Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I Was A Capital One Employee: A True Horror Story

No personal names are used save for mine.


I was an employee of Capital One Bank since their first day as a bank. I was an employee of North Fork Bank, which was swallowed whole by Capital One a few months after I started. While the re-branding and official re-opening took more than a year, it was clear from day one that Capital One had a different way of doing things. 

I'd like to tell you a little about myself, to help you better understand why I'm telling this story.

I went to school for Fine Arts, and had been working in the Graphic Design field for almost a decade, but fate and coincidence led me out of the field. I found myself working at a shoe outlet working for a salesman's wage with no tips and no advancement potential, and was fed up. A dear friend suggested I take the teller test for North Fork Bank, a local small town bank on Long Island. I did, because as much as I didn't ever envision myself as a bank teller, I certainly had never envisioned trying to cram a woman's size ten foot into a size six shoe to spare her own hubris for a living. I passed, aced it and the interview, and was offered the job on the spot. I became a bank teller at age 32.

My father died shortly thereafter, and it was a trying time for me. Despite the distraction, the depression, and the random virus that I somehow contracted (FACT: bank teller is the second germiest job, behind only elementary school teacher) I was doing well enough that I was offered the Lead Teller position after only three months, half the required amount of time needed on the job to be considered for a promotion. In a fit of self-awareness and risking my future job prospects, I regretfully declined, citing my health and the death of my father as factors in preventing me from tackling the challenge at that time. It turned out to be the correct decision, not only for me, but the bank as well; the stress factors that prevented me from taking the new job began to effect my current one, and I brought it to my boss' attention. After a few weeks of vacation, I was ready to go back to work refreshed when a car accident threw my life into a tailspin.

My stationary car was the third car in a three car accident, and I was the only one hurt. Muscular back injury of an indeterminate nature, they said, likely a sprain, no broken bones, no ruptured discs. I was out of work for four months, and it took me another seven to be able to work full time. I still had occasional pain, but nothing beyond a dull ache when lifting things or standing too long.

By the time I was back to 100%, I had transferred to another branch. After only two months, I was offered a promotion to become a Relationship Banker. I worked at that position for two and a half years. I excelled at every facet of the job save for one; sales goals. I had built a following of loyal customers who insisted on dealing with only me. I had streamlined the process to become the fastest and most efficient account opener in the branch. I had created several tracking sheets and processes to help streamline operations in my branch. I had been placed in charge of monitoring things like teller differences, even though that was not part of the job description; I simply demonstrated my superior ability to solve problems, and took on many tasks beyond the scope of my charter. But I had one fatal flaw; if a client said "no," I took that as a "no." Therefore, I did not "sell" as many checking accounts, savings accounts, CDs, IRAs, etc. as the bank needed me to. If a client said they didn't want an overdraft line of credit, I didn't push it. That wasn't satisfactory for Capital One, though, and hey, it's their ball game. If they insist I should offer someone with $300,000 in their account a line of credit to protect against overdrawing their account, then it's to my detriment if I don't badger them into taking it, despite how ridiculous the concept seemed to the customer. It was part of my job to convince customers of what they needed, rather than allow them to make that determination. Sales just was not for me. As a man who considers himself too old to go dancing around issues, I made no secret of that. That was the crack in my armor (some would say my penchant for not editing myself was a second one, but when I see a lump of shit, I don't call it a Tootsie Roll). 

When the opportunity came to join the management team and become the branch's Lead Teller, I saw myself as the perfect fit. So did my boss, and her boss, who both claim simultaneous epiphany concerning the idea.

And I was the perfect fit. The staff responded to me. The clients responded to me. I led by example, and our Branch Annual Review score went from almost failing 87% to 95.4% in one year. I ran a tight ship, and received many compliments from the customers. I received high marks on my annual evaluation, as I had repeatedly throughout my tenure. I rapidly became a leader among my peers; several times I was told by my fellow lead tellers that on every conference call, when there was an issue that needed to be addressed, or a boss that needed to hear a negative opinion, everyone was just waiting for me to speak up. I felt valued. I felt like a leader. I felt in command. I felt like I had found my place in the organization, and my stride as a professional in a profession I could have never predicted I would fall into.

On February 29, 2012, I was downstairs in our break room speaking to my assistant manager. As I was going back upstairs, the handrail in the stairwell pulled out of the concrete wall, and I fell forward onto the stairs. The jolt I received re-injured my back, and excruciatingly so, to the point where even drawing a normal breath sent a hot knife of agony through my back and chest. I was taken to the hospital where the doctors once again determined that there were no broken bones, no ruptured discs. Yet the pain persisted. I couldn't stand up straight, lift even the lightest weight, achieve any kind of comfortable sitting position. I once again began physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, steroid injections, muscle relaxers, and massage therapy (my doctor is at a loss to explain why, even ten months later, that the muscle in my back is still in a state of near constant spasm beyond inflamation from possible micro-tears that are not healing properly). I was told that I would lose one fo the five weeks I had earned as a five-year employee during my extended absence, but that the remainder would be waiting for me when I got back.

In the mean time, I began collecting worker's compensation. Although my medical bills from the accident and my treatment thereafter was covered, an unexpected hospital visit for a pre-existing esophagial condition wiped out my savings. The amount I was receiving was far less than the bills that were mounting up from the everyday living of life; I began to fall behind on my rent, my phone bill, my home equity payments, my loans, my utilities, insurance for my jeep. I was forced to cut back on more and more entertainment expenses, hobbies, social activities. I began to borrow money from people I already owed money to.

Despite still being in pain, I requested my doctor clear me to work with restrictions so I could attempt to gauge if I would be able to handle the physical demands of the position, such as lifting cash boxes, coin, currency bags, and the constant standing that being a manager of a teller line demands. I had already been informed that my position had been backfilled after the requisite twelve weeks following my injury, but that I could apply to any available position of my standing or lower, and that I had sixty days to find a position within the company or I would be terminated. I also was now being paid by Capital One Bank, and my worker's compensation payments had stopped.

