By now I think everyone interested has seen Captain America: Civil War, the newest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). I’m not so much review the movie (which I really liked) as discuss the ramifications this movie has on the MCU in general, and explore other interesting minutiae.
– Let’s talk Black Panther. So how great was Black Panther? Pretty great. I really think Chadwick Boseman nailed the portrayal. But what do we know about the character and how he fits into the history of the MCU?
The first reference to Black Panther’s homeland Wakanda was way back in Iron Man 2. At the end of the film we see S.H.I.E.L.D.’s threat board, and there’s a marker in Africa.
In Civil War we are briefly show a map indicating where Wakanda is, and it’s the same place. Basically it’s the northern part of Kenya in the real world, roughly the portion west of Lake Turkana. I’m pretty sure that area is not the lush tropical jungle we saw in the mid-credits scene in Civil War, but maybe the Wakandans geo-engineer their whole country. That would be in line with the Wakanda’s first appearance in the comics back the 1960s, when it was revealed that the jungle canopy was maintained to hide the high tech landscape underneath.
In Civil War we’re told that Wakanda has historically been an extremely reclusive nation, and they’ve only reached out the world because vibranium was stolen from their country and used to create Ultron’s indestructible body. The thief was Ulysses Klaue, who was played by Andy Serkis in Avengers: Age of Ultron. In the original Black Panther story back in Fantastic Four #52 and #53 it was Ulysses Klaw who tried to steal all of Wakanda’s vibranium, when Wakanda was still an tribal nation. During Klaw’s attack T’Challa’s father was killed, and after Klaw was driven off T’Challa sold some of his country’s vibranium to make his nation filthy rich and technologically advanced. (May I say that rereading this story today it’s almost how shocking how not-racist it is. I doubt it was intended, but it comes across like a subversion/repudiation of European colonialism. With awesome Jack Kirby art.)
In the MCU I suspect we’ll find out that Wakanda has been a technologically advanced nation for a long time. It’s even possible Howard Stark had some dealings with the nation before or during World War II, to explain where he got the vibranium he used to make Captain America’s shield in Captain America: The First Avenger. Howard describes vibranium as “the rarest metal on earth” and “that’s all we’ve got.” He doesn’t say “that’s all we’ve found,” so his acquiring it from Wakanda can’t be ruled out.
Captain America being on good terms with Black Panther does kind of remove the sting of losing his shield. It should be the easiest think the world for the Wakandans to make Cap a new one.
– Let’s talk super soldiers and serums.
The original super soldier is Captain America, who was created by Dr. Erskine’s super soldier serum, along with vita-rays. This treatment was so powerful that it turns Steve Rogers from a 90-pound weakling the huge slab of man-meat. Unlike his comic book counterpart, the MCU Captain America is super-strong, super-fast, and at least to some degree impervious to damage. In the first few minutes of Civil War alone Cap takes blows to his back that would probably paralyze a normal person. (Sorry, Rhodey.)
In Captain America: The Winter Soldier we’re introduced to the Winter Soldier, who also seems to have enhanced strength and speed. In The Winter Soldier it was a little ambiguous if he had any super-attributes beyond what having a cyborg arm gave him, but in Civil War there’s no doubt. He jumps off high buildings, runs at 50 miles an hour, and catches Black Panther by the throat in mid-air using his non-cyborg arm. Bucky Barnes was exposed to a different version of the super soldier serum, an experimental one tested on him by Hydra when he was captured by them during WWII. However, it doesn’t seem to have given him enhanced strength until after his near death falling off the train in The First Avenger.
Civil War introduces another super soldier serum. Apparently by 1991 Howard Stark had created working serum that didn’t require vita-rays to work, though it probably had to be administered to people who were already in good physical condition for maximum effect. Howard and Maria Stark were ambushed and killed by the Winter Soldier while they were transporting five doses of the new serum, and the stolen serum was given to five Soviet/Hydra assassins in an attempt to create new Winter Soldiers, but for reasons we see in Civil War that didn’t work. However, I have to wonder if acquiring the super soldier serum didn’t allow Hydra to create more super soldiers. It would be fun to see Red Guardian or a similar character in the future.
After 1991 super soldier serum research appears to have forked in many directions, some more successful than others. Bruce Banner’s gamma ray experiments were an attempt to create a super soldier, and the Abomination was created by a combination of some of the original super soldier serum that had been in storage since WWII and Banner’s irradiated blood.
In the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show there’s a technology called Centipede that combines super soldier serum, Extremis (from Iron Man 3), gamma radiation, and Kree blood.
In Civil War we see someone else with unexplained enhanced strength and speed. Black Panther is able to run as fast as the Winter Soldier and jump fifteen feet straight up. Assuming he wasn’t bitten by a radioactive panther when he was high school, he was probably deliberately enhanced somehow. In his first comic book story Black Panther said he got powers from “herbs” and “rituals.” Later stories have specified that the herb is called the heart-shaped herb, and it only grows on the giant vibranium deposit that gives Wakanda its wealth. I expect they’ll use something similar to explain Black Panther’s strength and speed in his own movie.
– Let’s talk Giant-Man. When Ant-Man shrinks every indication is that he reduces his mass (i.e. he doesn’t crush the ants he rides by weighing 160 pounds), but he retains his normal-sized strength. Obviously, this is comic book physics. “Strength” isn’t some inherent attribute independent of mass. But, if his powers were consistent, shouldn’t Ant-Man retain his normal-sized strength when he grows as well? His mass is greatly increased, but he probably shouldn’t have been unable to even lift a finger because his fingers weighed thousands of pounds.
– Let’s talk about the Agent Carter problem. When Sharon/Agent 13 was introduced in The Winter Soldier it was widely assumed (and verified by a promotional poster) that she would turn out to be Sharon Carter, a character from the comics.
The original Sharon Carter was Peggy Carter’s younger sister, and there was an extremely creepy storyline in the 1970s where Steve starting dating Sharon while keeping it a secret from Peggy, who, because comic books, had no memory of the past 20 years and thought they were still an item. Much later it was retconned that Sharon was Peggy’s niece, though considering the age difference they probably meant grand niece.
So who is Sharon in the MCU? In Civil War she states she’s Peggy’s niece Sharon Carter, though apparently she’s been professionally going by some other name to obscure her relationship to Peggy. Again, the age difference suggests that “niece” is shorthand for “grand niece,” because Peggy died at age 95 and Sharon is probably about 30 years old if we go by actress Emily Van Camp’s age.
Here’s the bigger problem: As far as we know Peggy Carter shouldn’t have any nieces named Carter. In order for Peggy to have niece with her name it would have to be her brother’s daughter, or if we’re talking a grand niece, her brother’s son’s daughter. But in the Agent Carter TV series there were flashbacks to her life before The First Avenger, and she only appeared to have one brother, Michael, who died very early in WWII. I guess it’s possible Peggy had another brother, or that Michael left behind a illegitimate child , but the tenor of those flashbacks certainly didn’t suggest it.
Civil War also messed up the chronology of The First Avenger by establishing Peggy was 95 when she died. From The Winter Soldier we know Steve Rogers was born in 1918. That makes him 98 during the events of Civil War, and about 25 when he was inducted into Project Rebirth. That’s plausible. But if she was born in 1921 that makes Peggy only 22 when she met Steve Rogers, which is a lot less plausible considering both her position in military and her appearance. She definitely came across as a few years older than Rogers. Maybe Peggy got vain and started shaving a few years off her age as she got older? That seems out of character.