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Falcon & The Winter Soldier Preview by Matt John

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Ambiguity. That’s what Marvel seems to be going for these days. First, we had WandaVision, a show that no one could get a read on after watching the trailer and the first couple of episodes. Sure, everything was explained in due time, but keeping everyone guessing is what gave it such a mass appeal. Now that WandaVision is over, Marvel moves to its next project, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, slated to come out next week. Even though the trailer didn’t hide that this show will be as action-packed as any Marvel property would be, it managed to maintain a fair amount of the same ambiguity that WandaVision had in its trailer.

While it doesn’t look like it’s going to be nearly as eccentric as WandaVision, the trailer for Falcon and Winter Soldier doesn’t dive into much detail for what the story is going to about. All we know is Falcon and Winter Soldier are now working together in an “Odd Couple” portrayal to take down a new group of bad guys. Presumably helping them along the way is Sharon Carter, aka Agent 13. Lastly, this new group of evil-doers features the return of the most underrated MCU villain, Zemo.

And that’s about it, considering we’ve seen plenty of movies giving away too much in their trailers, it’s nice to see that there’s not a whole lot to digest from what we’ve seen and we can’t piece together what’s going to happen. But it does lead to a few questions:

1. Are Sam and Bucky still criminals?

It seems like a distant memory now, but last time we checked the Sokovian Accords, which were meant to regulate superhero activities at all times by the government. The consequence for anyone who did not comply with the regulations faced criminal charges. Before everything happened with Thanos, Sam was on the run from the government for breaking the rules. Bucky was in an even worse predicament since he was, you know, an assassin for an underground terrorist organization who had committed who knows how many murders.

We know that, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the year is 2023, and the world is beginning to get back to what it was. In Sam and Bucky’s case, was all forgiven after the events from Endgame? Is this them repaying their “debt” to society? Have they been recruited by another organization that will help them avoid detection from the United Nations?

We know as an audience that both are on the side of good. We don’t know if the UN still disagrees.

2. What happened to Sharon after Civil War?

It’s so weird that it’s been five whole years since we last saw Sharon. The last time we did, she helped Captain America, Falcon, and Winter Soldier as they went to take on Hydra assassins. Since she was technically breaking the law by doing so, she, too, was presumably on the run. It’s technically seven years later following those events. Hopefully, we’ll get an update on what’s happened to her. Either she was snapped out of existence, or she had to live in a post-Thanos world before it returned to normal.

Something else to keep in mind: Cap is no longer in the picture. Hence, she’s no longer his designated love interest. Now we’re going to find out what role she has in the MCU as we advance.

3. What is Zemo’s plan now?

With all the insanity that happened after Thanos, we will find out if Zemo survived the snap or not, and if he did, where he went from there. What we do know is that he is again the main antagonist of this story.

That would be quite the liberty to take because, before Thanos, Zemo was the closest character Marvel had to an anti-hero. It was never his intention to hurt any innocent person in Captain America: Civil War. He just knew what it had to take to accomplish his goal of bringing down the Avengers. His intentions were bad but positively identifiable after what he lost. Better yet, he completed what he sought to do. Since he got what he wanted, what else is there left for him to do? How Marvel follows up an excellent villain introduction – which was rare for them back in 2016 – is something that could determine how this series fares.

Now Marvel, please don’t retcon Zemo for the sake of plot convenience. You already ruined the nuance of Nick Fury and his missing eye by telling us that an alien cat scratched it out and all to say a one-off joke. Don’t do the same thing with one of the better villains in your universe.

4. Did Wakanda clear Winter Soldier’s persona out of Bucky’s mind?

One of the reasons why Zemo’s plan succeeded was because he could wake up the monster assassin that was the Winter Soldier. Because Bucky couldn’t trust his own mind, he was in rest mode in Wakanda. He showed in Infinity War and Endgame that he is still very much a capable warrior. We don’t know if that’s him harnessing all of his abilities from the Winter Soldier or if he’s using what he knows at his arsenal.

Now we know Wakanda’s advanced technology can help remove a bullet wound like it was a splinter, but we don’t know if they have the technology to cure someone brainwashed and turn a regular man into a stone-cold killer by saying a few simple words. Keep in mind that this show included the Winter Soldier in its title instead of Bucky. His Hydra persona might be why.

5. Is Hydra dead?

Now, this is one question we may not get an answer to in this show. The last time we looked at Hydra, it looked like all of their agents were either dead, imprisoned, or on the down-low. A lot has happened since Hydra was the central point. Maybe the time off between the snap to kill off half the universe and the snap to revive it was enough for them to regroup and plan their next attack.

Their motto has always been “Cut one head off; two more shall take its place.” Maybe with all this time off, they’ve grown enough heads to be a threat again. The shocking revelation from Captain America: Winter Soldier was that they had infiltrated SHIELD all along. Who is to say they’re not capable of accomplishing that feat again?

