Wednesday, October 7, 2015

From The Flash to Agents of SHIELD to Limitless: Heroes Don't Get Normal Lives

Oh  - Reverse-Flash, I mean, Dr. Harrison Wells,
I mean, Eobard Thawne, we hardly knew ye.
I sat down to watch the season premiere of The Flash and was stunned. I followed it up with an admirable Agents of SHIELD and ended my night by washing it all down with a sobering Limitless, before catching the liberal-bait that passes for TV news in Chicago. It all tied together, strangely.

O.K., so The Flash shows the final result of last season's finale, in which three people died to stop a time-traveling villain: our "Reverse Flash" a.k.a. Harrison Wells a.k.a. Eobard Thawne - who'd been our hero's trusted mentor. In a stunning classic example of time-travel causality, our bad guy is stopped by his grandfather - officer Eddie Thawne - shooting himself. With this self-inflicted gunshot wound, he stops Reverse-Flash and wipes him out of the timeline before our disbelieving eyes.

"That's all I ever wanted to be - your hero," says Eddie to Iris as he breathes his last.

In the feels, brah. In the feels.

Major Spoiler Alert!

Please Watch Episode First!

Did You Know It Was Really Cool?

O.K. - You Only Have Yourself to Blame...

Dr. Wells, THAT Was a Reversal
Now the corker: a lawyer shows up months later and tells Barry Allen that Dr. Harrison Wells, our bad guy mentor, left him a video will. Once he watches it, Barry will be granted all the wealth and property of STAR Labs. Barry wants nothing to do with it. He never wants to see Wells face again. He doesn't even want the team back together.

But after tackling the newest bad guy - Atom Smasher - on "Flash Appreciation Day" and nearly losing, Barry reconnects with his team and defeats him. He decides they will need STAR Labs if they are going to continue to fight the good fight.

That's when he hears what Wells gave up - 15 years of his life to mentor Barry, and now that he is dead, ["Bummer..."] he wants Barry to have what he built and even gives Barry what he desires most: justice for his father.

"We were never truly enemies, Barry; I'm not the thing you hate.... and so, I'm going to give you the thing you want most. It won't matter. You'll never be truly happy, Barry Allen! Trust me. I know you."

"Erase everything up to this point and give the following to the police: I, Harrison Wells, being of sound mind and body, freely confess to the murder of Nora Allen..."

[Mind = Blown]

This evidence sets Barry's dad free from prison. Once free, however, there is another gut punch: Barry's dad realizes he cannot come back and "restore his family" that time has passed. He too must leave.

So in one episode we got everything we wanted but the hero got nothing he wanted.

Blown away, I took a deep breath, and watched Agents of SHIELD, then Limitless.

Neither compared with the power of The Flash, but they were good stories, and this theme of heroic loss kept appearing: if you are the hero, you are not going to have the life you want.

You aren't going to be "happy" or "settled down." Not in the traditional sense.

In Agents of SHIELD, Agent May visits her elderly dad who ends up saying she cannot come home and settle down with him. She has "to get back up", like she always has.

In Limitless, our drug-enhanced super-genius realizes the girl he'd lost and has just won back cannot be near him, since a secret "handler" controls his life and will eliminate anyone who threatens to change it.

My dear landlady Nancy said aloud as the shows ended: "The hero doesn't get the life he wants."

I sat there, and thanked God for her.

Count the Cost
If you want to be a hero, you are going to have a life that is amazing and fraught with danger and mind-blowing and soul-wrenching drama, but there is no way you are ever going to live "happily ever after."
Luke 9:23,24
And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.…" 
That sounds selfless. That sounds heroic. That sounds sacrificial. That sounds radical. The man who said it changed the world. He saved the world, too, if you believe it - but he never minced words. He told us it was hard to be as heroic as him. He used a death by excruciating pain metaphor.

It costs us control and safety to be as heroic as Jesus. It hurts.

And that is what is damn annoying about the nightly news. It is typically about people who have become victims and are trusting comfortable people to make their lives better.

Really? You think that guy with a security detail, who sends his kids to a private school is going to make your life better?

Victims need heroes to help them, true. They need someone who hates evil and hates what it does and is perfectly willing to give up being happy and safe and normal to save lives.

But this duty does not - and never will be - owned by politicians or typical political leaders. They cannot do it. They have simply spent too much time, money and effort getting a consensus and being popular enough to get elected.

