The Marvel Comics history of Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine

Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine
(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

The mystery of Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine in the MCU has taken another turn, with a surprise appearance in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Introduced in Disney Plus's The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and then on the big screen in Black Widow, Julia Louis-Dreyfus's Contessa (Val for short, just not to her face) seems to know exactly what she's doing - and viewers are starting to find out, as she's scheduled to appear in the upcoming Thunderbolts movie.

Val, as her friends call her, has a growing role in the MCU as a kind of Nick Fury or Thanos type, uniting characters across films in a series of cameos, sowing lies and misdirection among heroes like Yelena Belova and Hawkeye.

But that was to be expected. Subterfuge is on-brand for the comic book version of the Contessa, one of Marvel Comics' most notorious espionage agents.

Secret Warriors #3

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The character's most notable ties are also to one of the MCU's original throughline adversaries, Hydra. After all, her other, better-known title in the comic book Marvel Universe is 'Madame Hydra' – one of a few characters to take the moniker over the years.

As card-holding MCU fans recall, Hydra was a major villainous, secret organization force in the early phases of Marvel's adaption to the big screen, culminating in the exposure of Hydra's infiltration of SHIELD in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and the apparent end of their last significant remaining factions in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

What remains of Hydra has since popped up in Ant-Man and was a large presence in ABC's Agents of SHIELD, although it's now unclear how much - if any - of the latter should be considered MCU canon anymore.

However, we know who Val apparently works for, and it's looking more and more like her role in Thunderbolts and beyond will continue to complicate things. 

And Newsarama will explore those new possibilities as we explain the comic book history of Contessa Vanessa Allegra de Fontaine.

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Who is Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine?

Created by legendary writer/artist Jim Steranko, Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine first appeared in the Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD feature in 1967's Strange Tales #159. She was introduced as a jet setter and part of high European society. After both her parents were killed for aiding a resistance movement, the Contessa found her life directionless and hollow. 

Having made a vow to not let her parents' deaths be in vain, Valentina was eventually contacted by the international espionage agency SHIELD and entered a training program to become a field agent. She would later learn that her late father was secretly a SHIELD agent as well. 

a page from 1968's Strange Tales #168 by Jim Steranko (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Valentina quickly landed herself a field partnership with none other than Nick Fury, with the pair eventually striking up a heated and fraught romantic relationship. Fury's less-than-honest ways led to tension with de Fontaine, who began a flirtatious relationship with Captain America, who was regularly operating as a SHIELD agent at this time.

Fury even confronted Steve Rogers over Valentina, though she quickly put a stop to their fight and wound up reconciling with Fury.

Still, Valentina's flirtations with Cap also led to an adversarial relationship with Cap's own paramour Sharon Carter (another character who played a key role in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier).

Over the years, the Contessa remained Fury's on-again-off-again lover and one of his most trusted agents – though when Fury went underground (partially due to the comic book Secret Invasion event) she lost some of her SHIELD standing, leading to some deeper revelations about exactly who Vanessa Allegra de Fontaine is and what her place is in the Marvel Universe.

Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine in the Marvel Universe

After Marvel Comics' now-iconic Civil War event (yes, the one that inspired the third Captain America movie), the Contessa secretly joined Hydra, taking on the identity of Madame Hydra, a name used by many women over the years as leaders of the villainous espionage organization.

The original Madame Hydra, Ophelia Sarkissian, is also known by her other villainous codename, Viper, and appeared as a villain in Fox's The Wolverine as part of the non-MCU X-Men franchise.

Following a series of missions including stealing a powerful artifact from Hydra ally the Silver Samurai, Valentina then betrayed Hydra to another shadowy group, the Russian espionage agency known as Leviathan (who appeared in ABC's Agent Carter TV show).

Leviathan is a secretive organization with a long, storied history of its own in the Marvel Universe. But the TL: DR is, they are a Russia-based espionage group that secretly operated behind the scenes to create superhumans using technology taken from the alien Brood race, longtime enemies of the X-Men.

In the ensuing conflict between SHIELD, Hydra, and Leviathan, Valentina was revealed to have been a Russian sleeper agent working alongside Leviathan since before even being recruited to SHIELD. She was subsequently taken into custody by Interpol.

Most recently, the Contessa resurfaced in 2020's Ravencroft #1 one-shot forming a new espionage group called JANUS, comprised of former SHIELD agents.

As for the Madame Hydra identity, it was later taken by the Red Skull's ally Elisa Sinclair in the story Secret Empire, though her death in that story's finale seemingly also laid to rest the name Madame Hydra – for now.

Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine in the MCU

Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Since Val recruited John Walker as US Agent in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and began manipulating Yelena Belova in Black Widow, she's apparently been building the Thunderbolts roster that's since been revealed for the team's upcoming movie.

Now, in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, we learn that she's not only the director of the FBI in the MCU, she's also the ex-wife of Everett Ross, the FBI agent who's had a relationship with Wakanda since the first Black Panther movie.

Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

This does play a bit of havoc with some of her previous appearances - like why the director of the FBI is organizing private assassination attempts, as shown in sending Yelena Belova up against Clint Barton on behalf of Eleanor Bishop?

And does this now mean the Thunderbolts will be a superhuman FBI strike force?

This hints that she's got a lot more going on behind the scenes than what we've seen so far, including her secret manipulations - some of which seem to be geared toward claiming all of Wakanda's Vibranium in the name of the United States.

With the Thunderbolts building in the MCU, and the political environment of Wakanda shifting in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, it seems Val will be an important player in the MCU for some time to come.

Marvel Comics has such a deep bench of iconic supervillains, so it's no slight that Madame Hydra did not make Newsarama's list of the best Marvel supervillains of all time.

Lan Pitts likes watching, talking, and writing comics about wrestling. He has mapped every great taco spot in the DC and Baltimore areas. He lives with his partner and their menagerie of pets who are utterly perfect in every way.