It's been less than two years since actor Chris Evans stepped away from the role of Steve Rogers/Captain America following his character's apparent epilogue in Avengers: Endgame, passing on his shield to Sam Wilson/The Falcon (at least that was his intention) and retiring with Peggy Carter to a "beautiful" life in what appears to be an alternate timeline.
But now, despite Evans' seeming insistence that he was done with playing Steve Rogers in the MCU, reports surfaced a few weeks back that Evans is in talks to do exactly that, appearing as Captain America in a supporting role in another MCU property – if he hasn't secretly done so already.
Evans himself indirectly downplayed the reports, tweeting simply "News to me," the day rumors broke of his MCU return as Captain America (remember that distinction - Evans denied a report he'd play Captain America).
"I rarely answer no to anything anymore because things are always surprising me with what happens, but that rumor, I think, was dispelled rather quickly by the man himself," Feige said.
And yet, with Feige's answer a hair short of definitive and Marvel Studios' well-known knack for manipulating the public discourse (okay, outright fudging) to hide their story secrets, the door seems to be open a tiny crack to an eventual return.
As we said, the initial report indicated Evans could return as Captain America - and Evans and Marvel may want to downplay any potential that his return to the MCU could be seen as supplanting Anthony Mackie's Sam Wilson, assuming Wilson fully takes on the role during and then after the Disney Plus series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
And of course, the MCU constantly introducing new concepts and stories that seem like possible in-roads to bringing Evans back as Steve Rogers doesn't help dissuade us from considering how it might look if he did return.
With Steve retired and in his old age per current MCU canon, the obvious questions become, how could Steve Rogers return, and if he did, what version of Steve could it be?
Yeah, that's a valid question in the new time-travel-Quantum Realm-Multiverse of Madness MCU.
Given Marvel Studios' past M.O., it's worth considering if Evans could return in a project we already know about, including ones that have been completed or are currently in production or about to start.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier launches this week and is of course 100% Cap-preoccupied, and there'd be any one of dozens of ways to write him into the storyline.
And since we're on the topic of Disney Plus, as it looks like something of an experimental playground for Marvel Studios, some consideration would have to be given to a series starring Cap and Peggy Carter in their alternate timeline.
Cap indicated he lived a long, fulfilling life with Peggy at the end of Endgame, but it's hard to imagine a couple-of-action like them didn't have an adventure or two when the goings got rough in their timeline.
2022's Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is set up for just about everything and anything, and in comic book vernacular, alternate universes and realities are almost always utilized to showcase fun spins on familiar concepts. How big of a ‘get’ would it be for director Sam Raimi and for the status of the franchise to have some of the bigger MCU stars play twisted versions of themselves?
There’s also the (maybe kinda slim) chance Marvel Studios could do what Marvel Comics did when Steve Rogers got old, and use a Cosmic Cube (or some other MacGuffin) to de-age and re-empower him. But that comic book story told in Avengers: Standoff and the subsequent Secret Empire turned Steve Rogers into a secret Hydra agent under the control of the Red Skull, who was surreptitiously behind Steve’s reinvigoration.
Bringing Evans back as an evil, fascist Captain America would certainly make fans go ape-stuff, whether they loved or hated the idea.
On the other hand, there was a brief period before the Hydra reveal where both Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson operated side-by-side as Captains America with distinct costumes and shields (Sam kept the original, in that story).
Marvel Comics seems to be channeling similar energy for the upcoming United States of Captain America limited series which brings together Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson, Bucky Barnes, and John Walker (at least three of whom are central characters in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier) for an 80th anniversary Captain America adventure this June.
And of course, the Russos have, tongue-somewhat-in-cheek, said there is a story about Cap's trip through the past to return Mjolnir and all the Infinity Stones to the moments they were borrowed from, and how he ended up in an alternate reality and Peggy Carter could have their own life.
But with all of that low-hanging fruit noted, here's a closer look at two comic book storylines that seem like a good fit for a returning Evans.
Avengers Forever (1998-1999)
The original Evans-returns reports state that Evans wouldn't return to star in a new headlining Captain America film, but would appear as a guest star or part of an ensemble in a supporting role, similar to Robert Downey, Jr.'s appearances as Tony Stark in Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming.
What better ensemble to bring him into than an all-new Avengers (with some classic overtones)?
The seeds of an all-time-great Avengers comic book story that could provide the perfect venue for Evans's return as Steve Rogers are already being planted in the MCU as we speak – and this time, we don't mean those all-important Infinity Stones.
We're talking, of course, about Avengers Forever: writers Kurt Busiek and Roger Stern, and artist Carlos Pacheco's '98-'99 12-issue saga about a time-spanning team of Avengers from different eras past and future, united to defeat a threat great enough to destroy not just the Earth, but the entire timeline of the Marvel Universe.
