellow blue blood. Heartbroken, the serving girl kills herself and their baby. The young woman’s mother, a witch, curses the family in a bout of vengeful fury, promising that the first daughter born to this family of “blue bloods” will have the ears and nose of a pig.

No one really pays attention to the curse, mostly because the family line is passed down through the men after this happens. Then a perfectly normal, healthy girl is born in the family in about the 1940s. So much for that curse, right?

Eh, not exactly. Turns out the mother had an affair on the side, and so the girl was not actually related to her “father.”

Then we come to the modern day, when Penelope is born. She is, technically, the firstborn daughter in the family since it was hexed. And she has the ears and nose of a pig, just like the witch promised.

Both Penelope’s parents are upset by this turn of events, but her mother takes it far worse than her father. She goes to extremes to protect Penelope from the nosy press, blinding a reporter (played by Peter Dinklage) in one eye when he hides in the house and tries to snap a photo of her and her daughter. In order to put a stop to all the spying, Penelope’s mother fakes her daugher’s death, going so far as to cremate her coffin in order to make the swarm of reporters leave them alone. Far-fetched as this plan may seem, it actually works. The reporters disperse and the family becomes reclusive after their daughter’s “death.”

However, none of this eases the mother’s fears that someone will discover her daughter is still alive. So like Rapunzel in her tower, Penelope is raised inside her palatial house for the next twenty years or so. She is not even allowed on the mansion’s grounds; her mother has pictures in her windows of day and night skies complete with hillsides and flowers, so she can see something other than the backyard every morning and every evening. Penelope has never been outside the house for more than a few minutes during her entire life.

Penelope’s mother has placed all her bets on the promise of a cure for the curse; her daughter will have the nose and ears of a pig until a “blue blood” accepts her as one of their own – i.e., until a boy from “old money” marries her. To that end, her mother hires a professional matchmaker after training Penelope in all the arts of being a suitable bride from the time she can toddle.

When her daughter reaches marriageable age, suitors are called into an empty room with a mirror above the fireplace. This mirror is a one way window; Penelope stands on the other side and talks to the suitor, who cannot see through the mirror. After the beau of the day has finished proposing his undying love for her, Penelope leaves her secret room to talk to him directly.

Every one of her suitors runs off in fright when they see her pig nose (her hair hides her ears). They jump out of the second floor window or they run out the front door in an attempt to escape her. The family’s butler has to chase them down and drag them back to the house after this so they can sign a non-disclosure agreement, keeping Penelope’s secret. Then the whole process begins again the next day.

But one day the butler is not fast enough to catch an escaping suitor, who blabs about Penelope to the whole world. Everyone laughs at him, of course, except for Peter Dinklage’s reporter. He has never seen Penelope’s face, but he does not believe the story that she died and was cremated. He also holds a personal grudge against her mother for blinding him in one eye.

So with this suitor’s haphazard help, Dinklage hires the down-on-his-luck son of a “blue blood” (James McAvoy) to go see Penelope and secretly take a photo of her. What no one counts on, however, is the young man actually falling in love with her through their mirror conversations.

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Penelope eventually leaves her secret room to see how he will react to her face-to-face. He does not run away like the others until he triggers the hidden camera on his person. But even that would not be enough to dissuade the smitten Penelope, proved when she begs him to marry her and lift the curse.

For a long, heartbreaking moment, her knight in shining armor stares at her. You can see he wants to say yes, that he does love her in spite of the curse. But something makes him say he cannot marry her, though it is obvious he really, truly wants to do so.

The rest of the story you will have to discover yourselves, readers. I have spoiled the first twenty to thirty minutes here already. Before I go I have to say that the acting in this film is superb. This has to be one of McAvoy’s best performances – better than his Mr. Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe and far above his version of Professor X. (I say that because the X-Men movies are lousy, not as an attack on Mr. McAvoy.)

Most modern film fairytales are goofy and generally ruin or mock the genre. Penelope does not do that. It wears its fairytale label proudly, in my opinion, refusing to bow to the critics who try to make us think children’s stories are fluff and nonsense. It tells a great story which “kids from one to ninety-two” can enjoy and love. Even if romance films are not your thing, I think you ought to at least try Penelope. I did and, not only did I live to tell the tale, but I actually liked it and want to (someday) add it to my film collection.

Watch Penelope at your next opportunity, readers. It won’t kill you. ;P

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Spotlight: X-Men – Storm/Ororo Munroe

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You may or may not remember the introduction I wrote for the Spotlight! post on Rogue, readers. I happened to find some articles about the “Strong Female Character” model Hollywood and the usual suspects have been trying to force on us lately. I have already written two posts of my own on this subject, both with the title “Strong Women,” but these other articles got me thinking harder about the subject. How can Marvel’s heroines, most of whom have superpowers, be strong women without being “SFC”s?

