Now that Thanos has been dusted and the Infinity Saga is over, things aren’t slowing down in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. MCU Phase 4 is going to not only have a bunch of movies, but a bunch of new TV shows on Disney+ and elsewhere that will feed into the overall narrative.
With the recent acquisition of the Fox movie properties, Marvel is going to wait on bringing Fantastic Four and X-Men into the forefront. And while stalwarts like Iron Man and Captain America are getting phased out, the MCU has no shortage of new heroes and villains to spotlight in their upcoming projects.
First up, we have the characters coming to the Black Widow movie.
In the comics, Yelena was trained as an assassin by the same organization that turned Natasha Romanova into the Black Widow. Ambitious and overly confident, Yelena believed herself to be the true successor to the Black Widow name and intended to kill Natasha for it. The rivalry opened her eyes to the true workings of the whole espionage scene and she, for a time, retired to work out her own identity.
She’s returned now and then as a SHIELD agent, overpowered weapon of Hydra, and replacement for Natasha when she was believed to be dead. Considering this movie is a prequel and we know Natasha’s fate in Endgame, all signs point to this being a passing of the torch origin movie.
The Red Guardian is a pretty self-explanatory concept: Captain America…for the USSR! There have been many to wear the red, red, and red, but the most prominent – and the one most fitting for a Black Widow movie – is Alexei Shostakov.
Alexei was once the husband of Natasha Romanova, with his death faked in order to transform him into the Soviet Super Soldier. He met her again years later when he was an enemy of the Avengers and it was about as awkward as you’d expect. He was killed in his first appearance and after so many other versions of Red Guardian came and went with little fanfare, they just brought him back decades later with the claim that he survived after all. He also became one of several to wear the Ronin disguise, revealing that it’s existed longer than Marvel’s initially suggested.
Taskmaster is one of the highest-paid mercenaries in the Marvel universe. He’s a super soldier of sorts, granted the ability of encyclopedic muscle memory. If he sees a human gesture, especially if it’s combat-based, he can automatically do the same thing. He spends his downtime watching whatever battle footage he can of his peers and superheroes, increasing his endless moveset. He can throw a shield like Captain America, swing a sword like Black Knight, backflip like Daredevil, brawl like the Punisher, and so on.
While he will take merc jobs if the price is right and he needs the money, Taskmaster mainly gets his income by training others. He has his own school where he teaches henchmen and assassins how to fight like the greats. He gets their money and they’re the ones who get beat up by the heroes.
Against someone with no major superpowers, much like the cast of Black Widow, Taskmaster is nigh-unbeatable.
Marvel’s Eternals movie will flesh out the broader cosmic mythology of the MCU.
I’m not giving each member their own entry because seriously. But we do have a breakdown of all the major players in the Eternals movie right here.
When they announced that the Eternals would be getting a movie, even the hardcore Marvel fans were all, “Wait, really? Why?” As deified as Jack Kirby is, the Eternals rank extremely low on his list of creations. They’re like the most forgettable song on a great album.
Anyway, at the dawn of civilization, the Celestials (more on them in a second) showed up to mess around with early humans’ biology. Some were left alone, some were turned into hideous monsters called Deviants, and some were turned into godlike immortals called Eternals. The Eternals are like the original superheroes of mankind, protecting humans from the Deviants and keeping an eye out for the return of the Celestials. They vary on whether they feel the need to hide among society or be seen like the gods that they are.
Thanos himself was a hybrid of Eternal/Deviant DNA, though he came from an offshoot society that lived on Titan.
Ikaris is the protagonist of the team, but Sersi got a bigger spotlight comparatively by joining the Avengers for a while in the 90s.
Remember that scene in Guardians of the Galaxy when the Collector did a big exposition dump on the Infinity Stones and they showed footage of a giant wiping out an entire planet with the Power Stone? That big guy was a Celestial.
The Celestials are the most powerful beings in the universe. We are basically their sea monkeys. They poured us into the bowl and come back every now and then to check up on us, deciding whether or not to flush us down the toilet and call it a day. Basically, all the crazy evolution stuff in Marvel (mutants, Eternals, Deviants, and to a lesser extent Inhumans) traces back to their meddling.
