At this point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Avengers are, more or less, defunct. While the overall story of this shared universe could potentially survive without a team of superheroes to hold things together, I do not see that lasting much longer, especially with word of the Thunderbolts being added into the mix soon. I have a feeling that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier may have already given us clues as to how that introduction may come to be.
If you have never heard of the Thunderbolts before, they are team of reformed super-criminals, almost like the Marvel equivalent to DC’s Suicide Squad in certain ways - at least in their current iteration, that is. The crew has gone through numerous changes involving a constant rotation of members, leaders, allies, and general purposes since they were first introduced in an issue of Incredible Hulk from November 1996. We can only imagine what sort of changes are in store for the Thunderbolts’ MCU debut, or can we?
Before we begin to speculate over the what, how, and when of the Thunderbolts’ future in upcoming Marvel movies or on upcoming Marvel TV shows, we should see what we can infer from what Marvel Comics has told us. The following are some of the most essential facts that may connect the team to the MCU, starting with the familiar villain who first brought them together.
The Thunderbolts Were Originally Founded By Baron Zemo
Behind-the-scenes, the Thunderbolts were created by writer Kurt Busiek and illustrator Mark Bagley. On the page it was Baron Helmut Zemo, first portrayed in the MCU by Daniel Bruhl in Captain America: Civil War, who established the team.
Originally, the idea was to revive the Masters of Evil with former members Beetle, Fixer, and Screaming Mimi and Zemo’s own henchman Erik Josten, but have them pose as heroes to gain public trust. However, much to Zemo’s chagrin, the life of a hero eventually rubbed off on these villains, turning their cover into their true goal and inspiring the collaboration of other do-gooders MCU fans should already know by name.
Black Widow, Winter Soldier, And Other MCU Characters Have Led The Thunderbolts
As I touched on earlier, the Thunderbolts have never had the same leader for very long and, since Zemo’s exit, the position has been held by the likes of many other known baddies, such as Norman Osborn and Beetle. However, a few people you might recognize as Avengers have also led the team into battle, including Black Widow, the Winter Soldier, and Hawkeye - all of whom have also found a home in MCU canon.
The current leader of the Thunderbolts in the comics is masked mercenary Taskmaster, whose MCU debut in the Black Widow movie has yet to happen. This suggests that Natasha Romanoff’s solo film, starring Scarlett Johansson, could be the catalyst for the team’s cinematic introduction. That is, unless, we have already seen the catalyst on one of Disney+’s Marvel TV shows.
John Walker Was Once An Ally To The Thunderbolts
Not only has John Walker, Wyatt Russell’s new Captain America later renamed U.S. Agent, been called an ally to the Thunderbolts, but he has been a full-fledged member, too. Plus, outside of the aforementioned Bucky Barnes, he is not the only character from the Falcon and the Winter Soldier cast to hold such a title.
Georges Batroc, Georges St. Pierre’s French mercenary also known as Batroc the Leaper in Marvel Comics, has been known to work both with and against the Thunderbolts. This is actually something most Marvel characters can claim, including Spider-Man villain Doctor Octopus, even. In fact, the Thunderbolts struggled to keep track of who was on their side, especially during the Secret Invasion.
The Thunderbolts Fought The Skrulls During the Secret Invasion
Now, of course, pretty much any Marvel character you can think of was involved with the Secret Invasion - a legendary comic book crossover event in which Skulls were discovered to have replaced many of the universe’s superheroes. Yet, it was the Thunderbolts, under Norman Osborn’s command, who were responsible for the the shapeshifting alien race’s defeat in Washington, D.C., meaning it is likely that they could be a major element of Disney+’s upcoming Secret Invasion TV show adaptation.
However, seeing as the Skrulls have been reimagined as allies to Nick Fury (or so it seems) in the MCU, the way the Thunderbolts could be involved with Samuel L. Jackson’s Secret Invasion TV show could differ greatly from the comic. Hell, it might even feature a different version of the team entirely.
Thunderbolt Ross Started His Own Version Of The Thunderbolts
As one should know, there has been more than one iteration of the Avengers in Marvel Comics, ranging from Young and Dark. The same goes for the Thunderbolts, with one leader being a perfect choice by name alone. After the Phoenix War (which set the Avengers against the X-Men), General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, played by William Hurt in the MCU, decided to create his own, now-defunct, team of anti-heroes he named after himself.
As the Red-Hulk (which Thunderbolt Ross had become by then), he led Venom, Elektra, Deadpool, Ghost Rider, Mercy, Punisher, and Red Leader on a series of missions which involved doing bad for good. While not too likely that this will be the MCU’s official iteration, with Thunderbolt Ross appearing in Black Widow, I would not rule out the possibility of him as the one calling the shots. Of course, that brings me to my most pressing question.
Who Will Lead The Thunderbolts In The MCU?
While the Thunderbolts could very likely become the MCU’s next “Avengers,” their original purpose as villains in hiding cannot go overlooked. Thus, the question of who will lead these costumed criminals, especially after the Falcon and the Winter Soldier finale, has me reeling. So, here is your fair warning that you are approaching SPOILER territory.
In addition to Sam Wilson officially becoming Captain America, John Walker has been remade as U.S. Agent by Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, who has been known to play both sides of the court. However, the post-credits sequence reveals that Sharon Carter (also confirmed to be the Power Broker) will apparently use her reinstatement as a CIA agent for nefarious purposes, which is similar to Helmut Zemo’s initial intention for the Thunderbolts. Since the episode also proves that Zemo still has some power while incarcerated, with Thunderbolt Ross and Taskmaster, that leaves five potential leaders to this group - by my count, at least.
Of course, with the MCU’s penchant for taking creative liberties with the Marvel movies (and doing a damn good job at it, too), Bucky Barnes could be the one to put this group together and with good intentions in mind, only to be deceived by his secretly evil subordinates. Stranger and more exciting things (such as S.H.I.E.L.D. actually being Hydra) have happened in the MCU, which is why I trust we'll see more great things to come.