Well, in the case of Storm/Ororo Munroe, that question is not hard to answer. But it is a little time consuming, as I am going to give you a history of the character to deepen your understanding of her. A lot goes into making a competent heroine, while not much goes into the making of a stereotypical SFC, and the difference should be illustrated.

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One of the reasons I was disappointed by the X-Men films was Storm’s appearance. Storm had always been one of my favorite X-Men. In fact, when reading the Animorphs series, I was upset when one of the characters was compared to Storm. This character was Rachel, a blonde, blue-eyed beauty with the heart of an Amazon. I was not happy with another character choosing to compare her to Storm; the only thing Rachel and Storm had in common were their blue eyes, readers. After that, they were as different as apples and oranges.

So I thought having Storm in the films would be great. But when I saw Halle Berry playing the character, I was let down by the fact that a) she did not look like the Storm I knew, and b) she seemed to be completely watered down as a character.

If you are scratching your head and wondering why I would think this, allow me to explain. Storm is actually an African-American character, something that is never mentioned in the movies. Her mother was a Kenyan princess but her father was an American photojournalist. This is presumably where Storm gets her blue eyes; I cannot say for sure, but I think her father may have been white. I know he was American, and this is what makes her African-American.

Anyway, the couple married and moved to Cairo, Egypt, after Storm was born in New York City, New York. When Ororo was four years old, her parents’ apartment complex was accidentally bombed by a fighter jet flying overhead. Both of Ororo’s parents were killed and she herself was buried in the rubble for days. The extended confinement at this tender age left her with severe claustrophobia; even as an adult who has fought hundreds of battles against the nastiest people you can imagine, Ororo is terrified of small spaces. It is her biggest weakness, but luckily it is not always exploited by her enemies.

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After she was orphaned, Storm lived on the streets of Cairo for the next few years of her life. She made a meager living by picking pockets and stealing during this time. (That was not a very heroic start to life, huh, readers?) Finally, about the age of twelve or thirteen, Ororo did decide she had had enough of this life and left Cairo on foot.

On her way further into Africa, Storm met her future ex-husband T’Challa, who would someday become King of Wakanda and an Avenger. They did not stay together long, as Storm still did not feel at home in the area where they met. So she kept walking until she found a place that felt right to her (this place was, presumably, Kenya, her mother’s homeland). Here her mutant powers manifested and the locals worshipped her as a deity. In the X-Men: Evolution series, they gave her the name “Wind Rider.”

This village is where the Professor found and recruited Ororo into the X-Men. Partly because she had been playing goddess, partly due to her royal heritage, Storm became one of the most unflappable members of the team.

But there is more than mere instinct and training involved in Storm’s calm demeanor. You see, remaining calm is the best way for her to control her powers. Unlike Thor Odinson, Ororo cannot make a storm or even raise a wind out of thin air. This is Thor’s ability because his hammer does not need existing weather patterns to drum up wicked weather – it can create new weather patterns as instantly as Thor can think of them.

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Storm has to use existing weather patterns to create the weather she needs/wants. She has to draw moisture into one area from another or pull wind from one area to her.

In confined spaces, such as the X-Men’s Danger Room or another building, this is no real biggie as far as I know. Ororo can get the needed air and moisture from the building and nature will not become unbalanced because the internal temperature and moisture of a building is kept at a regular level by the heating/cooling systems.

This is not the case outside of this restricted environment. When she is flying above a city or a continent, if Ororo pulls too much hot air from one region and too much moisture from another, she can upset the balance of the weather in that area for a long time. She may even upset it forever, if she overdoes it.

So while Storm’s powers are fantastic and amazing, she has to be careful when she uses them. Her powers are tightly tied to her emotional state; if Ororo gets angry or becomes frightened, the weather will turn wild and ugly in response. This is the other reason for her quiet, tranquil attitude; Storm cannot lose control of herself in the smallest degree, because the effects will be far larger than a normal temper tantrum or a righteous scolding would allow. She could flood entire cities if she lost her restraint and this is why she rarely lets her temper out of the bag.

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However, this does not mean that Ororo does not have a temper. It just means that you have to work hard to get her to show it. Mystique pulled that off at the beginning of Evolution’s third season; she had kidnapped the Professor and pretended to be him for the last few episodes of season two.

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But her deception was only revealed at the end of season two, to be picked up at the beginning of season three. This was after the X-Men’s first public battle, where some of their members were captured by the government. After Nick Fury gave the X-Men information on their captured teammates, Storm began to plan the rescue operation…

…Only for Mystique to forcibly take command of the rescue mission away from her and put herself in charge. She did this, she claimed, because the Blob had been taken into custody along with the captured X-Men.