They have the problem of being good people with good money. They cannot be radicals nor heroic when called to service. As one man said "Good is the enemy of the Best." Mark that, kids.

Here is a good, moral, right-living, successful leader who just asked Jesus how to receive "eternal life." That is, how to please God enough that God will save his soul and grant him immortality in a new universe. [My Geek Standard Translation]
Mark 10:21-25
21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.
23 And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them,“Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
See, the problem is we like heroes, but we don't want to be heroes. We run for comfort and safety, me most of all.  But if I let God really rule my heart and die to my self-interest, I end up doing amazing things.

I have tasted the heroic life, and it is breathtaking.

This is one place where I depart from my more conservative views. Because the weak, the foolish, the ones who lack wisdom or power, will always need a generous hand to reach in and steady them.

So if you too feel you have been chosen by God to do great things...

...go do them. No matter the cost.You may not be the happiest person on the block, but you will know you've made a difference. God will be with you, giving you a special joy that the world cannot have. The world is not a good measure of what is right, either:
John 15:18,19
"If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you." 

Jesus did what God called him to do, as a man. But he had his eyes set on the prize in heaven: "For the joy set before him, He endured the cross and its shame."

If we are going to be heroes, and take the hits, keep in mind the joy of heaven coming. When your eyes - your spiritual focus - are fixed on Jesus, you can endure the trials the world will put you through.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Ms. Marvel's Roguish Treatment, Finale

Ms. Marvel, like many other trendy comic characters, could have simply disappeared forever if Chris Claremont had not been so incensed with how she was handled in Avengers 200.

Carol A. Strickland wrote an eviscerating article that spat at the "rape culture" and trivialization of women she felt she witnessed in that story.

The irony is, when I read it, as a boy, I smelled a weird story - I could see they were just booting her out, she changed too fast at the end - but I did not think it was to rape her, molest her, destroy her or even treat her as some love doll.

It sounded too much like a funky Madonna story. I mean, Mary, mother of Jesus, Madonna, not the singer. She was pregnant supernaturally, right?

It had sort of Cinderella/Sleeping Beauty overtones - 'cause she's leaving with a man who risked everything he was to find her. They are supposed to go live "happily ever after" - and even say those exact words.

But now that I am an adult, would I write such a tale - and let our heroine go after a 60-second confession from a man-child supergenius on the basis of her feelings?

Oh Hail No.

But by addressing that foolish action - or inaction - of the Avengers, Chris Claremont actually ups the anty and does the REAL damage to her that ends up taking her powers and nearly her life. He has the blame landing on the Avengers and in fact, it is NOT the Avengers fault they let her go. Well, not all of them.

You see, when Carol says she's going with Marcus, there is only Thor, Iron Man and Hawkeye present.

That means a Thunder God, an alcoholic millionaire and a hot-head.

Hawkeye just blew up the only device that would've saved the day. He's in self-recrimination mode. He's not going to do anything unless he needs to.

Thor on the hand, is power-in-abeyance; he can access other dimensions or kill Marcus in one hit and so he takes a court bailiff's approach to the entire affair. "Let the mortals decide" is probably his mindset.

The only one really thinking - and even though he just found out her secret identity that day, he takes a real interest in hearing what she has to say - is the alcoholic millionaire Tony Stark, i.e. Iron Man.

And he doesn't think it is a good idea. He asks her directly if she wants to do this. He doesn't like it. [He's also wearing armor, so if our theory [or my theory anyway] about Marcus using Emotion Control via pheremones or something biochemical is correct, then it makes pretty decent sense he'd have a fighting chance to be clear-headed and save the day.

But then he does the worst thing a man can do when a woman is being led by her emotions: he listens to her

He does not judge her. He does not disagree with her. "That is JUST what we want!" says a lady reading this. "Men who listen without judging! Men who do not disagree with us! Men who hear our HEART!"

You don't want a man, honey. You want a dog.

Seriously, you don't want a man, not a real one. You don't want someone who challenges you. You don't want someone who leads, either.

This is a problem Iron Man has had often. Even Wanda busted him on it on one occasion, for lack of team leadership.

Iron Man failed Carol Danvers, not the Avengers by not doing his job.

You see, the worst thing a leader can do is allow foolish and unwise behavior to continue in a group.

To lead you must stand firm, stay on goal, be protective of your team, be proactive and never stop judging what is right and what is wrong.

