Is the MCU creating the Thunderbolts? The team of Villains attempting to redeem themselves as Heroes
With the conclusion of Season 1 of the Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios gave us a glimpse for several potential spin-offs projects (other than just the recently announce Captain America 4 starring Anthony Mackie). We also got a glimpse of what Marvel is setting up next which will likely be the Thunderbolts or the Dark Avengers Disney+ plus show or movie. For the sake of not making this article too long, I will focus on how the MCU could create the Thunderbolts, a team of former Villains reformed into Heroes.
The Thunderbolts were created in 1997 and made their very first appearance fighting the Incredible Hulk in his. The team was created with the idea taking former Super Villains and giving them a chance for redemption and heroism.
This original team consisted of Baron Zemo as their leader (appearing as Citizen V) Atlas/Goliath, Beetle, Moonstone, Songbird and Fixer. The team would go on to have a fluctuating roster with characters coming and some of the more notable names (for MCU purposes) are Yelena Belov, Luke Cage, Wade Wilson, Elektra, Punisher, Red-Hulk and Hawkeye (who would become their leader after comic Issue # 22, the team rejected Baron Zemo as their leader because they wanted to actually become heroes not just play the part).
To recap parts of the Falcon and the Winter Solider, Julia Louis-Dreyfus' appeared as Valentina Allegra de Fontaine in the series appealing to John Walker, following Walker's heat of the moment decision to publicly execute one of the Flag Smashers in public.
Walker was stripped of his title as Captain America, then Val appears to offer Walker a future role as US Agent and considering (more or less confirmed) Val was also set to appear prior to that in Black Widow movie, its evident she is setting up a certain type of team. The bigger question is, who does she work for? In the comics, she has been affiliated with the likes of Shield, Hydra, CIA, so for the MCU, there is a number of villainous organizations such Hydra, AIM, or even Roxxon.
Thunderbolts vs. The Young Avengers.
So what if she was just a member of the CIA. Civil War event that took place in the comics in 2007, had the Thunderbolts as a group of Villains that agreed to work for the Government, they were tasked with rounding up Superheroes who refused to sign the Superhero Registration Act. Considering Post-Blip many people have returned back to Earth (powered and non-powered humans and maybe even some Mutants/Inhumans?) and the world is in a bit of chaos trying to figure it all, it could set up for someone who has returned to flex their power who could be non-other than General Thaddeus Ross making his return. Although the MCU has never confirmed whether he was blipped away, he was the Secretary of State during Captain America: Civil War and he was the Man pushing the Sokovia Accords, and the last time we saw him was a nod at Tony Stark's funeral.
He didn't blip away and he's still Secretary of State (or Vice-President?) or he did Blip away and returns to a similar Government position. General Ross knows he can't rely on the Avengers but perhaps he can utilize Villains looking to make a clean start and creates the Thunderbolts by offering them full amnesty in exchange for following his orders. He tasks them with not only becoming Heroes for the government but also re-initiates the Sokovia Accords and tasks them with tracking down the unregistered heroes. This could be a great spin-off series or even film that could focus on bringing in new heroes/villains to register with the government whose powers have just developed. Ross orders the Thunderbolts to track down Wiccan, Speed, Hulkling (as yet to appear) or maybe they would pursue someone like Kate Bishop, Yelena Belov or Riri Williams as they take over the mantle of their predecessors. This could set up the Young Avengers (or Champions) to fight together before becoming their own team and getting their own Series/Movie.
Thunderbolts path to Heroism
An alternative story the MCU could explore would be similar to the comics. First, it has to be pointed out that in Falcon and the Winter Solider, before Bucky arrives to bring Baron Zemo back to jail, Zemo says that he expected Bucky to find him sooner, to me at least, that implies Zemo has had time to set up his escape plan from the Raft... Or does it? In the comics, one of the Thunderbolts original headquarters for the team was actually on the Raft itself. Zemo knew his time was short on the outside so he enlisted Val to create a team to break him out of prison. As the team infiltrates the Raft, breaks Zemo out and they assume control over the Prison, he gives the Government an ultimatum allow his team of Thunderbolts to operate as Heroes, in exchange for him not releasing all of the Villains held in the Raft at that time. The Government panics and ultimately endorses the Thunderbolts over the Avengers with Ross speaking out against Sam Wilson's Avengers.
