Writing in Spite of it All…

Hinfallingsnow_zps0b503108I’ll be the first to admit, 2016 wasn’t a very productive year for me.

To be perfectly honest,ย  I lived with a growing conviction we’d see a Trump presidency, and this hamstrung and paralyzed my ability to write.

I started at least four stories last year, reached the 40 K mark, decided they were utter crap, and abandoned them. Maybe they were crap. Maybe I just lost faith in them. It was impossible to concentrate on them to work through their issues as long as I lived with this utter, horrible premonition that everything was about to go to hell.

winter is comingAnd you know what? My worst fears came true. Since I’m a writer, that’s saying something.

Not only did Trump get elected President, but within hours of his taking office, links for climate change, civil rights, and GLBTQ rights disappeared from with WhiteHouse.gov website. Republican lawmakers in five states launched bills to criminalize peaceful protests. Every Cabinet member chosen by the Trump transition team could best be summed up by choosing the biggest, most vicious fox and putting it in charge of the respective hen houses. If he proposed making Cruella DeVille the Secretary of the National Humane Society, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. The gross manipulation of the confirmation hearings, with limiting questioning, means most of them will get rammed through regardless of the fitness of the nominee for office.

The GOP wants to defund Planned Parenthood and the National Endowment for the Arts. They announced plans to eliminate twenty-five of the DOJ’s Violence Against Women grant programs, and of course, they want to kill the Affordable Care Act. Millions will lose health care coverage as a result, and reinstituting the ability of companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions will doom many to backruptcy at best and death at worst. Medicare and Social Security aren’t safe, either.

I should also like to point out that because we have a Republican Congress and Senate, we are unlikely to see an impeachment go through, despite the fact Trump has already violated the Constitution he just swore to uphold by taking office without divesting from his businesses.That doesn’t even touch on the disturbing possibility the Russians interfered with the election for the sole purpose of getting Trump in office. Or the fact that given the age of most of the members of the Supreme Court, the incoming administration will have the power to influence legislation for decades to come. Let’s not forget the last time we had a Republican House, Senate, and President, we had the Great Depression and it took World War II to end it.

Wait, I take that back. We also had a GOP-controlled House, Senate, and Presidency from 2003-2006. Also one of the worst economic downturns in American history. Believe it or not, driving the economy bus off the cliff has nothing to do with POC, ‘the gays’, Muslims, immigrants, or ‘uppity’ women and everything to do with the policies of the GOP.ย  Not that Trump’s supporters will see it that way.

It’s a lot to take in. Not to mention, my firm belief we have an unstable man who cannot bear criticism in any form who has been given access to the nuclear codes, or that his closest advisors could double for Hitler’s Cabinet. Or that science and education are considered dirty words and in some locations, government officials are actively prohibited from using the words “climate change.”

It’s also hard to believe, in the face of all of this, that any scribblings I might create could have value or meaning. Isn’t it the height of frivolity to continue telling stories in such an environment?

I don’t think so.

It took me a while to reach this point. I’ve read posts on the subject written–far more eloquently than anything I could say–by other people. Probably the best of them have been written by Chuck Wendig, who wrote How to Create Art and Make Cool Stuff in a Time of Trouble, as well as this morning’s words of encouragement about the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States: No One’s Coming to Save Us, So We Have To Save Each Other.

Good words.They didn’t sink in right away, though. And I will probably have to refer to them again and again as I struggle with what the future brings to our country and our planet. Until this morning, when Trump was irrevocably sworn in, I think on some level I was hoping for a last minute reprieve. The Ring is tossed into the fires of Mt. Doom. Harry Potter destroys the final Horcrux. Birnam wood comes to Dunsinane. Something. Anything.

And yet, it did not. Trump has been sworn in, and the ravaging of our lands and our rights, the savaging of the public programs, the crippling of the already struggling middle class, has begun.

The battle lines have been drawn. So mourn, but don’t stop resisting. Don’t allow anyone to normalize what the GOP and the President are doing. Be outraged, but don’t let it paralyze you. Remember to take care of yourself and those around you that are struggling: emotionally, physically, financially.

Never Give UpOne of the things I’ve done that seems to help me a little is order some of these rings from Amazon. I got the idea from a post by The Bloggess–it seems someone gave her one of these rings once, and now she keeps some on hand so she can give them out to people she thinks needs them. I buy them three at a time and wear one until I give it away. When I’ve given away the last one, I buy three more.