Iron Man failed on each one of those. 

One last slam, and I am done. You know that common phrase, uttered in films all over our nation: "Follow your heart!" "Listen to your feelings, Luke!" etc.?

No. Your heart is deceitful. Your heart is a like a magnet in a world full of pig iron.

Your heart can really, truly deceive you. You must hear it without listening to it.

You see, your feelings are like a temperature gauge; they tell you when something is not right, but they are useless as a compass. Never trust your feelings, just know them. Know when you are angry, or sad, or confused - that's wise.

But to just follow your feelings as if they will lead you the right way?

Don't be stupid. "Stupid is as stupid does." You decide how to move, to act.

Iron Man, a.k.a., Tony Stark, did something really stupid. He let Carol Danvers go with the son of a known enemy after meeting him for a few seconds. He listened to her make an emotional decision that was missing all kinds of checkpoints.

To his credit, he did speak up - but he should have stepped up.

I know, I'm driving you crazy, right? First, I say Iron Man spoke up and so the Avengers were not as much at fault as we think. Now I am laying the blame on his shoulders.

Well, yeah. A quote attributed to Edmund Burke says "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for enough good people to do nothing."

Three Avengers let Carol go. One was the leader.

He failed in his job. He thought he was being kind to Carol when he wasn't. He thought he was letting her go of her own free will, but she wasn't free.

If I could re-write that scene or just do an alternate time-line story, like "What If...Carol Danvers Had Not Left the Avengers?" it would have this dialogue:

IM: "Wha..? Ms. Marvel, are you sure?"
MM: "I think so, Iron Man. [et cetera].."
IM: " No, Ms. Marvel, I don't think so. I'm not certain this is all in order. Before I let you go, we need to make sure it's safe. We'll get Marcus back to Limbo, and Thor here will make sure we know his location. You can join him -- after we verify everything and it all checks out."
MM: "Hey! You can't stop me! If I want to go..."
IM: "Ms. Marvel, as leader of the Avengers, I CAN stop you and I WILL. Thor - take Marcus out of here - Valhalla, Jotunheim, I don't care..." [Thor complies, and Marcus cries out his undying love for her as he is whisked away by the power of Mjolnir]

IM: "I've been called worse. Now, are you going to listen to reason or.."

[Insert Knock-Down Drag Out Fight where Ms. Marvel nearly kills Iron Man, ends up being stopped by the Scarlet Witch and the Vision. Wanda: "Carol! This is not LOVE! This is HATE!" Vision [grabs Carol's arms using his ultimate density]: "Indeed. Rarely have I seen such rage, unless it was truly from an outside force."]
Of course, like all "What If..?" stories, it would be shown that Carol, not losing her powers and not being Binary  - and Rogue, never finding the danger of her powers - both lose out terribly. And this moment of salvation kept the Avengers from failing, yes - but they also did not get the humility smack they needed either.

Still, would love to see that scene, wouldn't you?


I'm going to end these three blogposts on the Roguish Treatment of Ms. Marvel with a scripture verse. You thought you were going to get off the hook, didn't you? Well, I learn from my own writing, and as I have also taken a lot of emotional hits lately, I need this as much as you do.
Romans 8:28 [NKJV]
28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Somethings in our lives are unavoidably horrible.

They are evil, and we wish they had never ever happened.

But if you know God and love Him, He can take that evil thing and use it for something good. It will not simply destroy you; it will become a lesson, a drive, a mission, an understanding that you get to use again and again to serve others.

It is the very essence of Batman's origin. It became part of Ms. Marvel's origin.

It became the shame of the Avengers  - and they never forgot it. They used it. They got wise from it. Later, Ms. Marvel did return to the Avengers - and had a personal problem they addressed wisely and respectfully.

I hate failing. I friggin' hate it.

But it is where I failed I learned the most. I even hate admitting that, but I am so cautious and protective, I learn less than I should. It takes failure and being out of control to show me where I need to change.

In the end, the story of Ms. Marvel works out. I have some suspicion that it was as important as the death of Gwen Stacey in Spider-man to bring us more nuanced, more realistic, less 'perfect' characters.

And the lesson has been learned in pop fiction, by the way. For no one will be able to convince me that not a single creative working on Disney's Frozen knew the fate of Ms. Marvel in Avengers 200 & Annual 10:

Ladies - there are no perfect men.

Except Jesus.