BY MATT TUCK
Thor better get his mojo back in a hurry because the groundwork is being laid for the Thunderbolts, Dark Avengers, and the Siege of Asgard in the wake of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
When Julia Louis-Dreyfus introduced herself as the Contessa Valentina Allegra (although her first appearance had it spelled Allegro, but I digress) de Fontaine in Episode Five of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, she toppled the first in what could be a string of very important dominoes. By the season finale, we even saw her christen John Walker as U.S. Agent (and the black and red looked great, if I may add). This could very well be the early stages of the MCU’s Dark Reign. If Marvel Studios follows the comics, it will not be a clear path to Dark Avengers, and it will take a turn through Secret Invasion and possibly land on Siege.
It all began with Baron Helmut Zemo in 1997. Under the guise of Citizen V, he formed the Thunderbolts. The squad was made up of Zemo and other villains posing as heroes. They would initially battle the Hulk, but the team had their own series where their true identities were revealed. Later, the team became anti-heroes with a revolving lineup that eventually led to a resurrected Norman Osborn as the commander.
Although the team was most famous under Osborn, it is very likely that we will see Zemo fill that role for the MCU. In the course of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, he seemingly reconciled his past and put his grudges against the Avengers behind him. We last saw him being taken away to a Wakandan prison, though it was obvious he is being saved for another series or movie.
With the MCU Zemo leaning toward being a rehabilitated supervillain, that could make the transition to team leader of the Thunderbolts much easier.
Before there were Dark Avengers, Brian Michael Bendis made the Skrulls much more interesting in Secret Invasion. In the comic crossover, the Skrulls had been systematically replacing Marvel heroes, creating a web of distrust and deceit that tore Earth 616 apart. The Skrull Queen had been impersonating Spider-Woman, and a Norman Osborn-led Thunderbolts joined the fight for the planet.
As the final battle came to a close, it was Norman who delivered the kill shot to the Skrull Queen, thereby making himself a hero in the public eye. The President then chose Norman to rebuild SHIELD, which was in tatters. He renamed the covert organization HAMMER, confiscated Tony Stark’s armory, and suited up as Iron Patriot.
To the public eye, Norman was the hero the world needed in the wake of Civil War and Secret Invasion. Behind the scenes, he was masterminding his own version of the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the Dark Avengers. Like the original Thunderbolts, the Dark Avengers were supervillains posing as superheroes, namely Iron Patriot, Daken, Moonstone, Bullseye, Noh-Var, Mac Gargan’s Venom, Sentry, and Ares. In this case, Norman dressed them up in the heroes’ costumes and portrayed them as the Avengers to an uproar of applause.
DARK REIGN AND SEIGE
With Norman and his Dark Avengers taking up residence in Avengers Tower, it kicked off the next crossover, Dark Reign, in which the villains took over the Marvel Universe. Then came Loki, who persuaded Norman to have the Dark Avengers invade the remains of Asgard that hovered above a small town in Oklahoma. That would result in yet another crossover, Siege, which may be closer to happening in the MCU than you might realize.
With the Contessa, who would become Madame Hydra in the comics, recruiting what we can assume will be her very own superteam, Secret Invasion on the way to Disney+, and with the remains of Asgard on Earth, the pieces of the MCU are being moved into place not only for Dark Reign, but also Siege. Obviously, these events will be toned down for the family-friendly MCU, but it could still add up to another Infinity War-level event.
In the meantime, the two biggest keys out of all this are the first appearances of both the Thunderbolts and the Dark Avengers. Ever since the FATWS finale, these two key issues have been red hot. Looking for your own copies? Here’s what you can expect to pay.
INCREDIBLE HULK #449
Every grade of Hulk #449 has gotten a huge boost, and that’s after it blew up last year following the Thunderbolts rumors began. Once the 9.8 was a $288 comic, but it has now cracked the $1k mark after a record-high $1,100 sale on April 23. Then there is the 9.6, which reached as high as $185 in 2020. Now, that same 9.6 is selling for $500. Even the lowest grade sold this year - the 7.5 - has risen from averaging $46 a year ago to selling for $139 this month.
DARK AVENGERS #1
Between these two comics, Dark Avengers #1 trails behind that first appearance of the Thunderbolts, at least in the standard cover. Still, a 9.8 standard edition has almost tripled in value in just 12 months, selling for as much as $360 in 2021 after earning $131 on average in 2020.
The real money is in the Adi Granov variant cover. A 9.8 of that one matched that Hulk #449 high with a record $1,100 on April 22. Before this year, the Granov variant had never gone over $275.
THE BALL IS IN MOTION
The Contessa’s MCU debut could very well signal the beginning of the puzzle coming together to lead us from Secret Invasion and the Thunderbolts to the Dark Avengers and Seige. Now there is news that Russell Crowe will play Zeus in Thor: Love and Thunder, which could usher in Ares for another Thunderbolts/Dark Avengers clue. If we happen to get any new Norman Osborn rumors, then things will really get exciting.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is also a teacher, freelance writer, comic collector, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.