Warning - This article contains spoilers for "Episode 3" of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is halfway through its six episode run, continuing Sam and Bucky's adventures to stop the Flag-Smashers and their plans to cause a whole lot of trouble.
To do that, they recruited an unlikely ally in former foe Baron Helmut Zemo, who returns from Captain America: Civil War. Zemo smooth talked and fist bumped his way onto the scene, reminding fans why he is one of the greatest villains seen in the MCU so far.
And with great villains comes great evil schemes, which begs the question: what is Zemo planning now? While the Avengers reunited in an all-out jaunt to face off against Thanos, the team has become somewhat fragmented once again. With heroes scattered across the globe and the galaxy, the impact of Zemo's original plot to split up Earth's Mightiest Heroes seems to have lingered.
Wanda Maximoff is on the run after her sitcom shenanigans, Sam and Bucky are working outside the law once again, Thor and the Guardians are off-world, and Hulk is probably trying to figure out what to do with his messed up arm. So how can Zemo capitalize on a divided Avengers team?
In the comics, Baron Zemo is perhaps most well-known for forming the Thunderbolts. The group is a team of supervillains who posed as heroes when the Avengers were presumed dead.
What better way to rid of superheroes than to become one? If anything, as Syndrome said, "when everyone's super, no one will be."
Despite Earth's Mightiest Heroes saving half the universe, the world doesn't seem too grateful for their efforts. The US government has already proven this through how quickly they were to get a new Captain America, more interested in the symbol than the person behind the mantle.
It is clear that if the Avengers won't comply, the governments of the world are quite comfortable replacing them with people that they can control. Zemo may offer that in the form of the Thunderbolts, a team of heroes that the world's leaders have 'full control over.'
Despite Zemo being a terrorist and a pretty terrible bloke, perhaps the global powers of the world would be willing to accept a new 'superhero' team led by the Sokovian baron. After all, if a hero like Wanda Maximoff can't be trusted to keep her powers in check, a reformed villain has about an equal chance of convincing the world to rely on his team.
A tease from one of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's writers could indicate that certain characters may make a return. Derek Kolstad mentioned that characters from "the earliest Marvel movies" would be included in the show and be reinvented "in a way that’s gonna shift the storytelling structure." While it is unclear who is being referred to, it might be possible that early MCU characters like Justin Hammer and Abomination could make a grand reappearance as a part of Zemo's Thunderbolts.
Zemo's return in "Power Broker" also featured a few signs that could lead to the formation of the MCU's Thunderbolts...
LIFE ON THE OUTSIDE
With Zemo being busted out of prison, it is highly likely that he's out for good. Sam and Bucky have threatened the villain with locking him back up, but it would seem a bit anticlimactic for Zemo to just end up behind bars by the show's finale. One way or another, Zemo's going to make the most of his time out of his big concrete box.
And he's not just going to occupy his time with clubbing, even though he's clearly dying for a proper night out. Zemo has around eight to nine years to catch up on, so he'll have plenty to do once he's broken off from his superhero compatriots.
If the Flag-Smashers are thwarted at the end of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, then Zemo will have many other targets to set his sights on. Luckily for him, he has the resources to take them down...
"Power Broker" reminded viewers that Helmut Zemo is in fact a baron, meaning there's a hefty fortune that he can rely on. Zemo could be positioned as the Tony Stark of the group, funding the Thunderbolts' activities and expenditures. Perhaps Zemo could even offer a more stable Thunderbolt paycheck than the Avengers received.
Not only would this convince some no-good supervillains to join forces with Zemo, but it could also help to win over government bodies if he is making a sizable investment. Either that or Zemo could buy off the powers that be to operate how he wants to.
Deep pockets may not necessarily be reserved for team expenses though. Marvel Studios has slowly worked their way towards Zemo's iconic comic book look, adorning him with his classic purple mask.
One notable accessory missing from his ensemble is his golden crown, which is a notable aspect of his Thunderbolt costume. Zemo is known to be self-serving, so a selfish purchase on a bit of bling may not be out of the realm of possibility.
While Zemo will undoubtedly be the self-aggrandized leader of this villainous supergroup, he'll need some subordinates to fill out the team's roster...
AN AMICABLE WORK ENVIRONMENT
Captain America: Civil War presented Zemo as a lone wolf, focused on achieving his selfish, vengeance-fueled goal. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, on the other hand, has established the villain as being more open to collaboration. Nine years locked in a cell will probably do that to you.
