In which a motley crew is assembled to take on dire Soviet threats, in my head at least.
I have previously elaborated upon a premise whose foundational logic rests solely on the notion that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. At no point in any MCU material is the existence of a Cold War team of heroes even broadly hinted at. However, enough evidence does exist to make the idea plausible, if substantiated by the considerable amount of things we simply do not, and will likely never, know for certain. It may well be only head canon, but its head canon that doesn’t directly contradict the real canon, and that is the best that can be asked for.
In summary, according to my theory, between 1980 and 1992, SHIELD operated a covert team of individuals to combat the Soviet organization Leviathan. This team, dissolved at the end of the Cold War, was the founding model on which Nick Fury based his later Avengers team upon. I went into considerably more detail about the specifics of when this team would be most likely to exist, but I was astoundingly vague as to who would be on this team. I now seek to rectify that oversight.
As I always do, I have established a firm set of rules when assembling this team, as to maintain consistency and credibility. The first rule: the team must consist of characters who could conceivably occur in the MCU, meaning that character choices are limited to those to whom Marvel currently holds the cinematic rights. So, no mutants, no Baxter Building members, no Hulklings, and no Namor. It is cheating to simply fill a meta-fictional team with mutants, knowing that they can never appear, therefore, they can never be disputed. It is my intent for this theory to be as reasonably plausible as possible within the context of the MCU.
However, for that same reason, while the team must consist of characters that can exist within the MCU, it must also consist of characters that will likely never occur within the MCU. Because I want this theory to remain as reasonably plausible for as long as possible, the team cannot be stacked with characters likely to appear in the next Netflix series, or film sequel. Luckily, Marvel has a catalogue of thousands of characters. By the same reasonable plausibility though, I will not be stacking the team with incredibly obscure characters. Most will be drawn from the C-Grade level: recognizable, but not significant. And certainly no characters that might one day warrant their own series. An analogue might be Hellcat-level notability.
The final rule that I have set has to do with the type of characters I have chosen to belong on this team. According to the theory, Fury based the modern Avengers on his successful experience with the older team. It would therefore stand to reason that those he chose to be on the team would fulfill certain archetypes, based on what he already knows is a successful combination. Therefore, when selecting members, they will be analogous to members of the first lineup of modern Avengers.
But enough preamble: Avengers accumulate!
By its very design, the theory postulates that Fury was recruited into SHIELD by Peggy Carter specifically to lead the team. As a decorated Army Colonel, with espionage experience, as well as being a career military man with little acumen or patience for politics, a young, firebrand Nick Fury would have been the focused, surgical solider the team needed, while also providing clear, authoritative leadership. Someone whom Carter could trust to lead the team “in the dark” for extended periods, not constantly looking to someone higher up to OK his results, but confident enough in his abilities and responsible enough to know what was right, what needed to be done, and how to do it.
Hank Pym AKA Ant-man
The Hank Pym we meet in Ant-man, while older, is clearly a man willing to get his hand dirty when he needs to. The film establishes that he developed the Pym particle in the mid seventies, and followed that with a long career of field work with SHIELD, but you also get the sense that this was likely because he wouldn’t allow anyone else to use the Pym particle, and only allowed Janet van Dyne to do so because of his implicit trust in her. I would analogize his involvement with the team to that of Bruce Banner. Both respected scientists, whose intellect alone is a great resource for the team, but also in possession of a unique ability that provides additional assistance when needed.
Janet van Dyne AKA Wasp
Ant-man doesn’t give us a full explanation as to how or when Hank and Janet met (we'll have to wait for the sequel to fill in those gaps), but something tells me that Janet was an established field agent before meeting Hank. In Ant-man Hank specifically mentions that she all but forced him to let her use the Pym Particle, Their relationship would have began as a working one, with Hank using his tech to help her be more effective in the field, and Janet helping Hank become more bold, getting him out of the office and going out on missions. Her analogue on the team would be Barton, the career agent who can’t help but see the better in people, and mentor them to use their skills for the greater good (as he did with both Natasha and Wanda). As in the comics, I also envision Janet as being the soul of the team, and her death would be the first of a series of destabilizing incidents that led to the team falling apart long before it was officially disbanded.
