Call her Val — just not out loud. The latest episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, “Truth,” introduced a new power player into the MCU, and no, not the Power Broker…
For now, putting all further potential identity reveals aside, Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine is more than enough. Her extensive name certainly holds weight. Since early in the season, audiences have been teased with a big guest star appearance for Episode 5. And as fun as Paul Bettany’s gag that launched a hundred WandaVision theories was, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier actually delivers on the promise of a brand-new new face.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus has joined the MCU as Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, who, for all our sakes, will just be referred to as Val or Contessa from here on out. While the appearance undoubtedly sent plenty of viewers scrambling to Google, the character has a long history in Marvel Comics — and much of it has centered around her relationship with the world’s greatest super-spy, as well as one other Marvel hero.
The Contessa and Nick Fury: a history of romance
With the reveal of Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Val came the Twitter trend, “Madame Hydra.” Yet, the character’s identity isn’t so simple. She is neither the first Madame Hydra, or the most prominent character to take on the name.
When Contessa, created by writer/artist Jim Steranko, first appeared in Marvel Comics’ 1967 issue Strange Tales #159, she was as a SHIELD agent who took no pleasure in Nick Fury referring to her as “Lady.”
Despite their rocky start, Nick Fury and Contessa soon became lovers in the pages of Steranko’s Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Born into a wealthy Italian family, Contessa sought to follow in her parents’ footsteps by resisting fascism around the world. Once conscripted into SHIELD, she became one of the agency’s top field agents, often assisting Nick Fury on missions.
The two found their romance sidelined by the swinging sixties. Fury still carried a torch for his ex, Laura Brown, also a SHIELD agent, and Val developed a flirtatious thing with Steve Rogers, Captain America. Val ended up souring Fury and Cap’s friendship for a time, leading the two to come to blows over Val. Though the two men eventually patched things up, Sharon Carter carried a grudge against Val for sinking her claws into her man, which led to a tense relationship between the two as part of SHIELD’S female commando, Femme Force.
While the involvement of Captain America and Sharon Carter in Nick Fury and Val’s romance wouldn’t work in the MCU, the concept of seeing Samuel L. Jackson and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the ‘80s, during the height of SHIELD’S super-spy days, seems too good to pass up for an extended flashback or opening montage. Given the impressive gains Marvel Studios has made in de-aging technology, seen in Ant-Man and Captain Marvel, it would be thrilling to see the MCU employ some Steranko-inspired visuals and give us a look at Fury and Val in their younger days as two spies in love.
What happens with Nick Fury and Contessa in the comics?
Val appeared in the comics far less frequently after the ‘70s, and didn’t become a major player again until 2006. She was assigned to the U.K. where she aided England’s hero Union Jack, and largely fell out of contact with Nick Fury. The spy game isn’t conducive to long-term relationships.
During Secret Invasion, Fury encountered Val again, only for the reunion to be short-lived when it was revealed that she had been captured by the Skrulls, and her identity assumed by one of the aliens. Following the defeat of the Skrulls, the real Val resurfaced. It was revealed in the pages of Secret Warriors that Val was the new Madame Hydra, replacing the most famous character to hold that title, Viper.
But Val was no more an agent of HYDRA than she was an Agent of SHIELD. In fact, it turned out that Val was a Russian sleeper agent from the very beginning, part of the shadowy agency Leviathan. Despite her reveal as a triple agent, Fury and Val’s connection was real, and the old spy couldn’t help but make plans to break his former paramour out of Interpol’s prison.
It’s Val’s recent appearances that may chart the best course for her role in the MCU. HYDRA may be played out for now, but if Val is actually a Russian agent it would make sense for her to appear in Black Widow. And Nick Fury will be leading his own Disney+ series in the near future with Secret Invasion. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Fury and Val reunite for the first time in that series, and to get a better sense of their shared history.
Of course, it’s possible they don’t have a shared history in the MCU ... but who wouldn’t want to see Samuel L. Jackson and Julia Louis-Dreyfus banter and bicker with the leverage of being overly familiar with each other?
It certainly seems Val has her own plans in the MCU, recruiting anti-heroes in a similar fashion to Fury’s recruitment of the Avengers. But what’s her endgame? Thunderbolts? Dark Avengers? Something else? Whatever it is, there are few ways better to really stick it to your ex than doing their job better than they did. If we’re lucky, the future of the MCU may be hanging on the outcome of a bitter breakup between two of Earth’s best spies.
Falcon and Winter Soldier is streaming on Disney+ right now.