This article contains spoilers for Black Widow, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and potential spoilers for the MCU in general.
The first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe had a simple mission: build up to the creation of the Avengers. The next two phases went further by setting the stage for Thanos and his quest for the Infinity Stones, culminating in one of the biggest movies of all time in Avengers: Endgame. While MCU Phase 4 is a mix of Disney+ TV shows and theatrical movie releases, there hasn’t been an established narrative goal just yet. So what are they building towards?
One belief is that we’re getting an MCU incarnation of the Thunderbolts or its sister team, the Dark Avengers.
The Thunderbolts first showed up in 1997, created by Kurt Busiek. In the aftermath of the Onslaught event, the Fantastic Four and Avengers were seemingly vaporized. Not only were these two major teams gone, but they were the superheroes people trusted the most. What remained was the likes of Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Hulk. Not exactly media sweethearts.
To fill this heroic void, Baron Zemo came up with a scheme where he took members of the Masters of Evil, dressed them up with fake superhero identities, and had them gain the public’s trust in hopes that it would lead to world domination. Despite being a ruse, certain members of the Thunderbolts came to realize they wanted to truly be heroes and opposed Zemo. Hawkeye eventually took over the team and they became a group of outlaw heroes fighting for redemption. A reformed Zemo soon took the reins again, once again trying to take over the world…but this time for the good of all humanity.
The Thunderbolts then became a government-run team and acted as Marvel’s counterpart to DC’s Suicide Squad. New leader Norman Osborn politicked his way into running the Avengers, where he copied Zemo’s old idea of dressing up villains as heroes. And so, the Dark Avengers were born, featuring such members as Bullseye pretending to be Hawkeye and Venom pretending to be Spider-Man. Unlike the Thunderbolts, the Dark Avengers were an example of failed redemption on all fronts and the team crumbled. Once Osborn was ousted, Luke Cage took over and the group became far less corrupt.
The Thunderbolts team has been reborn again and again. It’s been seen as a force of good, a force of evil pretending to be good, and a force of evil taking down worse threats. And now it looks to be coming to the MCU.
Let’s look at who will be and who could be major players to this plot down the line:
Valentina Allegra de Fontaine
In the comics, Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine was a triple agent who constantly either worked for SHIELD or against it while being an on-again/off-again love interest of Nick Fury. So she’s perfect for whatever they’re doing with her as she plays up a more curious version of Fury’s iconic visit to Tony Stark’s mansion from the Iron Man post-credits.
We don’t know who Valentina works for and how high up the ladder she is, but she does appear to be setting up something. Whatever her Thunderbolts-like team is called, we’re left wondering why they will exist and how many movies and TV shows will we have to sit through before we finally get an answer.
John Walker’s role in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was one of the more interesting parts of the show, even if they didn’t quite land the ending. The US government’s attempt at a new Captain America meant well, but he was only the right person for the job on paper. Too haunted by his military exploits, too frustrated by not getting the respect he wanted, and feeling inadequate due to not being a super soldier, Walker injected himself with a black market serum that gave him the physical boost he needed. It also helped drive him over the edge when Walker’s best friend and partner Battlestar died during a mission and he got a bit too violent while in public.
Disgraced and discharged from his position, Walker was visited by Valentina, who gave him a new lease on life as US Agent. Valentina’s people realize that someone with Walker’s abilities shouldn’t be discarded so easily. Take away the idea that he’s tarnishing a legacy and someone like him could be very, very useful.
In the comics, a wheelchair-bound Walker acted as a warden at the Raft, Marvel’s supervillain prison and, for a time, the headquarters for the Thunderbolts. He did lead the team very, very briefly when it was retitled Dark Avengers, but the series was cancelled immediately after and it was quietly forgotten about. Still, the adventure did allow him to regrow his missing limbs!
For the MCU, this does suggest that this team won’t be a publicly-celebrated unit. You can use US Agent to kick ass all you want, but I doubt Valentina wants a media spotlight on him in any way.
As shown in the post-credits for Black Widow, Yelena Belova has been working for Valentina for at least a little while. She’s a paid assassin and she’s going to be going after Hawkeye in the near future on his upcoming Disney+ series. Much like US Agent, she’s a darker replacement of an Avenger who has been taken off the board. Maybe not as easily manipulated as Walker will likely be, though.
The Yelena version of Black Widow was a member of the Thunderbolts in the comics…sort of. It eventually turned out that it was really Natasha disguising herself as Yelena for the sake of doing undercover work against Norman Osborn. Well, I think we can agree that they won’t be doing that twist any time soon.
“We have a Hulk.”
If they’re building a roster full of Avengers knockoffs, it seems rather suspicious that Emil Blonsky is suddenly becoming relevant again. Not only is he supposed to be coming back for the She-Hulk show, but he has a cameo in the Shang-Chi trailer where he’s taking on Wong in an underground cage fight.
Abomination is someone that the government wanted on the Avengers from the very beginning, even in spite of the damage he caused in Harlem. He’s no longer in prison and the events of She-Hulk could end up working in his favor legally. The cage fighting may suggest that he’s a bit aimless, but for a soldier who loves nothing more than to fight, Valentina’s team might be the perfect place for him.
