Steve Rogers and Hydra: Did Marvel Change Their Minds? [SPOILERS!!!!]

•June 29, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Screenshot 2016-06-29 10.37.15For those wHo don’t know, 2016 marks the 75th anniversary of Captain America. To celebrate, Marvel Studios released Captain America: Civil War, the third film in the Cap franchise, which has grossed over $1 billion internationally. Marvel comics launched Steve Rogers: Captain America alongside Sam Wilson: Captain America, explaining how Steve Rogers was returned to his super soldier status after the serum was disabled, and now shares the mantle of Captain America once more.

To sell this new book, Marvel and Captain America scribe, Nick Spencer, wAnted a story that would pull focus towards their Star-Spangled hero. Thus Steve Rogers: Captain America #1 ended with the horror of all horrors: Steve Rogers declaring himself to be a life-long sleeper agent of Hydra—the evil organization that the films have rooted within the Nazi party of World War II Germany. Much like Bucky’s story as the Soviet Union’s Winter Soldier, Rogers has become the very thing he dedicated his whole life to fight.

I loved thIs twist. I set Rogers on a path that compromises him at his core: the moral center of the Marvel Universe. He is an agent of an organization that manipulates the fears of the poor and uneducated whom society has marginalized. He is no longer that beacon of hope.

Nick Spender describes what happened to Cap in the foLlowing manner:

Screenshot 2016-06-29 10.39.33

Steve Rogers: Captain America #2, page 20

The little girl in the image above is a sentient cosmic cube that has manifested itself as a cHild named Kobic. The Red Skull raised her to believe that a perfect world, a happy ending, can only exist if the Red Skull and Hydra take over the world.

Let’s be clear about what Spencer and Marvel are not doing, as some are saYing: backtracking on Hydra-Cap. A single issue of a comic book takes weeks to produce. Let me give a simplified narrative of the process to publish a comic book. First, Spencer has to pitch his story for Steve Rogers—which would have included Hydra Cap and the cosmic cube. Then after Marvel approves the pitch, he has to write and submit a script. The art team, consisting of a penciler, inker and colorist, must then draw that approved script before a letterer adds in the dialogue and narration captions. Then the book is printed and distributed. There is not enough time for Marvel to publish a reaction issue in the time since Hydra Cap was first revealed. This was planned all along.

By making the second issue of the run the “how Cap became a Hydra agent” issue, Spencer can tell a story that makes Cap a sympathetic villain. The reaDer knows that a small girl with incredible powers was deceived into turning Cap. Both Kobic and Rogers are victims carried along by evil incarnate. As Steve gets caught up in Hydra he becomes ever more tragic.

That said, I do wish Spencer had waited to reveal this infoRmation. I wanted to know what it means for Steve Rogers to wear the flag and yet exist as Hydra’s sleeper agent. What machinations does Rogers have planned, and how does he execute them? Will he have an ambition that rivals the Red Skull? How does he reconcile his allegiance to Hydra with his moral code? What will people like Sam Wilson, Sharon Carter and Bucky Barnes think of this? All three of them have been mind-controlled by the Red Skull to do horrible things.

I reAlly wanted these questions addressed first before getting into the explanation of the change. But Spencer is by no means prevented from answering these questions now. They are what comes next. Nick Spencer is writing a new take on classic Captain America stories. My real problem is that I have to wait another month for Steve Rogers: Captain America #3.

Steve Rogers: Captain America, vol. 1, #02 (June 2016). Web. 29 June 2016.


Death’s Death Part 2: John Donne and the End of Death

•June 26, 2016 • Leave a Comment

After looking at the portrayal of Jesus in “The Dream of the Rood” in the previous post, it is now time to look at John Donne’s “Death, be not proud.”

