The MCU May Be Adapting A Dark Comics Storyline (But With A Twist)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to change forever by adapting a signature dark storyline from the comics. As the Multiverse Saga treks forward into Phase 5 with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, the franchise is headed toward a massive new finale event in Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars. However, while the MCU’s sights are set on the conclusion of the Multiverse Saga, a more terrestrial story has been setting itself up in the background and is about to kick into high gear during Phase 5. If recent indications are correct, this storyline could be a slightly altered adaptation of an iconic event in Marvel Comics’ history.


Phase 5 culminates in Thunderbolts, a film that will debut a crucial team to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and yet seems to have very little to do with the larger story of the Multiverse Saga. Nonetheless, it would appear that the MCU is spending even more time setting up the Thunderbolts than The Kang Dynasty or Secret Wars, with multiple films and series already pointing toward their 2024 team-up film. Despite its seemingly cattywampus placement within the Multiverse Saga, the Thunderbolts storyline will clearly play a major role in the future of the franchise, and one Marvel Comics storyline perfectly predicts how exactly it may play out.

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The MCU Is Setting Up A Dark Reign Storyline (But Replacing Norman Osborn)

Blended image of Harrison Ford looking concerned, with an angry red Hulk and the Thunderbolt teams lined up and posing

The introduction of the Thunderbolts hints that Norman Osborn’s biggest comics story, Dark Reign, may be coming to the MCU, albeit with a different character at its helm. In Marvel Comics, Norman Osborn becomes the new director of SHIELD following the Skrull invasion. He uses the public’s monumental fear to consolidate power for himself and even manages to replace the Avengers with his team of Thunderbolts, who later became known as the Dark Avengers. Although Osborn initially flourishes in his new powerful position, he eventually allows himself to be manipulated by Loki into leading an all-out attack on New Asgard, which leaves him utterly defeated and his political career unsalvageable.

With Harrison Ford’s Thunderbolt Ross becoming an MCU mainstay, the franchise may be looking to adapt the Dark Reign storyline without Norman Osborn. Instead, Ross will become the most powerful man in the world, not by becoming the director of SHIELD, but by becoming President of the United States. In fact, Kevin Feige recently confirmed that Captain America: New World Order will indeed feature General Ross as president, supporting theories that he will be filling Osborn’s position in Dark Reign. The change makes perfect sense for the MCU, which has not yet set up its own version of Norman Osborn but has been building up Ross for over a decade.

Although little is known about the MCU’s Thunderbolts movie, different projects have made aspects of the eponymous team’s origin clear. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Valentina Allegra de Fontaine has made numerous cameos throughout Phase 4 in setting up the Thunderbolts and was recently revealed as the new director of the CIA in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. This implies that her Thunderbolts initiative is not only government-sanctioned but possibly also the brainchild of certain high-ranking politicians. Although not president yet, Ross is already a high-ranking general in the United States Army and has served as Secretary of State, giving him the perfect connections to get a new government-sanctioned superhero team off the ground.

Dark Reign means that General Ross’s MCU role is finally reaching its full potential. It can be easy to forget that, in his first appearance during the events of The Incredible Hulk, General Ross had been attempting to recreate the super-soldier serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America. From the very beginning, Ross has been working toward creating his own superheroes who will be far more loyal to the United States government than the Avengers ever were. When one takes into account the fact that the Thunderbolts even share General Ross’s nickname, it becomes all too clear that he has been behind the team’s creation all along.

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Ross’s Presidency Is Bad News For Wakanda

Letitia Wright as Shuri (Black Panther) in Black Panther Wakanda Forever

Ross’s presidency and the Thunderbolts’ formation may be catastrophic for Wakanda which, after being exposed to the world, is now forced to defend its stockpile of Vibranium from greedy international interests. The MCU has made it clear that the other nations of the world desperately want to get their hands on Vibranium, with Wakanda Forever even confirming that the President of the United States, likely Dermot Mulroney’s President Ritson from Secret Invasion, was ready to go to war with Wakanda. Although international war was averted for the time being, the US may still make another attempt at Wakanda’s resources under Ross’s command with the backing of his new superhero team.

As Vibranium becomes the MCU’s new Infinity Stones MacGuffin, the true intentions behind the Thunderbolts become increasingly clear. Val, who is already confirmed to be a member of the team, confirmed that obtaining Vibranium is one of her deepest wishes. As a military man and a known opponent of the Avengers, it would make perfect sense that General Thaddeus Ross would want the precious metal as well, especially if he is Val’s mysterious benefactor. Working together, Val and Ross have been able to create their own superhero team capable of infiltrating Wakanda and stealing their Vibranium, a major operation that few people other than the president would have the power to order.

