Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Playing Favorites excerpts, pt 43

That said, Victoria Hand is a pretty good example of an ideologically-motivated villain who becomes a hero even because her environment (and not she changes). I suppose that The Punisher would also count as someone whose morality wouldn’t change, though the context of their actions might mark them as a villain, but I’m hard-pressed to think of any other characters who would qualify for this. I mean, The Crime Syndicate of America (from Grant Morrison’s “Earth 2” Justice League of America) sort of counts, because (or so I hear it) in their universe, the paradigm supports evil, selfishness, and corruption, while on the DC main universe, it supports good, selflessness, and integrity.  The bad guys can’t win in the DCU and they can’t lose on Earth 2. They’re still criminals and jerks, but their effectiveness is, in fact, determined by just what universe they’re in (I don’t know if this is a subtle nod to the ‘uber if their name is on the cover’ principle of comic book battles or not, but it’s Grant Morrison, so there really is no telling).

For the all-too-short season where Norman Osborn was basically running S.H.I.E.L.D., the heroes were on the run, and Loki, Dr. Doom, Namor, Emma Frost, and The Hood sat down with Norman Osborn to hammer out the future of the world, Victoria Hand was number two to Osborn himself.  She passionately backed him up, she fought him to get him to back down and take his meds, went toe-to-toe with Moonstone/Ms. Marvel, and managed to save the Dark Avengers after Molecule Man had nearly killed them all. No big deal.

Any top-shelf S.H.I.E.L.D. agent would do the same. The deal with Victoria Hand is that she saw the status quo of the world before the Skrulls and before the Civil War and realized that it just wouldn’t work. She lost her job trying to get Nick Fury to approach the world’s problems in a new way. When she saw someone who would do what it takes to become take an effective approach to organizations like HYDRA and AIM, she backed him up one hundred percent. She didn’t judge Norman by his past. She acknowledged it, yes, and like Osborn realized it was a handicap that had to be accommodated, but she didn’t have the luxury, like so many Marvel heroes, of knowing that Spider-Man’s archnemesis will never change and could never save the world from itself. She wanted a new direction with someone who would do what had to be done. It didn’t work out, and once she realized how far Norman had gone past what needed to be done, she relented and turned herself in to the authorities without apology for her actions or complaint about the consequences.

Image from this tumblr.

So while she doesn’t wear any sort of costume (unless you count geek-chic glasses and pink stripes in her hair), she ran the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. for a year. While she worked for Norman Osborn and backed him up completely, she now works for the real (well, New Avengers) by request of Steve Rogers himself. Victoria Hand doesn’t get the same kind of handwave that Kal-El gets for maybe doing things that aren’t so harmless. She’s a trained soldier who isn’t just trained to kill, but to kill all manner of scientific and super-villainous things that superheroes can’t/won’t handle. Her world is more pragmatic, and while that means that she has no genre savvyness, it also means that she comes across as not just a real person, but a real person with enough integrity and self-confidence to stop a whole team of super-heroes. She’s no Batman (not even close) but she does have heroic qualities, integrity chief amongst them.

Lack of pettiness is something that defines her as it does many heroes. When things finally go south for Norman’s adventurism into Asgard, she doesn’t blame the heroes or the army who show up to stop her and her people. She realizes that Norman went too far and stops backing him up. Not because he was captured or because it helped her out (she would’ve stopped defending him and his actions prior to that point if that was the case). No, it was because she knew she was in the wrong. She was humble enough to accept her part in what happened and admit to her mistakes. She chose to save the lives of the men and women under her instead of wasting them trying to save herself or fight a hopeless battle against the United States military. I don’t know what to call this non-myopic morality other than common sense. I mean, common sense isn’t really a special quality that shows how great a character is, but she has it when a lot of people on the wrong side of the capes don’t.

Sure, she backed Norman, unapologetically. Sure, a classic protagonist might’ve given Osborn tepid support, then sabotaged his armor and brought him down the first time he stepped out of line, but Victoria Hand showed herself to be someone who commits herself to what she believes in. No half-measures. No doubt. She does her job and does so enthusiastically. Does her instant willingness to obey authority work against her? Of course! Because being a roguish derring-do pays off in the Marvel universe, obedience doesn’t do anything for her. Not her fault, it’s just that most people in the Marvel universe aren’t smart enough to realize that or aren’t smart enough to do it while fighting crime. Part of the lesson of Civil War/Dark Reign (and even to some extent, Secret Invasion) was that institutional authority is antithetical to super-heroes. Politics and rigid structures of people appointed by governments don’t and can’t always have the best interests of the people at heart. The greatest thing about superheroes is their ability to operate autonomously, directed only by their abilities and the greatness and generosity born within each person.

Victoria Hand as Norman Osborn’s greatest fan provides a strong voice that reminds the reader that people do believe in Norman Osborn and explains why they aren’t morons for doing so. Yeah, most of his foot soldiers are jerks, (I’d like to believe that this is consistent with the characterization of S.H.I.E.L.D. troops as people who’ve always been jerks but now have a reason, rather than the deliberate insult to my intelligence that someone expects me to believe that everyone who used to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. suddenly became a jerk when Norman Osborn came to power and arbitrarily renamed it H.A.M.M.E.R.. I mean, these are the people who shot at Captain America because turbo-[REDACTED] Maria Hill told them to.) but it’s the average American citizen who wanted Osborn in office, not jerkwad shield agents or shadowy cabals of super-villains (full disclosure: even the shadowy cabals of super-villains had betting pools on how long it would take Osborn to fuck it up). Given that every other comic featured either heroes who knew Osborn could never be rehabilitated or plots where Osborn pettily acts out to destroy the life of the main characters, it was good to have one character that could show that the entire world hadn’t gone mad/stupid for backing Osborn. It was also nice to have a series that while showing Osborn’s faults as a leader, showed them as part of a human being who was trying to better the world, instead of featuring a two-dimensional caricature of George W. Bush with a hijacked suit of Iron Man armor.

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