I applied to every lead teller position I could find within 30 miles, as well as a few regular teller positions, to demonstrate my willingness to work as soon as possible. I then learned that our job posting system only allows a prospective employee to be considered for one position at a time. Given the tight time frame I was facing, I contacted our area's corporate recruiter to let her know how many positions I applied for. She assured me that she would make sure my resume reached as many managers as she could contact.

None of the original nine or so branches I applied to on my first day's attempt even gave me the chance to interview. I requested my doctor clear me to work without restriction, foolishly thinking that maybe it was the restrictions that were the reason I was getting passed up, despite the fact that I was still in almost constant pain. I then applied to another round, and grew hopeful as several of them were right around the corner from my home, were in areas I was very familiar with, or were staffed by former co-workers and associates whom I knew well (some even met all three criteria). 

Nothing.

It was later revealed to me (quite off the record) that I was NEVER in consideration for these positions, that they were filled with internal transfers by our ambitious new District Manager, and that the positions HAD to be posted by law.

In desperation, I began to email not only the recruiter, but HR, my former boss, my former district manager, my original boss (now a district manager herself). Finally, four days before my sixty day stay of execution expired, I was invited to interview at a branch in my college town. Even though the manager is a former co-worker, I demonstrated a working knowledge of the businesses int he area, and I feel the interveiw went swimmingly, I was turned down. I was given one last interview in my home town branch three scant days before my sixty day period expired, and I waited.

After the sixty day period expired, I was told I was still under consideration, but the manager was still interviewing prospects. I was put on "unpaid leave," and told that, although I was still technically an employee until a decision was made, that I was free to apply for unemployment benefits, as the bank was no longer paying me. I applied, and looked for other jobs. And I waited.

One week later, I emailed my recruiter just to check in. I was told that the branch was still closed because of Hurricane Sandy, but the manager should be making her decision by the middle of next week. And I waited some more.

One week after that, I again emailed my recruiter. I was told the manager was on vacation, but that she would be making her decision by the middle of that week (the day before Thanksgiving). So I waited some more.

One week after that, I again emailed my recruiter. I received a one line response stating that the manager was going with a different candidate. No explanation of what came next, no spark of human empathy that my employment had ended so unceremoniously. As none of my dozens of job applications have yet to bear any fruit, I was now fully unemployed with no change in sight.

The next morning, as I was emailing HR to find out what the next step was, I received a letter from the Department of Labor. According to information they received from Capital One Bank, I had quit my job on March 30, 2012, and as a result, I would not be receiving further unemployment benefits. When I called them to explain it was a mistake, they told me that even had I faxed them the appropriate documentation the next business day (which I did) it would still likely take up to four weeks for the situation to be resolved.

Merry Fucking Christmas.

Livid, I emailed HR. I was told to fax the Department of Labor's letter and form to them, which I did. They told me that they would look into it. I have yet to hear why such false information was supplied to a government agency, but my HR contact assures me she will do her best (and she has thus far, I truly believe that). So, desperate for finances and out of resources, I went to my last resort, and attempted to close my 401K and use the funds to pay off my debts, taxation be damned.

Except apparently while Capital One Bank was busy misinforming the government that I had terminated my own employment, they were not as quick to tell their investment firm that handles my 401K that I was no longer an employee, so that option was not available to me. Now, today, I have been informed that despite what I had been told, the vacation time that I was owed, the four remaining weeks after the one taken up by my leave, were gone, that ALL BUT one of the weeks would be taken by my leave, and that that remaining week had been used already. That the only option for me now was to close my 401K and be done. All parties assure me that they are working as quickly as possible to resolve the situation. Not that that will save my phone from being disconnected, my gas tank from being empty, and my home equity payment from possibly being late or even missed. 

I'm grateful that it isn't as bad as it could be; I could have cancer, or AIDS, or leukemia, rather than just a constant back spasm, stress related insomnia, and seething, blood-boiling rage. I am alive, and have a family that loves me. I am grateful that I have a family that will not let me be thrown out on the street, or I'd be living in that Jeep with the empty gas tank right now. 

But that doesn't change that this has been a horrific, humiliating, humbling, terrifying, situation, and it's all thanks to Capital One Bank, who continues their tradition of fucking up in every conceivable way in everything they do, starting with maintenance people who do not know how to properly repair a handrail all the way up to not knowing how to properly treat an employee who has given six dedicated years of service to a company that has shit on him at every opportunity available.

In case you're wondering, this IS indicative of how they do business. They were what they were when they were a credit card company (I had no previous experience with that end of the company, so I can't offer an informed opinion as to how good they were), but as a bank, they are the absolute dregs. I liken them to a child who has found a power tool they have no knowledge of. They'll examine it, wonder what it is, ask how it works, and bang it on the table a few times. They'll look around at how other people are using it, and try to imitate it. But they certainly will not be able to use it to it's utmost potential, and they'll only use it correctly occasionally and by pure accident.

So here are some things you might not know, that I am now at liberty to share with you;

Capital One Bank does not care about your convenience. Go into any branch and ask a banker why their managers call things like online banking, lines of credit, and direct deposit "sticky services." Watch them squirm as they struggle not to tell you that it's because the more of them the company gets you to commit to, the harder it is to break your connection to them once you realize how poorly they are treating you. They are COUNTING on your apathy and laziness. You'd rather deal with a few hassles now and then than go through the trouble of changing over your direct deposit. I've been told by my job trainers that they are comparable to sandbags on a hot air balloon, weighing you down, preventing you from flying to another bank for a more favorable rate or better customer service.