To ensure the Thunderbolts keep good on their promise to not return to villainy, they agree to have the newly created Red Hulk AKA General Ross oversee them. It could play out similar as it did in the comics, where Baron Zemo has an ulterior motive but before it can come to fruition the team ousts him as their leader. The Thunderbolts would go on to select a new leader (in the comics it was Hawkeye), but for the MCU maybe James Rhodes, Bucky Barnes or even Wade Wilson?
Zemo completely taken aback by his teams mutiny, he decides that he cannot trust "heroes" anymore than he can trust "villains" and begins laying the ground work to create a Super Villain team in order to keep the Avengers and the Thunderbolts busy as he begins enlisting numerous villains together. Zemo expecting the Thunderbolts to win in the short game, uses some of the small time villains to give him enough to create the Masters of Evil (Avengers 6?) using potential star Villains like Dr. Doom, MODOK, Loki, Ultron, and maybe even an alternate reality Captain America.
What other characters in the MCU could join the Thunderbolts?
Baron Zemo could become Citizen V but that all depends which Story they decide to pursue (and honestly as much as we all loved Daniel Brühl as Zemo, he doesn't really have a goal or motivation anymore that we know about). We obviously know that John Walker will be returning as US Agent and we have heard rumors that Val would appear in the Black Widow movie so assuming Yelena Belov becomes a member that leaves us with two. My first choice (she needs more screen time Marvel!!) would be Ghost (AKA Ava Starr) from Ant-Man and the Wasp, she was set up as a Villain but only because of the things that Shield had made her to do and all she wanted was to be free of the pain her powers caused. She already redeemed herself at the end of that movie, so she would be the perfect third addition. In addition they could also add a mutant to the team as well as the Netflix Marvel Characters that can now be used such as the Punisher, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones or Elektra.
As discussed earlier General Ross could very become the Red Hulk or perhaps they will go a different angle and have it be someone else (also there is a rumored Hulk Movie, but since Marvel doesn't fully own the rights to make it, I believe this will encompass many Hulk's like She-Hulk, Banner, Brawn (AKA Amadeus Cho) and could set up Ross becoming Red Hulk as a villain as the other three attempt to help him control his new form).
Trying to stay away from Spider-Man villains but we very easily could have a villain like Beetle (thanks to Marvel and Sony's secret character sharing agreement) or at least another villain who utilizes a suit of armor. Perhaps even that suit of Armor was part of stolen Stark Tech and could even tie into Armor Wars. Songbird (AKA Screaming Mimi/Melissa Gold) as her codename suggests she is able to emit Sonic-powered screams, at least her addition to the MCU would give us a new type of powers we have yet to see. Fixer could also be used as their Tech and weapon developer. The most interesting rumor that we heard lately, was Marvel Studios wanted Ryan Reynolds to join the Thunderbolts as Deadpool, and that would suggest that we could be getting mutants very soon in the MCU.
All we can say for certain right now is that Val is building a team for something and appealing to the likes of John Walker and (potentially) Yelena Belov suggest that they are looking for Individuals seeking redemption and/or making amends. Unlike other teams this team will embrace what the Avengers cannot, and that is the willingness to get the dirty work. The only drawback to this potential team is if Marvel isn't able to utilize Deadpool or Loki, they will definitely need one or two characters who pushes the team's boundary into that with uncomfortable vibe MCU humor we are so accustomed too. That is unless Val herself is also set to join the team, could she have powers and is she even human or a Skrull? Let us know what you think below!