Barefoot Contessa

Contessa Valentina: Marvel just revealed a villain smarter than Thanos

“I’ll be in touch.”

Nobody saw Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine coming.

The erstwhile Elaine Benes and Selina Meyer showing up off-handedly in the middle of a Marvel superhero show was not on anyone’s radar, which makes her appearance in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 5 all the more shocking and incredible. Even better, it feels like it’s only the beginning of Louis-Dreyfus’ time in the MCU.

But who is this Contessa? More importantly, what does her appearance mean for Phase 4 of the MCU? Here’s some of Valentina’s comic book history, and why you better believe she’s the perfect villainous follow-up after Thanos’ devastation of Earth.

Who is Contessa Valentina?

Contessa Valentina in her early S.H.I.E.L.D. days.Marvel Comics

Contessa Valentina is that unusual kind of comics character who dipped in and out of renown as needed.

Valentina started out as little more than a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who caught the eye of Nick Fury, both romantically and professionally. Though their romance fizzled out, she climbed the ladder at S.H.I.E.L.D and eventually became their go-to agent.

When S.H.I.E.L.D was compromised by replicants known as Deltites, Valentina was sent to London, where she assembled a group of international superheroes to defend the city. She also led an all-female cadre of S.H.I.E.L.D agents known as Femme Force. She was a regular freelance secret agent: if you needed a team assembled, she would be your go-to.

However, it was later revealed she was aligned not only with Hydra but with the Russian government as a long-con sleeper agent, so despite all her good works, she was prone to breaking bad.

So we know she’s got a mean streak and she’s good at assembling teams, but what does that mean for the MCU? Well, considering Valentina was meant to be introduced in Black Widow last year, it’s hard to judge off this one scene, but there are already a number of theories. While they differ in approach, they all show Valentina has the potential to become the next Marvel Big Bad, leaving Thanos in the dustbin of history.

Valentina and the Dark Avengers

One iteration of the Dark Avengers.Marvel Comics

Considering Valentina’s history with Nick Fury and her ominous statement of “I’ll be in touch,” it certainly seems like she’s assembling a team for some sort of greater purpose. After all, this was supposed to be her second appearance in the MCU after Black Widow, where she may propose a similar deal to one of Natasha’s assassin family or even Taskmaster.

So what sort of team is she assembling? Well, one group has long been speculated as the only logical match for a newly evolved Avengers: the Dark Avengers. Led by Norman Osborn in the Marvel comics, this group could consist of several heavy-hitters, including, potentially, John Walker. They could prove themselves formidable against an Avenger squad trying to piece things together after the loss of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and Natasha Romanoff.

Valentina approaching John Walker combined with the mid-credits scene showing him forge a new Captain America shield all but confirm his transformation into a corrupt counterpart to Sam Wilson’s Captain America, either in the Falcon and the Winter Soldier finale or in a future Marvel property — and based on how she’s positioned in the series this week, Valentina could be along for that ride.

Valentina and the Thunderbolts

The Thunderbolts could be the model for the newest Marvel Big Bad.Marvel Comics

If Valentina is looking for a more discreet evil squad, she could assemble the Thunderbolts.

For those unfamiliar with the Thunderbolts, an overly simplified way of looking at them is this: they are Marvel’s veritable Suicide Squad. Bringing them into the MCU might require a decent measure of finesse to pull off in a way that allows them to co-exist with the Avengers.

While John Walker may have burned up all his goodwill when he killed a terrorist in plain view, perhaps a superheroic forgiveness tour would be what he needed to get his image back — and allow the Thunderbolts some do-gooder clout. All seems doable with Valentina’s deft PR touch, too.

There’s more evidence we could get a Thunderbolt-adjacent story, as well: in the comics, their headquarters was briefly based out of the Raft maximum security prison, which is where the Dora Milaje carted off Zemo in Episode 5. Could that be some early foreshadowing for future Thunderbolts action?

Valentina and the Secret Invasion

Contessa Valentina could actually be Queen Veranke in disguise.Marvel Comics

This one doesn’t have anything to do with Valentina’s character, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not above combining characters if need be — so Valentina could not be Valentina at all, but Veranke, the leader of the Skrulls who worked undercover as Spider-Woman during the infamous Secret Invasion arc of the comics.

We already know Secret Invasion is coming to Disney+, with the storyline teased out in the post-credits scene of Spider-Man: Far From Home and one of the last scenes in WandaVision. However, there is still no leadership to this movement, no face to pin all the villainy on that would rival Thanos.

Contessa Valentina’s comic book role in Secret Invasion was brief but critical: she was a Skrull in disguise who died early on, cluing Nick Fury into the greater threat. There’s no way of knowing if Valentina is in fact a Skrull, but a leak of upcoming Marvel movie Captain Marvel 2 claims Veranke will be the villain. Will Julia Louis-Dreyfus return to her ‘90s roots and appear as both Valentina and Veranke?

While we’re only in the beginning stages of what is bound to be the formation of an all-time Marvel villain, there are already many possibilities as to what Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine could have up her sleeve. Only one thing is for sure: she won’t be able to do it alone.

Read more at our Falcon and Winter Soldier hub.