On the spectrum of Marvel Cinematic Universe villains, a gaggle that chants “one world, one folks” whereas stealing meals and vaccines to offer to needy refugees does not precisely appear to be at HYDRA ranges of evil.
Then once more, this identical group robs banks and bought the serum that HYDRA used to make tremendous troopers, and its chief is totally ready to burn her enemies alive as a result of violence is “the one language these folks perceive.” Which leads us to ask the age-old query: Are they terrorists or freedom fighters?
We converse of the Flag Smashers, the antagonists of Marvel’s new TV hit The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. Three episodes in, the present has proven loads of willingness to run headlong into the moral gray areas of the MCU, and the Flag Smashers appear to inhabit probably the most intriguingly gray space of all.
That is in distinction to the unique Marvel comics, the place The Flag-Smasher (singular, not plural) was conceived as an unabashed supervillain. First showing within the pages of Captain America in 1985, The Flag-Smasher was the alias of Karl Morgenthau, a self-described “anti-patriot” who needed to avenge the demise of his Swiss diplomat father by taking away nationwide landmarks, borders, flags — something that led one group of people to assume themselves superior to a different.
The Flag-Smasher was avowedly anti-American in addition to anti-Soviet, and good ol’ Cap could not stand for that.
However this is not the Reagan period; it is more durable immediately to show the idea of flag-smashing right into a cartoon villain. We stay in a way more various America, a extra built-in world, and many extra of us are conscious of the evils which have been perpetrated within the identify of nationalism. Certain, there are Republicans who need to construct costly, pointless partitions. There are additionally economists telling us that permitting freedom of motion throughout borders may add up to $100 trillion to the global economy. Point out flags as of late and also you would possibly simply as simply recall Eddie Izzard’s succinct abstract of colonialism: “No flag, no country!”
So it wasn’t shocking that the Flag-Smasher would get a 2021 improve. Karl Morgenthau, a middle-aged white man within the comics, is now Karli Morgenthau, a younger mixed-race girl (as Erin Kellyman, who additionally stole the present as Enfys Nest in Solo, has famous about her character Karli) on the present. The singular Flag-Smasher, who took hostages and attacked landmarks, is now a various group of Flag Smashers who use AR tags and Nameless-style flash mob ways within the service of feeding transnational refugees. As a substitute of underground lairs, they depend on an underground community. “They name you Robin Hood,” says one enthusiastic supporter.
Issues have turn into extra ambivalent on the opposite facet of the authorized line too. Instead of Steve Rogers’ morally unimpeachable Cap, we’ve John Walker, whose try to query members of that underground community has all of the clumsy conceitedness of an occupying military. Simply name him Captain Ugly American.
“Violent revolutionaries aren’t good for anybody’s trigger,” Walker insists to Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon. “Normally mentioned by the individuals who have the sources,” shoots again Sam, who has his own reasons to question the system represented by a purple, white, and blue flag.
Battle of the Blip
From a narrative perspective, probably the most attention-grabbing side of the Flag Smashers is what their presence says concerning the final 5 years within the Marvel universe. When half the world’s inhabitants disappeared within the Thanos snap, it is smart that the world adjusted. Life was stuffed with grief, nevertheless it was additionally simpler in some methods for the 4 billion who remained. “We obtained a glimpse of how issues could possibly be,” Karli tells her workforce. “We won’t let these assholes who have been put again in energy after the Blip win.”
That is smart: You needn’t help Thanos’ insane population control scheme to see how a half-capacity Earth may have been higher for the typical inhabitant. Costs would have fallen, extra housing would have been obtainable, and wages would have risen for workers nearly in all places (as they did after the Black Death, which worn out a 3rd of Europe).
The Flag Smashers symbolize one of many thorniest, most fascinating moral dilemmas the MCU has ever given us.
Add to that the sudden sense of worldwide consciousness conferred by such a tragedy — consider the United Nations’ founding after the deaths of 60 million folks in World Battle II — and the “one world, one folks” slogan takes on a boatload of that means. When you’d had a glimpse of humanity at its greatest after a catastrophe (and as Rebecca Solnit explains within the wonderful guide A Paradise In-built Hell, we’re typically at our greatest after disasters) you would not need to give that up.