857px-john_donne_by_isaac_oliverIn this sonnet, Donne examines the Apostle Paul’s statement, “The last enemy to be defeated is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Paul is asserting that Jesus’ crucifixion confronts death and paves the way for victory in the resurrection. Through Adam all humans die, and, in a parallel way, through Jesus all humans will live. As king, Jesus subdues all of God’s enemies until they are made into a footstool for God’s feet, with death itself as the final enemy to be defeated. Once all enemies are defeated under Christ’s reign, his kingdom will be given to God the Father (1 Corinthians 15:21-28). From there, Paul leaves the political language and to explore how Jesus’ victory as his resurrection will happen to all who believe in Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:35-57). Donne stays focused on the death of Death to focus on the political matters, steering clear of Paul’s discussion of the physical body.

Donne combines formal features and theme to address Death. Like “The Dream of the Rood,” Donne engages in personification as the central element of the poem. But unlike “Rood,” where the personified object speaks to the poem’s speaker, and therefore audience, Donne speaks to a personified Death. His thesis is to tell death, “Death, be not proud…[for] thou shalt die” (1, 14). He argues this thesis in two ways. First, he likens Death to mere rest and sleep—temporary images that can be mimicked by drugs but are not true death (5, 11). Eventually, those who “sleep” will wake up and never go back to “sleep” (13). Rather than this mighty foe, Death is an instrument controlled by something else: fate, kings, poison, war and sickness (9-10). Secondly, Donne uses the Petrarchan sonnet form to emphasize the death of Death. The first eight lines rhyme in the following manner: a-b-b-a-a-b-b-a while the final six lines rhyme c-d-d-c-e-e. The e-e rhyme ends the poem as a couplet, something more common to Shakespearean sonnets, to drive home his thesis that Death is defeated.

resurrection-of-christ-1875“The Dream of the Rood” explicates two themes in Donne’s sonnet: the death of Jesus is the death of Death, and that the death of Death is a political claim as much as a spiritual claim. “The Dream of the Rood” ends the vision and the speech of the rood itself with Jesus judging all of the nations. He tasted death and then mightily rose from the dead, accomplishing redemption and granting life. Sin and death no longer hold claim on Jesus and his comitatus as they live forever in Paradise enjoying a feast together under Jesus’ rule. Death is no more. Donne speaks to Death dying and those who are dead waking “[f]rom rest and sleep.”

Despite being part of his Holy Sonnets, Donne never actually articulates how Death will die, only asserting that Death will cease to exist. “The Dream of the Rood” provides that answer in the warrior-hero of Jesus: Jesus has conquered Death and freed Donne from its power. While the anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet still incorporates paganism into the vision not shared by Renaissance writers, the mechanic fits what Donne is saying in a way more visceral and more direct than the more popular Anselmian tradition offers.

Donne writes this sonnet in solidarity with the speaker from “The Dream of the Rood” as they wait for Jesus to “come again” (The Dream…Rood” 103-9). Donne personifies and speaks to death because even though the Rood declared the victory complete, death still operates. Just as the Anglo-Saxon speaker sees himself as a member of Jesus’ comitatus, Donne writes as a member too. They both wait for the final judgment and being granted their seats at the feast. While the climactic battle has been fought and won, Death has yet to surrender in Donne’s poem.

He is still active in as the political enforcer of men and women in the here and now on earth in a manner similar to Nazi Germany still struggling against the Allied forces despite its doom was made certain after the successful Normandy Invasion. “Death, be not proud” is Donne’s song for the commitatus to commemorate Jesus’ victory over the great enemy. Death has been neutered from the great terrifying enemy and turned into a temporary nap from which Jesus will wake his commitatus and give them their seat and spoils.

121726-004-c61c042cSecondly, the political language of Donne’s poetry is drawn up to the surface. “The Dream of the Rood” deliberately places Jesus, the Anglo-Saxon Warrior-King, over all of humanity. His death turns pagan symbols of pagan political power into symbols of Jesus’ power over death. The parade of criminals put on by the “enemies” is then turned into a parade where the victorious Jesus returns home with “a company of souls” (30-1, 150-3). Jesus then turns a form of punishment into the very path to life (87-9). Donne says the same thing when he says that Death is a tool of kings, desperate men and war (9-10). But when Jesus destroys Death via his death on the cross, this tool that kings and desperate men use through war and murder is now gone. The threat of violence and death is taken away and peace is achieved. When Death dies, the power of kings and desperate men over their people is stripped away because it is founded on the power of death.

