Your Guide to the New Heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Steve Rogers and Tony Stark may no longer assemble alongside The Avengers, but by 2021 the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be overflowing with caped crusaders eager to join the ranks of the established roster of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. We’re still reeling from the seemingly endless announcement of characters that came out of the Marvel Studios presentation at Comic-Con, and now we know that Kevin Feige was showing great restraint. During his presentations at the D23 Expo, the man in the ballcap revealed that Phase Four still had a few tricks up its sleeve.

In addition to the previously announced movies Black Widow, The Eternals, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Thor: Love and Thunder, we now have a confirmation and release date for Black Panther II. And in addition to the Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision, Loki, What If…, and Hawkeye, the next narrative stage will also contain three other highly anticipated properties focused on their eponymous Marvel Comics heroes: Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, and Moon Knight.

Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, and Moon Knight are not household names yet, but just like Iron Man prior to his MCU introduction in 2008, they are supported by a deep catalog of well-established stories and an army of fans who have waited a very long time to see them executed properly on screen. Haters have dismissed all three as knockoffs of superior, more popular characters, but those in the know realize that, in many ways, they surpass the characters that inspired them. My job here is to be their hype man, to get you excited for a trilogy of titans that will own the pop culture conversation in the coming years.

On top of the announcement of MCU newcomers, we also received word of some returning guests (including fan-favorite Darcy) to the mix as well as even more surprise appearances from classic costumed characters, namely U.S. Agent and Black Knight. I’ll get into those A-List B-Listers as well and tell you what to read now while you wait for all these characters hit small and/or big screens.

Ms. Marvel

We knew she was coming, but seeing The Magnificent Ms. Marvel finally get her official Marvel Studios logo sends chills down my spine. Maybe no other D23 announcement has caused quite as much a stir as this one, and with good reason. Kamala Khan is an exceptional character who represents a community rarely (or, never) given the superhero treatment. The Pakistani-American teenager comes from a strict, religious family who does not understand her obsession with the mighty Captain Marvel. When her body is exposed to Terrigen Mists (ummm…it’s complicated, but really all you need to know is that it’s a mutagen with ties to The Inhumans, and please, don’t let that terrible ABC series muddy your perception of how rad those characters actually are), Kamala gains shapeshifting abilities.

One nice aspect of this character is that she’s only been around since 2013, and her first few comics serve as an exceptional starting point for the curious reader. Not only that, but Marvel Comics recently published her first 12 issues as an affordable $12.99 digest-sized collection called Ms. Marvel: Kamala Khan. The story tracks her reaction to the newfound superpowers, her infatuation with Captain Marvel, a battle with a bird-headed villain and his army of robots, and the careful protection of her secret identity from friends, family, and foes.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, The Ms. Marvel streaming show will introduce the character under the leadership and pen of Bisha K. Ali, the showrunner behind Hulu’s Four Weddings and a Funeral reboot. For anyone worried that Kamala Khan deserves to stand alongside her hero, Kevin Feige also revealed at D23 that Ms. Marvel will eventually find her way to the big-screen adventures of The Avengers just as some Avengers found their way to Disney+ shows.

She-Hulk

She-Hulk has been around much longer than Ms. Marvel. First spinning into her own solo series, Savage She-Hulk in 1980, Jennifer Walters is the cousin of gamma-irradiated scientist Bruce Banner. After being shot in the stomach by a crime boss, her cousin donated his blood for a transfusion, which resulted in her displaying a similar, if a tad more toned-down, Hulk affliction. For a long time, Marvel writers really did not know what to do with the character, and she simply bounced around a variety of superhero teams like The Avengers, The Defenders, The Fantastic Four, Heroes for Hire, and S.H.I.E.L.D.  When Dan Slott got a hold of the character in 2013, he focused on her bizarre career as a lawyer for the superpowered, and the character carved a unique space in the crowded Marvel Universe.

At D23, Feige revealed that the She-Hulk series would indeed focus on her lawyering. A person could easily jump into the Slott series and have a good time with her character, but I would direct new comic book readers to the more recent She-Hulk run written by Charles Soule and illustrated by Javier Pulido. Here Jennifer has left the superhero game to concentrate fully on her work in the courtroom. Using the excellent detection skills of her pal Hellcat, the two uncover vast and micro criminal conspiracies involving Doctor Doom, Daredevil, and Captain America. The book is a romp and will convince you that these characters can do a hell of a lot more than just punch each other.

Moon Knight

For years, folks dismissed Moon Knight as Marvel’s Batman rip-off. Like Bruce Wayne, Marc Spektor is a billionaire playboy with an uncontrollable desire to bring pain to the underworld. Why? Well, as a mercenary hunting terrorists in the deserts of Egypt, Spektor was left for dead by the psychotic Bushman. His dying body was found by locals and taken to the ancient temple of Khonshu, and the god imbued Spektor with new life and strength. Or, maybe Spektor was a total nutjob plagued by multiple personalities. Depending on the writer, Moon Knight has been a violent vigilante of the night or a troubled schizophrenic battling as many inner demons as outer. The best stories are the ones that bring both possibilities together.

Feige said at D23 that the Moon Knight series will be an action-adventure program about that mercenary left in the desert. Pretty basic stuff. Not excited yet? Well, give Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey’s From The Dead storyline a chance. In that brief bout of comics, Spektor hits the streets to combat crime, and in each issue, a different personality is driving the bus. Even better, depending on the persona, a unique style of genre is explored: noir, horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. Batman may be a touch unbalanced, but Moon Knight borders on insane, and that awkward exploration adds an extra layer of unease and interest to the character.