Marvel already accomplished what they sought out to do from the start with Avengers: Endgame. Their goal now is to keep their viewers asking for more, even after giving them everything they wanted two years ago. WandaVision succeeded because the slow-moving exposition repeatedly grabbed everyone’s attention while also giving badly needed character development to the one character that honestly needed it more than anyone in the MCU.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier should serve to expand on the one trilogy that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has done the best. While Captain America may not be there anymore, the supporting characters have established themselves as intriguing enough to deserve development. Let’s see if Marvel can continue giving their C-list heroes the same time and dedication they did with their B-list heroes.

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Baseball

Major League Baseball Owners Ain’t Paying The Five by Scott Lewis

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“I Ain’t Paying The Five!” Martin Lawrence said on his legendary 90s sitcom “Martin” when his landlord, Mr. Lopez raised the rent by 5%. Martin proceeded to boycott the rent increase, and it brought on a zigzag with Mr. Lopez, leading to the heat being turned off in a blizzard with his wife Gina and friends Tommy, Pam, and Cole wanting Martin’s head when they found out that 5% was just $5.

Major League Baseball fans can relate to the same anger that Martin’s friends felt by seeing franchises they’re supporting crying broke when they’re not spending money on high-priced free agents.

There’s a lot of problems with MLB in 2021. The league has the lowest fan interest among the three major American sports; the lack of black players and MLB refusing to market the few black superstars they have.

We’ve been in a global pandemic for almost one year, and it’s starting to affect MLB, which lost up to $3 billion in 2020. Attendance which was already declining year after year, was a non-factor last season as the only objects sitting in the seats were cardboard cut-ups. Team owners will tell you these are the reasons why they’re not spending money in this current 2021 offseason, but that’s a lie.

In 2018 two of the most prized free agents in MLB history, Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado and the Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper were ready to hit the open market. Fans worldwide were eager to see one or both of the superstars end up on their team.

Oddly that was not the case, as many owners didn’t even meet with the two superstars. A stand-off would ensue amongst the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Phillies eventually cracked and signed Bryce Harper to a thirteen-year $330 million deal with no opt-outs. The San Diego Padres became the surprise team who would steal Machado from the White Sox to a ten-year $300 million contract.

Growing up as a DIE HARD White Sox fan on the South Side of Chicago, the Padres stealing Machado from them was frustrating when I found out the contract’s difference was $25 million. To the average hard-working person, $25 million is generation changing, but a billion-dollar sports franchise like the White Sox, its mere pennies.

The White Sox took that $25 million that Machado wanted and gave it to Yonder Alonso and Jon Jay instead of doing something smarter and paying Machado. These negotiation tactics to not spend money are the frustrations of fans and teams worldwide. Now, the whole offseason game is a competition to see who can pay the least amount of money and still compete.

There are multiple models of this, such as the tradition of holding young prospects down in the minor leagues for an extra year even if they’re ready to play in the majors so they can keep an additional year of control on their contract. Players are irritated, as you saw, Kris Bryant’s case in 2015 when the Cubs held him back a few months to keep an extra year of contract control. The relationship between the Cubs and Bryant hasn’t improved six years later as Bryant heads into his final year under contract.

There are rare instances where a team will call up a new prospect without a contract as the Padres did with Fernando Tatís Jr. in 2019, but that is not the norm. The White Sox have one of the brightest young talented teams in the league and didn’t call up their prospects Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert until they both agreed to team-friendly deals that locked them in for the next six seasons. There’s a lot of things we can look at to blame this particular situation, but the number one problem is the new style of winning championships where you rely strictly on your farm system instead of spending money on ready-now talent. The Kansas City Royals were the first to start this method when they rebuilt in 2011 and won the World Series in 2015. The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros would follow this model by winning the World Series in 2016 and 2017, although the Astros cheated and that’s a story for another day.

We’ve seen three examples of that model working and another team like the White Sox trying to win with the same method. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher of his generation, and he commented on the Cubs trading Yu Darvish earlier in the offseason in his interview with Jorge Castillo of the L.A. Times:

“There’s a lot of smart guys in front offices. Figure something out that’s easier to do than trading away a [star]. Just, for example, a potential Cy Young [Award winner] in [Yu] Darvish, who has been one of the top five pitchers in baseball for a year and a half, for prospects that could potentially be good, but they’re 17, 18 years old. And [Kyle] Davies is a great pitcher, but to me, that’s just not . . . For the Chicago Cubs to do that, it’s not good. It’s just not good.”

I loved what Kershaw said because it sums up the player’s and fans’ feelings about where the game is going and not paying these players the money they deserve. The Dodgers combine the two methods of having a great farm system and spending money like they did last year when they traded for former World Series Most Valuable Player, Mookie Betts from the Boston Red Sox.

The Red Sox gave up on a 27-year-old generational talent because they wanted to cut costs. The Red Sox are third on the Forbes list of most valuable major league franchise at a little over $3 billion, but they wanted to cut costs; it’s asinine. The Dodgers won the World Series last year and Mookie led the charge. The Dodgers turned up the heat this offseason by finalizing a three-year $102 million deal with the 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer as they attempt to repeat.

MLB has many problems, but until massive market teams start to pay the five, it will be hard to see interest in MLB get better, and that’s not good for anybody.

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