Have you ever sat or stood in a branch and waited patiently as the banker or teller or manager chats endlessly with whatever customer is sitting at their desk? Have you heard a ten minute conversation about the customer's dogs and gritted your teeth, silently wishing the customer would stop and get up and leave so you could just get your address change done and be on your way? Blame the bank. The bankers are encouraged to (and even evaluated on their ability to) make small talk with customers, regardless of how many people are waiting to be helped. Not because they care about your dogs, mind you. But because in your conversation you may say something about having to kennel them while you go on vacation, and that opens up an avenue to sell you a credit card for your trip, or direct deposit so you don't have to worry about bringing your check to the bank while you're gone, or a seperate checking account for your vacation travel account, complete with a whole new check book, and another potential account to overdraw and generate fees with, because fees feed the Beast. If you tell a teller that you have to make a cash withdrawal for a contractor who is waiting for you at your home to be paid before he is putting your sink in, they are required by the company to attempt to convince you to sit with a banker and open a home equity line of credit to help pay for your remodeling, even though they likely know you only want to go home to make sure that contractor isn't housing your good silver.

Yeah, the tellers know you don't want to be there. They know you don't want to hear about the great CD rates that the bank is offering, because if you wanted to hear them, you'd likely be asking. They also know that there are some customers that honestly don't know there are better options and might need information, and they wish they could be trusted to identify them and help them as needed. They are not allowed. They are required to ask every customer the same stupid questions every time, even if they know that customer has heard them a hundred times before, even when the customer has angrily demonstrated that they do not like being asked the same questions over and over. The teller can do nothing except continue on like a terrified robot, or else they'll be judged negatively.

Seven out of ten times, the employee you're speaking to likely hates Capital One Bank just as much if not more than you. They hate the things they are forced to do to you, say to you, and impose on you. They hate the fact that their computers track their transaction numbers, which determines how many employees are needed, and feeds that information to the district managers, who then demand that the managers pull someone off the teller line or the service desk to stand in the lobby like a traffic cop and greet you at the door, guaranteeing that the bank is always staffed with one less person helping you than their own system says it needs, and that's on the good days, where the managers aren't being pulled out of their branches for district-wide team-building meetings and conferences where they are brow-beat about how many checking accounts they are not opening every month and given the task of answering questions with no possible answer.

Actual question asked of the Lead Tellers by a higher up on a weekly conference call: "what are you going to do differently to make sure your branch opens four checking accounts today?" Taking into account that I already had been asking every customer if they were interested in speaking to a banker about opening a new account and delaying their departure by checking our offer delivery system rather than finishing up their transaction promptly (more on that in a minute), and faced with thirty seconds of deafening silence broken only by the highier up chuckling and saying "anybody," I came out with "I have bear traps out on the sidewalk, and I offer a crowbar to anyone who steps in one, provided they open a checking account. If they get direct deposit I offer a bandage and ointment as well."

My point being, even when they are doing their jobs to their utmost ability, if the results are not there, then the fault must lie with the tellers for not directing the traffic. Or the bankers for not generating it. I have been told on the same conference call that we are not product driven AND that my branch needed three more checking accounts to reach our quota. Bankers have been, at times, instructed to NOT offer savings accounts, because the rate was favorable and savings accounts don't generate fees, whereas checking accounts do, unless you're very careful, or very rich.

Oh, yeah, our offer system; we're required to delay your transaction by checking a database to see if there are any special offers for you, like cash incentives for opening up a savings account, or for getting direct deposit. Usually, there are no offers that benefit the customer, more often than not there are "offers" like "inform customer of the benefits of direct deposit."

Capital One Bank does not give a shit about you, I am sorry to report. If it makes you feel any better, they give even less of a shit about me. All they care about is the fees you generate when you bounce a check.

The good news is that now that I am free to bash the living shit out of the soulless bastards, I've launched a new blog containing all my misadventures there! Check out I'm Laughing All The Way!

Saturday, December 01, 2012

If I Had A Million Dollars


This used rubber went viral on Facebook with a photoshopped image of himself holding what he purported to be a winning Powerball Lotto ticket and claiming he'd give $1,000,000 to one lucky person who liked his page and shared his photo. Talk about a cry for attention. In my opinion, he should be made to follow through with his offer.

By the way, nice pube beard, Nolan.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Accosted At The Mall




So I went to the Mall today to have a new battery put in my watch, and as I was walking through the center aisle fake texting on my phone to avoid eye contact, one of the kioskovites turned the tables on me and used the ruse to initiate a conversation. 


"Are you texting me?" she asked with what I imagine was an accent from somewhere 6-10 hours ahead of us. 
Not being a complete asshat, I felt forced to reply. "No," I smiled.


"Do you have a wife?" she asked.



"No," I replied, getting ready to turn and run.



"I help you get one," she said, "hold out your thumb."



Now I was curious. What could be so wrong with my thumb that a trained professional could see its wife-repelling attributes from ten yards out? Was she going to coat it in gold? Dip it in chocolate? Staple Ellen tickets to it? Tattoo excerpts from Fifty Shades of Gray on it? Scrimshaw it into a bas relief sculpture of Edward Cullen from Twilight?



She grabbed my hand and sanded down my thumbnail.



Within seconds I withdrew my hand from hers and said "No thank you, I have to go."

She smiled that disappointed "Damn you American Slob for making me waste my time on your weathered meat-hooks" smile and turned away as I beat a hasty retreat.



It was about ten minutes later when I noticed I was unconsciously rubbing my index fingers over my thumbnails and comparing them as I walked around the mall.



It feels really nice.



That bitch. I can't stop now. Seriously, I just did it again after I typed that last sentence. 

I might have to go back and get the other one done.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Friday, May 18, 2012

Assembled at Last

I waited. I wanted to make sure that it wasn't just a crush. To make sure it was not just a one night stand with a woman that looked really good in the low light of the bar with a couple of Jameson's in me that stands revealed in the cold light of day as something better left behind. I wanted to make sure that the movie was as good as I thought it was when I saw it on opening day before I wrote any kind of review of it.

