That's What's Up: How these villains could make their first MCU appearance in Avengers 4

Each week, comic book writer Chris Sims answers the burning questions you have about the world of comics and pop culture: what's up with that? If you'd like to ask Chris a question, please send it to @theisb on Twitter with the hashtag #WhatsUpChris, or email it to staff@looper.com with the subject line "That's What's Up."

Q: Every Marvel movie has introduced at least a few new characters, so with Avengers 4 looming on the horizon, do you think we'll get any new villains for the Marvel Cinematic Universe?  — via email

If I had to guess — and you asked, so I do — then I'd say that the heroes of the MCU are probably going to have their hands full with Thanos when they finally return to the screen, if for no other reason than it would be pretty weird to keep him retired on his farm planet while the good guys went off to do something else. At the same time, those movies have consistently done a better job than any other live-action superhero stories of juggling multiple villains. Infinity War was definitely the Thanos Show, but it also threw in a cameo from the Red Skull and the entire Black Order, which was good news for whoever had Proxima Midnight in the "who's the most obscure Marvel character who will make it into a movie" pool.

By the same token, Captain America: Civil War was built around a conflict between Cap and Iron Man, but also featured Crossbones and Baron Zemo, and still had enough room to introduce Black Panther and Spider-Man. That's not just something that's limited to those big crossover epics, either — Spider-Man: Homecoming had the Vulture, the Lizard, the Tinkerer, the Prowler, two Shockers, an antagonistic version of Damage Control, and — if you really want to get technical about it — Agent Venom. Point being, there always seems to be room for a few more bad guys, and if the MCU's going to introduce a few more villains next time around, here's how I think they could do it.

Mephisto

One of the most interesting aspects of Infinity War, for me anyway, is that Thanos' infamous snap of the fingers straight-up killed people, rather than, say, erasing them from existence. That means there are a lot of superheroes in that world who are dead, and if we're going to go with the idea that at least a few of those heroes are going to make it back to the land of the living, that means that they've got to be somewhere else in the meantime.

That opens up the possibility of introducing Mephisto, the Marvel Universe's most prominent take on the devil. It might seem weird to start throwing demons and the afterlife into a story with some definitively sci-fi flavor, but by including Doctor Strange — and recontextualizing the Time Stone as a mystical artifact — they're already touching on that stuff. In fact, "touching on" might be underselling it, since they've also got Thor, whose most recent battle before that movie was against the literal Goddess of Death, and Black Panther, who recently took a day trip to Heaven himself.

There are already connections there waiting to be explored, though. Mephisto's role as a bargainer means that he could be in the perfect position to trade something for the heroes' lives. We already know that Tony Stark staying alive is necessary for the heroes to win, so maybe there's something Tony has that Mephisto wants? Maybe Captain America is going to strike a deal to bring back his two best friends? Or, considering that Mephisto was the one who drove Nakia to become a supervillain in the comics by exploiting her love for T'Challa, maybe she'll be the one who has to make a sacrifice to bring the Black Panther back from the dead, too.

Annihilus

There's another fun piece of the finger-snap that has already expanded the scope of the film thanks to the post-credits sequence: it's not just Earth that's affected. It's explicitly mentioned several times that he's killing half the universe, which means that all of those spacefaring societies that we've seen in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies have also been hit. That leaves outer space weakened and destabilized on a cosmic scale, making it the perfect time for a galaxy-conquering supervillain to show up and start destroying things.

Thus: Annihilus. In the comics, he hails from a sort of pocket dimension called the Negative Zone, and he's essentially a sentient space locust hellbent on devouring everything in his path across the galaxy. Since Thanos has apparently retired to a farm at the end of Infinity War, and since we're already familiar with societies like Xandar's Nova Corps, Knowhere, and the Sovereign, shifting the focus, at least temporarily, to a more vicious threat could be a good way to show how big the stakes have gotten. Half the universe dying is bad, but it's better than having the other half wiped out by a dude who calls himself The Living Death That Walks.

Of course, we've already seen an army of mindlessly destructive alien drones in the form of the Chitauri back in Avengers. Still, since he was the villain of Annihilation, the event that created the modern Guardians of the Galaxy as we know them in the movies, his presence and the looming threat of the Annihilation Wave coming for Earth could be a great new way to reunite the heroes.