Remember that we cannot function in a state of sustained fear and anger. Share those kitten pictures. Penguins. Otters. We need more otters. Baby otters. Corgis. Hell, Baby Corgi-Otter crosses. Sharing something that makes you happy doesn’t mean you aren’t taking things seriously enough. It means you’re in this for the long haul and you have to nourish your soul. That includes celebrating the events in your life important to you.

Read. Pull out your comfort reads, whatever they may be. I find I’m re-reading a lot of the children’s horse and dog books I grew up with, as well as historical romances. There’s something very soothing in reading about an era where the worst thing that happens is that you get cut dead by society or your sister makes an imprudent match. But if zombie apocalypse is your comfort read, that’s okay too. Read, and then share your squee. Make an author’s day and tell them how much you enjoyed their story. Leave a review.

Watch your favorite movies. Remember why you love your heroes. You know who was the biggest hero is in The Winter Soldier? Sure, Steve Rogers gave a stirring speech about doing what’s right when everyone around you is doing wrong. But the real hero in my book is the little tech guy who refuses to push the button that will activate the Insight program–which would kill thousands of people all over the world deemed as a potential ‘threat.’

He was inspired by Captain America’s words. But he refused to give in to doing wrong, even when he knew the consequences for refusal would be grave.

Also, if you are a creator, then create. More than ever we need our creators, our artists, musicians, and storytellers. Because it’s the creators that taught us about Voldemort and why he needed to be defeated. It’s the creators that give us Fight Songs, our Katniss Everdeens, and our Princess Leias. It’s creators who wroteย  Captain America the inspirational speech, and creators who give us hope.

Rebellions are built on hope.

If you’re like me, and you think we’re in for a very rough time ahead, there are some practical steps you can take.

We each have to resist in the manner we can best maintain, however. I can call my Congressmen. I can donate a little to some organizations, but not all. I can write letters of protest. I can pen stories of hope. Marching in huge crowds? Makes me want to run screaming for the hills. This is a sustained march we’re on–a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself accordingly. Pick the organizations it is the most important to you to support and remember someone else will have different priorities. If every penny you have is going to your own survival, it’s okay you can’t donate money. Consider volunteering or some other way of showing the President he does not have the mandate of the people behind him. If organizing and participating in a protest march is your forte, I will cheer you on.

As for my writing, I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to what kinds of stories I should be telling now. I still believe as much as ever we need stories with happy endings. Stories where two people meet, fall in love, overcome adversity and live happily together afterward. Stories that take you out of your stressful, crappy day and transport you to another world for a few hours.

More than ever we need stories where diversity and acceptance aren’t dirty words. But I also find that I have other kinds of stories within me begging to be told now. Stories about finding your inner strength and power. About standing up for what’s right. I suspect my storytelling is going to be changing over the next couple of years. I’ll keep you posted.

I think this also means I’ll be spending less time on social media in the name of self-protection and increased productivity. I’ll still be around, but less vocal, less angry. I think we have our work cut out for us in the upcoming years, and yet I will probably be making fewer posts like this one.

I have lanterns to light. Hope to share. Stories to tell.

Time to get to it.

 

 

What Do Creators Owe Their Fans? Or: Say It Ain’t So: Captain America is Hydra and Fans Say NO.

I’m just now coming up for air after working hard to meet a deadline. I have a story I’ve been revising for re-release in an expanded version, and another in edits. Now that I’ve finished the revision, I’m taking a few days break before looking at the one in edits again–I find letting the story ‘rest’ a bit is better for the final read-through. I’m waiting to hear back from my publisher on a third story as well–so let’s just say I’m happy with my production at the moment.

Cap intervenes2When I take a break from writing, I allow myself indulgences I restrict at other times. That’s not to say I don’t read books or watch television when I’m in the middle of a story, but I only have so much time in the day. When I’m working on a story on a deadline, I can’t binge-watch on Netflix or stay up all night reading fanfic. But now that I’m on break, I can poke around my favorite fandoms and see if there’s anything that grabs my fancy. One of the beauties of fandom is pretty much no matter what happens in canon, there’s plenty of ‘fixit’ fanfic to go around.