“Death, be not proud” is a sonnet that moves beyond the more “spiritual” aspects of the Christian religion that dominates its popular conception. “The Dream of the Rood” argues through a vision of a pagan tree that Jesus’ actions were those of an Anglo-Saxon warrior-king and hero fighting his great battle and distributing his plunder to his commitatus. Reading Donne’s sonnet through this prism illuminates the raw, visceral language used to describe the end of Death. Death was confronted and defeated by a hero, and now Donne stands in the light of that victory, taunting and shaming Death as he waits for his seat at Jesus’ table. The political world around Donne has now been altered, the power of kings and war and chance are rendered useless. Donne’s song of the dark days of Death sings sweetly in the ear.

Donne, John. “Death, be not proud.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt et. al. 9th ed. Vol. B. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2012. 1412. Print.

“The Dream of the Rood.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt et. al. 9th ed. Vol. A. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2012. 33-6. Print.

Death’s Death Part 1: The Anglo-Saxon Jesus in “The Dream of the Rood”

•June 11, 2016 • Leave a Comment

In the late 11th century CE, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm, wrote his famous book Cur Deus Homo (Latin for Why God Became a Man) where he tried to explain the incarnation of Jesus. He said that God became a human being in Jesus Christ because human sin had violated the honor and justice of God, and thus, Jesus’ death is a human being satisfying the honor and justice of God. Anselm had made God object of Jesus’ atoning death.

Before Anselm’s writing, Christianity generally understood Jesus’ death as God confronting evil to reclaim, ransom or redeem human beings from the powers of sin, death and Satan. Some saw this as more militaristic in nature, others as more economic. In both cases, God was the subject and the object of the atonement. John Donne’s “Death, be not proud,” reflects the Anselmian tradition, being written after the Protestant Reformation rooted itself in Anselm’s “satisfaction theory.”

But what happens when it is read through the prism of a text written prior to Anselm? Does the sonnet still work as a poem? My thesis over the next few posts is to show that Donne’s poem is opened up to a whole new world, more vivid and visceral than previously imagined, when read through the lens of the Anglo-Saxon poem, “The Dream of the Rood.” Donne writes a sonnet of victory over death, and not just in some spiritual sense, but politically here on earth as well. Donne joins in with the Anglo-Saxon poet to both celebrate and anticipate the coming feast for the saints.

6706_noucolororig“The Dream of the Rood” retells the biblical crucifixion narrative within the framework of the Anglo-Saxon warrior culture—think Beowulf or Tolkien’s Aragorn. Jesus is painted as the Anglo-Saxon hero described as possessing strength, courage and might (40, 102). He possesses several appellations that designate Jesus as God, King and Lord (34, 39, 133, 156). He is the “guardian of heaven” and the “High-Father” (90, 134). Jesus has a comitatus, or war-band, as seen in the warriors who give him a funeral, the thanes who rescue the tree that was chopped down, and his friends with whom the poem’s speaker wishes to be identified (61-70, 75-7, 146). Heaven is Jesus’ mead-hall where he dispenses the treasure obtained from his victorious conquest (134-48). Thus Jesus looks similar to King Theoden ruling over Rohan and his Rohirim in his Great Hall.