Already upset by the previous day’s chain of events, Mystique taking command of her team really got Ororo angry. Without thinking, she drummed up an instantaneous thunderstorm that might have had dire consequences for the town nearby. It took Jean Grey’s quick reminder about Mystique’s threat to the Professor’s life to make Ororo put the genie back in the bottle. The fact that she was able to “turn her powers off” so quickly is a testament to how much self-control Storm exerts over her emotions in times of stress such as this.

So how does this make Storm something other than an SFC? For one thing, Ororo is far more poised and graceful than most of the SFC characters I have seen. She is calm (usually), polite, composed, and does not think herself the better of any of the men in her life. Case in point would be the above episode I mentioned, where Storm bottled up her temper and her powers in order not to put the Professor’s life in jeopardy. It would have been far more of a struggle for Carol Danvers to do that, readers.

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Another thing which separates Ororo from the SFC model is her motherly tendencies. These first manifested in the comics when young Kitty Pryde – eventually codenamed Shadowcat – joined the team. Thirteen at the time in the comics, Kitty and her family had already been approached by a sinister telepath named Emma Frost. Kitty did not like the woman at all, but she sang a different tune when the X-Men – including Ororo – knocked on her parents’ door to ask to see her.

Kitty and Ororo apparently hit it off at once, and Storm has always been something of a “battle mother” for the younger X-Men. Shadowcat was not the last child she took a shine to; Ororo has “mothered” many other X-Men during their first days on the team, though I do not think she did it as obviously in most cases as she did with Kitty.

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The possible exception might have been in Evolution. In that series, Storm was given a sister who was married and had a son, Evan. Ororo is an only child in the original stories, but the writers for Evolution added a sister so they could bring her nephew, Evan Daniels, into the series. Codenamed Spyke, Evan’s mutant power was shooting greenish, bony spikes from his body. This meant that he had to drink a lot of milk to keep his calcium levels on a healthy plane.

But Evan was also a typical New York teen who thought he was tougher than he actually was. Ororo’s maternal inclinations were mostly directed toward him for the series’ duration as she tried to teach him that being tough meant more than talking hard and playing rough. She was also continually trying to get him to be more disciplined, as Evan had a bad penchant for fooling around or goofing off when he should have been studying – either at school or in the Mansion’s Danger Room.

This shows that, unlike the stereotypical SFC trope, Ororo has never demonstrated a dislike of motherhood. She has expressed on occasion a fondness for the role and a desire to someday be a mother, something she achieved in several alternate timeline comics with T’Challa. In two different timelines (or the same one) they had two sons; one was named after T’Challa’s father and the other was named Azari. So Ororo definitely does not check the Feminista boxes for hating children and motherhood.

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Storm and T’Challa’s son, Azari, in action.

Storm also does not have the super education the Femi-Nazis like to hold over everyone’s heads. Like Rogue, she learned most of her lessons on the streets, not in a brick and mortar school. And she actually had to learn those lessons from a younger age; Ororo was living on the streets of Cairo from the age of four. That was not easy or fun, readers.

This does not mean that Ororo is stupid or a rube. But it does mean that she is not a mechanic or super scientist. She is, as Evolution put it, a “weather witch” and a mother figure. Her interest lies in people and nature – and not in the way that the Feminists would want her to focus on these things.

I have never had any gripes with Storm prior to the X-Men film franchise. Halle Berry, most likely due to the directors’ interference, does not do the character justice, even all these long years later. My only gripe with the character in the comics was her first combat suit and a recent remake, which exposes way too much of Storm’s body. Newsflash, Marvel writers, combat includes getting shot at and having knives or other sharp objects thrown at you. The absolute LAST thing a woman – or a man, for that matter, unless he is the Hulk or someone like that – should be wearing on the battlefield is a revealing suit. It looks great on the runway but it is a bad, bad, bad idea in a fight.

As I said in my post about Rogue, I think Storm is one of the few characters who can skate by with long hair. With her powers, very few people can actually get close enough to her to grab her hair, let alone any other part of her body. And even if they do manage to tackle her out of the sky, her hair will be the absolute last thing they will reach for because they will not want to grab and hold her. They will want to knock her out as fast as possible so that they can slap an inhibitor collar around her neck.

So no, I do not want Ororo’s hair cut short, as Halle Berry has occasionally worn it. And no, I DEFINITELY DO NOT WANT STORM TO HAVE A MOHAWK. PERIOD!!!!!!!

