The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode six has wrapped up the story of the Flag-Smashers (for now) in an episode that takes its title from their slogan "One world, one people."
Though their mission to protect and provide for refugees displaced by the Blip and force the Global Repatriation Council to stop their plans to move the refugees was ended by Captain America (and Zemo and his allies, working behind the scenes), their ultimate goal becomes Sam Wilson's first victory as Cap, in which he talks the GRC out of their destructive plan.
The group has ties to the Power Broker, also a new villainous presence in the MCU introduced by name in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode two and whose identity became one of the show's big mysteries before the twist reveal of their true identity, which plays directly into the fates of the Flag-Smashers.
The Flag-Smashers aren't totally new inventions of the MCU, however, taking their name from a long-time Marvel Comics supervillain, but spinning the concept off in a new direction.
Flag-Smasher, a solo villain with an army behind him, has been transformed for the MCU into a cell of violent radicals led by a gender-swapped version of their comic book leader.
Flag-Smasher was a creation of longtime '80s Captain America writer Mark Gruenwald, who also co-created John Walker/US Agent/Captain America (himself a part of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, played by Wyatt Russell). Flag-Smasher is an oddly political villain, initially conceived as an ideological – but still villainous – opposite to the Red Skull.
Though his history is brief but somewhat convoluted, the inclusion of the Flag-Smasher (or a version of his ideology) along with the further references to Gruenwald's seminal Captain America comic book run may have a lot to say about what's coming in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
So who is Flag-Smasher in comic books, and how might his complicated political legacy tie into the MCU? Though The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has changed the concept of the Flag-Smashers, we'll dig into their comic book history, including the real-world roots behind the character, and what it could all mean for the MCU.
Who is Flag-Smasher?
Debuting in 1985's Captain America #312 (opens in new tab) by writer Mark Gruenwald and artist Paul Neary, Flag-Smasher was originally the alter ego of Swiss-born terrorist Karl Morgenthau (does that name sound familiar?), who blamed the concept of nationalism for the death of his father, who was killed in a riot at a Latverian embassy in Switzerland.
Embarking on a campaign of self-described "anti-patriotism," Flag-Smasher founded an organization called U.L.T.I.M.A.T.U.M. (Underground Liberated Totally Integrated Mobile Army To Unite Mankind) designed to destroy the very concept of nationality and government, which Flag-Smasher believed to be the root of violent supremacy movements.
Though sometimes described on the page as an 'anarchist' due to his anti-statist agenda, Flag-Smasher is more accurately described as anti-nationalist, particularly considering his insistence on formal hierarchy in U.L.T.I.M.A.T.U.M. with him as the Supreme Commander.
Gruenwald himself described the intent of the character to be a symbolic opposite of the Red Skull in 1988's Comics Interview #54, another type of violent extremist with views that contradicted Captain America's, though with motives that Cap himself deemed ultimately noble, such as the equality and liberation of mankind.
In fact, it's Flag-Smasher's opposition to the fascist ideology of Red Skull that eventually led him to come into conflict with John Walker, after he took on the mantle of Captain America following Steve Rogers' retirement.
Following a defeat at the hands of Rogers in Captain America #322 (opens in new tab), in which Rogers tried to reason with Flag-Smasher to give up his terrorism and fight for his ideals in a more altruistic way, Flag-Smasher returned to U.L.T.I.M.A.T.U.M. to resume his quest for a world free of nationalism. Unfortunately, he discovered that the Red Skull, recently returned after a long period of being presumed dead, was secretly funding U.L.T.I.M.A.T.U.M.
Flag-Smasher snapped at the news, and, first kidnapping Walker, the new Captain America, ultimately teamed with him in Captain America #349 (opens in new tab) alongside Battlestar (his then sidekick, a kind of replacement for Falcon or Bucky as Walker's partner) and D-Man (an oddball hero who has often been in Captain America's circle over the years) to defeat his own organization and help take down the Red Skull, eventually leading to Steve Rogers resuming the mantle of Captain America and Walker taking up the identity of U.S. Agent.
Later, Flag-Smasher seemed to go directly against his own anti-statist ideals by operating as the ruler of the fictional nation of Rumekistan, before being assassinated by Domino of X-Force and replaced by Cable during the Cable & Deadpool (opens in new tab) series.
From there, the identity of Flag-Smasher passed through the hands of several U.L.T.I.M.A.T.U.M. agents, often fighting teen heroes like the Runaways and Araña, before finally running afoul of Deadpool, Marvel's merciless merc with a mouth.