Galactus

If we're looking for the kind of cosmic threat that can follow up on Thanos — or even present the kind of problem that would make that guy think that getting rid of the Sorcerer Supreme might not have been the best move — then there's one obvious pick. Of everyone who's ever appeared in the pages of Marvel Comics, Galactus is the one who defines cosmic threats.

The trick, of course, is making him seem like a worse threat than Thanos. Galactus is the Devourer of Worlds, but he only ever eats one at a time, while Thanos killed countless billions in an instant, all at once. At the same time, there's an easy way to tie those together: Galactus subsists on the life force within a planet. Wiping out half of all life also wipes out half of what he subsists on, and that could drive him into a feeding frenzy, and if there's one vaguely defined force that could rival the Infinity Stones, it's the Power Cosmic.

Of course, there's an obvious problem here. He might've taken on pretty much everyone in the Marvel Universe at one point or another (including Aunt May, believe it or not), but Galactus is fundamentally associated with the Fantastic Four, and the film rights to those characters were held by Fox. With the news that Disney was buying out Fox and getting those rights back, however, the FF could eventually find a home in the MCU.

At this point, it's pretty much inevitable, although Kevin Feige has said that there are only "vague ideas" about how to bring those characters into the MCU, and that pretty much everything through the next few movies (including Avengers 4) was set in stone well before the buyout. There could always be a last-minute swerve, but if you're going to go through all that trouble, there's another villain that could slide right in instead.

Doctor Doom

As someone who genuinely loves the MCU as a fan, I'm actually not as excited as you think about the possibility of seeing the X-Men or the Fantastic Four show up in that universe just yet. What I really want is Doctor Doom.

He is, quite simply, the single greatest supervillain in the history of comic books, and part of the reason why is that he works in stories where he's up against pretty much any superhero. My favorite Iron Man stories, for instance, are the ones where he fights Dr. Doom. My favorite Doctor Strange story is the one where he fights Dr. Doom. My favorite Marvel Universe crossover of all time? It's the one where everybody fights Dr. Doom! He's adaptable and powerful enough to pose a threat to anyone, including Thanos himself — he's one of the few villains to team up with the heroes in the original Infinity Gauntlet story, and has had designs on the stones more than a few times in the years since.

But there's one really cool aspect that I think would make him fit right in with the current MCU: he's the ruler of his own country, Latveria. For him to stay in power, that means that nobody ever stopped him, which is much easier to believe in a world where half the superheroes dissolved into dust. A world where 3.5 billion people disappear at random is a world that is suddenly and irrevocably thrown into chaos, and that's exactly the kind of environment that would allow Victor Von Doom to thrive.

The Jackal

Okay, bear with me on this one. While it's tempting to focus solely on massive cosmic threats that could rival Thanos, we've heard a lot of rumors over the past few weeks about how Avengers 4 is going to be set five years after Infinity War. That means that there's plenty of room for more minor villains to step into the spotlight and take advantage of the chaos the results from half the population of a planet turning to dust.

Which leads us to the Jackal, best known as the villain directly responsible for the infamous Clone Saga. That alone make him seem like a long shot, but believe it or not, I actually think there's a pretty good case to be made for him. It all starts with the fact that Peter Parker is one of the characters who gets dusted by Thanos, meaning that there's currently no place for one of Marvel's flagship characters in the next film. There are ways around that, of course — Homecoming already hinted at the existence of Miles Morales —but what if someone steps in to fill that spider-vacuum by just straight up making a new Spider-Man?

If that still seems unlikely, consider this: in the comics, the Jackal is Miles Warren, who was one of Peter's college professors before he got obsessed with cloning Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy. I don't believe she's ever actually named in the film, but Orange Is the New Black's Selinis Levya plays one of Peter's teachers, and if you look at the credits, you'll find that her name… is Ms. Warren. Coincidence? Possibly, but since this is the same movie that tied Peter's principal into the Howling Commandos, it's not out of the question.

The Taskmaster

Another relatively minor villain who could find a chance to shine in a post-Thanos world is the Taskmaster, who straight up rules. He might be one of the best examples of the kind of all-purpose supervillain who can fight anyone, the sort of character that makes a universe feel cohesive. He's the kind of character who can only exist in a world that's gotten big enough to support him, and over the past 10 years, the MCU has certainly expanded to that point. Since there was a mildly big deal about Marvel Studios getting his rights back in 2015, it's weird that we haven't seen him appear already.

