Marvel Comics Expert Predicts The Next Phase Of The MCU Franchise

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Fortunetelling is a great trick, but it only works if you know how to cold read — absorbing everything in front of you and dropping some meaty guesses about what's on others' minds. Figuring out what's next for one of the biggest media franchises in the world is similar. Only President of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige (and those under NDAs) know what's next for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, we can take the hints they're leaving and deliver some fun ideas about what's coming next.

We're about to present twelve educated guesses about the next era of the MCU. Based on what the franchise has already shown us, hints from events like 2022's San Diego Comic-Con, well-sourced filming rumors, and (a lot of) speculation drawn from Marvel's extensive comic book history, we predict what's next for Marvel Studios. We're barely scratching the surface of possible storylines with Kang the Conquerer's rise to power, so if your theories don't match ours, yours still matter! Just remember: Being wrong is half the fun.

When the Thunderbolts strike

"Thunderbolts" is slated to finish the MCU's fifth phase, releasing in theaters in summer 2024. The film follows "Captain America: New World Order" and the (probable) Skrull nightmare of "Secret Invasion." Both movies could provide clues to what these villains-turned-slightly-heroic characters are up to next. If the MCU's Thunderbolts borrow from their comic book counterparts, they might help fill out a world that no longer trusts superheroes.

Peter David and Mike Deodato Jr.'s "The Incredible Hulk" #449 introduced the Thunderbolts. Initially, the team hides their villainous backstories. But that's not something the MCU can get away with — especially given what we've already seen of these characters on the big screen. The moment Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) uses his genteel accent to verbally-murder, we'll know it's him. Instead, it's likelier he'll act more reasonably once he leaves Wakanda, positioning himself as the leader of a new squad. He could use his Sokovian tragedy to prove he was right to distrust superpowered people — some of whom may have been replaced by Skrulls to deepen the public damage.

The Thunderbolts' lineup

Baron Zemo, John Walker (Wyatt Russell), and the Abomination (Tim Roth) are shoo-ins for the team. Rumors suggest Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) will be the Thunderbolts' leader. Historically, Baron Zemo's taken charge more than once, so it's a safe guess he'll try to take the reins from Belova. Walker's involvement also means Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) might control the team diplomatically. Despite the recent death of William Hurt, the return of Thunderbolt Ross and the Red Hulk is still possible if Marvel Studios recasts him. Watching Hulk destroy blood samples in the premiere of "She-Hulk" felt like something guaranteed to come back up — especially after gaining samples of Jennifer Walter's gamma-radiated blood.

After that, we can speculate freely. If Daredevil: Born Again" doesn't bring Punisher into the MCU, the Thunderbolts' commitment to making a better world under a new order could. Ghost Rider could tag in too. But a more fun question is whether or not Batroc the Leaper (Georges St-Pierre) survived his final encounter with the Power Broker (Emily VanCamp). As the Krillin of this supercharged group, it'd be a great gag to see this fella one more time.

Is it time for the Young Avengers?

Marvel's been teasing almost every single member of the Young Avengers line-up since "Ant-Man" introduced Cassie Lang (Abby Ryder Fortson), aka Young Avenger's Stature. We've seen Kate Bishop/Hawkeye (Hailee Steinfeld), Elijah Bradley/Patriot (Elijah Richardson), Billy/Wiccan (Julian Hilliard) and Tommy Maximoff/Speed (Jett Klyne), America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), and a pint-sized kid Loki (Jack Veal) in the MCU. Also, 2019's "Captain Marvel" possibly laid the groundwork for the arrival of the Kree-Skrull hybrid Teddy Altman, aka Hulkling. However, there's one major exception missing from the team.

We've yet to meet Iron Lad. For that to work, we're looking for something to happen before "Avengers: Kang Dynasty" in MCU's Phase 6. "Ant-Man Quantumania" or an unannounced project could provide a springboard for a variant to emerge. In the pages of Marvel comics, Kang the Conquerer has a shocking blood tie to the Fantastic Four. Kang's a descendant of the Richards family, and Iron Lad is a child-aged Kang. Courtesy of his future self, Iron Lad receives a tour of his villainous future, inspiring him to unite the Young Avengers and stop Kang's (and his) destiny. With variants in play courtesy of "Loki" and "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," the confusing time travel aspect could be laid aside in favor of a kid ready to change his Sacred Timeline.

Do a barrel roll, Starfox!

Several plot threads could become part of Harry Styles' tapestry of Starfox. Given the name of Eros by his Titanian parents — to balance his brother Thanos' name, which means death — the Eternal is a bigger deal in the comics now more than ever. Writer Kieron Gillen, who previously steered Kid Loki onto their fan-favorite path today, will take a new approach to Starfox in October's one-shot comic "Starfox." Old Starfox is a manipulative playboy. In an interview with GamesRadar, Gillen pointed out how writers misused his pheromone sexiness. "We see a character whose power set circled pleasure, and to lean into rather than away from the creepiness speaks to the sex-phobic nature of our society," Gillen shared.