If the Celestials judge a civilization unworthy, then that’s it for them. Just to give you an idea of how ridiculous they are, there was a What If story where Dr. Doom had the power of the Beyonder (who is effectively omnipotent) and the full Infinity Gauntlet. He won his battle against the Celestials, but it took him about one and a half centuries to complete at the cost of nearly all his power.
Dane Whitman is part of a warrior lineage that stretches back to the days of King Arthur. Whitman is the latest of many Black Knights and is trying to bring honor back to the name after his uncle used the moniker for evil. He wields a magic sword called the Ebony Blade and has been a member of both the Defenders and Avengers.
It was his time in the Avengers that makes him relevant to the Eternals, as he had a romantic relationship with Sersi. This was during the ’90s when Black Knight was wearing a leather jacket over his armor and what woman could resist that?
Anyway, I’d expect him to be the audience POV character because, man, they’re going to need one.
THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER
Marvel’s The Falcon and The Winter Soldier TV series on Disney+ will pick up the threads of the Captain America movie franchise.
Not exactly a new character, as he was the main antagonist in Captain America: Civil War, but I’m going to include him anyway. Mainly because Daniel Bruhl’s initial role was one of those instances of a character sharing a name with someone from the source material, but little else. On the new show, he’ll be leaning more into the villain’s style…at least in the sense that he’ll be wearing the infamous purple ski mask.
In the comics, Helmut Zemo was the son of a Nazi supervillain. The same supervillain who got credit for Bucky’s supposed death in World War II. Heinrich Zemo died and Helmut attempted to follow in his footsteps. Megalomania is easy enough, but being a Nazi? Helmut wasn’t always all-in on that notion at first and wavered regularly.
Zemo was the leader of the Masters of Evil, a team of villains put together to counter the Avengers. Their most infamous plot was pretending to be superheroes during a time when the Avengers and Fantastic Four were considered dead. As the Thunderbolts (with Zemo portraying the star-spangled swordsman Citizen V), they hoped to gain the trust of the world’s governments and gain access to all sorts of secrets and technology. What Zemo didn’t gamble on was his underlings having a change of heart and deciding that they’d rather be superheroes instead of playing pretend.
Zemo himself had a change of heart, albeit in the sense that he wanted to rule the world for the betterment of mankind. For a time, he realized that his father’s ways were wrong, but went mad when Bucky Barnes was allowed to become Captain America despite his history of (brainwashed) terrorism. Zemo soon fell back into his evil ways and remains a full-on supervillain.
John Walker, US Agent
Years ago, Steve Rogers decided to split from being a government pawn and they wouldn’t let him take the Captain America persona with him. While Rogers continued under names like Nomad and the Captain, the government chose a replacement in John Walker, formerly known as Super-Patriot. Walker, obedient to the flag to the end, took up the mantle with pride and gave us a right wing Captain America with a bit of ’80s action movie bloodlust mixed in. As with most replacement characters, Walker’s run as Captain America came to an end and Steve Rogers took on the identity once more. Walker found a new identity as US Agent, and became a member of the West Coast Avengers.
Along with a Ghost Rider TV series, Marvel is bringing Helstrom to the screen on Hulu.
So nip the confusion in the bud, on the TV show his name is Helstrom, but in the comics he’s Hellstrom. He also used to be called Hellstorm but that was even more on the nose.
Hell is a bit complicated in Marvel. Rather than just have Satan be a thing, the company has always been a little meek about the potential religious ramifications of it. Instead, there are a handful of characters who are “basically Satan but not really.” The most popular version is Mephisto, who is in reality some kind of cosmic being and not, say, Lucifer fallen from Heaven. The identity of Son of Satan’s father has gone from being a Devil-type named Marduk to a Devil-type named Satannish.
Daimon Hellstrom was born the son of [Satan-type being] and a human woman, brought up to learn all sorts of magic. Hellstrom leaned towards his human side and chose to use his ability to fight the evil and demonic. He’s the ultimate “enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Helstrom’s adventures against the occult made him a regular member of the Defenders and an ally to Ghost Rider. For a time, he was married to Patsy Walker, but things went really wrong and he ended up having to drive her away, feeling that she’d be happier without having to deal with his demon bullshit.
