WARNING: This article contains spoilers from the second episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Patience. Planning. Execution.
Through the MCU's' 13 years of existence, Marvel Studios CCO Kevin Feige has expertly executed rich narratives while also peppering them with hints of what's to come. From Thor's hammer appearing in Iron Man 2's post-credits scene to Black Panther villain Ulysses Klaue making his presence known in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel has been keen on planting seeds towards characters they intend to sprout down the line.
With Phase 4 in full swing, the MCU has already begun to make numerous nods to a certain teenage team-up.
WandaVision introduced Billy and Tommy Maximoff, also known as Wiccan and Speed. Hawkeye is set to star Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop. America Chavez is coming in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Recent reports point towards Kid Loki showing up in Loki this June. An older Cassie Lang has been cast for Ant-Man: Quantumania.
Only two of those characters have been seen on screen, and they all have yet to interact. But if this chessboard is to be analyzed, all signs point to Marvel Studios setting up a roster of Young Avengers.
ANOTHER YOUNG AVENGER DEBUTS
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's second episode introduced audiences to a quiet grandfather-grandson duo not interested in interacting with outsiders.
This pair is Isaiah and Eli Bradley, two familial faces immensely integrated into the comic history of the star-spangled man. On the page, Isaiah operated as the Black Captain America, while Eli would eventually go by The Patriot.
These two may have popped up for mere minutes, but the implications of their introductions are massive. In order to understand Eli, we first need to catch up on his grandfather.
WHO IS ISAIAH BRADLEY?
Isn't that the question of the day?
In the latest episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Isaiah's history was explained very vaguely. He had a run-in with the Winter Soldier during the Korean War in 1951, where Isaiah was sent by the United States military to "deal with" Hydra's expert assassin. Isaiah explains that he "took half that metal arm in that fight in Goyang," indicating that Bucky's Captain America: Civil War injury wasn't the first time he lost his prosthetic limb.
Isaiah goes on to explain that he was put in jail for thirty years for being a hero. During that time, Isaiah was subject to tests and had his blood taken, likely without his consent. After he orders Sam and Bucky to leave, Sam demands to know why this is the first time he's learning of Isaiah. Bucky reveals he told no one, including Steve Rogers, because Isaiah "had already been through enough."
While Kevin Feige has explicitly stated the MCU will never do beat-for-beat adaptations, the comics do serve as "inspiration and [their] guide point." That said, fans can look towards the page to fill in some of Isaiah's gaps.
In the comics, Isaiah Bradley was one of hundreds of forcibly-recruited African-Americans used as test subjects for more Super Soldier Serum. As the only lab rat to survive, Isaiah carried out numerous missions, minus the pizazz and pageantry of being a superhero. Frustrated with his role, Isaiah would steal a Cap suit and shield for a mission that saw him get captured. When he was rescued, the government subjected him to solitary confinement for going AWOL and impersonating their precious star-spangled hero.
Isaiah's pained MCU memories line up with the comics. His "thirty years" in prison for just being a hero might be in reference to his AWOL moment on the page.
As Sam mentions in this show's first trailer, "the legacy of that shield is... complicated." Isaiah's introduction puts substance behind that statement, and it's only going to get richer from here.
A FUTURE LEADING MAN
As for the unnamed grandson, Elijah Richardson's character is primed to be a major player going forward.
Richardson is playing Eli Bradley, or as he's eventually known on the page, The Patriot. Introduced in Young Avengers #1, Eli was quickly certified as the leader of the adolescent squad. Eli split leadership duties with Cassie Lang and Kate Bishop, two characters set to be introduced later in Phase 4.
A fairly standard origin story, right? Well, not exactly.
On the page, Eli tells his teenage teammates that his powers came as a result of a blood transfusion from his grandfather. In reality, Eli was injecting the mutant growth hormone into his body. With The Falcon and the Winter Soldier set to head to Madripoor in a future episode, a location heavily-tied to the X-Men, there's every possibility that Eli's superhero substance could be introduced this season.
GRANDSON TODAY, SUPER SOLDIER TOMORROW?
Circling back to Feige's quote about comics being inspiration, not full-on adaptations, Eli's origins will likely deter a bit from the X-ties. That said, this episode did show the Flag Smashers loading up cargo trucks with "vaccines."
Considering these Thanos sympathizers are enhanced individuals, there's reason to believe their added strength comes from the same substance that Steve Rogers utilized. These "vaccines" cargo crates could be a red herring, as those containers could actually be holding Super Soldier Serum.
If Super Soldier Serum is set to make its return in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the pieces are in place to transform Eli into The Patriot.
Going off the age-old dramatic principle of Chekhov's gun, if a pistol is placed on stage, it must be fired. If it's not going to be used, it shouldn't be shown. If Super Soldier Serum shows up in this star-spangled series, someone has got to take a dose. Names like John Walker and Lemar Hoskins come to mind as potentially interested subjects, but there isn't a character more tailor-made to take the superhero substance than Eli Bradley.
THE PIECES ARE IN PLACE
It may not be next episode or even this season, but Eli Bradley is being set up to become The Patriot.
Numerous other Young Avengers are sprinkled into various Phase 4 projects, and their impending arrivals are no coincidence. It could be years before fans see this teenage team-up, but it won't be long until viewers are familiar with various members of the junior Earth's Mightiest Heroes roster.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's second episode is streaming now, exclusively on Disney+.