Falcon & Winter Soldier: The 1-2-3 of THUNDERBOLTS!
Greetings, Marvel Blog True Believers! Have you had a chance to see the third episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, “Power Broker”? It was released for streaming on Disney+ on Friday, April 2nd, 2021.
If you haven’t had a chance to check out the episode yet and you want to stay away from spoilers, then click away from the article now!
Zemo and Bucky, together again…
Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl) already have something of a history in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, the two characters ended up intertwined when Zemo used the Winter Soldier’s Hydra programming to manipulate him into attacking Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) – just a reminder: Zemo loathes Super Soldiers so if you are one, don’t accept his airplane food.
In spite of their dubious history, in “Power Broker,” we see Bucky spring the supervillain from a German prison because Zemo’s desire to eradicate Super Soldiers aligns with Bucky and Sam’s current goals in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
However, the characters – Zemo, Winter Soldier, and Smiling Tiger – have a shared team in their Marvel Comics history…
ONE: Baron Zemo’s Thunderbolts!
The origin of the Thunderbolts is revealed in Thunderbolts Annual #1 (1997) by Kurt Busiek, Mark Bagley, Bob McLeod, Tom Grummett, Ron Randall, Gene Colan, Darick Robertson, George Perez, Chris Marrinan, Al Milgrom, Will Blyberg, Scott Koblish, Jim Sanders, Tom Palmer, Bruce Patterson, Karl Kesel, Andrew Pepoy, Joe Rosas, and Dave Lanphear.
The Thunderbolts had originally formed as a reformation of the Masters of Evil, an earlier team of supervillains helmed by the Baron in a purple helmet, Zemo. However, in the wake of the apparent death of the Avengers and the Fantastic 4 at the hands of Onslaught, Zemo resolved to rebrand the team as superheroes, not supervillains, in order to fill the void left by the late defenders of the 616.
Over the course of the story, most of the team members found that they preferred to be heroes rather than villains, and many of them retained their more heroic code names (and moral codes) after the Avengers and the Fantastic 4 had returned.
TWO: The Smiling Tiger, Thunderbolt!!
In “Power Broker,” as Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) enters Madripoor, he must disguise himself by adopting the identity of Conrad Mack, also known as the Smiling Tiger. In the panels of Marvel Comics, this character is also a member of the Thunderbolts!
And it’s no coincidence that the Smiling Tiger is connected with Madripoor: in New Warriors #21 (1992) by Nicieza, Bagley, Larry Mahlstedt, Joe Rosen, and Rosas, the Smiling Tiger is shown to be part of the team known as the Folding Circle.
Later in that story arc, the Folding Circle steals a quinjet from the Avengers.
And in Night Thrasher #3 (1993) by Nicieza, Ken Lashley, Fred Haynes, Rosas, and Spike, the quinjet crash lands on Madripoor, where Mack subsequently becomes part of Madripoor’s criminal underworld.
Later, in Thunderbolts #107 (2006) by Fabian Nicieza, Tom Grummett, Gary Erskine, J. Brown, and Ribert Deschense, Zemo has begun forcibly conscripting captured supervillains into the Thunderbolts team, including heavy-hitters like Doctor Otto Octavius.
In one panel, you get a glimpse of the Smiling Tiger fighting with the other members of the Thunderbolt’s beta squad on the streets of Los Angeles, California.
THREE: Bucky’s Thunderbolts!!!
Years later, the Winter Soldier himself would head a Thunderbolts team all his own! After the events of Avengers: Standoff, Bucky flees with the sentient Cosmic Cube entity known as Kobik, forming a new team in Thunderbolts #1 (2016) by Jim Zub, Jon Malin, Matt Yackey, and Joe Sabino.
This series took place during a complicated time period for Captain America, as Steve had been replaced with a duplicate who was secretly loyal to Hydra, putting him in opposition to Bucky. A Captain America who was opposed to the Winter Soldier… now where have I heard that before?
While Zemo does not appear in the first issue of this 12-issue Thunderbolts run, he does return in a subsequent issue, where he issues an ultimatum to the members of his former team: join Hydra or be destroyed!
The Once & Future Thunderbolts
Will we be seeing more members of the Thunderbolts on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier? We’re on the edge of our seats, True Believers! Let us know what you think in the comment section.