The Lesser Known Villains of Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Crossbones and Batroc are the villainous muscle in Captain America 2. We look at their comic book origins.

This article contains what some might consider spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier will present the first big screen appearance of Crossbones and Batroc the Leaper, two infamous Captain America villains. Before you see these two comic book bad guys in theatres, let’s take a look at their comic book origins. These two have been giving Captain America a hard time for decades…

We’ll start this off with Crossbones, created by Mark Gruenwald and Kieron Dwyer. Crossbones first made a shadowy cameo in Captain America #359 and was fully revealed in Captain America #360, both published in 1989. Before Crossbones, most Cap villains were master schemers, warlords, and despots who presented a political threat to Cap and his allies but, for the most part, didn’t have any business physically going one-on-one with him. Villains like the Red Skull, Baron Zemo, Armin Zola, and the Secret Empire were fascist threats who used their minds and intermediary minions to take on Cap and his allies. Yes, Zemo and Skull did get physical when need be but they were usually pretty easily dispatched. Not Crossbones. 

Crossbones had the air of a Captain America gone wrong: a highly trained soldier who didn’t fight for a country or an ideal but for his own profit. Where Cap represents the honor and duty of the average soldier, Crossbones serves as a warning of what could happen when military training is used for personal gain or to feed a compulsion for violence. The most profane iconography in any Captain America comic is the image of a skull. Having a soldier as big, skilled, and tough as Cap wear a skull mask was a dire image for longtime Captain America fans, who knew that it could only mean that this new villain was in league with Cap’s greatest foe, a villain hand chosen by Hitler himself, the Red Skull.

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Crossbones is a former gang member named Brock Rumlow (played in the film by Frank Grillo). Right away, there was some common ground between Rumlow and Steve Rogers as they both grew up in a blighted urban setting, but Rumlow was corrupted by the decay around him while Rogers constantly fought to overcome it. Rumlow’s past is connected to many diverse corners of the Marvel Universe. After his days as a gang leader, he joined with the mercenary known as Taskmaster and become an instructor at Taskmaster’s School. After that, he joined with the Communist version of the Red Skull, a man named Albert Malik who used the horrific image of Johann Schmidt to strike fear into the hearts of his enemies. When Malik’s minions attacked the newly-returned Schmidt, Rumlow was the only survivor. The original Red Skull was impressed and took Rumlow on as an operative.

Crossbones’ first appearance saw him join the hunt for the mystic Bloodstones. This mission brought Crossbones into conflict with Cap, Zemo, and Cap’s then girlfriend, the villain-turned-hero, Diamondback. At this point in Cap history, under Gruenwald, Crossbones was deeply involved in the Red Skull’s schemes. He became the most loyal and indispensable operative the Skull possessed. When the Nazi hating Magneto kidnapped and imprisoned the Skull, it was Crossbones that saved his master from certain death. Eventually, the always volatile Skull fired Crossbones who then kidnapped Diamondback to prove his loyalty to his former master. Crossbones was defeated and arrested, but his legacy as one of Cap’s most physically threatening villains was solidified.

In the post Gruenwald era, Crossbones was brought back by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting to take part in the “Winter Soldier” and “Death of Captain America” stories, where Crossbones was once again cast as Skull’s heavy. He even fired the shot that seemingly ended the life of Steve Rogers. Even though Crossbones didn’t deliver the actual fatal shot, the image of Crossbones, perched like Lee Harvey Oswald with an American icon in his sights is one of the more memorable villainous images of the Modern Age of comics. To put a bow on Crossbones’ history, after the assassination of Cap, Crossbones is interrogated by Daredevil, Wolverine, and Doctor Strange and brutally beaten by Logan. This isn’t the last butt-whipping Crossbones would endure, as after his escape from SHIELD custody, he was shot multiple time by Bucky Barnes, the former Winter Soldier (and, at the time, the new Captain America).

Recently, as a member of the Thunderbolts, Crossbones was granted energy projection powers when he was exposed to the Inhuman spawning Terrigen Mists. After using his powers to murder a police officer, Crossbones was summarily fired from the Thunderbolts and put back in prison. Let’s just be clear, here: Crossbones was kicked off a team that tolerated Venom, Bullseye, and the Green Goblin. Now, that’s evil. All these events and instances of gleeful mayhem reveal that Crossbones is one of the most unrepentant sociopaths in the Marvel Universe, only loyal to himself and the legacy of the Red Skull.

Crossbones isn’t the only physical threat to Cap in the new film, though. Batroc the Leaper, a classic Captain America foe from the Silver Age will also make his first cinematic appearance in Winter Solider as played by former UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre. Batroc, at times, has been portrayed as somewhat of a joke, but don’t underestimate the mustachioed menace as, the Leaper has proven through many classic battles he is almost a physical match for Cap himself.

Batroc has always been presented as a man with a complex system of honor and an ego the size of the French Alps. In his first meeting with Captain America in Tales of Suspense #75 (1966) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (yes, Batroc goes back that far), the mercenary is hired by HYDRA to steal an exotic weapon from SHIELD. When he first encounters Cap, Batroc is delighted that the hero had heard of him. This moment would foreshadow Batroc’s motivations and reasons for doing what he does (mostly: dropkick and be awesome), which are simply fortune and glory. In his next appearance, Batroc kidnaps Sharon Carter. When confronted by Captain America, Batroc insists that HYDRA keep out of the fight. When they refuse, Batroc turns on them and actually helps Cap defeat the terrorists. 

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Batroc hasn’t always operated alone. On numerous occasions, the Leaper has formed Batroc’s Brigade. The first Brigade consisted of Batroc, the original Swordsman, and the Living Laser…a pretty formidable group of villains. The next Brigade was Batroc, the Porcupine, and Whirlwind…not a formidable group of villains. The modern and longest running Brigade has consisted of Zaran the Weapons Master and Machete along with their leader. In their first outing, this trio tried to steal Cap’s shield for the first cinematic Marvel villain, Obadiah Stane. They were also involved in the same hunt for the Bloodstones as Crossbones.

Throughout all these adventures, Batroc’s sense of honor was always present, and he seemed to be positively driven to defeat Captain America in a fair fight. Despite the dangers, Cap often relished the test and always treated Batroc with a bit more respect than he did his usual collection of rogues. Over the years, Batroc also gleefully tested his martial arts acumen against Iron Fist, Spider-Man, the Punisher, Black Panther, Hawkeye, and in a battle of the awesome accents, Gambit. Batroc even was able to test his skill of savate against (wait for it) none other than (no, seriously this is really cool) Batman. In the JLA/Avengers crossover of 2003-2004, Batroc went toe-to-mustache with the Dark Knight.

Ummm…Batroc lost.

You can see more of Crossbones and Batroc in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in theaters April 6th.

[related article: The Significance of the Captain America: The Winter Soldier post-credits scenes.]

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