Daniel Brühl’s Zemo is returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the upcoming Disney+ series ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ and Brühl even teased that he will sport a look inspired by the comics– a coat with a fur-trimmed collar.
In the comics, Zemo’s greatest scheme came during a time when the Avengers and Fantastic Four were missing (during the ‘Heroes Reborn’ event). Enter a brand new superhero team– The Thunderbolts. But in a twist, it turned out these “heroes” were actually Zemo and his Masters of Evil in disguise. The Thunderbolts concept has evolved over the years and was “borrowed” by Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin)’s “Dark Avengers” which featured various villains masquerading as existing heroes– Moonstone as Ms. Marvel, Venom as Spider-Man, Dakken as Wolverine, and more.
In case you hadn’t noticed, it looks as though the Earth in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Avenger-less. This plus the return of Zemo has many fans speculating that the MCU will soon introduce a live-action version of the Thunderbolts. Have seeds already been planted? Remember all those complaints that the early Marvel villains were just bad versions of the heroes? Hmmm…
Let’s take a look and see who could be the Thunderbolts of the MCU:
The “Captain America” = Zemo:
Brühl’s Zemo isn’t a physical match for Captain America, but he has proven to be quite the strategist, one of Cap’s other strengths. Plus, presumably, he’ll be taking on the new Captain America, Sam Wilson in ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’, so he’s already on his way.
Zemo managed to turn the Avengers against one another and eventually disband. This Zemo is certainly a mastermind and could come up with the idea of using the other villains of the MCU to take down what’s left of their mutual enemies.
A better physical match for Captain America would be Crossbones, but he’s dead. But FrankGrillo is signed on for like five more movies, and we are talking about a comic book-based property here, so anything is possible.
The “Iron Man” = Iron Patriot
The most obvious replacement for Tony Stark would actually be Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane/The Iron Monger in ‘Iron Man’, or even Ivan Vanko/Whiplash played by Mickey Rourke in ‘Iron Man 2’, but they’re both dead.
James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) acted as the Iron Patriot in ‘Iron Man 3’. In the comics, this identity was actually used by Norman Osborn as leader of the Dark Avengers. In the films, Rhodey has gone back to his more recognizable identity of War Machine.
The thing about these ironed identities, is pretty much anyone can put on the armor. It’s possible Zemo could suit up in this identity or at least find someone else to do so.
The “Thor” = Loki
‘Avengers: Endgame’ introduced an alternate version of Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who will be the focus of the Disney+ ‘Loki’ series. We don’t know a lot about that series, but it appears to involve time travel. Either way, like Gamora, there is once again a living Loki running around the MCU.
On top of that, it appears the population of Earth knows who Loki is, so if he were to pop up somewhere public, everyone– including Zemo– would know where he was.
That’s pretty much the best I can come up with for how Zemo might track down a magical god who can teleport and make himself look like anyone.
The “Hulk” = The Abomination
It’s really not clear what happened to the Abomination (Tim Roth). He was cryogenically frozen and taken into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, but what happened after S.H.I.E.L.D. was dismantled in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’?
To be honest, this is probably just a dangling plot thread that may never get resolved, as Disney can’t make another ‘Hulk’ solo movie, and the Hulk himself (Mark Ruffalo), might be permanently sidelined due to his injuries from ‘Endgame’. But technically, the Abomination is still out there somewhere.
Another potential substitution for the Hulk– and one comic fans have been clamoring to see– is Red Hulk a.k.a. Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt). It’s up to Marvel Studios to decide whether it’s more important that Ross carry on as Secretary of State, or take on the role of Red Hulk.
The “Professor Hulk” = The Leader
Speaking of dangling plot threads, ‘The Incredible Hulk’ set up the onscreen introduction of The Leader (Tim Blake Nelson), which never went anywhere. In the comics, The Leader’s gamma-powered brain makes him a sharp contrast for the brutish, physically powerful Hulk.
But the Hulk isn’t the same brute he once was. Dubbed “Professor Hulk,” the latest iteration retained Bruce Banner’s intelligence even in monster form. But after his injuries sustained in ‘Endgame’, Ruffalo’s Hulk may be sidelined for good.
Nelson’s Leader could be Zemo’s substitute for the smart Hulk… and possibly even Tony Stark, since there really isn’t another super genius floating around out there.
The “Hawkeye” = Batroc
You’re forgiven if you forgot Cap’s goofy French foe Batroc “zee Leapair” appeared in ‘The Winter Soldier’, portrayed by mixed martial arts champ Georges St-Pierre.
Hawkeye is the least utilized Avenger, so he doesn’t have a Rogues Gallery of his own. He also doesn’t have powers, but, as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, is extremely skilled in all forms of combat, particularly as an archer.
Batroc also doesn’t have powers, but is particularly skilled in a different form, as a kickboxer.
Plus, they both wear a lot of purple.
The “Black Widow” = Yelena Belova
This seems to be where things are headed anyway. Florence Pugh is currently filming ‘Black Widow’ in the role of Yelena Belova, the “new Black Widow” in the comics. And with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) dead for good, Pugh’s character will presumably take her place in the movies.
Yelena Belova was raised in the same Russian Red Room as Natasha, and in the comics, has been both a good guy and a band guy, so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for her to join up with Zemo’s crew.
But we’ll really have to wait until next year to really understand what the MCU has planned for this character.
The “Black Panther” = W’Kabi
There are rumors that Michael B. Jordan will somehow return in ‘Black Panther 2’, but hopefully, that will just be in flashbacks or something, as his character Erik Stevens/Killmonger has a great death scene and it would suck if they undid that.
But another potential match for Black Panther is his former best friend, W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), who turned against him, allowing Killmonger to seize the throne of Wakanda.
Then again, Black Panther may not be considered a full-fledged Avenger, so Zemo might not take him into account in creating his own Dark Avengers or Thunderbolts.
The “Doctor Strange” = Mordo
The same goes for Doctor Strange. In fact, it’s unclear if the population at large even knows he exists. But if Zemo is aware of him, Karl Mordo is the perfect stand-in.
‘Doctor Strange’ set Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Karl Mordo down the path to villainy. It would seem obvious that he would return in the sequel, ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’, but director Scott Derrickson has teased that he wants to use Nightmare as the villain. (Then again, there could be more than one.)
As already mentioned, ‘The Incredible Hulk’ set up The Leader’s introduction, and The Abomination’s return, neither of which have happened. Ditto how ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ set up the introduction of The Scorpion and the return of The Vulture, neither of which happened in ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’.
If Derrickson decides not to use Mordo in ‘Doctor Strange 2’, that leaves the character free to return elsewhere.
The “Ant-Man” – Yellowjacket
Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll) is probably dead, but his fate was left a little open-ended, as he was shrunk down into the Quantum Realm. It looked like he died, but it’s possible he didn’t.
But would Zemo actually go through the trouble of retrieving him from the Quantum Realm? Would he even be aware of his existence and what happened to him?
And like Black Panther and Doctor Strange, is the general public even aware that Ant-Man is part of the Avengers? Would Zemo consider him in creating his team?
There are a few other baddies running around that could be brought back. Considering the obscure extras that were revived for ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’, it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see Ghost, The Vulture, The Tinkerer, The Scorpion, maybe even Donald Glover as The Prowler brought back and possibly inserted into a team of super foes.
Would you like to see ‘The Thunderbolts’ in the MCU? What characters would you like to see included?