Something that happened recently in the Marvel fandom had me wondering just what exactly do writers and creators owe their fans? In May 2016, the editors at Marvel Comics announced that Steve Rogers had been–and always will be–an agent of HYDRA.

The fans HOWLED their outrage, taking to Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and other social media outlets to shriek at this latest plot twist in the long-running series. #SayItAintSo became a hastag on Twitter, with even actor Chris Evans, who portrays Steve Rogers in the movies, weighing in. I don’t blame them. HYDRA is the antithesis of everything Steve Rogers stands for–the idea that he could be a secret HYDRA agent is so out of character the soul recoils at the declaration.

Captainamerica1

Captain America Cover #1 Source wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not to mention the ghosts of the original creators. Steve Rogers/Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, two Jewish writers at a time when the Nazi regime was herding thousands of Jewish nationals into prison camps where they suffered and died. It’s no coincidence Captain America was depicted on the first cover of his series punching Hitler in the face. It was a conscious decision on the part of the writers, who were repulsed by the Nazis and felt war with the Axis powers was inevitable. If the current writers of the Captain America comics wanted to stir things up, they certainly got their wish. Pleas of ‘please stay calm’ fall on deaf ears as head writer Nick Spence was attacked so hard on Twitter, he received death threats. I’m not surprised, frankly. Not after skewering a character that’s been beloved for 75 years. Not after laughing about his plans and boasting that this isn’t a temporary plot twist, and had readers been paying attention, they would have seen the clues all along.

Cap and Bucky 1You know what? That’s his prerogative: to spit on the memories of the original creators of Captain America and enrage the fan base. I recall a WTF moment when J.K. Rowling paired Hermione and Ron, despite the fact Harry and Hermione had tons more chemistry together and were much more similar in mindset to make a logical pairing. I remember shaking my head when Charlaine Harris received death threats because fans were in an uproar over how her Sookie Stackhouse series ended and who she paired the main character with in the end. But I’m a big girl. I can stuff my fingers in my ears and sing ‘la-la-la’ if the writers/creators of a beloved series take it in a direction that is unpalatable to me. I wouldn’t dream of sending death threats or hate mail to the people who, in many cases, are the original creators of the characters I’ve become so invested in. They aren’t mine, even if they are beloved.

In all honesty, I suspect I know why Nick Spence is taking the series in the current direction. It’s because as it stands now, many people find Captain America the most boring of all the Avengers. He was hugely popular during WW2, and then his popularity fizzled when there were no clear enemies to fight. He’s been recast, reincarnated, and resurrected many times. The franchise has to keep the bottom line (and dollar) in mind. I’m reminded of the scene in Legend in which Lily is seduced by the darkness–and becomes ten times more interesting than she was before. Oh, I get it. Villains are simply more fun to write.

I have problems with the mentality that we need flawed heroes so they can be more relatable to us. I feel like I need to have Inigo Montoya say, “You keep using that word. I don’t think you know what it means.” I’ve written previously about why I don’t think Captain America is boring, as well as why we need heroes. See, here’s the thing. We need something–someone–to believe in. We need someone to look up to. Relatable? Yes, perhaps in the way that frail little Steve Rogers became a Superhero. But what some people seem to forget is that Steve already had the heart of a hero even when he was too ill to fight. Relatable doesn’t mean feet of clay, or stark betrayal. We love our heroes because they give us something to cling to in an ever-increasingly scary world. We love our heroes because they give us the courage to stand up to bullies and say the right thing and refuse to give in to intolerance and hate. We need our heroes to be better than we are because we need someone we can strive to emulate–not relate to in our failings.

Cap and Bucky 2So yes, I’m an adult. I can walk away from any franchise if it utterly disappoints me. That’s my right, just as it is the right of the creators to perform outright character assassination, should they choose. I can make up my own endings, tell my own stories. I can ‘fixit.’ But here’s the thing. I am an ADULT.

What do we say to those kids holding up their action figures, their belief in their hero smashed beyond redemption, when they ask, “Is Cap really a bad guy?”

Because you as a creator may not owe anything to me, but when you’re dealing with such an iconic character as Captain America, I think you do owe something to those young fans. Particularly if the character is not your creation, you’ve merely stepped into the creators shoes.