In terms of the comics, Abomination never had anything to do with the Thunderbolts. Though now that I think about it, the Thunderbolts series did a one point focus on super-powered individuals taking part in underground fight clubs. Hm…
Various Thunderbolts Leaders
As mentioned, there have been a lot of different variations of the Thunderbolts and the team has had a handful of different leaders to push the focus in different directions. Four of those leaders happen to have recent roles in the MCU: Baron Zemo, Hawkeye, the Winter Soldier, and General Ross. It’s also very possible that the team is named after the latter considering his nickname is “Thunderbolt Ross.”
Luke Cage and Wilson Fisk are also notable Thunderbolts leaders, but the wonky relationship with the Netflix shows makes them unlikely to get involved.
Hawkeye and Bucky could easily take over the operation and add a little purity to the situation. But if Baron Zemo gets involved? Man, that could be unpredictable and interesting.
With Norman Osborn in charge of things, Ghost was thrown into the Thunderbolts and became a major recurring member. Considering he was blatantly written as being Marvel’s Rorschach, it wasn’t he biggest deal when the MCU gender-swapped him and gave him a different personality. The version from Ant-Man and the Wasp is still pretty nihilistic when it comes to authority.
Ghost has been a huge question mark since the mid-credits scene of Ant-Man and the Wasp. The heroes were trying to mine the quantum materials that would normalize Ghost and heal her, only for Thanos’ snap to kick in. We don’t even know if Ghost went away due to the snap, but it’s possible that she was abandoned by those who said they’d help her and that could push her in a very dangerous position.
Considering her past as a SHIELD weapon, she’d make for an interesting member of the group.
Taskmaster is a lot like Ghost. Not just in that she’s a gender-swapped version of the comic original with a different personality, history, and mission but in the same character arc of going from villain to someone with a new lease on life and opportunity to be more. Taskmaster was last seen being rescued by an army of liberated Black Widows. With her own future to decide, she’s basically in the same boat as Yelena, so it’s fully believable that she too might be working for Valentina.
Also, Taskmaster only just recently joined the Thunderbolts in the comics. That could be an intentional attempt at synergy. Marvel’s been pulling that kind of thing for years.
WandaVision ended with the confusing fate of Vision’s reanimated body. SWORD was able to awaken Vision, now without his memories, personality, or color scheme. White Vision fought a magical construct of his original self (AKA “WandaVision”) and allowed his memories to be reinstated. After that, he peaced out and flew off to parts unknown.
Scarlet Witch is meant to be a major player in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but I’m not expecting White Vision to be a part of that. It would make sense for White Vision to pop up as part of a group of grim doppelgangers. Even if he’s just a dark doppelganger of himself. I imagine the guy needs something constructive to do while keeping a low profile.
Speaking of Doctor Strange…
Remember when Mordo became so disillusioned with the Ancient One that he crippled a man for the sake of making a point about how much sorcerers suck? Then he was all, “Haha, I’m going to get rid of all magic users!” Yeah, that was about 10 years ago according to the MCU’s chronology. Good hustle, guy.
The whole Multiverse of Madness thing makes me wonder how much of a role Mordo will have to play in it. And that’s fine because you know what? I bet Valentina would love to have someone like Mordo on her roster. Not only would she have a Dr. Strange counterpart, but getting rid of all magic on Earth seems like the kind of thing a shadowy operative might get behind.
The Spider-Man/Sony deal mucks this up, especially if they’re pushing for some kind of Sinister Six situation, but since Spider-Man: Homecoming, I’ve always thought Vulture would be a perfect member of the MCU Thunderbolts.
See, the thing about Vulture is that the Michael Keaton version is absolutely nothing like the Mr. Burns lookalike comic version outside of fighting Spider-Man and having the ability to fly. In fact, MCU Vulture has a lot more in common with Abner Jenkins. Jenkins started off as blue collar working man who later used his engineering genius to become a Spider-Man supervillain as the Beetle.
As a founding Thunderbolts member, Jenkins became MACH-I (renaming himself after many armor updates) and was one of the first to realize that maybe he was better off being a good guy. He even led the team for a little bit. Considering how sympathetic and likeable MCU Vulture has been, some kind of Thunderbolts/Dark Avengers situation could help redeem him down the line.
Those Yet to be Introduced
Just like MACH, there are certain key members of the comics Thunderbolts who have yet to show up in the MCU. Perhaps we’ll see them soon enough. For instance, there is speculation that Moonstone will probably be a villain in the Captain Marvel sequel The Marvels. Not only does she have similar powers as the heroine, but she also posed as her in Dark Avengers.
The Fixer/Techno is another big one as the team’s resident tech guy and loyal Zemo henchman. Atlas, who has size-changing powers, is easily someone who can show up in the next Ant-Man movie. Jolt is…actually, we really don’t need Jolt.
The biggest name to not show up is Songbird. Formerly the villain Screaming Mimi, Melissa Gold is practically the heart and soul of the Thunderbolts. She’s the one who came out of it better than anyone to the point that she was even an Avenger for a little while. If you want to put together a cynical Avengers knockoff and have someone turn it into something optimistic, Songbird is the one you need to throw in.