Who watches the Watchmen?
Ok, wrong comic book universe. But still, it’s a question that always warrants asking when it comes to contemporary approaches to superheroes. Especially when they become extensions of law enforcement.
What kinds of checks and balances should be in place to make sure superheroes work for the public’s best interest? When does that system infringe on their personal rights? And who exactly is deciding what’s in the best interest of the public anyway? These questions were central to the dispute over the Sokovia Accords in Captain America: Civil War.
In the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame, the Sokovia Accords were repealed, as revealed in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. It’s not particularly surprising, given that the split between the Avengers over the accords ultimately led to their defeat (and the temporary death of half the universe’s population in Avengers: Infinity War).
But it also means that superheroes no longer have to be registered. They can accrue mass amounts of destruction and casualties without a legal precedent to hold them responsible. That’s certainly going to put a bee in the bonnet of the Accords’ biggest proponent and enforcer: Secretary Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross.
So, who will keep the Avengers of the world in check as official government super-soldiers? Who will watch the Watchmen? It seems that responsibility will fall on a team of anti-heroes collectively known as the Thunderbolts.
THE GUTTER is an exploration of the concepts, criticisms, and curiosities that live between the panels of comic books and their adaptations.
Meet the Thunderbolts
With the announcement of a Thunderbolts feature from director Jake Schreier, speculation has circled around what the purpose the team will serve. The team itself includes:
- Black Widow (Florence Pugh)
- Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan)
- U.S. Agent (Wyatt Russell)
- Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen)
- Red Guardian (David Harbour)
- Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko)
- Valentina Allegra de fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus)
Given the roster, it’s obvious the team will be super-soldier-heavy. The film will undoubtedly reveal what it is exactly that Val has been up to over the course of her various cameo appearances, including positioning Yelena to kill Clint Barton.
Given the name “Thunderbolts,” it’s heavily speculated that the team will be named after Secretary Ross’ moniker. It was originally believed the team would be founded as a result of his death, following the passing of William Hurt who portrayed Ross across five films. But more recently it was announced that Harrison Ford will inherit the role and play a significant part in both Captain America: New World Order and Thunderbolts.
Since his MCU debut in The Incredible Hulk, Ross has acquired scientists and soldiers in an attempt to re-create the super-soldier serum. To what end?
Thunderbolts vs. Avengers
Unlike the comics, this version of the Thunderbolts isn’t comprised of villains posing as good guys, but anti-heroes who will just be themselves. Of course, there will still be plenty of big egos and in-fighting. In other words, it will be just like the Avengers.
The difference, however, is in how far these “heroes” are willing to go to complete their mission. These are killers, and Ross and Val both know that killers make for great soldiers, not superheroes.
Based on the line-up, Thunderbolts may emphasize espionage and wet work, destabilizing other countries, and doing what the Avengers would never want to sully their hands with. In many ways, the team might be the very thing that Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) feared the Avengers would become. This makes it particularly interesting given that, in the comics, Zemo, founded the Thunderbolts while most of the world’s heroes were in another dimension.
It seems unlikely that the MCU iteration of Zemo would join their ranks, but perhaps he’ll be the adversary the team is forced to contend with — assuming he breaks out of prison again. Just to wildly speculate here, perhaps he really takes the Baron title to heart and becomes the leader of Sokovia, a country that in the MCU may not be so far away from Latveria and a certain dictator named Victor von Doom.
Sure, I’m a little Doom obsessed. But wouldn’t it be right up Ross’ ally to stoke a war between Sokovia and Latveria using the Thunderbolts? Of course, that plan would backfire and the two villains could unite their armies and turn their attention on America.
Wrath of the Red Hulk
Where the comics might figure in is the crisis of conscience some of the Thunderbolts might face. Some characters will more than likely have no problem taking down dictators, even if they have no interest in American opportunism. Others, like Yelena and Winter Soldier (rumored to be the main focus of the film), will certainly be conscious of Val’s ulterior motives and may even be double agents for the Avengers.
Whatever the case, the Thunderbolts’ mission is almost guaranteed not to go the way Ross plans because super-powered individuals are ever-unpredictable. (Especially these ones.) This would set the stage for Ross to take matters into his own hands and inject himself with a super-soldier serum. At last, Marvel fans would have their long-anticipated debut of the Red Hulk, a sinister, calculating Hulk who burns hotter the angrier he gets.
With Red Hulk posing a global threat and perhaps even positioning himself as a possible tyrant, the Thunderbolts, led by Yelena, would be forced to combat Ross and take down their former boss. While there’s surely some desire among fans to see the team take on the Avengers, I believe that the Thunderbolts only exist because a new version of the Avengers will have yet to materialize at this point. So while they may have been created to keep superheroes in check, with the Avengers away, the Thunderbolts will play.
As one of the final entries of Phase 5, it seems likely that Thunderbolts, following Captain America: New World Order will change the political landscape of the MCU, leaving the world very different when the Avengers do re-form in Phase 6.
Perhaps a world hurdling towards its end? Sounds like a problem only the world’s smartest man could solve? We’ll talk about Reed Richards’ potential role in all of this next time on The Gutter!
Thunderbolts hits theaters on July 26, 2024.