Every team needs gadgets, and as much as SHIELD already had a Stark on the payroll, the nature of these Cold War Avengers was likely significantly more covert than the modern team. So, they could not call upon Stark to deliver them toys at a moment’s notice. They would therefore need an in-house producer. For this role, I choose Phineas Horton. In the comics, Horton was an inventor during the 20s and 30s who became obsessed with fame, but died in obscurity while his invention (whom we’ll get to in a moment) rose to celebrity. Horton is established as having existed in the MCU, his name appearing at Stark Expo ‘43 in Captain America. As I see it, Horton would have been a competitor of Howard Stark, something akin to the Edison/Tesla rivalry, and was embittered when Stark’s fame took off and his own did not. I cannot escape the image of a Walter Bishop-esque figure, a brilliant mind whose best years are behind him, but still able to make a difference if he can put his arrogance and entitlement to the side. Obviously, he would be analogous to Tony Stark, but not Iron Man. That comparison would go to…
The Synthetic Man
Originally named The Human Torch (not that one), in the comics he appeared in Marvel Comics #1 in 1939, making the character one of the oldest superheroes, period. He was also one of Timely (later Marvel)’s signature characters, alongside Captain America and Namor. While the other two continued on during the Lee/Kirby era that defined the company, the Human Torch was forgotten, the name given to a new character, and little done with him since. As the legal-friendly Synthetic Man, he appears in Captain America during Stark Expo ’43. A prototype robot/artificial intelligence, the power cells that made up his body had a tendency to burst into non-consuming flame when powered up. While that doesn’t make for the most subtle of characters to include on a cover team, the idea of pulling a seemingly antiquated piece of technology out of mothballs does. And while the Synthetic Man could have easily been a drone, controlled from a distance, the artificial intelligence concept is always too good to pass up, and provides a nice first step in MCU AI on the road to Tony Stark’s JARVIS, and eventually Vision (fitting, considering that in the comics, Vision was originally constructed from the remains of the Human Torch).
John Walker AKA US Agent
The Incredible Hulk established that the army never gave up attempting to replicate the Super Solider serum that created Captain America, and Civil War makes it implicit that Howard Stark kept up attempts to replicate the formula from his youth. During the Cold War, when the Soviets were trying to create psychic soldiers and everyone was desperate to get the upper hand, it makes sense that those experiments would have been on-going. Enter: John Walker, a Vietnam vet and the old solider on the team, but not in a leadership role. Considering the political climate, Walker would be a man whose experiences and bigotry against Communism would get the better of him time and time again, making him an effective and motivated weapon against the Soviets, but not fit or stable enough for leadership. He would provide Fury his greatest test of command, as Walker would view management of the Avengers as something he was owed for his years of patriotism and sacrifice.
Valentina Allegra de Fontaine AKA The Contessa
Just as the modern Avengers has the Black Widow, former Russian master assassin, I see no reason why the Cold War Avengers shouldn’t have their own killer-for-hire. The Contessa would serve the role of the person who isn’t afraid to do the dirty work, establishing herself as someone upon whom the team can utterly rely no matter the situation. As in the comics, I also imagine her and Nick having a romance of sorts. But, like her comic counterpart, who turned out to be a Hydra spy, The Contessa would be an infiltrator sent by Leviathan. In this respect, her role would be the opposite of Natasha’s story in the MCU. Someone whose treachery would be central to the team’s eventual demise. And possibly even the person responsible for Nick losing his eye, being the person he last truly trusted.
Greer Grant AKA Tigra
Tigra is a character that I feel will never appear in the MCU proper, because of the fact that she is a tiger-printed half cat woman who wears a bikini and summons her powers from an amulet given to her by a mystical race of subterranean feline people. And for the Marvel movies, that’s a stretch. She’s one of those characters whose back story changes every time she’s adapted, trying to make something less crazy sounding than cat-people (and less prone to summon memories of old Malcolm McDowell films). With that in mind, I see no reason by Greer Grant wouldn’t make an excellent member of the team. To go with the cat theme (and standard cat clichés), and to differentiate her from The Contessa, make her shtick stealth, perhaps a notorious European “acquirer of merchandise” before being convinced to work for SHIELD.
Christoph Nord AKA Maverick
Thor was never meant to be on the Avengers. He wasn’t in Fury’s original prospectus, and in fact the Avengers were pretty much put together in the event of an Asgardian incursion. When he arrives to free Loki, he is immediately and rightly treated as a threat. So, having an analogue to him doesn’t make much sense. However, there is a character in the Marvel catalogue that would make sense in the Cold War context, and would fulfill the role of an enemy turned ally: Maverick. Born in East Germany to Nazi sympathizers, Nord would spent most of the Cold War establishing himself as one of the top covert operatives in Europe fighting against the Communists. In the comics, this lead to his joining Weapon X; in the MCU, it would make him a welcome member of the Avengers, and give the Cold War Avengers a bit of a Man From UNCLE vibe. Nord may violate my rule of no mutants allowed, as he is most closely associated with Wolverine. But that back story is just too period and geographically perfect to ignore, and if Scarlet Witch can be on the team with an altered backstory, I don’t see why Nord can’t.
That’s the team, as I see it. The purpose of each is to provide Nick some experience that would turn him into the man we’ve seen Samuel L. Jackson play. His lack of trust, his tendency towards secrecy, his willingness to work with those with powers, and his foresight in respecting those powers while also preparing for when then aren’t under control. And, because the MCU is proving to be largely chess pieces moved around by the Starks, much of what we’re familiar with could find origin in an early Avenger team. The mysterious element that Tony “created” in Iron Man 2 could play a role, as could the early days of the JARVIS system, or the elder Vanko’s exile to Siberia could play a role in Leviathan’s machinations.
In the end, of course, this is all just something fun to think about. Who would you like to see on a Cold War Avengers team? Let us know in the comments below, on the Facebook page or via Twitter.