I can now say, after having seen it once a day for a week straight and nine times total since opening day, that Marvel's The Avengers is the best superhero movie I have ever seen. Mayhap the best ever created. And it might not even need that "superhero" qualifier.

Marvel Comics has played the smartest game they could have when it comes to the movie scene. After they saw the great (Spider Man, X-Men, Spider Man 2, X-Men 2, Blade), good (Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four 2, X-Men Last Stand) and abysmal (Ghost Rider, Daredevil, Hulk (the vomit inducing Ang Lee version)) offerings that other companies had put forth using their intellectual property, they said "hey, we could probably do that as well, and see a whole fuck-ton of money more than we make printing funny-books," and Marvel Studios was born.

Since then they have made their mark and proven that super heroes are not just for kids. Iron Man was their first offering, and boy, did they hit the ground running. The Incredible Hulk reclaimed the Jade Giant from the clutches of Ang Lee and, if you stayed beyond the credits, featured a game changing cameo by Robert Downey, Jr., who then brought it all back for Iron Man 2. Suddenly, audiences knew to stay through the credits, waiting eagerly for the post credit stingers that they could find teasing the next installments of a franchise that grew out of nowhere under their noses. Thor became the first confirmation of what we already knew, as the last credit in the movie states that Thor will return in The Avengers. Captain America then put all the pieces in place and blew us all to nerd heaven with the first official teaser for The Avengers, a moment that made me literally gasp out loud.

I have been waiting since for this movie. So..........

(big huge spoilers follow; do NOT read if you haven't seen the movie).

Nerdgasm Activate!

Eleven Reasons The Avengers Movie Is The Best Super Hero Movie Ever

He can pretty much shoot you in the
dick from as far out as New Jersey.
1. Hawkeye is a man among super-men. As such, you would expect the character to continually question his place on the team. But he shows off his strategic genius, managing to single-handedly disable the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. (hereby de-acronymized to SHIELD) Helicarrier with a couple of well placed arrows (under Loki's control), and coordinating the heroes final battle while picking off a truckload of flying aliens with a weapon that was made obsolete with the invention of the freaking musket. Thankfully, the makers of the film spared us (and Jeremy Renner) the indignity of seeing the purple-robin-hood-in-a-pointy-mask costume that the comics incarnation sported, and the character was more sniper master assassin and less carnival trickshot archer. That would have looked ridiculous, and that's saying a lot in a movie that features a grown man wearing a red velvet cape. Not that the cape wasn't regal, as...

Wearing mother's drapes.
2. Thor does just enough to remind you that he is a god without being a cure-all plot breaking Macguffin. Thor has always been an odd character in the comics. The odd dialect, the cape, the world-shattering power, the arrogance, the golden flared boots... he always seemed out-of-place with the Avengers. Chris Hemsworth's turn as the God of Thunder gave the character a humanity while still maintaining the feeling of someone far more powerful than everyone around him, and more importantly, for the first time in the fifty years Thor has been around, has given the character the humility that one would think being exiled from the Eternal Realm of Asgard to Earth would impart. Thor carries the lessons learned in the previous movie well, and truly stands out among his human peers without appearing ridiculous. Hemsworth was a great lead in Thor, but he fit nicely into the supporting role in The Avengers, because...

Somehow cooler without the multi-
billion dollar suit of high-tech armor.
3. Iron Man was a leading man despite the fact that he was not the "leader." Played Marvel-ously by Robert Downey Jr., who originally pushed Joss Whedon for a bulk of the screen time, even stating that "I need to be in the opening sequence... Tony needs to drive this thing." Luckily, the original plan of the movie held strong, and Downey felt integrated to the rest of the cast. Even so, he delivers the aloof genius of Tony Stark with perfection, and grabs the spotlight with his performance. He shines through with his humor in the face of armageddon, providing laughs nearly every minute he is on the screen without being mere comic relief. The character has evolved a great deal throughout the course of the three movies he has been featured in, and the metamorphosis continues here. He goes from a billionaire playboy concerned only with the luxuries of life to a true team player. As Stark himself says early on, "following isn't really my style," and yet, when the chips are down, he suppresses his ego, lays on the wire, and defers to a greater tactical wisdom, as...

Having slept for seventy years, Cap's
morning breath could kill M.O.D.O.K.
4. Captain America finally finds his place in our time. Chris Evans, to me, was a curious choice for Cap, especially seeing as how he had already owned a previous Marvel property with his Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four, but I stood corrected by the second reel of Captain America: The First Avenger. He conveys the spirit of the era exceptionally well, and I have always been a sucker for emotional goodbyes, which makes the final few minutes of CA:TFA especially poignant. In The Avengers, Evans still maintains that anachronistic "man out of time" personality, addressing Black Widow as "ma'am" more than once. He feels like a man adrift, trying to adjust to the expectations of the new world around him. When he goes toe to toe with not one, but two Gods and comes out standing, you are reminded as much of the "soldier" as you are of the "super." As the team finally coalesces for the final confrontation, Cap takes the reigns, commanding a God, a monster, two assassins and an armored genius, reminding us that he is one of the keenest strategic minds ever to serve the flag. And he has perhaps the coolest line in the entire movie...

No caption can capture the pure joy
that this smile brings to the Hulk fans.
5. "Hulk... SMASH." Mark Ruffalo, when asked about inheriting the role of Bruce Banner from Edward Norton, was quoted as saying that the role of Bruce Banner was like "this generation's Hamlet." While that comparison may have had some scratching their heads, he explained it to us. Fiercely. The key to nearly all superhero movies is how well the actor portrays the alter ego. The rest is just a stunt double in a goofy mask. Not so with Ruffalo. He is the first Banner to actually play the Hulk as well, having done the motion capture for the monster. He not only gives us the ultimate version of the bookish loner, but he adds an edge to the character, and for the first time we see a Banner who isn't terrified of his inner curse, but rather knows full well the terrible power he can unleash and is not crippled by it. And to top it all off, he conveys the raw fury that the Hulk represents, giving the creature a fierce, ape-like demeanor. This Hulk is truly a wild animal, barely in control of its emotion, and every twitch, tremble and spasm gives the viewer the true sense of unfettered rage, which finally gets its outlet in the movie's crescendo. He even manages to absolutely terrify...