Although the casting of Styles isn't a factor in how Gillen will approach his take on Starfox, his work could lead to Starfox's next MCU appearance. While Styles is coy about when he'll return, there are openings. "Eternals 2" is a given, but there's a comic-canon chance Starfox turns up in "She-Hulk." In Dan Slott and Will Conrad's "She-Hulk" run, Starfox goes on trial for his past sexual assault. While it's less funny today, the MCU can come up with a better riff. Also, he could appear in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3," which could see him healing the bridge between Quill and the new Gamora.

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The Vision of Wonder Man

Odds are good that Marvel Studios' upcoming "Wonder Man" television series is going to be a meta-comedy. In the comics, Simon Williams is an entitled nepotist brat with money to spare. He becomes a supervillain and eventually a decent Avenger with a tanky power set. Still, he's kind of a jerk. What most people recall — and what's turned into a sight gag in "Guardians of the Galaxy 2" — is his acting career. On the bright side, he can do his own stunts. Bringing back Trevor Slattery (Sir Ben Kingsley) amps the chances. What "She-Hulk" did for procedural legal dramas, Simon may do for a fictional Hollywood craving superhero biopics. If we're blessed, this is also a great place to get that next Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) cameo.

Most importantly, this could be where the mysterious White Vision (Paul Bettany) of "WandaVision" returns. It's the West Coast Avengers "Vision Quest" arc by John Byrne that rebuilds Vision (and inspired the chilling "WandaVision" scene that showed the disassembled android on a slab). Byrne's story focuses on Vision finding his missing humanity. Here, Wonder Man originally provided the baseline for Vision's mind, but now he refuses to help. In the MCU, the White Vision might turn up in William's life, looking for pieces of his Ship of Theseus in the mind of a flawed actor.

Unsheathing Blade

When fans today think of Blade, they aren't thinking of some English dude in ski-goggles. Wesley Snipes gave Blade a badass lease on life, upgrading the daywalking dhampir into something the evils of the Marvel Universe feared. Sometimes, it's hard to take the Blade of Marvel comics seriously with events like the "Curse of the Mutants" — when Dracula's son turns the X-Men into vampires.

The MCU's upcoming "Blade" film is likely going to put a fresh but familiar spin on the daywalker with Mahershala Ali in the leading role. Putting him in London with Dane Whitman (Kit Harrington) opens up a few paths for the story, as Dane's burdened with the Ebony Blade. While recent comic events give the Ebony Blade a connection to the Necrosword, it might be easier to riff on Arthurian legend with a version of Merlin that could be a guide or villain. Dark magic is something Blade, much more than a vampire hunter, can handle.

Another possible threat is the fallout from the seeming destruction of the Darkhold in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." This mighty grimoire is never easy to destroy, much less control in the comics. The likeliest theory of all is that "Blade" sets up another Disney+ limited series, giving the "True Detective" star more room to hunt.

Namor goes it alone

Marvel Studios' "Wakanda Forever" is going to hurt. It's a bitter pill that Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther won't be the one to face Namor (Tenoch Huerta). In the trailer for "Wakanda Forever," Huerta expresses silent power as a ferocious antihero that could earn a larger place in the MCU — and a shot at a solo outing.

A lot of that theory rides on the suspicion that, by the end of "Wakanda Forever," Namor and his kingdom — Talocan, an underwater Mesoamerican realm distinct from the comics' Atlantis — may not be the biggest enemy Wakanda faces. Namor, in the comics, is quick to anger, but he's not a villain. He clashes with T'Challa, but there's also respect. Huerta is quick to reference that in an interview with Black Nerd Girls. It's that mutual respect that might mend walls when the kingdoms learn there are bigger fish to fry.

Afterward, Namor could have plenty to do. With the Fantastic Four coming soon to the MCU, he could flirt with Sue Storm – as he did in the comics. The Illuminati in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" offers the chance for a new version of this secretive group to give Namor his rightful seat at that table. That alone could be the basis for a Namor film or limited series, giving him a chance to become as big as Loki.

The rise of the X-Men

Leave it to Marvel to drop one of the biggest developments so far in such a quiet way. While "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" gave us another look at our favorite Professor Xavier (Sir Patrick Stewart), it was a last-minute reveal in "Ms. Marvel" that told us the mutant gene was back. But that opening — and a quick gag about a bar-brawling Wolverine in a "She-Hulk" newspaper — does something the X-Men haven't had in a long time: They've got a fresh ground floor.

While still unconfirmed, the rumors of Giancarlo Esposito as Xavier suggest Feige is looking at a middle-aged take on the leading X-Man. That would set the tone for the mutant school — a grounded and confident place for those willing to learn. But the most likely theory here is the MCU using mutants to highlight the diversity the X-Men themselves have always represented. Kitty Pryde, Jubilee, Bishop, and newer X-Man Tempo might get noticed. However, the coolest X-Men debut in the MCU possibility is Storm. Known as the Queen of Wakanda in the comics, we might get to meet her in "Wakanda Forever."