As for me, I leave you with this classic Bonnie Tyler song. Ignore the 80s style production values, close your eyes and listen to the lyrics. Because we all need heroes.

Why Peggy Carter resonates with so many women today

Value2Anyone who knows me even slightly knows I am a HUGE fan of Peggy Carter. Captain America: The First Avenger is one of my favorite movies, in part because I adored Peggy Carter in it. (I also might have a thing for the time period, seeing as I wrote The Boys of Summer ๐Ÿ™‚ ) I’ve written about why I think Steve Rogers is the kind of hero we need, and I’ve written a little about my adventures in cosplaying Carter. I’m obsessed in the way only a fangirl can be. If you search this website for references to Peggy Carter, you’ll see what I mean.

Ever since Captain America:TFA came out, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing what would happen to characters like these after the war. After their brilliant, adrenaline-driven careers were no longer necessary, and they had to meld into suburban America. I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a series under the pen name Madison Dean, a kind of X-Files meets Ward and June Cleaver. I thought it would be fun, and I was enjoying the research for it. Then Agent Carter came out, and I realized that I’m going to have to change much of how I envisioned my original characters in order to prevent it from feeling derivative.

Besame 1940 PerfumeYou know what? I don’t care. Because I enjoyed Agent Carter as a television show so much, it doesn’t bother me that it might have shot down my brilliant idea for a romantic adventure series. I enjoyed it so much, it even knocked Queen Elsa off the throne for my current fangirl obsession. (Lord knows, I’ve posted a lot about Frozen, too! You should do a site search on that one if you want to read them all…)

Yesterday, I got a text from a friend off at Emerald City Comic Con, saying she had a surprise for me. Now, I’ve been running on fumes this last week, dealing with an injured horse needing round-the-clock treatment in an effort to save his eye. So when I got her text, it piqued my curiosity but I’d forgotten where she’d gone this weekend. Then she sent me a photo of my surprise: an autograph from Hayley Atwell! Those high-pitched dolphin squeals of glee you heard around the world yesterday? Yeah, that was me.

I showed the image to the BF last night at dinner, and he said he’d been looking for some sort of Agent Carter-related thing to get me ever since the series came out, but he’d had trouble finding anything he liked. Which gave me the warm fuzzies, you know? We watched Agent Carter together each week when it was on–it was our one Must See Live television show, and I believe he looked forward to it almost as much as me (given the amount of teasing I got, I’m sure of it!). The fact that he’s been looking for something Carter-related as a gift shows he *gets* me.

Besame Red VelvetWhich got me thinking this morning, why Peggy Carter? Why not Black Widow, or Wonder Woman, or Kate Beckett, or Brenda Leigh Johnson, or any of a number of excellent female characters over the years? What is it about Peggy that strikes such a chord? Why did Twitter explode with live tweeting during Agent Carter? It’s not just because Hayley Atwell is adorable (have you seen the pictures she posts of her sleeping almost anywhere on almost anything? The one of her in the suitcase is my favorite) but because Peggy Carter herself really struck a cord with a lot of viewers.

For a heroine, she’s super-feminine in a way that is disarming. She’s not in a catsuit. She doesn’t look like she could break your nose with her elbow, despite the fact she can. She is under-appreciated at work, and her male superiors dismiss her abilities while at the same time take advantage of them. I love the fact that she anticipates the mission’s needs and has the information ready to provide before her bosses can even ask for it. I confess, I was disconcerted by the scene where she takes a male co-worker to task for standing up for her–I thought she should have rewarded him for being progressive, after all! But I realized that she dressed him down for intervening because no one should have to intervene on her behalf. To have a man back her in that scenario meant that her presence and usefulness was only allowed if validated by a male co-worker. It was an interesting distinction to make, and one far more subtle than the average comic-book show.

Cinnamon Sweet resizedBut she can ditch the feminine look to get dirty in the trenches. She can knock back Scotch with the best of her male companions, the ones who know her true value and don’t question what she brings to the team. Her hand shakes when she diffuses a bomb. She’s known heartbreak, and personal loss. She’s made mistakes, ones that have gotten people killed, and she’s suffered the guilt, as well as the consequences of her actions. She eats out at restaurants a lot, because seriously, when does she have time to cook? She curses when she hits her head. She is tempted by the luxury of staying a night in Howard Stark’s townhouse, so far removed from a life sharing flats with other women. She is wonderfully realized as a character. She is human. And she is a damn sight closer to most of us than the average role model we see on screen.