Positively owning Loki's ass.
Check and mate, asshole.
6. The Black Widow, the ultimate femme fatale. In a world where a billionaire playboy dons a suit of high tech tank-busting armor and the Gods walk the Earth hurling lightning bolts from their magic hammers, what place is there for Natasha Romanov, a woman with no super powers (beyond near-superhuman beauty of Scarlett Johansson)? How about being the ultimate chess player, using her unique skill sets and genius intellect to outwit pretty much everyone she comes into conflict with? Too often in these movies the female characters are simply love interests for the male characters to rescue, or the "emotional core" of these teams. Natasha is neither. Not only does she kick the ass of several men (and aliens) throughout the movie, but she manages to outwit the Lord of Lies. Let me say that again, a God whose specialty, whose entire mythological raison d'ĂȘtre, is deceiving people, tips his hand to this woman. He takes it in stride, however, as after all...

He uses one of the most sexist insults
 in the English language, and women
still drop trou at the sound of his voice.
7. Loki IS the Trickster God. Tom Hiddleston is brilliant as Loki, foster brother of Thor. He nails the range of the character, from the grandiose monologue about humanity being fettered by freedom to the slick devilish smile that plays across his lips as he passes Banner in his lab. That smile is seen several times throughout the movie, and it is a perfect representation of his personality; someone who finds true joy at seeing the lesser being he was meant to rule acknowledge his power. He is pure unadulterated evil, and even goes so far as to address the Black Widow as a "mewling quim" (pretty much calls her a whining cunt). Loki shows the strength, speed and invulnerability that reminds us that he is a God, even though he totally isn't (he's a runt Frost Giant, it turns out). His brain is his true ultimate weapon, the strength and bulletproof skin and illusion powers are just his fallback shit. He is the ultimate trickster, the master deceiver. He needs every trick in his bag, though, because...

Hand me my file. It's the one that says
"Bad Mother-fucker" on the front of it.
8. Nick Fury is the spy of spies. His secrets have secrets. Samuel L. Jackson is a geek, and you know it from his performance. Noted sic-fi fan Jackson has left his mark on the nerd-iverse already, having talked his way into a role in the ultimate sci-fi epic Star Wars. When Marvel Comics relaunched some of its properties under the Ultimate line, Nick Fury was designed by artist Bryan Hitch to look like Samuel L. Jackson without the actor's consent. Once Jackson saw the character, however, he dug it so much that he contacted Marvel Studios to make sure he got the role in any upcoming Marvel movies. He is, as Tony Stark says, THE Spy. The master manipulator. Responsible for the safety of a world being flooded with beings who cannot be matched, Fury will do whatever it takes to ensure that humanity comes out on top in the end. He is the leader of the ultimate security force, and as such...

Yes, that's the world exploding around
him, even though he looks only mildly
perturbed. That's just how Coulson rolls.
9. SHIELD takes no guff. They have a flying aircraft carrier that turns invisible. They have jets that can land on a dime. They have the most sophisticated weapons humanity can buy (or make using a Cosmic Cube). The heart and soul of SHIELD is Agent Phil Coulson, played by the coolest supporting actor in super hero movie history, Clark Gregg. Throughout the movies, Phil Coulson has been set up as a bit of a foil for our heroes, a pencil pusher who needs to be dodged and avoided. He pesters a traumatized Tony Stark to be debriefed after his captivity by the Ten Rings (Iron Man), he threatens to taze him while Stark is under house arrest (Iron Man 2), and he confiscates Jane Foster's research (Thor). But all the while, you can't help but like the guy. In the Avengers, Coulson becomes the glue that binds the team together. He stands revealed as the everyman bringing them all together. He has a life, a hobby, a love interest. He has a personality. And then Loki murders him. He grows into someone you root for, someone you care about, and someone you mourn. He turns a team of solo adventurers into Avengers. He is the highlight of the unsung keys to this film, which is a tall order, because...

Smulders smolders, Gwyneth giveth, Skarsgard scores, Paul is pitch-perfect
10. The supporting characters do their job perfectly. Colbie Smulders as Maria Hill is a nice addition, giving a personality to a character whose comic incarnation is about as fun as a gym sock full of tuberculosis. Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts gives Stark the emotional anchor, the base on which he builds his empire. Stellan Skarsgard as Erik Selvig reminds us that Thor had an amazing impact on those he met on his first trip to Earth. And my personal favorite touch, Paul Bettany as the voice of Jarvis, Tony Stark's AI. In the comics, Jarvis was the butler first of Tony Stark, and then of the entire team. One of the coolest changes to the comics lore is making the dutiful Butler character the AI manservant that runs Tony's technological wonderland. Bettany does a stellar job of giving just the right amount of emotion to what comes down to an emotionless program. The dialogue between Tony and Jarvis has always been fun, and it is downright poetic here. Whatever the challenge, Jarvis is always there for his master. Which is good, because if you stayed through the credits, you know that the biggest challenge...

"..." - Thanos, most exciting line of 2012
11. Thanos, The Mad Titan, is coming. The first time I saw the movie, I knew who it was before they even revealed it. When the leader of the Chitauri says "to challenge them is to court Death," I knew Death should be capitalized. I almost ripped my brother's jacket grabbing his arm to let him know that this was a significant moment to be observed. My only worry is that they're going too deep too quickly. After Thanos tries to wipe out half the universe to impress his girlfriend (Death), what threat could they possibly face that will match up?

