Marvel could reinvent and completely redefine the MCU's Phase 4 - and potentially beyond - by introducing the Dark Avengers. The first three phases of the MCU have been an unparalleled success, culminating in the dramatic events of Avengers: Endgame. It's possible Marvel will never try to make a film on that kind of scale again; it was a logistical nightmare to manage the schedules of so many A-list actors. The MCU is continuing to expand at an incredible rate, which means the next Avengers film could be even harder to coordinate.
Of course, that doesn't mean the Avengers franchise is over. In fact, according to Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, Marvel already knows the Avengers 5 team roster. It's meant to be a different incarnation of the iconic superhero team, one that consists of characters people have already seen and some that they haven't yet. At this stage, the most sensible approach would be to subvert the brand in some way, reinvigorating it by ensuring Avengers 5 doesn't just seem like the next superhero team-up.
Fortunately, the last 50+ years worth of Avengers comics have set a lot of precedents. One of the most exciting of these is the Dark Avengers, a twisted version of the superhero team actually composed of supervillains; and there have been rumors Marvel has already completed a first treatment of a Dark Avengers script.
The Dark Avengers Are One Of Marvel's Most Interesting Concepts
The Dark Avengers were assembled in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 "Secret Invasion" event. That saw Norman Osborn, aka the Green Goblin, unexpectedly propelled to a place of global influence as the head of SHIELD. He swiftly rebranded SHIELD as HAMMER, reforming the organization, and chose to launch his own version of the Avengers Initiative. Osborn recruited two former Avengers, the warlike Ares and the schizophrenic Sentry, and then added a number of major villains into the mix. He recruited Bullseye as Hawkeye, Moonstone as Ms. Marvel, Wolverine's son Daken as the new Wolverine, and Mac Gargan's Venom as Spider-Man. Osborn himself suited up in a re-styled Iron Man armor as the so-called Iron Patriot.
What followed was one of the best periods in Marvel Comics history, the so-called "Dark Reign" era. The heroes were on the back foot, with the world's most dangerous supervillains now in power. Their morality was tested as never before. While the real Avengers naturally attempted to resist, they had to decide just how far they'd go. Hawkeye went the furthest, even making an assassination attempt upon Osborn. In the end, the escalating crises led Osborn to suffer a mental breakdown, and he committed all his forces to launch an attack on Asgard itself. The assembled superheroes and Asgardians repelled said invasion, at a terrible cost, and managed to expose Osborn's insanity on television.
Marvel Studios Is Introducing Potential Dark Avengers
The Black Widow movie actually introduces no less than three potential Dark Avengers. Florence Pugh will play Yelena Belova, Natasha Romanoff's successor as Black Widow, and a character loosely associated with one of Osborn's Dark Avengers sub-teams. David Harbour is playing Red Guardian, who in the comics is essentially the Russian Captain America - right down to wielding a shield. And the film is confirmed to introduce Taskmaster, a supervillain with the power to mimic any skill he sees - meaning he or she could easily pick up a bow and arrow as another Hawkeye.
The pattern is continuing beyond Black Widow, too. The Falcon and Winter Soldier Disney+ TV series will introduce Wyatt Russell as the US Agent, the man chosen by the US Government to wield the shield as the next Captain America. He proved mentally unfit for the role, suffering a breakdown and becoming a murderer before he was neutralized by Steve Rogers. Presumably that story is going to be rewritten a little, with Falcon and the Winter Soldier taking the US Agent down. He could easily return as a Dark Avengers version of Cap. Interestingly, Marvel's tendency to introduce mirror-image supervillains means there are other potential copycats out there. The Abomination survived The Incredible Hulk, and could become a Hulk equivalent, and Baron Mordo is a powerful enough sorcerer to substitute for Doctor Strange.
Marvel Would Need To Change Norman Osborn
In the comics, the leader of the Dark Avengers was Norman Osborn, and unfortunately, that poses something of a problem for this idea. Osborn is traditionally a Spider-Man villain, which means his film rights are owned by Sony Pictures. Marvel's Spider-Man deal with Sony has broken down, and as a result the studio no longer has the option of introducing Osborn in the MCU. There are ways to get round this, of course; Marvel could simply switch things up a little, placing another billionaire industrialist supervillain in the driving seat. Sam Rockwell is open to returning as Justin Hammer, Tony Stark's rival in Iron Man 2. It's not hard to imagine a scenario where the disgraced billionaire sought a fake-redemption and wound up running his own Avengers Initiative.
The Dark Reign Era Would Be Perfect For The MCU
It's certainly not hard to see why Marvel Studios would opt doing the "Dark Reign" era. The concept was a fascinating one, loose enough for every comic book across the Marvel range to explore it in a different way. What's more, the heroes frequently came off the worse from their encounters with members of the Dark Avengers or Norman Osborn's HAMMER unit; the stakes felt higher than ever before. Meanwhile, the Dark Avengers comic itself felt like a crazy House of Mirrors version of a normal Avengers book, with the supervillains struggling to restrain their base natures in order to keep the fraud going. Every single member of the team knew that Osborn wouldn't be able to keep it up for long, and was aware he was cracking under the strain. That meant there was a strange sense of inevitability to his fall. Readers felt as though they were watching a car crash in slow motion; it was just a matter of waiting to see how much damage Osborn did along the way.
Marvel Studios could take a similar approach, with the "Dark Reign" era kicking off in Phase 4 and dominating Phase 5, just as the overarching narrative of the Infinity Stones became dominant in Phases 1 through 3. As with the comics, the idea is loose enough to allow writers and directors to have their own unique visions of how things will work out, and it could all build to a head in a Dark Avengers movie in which the supervillains' empire came crashing down.
- Black Widow (2020) release date: May 01, 2020
- Eternals (2020) release date: Nov 06, 2020
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) release date: Feb 12, 2021
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2021) release date: May 07, 2021
- Thor: Love and Thunder (2021) release date: Nov 05, 2021
- Black Panther 2 (2022) release date: May 06, 2022