If Zemo is now willing to work with former adversaries, there's a good chance that he would cooperate with people who are more on his wavelength. "Power Broker" showed that Zemo wasn't all bad, even if he's killed a lot of people. He's shown himself to be a man of culture, which is just the sort of counterbalance you need on a team of murderous supervillains.
That isn't to say that Zemo doesn't have his own agenda though. The villain was very eager to get rid of Nagel and his new Super Soldier Serum, not caring for the safety of his temporary allies. A team of Thunderbolts may allow Zemo to pick off the remaining superheroes, but he'll betray and backstab anyone that gets in the way of his goal.
Zemo tried pitting the Avengers against each other, which worked to some extent. But a team of reformed supervillains that can match Earth's Mightiest Heroes may stand a better chance at wiping out the Avengers for good.
So who would be willing to help Zemo with his hero-ending escapades?
BATROC THE LEAPER
What does every supervillain team need? A guy that can jump pretty well. Luckily, Batroc's got you covered.
Fans don't have to look too far to find Georges Batroc, since he returned for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's premiere. "New World Order" made a point of showing that the cavorting criminal made his escape, so there is a good chance that he could show up again. Perhaps Batroc will be on Zemo's list of potential recruits.
Batroc the Leaper also has a history with the Thunderbolts in the comics. During the "Civil War" storyline, supervillains were offered the chance to join the Thunderbolts or be sent to prison. Batroc was one of many to join the Thunderbolts Army, which could add credence to his inclusion on the team.
Taskmaster is the only individual here that has yet to be in a released Marvel project. However, the villain could be a valuable asset to a Thunderbolts team.
Possessing the fighting techniques of many MCU characters including Spider-Man, Winter Soldier, and Iron Man, Taskmaster would be able to fill any role necessary. Knowing these individuals inside and out will also help if the Thunderbolts need to hunt down the heroes of the Marvel universe, providing them with key information about their exploitable weaknesses.
Nine years on from their first in-universe appearance in 2016, it is unknown whether the character will still be kicking about. Knowing Zemo though, it won't be difficult for him to draw Taskmaster out of the woodwork.
Like Batroc, Taskmaster was one of the villains to join Helmut Zemo's Thunderbolts Army, so a place on the team wouldn't be out of the question.
There's no way that a villainous group would be allowed to operate unmonitored. That's where Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross comes in, who could oversee the group's activities to keep them in check. Ross was also one of the major enforcers of the Sokovia Accords, so perhaps he could also use the team for his own agenda to rough up any rogue supers.
Or, of course, you could always bring in the big guy. Thunderbolt Ross is best known for his transformation into the Red Hulk in the comics, which has almost made it onto screen countless times. Maybe it's finally time for William Hurt to truly Hulk out.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier included a sly reference to Ross in the credits for "New World Order," possibly indicating that the character could make an appearance in the series or later down the line (outside of Black Widow).
Plus, his name is Thunderbolt. It's a no-brainer.
If Red Hulk is unavailable, the Thunderbolts will need some muscle. That's where Abomination comes in.
Emil Blonsky has been absent from the MCU since The Incredible Hulk, so it would be truly exciting to see him rear his bony head again. It is unclear where he has been all this time but is likely that he has been locked away to prevent him from causing further havoc.
A position on the Thunderbolts team would ultimately give Abomination something to do other than staring at a prison wall.
Zemo may have the funding of Tony Stark, but Justin Hammer's got the technological know-how. Sam Rockwell's character has been absent from the MCU since the Marvel One-Shot All Hail the King, so a place on the Thunderbolts would be a fitting way to bring the character back.
One way Hammer could be integrated into the team is by giving him the Iron Patriot title. In the comics, Norman Osborn assumes the identity of Iron Patriot when he becomes a member of the Thunderbolts. Hammer could fill this role for the MCU incarnation of the team, also being a hyper-intelligent, charismatic maniac.
If John Walker is ditched for Sam Wilson's Captain America at the end of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, perhaps the US government will need a new star-spangled, state-owned hero to take his place. Rhodey briefly used an Iron Patriot-inspired suit of armor at the end of Avengers: Endgame, but it seems that the title is ripe for the picking otherwise. The government would be killing two birds with one stone this way, giving the world a new Iron Man and a new Captain America all in one.
While Zemo's future has yet to be confirmed, the Thunderbolts would be a natural continuation of the character's story. There haven't been any overt references to the team just yet, but the subtle changes to the baron's character are a good sign that a supervillainous group may be on the horizon. Let's just hope Zemo doesn't get too mad with power.