I can also give Storm a pass on the cape she wears. Normally, I do not care too much for superhero capes. You can thank The Incredibles for this one, readers; the film made a point that capes look great but they can also be as dangerous as long hair.

In Ororo’s case, her capes have rarely been in her way. She also used her cape at one point in the book, Kidnapped in the Catacombs, to snare Callisto’s foot. (Callisto is the leader of the Morlocks, enemies of the X-Men you can learn more about in the post “Spotlight: An Introduction to Marvel’s X-Men, Part 2.”) When Storm pulled on her cape, she sent Callisto flying headfirst into a wall.

The reason she was able to do this with her cape was because it was not a full cape; it was a crescent shaped cape that connected to the back of Storm’s suit and at the cuffs of her sleeves, leaving a space in between her arms and the cape. A regular cape, I do not think, would be able to do this, but I could be wrong.

Either way, my favorite suit for Storm was the silver one we saw in the 1990s X-Men series. The one she wore in Evolution was not bad, but it was too dark for my tastes.

Well, readers, this is my take on Storm/Ororo Munroe, and these are the reasons why I cannot picture her as a Feminista. She just does not have it in her. The writers could try to add it to her character, of course, but that would go over about as well as the Mohawk they gave her did. Storm is not the modern idea of an SFC and she can never be this because she was designed to be a heroine, not a talking point on a Feminist bulletin board.

The idea that some people might put her there, for any reason, is enough to get me pretty angry. If it has not yet been made clear by my posts about Cap, Hawkeye, Gambit, and Rogue, you do not want to mess with my favorite characters.

Excelsior!

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Avengers Assemble: Secret Wars – Rescuing the Heroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avengers – Assemble!

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Spotlight: X-Men – Rogue/Anna Marie

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Recently, I found a number of posts dealing with a topic I have addressed on my own blog. Apparently yours truly is not the only one to notice and take umbrage with the current fascination for creating so-called “strong female characters.” There have been a couple of articles on other sites dealing with the subject. I have read them and they have gotten the gears in this cranium turning, which lead me to today’s subject: the X-Man Rogue.

First off we will go down the list of Rogue’s abilities. Those familiar with her history in the comics and television will have to bear with me, because I am going to rehash some old storylines to keep everyone in the loop.

The Marvel newcomer who is not entering the multi-verse via the poisoned comics will find Rogue in the X-Men films. This version of Rogue is close but not quite the same as the one found in older comics and cartoons. There is no slight intended when I say that the film portrayal of the character is actually a poorer presentation than the original. Anna Paquin does a good job as Rogue; it is the writers and director(s) of the X-Men films who have mishandled the character.

Anyway, if you “met” Rogue in these films, then you know that her mutant ability is to absorb the memories, talents, and/or mutant powers of anyone with whom she comes into skin contact. You also think she got that white streak in her hair after Magneto force-fed his abilities to her before the final battle in the first movie, but she had that from the moment she appeared in the comics. (I do not like how they gave it to her in the films; it takes away from her character – in my ‘umble opinion.)

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I have stated many times that I do not like the X-Men films, so I am going to stop talking about them here and go straight to Rogue’s comic book and cartoon histories. Similar to the films, Rogue’s mutant power manifested when she and her boyfriend, Cody, were having their first kiss. Rogue was thirteen at the time and so she was more than a little frightened when Cody suddenly passed out mid-smooch.

Rejected by her family for being a mutant, Rogue ran away from home, afraid to make skin contact of any kind with anyone. Mystique, in a guise other than her real blue-skinned, red-haired form, found Rogue and recruited her into her latest cabal of mutant trouble makers. She practically adopted Rogue as her own daughter….

…But she treated her as a secret weapon, using Rogue to her advantage in fights with the X-Men. Rogue was completely loyal to Mystique because she had taken her in and given her direction when no one else had and when no one else would give her the time of day. She rarely balked when told to use her absorption abilities on an X-Man, security guard, or some other person Mystique wanted knocked out or who had information she desired.

The one instance I know of in the comics where Rogue refused to use her power was when Mystique told her to absorb Angel’s abilities. Rogue was afraid that she would grow wings like his, so she did not want to touch him. As you may know from watching the films, readers, the powers Rogue absorbs eventually fade away. The memories and skills she “downloads” along with them remain like “ghost files” in her head, but they do not (usually) bother her after a while. Prior to 2015, the writers made it possible for Rogue to “recall” individual powers and abilities she had previously stolen from people, something I consider cheating. But in the case I mention above, Rogue did not have that power and she feared she would be stuck with Angel’s wings permanently if she touched him, so Mystique did not get her way in that episode.