While Daimon chose to embrace his humanity, his sister Satana embraced her demonic side. She learned dark magic in Hell under her father and ended up becoming a succubus. Since leaving her father, she’s bounced back and forth between being an antihero and a full-on villain. She and her brother are not exactly on the best terms most of the time.
She did marry Deadpool at one point. That’s pretty neat. It’s not even the last time Deadpool married a succubus!
SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will introduce the famed martial artist and a classic Marvel villain to the big screen.
Back in the ’70s, Marvel wanted to make a comic based on the show Kung Fu, but that didn’t work out, so they instead took the stereotypical yellow peril villain Fu Manchu and decided to give him a rebellious, heroic son, at times modeled after Bruce Lee (who had originally pitched the show that became Kung Fu to TV networks…but they weren’t ready). Shang-Chi was raised and trained to be the ultimate martial artist and to be Fu Manchu’s greatest weapon. It didn’t take long for him to realize that, wait, dad was actually a monster! He then became dedicated to saving the world by kicking his dad’s scheming ass.
Once his Fu Manchu adventures were over (and they eventually had to retcon that part of him because they lost the rights to using Fu Manchu in addition to his problematic stigma), Shang-Chi joined teams like Heroes for Hire and at least two iterations of the Avengers. One of the cooler parts of that was Iron Man realizing that if Shang-Chi is a living weapon, what happens when you give him weapons? Then he started wielding cyber nunchakus and stuff like that. It ruled.
Anyway, Shang-Chi is one of the top martial artists in the Marvel Universe and his movie has the potential to make up for Iron Fist.
So far the MCU has given us an actor pretending to be a terrorist named the Mandarin and his boss, an arms dealer who called himself the Mandarin. Then a short film revealed that, wait, there was a REAL Mandarin out there and he presumably wasn’t pleased with being impersonated by a drunk, disgraced actor. For a while, that seemed like a plot thread that would never be followed up on.
In the comics, the Mandarin was a Chinese villain who came across a crashed alien spaceship that contained ten rings, each granting the wearer a different ability. Useful stuff like various kinds of lasers to mind-taking to straight-up vaporizing. Though the more powerful ones, such as vaporizing, need a recharge after use to keep him from being too overpowered.
Marvel’s What If…? animated series will explore possible pasts in the MCU, and introduce at least one major character from the comics…
Uatu, the Watcher
The second Guardians of the Galaxy movie gave us our first look at the Watchers with the reveal that Stan Lee’s cameos are linked to their existence. Watchers are ancient, cosmic beings who merely exist to bear witness to civilizations and record them for posterity. Among their ranks is Uatu, the being who watches Earth.
Uatu took an oath to watch, but never interfere. From time to time, he bends the rules due to his love of mankind. Usually he’ll act by giving Earth’s heroes a heads up about something terrible coming down the pipeline. So he’ll warn them that Galactus is coming, but he won’t actually help because that would be going too far against his oath.
Uatu was the “host” of Marvel’s What If comic books, and he’ll serve in the same role on the Disney+ animated series. Not only does he watch the events of his own universe, but he’s able to see situations in alternate universes. He tends to relate the stories that mold these universes to show how important our decisions and actions are in the grand scheme of things.
THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER
While other major Avengers characters have been shown the door, we haven’t seen the last of our favorite Asgardians. But Thor: Love and Thunder puts a new twist on things…
Jane Foster Thor
Not exactly a new character, but a new enough form of a character that we might as well discuss it.
There was a comic book storyline called Original Sin that involved the heroes fighting Nick Fury on the moon for really bizarre reasons that involved alien invasions and giant eyeballs. It’s a long story, but comics are weird. Part of the climax had Fury whisper something into Thor’s ear that shook him to such a degree that it made him believe he was “unworthy” to be the God of Thunder. This opened the door for Jane Foster to wield Mjolnir as the new Thor.
With lots of Asgardian drama going on, Jane-Thor continued to prove herself a worthy successor. One of the ways she proved herself was via personal sacrifice. Every time she transformed into Thor, she would undo all the chemotherapy treatments she was undergoing to treat her cancer.
