WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDER!
Folks, we have a new Captain! This should have come as no surprise to anybody with even the smallest bit of knowledge about the Marvel comics, but The Falcon and the Winter Soldier made it official as Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson set aside his Falcon persona to pick up the shield left for him by Steve Rogers and became Captain America. And he’s already getting his own movie! But as much as TFATWS was about upgrading Mackie’s role in the MCU, it was also very much about laying the groundwork for some potentially huge future developments in the franchise. And it all started with a Seinfeld favourite!
Before TFATWS debuted, we had heard rumblings of a big celeb cameo. And just about every guess as to who it could be ended up being very wrong as the show’s fifth episode, “Truth”, saw the introduction Julia Louis-Dreyfuss as Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. Who is this character with a mouthful of a name? Well, it will require several mouthfuls to get through her convoluted comic book history.
The (relatively) short version is this: In the comics, she started out as SHIELD agent who rapidly rose through the ranks to become a leader in the organization as well as a lover to SHIELD boss Nick Fury. During the Secret Invasion crossover event (which Marvel is adapting as a Disney+ series) it was revealed that at some point the real Valentina had been replaced by a Skrull who had been impersonating her. After Fury killed that Skrull and the entire invasion was averted, the real Valentina returned to her role in SHIELD.
During the Secret Warriors series though, it was revealed that Hydra had not only infiltrated but had secretly always been in control of SHIELD from the very start. Valentina is revealed to have always been an agent from the Soviet espionage group Leviathan who had been implanted in SHIELD as a mole from the start. Hydra then recruited her and she eventually rose within the ranks of the villainous organization to become its leader, Madame Hydra… Only for it to be revealed much later that she had actually been a triple (quadruple?) agent working for Fury who had long been aware of Hydra’s involvement in SHIELD and also wanted to take down Leviathan.
Yes, that’s a very twisty background and I’m not even sure how much is that relevant to her on-screen counterpart, but the point is that Valentina has operated on all sides of the moral divide. TFATWS executive producer Nate Moore described Louis-Dreyfuss’ version as a funnier Nick Fury who has no problem existing in even more morally grey areas than he does. And that’s what leads us to her appearance in the series and her interaction with the show’s other Captain America in Wyatt Russel’s John Walker.
While Walker starts out as the US government-picked war hero replacement for Steve Rogers, he is eventually stripped of his title after his super-soldier serum rage-induced public execution of a man. It’s here where “Val” first makes contact with him, hinting that she may have a use for him even if he’s not Captain America. And after making some amends (only a little if you ask me) by assisting Wilson’s Captain America and Bucky Barnes to stop the Flag Smashers, the finale saw Walker adopt his comic book counterpart U.S. Agent persona thanks to a new costume from Valentina.
More importantly, she informs Walker that she will be calling on him in his new capacity as “things are about to get weird”. We don’t know whether those “things” are hinting at Secret Invasion or something else, but I’m willing to bet good money that Walker’s recruitment is only the first step in Valentina putting together a Thunderbolts team.
There have been a few iterations of the Thunderbolts team in the Marvel Comics universe, but there are only a few important to us. Following a huge promo campaign and random teaser appearances in a few titles, the very first group of Thunderbolts debuted in their own book in 1997 and was created by writer Kurt Busiek and artist Mark Bagley. After the Avengers were declared dead at the hands of Onslaught, the Thunderbolts stepped up as a new group of heroes to take their place and protect Earth. Led by the swashbuckling Citizen V, the team consisted of high-tech inventor hero Techno, the armoured Mach-1, supersonic Songbird, powerhouse Atlas, and energy-blasting Meteorite. Together they quickly establish themselves as a top-tier team of heroes.