Eventually, Rogue’s servitude to Mystique led her into a fight with Carol Danvers. At the time Danvers’ codename was still Ms. Marvel, and so her uniform consisted of a black swimsuit with a yellow lightning bolt emblazed on the front. Because her suit had no sleeves or pants, she was a perfect target for Rogue’s absorption abilities.

Thinking Danvers would be easy enough to overcome, Rogue grabbed hold of her and started draining her powers.

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But unlike Rogue’s other opponents, Danvers did not immediately pass out. Since her powers come from Kree DNA that was somehow bonded to her body, Danvers possesses almost as much physical strength as Ben Grimm. She also has the ability to fire bolts of energy from her hands, sub-supersonic flight, indestructability, a ferocious Kree temper, and a precognitive “seventh sense” that allows her to see her opponent’s next move before it happens. I have never seen this last power demonstrated – and the number of times that Danvers has been smacked, thrown around, or otherwise hit makes me think she does not actually have this power.

Anyway, the Kree DNA kept Danvers awake longer than any of the other people Rogue had touched. It also fueled her anger and she started fighting back. Frightened by Danvers’ unexpected reaction to her powers, Rogue tried to let the woman go and make good her escape.

But Danvers would not let Rogue go. The two struggled for an eternity of minutes before they crashlanded. Once that happened Rogue discovered that, not only was she physically unharmed along with Danvers, but the other woman was out cold at last beside her in the dirt.

After this, Rogue found she had absorbed Danvers’ capabilities of flight, indestructibiliy, and superhuman strength. These powers did not fade over the next two or three days, as all her other “borrowed” powers had, and it looked like they were hers for keeps.

But she soon discovered that these fantastic powers came with a terrible price. Her prolonged contact with Danvers’ meant that she didn’t just have the woman’s memories and powers; Danvers’ psyche was stuck in Rogue’s mind and body at the same time Danvers’ own body remained in a hospital in a coma. Her personality – almost her entire being – was seemingly just as much Rogue’s property now as her powers were.

This unintended arrangement left Ms. Marvel less than pleased, and Rogue soon found she didn’t like it either. If Ms. Marvel really made an effort at it, she could commandeer Rogue’s body. Rogue would black out in one place and wake up in another, sometimes wearing Danvers’ suit or accoutrements and surrounded by the things Danvers enjoyed. This was more than a little frightening and upsetting for her, and it brought her to the realization that she had practically committed murder by absorbing Danvers’ mind into herself.

As Rogue’s guilt grew, she asked her “Mama” to find a way to make Danvers go away or to transfer her out of her body. But Mystique did not know how to do that and, what is more, she did not want to do that. She might have thought that Rogue could adapt to having Danvers in her mind or something like that, too, because she wanted Rogue to go on using her powers – despite the fact that her “daughter” was sharing space with another woman who could take control of Rogue’s body at the most unexpected or unwelcome moments.

This led Rogue to run away again. Knowing the X-Men as well as she did, she went to them for help in removing Danvers’ psyche.

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Her reception was not a warm one. Danvers had worked with the X-Men on more than one mission, so they considered her a friend (for what reason, I have no idea). Wolverine was especially upset, since he and Danvers were particularly close. (Again, I have no idea why they were such good friends. Danvers should have driven Wolvie half crazy ninety percent of the time, but this did not happen, probably because the writers were working overtime to make their “uber woman” more acceptable to their audience through her acceptance by the other characters in the Marvel Universe.) Aside from the Professor, no one on the team saw anything likeable about Rogue, and she was a virtual outcast in the team she had sought out for help, as well as to begin to make amends for her past misdeeds.

But Rogue did finally earn full acceptance by the X-Men, becoming one of their most valued members and friends. Wolverine ultimately thawed to her as well, to the point that he became her informal protector and mentor during her early days on the team. She has since become one of the most recognizable and loved characters in Marvel Comics, as evidenced by the fact that yours truly is a fan of her.

What does Rogue have to do with the push for feminization in fiction? For a long time in the comics and cartoons, Rogue’s most apparent abilities were the ones which she had stolen from Danvers, to the point that I, as a young viewer, thought they were her actual mutant powers. Throughout the 1990s comics and cartoons, Rogue would punch or throw the villains into walls, knock down buildings, or hold up heavy pieces of buildings during different battles.

This meant that she was able to shake off resultant punishment in a battle as well. While fighting several Sentinels in the 1990s pilot, one of the robots hit Rogue in the back with his fist, sending her smack into the floor. Lifting herself up on her hands and knees at the bottom of the crater, Rogue shot the robot a smile and chided it for its bad behavior. Then she flew up, grabbed it under the arm, and threw it to the floor, where it promptly flew to pieces.