One of the best moments in the series is depicted on the mug above: Peggy states clearly that she doesn’t need outside validation to know her worth. She doesn’t expect it. She’s learned to live without it. She’s learned that the only person she mustn’t disappoint is herself. Praise from others is nice, but she doesn’t need it to know she’s done her best.

Forites shoes 1That is a wonderful, amazing, empowering mindset. Seriously, it is everything we could ever hope for in a role model. No, we’re not going to be able to take out bad guys with a mean right hook, but we can look smashing while we go about our business, do our jobs to the very best of our abilities, and we can hold our heads–and our standards–high when the rest of the world would put us down. Without whining.

I sincerely hope Marvel and ABC decide to renew the series for another season. It was by far the best thing I’ve seen on television in years. We need more female characters like this in television, movies, and books. And she’s inspired me to create some of my own.

A friend, knowing my obsession, linked me to this wonderful, amazing essay on Agent Carter and the power of friendship. Do check it out. You won’t be sorry. ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Agent Carter Hits It Out of the Park

Agent Carter PosterAnyone who follows this blog knows I’ve been a Peggy Carter fan from the moment Captain America: The First Avenger was released. So, be prepared, this post is going to be a bit of social commentary combined with fangirl glee.

Captain America was one of my favorite Avenger movies from the Marvel Universe collection. I’ve written about my love for Steve Rogers before, and why I think we need more heroes like him. I adored Peggy Carter in that film, and was sorry to realize that we’d probably never see Hayley Atwell in that role again. Once Rogers wakes in modern-day New York, after being in the deep freeze all those years, the following movies are all about Captain America in the contemporary world. But the funny thing is, fandom loved Peggy Carter, too. She got a 15 minute short film as a DVD extra in the Blu-Ray version of Iron Man 3, and we got a glimpse of what her life was like post WW2, an agent who was treated more like a file clerk and grieving for Steve’s loss. The agent who took it upon herself to get the job done where other agents had failed. The fans, myself included, loved it! Then she appeared in Captain America 2:The Winter Soldier, both in newsreels about her role in S.H.I.E.L.D. and then later, Steve visits her in a nursing home, in one of the most painfully poignant reunion scenes I can recall in a movie. My father lost the ability to put anything new into long-term memory toward the end of his life. I could completely identify with Steve having a conversation with Peggy, who was lucid and clear one moment, only to turn for a second and have to watch Peggy re-discover that he was alive all over again in the next. Oh, my heart!

Even then, Marvel wasn’t done with this character. The fandom reaction to the One-Shot Agent Carter film was so positive, rumors began to circulate that they were considering a series. I can tell you, I was both excited and nervous. I loved this character and I sincerely hoped they wouldn’t get her wrong. Now that might sound odd, considering that Marvel put her on the screen for me to fall in love with in the first place, but I’ve seen it happen before. Take a great actress in a terrific movie role and try to build a weekly television series around her, and before you know it, the character isn’t even recognizable anymore. Even my boyfriend fell into the habit of muttering, “Please don’t let them screw this up…” every time a promo came on.

Marvel is a wonder for tie-ins and story-arcs across their universe, but in many ways, Agent Carter is fresh ground for them. They have some facts they need to retain, and they can seed the series with nods toward future events (like they did with an appearance by a younger Anton Vanko, who goes on to create the arc reactor with Howard Stark), but they aren’t tied into comic-book events the way the Avengers are. In many ways, it’s like what they did with the reboot of the Star Trek franchise–since the new movies follow an alternative timeline, the writers aren’t locked into re-telling old stories, but can play around in this brave new world of their own making.

I was encouraged that the showrunners were on track for getting things right when I read that the same writers for Captain America, Markus and McFeely, wrote the pilot and the first episode. I was reassured when I read this interview with Atwell in which she is quoted as saying the show “feels like a small triumph for women on television.”

But it all boiled down to the premiere. Would it live up to my expectations?

Agent Carter promoOh man, did it ever.