The genius of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is that, like WandaVision, it gives us just enough of a glimpse of the chaos after billions returned for us to attract our personal conclusions. Through a soft-focus TV advert, we’re launched to the International Repatriation Council: “Serving to you get again to the best way issues have been” whereas navigating unspecified “modifications to borders and legal guidelines.”
Attitudes to the GRC fluctuate rely on whom you are asking. Based on Walker’s sidekick, Battle Star, the GRC’s foremost job is “reactivating citizenship, social safety, healthcare” — and who can argue with that? However the Flag Smashers do not need to return to the best way issues have been, an angle that thousands and thousands of us who’ve lived by way of a worldwide pandemic that upended the outdated commuting life-style can definitely relate to.
For Karli and firm, who we’re advised have been actually turfed out onto the streets when the Blip returned billions, the change between earlier than and after is totally visceral. For them the GRC does not simply symbolize the return of the “assholes who have been put again in energy.” It is an pointless layer of forms at greatest, sinister favoritism to the returned at worst. “You had six months of provides simply sat there,” Karli advised a GRC soldier who known as her a “filthy Flag Smasher” after the heist on the finish of episode 3. “Do not you perceive? We’re preventing for our lives!”
Sadly for the Flag Smasher trigger, Karli then blew up each GRC worker in a Lithuanian warehouse with a bomb in her automobile, apparently to ship a message. The road between freedom fighter and terrorist had clearly been crossed.
Karli’s deputy, Dovich (Desmond Chiam), was horrified. So too have been many viewers, who took to social media to declare that her sudden change in ways made no sense — and was particularly galling in an episode that turned supervillain Baron Zemo right into a relatable good man.
VILLAIN: we must always be sure everybody has sufficient meals and shelter
AUDIENCE: oh. perhaps they’ve some extent?
VILLAIN: I shall now blow up this housing complicated for no cause
AUDIENCE: nicely clearly all the things he has mentioned up till now was fallacious and refugees are monsters
— Oliver Darkshire 🌈 (@deathbybadger) April 2, 2021
Certainly, the framing is slightly odd, provided that the present has gone out of its method to make Karli sympathetic up till this level. There isn’t any foreshadowing of her flip to coldhearted violence. Maybe we’re meant to learn one thing into the pleasant chat Karli and Dovich have previous to the assault, however precisely what that is perhaps is not clear — even on a number of rewatches.
Regardless, we should not rattling an entire motion that has been fairly nonviolent up till this level simply due to one motion by considered one of them, even when she is their nominal chief. To do this can be to misinterpret the historical past of nonviolent resistance, which has all the time had inner debates with members who need to take extra direct motion, or who lose their heads within the warmth of the second (watch final 12 months’s Oscar-nominated Trial of the Chicago 7 for a superb instance of that).
Then there’s the query of what it signifies that the Flag Smashers have the super-soldier serum — which opens up an entire different can of MCU worms. In any case, that is the serum that gave us Captain America within the first place (to not point out, tangentially, the Hulk). It additionally gave us Bucky the Winter Soldier, and extra HYDRA henchmen than you’ll be able to shake a protect at. Are all makes use of of the serum unhealthy? If not, who will get to determine who can use it? If the federal government can — when perhaps, morally, it should not — why would an anti-government group not assume it has the identical proper?
“It was taken as a precaution,” Kellyman told Syfy Wire concerning the Flag Smashers’ use of the serum. “Now they’re realizing they most likely do want it slightly bit greater than they realized within the first place.”
And right here we’re in a spot the place Karli has seemingly dedicated a struggle crime underneath the Geneva Conference (the killing of captive combatants, which not less than some folks in that warehouse have been). That suggestions the scales for her personally into terrorism, however given Dovich’s shock, the jury continues to be out on the Flag Smasher motion as an entire. The remaining three episodes will inform us extra, as will the revelation of the mysterious Energy Dealer who could have been manipulating Karli’s motion all alongside.
Whatever the end result, the Flag Smashers will stay an iconic group for a lot of in our world — and their wrestle for unity and equality will symbolize one of many thorniest, most fascinating moral dilemmas the MCU has ever given us.