With Deadpool hunting them down, Flag-Smasher and U.L.T.I.M.A.T.U.M. basically engaged in all-out-war, though whoever managed to get ahold of the Flag-Smasher mantle never managed to hold onto it (or stay in one piece) for long, with Deadpool eventually killing Every. Last. Member. of U.L.T.I.M.A.T.U.M., including the last Flag-Smasher standing.
Flag-Smasher later returned one last time during the Captain America Secret Empire crossover tie-in issues (opens in new tab), in a plot to destroy the world's banking information and decrypt nearly all of the United States' secrets – including its nuclear weapon launch codes. This Flag-Smasher was defeated by Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson, then both operating side-by-side as Captain America with different uniforms and shields.
However, it was revealed that rather than another U.L.T.I.M.A.T.U.M. agent, the new version of Flag-Smasher was a Life Model Decoy (or L.M.D., a kind of extremely lifelike android surrogate for a remote user) programmed by Erik Selvig (of Thor movies fame) who was then working for Steve Rogers, who had been secretly turned into a Hydra Agent, and was pulling the strings of the entire attack.
And that was the last time anyone heard from Flag-Smasher, at least in comic books.
Flag-Smasher in the MCU
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier establishes the Flag-Smashers, a super-powered group that gets their powers from a stolen supply of 20 vials of a recreated Super Soldier Serum and who wear black masks adorned with their symbol - a red handprint over a globe. The group is led by Erin Kellyman's Karli Morgenthau, whose character name is an adaptation of the comic book Flag-Smasher's secret identity.
The history of the comic book Flag-Smasher and Captain America/John Walker is fraught with violence and manipulation - some of which came to bear in episode four, when John Walker brutally kills one of the Flag-Smashers in battle following the death of his partner Battlestar.(opens in new tab)
In keeping with the complex motivations and tactics of the comic book Flag-Smasher, the MCU organization that adapts his name and secret identity seems to be focused on what they believe to be a more humane world where peoples' needs are met, without borders creating nationalist conflict, uniting around the slogan "One world, one people."
To do this, the Flag-Smashers steal and distribute supplies including medicine and vaccines to distribute among people displaced by the Blip. But they also engage in violence, including fighting Bucky, Sam, John Walker, and Walker's partner Battlestar/Lamar Hoskins, to a standstill and bombing some of the places from which they steal their supplies.
Bucky identifies the Flag-Smashers they fought (including Karli Morgenthau) as Super Soldiers, with an implication from Isaiah Bradley, himself a former secret Super Soldier with tragic comic book history, that they're using a kind of Super Soldier Serum developed by Hydra based on his own DNA - a fact later confirmed, with the serum having been created at the behest of the aforementioned Power Broker.
In comic books, Power Broker is a criminal who sells superpowers to those who want to be heroes, but who also exacts violent revenge on those who don't pay his prices or do his bidding.
Power Broker's ties to the comic book roots of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier run deep, as in comics, one of the most well-known recipients of Power Broker's treatments is none other than John Walker, the short-lived Captain America and now US Agent. Though he didn't initially have powers in the MCU, Walker has since taken the Super Soldier Serum in the course of the show.
(And of course, the MCU Power Broker has been revealed as Sharon Carter, which is a story all its own).
Following Walker taking the serum, the Flag-Smasher Super Soldiers kill Battlestar, leading to John Walker brutally murdering one of the Flag-Smashers in revenge.
In the end, Karli and the rest of the Flag-Smashers are either apprehended or killed - with Zemo apparently involved in the outcome of their deaths.
Despite the violence of their actions, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier takes care to paint the nuance of the Flag-Smashers' views and goals, with Sam Wilson even reasoning with and trying to relate to Karli Morgenthau - though his efforts are consistently hampered by the violent intervention of John Walker. Still, Sam takes Karli's message to heart by the end of the show, convincing the GRC to cease its disruptive efforts in refugee communities.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier began a complex conversation in the MCU about the nature of individual and state power that has continued through Captain America: Civil War, into the present MCU with the so-called Sokovia Accords governing superhuman behavior, with the theme apparently coming to a head in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, centered around the struggle to deal with and perhaps inherit the legacy of Steve Rogers.
Though the show has now ended, the legacy of the Flag-Smashers and their relationship to the complex conversation of the balance between state and individual power and responsibility in the MCU lives on, in no small part because of how their mission affected the new Captain America.