Missed Opportunities:

1. Not once did I hear anyone say "Assemble." I mean, come on. It's their thing.

2. Thor initiates hostilities with Iron Man without warning. Sneak attacks are unworthy of a true Asgardian warrior-liege. He knows it, I know it, and if you know anything about Thor, you know it too. Han Solo can't shoot a bounty hunter looking to kill him first, but someone with a code of honor larger than a small Star Destroyer can backstab a known hero? Also, would Thor really just smash Captain America's shield without knowing it was indestructible? He could have killed him.

3. A nice emotional opportunity was missed by Tony's call to Pepper not being answered. I've always been a sucker for emotional goodbyes (Haley Atwell and Chris Evans' final exchange in Captain America was perfect).

4. Cap's costume is too blue from behind. How tough would it have been to continue the red and white from the front, and give us the star on his back?

5. "Puny God." Delivered purely for laughs, which were already abundant in the attack on Loki. Unnecessary, and completely took me out of the Hulk's rage that was working so nicely.

Character Futures:

Iron Man

These are the "facts" available as of this moment regarding Iron Man 3:
  • R.D., Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle return in their respective roles.
  • Tony is rumored to travel to China.
  • Ben Kingsley is slated to play the Mandarin, one of Iron Man's oldest foes.
  • Guy Pierce is playing Dr. Aldrich Killian, developer of the Extremis serum from the comics.

Thor

These are the "facts" available as of this moment regarding Thor 2:

  • Almost every major character is returning with the exception of Rene Russo and Kat Dennings.
  • Amora the Enchantress and Skurge the Executioner are rumored to be featured.
  • Tom Hiddleston has stated he'd like to bring Loki back towards the side of good in the upcoming movie, showing that he is not beyond redemption.

Captain America

These are the "facts" available as of this moment regarding Captain America 2:
  • Chris Evans is back as Steve Rogers/Captain America.
  • S.L.J. is back as Nick Fury.

Agent Phil Coulson

Clark Gregg has been rumored to be in talks to reprise his role as Agent Coulson, despite the crippling handicap that the character is dead. The Phil Coulson Wikipedia page has the following nugget couched within: 

  • Coulson speaks briefly with Fury and is then seen falling into a non-responsive state as paramedics approach, his last words being to note that the heroes needed something to avenge; Fury relays over the radio that paramedics have called time of death, though they are not shown doing so onscreen.  (Emphasis mine)
Non-responsive state? Lack of proof of death? I smell a convoluted plot device. While I love the character of Phil Coulson, it would aggravate me to no end if they use the "mostly dead" trick from Princess Bride. But here, in a throw away line, is the answer to the question "how do we keep one of the coolest actors around involved in this series despite the fact that we killed him". (From The Avengers, the scene in which Coulson is placing an urgent call to Tony Stark):
  • Jarvis: Sir, the telephone. I'm afraid my protocol's are being overwritten. 
  • [Coulson's voice can be heard through Stark's phone]
  • Agent Phil Coulson: Stark, we need to talk.
  • [Stark picks up his phone and looks into it at Coulson]
  • Tony Stark: You have reached the life model decoy of Tony Stark, please leave a message. 
  • Agent Phil Coulson: This is urgent.
  • Tony Stark: Then leave it urgently.
Enter the Life Model Decoy (LMD). Don't misunderstand, I in no way, shape, or form endorse the plot twist that the Phil Coulson that Loki murdered was actually an LMD. Instead, I posit that SHIELD (creator of the LMD in the comics continuity) has created a LMD of Phil Coulson. Imagine the possibilities. Coulson is still up and running around, and everybody is getting creeped the fuck out. It would be great.

Thanos

Thanos loves Death. Not just the concept, but the actual physical embodiment. He gives her lives like other men give women chocolates. Thanos' ultimate storyline was The Infinity Gauntlet. Many sharp-eyed viewers claim that The Infinity Gauntlet was seen in Odin's Vault when the Jotun break in to steal back the Casket of Ancient Winters. 

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Given these facts, and trying to utilize them in ways most conducive to the formulas Marvel Studios has come to rely on...

My Conjectural Predictions For The Sequels:

Iron Man 3: 

Dr. Aldrich Killian is working on the Extremis Serum, a nano-tech based attempt to duplicate the Super Soldier serum used to turn Steve Rogers into Captain America. His compound is attacked by The Mandarin, who easily cuts a swath through the security of his compound and kidnaps the scientist using his ten rings of power.

Tony Stark, following the events of The Avengers, is in New York working on renovating Stark Tower to serve as a headquarters for the Avengers. SHIELD tells him about the disappearance of Killian. The organization known as the Ten Rings (who originally kidnapped Stark at the behest of Obediah Stane) has claimed responsibility, and are holding him in China.

They also reveal that they have created a Life Model Decoy of Agent Phil Coulson. Pepper is disturbed by what she views as a mockery of a lost friend. Tony does not approve either, saying that machinery will never replace the human soul, and that this pale imitation disgraced the memory of Phil. Tony leaves for his Malibu home to prepare for a trans-Pacific flight, while Pepper remains in New York.

The Mandarin explains to a terrified Killian that he has weaponized Extremis using salvaged Stark technology and a small California desert town (lets call it Sunville) is attacked as a test, creating hundreds of Extremis infected people. Iron Man flies into action, and after a lengthy battle with several Extremis infected super humans who show no signs of relenting, is forced to watch as Rhodey follows command orders and incinerates Sunville with a huge bomb mounted on his War Machine armor. Tony and Rhodey argue over the use of his armor, stating that they need to be more than just weapons of mass destruction, claiming he might have found a way to cure them given time, and Tony denounces Rhodey's friendship.

Pepper returns to California where she talks to Tony about his confrontation with Rhodey. She is disturbed to see Tony so determined about blaming Rhodes for following orders when there was no other alternative present. Tony is adamant that there could have been another option, and he is more angry at himself for being unable to find it in time. She reminds him that he is, indeed, only human. "Tell that to Sunville," he replies. Feeling he needs an edge to defeat the Extremis, he studies a sample of it collected from Sunville. He begins an attempt to modify the code of the nano-tech.