I’ve never been moved to live-Tweet during a program before, but I joined the legions of others on Twitter that made #AgentCarter trend on Tuesday evening. The show had everything I wanted: a strong female lead who doesn’t take the crap she’s handed out by her co-workers lying down, who is fiercely independent, but it’s because she is the most competent person she knows–and that people she cares about tend to wind up dead. She just also happens to dress fabulously, too. I’ll be honest, half of my fascination with Peggy Carter is the juxtaposition of her kick-ass toughness with her ‘ladylike’ appearance. (Not to mention I simply adore 1940s style clothing)

I found the scene between her and Agent Daniel Sousa interesting. At one point, Sousa demands an apology to Carter from co-workers that had speculated on how many men Carter had ‘known’ during the war. Sousa is far more sympathetic to Carter than most of the field agents, perhaps in part because he is a disabled war veteran who also is discriminated against. When Carter first speaks to Sousa about the incident, he assumes she’s going to thank him for sticking up for her, but instead she lets him know in no uncertain terms that Sousa isn’t doing her any favors by making such a distinction–and that she doesn’t need his intervention on her behalf. It’s interesting because it sets the tone for Carter as a character–no sooner does she give Sousa a mild set-down, she softens it with an acknowledgment of their commonalities, and then sharply takes on one of her co-workers who sticks her with his filing–thus proving her point that she doesn’t need a man to stand up for her. While I was thinking that she should be giving encouragement to anyone who sides with equality in the workplace, I am reminded that this is 1946. A male customer can slap a waitress on the ass and she has no recourse. The customer is always right, especially if he is a man. Carter has learned when and where to take up for herself because she can’t count on having a man step in on her behalf. This is Peggy Carter: independent. Not used to asking for, or receiving help. Not a bitch, as some would probably label her. She’s just not a whiner.

This doesn’t mean that she can’t be hurt. She can feel pain. She can cry. Her hands shook as she tried to deactivate a deadly bomb, and she reached for the whiskey as soon as it was done. If she’s hard on the people in her life, it’s because the bad guys don’t show any mercy, and she doesn’t want anyone else to die simply because they know her. She curses when she hits her head. She likes nice things. She isn’t above using her sexuality to meet her goals, but she’s more than a beautiful woman. She’s not afraid to play the ‘female’ card, however. And why not? Sometimes it’s the best card in a woman’s hand, especially when the rest of the deck is stacked against her. She’s tough, and smart, and sexy, and she gets the job done. Better still, she has to learn to ask for help. To accept that she ‘cannot carry the weight of the world on her shoulders alone.” I know a lot of women who struggle with this concept. I am one of them.

Ultimately, that’s what makes Peggy Carter the heroine I can admire. She gets things done through grit, courage, and ingenuity. She thinks fast on her feet and meets new developments with aplomb. She didn’t take a super serum. She didn’t gain special abilities through a lab accident. She gets by on guts, brains, and training. And yes, this is a comic-book universe, but she is closer to any one of us than the average superhero. She could be the cashier at Wal-Mart, or your dental hygienist, or the data entry person for a large company. She is us.

Besame Red VelvetBesides, who among us hasn’t felt like we weren’t appreciated by our bosses? Who hasn’t longed for a secret identity or mission that sets us apart from the other people we meet in our daily lives? The appeal of this basic scenario is HUGE, at least it is for me. Which is why I squealed like a fangirl when one of my friends told me Hayley Atwell tweeted an “Agent Carter Starter Kit”, letting fans know what color nail polish, lipstick, and perfume Carter wears. Because let me tell you, if I can paint my nails with OPI’s Cinnamon Sweet and spritz on a little Besame’s 1940’s perfume, and walk out the door asking myself, “What Would Peggy Do?” then there is nothing I can’t face during my day.

That’s what fictional heroes are for. To make everyday heroes out of all of us.

Captain America: Uncool, Unappreciated, and Absolutely Necessary

Captain America Shield_flickrI went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier again. I had been to see it during its opening week, clutching the BF’s knee as we went through one dizzying action-packed scene after another. I was practically breathless by the end of the film, and really felt that one viewing was insufficient for me to assimilate everything that was tossed at me in 136 minutes it took to air the movie. In fact, if I have any complaints about the film, it is that we raced headlong from one explosive scene to another. I could have used a few more scenes of dialog, simply to catch my breath between collisions and attacks. The solid rush of stimulation diminished the impact of the actions sequences after a bit, reducing their overall tension by turning them into one sustained crush.

