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The Surprising Thunderbolts Character In The Falcon And The Winter Soldier Episode 3

Contains spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 3, "Power Broker"

The movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have often featured obscure villains appearing as Easter eggs for comic readers to pick up on, and so far, the live-action Disney+ shows have been no different. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's third episode flies audiences over to Madripoor as the hunt for the new Super Soldier Serum continues. It also sees Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) team up with the infamous Helmut Zemo (whose status as a baron is finally revealed on screen). While the fictional southeast Asian island of Madripoor is a giant Easter egg in and of itself, the episode is littered with other references to the wider Marvel world.

One of those comes from a mention (and a photograph) of a pretty obscure Thunderbolts character who's also had a history with Madripoor over the years. Because of the near-lawless nature of the island, Zemo explains to Sam and Bucky that they have to go in pretending to be other people so they don't get killed. While Zemo gets in touch with his supervillain side and Bucky goes full Winter Soldier mode, Sam is given a completely new moniker for the mission. Zemo's excuse is that the Avenger happens to look like a notorious criminal, and that no one will suspect a thing if Sam pretends to be him. Say hello to Smiling Tiger.

Smiling Tiger's origins and joining the Thunderbolts

Smiling Tiger's real name is Conrad Mack, and his parents were part of the Dragon Breath cult. Unsurprisingly, in the pages of Marvel Comics, he doesn't look like Sam Wilson whatsoever. He has a much more devilish appearance: yellow-orange skin, a pointed face, and bright red claws. If anything, he's more like a demonic version of Black Panther. 

After his first appearance in New Warriors #19, Smiling Tiger — who gets his powers from a mystical well — quickly teams up with a group of other villains called the Folding Circle before leaving to establish a crime ring in Madripoor. Fast forward a few decades to Mark Millar's dramatic Civil War event in 2005, and Smiling Tiger registers under the Superhero Registration Act and becomes part of the Thunderbolts, a team made up of reformed villains led by none other than Baron Helmut Zemo himself. He's mainly part of the Beta team, which later helps squash an uprising of super-powered civilians. All this is to say Conrad Mack isn't as famous as other members of the team like Zemo, Red Hulk, or Agent Venom.

In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, we briefly see the real Smiling Tiger in a blurry cell phone shot, but he basically looks like Anthony Mackie wearing a different outfit and some Tony Stark-style sunglasses. While we probably won't see Sam and Bucky go up against Smiling Tiger in his full comics-accurate design, it's an interesting tease nonetheless — especially since a rumor in 2020 suggested the Thunderbolts will be introduced during The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. We'll just have to wait and see how or if that pans out.