Knowing that Tony Stark is a potential obstacle to his ultimate goal, The Mandarin infects Killian and sends him to attack Tony. In the ensuing battle, Killian detonates the modified sample Tony is working on, infecting Tony. Rhodey returns in time to help defeat Killian, who retreats, leaving a trail back to China. Tony is overwhelmed by the Extremis, and in his altered state attacks Rhodey. Rhodey easily defeats the disoriented and injured Tony, who is in agony from fighting what the serum is doing to him. In a moment of weakness, Tony begs Rhodey to kill him like he killed the residents of Sunville before the serum takes him over completely. Rhodey instead takes him to the SHIELD Helicarrier where a blond male scientist who claims to specialize in nano-tech attempts to purge the nano-tech serum from his system. The Helicarrier takes off for China in pursuit of Killian.

Rhodey decides to violate his orders to stand down and instead goes after Killian himself. Still weak from the serum's affects, Tony cannot do anything but watch and listen as they monitor Rhodey's transmissions. He defeats Killian, but spares him, stating that he is not a murderer. Killian is then executed by the Mandarin. The Mandarin proceeds to battle Rhodey. Rhodey unleashes all the power of his weapons on Mandarin, who unleashes the power of his ten rings.

On the Helicarrier (which is arriving outside Chinese airspace), Rhodey's transmission goes dead. After a few minutes, someone on the deck sees Rhodey soaring up towards them. As they celebrate his victory, however, the armor crashes on the deck, smashing into the ship's super-structure. When they eventually find Rhodey, he is near death inside his armor. They bring him into the medical lab, where he lay in front of Tony, apologizing for killing the residents of Sunville. Tony apologizes to him, and the two are friends again. Rhodey voices regret over just acting like a machine following commands. He dies as techs work feverishly to remove his armor and give him medical treatment.

Tony mourns the loss of Rhodey. As he lay helpless, the LMD of Phil Coulson speaks to him. He gives an inspiring speech to Tony about holding onto his humanity, telling him to fight like he did against Stane, and Vanko, and Loki. Tony realizes that the LMD has all the memories of Phil Coulson, and as such is the closest thing to Phil Coulson that there is left. He learns to accept Coulson as an ally built to honor the memory of his friend rather than an abomination. He rises, fighting against the Extremis and dons his armor once again, leaving the helicarrier to avenge Rhodey's death.

He engages the Mandarin in combat, and is slammed around for a bit, the Extremis serum unable to keep up with his injuries. As he finds himself near defeat, he realizes that Rhodey's final words were the key. He allows the program of the modified Extremis to finally take over his body. He becomes fully infected, and his brain finishes the reprogramming of the nano-tech. No longer needing to divert energy into converting Tony's system, the Extremis is now allowed to focus its programming on healing Tony.

This turns the tide of the battle in Tony's favor, his new Extremis modified perceptions allowing him to do lightning fast computations and analyze and counter the Mandarin's powers (two of them being displayed as Density Manipulation and Energy Projection). Tony crushes and rips off the Mandarin's hands, defeating him.

Back on board the Helicarrier, SHIELD informs Tony that they have found a way to purge the Extremis serum from his system. Tony briefly considers keeping the power, but remembers Rhodey's regrets about being just a machine following commands. He also sees Phil Coulson's LMD watching him, and remembers his words about holding onto his humanity. He tells them to purge it.

Back in Los Angeles, Tony and Pepper are reunited. They attend Rhodey's funeral. They return to Stark's home in Malibu. She makes mention of the Coulson LMD, but Stark explains that the memory of Phil Coulson is what counts. The LMD was created to honor the memory their friend, not disgrace it. He explains that he was wrong about the LMD. When Pepper expresses mock surprise that Tony admits to being wrong, he quips, "I'm only human."

POW! Credits.

Stinger: The blond scientist is looking at the shattered remains of the Density Manipulation and Energy Projection rings, lying among the remaining rings which are damaged beyond repair. He is extracting circuitry from each and laying it into an open circuit board that also is obviously being transformed by Extremis nano-tech, which absorbs the circuits as they are placed within. As he re-conceals the circuit board behind a diamond shaped lens surrounded by skin, we see it is the control circuits in the forehead of the Phil Coulson LMD. The circuitry activates, and bleaches the skin of the Coulson LMD. The LMD's eyes spring open, and they now glow with energy. The blond scientist is now seen from the front, and the badge on his lab coat reads Pym, Henry. "Beautiful," Pym says. "You are an absolute Vision!"

POW POW!

Thor 2:

Loki sits within a prison in Asgard. Odin and Loki discuss his banishment and subsequent attack on Midgard. Loki shows defiance, but Odin maintains that he still loves him as a son, and Loki seems to waiver. Loki admits to feelings of abandonment and betrayal, and that his attack on Midgard was born not of ambition but of revenge. Thor enters and discusses his past with Loki, and his hopes that one day Loki will forgive him for driving him to such actions.

Thor requests that his father send him back to Midgard to visit Jane Foster. Odin reminds Thor that he is soon to be king of Asgard, and cannot spend his time on such frivolous sojourns. The two men journey to the end of the shattered Bifrost, where Heimdall continues to watch over Asgard. Using the Tesseract, Odin rebuilds the Bifrost, sends Thor to Midgard, and suggests that he say farewell to Jane Foster before he returns.

On Earth, Thor reunites with Jane Foster, who is touring as a lecturer on the subject of Einstein-Rosen bridges. They discuss Thor's involvement in thwarting Loki's Chitauri army, and Jane is excited about the scientific implications of the Tesseract allowing space travel and alien contact. Thor discusses bringing Jane back to Asgard to serve as his Queen when he takes the throne, but Jane is hesitant to leave Earth. Thor suggests that she visit Asgard with him.