That is a pretty impressive display of strength, you have to admit. And I was young enough that such displays excited me. I happily rooted for Rogue whenever she pulled off an amazing feat of strength like that. I was a young, impressionable child who loved superheroes. I wanted to be strong when I grew up, strong enough to fight evil the way that I saw my heroes fighting it every Saturday morning. It is completely normal.

I do not know when it happened, but after a while Rogue’s apparent superpowers stopped being the main reason for my interest in her. It might have been the episode where she and Nightcrawler learned they were related through Mystique, or it might have been a different show entirely. All I know is that, after a while, I liked Rogue for Rogue and not for her superpowers.

Again, you ask, what does all this have to do with the strong woman trope we are having forced on us in fiction today? Some people have said that the feats of strength Rogue pulled off in the ‘90s might have been overdone.

This is entirely possible, even probable, but I would like it if these critics would keep a few things about her in mind. Some of the reasons Rogue’s fighting style in the ‘90s (and before and after in the comics) may have looked improbable were because Rogue herself did not actually know how to use her strength, or she was relying on Danvers’ understanding of how to use increased strength during a battle.

And, because she had Danvers’ indestructability, Rogue might have thrown herself into certain situations for no other reason than to protect a teammate who would squish far more easily than she would. These are possibilities I would suggest for any maneuvers the writers had her perform which people find hard to believe. I think they should remember that, from Rogue’s point of view, these maneuvers might have seemed totally normal or reasonable to her, given what she knew of using her super strength. Rogue did not have the best education, which we’ll cover in more depth below, and so she did not and does not know as much about physics as readers/viewers and others do.

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The other thing viewers and readers should keep in mind when they watch Rogue fight is her absorbing ability. If she suddenly acquires the strength of the Unstoppable Juggernaut and begins throwing him around, it can look a little silly to us. Here is a girl who barely comes up to Juggernaut’s hip whirling him around over her head like a ragdoll. Under normal circumstances, it is totally implausible and stupid looking.

But Rogue is not normal, especially when she absorbs the powers of others. If she absorbs Juggernaut’s power, then she has his strength. Whether she has it in proportion to her size, weight, and height does not matter; you could drop a building on her while she has Juggernaut’s powers and she won’t even get a bloddy nose, for the simple reason that he would not get a bloody nose. Unfair? Maybe, but this is fantasy we are talking about here. We enjoy it precisely because it allows us to imagine stuff we cannot actually do.

The other thing to remember is that Rogue cannot just activate the powers she steals willy-nilly. She has to access the memories of the people who actually own these powers so she can avoid blowing up the countryside or flooding Manhattan. If she wants to use Juggernaut’s own strength against him, she will rely on his memories – muscle and conscious/subconscious – to make the best possible use of his powers. Juggernaut’s fighting style is not Rogue’s, nor should it be. But when she immerses herself, however shallowly she does it, in his memories this means that we will see her fighting the way that he does. It looks ridiculous, but when you keep this aspect of her powers in mind it becomes understandable and allowable.

Now this does NOT mean the writers should not be held to a high standard when they portray her pulling off these feats, but it does mean that it behooves us, as the audience, to remember the McGuffin that allows Rogue to survive these battles and/or perfom these stunts. It is a balance between the writers knowing their craft and the audience accepting the parameters of the story they are telling. Writers who abuse or talk down to their audience must rightly be called out for their arrogance. But an audience that will accept a good story with thousands of impossible McGuffins scattered throughout it should not throw stones in glass houses. That is my opinion, anyway.

Now we will discuss why Rogue is not an “SFC” or “Strong Female Character” in the vein that Carol Danvers, Thorette, and Thundra are.

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Long story short, Rogue does not qualify as the modern strong woman. First, her character design has fluctuated since the ‘90s and she no longer has the muscle structure of Ms. Marvel. Rogue is nothing like Carol Danvers, Thundra, or Thorette. These female characters are cardboard cutouts designed to appease and appeal to the Femi-Nazis, who are forever unhappy and whose hunger for the destruction of Western culture is utterly insatiable. It may appear from her 1990s debut – and, for all I know, some of Marvel’s newest stories – that Rogue qualifies as a “SFC,” but the fact is that Rogue is not a cardboard cutout, nor is she a strong woman in the sense that she is faster, smarter, and stronger than the guys.

One of the first people to admit that she is not smarter than almost anyone you could name would be Rogue herself. She is capable of outwitting an opponent and she is not stupid, but she is not a scholar, or a mechanic, or a super genius, or any of the other “SFC” tropes. What is more, she does not – or did not – pretend to be any of the above when I watched her on television and knew her in my limited way in the comics.

