Over the 80 years that Captain America has been published by Marvel Comics, a large amount of ideas, concepts, and mythology have emerged around the character. Some of these ideas and characters have made their way outside of comics and into other media, and others, for one reason or another, have not. With the release of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier on Disney+ this week, I thought I’d take a look at some concepts from the comics that I’d like to see adaptedonto screen. As a self-proclaimed Captain America expert, here are four cool ideas I’d like to see in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, but probably will not…
#4: The Serpent Society
- Recommended Reading: Captain America 308-315, 365-367, 380-382
OK, so I’m pretty sure some of you might know about this one. If you recall, in the run up to the third Captain America movie, ‘Serpent Society’ was floated as a title before being kiboshed and revealed to have simply been a red herring for a ‘Civil War’ movie. This ended up leaving a few thinking, “Well, what about the Serpent Society?” They haven’t been heard from since. So, who exactly are they?
Well, you might be surprised to learn that they are a group of supervillains (a society, if you will) based around the theme of snakes (AKA serpents). Pretty crazy, huh? In all seriousness, the Serpent Society is a pretty simple idea executed fantastically in the pages of Captain America. Let me explain why.
In the world of Marvel comics, you’ve got two types of supervillains. There’s the would-be world conquerors (think Doctor Doom or The Mandarin) and then you’ve got the superpowered thugs, people like The Vulture, Electro, Green Goblin, and Kingpin. These are people who want nothing more than to use their extraordinary abilities to knock-over banks and steal a few thousand dollars. These are what Nucky Thompson might call the “honest crooks” of the Marvel Universe. These are the types of guys that write in “Villain” as occupation on their taxes. They like to go out, rob a few banks, do some shifty stuff down by the docks, and then go home to their one-bedroom apartment and catch the football game. Sounds pretty great, right? Except for one thing: Superheroes.
It’s hard out there for a crook, especially in the Marvel Universe. It seems like you can hardly get up to anything in New York without Spider-Man, Daredevil, or Captain *freakin* America getting involved and spoiling all your fun. Although, when you really think about it, for every one superhero, there are about a dozen supervillains. They could have strength in numbers if they did something like say… unionize?
That’s the idea that a supervillain by the name of Sidewinder has in mind when he comes up with the idea for the Serpent Society. Meeting together in a conference room at a Manhattan hotel, Sidewinder lays out his vision for a unified and extremely organized supergroup based around snakes. Members would receive guaranteed pay, better access to technology, along with insurance and health benefits. Along with that, Sidewinder has a teleportation cloak that enables him to teleport anyone he wants in-and-out of jail, in case any of the members gets pinched. It sounds like a great racket, if you ask me. Direct deposit every Friday? Who wouldn’t sign up? Heck, I’ll put on a snake costume!
The cool thing about them is that when they’re first introduced Captain America has absolutely no idea that the group even exists! They manage to operate under his very nosewith The Sentinel of Liberty is none the wiser. Also, when it comes time for their first professional job, they’re hired by AIM to assassinate that organization’s former leader, MODOK. And they actually do it! When you have a group that can kill a Mobile Organism Designed Only for Killing, it’s a pretty strong team.
One reason I like the Serpent Society is that they follow the old tried and true Marvel formula of combining the fantastic (i.e., supervillains) with the mundane (i.e., labor unions) and combine it into a package that is extremely entertaining, bordering on silly.
Lastly, in terms of female members, they are vastly, vastly OVER-represented in the Serpent Society. You’ve got Princess Python, the Asp, Black Mamba, Diamondback (who I’ll get to later), and Anaconda. With female representation being all the rage these days, why not feature a group like the Serpent Society? Anaconda in particular is rare for being a female supervillain with a plus-size body type. All I’m saying is, if you had to cast Rebel Wilson in a Marvel movie, you could do a lot worse than having her play Anaconda.