There will be spoilers here. Just warning you now. If you haven’t seen the movie and you don’t want to be spoiled by my thoughts here, hit the back button now. This is just my personal reaction to the movie and why I think we need ‘real’ heroes–unequivocal good guys.

The Boys of Summer400x600I’ll be the first to admit that of all the precursors to the first Avengers movie, Captain America was my favorite. Anyone who knows me knows I have a thing for stories set in WW2 (hence The Boys of Summer) and that I adore Peggy Carter. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the first Iron Man movie as well–watching Tony Stark go through the process of redeeming and recreating himself was truly delightful. Robert Downey, Jr. IS Iron Man. ๐Ÿ™‚

But my heart belongs to Captain Steve Rogers.

Recently, however, I discovered that this wasn’t a cool thing to admit. Steve Rogers is boring, according to some people. He is too straight-laced. He’s corny. He’s *gasp* old-fashioned. Most of my friends prefer Tony Stark’s in-your-face, completely unapologetic caustic brilliance or Loki’s smiling cruelty, which somehow makes you ready to make excuses for him even as he slides a knife between your ribs. I can see the appeal of both of these characters; I enjoy them myself. Mind you, the character of Steve Rogers was created at a time when the country needed an avatar for American victory over the Axis Powers seeking world domination. Some of that hokey patriotism is present in the current incarnation as well.

But you know what? I think we need more Steve Rogers in this world. Let me tell you why.

He’s a good guy. No, I don’t mean in the sense of being a superhero. He was a good guy before he ever gained super powers. In fact, that was the whole point of the Super Soldier serum experiment back in the 1940s: it took whatever personal characteristics you had and accentuated them as well as giving you physical strength and rapid healing. That was why Red Skull became a villain when he partook of the serum. It increased his thirst for power and all the dark, evil thoughts inside him until nothing would satisfy but the creation of a world order with himself as leader. Steve Rogers *had* to be a decent guy before undergoing the testing in order not to become a monster afterward.

We already knew that he wasn’t a quitter, based on how he never gave up in a fight, even when he was being beaten to a pulp. That he wanted to do his part for his country, even though ‘killing Nazis’ was not his motivation. No, he knew that sometimes you have to stand and fight because it’s the right thing to do. We knew he had courage, as evidenced as being the only soldier who threw himself on the dummy grenade when told that everyone was in danger. We knew that he wasn’t an unthinking dolt when he managed to get the flag off the flagpole (thus earning himself a ride back to camp) when it was apparent that brute strength alone wasn’t going to get the job done. The first movie did a marvelous job of showing us why Steve Rogers became Captain America.

What I don’t get is why this somehow makes him contemptible in the eyes of many movie-goers today. Why standing up for what you believe in and being a decent guy makes you boring and predictable and less likeable than the Lokis of the entertainment world. Steve Rogers, I love you. Let me count the ways…

The banter with Natasha throughout The Winter Soldier was brilliant because she was the perfect counterpoint to him. Jaded, ruthless, cynical: Black Widow is about as far as you can get from Captain America and still be on the same team. I liked how what he offered was the one thing she probably seldom got from men: the offer of friendship and trust. I liked too, how even though Steve is told that he can’t trust anyone, this film was ultimately about surrounding yourself with people you could trust. I don’t think the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television program has pulled off the same complex issues with the same finesse or success. While I care about Cap, and Falcon, and Black Widow, and Fury, and Hill, I cannot say the same for the AoS team. I feel more for poor, tortured Bucky than I do for Agent Ward, who presumably has been conditioned to be a similar type of assassin. One storyline works for me and the other doesn’t. I think the difference lies in the nature of Steve Rogers himself.

Locket and CompactThe scene in the nursing home with Peggy Carter was especially poignant for me. Toward the end of his life, my father lost the ability to put anything into long-term memory. I’ve lost count of the conversations we had where he was completely lucid and articulate one moment and the next we were repeating the conversation from the very beginning again. Steve went to visit Peggy, knowing that the woman he’d fallen in love with was lost to him. And you can tell from that scene that it wasn’t the first time he’d visited Peggy. No, he’d been there before–the look of pain and loss on his face when Peggy exclaimed again over his reappearance from the dead made it obvious that he’d had this same conversation with her before. And yet he came back. He didn’t have to. But he did it because he loved her.