Most of the knowledge that Rogue possesses of higher mathematics, scholarly enterprises, etc., is knowledge that she stole from others. In the comics, Rogue ran away from home when she was thirteen. She spent years on the road after this, and a few more years under Mystique’s “guidance” before joining the X-Men. I do not think there was a lot of time in there for regular schooling, do you, readers? No, there was not. So this means her formal education ended, practically speaking, after she left home.

Now Danvers went through all the schooling necessary to become an Air Force pilot and Jane Foster – who used to be a perfectly respectable character – had to go through extensive schooling and training to become a nurse. We are just supposed to accept that Thundra, being from an alternate universe where women are the dominant sex (ignore the barfing sounds on the other side of the screen, please, readers) is naturally smarter than any man on this Earth or her own – though it is funny how she never shows it.

None of the above applies to Rogue. Everything she has learned since she discovered her powers has been taught to her by circumstance and by the consequences of her choices; her smarts were earned in the school of hard knocks, not in a brick and mortar building. Danvers, for all her supposed superiority to men, learns nothing from the battles she takes a part in. The evidence of this is that she is one of the few Marvel characters with no ability to resist telepathic control for even a fraction of a second. Rogue has had to learn to be tough to survive; Danvers survives through the writers’ stubborn intent to keep her alive.

In moments of downtime in the 1990s series, Rogue also had a generally cheerful demeanor. She smiled, laughed, and joked regularly; this showed that she was someone who genuinely loved life, despite the numerous punches she had been dealt by it.

In contrast, Danvers’ sense of humor is thinner than cellophane plastic. When she teases or jokes, it sounds tinny and unreal; when she smiles, it does not soften her features. It makes her look like she is stretching her face to the breaking point.

Something else that differentiates Rogue from the “SFC” trope is that she is vulnerable. I read a book some time ago by Fr. Dwight Longenecker called The Romance of Religion. One of the interesting things he mentions in the book is that hero(es) of stories tend to have a fault or a wound that they must bear as they do their duty or carry on their quest.

Looking out over most of fiction – and especially Marvel – I have to think he is on to something here. From Spider-Man to T’Challa, from Captain America to Punisher, from Hawkeye to Ben Grimm, most of Marvel’s characters have some sort of emotional injury that they carry with them wherever they go. And ninety-nine point nine percent of them have character flaws they have to either overcome or continually wrestle to control – although by now, that fact is out the window. In Marvel’s – and our – brave new world, flaws are to be embraced, not resisted. They are natural to us while self-control is just an artificial restraint society uses to keep us down. (Yes, I am being sarcastic, readers.)

In the original stories, Rogue’s great emotional weakness was her inability to make skin contact with another human being – or any other being, for that matter. She had to wear longsleeved shirts and long pants, as well as gloves, all the time. She could not pat Wolverine on the hand with her own bare hand. She could not let someone brush up against her arms if her shirt, jacket, or suit somehow lost its sleeves – and she could never, ever kiss a man for more than a few seconds. And even the briefest of kisses would be dangerous for him.

This last was particularly painful for her because, during the ‘90s, Gambit was actively courting her. Oh, he would flirt with plenty of other girls during the series, but the one he consistently went after with every ounce of charm he could muster was Rogue.

Usually, Rogue would flirt back, but that was as far as she could and would let it go. Aside from two different times that I know of where Gambit kissed her, Rogue had to put her glove over his mouth and kiss that to show her feelings for him. On more than one occasion, her frustration with her inability to safely touch someone, anyone, would drive her to anger and/or cause her to make an avoidable mistake.

This was Rogue’s greatest vulnerability, but she had others. When captured along with the other X-Men by Mr. Sinister and his Nasty Boyz in the ‘90s TV series, Rogue admitted to Gambit that she was scared. Sinister had found a way to block mutant powers in this episode, which meant that both Rogue’s innate absorption abillities and the powers she had taken from Danvers were suppressed. “I don’t know how to fight these guys without my powers,” she admitted to Gambit.

Now, readers, can any of you name one single time that Carol Danvers has admitted that she is afraid of something/someone? I cannot. To the best of my knowledge, Danvers has never once shown fear. She might – MIGHT – show concern, but most of the time when she is captured or in a situation that looks grim, she just becomes angry. Thorette seems to be going the same route, while Thundra has always had a demonstrable temper and no real sense of, or respect for, fear.

Rogue certainly has a temper, but in this episode, anger was the furthest thing from her mind. Her primary emotion was fear because she did not know how to fight without using her powers. What “SFC” shows or admits to fear? I do not know of any, but if you can name me one, readers, I will look into her.

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In the series that followed the ‘90s X-Men, the writers changed Rogue’s appearance. They dropped Ms. Marvel from the series’ storyline and left Rogue to rely on her absorption ability alone. They also gave her and the rest of the teenage X-Men close combat and weapons’ training.

