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'Falcon and Winter Soldier': Flag-Smashers radically transform a classic Marvel villain

“When things get better for one group, they get worse for another”

Creating a villain is a fine art.

They have to be realistic, but not relatable. Evil, but not abhorrent. Do it poorly, and you end up in the annals of one-shot Batman villains. Do it well, and you’ll go down in history next to Thanos and the Joker.

But what do you do when the hero isn’t convinced they can take down the villain — or, even worse, isn’t sure if the villain exists at all?

That’s the premise presented by the Flag-Smashers in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. A vintage Captain America villain from Marvel Comics, Flag-Smasher has been reimagined as a terrifying organization, one that not only challenges Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson and Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes, but the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe writ large.

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Flag-Smashers and the internet

Torres finds a hidden Flag-Smashers logo in Tunisia.Marvel Entertainment

In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, The Flag-Smashers are mentioned in the same breath as conspiracy theories. Sam Wilson’s new friend Joaquin obviously doesn’t think they pose a serious threat, little more than a fringe group found on message boards with a strange mindset. The Flag-Smashers think things were better before the Blip, that the world was better off decimated. So they plan to restore that status quo by fighting for the abolition of borders and nationalism.

Sam is dubious about this. “When things get better for one group, they get worse for another,” he says. But he wants Joaquin to keep an eye on the “online chatter.”

It’s not typical for a Marvel villain to exist as a group of “activists” organized on an online forum. However, that could be the exact thing the MCU is missing. A massive, organized group of regular citizens battling one or two superheroes hasn’t been done before.

This isn’t Hydra. This is something scarier.

Who is Flag-Smasher in Marvel?

The same logo on a mask in the Falcon and Winter Soldier trailer.Marvel Entertainment

In the comics, Flag-Smasher was just one angry man. Embittered by the loss of his diplomat father, he works through his grief by plunging the world into anarchy, hoping to achieve world peace through one unified nation. He doesn’t get far on his own.

But what if someone like Flag-Smasher could amplify his message — what if he could take it online?

The mob mentality is a strong motivator. It’s capable of things supervillains can only dream of achieving through sheer manpower. As depicted in Falcon and Winter Soldier, Flag-Smashers are effectively Marvel’s Anonymous. They wield unknown power, are scattered all over the world, pride themselves on their mystery, and are known for their trademark masks.

How the Flag-Smashers change the MCU

Flag-Smasher explains his anarchic ideals in Captain America #312.Marvel Comics

In the comics, Flag-Smasher is a villain tailor-made for the MCU. While Captain America’s persona is built on patriotism and hope in America, Flag-Smasher wants to tear down the very institution of nationalism. Unlike Cap’s past clashes with Nazis, this isn’t a fight of one empire vs. another. It’s a fight of empire vs. anarchy.

It’s bitterly ironic that Steve Rogers’ most extreme opposite appears as soon as he’s gone. The Flag-Smashers’ rise serves to underline Steve’s loss. There’s nobody that could defeat them like the Captain America we knew and loved.

So. Who is going to step into his shoes?

Why Falcon needs the Flag-Smashers

Sam deals with Steve’s reputation literally looming over him.Marvel Entertainment

As Flag-Smasher in the comics was tailor-made for Steve Rogers, the Flag-Smashers of Falcon and Winter Soldier are tailor-made for Sam Wilson. The Blip took everything from Sam. His sister and his nephews are struggling. Even the famous flying hero who announced the turning of the tide in Avengers: Endgame can’t help his loved ones in the fight against systemic oppression against the economic toll of billions of people reappearing after 5 years spent on the fringe of existence.

Sam may have issues supporting his country, seeing how it betrayed him, his family, and his old friend’s legacy. Indeed, the U.S. government has chosen to honor Sam’s friend by replacing him with a bootleg Cap. Sam Wilson is the real deal. He was there with Steve Rogers on so many battlefields. If anyone should carry the Shield, it’s Sam.

In his heart, Sam knows he’s the real deal. First, he needs to accept that. Only then can he reframe what it is a hero called Captain America stands for.

Even at this early stage, Falcon and Winter Soldier has the villains out in full force. Between the Flag-Smashers, the new Captain America, Sam’s self-doubt, and Bucky’s nightmares, there’s no telling what will emerge as the most immediate threat. But in fighting the Flag-Smashers, Sam Wilson can kill two birds with one stone — and defeat his own inner demons, too.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is now streaming on Disney+.

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