The most recent episode of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” has moved the pieces of the MCU a little closer towards potentially revealing its version of the Thunderbolts, one of Marvel’s most infamous super-powered teams. Now that Daniel Brühl has returned to the MCU as a livelier version of the supervillain he originally played in “Captain America: Civil War,” is it possible we will see him taking charge of the superhero team the way the character does in the comics?
Spoilers to follow.
2012’s “The Avengers” gave us what comic fans could only dream of before – a superhero team. Nearly a decade later, the mythos of that specific team is at the very center of the MCU and opened the doors for other franchises. Now “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” has seemingly set the stage for the MCU’s first team of supervillains. While a group like Hydra can generate infinite anonymous targets for super-punches, the Thunderbolts is a true dark counterpoint to the Avengers. Each member is distinct, memorable, deadly, and ideally wearing a colorful mask. Now that Zemo has his purple headgear back, and is (as of “Truth,” the series’ fourth episode) heading to The Raft, the supervillain prison so often associated with the iconic team, will we see the team make its debut?
Who Are the Thunderbolts?
Since the team’s debut in 1997, the Thunderbolts have had a few iterations. The most famous, recent versions of the team are government-sanctioned supervillains running dangerous, deadly black-ops missions and who may (or may not) be working towards redemption.
The original version of the Thunderbolts has its roots in the Masters of Evil, a group of the classic, Silver Age of Marvel comics. When latter-day members of the group reunited during an opportune absence of Marvel heavy-hitters the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, the villains decided to pose as superheroes. Adopting new aliases, the group was led by Helmut Zemo – the son of Heinrich Zemo (the original Baron Zemo and a member of the Masters of Evil.) The plot was a guarded secret at Marvel, and the reveal of its twist – that the Thunderbolts were actually the Masters of Evil – remains an iconic moment in comics.
The title evolved and was revamped several times over the next ten years, but starting with the Marvel crossover event “Civil War” – which directly inspired the Captain America film of the same name – the concept of the Thunderbolts being super-criminals) was refined to the government-sanctioned team working their way towards freedom and redemption. That period saw Reed Richards and Tony Stark sending Zemo and a crew that featured Venom and Taskmaster to hunt down rogue villains and eventually heroes. Some of the members were murdered by Punisher during an iconic scene in the series which has some relevance to “The Falcon and the Wintersoldier.” A great tension of this period is whether each member – and especially Zemo – is working towards redemption or only posing as heroes until an opportunity presents itself to return to villainy.
Who is in the Thunderbolts?
While in the comics Zemo was traversing time and eventually returned, the group saw itself handed off to quite the list of Marvel characters. Thunderbolt Ross, Luke Cage, the Winter Soldier and Norman Osborn all had hands at running versions of the team, whose roster of past members grew. The team connects a lot of various plots and characters of the Marvel Universe, some of which we’ve already seen in the MCU.
Helmut Zemo remains closely associated with the team and his revamp in “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” moves the character closer to his comic iteration (while leaving out the Nazi affiliations the comic version is ostensibly working to redeem himself from). Daniel Brühl’s Zemo was a bit of a scene-stealing stand-out on the series. Marvel even released an hour-long loop of his dancing scene. With his personal wealth in canon (along with his mask) and the character sent to the prison that serves as the Thunderbolts base in the comics, Zemo would be the most obvious character to lead the MCU’s version of the team.
Rumors about Thadeus “Thunderbolt” Ross showing up in Falcon and the Winter Soldier have been bubbling for a while. The big cameo that was rumored for “Truth” turned out not to be the Incredible Hulk character, but that doesn’t mean he’s not coming. Fans noted a reference to the general in the show and as the character has deep links in the MCU to the super-soldier serum, it makes sense. As Zemo is currently incarcerated, we might see a Thunderbolt and Zemo co-lead team, where one represents official government will and the other manipulates the team to his own purposes from the inside. Certainly, with the MCU’s Zemo’s stated stance on the super-soldier serum, tensions would arise between the two. And of course, fans continue to hold out hope that Ross will see himself transformed, as he does in the comics, to the Red Hulk. Overall, Ross makes a good candidate for the government puppet master and he has the perfect nickname already.
The Winter Soldier
While “The Falcon and Winter Soldier” is drawing to a close, it remains to be seen what will happen to Cap’s former sidekick. Bucky’s quest for redemption makes him an ideal role model for the Thunderbolts – or the ones actually trying to redeem themselves, and fans already love him as a foil for Daniel Brühl’s Zemo. The Winter Soldier has a history with the team in the comics, albeit a short one that doesn’t overlap much with Zemo. It may be more likely we’ll see Bucky clashing with the team and occasionally teaming up than an actual member, but not everyone agrees.
Marvel’s master combatant the Taskmaster is coming to the MCU in this summer’s Black Widow film. We don’t know much about the film version of the character apart from demonstrating expertise in hand-to-hand combat like his comic book counterpart. Black Widow will be a prequel film but the character might still be kicking around in the MCU timeline post-blip. The character, with his cool skull mask and general deadliness, is a fairly iconic Thunderbolt.
“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” reintroduced us to another character from Cap’s staple of villains in both the MCU and the comics. We hadn’t seen Batroc since “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” but we learn the Algerian pirate/mercenary holds a grudge against Sam, drawing him into the Flag-Smasher orbit. In the comics, Batroc the Leaper has a history with Zemo’s Thunderbolts and also with the team under the leadership of Kingpin more recently.
In the comics, the Iron Man villain is a latter-day member of the Thunderbolts. The MCU introduced us to a gender-swapped version of the character in 2018’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” played by Hannah John-Kamen. Like her comic book inspiration, this Ghost is a fairly relatable adversary and seems like a good candidate for a redemption arc.
There’s been a lot of rumors about Florence Pugh’s character Yelena Belova taking up the Black Widow mantle in the future. The character’s relationship to the Thunderbolts is a little complicated – it was actually Natasha Romanov in disguise who joined the Norman Osborne-led version of the team – but there certainly is a precedent to having a Black Widow on the Thunderbolts.
Valentina Allegra de Fontaine
The secret agent of Marvel comics was the surprise cameo in “Truth.” In the comics, the character becomes Madame Hydra and Hydra does get tangled up with versions of the Thunderbolts – particularly the Zemo-led versions of the team. We may see the character, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus interacting with the team in the future, maybe even as a benefactor, but she’s unlikely to make the team roster.
Venom’s relationship to the MCU is still a little murky as the character played by Tom Hardy appears in the theoretically related but distant universe of “Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters.” We haven’t even seen this character interact with Spiderman. That said, Venom is a fan-favorite and the character has been a Thunderbolt before, albeit as the lesser-known Mac Gargan version of the character. Venom appearing as a member of the Thunderbolts may be wishful thinking.
Like Venom, Sony holds the rights to this character and there are currently no plans to produce a Ghost Rider film. We did see a version of the character introduced in Agents of Shield, albeit briefly and unnamed. Still, Ghost Rider is far from an iconic member of the Thunderbolts roster despite having a history with the team. Its a character with a lot of fans, but an unlikely addition to the MCU’s version of the Thunderbolts.
If fans are making wishes, seeing the X-men in the MCU is pretty high on the list. If that were to happen, Juggernaut has a history with the Thunderbolts. That said, this is extremely unlikely at this point.