Fans of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have been treated to a number of surprises this season, starting with the inclusion of Ghost Rider and continuing through the LMD cycle. Now they’ve gotten their first real glimpse of the Framework as well, the twisted alternate-reality simulation where evil is good and Grant Ward is actually a pretty okay person. It’s obvious from what’s been shown so far that there are a lot more secrets hiding in the Framework, possibly including some major character reveals.
While the Framework is just a virtual-reality simulation, it appears to be a pretty in-depth one so far. The big question is just how far down the rabbit hole goes — how much of the MCU did Radcliffe manage to cram into his simulation? Are there Avengers in the Framework, for example, and will we get hints about them in future episodes? Let’s look at what we know so far.
Agents of HYDRA
Within the Framework, much of what we know about the MCU seems to be inverted. Good guys are bad, bad guys are good and a number of established relationships no longer exist. Hydra is in control, and it has managed to manipulate events so it can wage an all-out war against the Inhumans. Even some of the heroes of S.H.I.E.L.D. are loyal Hydra operatives in the Framework, and for the most part society couldn’t be happier.
This is part of what makes the idea of Avengers within the Framework seem interesting, because with only a couple of exceptions the Avengers roster would likely have accepted Hydra as part of the status quo years ago. Hawkeye and Black Widow were part of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the movies, so it’s entirely possible that they’re Hydra agents within the Framework. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner may have some Hydra associations too, though their research may have gone in significantly different directions in the Framework’s timeline.
The MCU’s Captain Hydra?
Of course, just because some Avengers might be involved with Hydra in the Framework doesn’t mean that all of them will be. Captain America is the most obvious choice for someone who would fight back against Hydra, since we can assume that Project: Rebirth was put into effect well before Hydra seized control of everything. That doesn’t mean that Cap would be clear of Hydra’s influence in the Framework, however; even if he wasn’t corrupted by the organization prior to Rebirth, it’s likely that Hydra would be the one to recover his body and would attempt to brainwash him upon his return.
This could make the Framework version of Captain America similar to the current “Hydra Cap” in the comics, despite his opposition of Hydra during World War II. Of course, given the twisted nature of the Framework, it’s possible that Hydra operatives in its reality had a greater amount of control over Project: Rebirth and his role in WWII was largely just a cover for his true allegiances.
Framework Nick Fury
Another person associated with the Avengers who seems unlikely to join forces with Hydra is Nick Fury. Unlike Captain America, however, it’s likely that Fury is still opposed to Hydra even within the confines of the Framework. Even though many within the Framework are the stark opposite of who they are in the “real world” of the MCU, Fury’s single-mindedness and loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D. could easily have him still fighting the good fight while the rest of the world’s gone crazy.
If Fury were active within the Framework, it might be similar to the “Project: Avengers” storyline in the Ultimate Marvel imprint. In the comics, Captain America had gone rogue and Fury recruited a few “questionable” heroes to serve as a retrieval team. While the circumstances would be different within the Framework, a man as resourceful as Fury would certainly have the means to track down alternate individuals to fill out the ranks of an anti-Hydra Avengers team.
The Other Avengers
Things would likely be pretty different for Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Thor in the Framework. It’s possible that Stark never became Iron Man at all, since Hydra’s emergence may have altered military actions (thus not putting him in the position to be captured and become Iron Man), and even if he did, he would be “recruited” by Hydra and not S.H.I.E.L.D. Hydra’s presence may have affected Banner’s research in the Framework, changing up the precise events that led to him becoming the Hulk in the first place; even if he did emerge as the Hulk, Hydra would likely have sought a way to make him a weapon instead of going for a gentler recruitment like S.H.I.E.L.D. used.
As for Thor, his story may have ended quite differently. While Hydra would likely have taken great interest in his hammer when it fell to Earth, his attempted retrieval of the hammer would have played out much differently. Project Insight showed us that Hydra isn’t necessarily keen on superpowered individuals running around who aren’t in their employ, and Thor isn’t likely to play along with Hydra’s plans. Best-case scenario, he returned to Asgard and decided to stay out of things.
Bringing the Team Together
While it’s entirely possible that the individual Avengers exist somewhere out there in the Framework, would there be any reason for them to actually come together as an Avengers team? The original Avengers didn’t actually start working together until the death of Phil Coulson, and the Coulson of the Framework is significantly different than the man we knew from the MCU films. Or is he?
We’ve seen hints that Coulson may be “waking up” in the Framework, but some of those hints are more than just comments made by characters; the way that the references to Tahiti were presented suggests that there is something in Framework Coulson’s past that he doesn’t remember (and that Hydra might not want him to remember). Whether this was related to the Avengers or possibly even just S.H.I.E.L.D. remains to be seen, but the references seem a bit too blatant for it to just be his “awakening.”
Will We Ever Know?
Of course, even if the Avengers exist within the Framework (either as a team or individually), it’s not like they’re going to show up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a small-screen adventure. That doesn’t mean that we might not get references to them, however. If the show really wants to paint the Framework as a dark mirror of the MCU, it’s entirely possible (if not likely) that there will be at least some throwaway reference to one or more of the Avengers. This reference would most likely come from Coulson himself, though it could also wind up being just an Easter egg hidden somewhere in the show.