By casting Jesus as an Anglo-Saxon king, the poem is now able to present Jesus as victorious over death. The poem calls the cross Jesus’ “great struggle” and his “slayer” (66-7). The Rood describes his initial purpose in this way, “There powerful enemies took me, / put me up to make a circus-play to lift up and parade their criminals” (30-1). On the rood Jesus is nailed down and killed. Anglo-Saxon kings had enemies that they fought, like Beowulf fighting the dragon or Grendel. By defeating these great enemies they achieve for themselves and their comitatus honor and treasure. But Jesus’ enemy was not a rival king but mankind’s sin, death and a cross. His very battle would bring dishonor to both himself and his comitatus. But by rising from the dead that honor is restored. Again, when the speaker begins to conclude the poem he says, “The Son was victorious in venturing forth, / mighty and triumphant when he returned with many, / a great company of souls to the Kingdom of God” (150-3). Jesus is the mighty warrior-king who has triumphed over the greatest of enemies in death, not by military force of arms, but by enduring the dishonor of defeat and reversing the criminal’s death into a king’s triumph. Therefore, Jesus is now the Anglo-Saxon warrior-king enthroned over his kingdom, having won his great battle and distributed the plundered treasure to his comitatus. The speaker is now waiting for Jesus to reward his faith in the rood tree by granting him a piece of the plunder.

cross-450Understanding Jesus’ death this way pushes back against the Anselm and Reformation understandings of the crucifixion. Anselm saw Jesus as man acting upon God to satisfy God’s honor and justice. Jesus’ death is a spiritual transaction that takes place between man and God. “The Dream of the Rood” does not see Jesus as satisfying the honor and justice of an offended God. Rather, Jesus is seen as God waging war against sin and death to retake mankind from their fallen state. God reconciles himself to his people through his Anglo-Saxon victory. Humankind shows themselves to be part of the comitatus, and thus share in the treasure of eternal life, by turning to the rood for protection as the speaker does after the vision of the tree ends (122-31).

“The Dream of the Rood.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt et. al. 9th ed. Vol. A. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2012. 33-6. Print.

Black Widow vs Joan of Arc: William Shakespeare and Modern Hollywood

•June 2, 2016 • Leave a Comment

This year marks the four hundredth anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. And because people like me are morbid, I am celebrating Shakespeare’s death. I wrote several Shakespearean sonnets in April during National Poetry Month. I’m also reading what’s been dubbed the First Tetralogy of Shakespeare’s histories (all three Henry VI plays and Richard III) so that I can watch the BBC adaptation later this month. And this leads me to this post because in Henry VI Part 1 Shakespeare sets his drama against the crusade of Joan of Arc to drive the English out of France. Shakespeare’s treatment of Joan mirrors that of Marvel’s treatment of Black Widow: a highly skilled warrior flattened out into a familiar trope.

The country girl who led a king to victoryThe key moment under examination in Henry VI Part 1 comes in Act 3, scene 3, when the French Duke of Burgundy is convinced to switch sides and aid the French against the English. Up until this scene, Joan has been portrayed a skilled warrior able to best Charles, the French leader, and England’s best warrior, Talbot, in hand-to-hand combat (see the stage directions at 1.2.105 and 1.5.4-18 respectively). Talbot was so dumbfounded by her prowess that he accused her of being a witch (1.5.4-7, 19-21; 3.2.52-7). Henry VI Part 1 introduces the reader/audience to a complex character thriving in a man’s world.

But once the French decide that they must win over Burgundy, Joan of Arc is no longer viewed by the play as a woman skilled in the art of war. When Joan enters into the parley with Burgundy, Charles tells Joan to “enchant” him with her words (3.3.40). Upon hearing her speech, Burgundy observes that he has been “bewitched” by her words, reflecting Talbot’s view of Joan (3.3.58). Once he switches sides, the play fails to recover Joan’s reputation from acting as a witch and sorceress. In Act 5, scene 3 she literally conjures up fiends, possibly Lucifer himself, to aid the French in the battle against England, only to be rejected. She has now become in full what began in Act 3, a witch and sorceress aided by evil spirits. Joan of Arc has been deprived of her place as a skilled warrior.

