I’m going to start this post with a spoiler warning for Infinity War. It’s been out a fortnight now so I feel alright with loosening the spoiler shackles a little but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone if I can avoid it, so ye be warned.
Like so many other people who watched it, I fell in love with Gamora a little bit during Guardians of the Galaxy. She’s not exactly a typical manic pixie dream girl but she comes across as a little quirky, misunderstood, and ultimately good hearted soul who is juuuuust coming around to the idea that maybe she could be falling for Star Lord. It’s all so sweet and lovely and she’s so cool and badass that we basically gloss over how she cut her teeth on that badassittude, which would be at her wrinkly-chinned genocidal ballbag of an adoptive / kleptomaniacal father’s side as they butchered their way across the galaxy. In some ways she’s the *insert Zooey Deschanel character here* of the MCU, only instead of a cupboard full of ukuleles and snow globes, you’re looking for a stapler in her apartment one day, you open the wardrobe door, and an avalanche of skulls falls out.
“Oh, I used to be a mass murderer,” she says, as the slithering heap of human bones grows larger. “But I’ve changed! I play the banjo now.”
For all that, we have sympathy for her. What choice did she have anyway? That purple douchebag would have killed her or taken her apart like he did her sister. That sister being Nebula, whose journey is largely similar, though we don’t have half as much sympathy for her as we do for Gamora. Part of that may be because we don’t know her well enough yet, but I have a sneaky suspicion that we don’t feel so close to her because we have a lot of trouble feeling kinship with angry women. And damn is she angry.
We relate to male anger so easily. Bruce may be a decent man, but are you telling me that none of the flying debris the Hulk has created has ever hurt an innocent person? Rorschach in Watchmen is a fan favourite and we love the fallout of his incarceration, but when he escapes he doesn’t pause to think of any of the people who work in that jail. He is very much not a good man and he’d be the first to admit that, but he gets a pass. Because he’s awesome.
I could sit and pull out more examples of angry men that we love, and a few women too to be fair, but here we have a woman who is just plain angry all the time. She has precisely the same reasons to be on her path as Gamora did, but she hasn’t paused for love or to find friends. She hasn’t shown us much of a softer side, and when she does admit her desire for her sister’s love and even when they embrace, it is absolutely defined by her anger. “All I wanted was a sister” was practically spat through her clenched teeth. Rage is all she has, and instead of sympathy, we’re practically counting the seconds until she goes bad. There are even theories out there now that she, and not Thanos, will be the big bad in Avengers 4. If she is, that’s a shame, because storytelling has a huge role in making changes to the world, and I think it’s way past time that we had a woman out there who was this pissed off. Not because she wants a baby, or a man, just who has been through all the shit the universe can throw at her and is allowed to be righteously annoyed about it.
Women all over the world are angry, and who the hell can blame them? Between sexual assault statistics, unequal pay, domestic violence, bodily autonomy, reproductive rights, equal access to certain forms of employment, public perception of women who speak up… In the west our papers and certain sections of society like to moan that women of Middle Eastern descent don’t always get to speak for themselves, when instead of a jab at patriarchy it’s probably so we can get on with telling them to shut the fuck up.
Against a backdrop of all that, I love Nebula. You could argue that she’s not well rounded, but given her background, I’d call bullshit. What we know of her life up until now gives us all the wider context we need for why she is who she is.
Aside from the kidnap and presumed loss of her people / family, Thanos has taken everything from her, including most of herself. Back to the bodily autonomy issue. As she said in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and as we were so vividly shown in Infinity War, she has been pulled apart and had bits replaced over and over again to make up for what are perceived as shortcomings by the dickhead who kidnapped her. She has been used by Thanos as a training dummy to improve Gamora, and she gets a painful upgrade every time she fails. As we are told, she fails every time. When he wants to get the truth from Gamora, he literally starts pulling her apart at the seams, like a mean dad threatening to rip teddy’s arm off, only instead of a teddy IT’S YOUR SISTER. Not Gamora’s arms, though. Nebula’s. Far be it for that prick to torture the person he wants the information from. Nope. He needs something from Gamora, so that’s Nebula back on the rack again.
All of this is done more to expand on Gamora’s character than on Nebula’s, and that brings me to the thing he wanted to find out. Where is the soul stone? Nebula didn’t know where it was, only Gamora saw the map, but for how long did Nebula know that Gamora destroyed the map to Vormir? Given how little time they’ve spent together since then it seems possible or even very likely that Nebula has known this fact for quite some time, and yet SHE DIDN’T TELL HIM SHIT.
So we have not only a woman who got regular beat downs from Gamora, got pulled apart, rebuilt, beaten again, rebuilt again, undervalued and always seen as second best, but all that time she could have told Thanos that Gamora destroyed the map to the soul stone, or if it was later than that (it’s not entirely clear when she found out) she could have used that to get close to Thanos. She could so easily have thrown her under the bus, but she told no-one.
This is a woman who managed to get inside Thanos’s ship and come within a gnat’s cock of single handedly killing the bastard. The only other person to come close was Thor, and he’s a space Viking angel pirate with the power of a god at his disposal. So Nebula didn’t beat Gamora, but almost killed Thanos himself… Makes you wonder if she was really trying, doesn’t it?
There’s a lot we don’t know here, but there’s very little in the way of benefit of the doubt for Nebula. I’m not encouraging anyone to like Gamora less because people experience and deal with trauma differently, and that is absolutely normal, but when someone goes through all that and comes out the other side a mite pissy about it, I think they get a pass, and that Nebula deserves a hell of a lot more love than she is currently getting.
I truly hope that Nebula isn’t the bad guy of Avengers 4. After everything that character has been through I hope she gets what she deserves. I hope she is instrumental in obtaining a new Infinity Gauntlet and that she uses it to save her sister, restore the universe and then uses it to punch Thanos right in the teeth. The back of his teeth. Via his colon.
And I hope that we get more angry women characters in future and that we learn to appreciate and love them the way we do their male counterparts. Anger is only unhealthy when it’s disproportionate, or when it’s the wrong thing to be feeling. After everything she has been through?
As far as I’m concerned, she can be as angry as she fucking likes.