Meanwhile, Heimdall sees something from the Bifrost that prompts him to warn Odin. Before he can, Asgard is attacked by a purple Hulk-like creature that tears through much of their defenses. Loki tells Odin that the attacker is the Mad Titan Thanos, and he is here in search of the Tesseract. Sif and the Warriors Three attempt to hold off Thanos as Odin retreats to his vault. There Odin splits the Tesseract into six pyramid shaped gems (the Infinity Gems) and scatters them across the nine realms. Thanos critically injures Odin, and then disappears to find the fragments of the Tesseract.

On Earth, Jane is attacked by Amora and Skurge, acting on Odin's concern (against his orders) that Jane is a distraction to his son's duties to Asgard. Thor repulses the attack, and they retreat. She returns to Asgard under Thor's protection, unable to pass up on the opportunity to visit another world. When they return through the gate, they see that Asgard has been laid to ruin by Thanos' attack, and it does not have long before it will cease to be. Thor finds Sif and the others attending to a wounded Heimdall and Odin.

Odin tells Thor that the Infinity Gems must be found. Odin names Thor the rightful King of Asgard, commands he retrieve the Infinity Gems, and dies. Heimdall suggests that Loki knows other ways in and out of Asgard (as seen in Thor). 

Thor refuses to believe that Loki will help them willingly, but surprisingly, Loki agrees. Lead by Heimdall, Loki brings Thor, Jane, Sif and the Warriors three with him to find the Infinity gems. Thor commands Heimdall to watch over Jane, as they still don't know the location of Amora and Skurge.

The Asgardians travel first to the remains of Jotunheim, where Loki reveals the hiding place of the Space Gem, which allows them to travel withouthaving to go back to Asgard each time. They must battle their way past angry Frost Giants to retrieve it. 

The Time Gem is located in Muspelheim, and they must face Surtur's fire demons to retrieve it. Thor is able to elude Surtur using the Time Gem and they escape Muspelheim.

The Power Gem is in Svartalfheim, where the war between the Dark and Light Elves rages. As rightful King of Asgard, Thor ends the war between the elves. They must defeat the giant wolf Fenrir to retrieve the Gem. They are attacked again by Amora and Skurge, claiming they are acting on Odin's behalf. Again they are defeated and retreat.

The Soul Gem is located in Valhalla, realm of the honored dead. The Valkyrie attack them as intruders in the realm of the dead, but Thor proves in battle that he is bound for Valhalla after his death, and the Valkyrie allow him to enter and retrieve the Gem.

The Reality Gem is in Niffelheim, realm of the dishonored dead, and they must face Hela to retrieve it. After a battle of wits between Loki and Hela, she surrenders the Gem, but they are unable to leave her realm without sacrificing one of them. Hela chooses Jane Foster. Loki volunteers to stay as Hela's prisoner for one thousand years, and after an emotional exchange, Thor and the others bid the redeemed Loki farewell and depart with the Reality Gem.

Heimdall sees the final Gem is actually on Midgard, one of the nine realms. It is in the hands of AIM, a Hydra revival group composed of Loki's disenfranchised followers from The Avengers. Thor finds the Mind Gem being studied by their scientists, and finishes assembling the Infinity Gems in a Gauntlet.


They return to Asgard, only to find Loki has escaped Niffelheim, and the realm has nearly disintegrated into chaos. Loki explains that he made a deal with Hela to leave Niffelheim until his brother no longer needed his help, at which time he will return to her realm for eternity. While Amora and Skurge turn up yet again, Surtur, seeking to punish them for their intrusion into his realm, attacks Asgard. While Loki, Sif, Heimdall and the Warriors Three defeat and finally imprison Amora and Skurge, Thor, using the power of the assembled Infinity Gauntlet, beats Surtur, sending him back to Muspelheim.

It is discovered that with Odin dead, Thor, the new King, is now the key to Asgard's existence. With him gone for so long, the realm has begun to dissolve. Heimdall says he sees the eyes of Thanos looking upon Earth, perhaps having sensed the Infinity Gauntlet unprotected by the defenses of Odin's vault.

Asgard will be destroyed without its King. If he chooses to stay in Asgard, he knows that Thanos may come to Earth and prove too powerful for The Avengers to handle without him. Thor renounces his throne, naming Loki the rightful King of Asgard, explaining that he will always need Loki. Loki can now repair the damage done to the realm by Thanos and Surtur, hold the realm together and avoid returning to Niffelheim, while Thor is free to return to Earth to help defend against the coming of Thanos.

Thor returns to Earth, where he reunites with the Avengers. We see Loki take the throne of Asgard, a slick smile playing across his face. He vowed he would one day return to the throne of Asgard, and now he has it.

POW!

Stinger: Within the ruins of the AIM installation, we see the scientists trying to pick up the pieces of Thor's seizing of the gem. The lead scientist says that even thought they no longer have the Mind Gem, their experiments were complete. They turn to a darkened alcove, where a light snaps on overhead revealing MODOK!

POW! POW!

Captain America 2


Impossible to guess with what's available, but if I'm right so far, Cap vs. AIM/MODOK would be a good guess. Possible heavy SHIELD involvement. Possible reveal of the Coulson LMD as Vision. AIM's secret weapon: The Winter Soldier, the reanimated Bucky Barnes!

POW!

This film's stinger will also set up the rumored Ant-Man movie!

POW! POW!


Ant Man


Ant Man (Hank Pym), Wasp (Janet Van Dyne), and Vision (the Phil Coulson LMD) face off against Simon Williams, who in the end is cured from the disease causing him to be evil by Ant Man.

POW!

This film's stinger will set up Avengers 2!

POW! POW!

The Avengers 2


The Avengers, whose roster now includes Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Ant Man, Wasp, Vision, and Wonder Man face off against Thanos!

POW! POW! POW!

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Or they might do something else. How should I know?