While this was a plus for Rogue, leaving her a way to protect herself if she could not somehow bring her mutant powers to bear, in my opinion the writers did make one mistake with her characterization in this series: Evolution showed Rogue as an anti-social teenage girl who was into Gothic makeup and clothing. Forget that her makeup would not have lasted five seconds in battle (yet it somehow lasted the entire series), the change in her demeanor was not something I think was really necessary. Rogue did well in the series but I did – and do – miss the cheerful zest for life she exhibited in the ‘90s.

Personally, I suspect the writers gave Rogue more angst because they thought it would sell. It must have, because the series lasted four seasons. Her tendency to brood and lose her temper did not detract from her willingness to help others, which was good, and this demeanor did give her a chance to connect with Wolverine as a father figure. While this last was especially nice, I still miss her earliler deportment a lot. If Marvel ever rights itself and starts telling good stories again, I hope they give Rogue back the joi de vive she had in the ‘90s.

One other good thing about Rogue’s appearance in Evolution was her shorter hair. It is a well known fact that sexual predators target women with long hair because then they can grab hold of it and use that hold to force the woman to go where they wish. Such a hold is painful – if you do not believe me, readers, try it on yourself. (Trust me, it hurts.)

One of the strange things that writers for modern films and stories – including comics – keep doing is they are sending their heroines into combat with long hair. This is silly, as it can be a weakness; the heroine’s hair could catch in a machine and suck her down a hole, or her opponent(s) could grab it and use that hold to keep her still. Your heroine may look great with long hair, but remember, readers and writers, that even Princess Leia’s hair was done up in such a way that a Stormtrooper couldn’t grab it and yank her back. There was also no chance of her long locks getting caught in the Millenium Falcon’s inductors because it was pinned up and out of the way.

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Allowing men into combat with beards is no more practical than sending women into a fight with long hair. (Yes, I AM looking at Cap’s beard in Infinity War.) One of the reasons the Romans shaved was so that, when they got into personal combat with an enemy, he would not be able grab the Roman’s beard and hold him immobilized long enough to behead him. Ask the Romans how they know about this.

Now most stories are fantasy, of course, and in some cases you can actually excuse the female characters’ long hair (who is going to be able to get close enough to Storm to grab her hair, I’d like to know?). However, Rogue’s shortened hair is not a problem for me, nor is her more feminine muscle tone.

This is why I do not and cannot see Rogue as the Feminist ideal of female superiority. Rogue is a normal woman with a power that she sees, with justification, as a curse rather than a gift. She has insecurities and fears; she makes mistakes and she is not well-educated outside of life’s hard lessons. Her strength does not come from her superpower or the powers she steals – it comes from her williness to fight evil. It comes from her desire to protect her friends and to make up for her errors in judgement. It comes of her willingness to consistently choose to be a heroine, even when doing so hurts her the most.

This is why she is one of my favorite X-Men and one of my favorite Marvel characters. This is why I cannot consider her a member of the “SFC” club, at least in her previous portrayals in the comics and cartoons. These days I can believe that Marvel would erase her from its canon if the banana brains in charge thought that would get them new subscribers and buyers. If they are going to try and make her the big, strong female character stereotype, they will ruin her as they have ruined all the other characters they are abusing.

But there is nothing I can do to stop them from torturing themselves like this. And at this point, telling them, “Hey, your company is bleeding money all over the place,” appears to be a waste of breath. If they want to bankrupt themselves, then nothing I say or do will stop them. I can only hope that when that happens, someone who loves the characters will buy the company and that they will hire good writers to clean up the mess. And yes, I would volunteer to be one of those writers in a heartbeat.

I hope it does not come to that, but it looks like it might. But if there is one thing Marvel’s myriad heroes have taught me, Rogue included, it’s that even when you get punched in the teeth, it does not mean the battle is over. It just means you got punched in the teeth. That is no reason to give up the fight.

So no, I do not intend to stop fighting. Only dead fish go with the flow, and I do not intend to be a dead fish. There is more than one way to fight, and the best way to fight Marvel’s current hierarchy is to introduce potential new Marvel fans to original Marvel fare.

In the interest of doing that, I recommend that you look up the 1990s X-Men televsion series, readers. Then study up on the characters in it, along with Marvel’s other heroes and heroines. Read between the lines; it is not the battles the characters take part in that are important, or the powers they wield, or the atrocities the current writers are making them commit –

It is who they are as characters that is important. This is what Marvel has decided to forget….

…..So this is what we have to remember and pass on to others.

EXCELSIOR!!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the only thing worth dying for.

The Mithril Guardian

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