U.S. Agent

Joining stars Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan on the stage for a look at the Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, showrunner Malcolm Spellman revealed that Emily VanCamp‘s Sharon Carter will return to the MCU on their show. Not only that, Wyatt Russell (son of MCU actor Kurt Russell) will make his first appearance as the U.S. Agent. Ah, and you thought Moon Knight was obscure.

John Walker is the dark mirror image of Steve Rogers. Desperately wanting to live up to the memory of a brother that died in combat, Walker underwent a similar series of experiments to enhance his body. He claims to represent the same values as Captain America, but they lean towards a bleaker, provincial agenda. In 1987, when Steve Rogers abandoned the mantel of Captain America, John Walker took on the role for 17 issues. You should read those. Could we see Wyatt Russell’s version of the character perverting Steve Rogers’ memory in the name of Daniel Brühl‘s diabolical Captain America: Civil War baddie? The Falcon and The Winter Soldier would certainly have to do something about such an atrocity.

The Black Knight

A real cinematic surprise announcement was the addition of Kit Harrington as Dane Whitman to the cast of The Eternals. Also known as The Black Knight, Whitman is the third character to carry the mystical sword known as The Ebony Blade. Carved from a meteor and enchanted by the wizard Merlin, the weapon was passed from generation to generation before Whitman wrapped his mitts around it. For years, Whitman was made invulnerable by the sword, and he stood with The Avengers against their usual gamut of villains. Unfortunately, The Ebony Blade also carried a curse as a result of all the blood it had spilled through the centuries. Whitman was made stone at one point, and it took the magic of Doctor Strange to purge the blade of dark energy.

For a time, when Captain America could not lead The Avengers, The Black Knight took over his duties. During this period, Whitman fell in love with The Eternals character Sersi (who Gemma Chan will portray in the film). When Sersi became ill, Ikaris (Harrington’s Game of Thrones co-star Richard Madden) bonded Whitman’s soul to her. This bonding increased tensions rather than romance, and The Black Knight fled their relationship so he could get cozy with The Inhuman Crystal. He’s a real dog.

Dane Whitman has primarily been a supporting player in the comics, but I would recommend his one-and-one solo series The Black Knight: The Fall of Dane Whitman published in 2015. The Black Knight tries to break his addiction from The Ebony Blade, and the mystical confrontation sends them both to one of the strangest corners of the Marvel Universe: Weirdworld. Of course, The Avengers appear at a certain point, but writer Frank Tieri never strays from celebrating the hero of the hour.

Captain Carter

The Comic-Con panel revealed Peggy Carter wielding Steve Rogers’ shield, and the D23 panel sealed the deal. Hayley Atwell took the stage while an image of her as Captain Britain was projected behind her. On top of that, we also learned that a skinny Steve Rogers will appear strapped in a mech suit. The animated anthology series promises to have a lot of fun with the myriad multiverse possibilities and your best shot of getting in on that particular style of tangent storytelling should be the current Exiles comic book series. Written by Saladin Ahmed and illustrated by Javier Rodriguez, the plot revolves around Blink, Valkyrie, Iron Lad, a cartoon Wolverine, and an elderly Ms. Marvel bouncing through dimensions while attempting to hold the fabric of reality together. Along the way, they encounter Captain Carter, and it is super cool.

“Nosey Neighbor”

Huh? News that the WandaVision series would include an adult Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) from Captain Marvel and spinoff into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, already had us on pins and needles. Now we know that Darcy (Kat Dennings) from Thor: The Dark World and Agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) from Ant-Man and the Wasp will also return. As an extra added bonus, Kathryn Hahn is scheduled to appear as a “nosey neighbor.”

Yeah, no, “nosey neighbor” is not a comics staple, but the character might be the biggest clue of all as to what to expect from the series. Neighbors mean suburbs, and that says we have to look towards Tom King and Gabriel Walta’s The Vision mini-series. In that storyline, The Vision, hoping to understand human relationships, constructs an android family to keep him company when he’s not fighting monsters alongside The Avengers. While Avengers: Infinity War left the MCU Vision for dead, could the suburban lifestyle be replicated through the lens of Wanda’s vision this time around? Her loneliness and her power-set could lead to a brilliant and terrifying resurrection.

Plus: An Update on Loki

No new additions or plot points were revealed regarding the mischievous antihero, but we did learn that Kate Herron was hired as showrunner of the Loki series. Primarily known for her work on Five by Five and Sex Education, Herron has never tackled anything on this scale before. What you can glean from her previous work, however, is a strong sense of humor and human failing. That combination will work for a version of Loki that has yet to go through the trials of Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok, or Avengers: Infinity War. This Loki will be one falling through the timestream, having fun, and mixing it up with any number of classic Marvel characters.

To give you some idea of what to expect as far as tone is concerned, dip into the Young Avengers series written by Kieron Gillen. There, a child version of the character butts heads with other teenage superhero wannabes and learns to appreciate the pleasures of heroism. The trick (pun intended) with the Loki character is that you have to maintain his twisted selfishness but never fall too deeply into villainy. Gillen hits that vibe exceptionally in Young Avengers.

Brad Gullickson: @@MouthDork Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.