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The Winter Soldier Is a Better Sympathetic Villain Than Loki Ever Was

In Comics/Superheroes, Movies/TV on April 4, 2014 at 1:07 pm

We all love the god of mischief, but if you saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier you might need to make room in your heart for another villain.

The second Captain America film takes place in a fearful post-Avengers world where government surveillance and military oversight are growing ubiquitous.  Captain America finds himself doubting S.H.I.E.L.D.’s reactionary and fear-based policies, which could easily be misused to great catastrophe.  In the midst of the storm, a new Hydra threat emerges to silence Captain America and take over the world.

bucky barnes, winter soldier shield, bucky barnes villain, sympathetic villains in comic books

If you read the comics, watched the first film or looked up Captain America within the last year, you know the Winter Soldier’s true identity.  Steve Roger’s childhood best friend “Bucky” Barnes, who seemingly died in the 1943, has been remade by Hydra into a ruthless assassin through physical and mental manipulation.

While Loki looks like he’s having fun, The Winter Soldier is all business.  As Natasha Romanoff explains to Rogers, he completes his missions at any cost.  But his ruthlessness is not inborn but manufactured.

Contrast this with Loki who, after his redemption arc was destroyed in The Dark World, became yet another version of the Lovable Sociopath theme.  Audiences largely forgave Loki from his murderous tendencies in Thor because he had a legitimate bone to pick with his family.  The Dark World shows Loki in a less forgiving light, stripping the veil of begrudged brother away to make room for the last film in the trilogy.

bucky barnes and captain america, steve rogers sidekickThe Winter Soldier makes a bigger emotional impact as a villain because the viewer has no doubt that Bucky was a good man.  The audience see him stand up for the diminutive Steve Rogers and fight against tyranny.  He is brave in the face of danger, a champion of Captain America’s cause.  He also possesses a good-natured sense of humor that opposes Loki’s sarcasm and malicious pranks.

In one striking scene, where the movie’s main antagonist demands to see “The Asset,” viewers get a humanizing peek at the Winter Soldier, a conflicted and confused man who has been memory-wiped and tortured for more than 50 years.  The Asset, as the villains call their creation in order to separate him from his identity, is more than the brutal assassin seen moments before.  When he expresses concern that he recognized Captain America, the Hydra leader orders his caretakers to “reset” him, which they promptly do using an intense looking version of electroshock therapy.

Bucky Barnes is being used as a lethal tool by the institution he gave his life trying to destroy.  He has been divorced from his identity and forced into evil with no choice in the matter.  Bucky needs to be saved, not stopped.

A running Internet theory is that Thanos tortured Loki so badly between Thor and The Avengers that it warped his personality.  While that would lessen his moral responsibility in The Avengers, it’s not canon.  Sorry Internet, but all signs point to a business partnership between the two.

loki evil grin, loki sociopath, loki chaotic evil

Loki’s later actions in The Dark World reveal his manipulative, sociopathic nature.  Following his questionable ascent to power, it is doubtful that Loki had a sincere bone in his body.  Loki’s choices aren’t compelling because that’s what they are:  choices.

There’s nothing sympathetic about being willfully cruel.

Loki Should Have Died

In Comics/Superheroes, Movies/TV, Pop Culture! on January 23, 2014 at 8:05 pm

Disclaimer: I love Loki.  

When “Thor” came out in 2011, I celebrated the introduction of such a compelling villain into the Avengers Universe with as much intensity as someone without a Tumblr account can have (I saw it several times in theaters). Loki was not a dastardly villain who wanted to kill the hero for money or world domination – at least not initially. He wasn’t a Macho Guy who strayed from an ’80s action film.  He was a bitter sibling whose jealousy operated on a godlike level.

Thor and Loki, The Dark World, Thor 2, Loki LaufeysonLoki won hearts by being sympathetic. In the first movie, seeks to prove himself Thor’s equal in order to win their father’s approval. His actions are morally inexcusable, but Tom Hiddleston played the character so beautifully that Loki’s crimes seem like understandable petulance. When Hiddleston returned in The Avengers (that probably had a lot to do with fans like me), Loki wrought destruction on a grander scale, but his focus remained on his older brother.

Thor’s story in the Avengers Universe is a family drama about sibling rivalry, parental love and forgiveness. It’s your basic Prodigal Son story with a bit of Norse mythology and sci-fi badassery (a real word, I promise) mixed in.  That’s why Loki is only as good as Thor and Frigga’s love for him. He cannot redeem himself of the pain and death he caused; only the family’s reconciliation can do it.

The ending to The Dark World disappointed because it destroyed a perfect story arc. Loki was originally written to die saving Thor’s life to avenge their mother’s death.  His last words, “I didn’t do it for [father],” were to be the first sincere words he said in three movies. He was supposed to die, his sacrifice resolving the family arc and bringing Thor to his knees.

“I am a fool.” – Loki Laufeyson

It was also supposed to move the larger story line forward, but instead Loki became too popular a character (I feel bad about this in hindsight). He took on a life of his own, which eclipsed the original Angsty Brotherly Bonding story of the Thor trilogy.  Movie execs brought him back, added scenes and changed the atmosphere of his story arc.  It’s a disservice to both Loki and Thor.

Instead of giving Chris Hemsworth more character depth to explore in the third leg of the trilogy, Thor will now be reduced to the fool who fell for his brother’s trickery – again.  With “The Dark World” behind us, there is nothing remaining to redeem Loki of his cruelty.

Why I’m Not Really Into Superhero Comics

In Comics/Superheroes on September 9, 2013 at 6:35 pm

The following is a fairly verbatim conversation I had Saturday with a nerdtastic friend of mine.  We don’t hang out often, but whenever we do it’s usually for an awesome reason like shopping for the 10th Doctor’s suit or talking about the physics of space travel.

Superhero, Superman is FTK, RUDM, rutgers dance marathonMe:  I got into comic books this summer.

Friend: Marvel or DC?

Me:  I’m not really into superheroes.

Friend (eyeing my t-shirt): You’re wearing a Superman shirt.

Me:  Yeah, but I don’t read Marvel.

Friend: Superman is DC.

Me (chuckling):  Like I said.

Don’t let me fool you.  I love Superman – or at least the idea of him.  Superman media is full of complex imagery, making him one of the most interesting superheroes out there. Aside from Biblical allegories, Superman also contains elements of Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Ubermensch,” which I first read about in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  It’s fascinating stuff!

To see an insightful reflection on 2013’s Man of Steel by Catholic apologist Fr. Barron, click here.  He discusses the movie’s theme of personal autonomy vs. state control, and he discusses the idea of Ubermensch at length.

But I don’t read superhero comics.  To read Superman is to understand the back story of Superman – all 70+ years of it.  Nerdy guys, in unassuming curiosity, will (and have) asked me which Multiverse Superman is my favorite.

Do I need a favorite?  Maybe my fondness for Superman comes from the Smallville TV series because I have a crush on Tom Welling.  Maybe I just like Clark Kent because he’s a reporter.  Either way, now I’m nervous about having to justify my interest in a fictional character, and I just don’t have time to read his biographies on the Superman Wiki.

While I love Clark Kent, for now I’ll stick to reading stories I don’t feel compelled to research in order to discuss.

What’s your favorite superhero?  DC or Marvel … or Image?  Do you have a favorite comic series?  Tell me all about it!

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