#3: Scourge of the Underworld
- Recommended Reading: Iron Man #194, Marvel Fanfare #29, Amazing Spider-Man #278, Captain America #318-320, 358-362, USAgent (1993) #1-4
As I said earlier, it could be awful lonely as a Marvel supervillain, especially if you’re just a run-of-the-mill crook. If you’re not part of a group or organization, you’re pretty much left to your own devices. The cops will be after you and there are superheroes everywhere. If you’re not careful, you could turn a corner into a dark alley, only to find that “JUSTICE IS SERVED,” courtesy of the Scourge of the Underworld. Of course, Scourge’s idea of justice is splattering supervillain brains all over the alleyway.
First introduced in Iron Man #194, the idea of Scourge was a simple one. He’s simply a figure, always wearing a disguise, that goes around assassinating C-level Marvel supervillains, usually with a firearm, and proclaiming “Justice is served,” for anyone that can hear it. This is pretty much the basic set-up for his first half-dozen appearances, which are apage or two at the most, crossing over into different Marvel titles, killing off supervillains too weak or vulnerable to defend themselves.
The real reason that Scourge was created was that Marvel Editorial wanted to clear out some of their lesser known and unpopular supervillains. I’m talking about really unpopular supervillains. There are famous names that surely everybody knows! Fearsome foes like the Enforcer, The Miracle Man, and The Melter. Yes, The Melter. You read that right. Make sure he doesn’t get near any ice cream. One by one, the Scourge of the Underworld manages to take all of them down. The thing that really takes the cake are all the disguises that Scourge manages to wear. He manages to pose as an old man, a long-haired hippie on a bus, a policeman, and a construction worker. He’s more chameleonic than even The Chameleon! (Who wasn’t killed off. Spider-Man villains get a pass.)
Now, I know what you’re thinking, what does any of this have to do with Captain America? Don’t worry. I’ll get to it. Scourge managed to rack up a bodycount of successfully “serving justice” to 11 Marvel supervillains, but his greatest act comes when he poses asthe bartender at The Bar With No Name, a bar and supervillain hangout on the outskirts of town. While all the supervillains there are shaking in their boots, talking about teaming up to fight the Scourge, the “bartender” serves up a fully-loaded machine gun, which dispenses bullets into the bodies of 18 more Marvel supervillains, bringing his total body count to 29. This guy makes The Punisher look like Mr. Rogers!
Eventually, Cap realizes that enough is enough and that he can’t let this Scourge guy show him and the rest of the superheroes up any longer. He devises a clever plan to ensnare the Scourge. He secretly takes the identity of Mirage, a supervillain killed at The Bar, and has the media announce “Mirage’s” survival of the massacre. Scourge catches wind of this and becomes mighty embarrassed at the idea of letting one of his purported “victims” walk away with breath in his body. Scourge tracks the fake Mirage/Cap down to a secluded cabin where Cap successfully traps him. Scourge is unable to bring himself to kill a hero like Captain America and the jig is up.
Eventually, he reveals everythingto Cap. Scourge is the brother of The Enforcer, his first victim. Their father was ashamed of Enforcer’s criminal activities, which led to the creation of the Scourge identity and the killing of his supervillain brother. Enlisting the aid of an insider named “Domino” to locate his future victims, Scourge continued his parade of supervillain-killing. As soon as he wraps up his spiel to Cap, Scourge catches a bullet from an unseen sniper. Cap fails to catch him, only hearing the phrase, “Justice is served”.
Of course, this was not the end of theScourge of the Underworld. Far from it, actually. Scourge was revealed to be much, much bigger than one individual. (Someone whose name we never even learn by the way.) Scourge is the umbrella name for an entire organization dedicated to ending the threat of Marvel super-villainy by any means necessary. Its origins even involve one of Marvel’s classic golden age heroes, The Angel, if you can believe it. When Scourge returned, it was left to the devices of USAgent (John Walker) to deal with them, and he continued tracking Scourge down from the pages of Captain America into his own four-issue miniseries. It just goes to show that no matter how many times you think it’s over, justice will never stop being served.
