The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) has done things that are far more heinous than anything Grant Ward has ever done as far as we know, and yet, at the end of the movie, you’re rooting for him to come back on the side of the angels.

Jeph Loeb

There’s a lot of (understandable) agitation about the above quote.

For my part, though, I’m genuinely conflicted about this. On the one hand, Grant Ward is a horrible person, who has chosen to do horrible things and who—as of the season 1 AoS finale—has demonstrated no sense of remorse for his actions. Thus, in my opinion, there is no redemption for Grant Ward as he currently exists.

On the other hand, however, redemption arcs are the bread-and-butter of comic book stories. Many, many people who are superheroes in comics today started off as supervillains or have gone through supervillain phases: Rogue, Emma Frost, Natasha Romanoff, Clint Barton, Magneto, Scarlett Witch. Alternatively, many superheroes have fallen into supervillainy and subsequently recovered (or not): Charles Xavier, Jean Grey, Bishop, Tony Stark (subject to dispute, I know, but in my opinion everyone on the side of the Superhuman Registration Act in Civil War counts as having a supervillain phase, and I particularly dislike 616 Tony Stark—deal with it).

What’s troubling to me about Loeb’s statement is not that it implies a possible redemption arc for Grant Ward, but that it seems to do so without an awareness of what makes a redemption arc plausible. People are rooting for Bucky Barnes not because they are capable of looking past the crimes he committed as the Winter Soldier but because they understand him to have been nearly as victimized by those actions as the people he killed were. His experience of years of torture and mindcontrol at the hands of HYDRA (in the MCU) constitutes a viable excuse for his actions. Simply put, he was not in control of himself when he committed those crimes—i.e. he is not culpable for those crimes.

However, while Bucky Barnes is clearly a victim, Grant Ward is clearly not. There are explanations for why he did the things he did, yes, but there are no excuses. (Recognizing the difference between an explanation and an excuse is, I feel, absolutely crucial to understanding a character like Grant Ward.) As a result of this, a majority of people are not rooting for Ward. They understand that he, unlike Bucky Barnes, is fully culpable for his actions. Now, I’m not saying that Ward cannot be redeemed, but redemption is an uphill battle. Even for someone like Bucky Barnes, who wasn’t in control of himself during his time as the Winter Soldier, it is a task that takes time and dedication. (And this is another major reason why people root so hard for Bucky; in the comics—and no doubt in the films—he took [will take] full responsibility for his actions as the Winter Soldier and actively, tirelessly worked to make things right.)

In all honesty, I could see a redemption arc for Grant Ward that played out over the course of several (later) seasons, but not one that happened immediately within the second season. But if he did go on to have a redemption arc, his culpability for his crimes would mean that he would not be starting in the same place that Bucky Barnes did/will.

There’s a lot of room to explore interesting themes with the character of Grant Ward and the characters who knew him and were betrayed by him. I think he has the potential to make a great ongoing villain—the sort of character audiences love to hate. The kind of villain whose past relationship with our heroes makes for a lot of high drama and emotional resonance and whose continued presence provides room for the exploration of themes of guilt, mistrust, and grief in the wake of betrayal (and attempted, or hoped-for, redemption) that comic books do so well.

But this quote by Jeph Loeb definitely makes me nervous. As it stands right now, Deathlok has more remorse for his actions than Grant Ward does, so if they’re thinking redemption arc for Ward then they’re going to have to be extremely careful about how they handle it. And rushing is absolutely not the way to go.

(via marvelmeta)