However, in the final panels of the first issue, it’s revealed that the Thunderbolts are not heroes at all, but rather the Masters of Evil, the classic Marvel villain team, in disguise. Citizen V is none other than Avengers baddie Baron Helmut Zemo, Techno is villain tech supplier Fixer, Mach-1 is actually Spider-Man foe Beetle using gear supplied by Fixer, Songbird (also using Fixer’s gear to replace her previously damaged abilities) is actually Screaming Mimi, Atlas is secretly the size-changing Goliath, and Meteorite is actually the Kree-empowered Moonstone. The reveal of the Thunderbolts’ true identity is considered one of the greatest plot twists in American comic book history and over the course dozens of issues, Busiek spun an incredible tale in which these villains pretended to be heroes so well (all just to gain access to the secrets of the Avengers and SHIELD) that they actually started to become heroes for real. Well, kind of. It got very morally grey at times.
The team would undergo all sorts of changes with different members and completely different setups as Marvel changed creative directions in the ensuing years. One of these relaunches was in 2008 in which writer Warren Ellis and artist Mike Deodato debuted the Thunderbolts with a whole new schtick following the events of the superhero Civil War.
Led by ex-Green Goblin Norman Osborn as director, these Thunderbolts – all supervillains, including Moonstone, Bullseye, Penance, Radioactive Man, Songbird, Swordsman, and Venom – were a government-sanctioned team whose agenda it was to hunt down and arrest any unregistered superpowered individuals. While some members of the team truly wanted to redeem themselves, others were just using the situation to further their own villainous ends. This includes Osborn himself as his Thunderbolts aided him in his rise to power during the Dark Reign crossover in which he duped the public into thinking he had forsaken his villainous ways and gained control of SHIELD.
After renaming the organization as HAMMER, Osborn would evolve the remaining villainous members of his Thunderbolts team to become his Dark Avengers, a twisted reflection of the real Avengers. Osborn himself led the team in the field in his new “heroic” persona as Iron Patriot, Venom became Spider-Man, Moonstone became Ms. Marvel, and Bullseye became Hawkeye. Their numbers were bolstered by the likes of Daken taking on the role of his father, Wolverine, and Kree invader Noh-Varr becoming Captain Marvel, while Ares the God of War and Sentry were both convinced to join by Osborn. The Dark Avengers themselves would undergo a few incarnations, with the team roster changing up regularly. The last incarnation of the team was actually led by a mind-controlled U.S. Agent.
So what does all of that have to do with Val? Well, while her MCU debut was in TFATWS, it’s been revealed that had it not been for COVID-19 delays, we would actually have first met her in Black Widow. While we don’t know the details of her planned appearance there, that upcoming movie will feature Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova, the second Black Widow and the one in the comics who appeared on Osborn’s team. It’s not far-fetched to think that Val would probably be recruiting her as well.
We also know that with the new co-production deal between Sony and Marvel for Spider-Man movies, several Sony-produced Spidey-related movies will take place in the actual MCU. We know this includes the upcoming Morbius and probably the Venom sequel as well… which gives us another member of the Thunderbolts team. And, of course, following the events of TFATWS, everybody’s favourite dancing supervillain Baron Zemo is now just sitting in The Raft waiting for his next gig. Maybe Val pays him a visit as well?
But what would be her endgame? I would hazard a guess that she is putting together a team of people who have no problem getting their hands dirty, doing bad things for (maybe) good reasons. Val seems to be linked to some aspect of the government, though it’s definitely not SHIELD backing her. Some have suspected that we may just see the return of Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer from Iron Man 2 as the person bankrolling her and providing any needed tech. That could be the HAMMER connection right there. And we already have an Iron Patriot linked to the government in Don Cheadle’s James “Rhodey” Rhodes.
And you have to think that Marvel and Sony are planning to introduce Norman Osborn into the MCU as the next big Spider-Man villain at some point. In fact, Osborn would be a perfect candidate to be a new overarching MCU villain, with multiple appearances building him up. Just like in the comics, he could also be involved in the Secret Invasion series, which will all then lead to his ascension to power during an adaptation of Dark Reign in which we could see his Dark Avengers – pulled from Val’s Thunderbolts – going head-to-head with the real heroes.
Of course, all of this is pure guesswork from me right now. And if WandaVision taught me anything, it’s that trying to predict when the MCU will zig instead of zag is a practice in futility. It’s still rather fun though.
Last Updated: April 28, 2021