Or what about that speech he made over the S.H.I.E.L.D. intercom, announcing to everyone the truth about his fugitive status and what Hydra had planned for the world? Yes, it was a cheesy speech. But it was every bit as moving as the St. Crispin’s Day speech by Henry the 5th. It’s the kind of speech that makes you say, “Yes, I will follow this man into the gates of Hell.” It motivated people to stand up for what they believed in, to take sides in this war on personal freedoms (and you’d better be paying attention–the Patriot Act and the elimination of Net Neutrality make the machinations of Hydra’s algorithms to eliminate potential trouble-makers based on their internet history not so far-fetched after all). You know who the biggest heroes in this film were? Agent 13 (who is Sharon Carter, Peggy Carter’s great-niece) for questioning her superiors as to why Captain America was being treated like a criminal and the guy at the control panel who refused to launch the codes that would activate the Insight program. That, my friends, is what Superheroes do for us–they inspire us to be everyday heroes ourselves.

“I’m following Cap’s orders.” We do things like this because we believe in that hero. In order to inspire that kind of put-your-life-on-the-line action, our hero has to be someone worthy of emulating to that degree.

Then, too, there is Steve’s determination not to give up on his friend, Bucky. We know the Bucky that was is no more. The Winter Soldier is no more Bucky, Steve’s lifelong friend, than the rabid dog at the end of the film is Ol’ Yeller. Does that make Steve stupid when he tries to get through to Bucky? Perhaps. There was that moment in Ol’ Yeller in which the heroic dog that he was hesitates for a split second before the madness of rabies closes in on his brain again. Steve’s need to get through to Bucky is about likely to succeed. But it is that same determination that sees him placing the last chip into the control panel that will change the targeting system for the Insight ships, despite being shot multiple times. We watch him take bullet after bullet and still drag himself up to that control panel because replacing that chip will save millions of lives.

You know what? That man, the man that would visit the love of his life in the nursing home even though they are out of sync with each other by 70 years, and the man who would stick by his friend even though, through torture and experimentation, that friend has become a monster–that is the man I’d want at my back. That is the man I can admire enough to refuse to do something that is wrong–even if there is a gun pointed at my head He’s a bona fide hero here, and frankly, I think we need more of them in our lives.

I’ve been talking with several of my friends about this lately. About the dearth of admirable heroes in television and in the movies. How producers sneer at the ‘square jawed hero’ and instead introduce characters that they believe are more accessible because they might as well be our boss or our next-door neighbor. We’re supposed to relate to their dilemmas because we recognize them as people we know. Well, you know what? I am routinely disappointed in the people I know. I need something better than that if I’m going to be encouraged to stick to my beliefs, to stand up for civil rights being eroded or denied, to keep trying to be a better person. I’m sick of dystopian fiction and programs that make the future look so bleak we might as well curl up and die before tomorrow comes. I don’t know about you, but I need a hero that I can believe in. Someone who will give me the courage of my convictions and help me get through the bad days.

Fellow author Jamie Fessenden and I were discussing this on Facebook the other day, and I quote him here:

I do miss the hopeful science fiction (and comic hero) stories of the 50s, despite the elements of propaganda. I’m with Sarah in being tired of dystopian fiction. Some of it is really good (I love The Hunger Games), but I would really like to see a more optimistic portrayal of the future now and then. Especially for teenagers. I don’t think we accomplish much by telling the next generation it’s all hopeless, so we might as well just give up and accept that. There’s a thin line between propaganda and giving people something to strive for.

Another one of my friends also agreed with me, stating why she loved Doctor Who so much. She quoted to me what Steven Moffat once said about The Doctor, and I’ll share it here:

When they made this particular hero, they didn’t give him a gun, they gave him a screwdriver to fix things.They didn’t give him a tank or a warship or an x-wing fighter, they gave him a call box from which you can call for help. And they didn’t give him a superpower or pointy ears or a heat ray, they gave him an extra heart. They gave him two hearts. And that’s an extraordinary thing; there will never come a time when we don’t need a hero like the Doctor.

He’s right, you know. Likewise, there will never be a time when the world doesn’t need a Steve Rogers. Even though we may not be smart enough to know it. Even though it may not be the cool thing to admit.