The return of Loki

Will Loki ever return to the primary timeline? If the comics are an inspiration here, it's likely that a version will turn up in Thor's life. Right now, any speculation rides on the outcome of the second season of "Loki." Tom Hiddleston confirmed season 1's "Loki" cast is returning. Set photos have already shown Sylvie (Sophie Di Martino) and Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) on location. But will all the variants return too?

Alligator Loki is a heart-thieving breakout star, earning a ton of merch and a silly comic. But Kieron Gillen's reboot of the character in "Journey Into Mystery" leaves a chance for the child-sized Loki (Jack Veal), or another variant of him, to come back into the God of Thunder's life. Instead of the sometimes touchy friendship between Loki and Leah, a grim girl with a secret dark side, Love (India Rose Hemsworth) has a piece of Eternity inside her. It'd be a new dynamic, but just as ready to explore the theme of second chances in life. Plus, that's another member of the Young Avengers ready to go!

Ironheart's new Kingpin

Set to be introduced in "Wakanda Forever," Riri Williams, aka Ironheart (Dominique Thorne), is an engineering genius on the level of Tony Stark. Her first comic book appearances were in "Invincible Iron Man," by Brian Michael Bendis and Stefano Caselli, where she received her superhero stamp of approval from Stark. In the MCU, she may be a recipient of the programs Wakanda set up at the end of "Black Panther." But Riri is already confirmed for her own series, "Ironheart," and so far, the biggest mystery is her villain.

Anthony Ramos ("Hamilton") will star in Ironheart, although his role is unknown. There are set photos that imply he'll portray one of Marvel's newest villains. In the past, the MCU has pulled some big swerves, and if Ramos is The Hood, the Disney+ series might be building to a war between Kingpins. The Hood, armed with demonic artifacts and a connection to Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio), has big ambitions in life. He's dedicated to his crime family and wants to overthrow Fisk. It could even be that The Hood, who's beefed with the Defenders, will become one of Daredevil's problems when he returns in "Born Again."

Gearing up for the Armor Wars

James "War Machine" Rhodes (Don Cheadle) is our leading hero for the upcoming Disney+ series "Armor Wars." Set to be at least loosely based on the original 1987-1988 "Iron Man" comic arc, Cheadle will stand against a series of threats that Tony Stark once faced. That loss will still have a role in Rhodey's story. However, if we're voting for at least one storyline from the comic to make a return, it's Justin Hammer.

This theory depends on whether or not Sam Rockwell is up for the role after his last sighting in Marvel's short film, "All Hail the King." If Sir Ben Kingsley is still having fun, it's hard to imagine Feige not getting Sam back on board. In "Armor Wars," Justin commercially benefits from stealing Stark design documents. In today's MCU, it's good money that it's Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) who would arrange that theft — instead of the comics' Spymaster. That makes for a great place to continue the storyline from "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" and another chance to take a deep look at the MCU's unpleasant side.

Agatha all alone

Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn) has an open field for her solo outing, "Agatha: Coven of Chaos." One big question that will likely get answered is: Can curses outlast their makers? Wanda left Agatha spellbound as the same perky-creepy housewife neighbor she pretended to be. By the end of "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," the Scarlet Witch is seemingly dead (or down for the count). That may mean that "Coven of Chaos" opens with Agatha freed from her magical binding.

Agatha's never headlined a comic, leaving her free to explore all of Marvel's magical side — possibly with visits from characters like the Salem Seven or other Darkhold worshippers. She could have run-ins with the Victoria Montesi-led Redeemers, which could set up connections to "Blade." Or she could even add context for the upcoming "Midnight Suns" video game. That game's a riff on the Midnight Sons, another supernatural hero team-up that includes Ghost Rider and Daimon Hellstrom, who had a short-lived Hulu series in 2020. They're all possible antagonists! 

But sly money is on a special cameo by the end of Agatha's reign of chaos. She's also been the Richards' family nurse in "Fantastic Four," tending to little Franklin Richards about as well as she did Wanda.

A dark, Strange future

"Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" uses its credit cookies to set up a sprawling dimensional future. Clea (Charlize Theron) is the niece of Dormammu, the dread lord of chaos and the master of the Dark Dimension. Strange bargained him into a corner in his first movie outing. But Dormammu is one of his big deal comic book nemeses, and it's not likely that his threat to the MCU is over.

Re-upping Sam Raimi's contract and a clever blending of ideas could create an even grimmer narrative for "Doctor Strange 3" — if we're lucky. The Lovecraftian Cancerverse was introduced in the 2010 "Realm of Kings" event, introducing Marvel's cosmic stable to a universe where Death had died. Then, the eldritch Many-Angled Ones held sway. The MCU missed its chance to introduce Death as an entity during the Infinity War, but "Thor: Love & Thunder" and the new Watcher has primed audiences for the bony immortal's presence. Clea, a Sorcerer Supreme in her own right, may have opened the door to a world where the Cancerverse and the Dark Dimension overlap.