I really liked The Avengers. I didn't entirely love it - while I spent the final half of the film on the edge of my seat, holding my breath and mentally cheering, I found the first forty minutes or so a little dry and disjointed. I haven't watched it a second time and I will soon; I'd recently injured my arm and was in a lot of pain as I watched the film, and my opinion may change on the second viewing. So don't yell at me.
But even during the first few scenes while I was a little disappointed and anxious about the movie, I was immediately immersed in the scenes with either Pepper Potts or Agent Coulson. The two have always been my favorite parts of the Iron Man movies, and Coulson's my favorite of any of the films in which he's featured - and not only because of Clark Gregg's marvelously dry delivery and straight man suitability.
My Pepper Potts love is no surprise, as I spent my entire pre-managing editor career as an administrative assistant to important people. I loved the job and took a lot of pride in it, and I hold accountability, competence and organization very highly in others. It's an unglamourous skill set that doesn't get a lot of play in fiction, and Pepper Potts makes efficiency look cool. I love her for that.
But what I admire most about these characters is that they are ordinary people who risk their lives to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Coulson and Potts are surrounded by those with extraordinary abilities and immense power, and yet they're considered vital to the team. Coulson is crucial to The Avengers. Tony Stark would be useless without Pepper. That's amazing.
It's the same reason I love Xander so fiercely on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As Willow became a witch, Oz a werewolf and Giles a demon-courting badass, Xander was the only one of the Scoobs who fought the Hellmouth every day with no special advantages. Well, and Cordelia - but she became a psychic on Angel. Sure, Xander grew to be the series' butt-monkey in later seasons because Nicholas Brendon makes humiliation look hilarious, but Xander is without question the most courageous character on the show. Time and again he faces powerful evil in order to protect his friends - his friends who are far more powerful than he. Only Xander is willing and able to face Evil Willow, armed solely with his love for her and the memory of a yellow crayon.
Similarly, Chloe Sullivan's my favorite character on Smallville. She becomes the human version of Watchtower because she's really smart, really good with computers and really protective of the Justice League. She devotes her life to this group of superheroes even though she has no superpowers herself. There were a few plotlines when Chloe proved to have some special abilities (she briefly had a Kryptonite-powered healing talent, and she was super-brainpowered by Brainiac for a time) but I always like her best when she's just a normal amount of brilliant - and an extraordinary amount of devoted to Clark.
I had a feeling that Coulson would die in The Avengers. I thought it might happen partly because the character had run his course, partly because his death would bring some real poignancy to the fight, and partly because a regular human can't fight a superpowered battle for too long without becoming the inevitable casualty. And that's the thing: these guys must know that, and yet they fight those battles anyway. They aren't heroes because they're billionaires or demi-gods or invincible. They're heroes because they're incredibly brave, competent and loyal. And that's badass.
I'm trying to think what other characters fit in this mold of regular humans fighting alongside an ensemble of extraordinary heroes. All the Hobbits count - Samwise Gamgee is forever one of my favorite literary heroes due to his unending loyalty and fierce determination. Ron Weasley to a point - even though they're all wizards, Ron's really bad at it. Who else? Help me out in the comments!