With Hawkeye striking out on his own in a world where many heroes have been killed, Avengers 4 may just sow the seeds for the Thunderbolts. It's been said that Avengers 4 will be more shocking than Avengers: Infinity War, which makes sense given it will be the culmination of the entire MCU to date. But with how this year's team-up ended, it's hard to imagine what the follow-up will do to raise the stakes. After all, many of the fallen heroes will be returning ahead of new solo movies, so some real consequences need to be introduced.
Much of the surprising plot in Avengers 4 may end up revolving around Hawkeye. Clint Barton was completely absent from Avengers: Infinity War, but we know Hawkeye will get a spotlight next year. In fact, rumors have swirled that he may have suffered a devastating loss, meaning his family could have been wiped out with the snap of Thanos' fingers. That means a darker take on Hawkeye could be on the horizon, one that will see him take up some version of his Ronin mantle from the comics.
As with much of Avengers 4, we don't know a lot about what Hawkeye's story will entail. Rumors have emerged that Avengers 4 will include the Skrulls and it will be Hawkeye and Black Widow who are charged with hunting them down. Not only would this tie in the events of Captain Marvel, but it would add a layer of espionage to the film that would align Avengers 4 with the themes of the previous Russo Brothers movies in the MCU. For now, however, that's all speculation. Avengers 4 will already have its hands full picking up the story post-Infinity War and setting up Phase 4 of the MCU. So while the Skrulls could be a big part of that, we're also likely to see the teasing of new heroes and villains altogether.
Enter The Thunderbolts
Back in 1997, the Marvel Universe in the comics was devastated by Onslaught, leaving many of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four dead. With that gap in the superhero community, new faces emerged, but so did new villainous plots. While both version of Baron Zemo spent decades fighting Captain America, Helmut came up with one of the more ingenious plots for any rogue in the comics. Pulling together a number of low-level supervillains, he had their names and costumes changed and posed them as a new team of superheroes. Leading the group as Citizen V, Zemo premiered the Thunderbolts as a modern and media-savvy group that was all too willing to step into the shoes of the fallen heroes of Earth.
Over time, the group was outed, but many of the villains actually turned against Zemo and become reluctant heroes. Thunderbolts 2.0 involved these reformed villains trying to do good. But to keep them on the up and up, an Avenger stepped in to guide them. Hawkeye's time working with the Thunderbolts saw members like Beetle and Screaming Mimi transition fully to the heroes Mach-I (eventually becoming Mach-II, III, etc) and Songbird. Hawkeye would then leave the group and over the years they'd grow to look more like the Suicide Squad. Some old members stuck around, while new recruits included criminals like Crossbones and Juggernaut who were trying to get time off their sentence. Bucky and Luke Cage have also both led the team, meaning the Thunderbolts have a foot in both the current film and TV side of the MCU.
Despite the other leaders the team has had, the Thunderbolts remain a big part of Hawkeye's backstory. The current Old Man Hawkeye story even sees Hawkeye killing his former teammates after they revert to villainy in an alternate future. All of this points out how likely it is that if the Thunderbolts ever join the MCU, Hawkeye will be involved.
Like Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers 4 won't have a ton of time to introduce new characters. But it's clear that the future of the MCU will be teased in the new movie. With it described as bigger and bolder than the first film, Avengers 4 is sure to tease out the next MCU team of heroes, and the Thunderbolts are one with plenty of mileage. Thanks to their various iterations, there's a lot Marvel could do with the team. Avengers 4 could see Zemo freed from prison in the chaos, finally taking a more theatrical approach to being a villain in the wake of Thanos' war. With so many heroes dead, the Thunderbolts could emerge as one of several new groups of superheroes around the world. Hawkeye could then have a run-in with them during one of his missions, setting up their future together.
Avengers: Infinity War proved a villain like Red Skull could come back after years of being absent. Therefore, it seems unlikely we'll never see Zemo again. With a tease in Avengers 4, Phase 4 of the MCU could fully dive into this mysterious new group of heroes only to reveal they're actually villains. From there, Hawkeye could step in as a mentor for another movie that could set up a darker franchise with a revolving roster of characters. Another possibility is a proper movie/TV crossover, with Luke Cage leading the team in a Thunderbolts streaming series that lets the show be a bit more mature. Hawkeye could then cameo, tying things together in a bigger way than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is able to.
Fans have spent years clamoring for a Thunderbolts movie or TV series, and Marvel seems destined to make one of these happen. The group and their founding members keep popping up in the comics, and the foundation exists for them to arrive in the MCU. Next year's film will have plenty on its plate, but idea of seeding the Thunderbolts for Phase 4 of the MCU seems like a strong possibility for Avengers 4.
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