Julia Louis-Dreyfus has only been in the MCU as Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine for a few scenes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but her role in the show's now-streaming finale sets up what could be massive ramifications for the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward.
The surprise appearance of the Emmy award-winning actress and comedy icon (who has taken up the role that was originally supposed to debut in Marvel's Black Widow last year before COVID-19) could be representing a whole new organized threat to the MCU, including maybe a fan-favorite Marvel Comics franchise fans have been clamoring after for years.
But the character's most potentially interesting ties are to the MCU's old school adversary Hydra.
As Captain America fans will remember, Hydra was an important enemy force in the early phases of the MCU, culminating in the exposure of the organization's infiltration of SHIELD in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and the apparent end of their last remaining factions in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Hydra subsequently appeared in Ant-Man and remained a presence in ABC's Agents of SHIELD (though it's unclear how much if any of that should be considered MCU canon at this point.)
Now, the once-ubiquitous villainous spy organization may be staging a comeback, or at least a significant Hydra player from the comic books has emerged in the MCU in a new form with the introduction of Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine.
The inclusion of Valentina Allegra de Fontaine - 'Val' for short (just don't call her that out loud) - means Hydra could be alive and kicking. 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.
But that's just scratching the surface on how the Contessa fits into the Marvel Universe and her history with SHIELD, Hydra, Captain America, and Nick Fury. So cue up Tears For Fears' 'Everybody Wants To Rule The World' and dive in, as we explore the comic book history of Vanessa Allegra de Fontaine.
Who is Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine?
Created by legendary Nick Fury/SHIELD 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 also a SHIELD agent as well.
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 plays 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
In typical MCU fashion, the stories yet to be told remain largely mysterious, with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier doing more than its fair share to sow the seeds of the franchise's next phase. But from the way things are shaping up, even though it's all but impossible to say exactly what's on the horizon, it seems Julia Louis-Dreyfus's Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine may be integral to what comes next.
As stated earlier, Dreyfus was originally slated to make her MCU debut when Black Widow was going to launch Phase Four in 2020. But with the global pandemic closing most movie theaters, Black Widow has been rescheduled to finally hit theaters and Disney Plus this July.
Beyond that, Marvel appears to have "even bigger ambitions" for the character than just a showy cameo in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. But what?
Valentina's appearance in the final two episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier seems to indicate she's setting up a potential Avengers-like team of her own, starting with the newly christened John Walker/US Agent.
With that in mind - and the comic book symmetry of having Valentina playing something of Fury's role for the original Avengers - it's hard not to speculate that this could lead to an MCU of the fan-favorite villain-turned-hero team the Thunderbolts.
The Thunderbolts were originally conceived as a team who took the place of the Avengers and other heroes who were killed fighting the villain Onslaught in the mid-'90s. The big reveal came at the end of the iconic first issue that they were in actuality the supervillain group the Masters of Evil taking on superhero aliases led by Baron Zemo (yes, that Baron Zemo), going by the patriotic superhero identity of Citizen V.
With Zemo back on the mega-super prison the Raft (as first seen in Captain America: Civil War as the place where the Falcon, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, and Wanda were locked up) as per the end of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, it's possible the Raft could become a recruiting ground for Valentina's team.
Marvel Studios will never be able to pull off the original Thunderbolts plot twist, but a team of rogue heroes and villains could be the next best thing.
Keep in mind, General-now-Secretary of State 'Thunderbolt' Ross, played by William Hurt, has been seen as sort of a warden of the Raft and will be appearing again in Black Widow.
Ross, and his superhuman alter-ego the Red Hulk, and John Walker (as US Agent) both have a history with past incarnations of the Thunderbolts franchise.
de Fontaine's brief appearance in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier has already spawned several fan theories, including the Thunderbolts and a possible connection to the 2022 Secret Invasion Disney Plus series since de Fontaine was also one of the original hostages replaced by a Skrull imposter in that comic book event series.
Any which way it goes, MCU fans might have just been introduced to a significant new thorn in the side of the superheroes, who given the actor who plays her will almost certainly make MCU fans laugh while she's causing the heroes pain.
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.