#2: Captain America of the 1950s/Grand Director (William Burnside)
- Recommended Reading: Young Men #24, Captain America #173, 231-236, 602-606, Captain America Annual #6
Those of us privileged to be Captain America fans know that Steve Rogers was not the only person to “wield the shield”. He was simply the first, the most successful, and longest-serving. Bucky and The Falcon have both served as Cap in Steve’s absence, and this Disney+ TV show will no doubt be dealing with the legacy of Captain America, and who deserves to walk a mile in Steve Rogers’ red shoes. However, there have been several other individuals who have taken up the mantle of the good Captain and, like any big family, there’s always one black sheep. And that black sheep is William Burnside.
In the mid-1950s, Marvel comics launched a sort-of revival boom of their classic 1940s superhero titles. Hoping to cash-in on name recognition and nostalgia, they brought back all the old favorites: Namor the Sub-Mariner, the android Human Torch and his sidekick Toro, and Captain America and Bucky, too. This post-WWII Cap fought the greatest threat to the homeland: Communism! The Red Scare was in full swing and everyone was getting into the action. Even The Red Skull had given up his “Natzy” ways and joined up with the good ol’ USSR. Needless to say, this Cap didn’t have the same fervor and appeal in a post-war society. The mid-1950s relaunch died a quiet death in short order.
Cut to 1961: The Marvel Age of Comics! Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Ant-Man! So many new heroes and they’re taking off like gangbusters. Pretty soon, Marvel wants to bring back Captain America again to juice up the Avengers. So it is there, in Avengers #4, we are introduced to the idea of Steve Rogers being frozen in a block of ice and residing in suspended animation in the closing days of World War II. And all was well. But this all raised one (Just one?) question, if Steve was frozen in a block of ice, who was the Cap of the 1950s?!?
Eventually, we learnthe truth: after Steve Rogers’ absence at the end of WWII, a college professor named William Burnside became obsessed with Captain America. By the time the 1950s roll around, Billy is the biggest Captain America fan in the world, even deciding to legally change his name to Steve Rogers after figuring out Cap’s secret identity. Of course, the real test of his fandom is to undergo the same “Super-Soldier Serum” procedure that gave Steve the skills to be Captain America. Of course, the serum that the government cooked up for this new “Steve” didn’t quite work as planned. No, this serum messed with his brain. This already-fragile mind of this obsessive fanboy was driven over the edge into near-insanity, leading to his one-man war on the many “subversive communists” plotting to take down America.
Eventually this Burnside Cap came face to face with the real-deal, and they’ve come to blows multiple times since. Unlike Regular Cap, Burnside Cap suffered greatly from the shell-shock of waking up a half-century into the future. He’s about as stereotypically 1950’s as you can get: racist, sexist, homophobic, and increasingly at odds in our 2021 world. From his point of view, America is going down the tubes, and to try and fix it, he’s had to resort to some pretty extreme measures.
In one notable storyline, Burnside, as a result of brainwashing, became the Grand Director, leading a fascistic brigade known as the National Force. In order to picture this guy, think of the Grand Wizard of the KKK mixed with a Nazi foot solider. I’m not even joking; his costume is an all white ensemble with a Nazi armband. Eventually, order is restored and Burnside manages to recover from being an “overt” supervillain.
In a recent storyline,“Two Americas”, Burnside leads a pack of terrorists called the Watchdogs in an effort to blow up the Hoover Dam. He has to be stopped by Bucky and the Falcon (This was during a time when Steve was “dead”). Through it all, the thing that makes Burnside compelling is that, in Steve Rogers eyes, he’s not a true villain. He’s simply a man that got carried away with an idea of patriotism. In some moments, it’s clear that Burnside is extremely mentally ill, and Steve Rogers knows it. It’s not incredible that William Burnside went insane, it’s incredible that Steve Rogers didn’t. Despite not really deserving it, Steve Rogers always treats William Burnisde with respect. The respect that someone who once held the title of Captain America deserves.