Although New Asgard does exist in the MCU, it makes far more sense for the franchise’s Dark Reign storyline to culminate in an attack on Wakanda instead. Ross would have little reason to attack the people of New Asgard, who have little to offer in terms of resources and pose no threat on a worldwide scale. It is much more believable that Ross and his Thunderbolts would invade Wakanda in hope of attaining Vibranium, which has the ability to build weapons, power technology, and even create new superheroes. Ross’s regime could culminate in a siege of Wakanda in a desperate attempt to de-power the Vibranium-rich nation once and for all.

Dark Reign Could Connect Five MCU Projects

Sam Wilson's Captain America in front of the Thunderbolts.

In the wake of criticisms that certain recent MCU films don’t fit the Multiverse Saga, a Dark Reign storyline could go a long way in creating the interconnectivity that some critics claim is now missing from the franchise. The hints for this storyline, though present in other MCU projects, truly become visible in the Phase 4 finale, Wakanda Forever. Although Ross himself is not present in the film, the sequel explores the deteriorating relationship between Wakanda and the United States. In a subplot that some critics felt didn’t fit with the rest of the film, Wakanda Forever hints at just how catastrophic Ross’s regime could be for the entire MCU.

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The MCU’s Dark Reign storyline truly begins with Secret Invasion, which may set up the Thunderbolts replacing the Avengers. It is in the finale of the 2008 comic book event of the same name that Norman Osborn begins to consolidate power for himself, taking much of the credit for repelling the Skrull army. If the Disney+ series follows a similar path, General Ross and Val may find a similar way to set themselves up as humanity’s saviors in the aftermath of the Skrull invasion, using their newfound popularity as a platform to introduce their new superhero team as an alternative to the Avengers, who failed to divert the alien invasion.

General Ross’s Thunderbolts plan really begins to take shape in New World Order and Thunderbolts, which stand as back-to-back theatrical releases in 2024. Ross is confirmed to become president by the events of New World Order, leaving the film to explore what his newfound power may mean for the MCU. Indications that Sam Wilson will be at odds with President Ross suggest that his position on the Avengers won’t be favorable, playing into the idea that he has fashioned a new team to take their place. His true intentions behind creating the Thunderbolts can be explained in their debut film, confirming that their primary mission is to obtain Wakanda’s Vibranium.

If General Ross and the Thunderbolts successfully steal Wakanda’s Vibranium, the aftermath could play out over the course of several projects, including War Machine’s solo film, Armor Wars. The Phase 6 film is said to follow Rhodey as he combats villains with stolen Stark Tech, but may also deal with the fallout of Ross’s war on Wakanda, which could leave plenty of Vibranium weapons on the open market. Rhodey may even find himself poised to take General Ross’s position after he is deposed, potentially even replacing the disgraced President. This would follow through on Rhodey’s political career in the comics, in which he serves a term as the Vice President.

How Dark Reign Would Affect Ross’s Red Hulk Storyline (Will It Still Happen?)

Blended image of Harrison Ford as Deckard looking neutral in Blade Runner 2049 and a comic book Red Hulk looking angry

General Ross’s Red Hulk transformation may still play a key role in his MCU storyline, especially given the direction of the Dark Reign event in Marvel Comics. As Osborn continues to take control of the Marvel Universe throughout the 2009 comics storyline, it becomes increasingly clear that his Green Goblin persona is beginning to re-emerge. Osborn suppresses his alternate personality, but eventually succumbs to its power during his siege on New Asgard, officially marking his fall from grace. Much akin to how the Green Goblin brought about Norman Osborn’s fall, the Red Hulk could be responsible for orchestrating General Ross’s defeat in the MCU.

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It is possible that Thunderbolt Ross is already secretly Red Hulk in the MCU. His recent appearance in Black Widow, which marked William Hurt’s final portrayal of the character, indicated that he was in the midst of serious health issues, having evidently suffered a second heart attack after the events of Captain America: Civil War. His rampant health issues were a point of great fear on Ross’s behalf, which may have led him to experiment on himself with the same botched super-soldier serum that created the Hulk and the Abomination. As such, his Red Hulk transformation may have already occurred offscreen as Ross desperately sought to save his own life.

Much like in the comics, which initially kept the Red Hulk’s identity a secret, Ross would want to hide his transformation from the public, especially after becoming President of the United States. The public could never learn of Ross’s Red Hulk transformation, even if his Thunderbolts association is common knowledge. Hulks are simply too volatile and unpredictable for the general public to trust in leadership positions and, if Red Hulk’s comic history is anything to go by, he is no exception. The revelation that Ross and the Red Hulk are one and the same would bring about his downfall, ending the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s adaptation of the Dark Reign storyline.

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