The Taskmaster is one of a handful of characters with the power of "photographic reflexes," which means he can exactly copy any movement that he sees. In one of the most brilliant ideas in the history of superhero comics, he mostly uses this ability to make money by training aspiring henchmen, but he's also a formidable foe in his own right. He's another one of those characters who could fit right into the superpower vacuum created when all the heroes were dusted. In a world where Black Panther disintegrated, how do you deal with someone who can fight just like him, while also fighting like Captain America? 

Also, he has one of the all-time great costumes, complete with a hooded cape, buccaneer boots, and a skeleton face. One of the great things about the MCU is that they don't shy away from the ridiculousness of comic book design while still making the costumes appear more or less practical. Spider-Man looks like Spider-Man, to the point of having big eyes on his costume that can change shape to mirror his expression. Seeing a live-action take on the Taskmaster in a world where the Celestials showed up and look like the dang Celestials would be incredibly dope.

The Skeleton Crew

Okay, this one has minor spoilers, so bear that in mind before you go any further. One of the more interesting and unexpected moments of Infinity War involved a reappearance from the Red Skull as a cosmic harbinger of doom. Since he's Captain America's arch-nemesis, it makes sense that he would somehow find his way back into action. But now, we have another piece of this particular Nazi puzzle: it seems that Brock Rumlow, a.k.a. Crossbones, is going to be back in Avengers 4 in some way, too.

At this point, that could mean anything from a flashback sequence to a scene in the afterlife, but it could also mean that we'll be seeing characters returning from the dead who weren't just snapped into dust. If that's the case, then why stop at Skull and Bones? Why not go all out with the whole dang Skeleton Crew?

Admittedly, Mother Night and Minister Blood aren't exactly going to set the world on fire, but they're no more or less beloved than Corvus Glaive and the Maw, so why not? If nothing else, Machinesmith, who can send his consciousness into machines, would be a pretty neat villain to have in a franchise that's technically made up of 19 sequels to Iron Man.

Death

Speaking of the Red Skull, one of the mild Easter eggs about his hooded, cloaked appearance was that he resembled the traditional look of Marvel's embodiment of Death. She's not technically a supervillain — she's more neutral than anything else, and most of her most prominent recent appearances have cast her as Deadpool's on-again off-again girlfriend — but for our purposes today, I think she qualifies.

The bigger problem is that she might not fit in with the MCU's version of Thanos. The comics version's mass murder was motivated by an infatuation with Death and a more general sense of evil. The big-screen Thanos, on the other hand, is firmly convinced that he's doing the right thing to save the universe, which is why his sacrifice of Gamora actually works. Still, if there's one thing that's going to prompt the concept of capital-D Death to assume a physical form and start walking around and interacting with Captain America, it's the lowercase-d death of trillions of sentient beings throughout the universe.

And again, this could tie into all the heroes who died. If we see them at some point before they make it back to the land of the living, then there ought to be some kind of authority figure for the afterlife, whether it's a debuting Mephisto, a returning Hela, or an extremely taciturn skull-face lady.

M.O.D.O.K.

Finally, we have the character who is quite possibly the most Marvel Comics of all the Marvel villains: M.O.D.O.K., the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing. Look, I'll be completely honest here: I have literally no reason at all to believe that this dude is going to show up in the next Avengers movie. I just really, really want it to happen. The MCU has gotten weird enough that we've seen Eitri the Dwarf, the Grandmaster, and a cameo appearance from the Bi-Beast. There's a talking tree who's a fan favorite! Arnim Zola has been in two movies, and while he admittedly never appeared in his true comic book form as a big robot dude with a TV face in his chest, Winter Soldier brought him pretty darn close.

So like, at this point, why not? Why not follow up the biggest and most devastating superhero movie of all time by throwing in a giant head in a rocket chair? You don't even have to worry about him not being as threatening as Thanos — he's Designed Only for Killing! It's right there in his name!

Each week, comic book writer Chris Sims answers the burning questions you have about the world of comics and pop culture: what's up with that? If you'd like to ask Chris a question, please send it to @theisb on Twitter with the hashtag #WhatsUpChris, or email it to staff@looper.com with the subject line "That's What's Up."