Yeah, I know. Nebula isn’t really a super hero. But she is to me.
Here’s why: My husband dragged me to see Avengers Endgamethis weekend. I admit I have not followed these Marvel Universe stories of super heroes so I found myself lost during most of the action and on more than one occasion leaned over to ask, “Who isthat guy?” So, there are my non-geek credentials. But stay tuned.
That Blue Girl, What’s Her Name
Entering the theater, I recalled the blue robot girl from Guardians of the Galaxybecause she’d made an impression on me. I told my husband, I hope that blue girl is in this one. He shot me a quizzical look. I explained, “You know, the daughter of Thanos who has her parts removed when she loses to her sister.” He now knew which character I was talking about—Nebula, he told me– but no doubt was still confused whyI had a special affection for this gal.
No wonder. Nebula is as warm and fuzzy as Spock on a bad day and for most of the early parts of the series, exhibits violent and vindictive behavior. She is a conniving, unemotional, and deadly opponent to the good guys. But here’s the beauty of her story: she changes. The other characters maybe move emotionally or grow in maturity from A to B, maybe C in Iron Man’s case. Nebula goes from Alpha to Omega. The vast character development from evil and vindictive to good and sacrificial is vast. And the thing of it is, Nebula has no good reason to change. But she does. Why? That’swhat makes her fascinating.
Nebula’s Backstory–Stripping Self-Worth through Torture, Abuse
I’m an author so I adore backstory—learning what in a character’s past motivates and inspires—and Nebula has one whopper of a backstory. Poor Nebula! Even her name hints that she is no more than gas and dust reflecting a dark silhouette against some other luminous matter. Gamora, perhaps? She is raised in a world of hate and violence. That is all she knew. Indeed, when she was pitted against her sister, Gamora, in battle, if she did not prevail, her father, Thanos, cut off a piece of her and replaced it with an artificial replica. He tortured her for her “weakness” or, one might say, for not coming out the winner. How many of us in life have had a father or mentor or coach who took a piece of us every time we failed in their eyes. They chopped out a piece of us through their criticism or by withholding praise and affection. Granted, they did not lop off and replace body parts, but perhaps how much worse to cut out a piece of our souls? Nebula has no reason to trust anything else in life but power, force, violence, and rely entirely on her own strength and will. So how much stranger, and miraculous, it is that she is the one who changes.
I’ll grant you the change is slow. Nebula spends a great deal of time early on seeking revenge on her sadistic father and harboring hatred towards Gamora. What is interesting, however, is that Thanos’ torture of Nebula with the aim of devaluing her worth does not break her strong sense of self. And it is because she knows her own worth, there is enough left of her strength and willpower in order to affect change. Nebula was taught, through torture, that she was a loser, she was not enough, and that she was not worthy of her father’s love and respect. Instead, she discards this “story” she was told about who she was and embraces a new story, one she creates for herself. It is also interesting that she is not given a heroic moment in order to turn away from unforgiveness and embrace good, but instead it develops through her own examination of her life, choices, and outcomes. She knows who she is and that she does indeed have value.
Meeting Oneself and Defeating Oneself
In Endgame, the most recent film, Nebula the cyborg demonstrates more humanity than many of the other characters. She has embraced some empathy—an emotion denied her throughout her whole life. She has forgiven her sister. She offers her last ration of food to a fellow crewmember. She even defends her father’s honor, to a small degree. (He was many things, but he was not a liar.) In one scene, through time travel, she is faced with her former self, the person she left behind, and there is an opportunity for her one, brief shining moment. (Some spoilers for those who have not seen the latest film.) I find the metaphor of battling oneself—albeit a former version—compelling. During the confrontation, Nebula offers the 2014 Nebula still under Thanos’ control, an opportunity to turn away and be saved. Not surprisingly, the offer is refused and a battle ensues. When the evil Nebula temporarily prevails, she tells the new Nebula that she disgusts her because new Nebula is weak. How often good is mistaken for weakness in the world?
Ultimately, Nebula “dies to self” literally by killing the evil version of her past self. She emerges from her past, becoming an Avenger, and lives a better life—a life of higher purpose and for others. Why? Because she believes in good. Perhaps more importantly, she trusts and believes good can prevail. She moves out of a world of darkness into the light. I think that was it. An ancient story retold for modern times. Simple.
Now, if she can just learn to ride Valkyrie’s winged warhorse, she’s got my undying devotion. 🙂