Marvel: Fear Father’s Ambition
POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOR THE WHOLE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE
In a deleted scene from Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor submerges himself in a hot spring to commune with the Norn, cosmic beings who rule the destiny of gods and men in Norse mythology. They pass on a lot of key information to Thor and Dr. Selvig regarding the Infinity stones and the dangers waiting for them. One of their coded warnings is “Fear father’s ambition,” but which father are they referring to? Tony Stark as the father of Ultron is the obvious choice, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe is fueled by the ambitions of fathers, misguided or otherwise.
The most powerful of which is probably Odin, the Norse All-Father. When we meet him, he is the stern but fair leader of the Nine Realms, but he is hiding many secrets from his two sons, Thor and Loki. The first of which is that Loki is adopted. Loki was abandoned by his Frost Giant parents and rescued by Odin, who didn’t want to see the boy die. This shakes his identity, that of a man raised to believe he’d be ruler, so badly that he goes down a path of self-destruction (and A LOT of regular destruction) to prove his leadership skills in the most warped way possible.
However, his biggest secret is how he came to be the ruler of the Nine Realms in the first place. He had a daughter, imbued with great strength, that rode by his side through a number of invasions. Odin was the ultimate colonizer, and once he had control of everything, his efforts turned to changing his reputation to that of a great benefactor. It was too late, though. His daughter was blood-thirsty and disapproved of his new status quo. He was forced to banish her from all known realms and raised Thor to be his immediate heir instead. That is very reminiscent of Brian Azzarello’s New 52 run of Wonder Woman. Diana learns the sins of the Amazons that keep their way of life stable (no spoilers) and finds herself at the same crossroads as Thor. Can the lessons our moral authorities’ taught us survive their hypocrisy?
Thor has struggled with that even before Odin’s past was revealed to him “I’d rather be a good man than a good king,” he said, in Thor: The Dark World. T’Challa, the Black Panther, struggles with the same crisis of duty. That statement is echoed in the Black Panther trailer (I don’t remember it making it into the final film), “It’s hard for a good man to be a king.” When we meet his father, T’Chaka, king of Wakanda and former Black Panther, he is depicted as noble and dutiful as Odin, but he harbors his own secret. T’Chaka’s brother, N’Jobu, was one of many spies sent into the world from Wakanda, an otherwise isolationist country that has kept its technological prowess secret. N’Jobu saw the mistreatment of African descendants and broke his country’s rule about getting involved. Not only does he join a volatile branch of activism (according to director, Ryan Coogler, he is planning a jailbreak in the beginning of the movie), he has also fathered a son, a boy T’Chaka abandons after executing his brother for disobeying Wakanda’s strict isolationism.
That boy would grow up to be Erik Stevens, aka N’Jadaka, aka Killmonger, a US black ops soldier, who schemes his way into Wakanda to challenge T’Challa’s place on the throne. N’Jadaka is keenly associated with every ounce of anger related to the African diaspora, but it is most interesting how it emerges in T’Challa. On a visit to the spiritual plane, T’Challa confronts his father in front of the entire lineage of the Black Panther cursing him for abandoning the child. He returns to the physical world with a renewed sense of obligation to break down his nation’s border.
Not to be outdone, Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord) has not one, but two problematic dads. His biological father is a damn Boltzmann brain that THOUGHT itself into existence, became a planet, and created a little avatar (played by Kurt Russell) to explore the universe spreading his seed, both literally and figuratively. He leaves each planet with a literal plant that he can connect to, as well as a pregnant woman who will hopefully give birth to another reality warping immortal like himself. His name is Ego! That’s a red flag right there. He is essentially one half of toxic masculinity personified. Quill’s adopted dad, Yondu, is the other half. Yondu is a ruthless space pirate, who was hired to abduct Ego’s children and deliver them to him. Yondu figures out that Ego is sacrificing his children just in time to not deliver Quill, keeping him around instead to be one of the gang. You can’t really say that Quill was rescued though, he was simply the victim of a different kind of parental abuse.
Unlike either Thor or T’Challa, Quill’s big revelation is not that Yondu had been doing bad things in secret, because he was doing them very publicly. Quill instead realizes that the lessons he has learned from Yondu are more useful than he originally considered. It is still the main question (“Can the lessons our moral authorities’ taught us survive their hypocrisy?”), Quill just gets to it backwards. However, he is clearly more emotionally wounded by it. He makes peace with Yondu in the closing moments of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but I don’t think he necessarily forgives him. He has compartmentalized his relationship with Yondu, accepting he has an opportunity to be better without completely forgetting the hardships. Thor and T’Challa are able to move forward with confidence, while Quill is still very much dependent on his surrogate family (as are all the members of that family), more so than any of Marvel’s individual protagonists. He’s so close to giving in to Yondu’s way, and we see him do so when part of his family is taken away from him in Infinity War.
Quill’s teammate and love interest, Gamora, has it the worst of anyone. She was abducted by the mad titan, Thanos, although he would call it adopting. Thanos is the last known resident of a world that died the slow death of resource depletion. He is now obsessed with fixing that problem by wiping out half of the universe. He believes doing so randomly would be a sign of mercy. Gamora was raised to be an expert assassin, but a sense of humanity (in the philosophical sense since she is green alien) is deeply embedded. So much so, when she gets the chance to rebel against him, forming an alliance with her other guardians, she does not hesitate. Ultimately, her struggle with her father’s views pale in the face of everyone else’s because she is still a pawn in her father’s game. The rest of them are mostly dealing with their father’s legacy, and she is still dealing with his present. It is what makes the stakes so high in her confrontations with Thanos in Infinity War. It is also what makes them much more volatile rather than reflective.
It doesn’t just stop at the movies either. The Netflix corner is just as rife with father problems. Both Daredevil and Iron Fist lose their biological fathers at young ages and have strained relationships with their surrogates, Stick and Lei Kung, respectively. Kingpin killed his father. Killgrave was experimented on by his. Jessica Jones lost hers. Luke Cage’s kept secrets from him. Even The Punisher offers a twist on the subject by casting him as the father and taking the family away from him.
Not to mention, I didn’t even scratch at the surface at the relationship between Tony and his father, Howard, a man who did everything Tony did but better. He was a better playboy, a better adventurer, a better scientist and businessman. He came just as close to privatizing world peace as Tony did.
It is a generational thing. We are not born into a world that we get to make our own. We are born into a world that is already under construction, and the weight of our parents’ mistakes, as well as their entire generation, rest on our shoulders to resolve. And we’ll make mistakes that the next generation will inherit. We see this in Ant-Man. The relationship between Scott Lang (aka present day Ant-Man) to his daughter, Cassie, mirrors the one between Hank Pym (aka latter day Ant-Man) and his daughter, Hope. It’s cyclical, and that can make you cynical. That is what superheroes are for. They are firebrands to remind us to keep fighting and not give in to the cynicism.
Bottom line: millennials aren’t killing chain restaurants or the diamond industry, we are just correcting out parents mistake of making them popular in the first place. Avocado toast for life!