This characterization, or a “caricature” and the “flattening” of her character, is most unfortunate because the play loses one of its more compelling characters by virtue of her being a woman (Mowat and Werstine 250-2). She is the only female character until the fifth act when Margaret of Anjou, who becomes Henry VI’s wife, is introduced as a bride price to broker peace between England and France. Joan existed in a man’s world, on man’s terms, and succeeded. She could fight in the French army and devise strategies that won victories against the English. She brought shame upon Talbot time and again because he could not defeat a woman. But by the end of the play, she’s exactly who Talbot says she is, a witch and sorceress. She can’t thrive in man’s world without the aid of supernatural evil.

It is a problem not unlike that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Black Widow, portrayed by Scarlett Johansson. In the 2012 film, The Avengers, Joss Whedon wrote the character to be a highly skilled spy, able to coax even the god of mischief into telling her his plan. In the 2014 film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, she plays a central and critical role in uncovering Hydra’s plot and defeating their plans—exposing her own past to the world to do so. But when 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out, Widow ends up being a damsel in distress in the classic sense, needing her man to rescue her from Ultron’s clutches. In the first film, she only pretended to be a damsel to fool men.  By the third film, she has been flattened out into a familiar character trope, just like Joan of Arc. While Marvel Studios has promised fans that a solo film for Black Widow is being explored, now that there has been a restructuring at the top of the studio, that does not excuse the flattening out of one of the more beloved and complex characters—rivaling Iron Man and Captain America.

Henry VI Part 1 shows how little things have changed in regards to women portrayed as strong characters in Hollywood films. The play reduces Joan of Arc down from a skilled warrior to a witch who conjures demons. Marvel Studios reduced Black Widow down from highly skilled spy to the classic trope of a damsel in distress in need of a man’s rescue. More examples could be explored, such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Rey being labeled a “Mary Sue” because she could learn to use the Force as quickly as she did. Shakespeare continues to be honored as the master of the English language to this day. But his characterizations of women reinforce patriarchal stereotypes that still plague Hollywood in 2016.

Shakespeare, William. Henry VI Part 1. Eds. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. The Folger Shakespeare Library. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2008. Print.

Winter’s Soldier

•May 7, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Endlessly falling into the abyss,
My mind confined in ice and fire.
Each time I wake they wire
my thoughts with primordial hiss,

th’daily dissected Ymir kisses
dreams for feral fiends to sire.
Endlessly falling into the abyss,
My mind confined in ice and fire.

O mirror’s image, who is this
Battered Bastard whom I conspir’d
with for Ragnarok to sate my ire
as winter’s soldier with metal fist
endlessly falling into the abyss?

National Poetry Month 08 – You asked me not to mourn*

•April 23, 2016 • Leave a Comment

You asked me not to mourn for you when dead
Because the woe for those who love you so
Would be too much for you to bear when fled;
Yet memory of you I count not woe.
The hand that wrote your beauteous line is
So precious in my mind. My ‘mastery’
Of words and metaphor have come from this:
The pouring of my heart and mind to see
Just how your lines and rhymes are shaped from clay.
With joy I gaze upon your lofty verse,
Enraptured in your freedom from decay,
The richness of your name daily rehearsed.
I write this sonnet but to sing, not moan—
Your name lives on long after you are gone.


*This sonnet is a reply to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 71, “No longer mourn for me when I am dead,” on the 400th anniversary of his death,  April 23, 1616.

National Poetry Month 07 — Star-Spangled Sentinel of Liberty

•April 15, 2016 • 2 Comments

Star-Spangled Sentinel of Liberty,
my mentor and my brother. I’ve watched you wage
your war across the days eternally.
When does tomorrow end this wicked age?
There are so many people who can’t stand
up for themselves—enslaved to skin and wealth.
They need a hero who will fight the Man
who aims to chain them to His will with stealth.
He lies, He cheats, deceives us all. No one
they know can cut the cord and break the chains
that ‘slaves them to His dreams. They are undone
beneath His burden. Who will end their pain?
To be the hero that they need will cost.
So be it then, I count my life as lost.