At the heart of the team was none other than the longtime soul of the Avengers, Steve Rogers – though not the contemporary Steve of the era, but a version of Steve from the past summoned forth to lead a group of Earth's Mightiest Heroes organized through the mysterious cosmic awareness of the psychic villain Libra of the Zodiac.
And the conflict that threatened time itself? A war between the time-traveling Avengers archenemy Kang the Conqueror and his future self Immortus, a guardian of the timestream from the universe's end.
Here's where things get interesting for Steve's potential MCU future.
As fans who follow MCU news know, Kang has been confirmed as the villain of the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, played by Lovecraft Country actor Jonathan Majors, adding the last and perhaps most important piece of the puzzle for adapting Avengers Forever into the MCU.
And of course, Wasp was a member of the Avengers Forever team, as were Giant-Man and Yellowjacket (though in this case, both were versions of Hank Pym taken from different points in his history, rather than the villainous Darren Cross Yellowjacket of the first Ant-Man film).
In addition to the obvious hook of uniting a group of Avengers including well-known faces and potentially new heroes from the past and future such as Giant-Man, Wasp, Captain America, Clint Barton, and a version of Captain Marvel, there's the potential implication that adapting Avengers Forever into the MCU could form a larger scaffolding for an eventual movie to culminate the next phase of the MCU, similar to the first Avengers film.
And just to keep this in mind, a loosely-adapted version pulling Cap out of, say, the World War II-era would open the door to pulling any Avenger from the past.
Any Avenger from the past.
We'll leave that there.
Secret Wars (2015-2016)
On that note, there's a perhaps even bigger big picture for the eventual culmination of the next era of the MCU on the table, and that is of course the mother of all Marvel blockbuster crossovers (literally, as in it was the very first): Secret Wars.
The original Secret Wars, published in 12 issues across '84-'85, was a joint attempt by Marvel Comics and toymaker Mattel to challenge their rivals DC and Kenner, respectively. At the time, DC and Kenner had a hit toyline in Super Powers, which brought a host of DC characters to life in plastic, complete with action features that represented their powers (hence the line's name).
To take on Super Powers, Marvel and Mattel developed Secret Wars, a then-unprecedented limited series that brought Marvel's best-known heroes and villains to a faraway world where they were pitted against each other in combat by a mysterious being known as the Beyonder – complete with Mattel's accompanying toyline of the same name. And of course, in both the comic and the toyline, the leader of the superheroes was Captain America, Steve Rogers.
The concept of bringing together the coolest Marvel heroes and villains on-screen for an all-out fight could be a way to escalate the 'all-in' premise of Avengers: Endgame. But it's the later '15-'16 Secret Wars limited series that shared the name and some concepts of the ‘80s original, that could be the real key to adapting one of the most recognizable Marvel stories the MCU hasn't touched.
In the 2015 version, Doctor Doom uses the cosmic power of the Beyonder to save reality from destruction through the collapse of every world in the Marvel Multiverse – remaking reality in his own image in the process. The resulting planet, known as Warworld, was stitched together in a bizarre and sometimes volatile hodgepodge of Marvel's many Multiversal worlds and was subject to threats to Doom's rule from all sides.
In the end, a coalition of Marvel's greatest heroes led by Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four managed to wrench power from Doom – partially thanks to, what else, a version of the Infinity Gauntlet, wielded by Black Panther no less – and reform Marvel's Earth, with just a few key differences. Reed and his family then departed into the void left by the former Multiverse to rebuild the worlds that were destroyed through the cosmic power of Reed and Sue Richards' son Franklin and their enemy-turned-ally Molecule Man, a mission that kept them out of the core Marvel Universe for years.
With the Fantastic Four about to enter the MCU, opening the door to Doctor Doom, the idea of a full-on version of Secret Wars coming to film isn't that far-fetched. Fantastic Four, which will be directed by Spider-Man: Homecoming/Far From Home's Jon Watts, puts all the pieces in place – and given both the apparent Multiversal elements coming to Watts's third, still-untitled Spider-Man film, there's some cause to speculate Marvel could be building toward the idea.
And what better place to bring back Chris Evans as Steve Rogers than the comic book movie to end all comic book movies, even bigger than Endgame, where not just previous MCU characters but previous characters from non-MCU Marvel movies may all be on the table to appear?
Marvel Studios loves to cap off its Phases with big event films which they build toward throughout their films and shows – and Secret Wars could provide the perfect capstone to a Marvel Phase that seems to put the concept of the Multiverse at its center, and perhaps provide a way to come out with a cohesive MCU Earth featuring all of their best-known characters side-by-side, down to a version of Peter Parker, the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and more.
Both Secret Wars are among the most impactful Marvel Comics events of all time.