#1: Diamondback (Rachel Leighton)
- Recommended Reading: Captain America 310, 319, 358-364, 371-378, 380-382
And now we come to the end; to the character I’d most like to see show up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the grand history of Captain America comics, ol’ Cap has had quite the trouble maintaining a supporting cast, specifically female characters for any stable amount of time. During the Silver Age of Comics, there was Agent 13, otherwise known as Sharon Carter. She was the original love interest for Cap, and disappeared from the pages without leaving much of an impression.
Fast forward to 1980 and we meet Bernie Rosenthal, Steve Rogers’ Jewish bohemian neighbor in his Brooklyn apartment building. They eventually dated, she learned Steve’s secret identity, and they became engaged. Of course, when her glass-blowing business (Yes, you read that right) went belly-up, she decided to go back to law school and pretty much put the kibosh on any future wedding plans. Of course there’s also Peggy Carter, who served during World War II — British, admittedly easy on the eyes, but that’s about it. To me though, there’s one female character who manages to surpass them all: Rachel Leighton AKA Diamondback.
We first meet Diamondback when she joins the Serpent Society in their first formation. She comes across like a typical bad-girl, wanting the finer things in life, even if she has to steal from someone to do it. Diamondback possesses no special supernatural abilities, other than being an excellent gymnast who uses special throwing diamonds to disarm her prey (Yes, she literally throws diamonds from her back. She really wanted to stay on theme with the whole snake thing). She quickly fits in with the other crooks in the Serpent Society. In fact, the first time Captain America encounters her, she’s attempting to use her diamonds to subdue The Porcupine, a somewhat-reformed supervillain, with seemingly deadly intent. She later denies this, but first impressions are everything to a guy like Cap. It’s clear to her, though, that she’s somewhat enamored with Captain America.
Later, during the Scourge fiasco, the Serpent Society tries to mobilize forces to track down the murderous vigilante. Captain America manages to encounter Diamondback again. They decide to team-up since they’re following the same leads, and Diamondback offers Cap a ride on the Serpent Society’s aircraft. Diamondback tells Cap about her backstory as a young girl from Texas whose father got killed and mother worked all-day-long. Young Rachel spent most of her time with her delinquent brother, which is how she got started in a life of crime. When her brother was killed in a robbery gone wrong, Rachel was left on her own to fight her own way in the world as, in her words, “a costumed crusader”.
She tells Cap she’s only bad because she’s never had any good influences, and thinks Cap could be a good influence on her. So, she offers an ultimatum: she’ll crash the ship into the ground unless she and Cap start hooking up. Cap refuses her feminine wiles, and demands an immediate end to their partnership since he clearly can’t trust her. Not exactly the best first “date”, but it’s clear that Diamondback is hurt by this, and was serious about needing a good influence in her life.
Cap’s next major encounter with Diamondback occurs in the Bloodstone Hunt arc. Diamondback gets accidentally mixed up in Baron Zemo’s quest for the rare and supernatural Bloodstone and teams up with Cap to help track it down, a la Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood.
Diamondback clearly showcases a more noble side to her character here. She attempts to be her own good influence around Cap, in an effort to show him that she can change. Diamondback and Cap manage to successfully thwart Baron Zemo’s plan, but there’s a slight snag. The newly-introduced villain, Crossbones, kidnaps Diamondback and absconds with her to Madripoor and holds her for ransom.
Eventually Cap manages to find both Crossbones and Diamondback. The two unlikely allies manage to get away with their lives, and it becomes clear that Cap cares just a little bit more about Diamondback now. She asks, aping the closing line of Casablanca, “Is this the beginning of a beautiful friendship?” And the truth is, it was the beginning. Rachel and Steve would become closer to each other in the issues to come. Partners in crime-fighting, and partners in love. No, I don’t think Diamondback will show up in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, but without Cap around, I’m not sure there would even be a point.