There’s even a Hawkeye TV series coming to Disney+, one that will expand the archer’s legacy…
Once upon a time, Clint Barton died in an explosion when fighting off a Kree invasion. In the aftermath of that event, a new team was created of teenagers with powers calling themselves the Young Avengers. One such member was Kate Bishop, who took up the name Hawkeye. Kate was assaulted during a jog one day through Central Park. The trauma of the incident drove her to better herself physically and in the process, she took to being an expert archer.
Eventually, Barton came back to life and became a mentor to Kate and they became partners, both keeping the Hawkeye name. When she isn’t doing the Avengers thing, Kate tends to run her own private investigation agency.
Blade will finally make his return to the big screen in Marvel’s Phase 5. He’ll be played by none other than the brilliant Mahershala Ali.
Blade was introduced in the 70s as a vampire hunter aiming to take out Dracula. A freak vampire known as the Daywalker, Blade had all the positives of being a vampire without most of the negatives. It made him the perfect weapon to try and snuff them all out. He also looked completely ridiculous because it was the ’70s.
Then the Wesley Snipes movies happened and Marvel decided, “No, wait, that’s what he looks like! That’s what he’s always looked like!” Since then, he’s been piggybacking on the movie depiction and rightfully so, because it’s fucking badass.
While Blade is usually fighting solo, he has been a member of MI: 13, the Midnight Sons, and even the Avengers. In the Avengers, he fought under the guise of both Ronin and the Splendiferous Spider Hero (a bootleg Spider-Man Halloween costume). And that’s the #1 reason why I want Disney and Sony to hash things out.
Without Spidey, we’ll get a new teen hero in the MCU with the Ms. Marvel TV series!
As part of a strategy to protect the Inhuman race, Black Bolt unleashed a cloud of terrigen mist across the globe. Many people who were unknowingly descendants of Inhumans found themselves empowered by the traveling cloud. One such person was Kamala Khan, a fangirl of all things superhero, especially when it came to Carol Danvers. Discovering she can shapeshift and grow in size, Kamala started fighting crime as the new Ms. Marvel.
Ms. Marvel juggles the difficulties of being a Muslim teen growing up in New Jersey with doing the superhero gig alongside the people she’s idolized for years. She’s made Wolverine groan during a team-up by bringing up that she’s written fanfiction about him. In actuality, he was more disgusted to find that a Cyclops fanfic got more love.
Something we once hoped would come to Netflix will instead come to Disney+. Get ready for the Moon Knight TV series!
Marc Spector was a mercenary on a mission in Egypt, working under a maniac named Bushman. Spector was betrayed and beaten within an inch of his life, only to be carried away by worshippers of an Egyptian moon god named Khonshu. Spector was laid before a statue of the god and received a vision offering him new life in return for being the god’s avatar of vengeance.
Spector was reborn and chooses to annihilate crime under various identities, such as a millionaire playboy, a cab driver, and the Fist of Khonshu himself, Moon Knight. Using weapons and martial arts skills, Spector appears to be more powerful and agile when in the presence of the moon. Whether that’s a legit power or just psychosomatic is up for debate, as are his conversations with Khonshu. Spector is a bit of a Beautiful Mind type of guy in terms of mental issues and sometimes is pestered by imaginary versions of superheroes or even a mutilated Bushman.
The She-Hulk TV series has the potential to be the strangest project on the upcoming Marvel roster…
Eternally on the run, Bruce Banner decided to see his cousin Jen Walters for the sake of having someone to confide in about his Hulk problem. Their reunion was cut short, as a criminal shot Jen, requiring a gamma-irradiated blood transfusion from her cousin. While it did save Jen’s life, it also gave her the power to turn into a mighty, green-skinned behemoth known as She-Hulk.
Instead of a savage rage monster, She-Hulk is mostly depicted as a rational and confident persona and counters Jen’s innate shyness. She’s become a regular member of the Avengers while also having a couple runs as a member of the Fantastic Four. She’s a humorous hero and, for a time, was even aware of the fourth wall, making her a bit of a proto-Deadpool.
Gavin Jasper writes for Den of Geek and realizes that Marvel’s burning through so many non-Thunderbolts properties that Thunderbolts has to happen eventually. Right? …Right? Read more of his articles here and follow him on Twitter @Gavin4L