Update: The Falcon and Winter Soldier's cameo has been revealed and it was not who we thought... Keep an eye on Newsarama for an explainer on who that character was in the comics! Here's the original piece, unedited to preserve our theory.
MCU fans are a forgiving community. Despite being somewhat burned by rampant speculation about Mephisto, the identity of an 'aerospace engineer,' and the acting hero Paul Bettany teased he was going to face-off with during the watercooler-worthy nine weeks of WandaVision, they're … scratch that … we're all at it again for the upcoming fifth/penultimate episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
This time theory-minded fans are trying to guess the identity of the mysterious Power Broker, who may or may not be a well-known actor, who may or may not be a Marvel Comics character making their MCU debut, and who may or may not be a very "grounded" Marvel character.
Currently, a lot of speculation seems to focus on the character being all of those things, although the comments and rumors fueling the speculation don't all connect seamlessly.
Without getting into an exhaustive history of all the clues, what may be one or more characters have to meet the following criteria:
- A Marvel comic book character new to the MCU
- A very grounded Marvel character
- A character who isn't being set up for big future film appearances
- Played by a well-known actor Marvel Studios has managed to keep a secret
If we assume all of these criteria apply to the identity of the villainous Power Broker, we might be finishing this weekend in a similar headspace as to when Paul Bettany faced off against Paul Bettany and Reed Richards never showed up in the WandaVision finale.
Confusion … unmet expectations … etc.
Yes, Marvel Comics is famous for having a stable of thousands upon thousands of characters, but try to have all of those qualifications apply to a potential villain, with relevance in the worlds of Sam Wilson, Bucky, Super-Soldiers, and Captain America, and you're left with hardly any credible choices at all.
But looking back at the comic book roots of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, there is one character who pops out as a very interesting candidate that more or less meets most of the qualifications and has history in the storyline. The only element lacking is this character probably wouldn't make for a strong possibility to be the Power Broker, but may play a different role altogether.
We've weaved our narrative enough … that character is … Dr. Valerie "Val" Cooper.
Created in 1983 by the brand-name comic book writer Chris Claremont (he's on the Marvel Comics Mount Rushmore) along with another legendary figure - artist John Romita Jr. - Cooper began as a supporting player in the X-Men universe, for which Claremont is a revered creator.
Cooper is among a stable of non-superpowered characters in the Marvel Universe that are often tied up in the U.S. government's relations with the superhero community that bounce from role to role over the years.
She first appeared as a national security advisor on metahuman affairs. In Marvel comic book the government often mistrusts the mutant, alien, and superhuman communities and tries to exert control over them.
In other words, she'd fit right in in the MCU world of the Sokovia Accords.
Cooper's most famous for her role in writer Peter David's reinvention of the title X-Factor in 1991.
After years of witnessing the heroism of much of the mutant population the government was so wary of, it is Cooper who gets characters like Havok, Polaris, and Quicksilver to join a government-sponsored mutant team.
Interestingly, Marvel Comics has brand-new plans to revisit that fan-favorite title with Peter David returning to write an X-Men Legends story set in that period.
But it's in-between her first appearances and that X-Factor era that's most relevant here.
(Although we should take a moment here to remark that in an MCU story that introduced a traditionally very X-Men-centric locale in Madripoor, we should all keep an eye on X-Men characters from here on in).
More to the point, Cooper played a small role in writer Mark Gruenwald's legendary, long Captain America run that inspires so much of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
It was Cooper who in the comic book story supervised the recruitment of John Walker as Captain America and Lemar Hoskins as Battlestar following Steve Rogers' fallout with the government during that storyline.
Now in Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the recruitment part is already done, and while it can perhaps still be shown in flashback during the final two episodes, we're suggesting perhaps another role for Cooper, reflective of her later, more softened attitude toward mutants and superheroes not under government supervision.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier trailers more or less inform us Sam is eventually going to get the shield back, begin training in its use, and forge a "co-workers" arrangement with Bucky moving forward.
The questions that remain are 1.) will the government relinquish what it saw as its authority to franchise the role of Captain America; and 2.) what relationship, if any, Sam will have with the government once he assumes the mantle Steve intended him to have?
Will Sam be a totally independent Cap? When Sam first became Captain America in comic books, he was at odds with the government, occasionally operating outside their purview or even against their wishes. That said, that'd be a significant change for MCU Sam. After all, this is a man who proudly served in the Armed Forces before becoming the Falcon and who was working closely with the Air Force at the beginning of the show.
Or will he and Bucky at least have some relationship with someone in the government and/or the military? Unlike in comic books, Captain America won't credibly find himself in many adventures or missions just hanging around at home or get around very much if he has to fly commercial around the country or the world.
Sam would certainly have no reason to trust the man only credited as "government official" in the debut episode that was present at the ceremony Sam gave up the shield but was then seen introducing John Walker to the world at the end of the same episode.
The role of Val Cooper could be the kind of showy, but small potentially recurring one suited for a well-known actor – someone with the gravitas to give Sam and Bucky someone to trust within a system that sometimes isn't the most trustworthy.
The character could show up on occasion, perhaps in a The Falcon and the Winter Soldier sequel, and maybe future Disney Plus MCU shows based on other comic book storylines like Secret Invasion and Armor Wars, and of course, be all teed up to move into the mutant world whenever Marvel Studios wants to do that.
And not for nothing, but nearly everyone depicted holding high-ranking government roles in the MCU proper has been shady … and mostly men.
The World Security Council tried to nuke Manhattan; Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), and Senator Stern (the late Gary Shandling) were Hydra; Vice President Rodriquez (the late Miquel Ferrer) betrayed the President to Aldrich Killian in Iron Man 3, and William Hurt's General-now-Secretary of State Ross's sketchy history is well documented.
Most recently, the acting Director of SWORD Tyler Hayward (Josh Stamberg) was a total ass and last seen in handcuffs.
Phil Coulson, Maria Hill, Everett Ross, and Nick Fury have balanced the scales somewhat, but with Fury off in space, a trustworthy, very high-ranking woman and/or person of color that has immediate credibility with audiences given her real-world stature could be just what the MCU doctor ordered.
And given how loyal Marvel Studios adaptations often are to the comic book source material and in particular this one, Val Cooper's role in the original John Walker storyline shouldn't be overlooked.
"Captain America No More," the comic book storyline that inspires The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, is among the greatest Captain America stories of all time.