The Falcon & the Winter Soldier‘s villains, the Flag-Smashers, could be a false flag operation seeded by the U.S. government to justify a new Captain America. Captain America has always been inextricably linked to the quest for American self-identity, and as a result many Marvel comic book stories featuring Steve Rogers have drawn inspiration from real-world politics. One of Cap’s most curious villains is called the Flag-Smasher, a former Swedish diplomat who sought to destroy symbols of nationalist identity across the globe and thus naturally targeted Captain America himself. The concept is an interesting one, because it essentially positions the Flag-Smasher as an extremist counter to nationalism, allowing a discussion on the theme.
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Falcon & Winter Soldier has introduced the MCU’s version of the Flag-Smashers. Led by Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), these Flag-Smashers actually look back at elements of the Blip with a sense of nostalgia. When Thanos erased half the life in the universe with a snap of his fingers, he united the survivors in grief, and national identities broke down in the context of this shared sorrow. Now Thanos’ actions have been undone, though, the world is gradually returning to normal, and all those national borders are being raised once again. In the Flag-Smashers’ view, the restored world order is being created principally by those who were brought back to life, who have no idea what life was like while they were gone.
Most concerning of all, the Flag-Smashers have super-soldiers. Falcon & Winter Soldier episode 2 clearly implies they stole the super-soldier serum from the Power Broker, but there may be a lot more to it than that. The simple fact remains that the Flag-Smashers are a very convenient threat for the U.S. government, raising the possibility they have actually been created to justify their actions.
Captain America Caused A Serious Problem
The Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution may claim to be in honor of Steve Rogers, but it’s quite clear it mostly focuses on his service during the Second World War. This is because, for all Captain America remained a powerful symbol when he awoke in the 21st Century, he was a rather controversial one. Rather than simply obey orders and enforce the status quo, he swiftly proved willing to challenge authority and even go rogue. In The Avengers, Captain America broke into a secure SHIELD storehouse in order to discover Tesseract weapons Fury was trying to keep secret; in Captain America: The Winter Soldier he decided to burn down SHIELD because it had been compromised by Hydra, making the decision on his own and without any oversight; and in Captain America: Civil War, he outright rejected the Sokovia Accords. When he dropped that shield, abandoning the Captain America identity altogether, he made an implicit criticism of state-sponsored, nationalist superheroes.
Viewed from this perspective, Steve Rogers’ actions foreshadowed the destruction of national identity that came about during the Blip. It’s worth noting the Flag-Smashers are probably oversimplifying, and that there were still powerful political forces who attempted to preserve their nationalist power-base; some even tried to create more state-sponsored superheroes, with War Machine gaining new Iron Patriot armor. When the Blip came to an end, these people were able to find allies in all those who had been erased, and for whom no time had passed at all. As far as literally half the world was concerned, the five-year period in which the borders between countries collapsed had literally never happened.
Why The World Needs The Flag-Smashers
This makes the Flag-Smashers the perfect villains for this time. This group desire to restore the post-national status quo that emerged during the Blip, and perhaps even go even further with it. But the fact they are terrorists, willing to go to any lengths necessary for their cause, allows their political opponents to portray their cause as one of extremism. With skillful handling, their entire political agenda can be neutralized, with post-nationalism and even multilateralism dismissed as something only a bunch of fanatics want. The Flag-Smashers can further be used to justify the creation of a new Captain America. The fact they are super-soldiers proves the state needs superheroes in order to protect its citizens, and there is tremendous symbolism in the idea of someone embodying patriotic heroism neutralizing a band of post-nationalism extremists.
The truth is that, if those pushing to restore the borders are to have their way, they need to persuade the public to embrace nationalist self-identity again. The best way to achieve this in the United States is to give the country a threat to be faced, creating a “rally around the flag” effect. This becomes particularly literal if the hero the country rallies behind is the “Star-Spangled Man With A Plan,” and it’s notable the government is already sending John Walker on the kind of tours it dispatched Steve Rogers on back when the country was on a war footing.
Isaiah Bradley Proves The Government Had Serum
Meanwhile, the very fact the Flag-Smashers have super-soldiers at all is suspect. Falcon & Winter Soldier episode 2 saw Bucky introduce Sam Wilson to Isaiah Bradley, a forgotten super-soldier who served his country during the Korean War. Until now, it had been believed Steve Rogers was the only successful super-soldier created by the U.S. government, even though experiments continued until at least 2005, when General Ross pushed Bruce Banner too far. Now, though, it’s clear at least one experiment worked out, and U.S. scientists spent 30 years studying Isaiah Bradley while he was in prison, subjecting him to a whole battery of tests.
Bucky has jumped to the conclusion the super-soldier serum was duplicated by someone associated with Hydra, but that is an assumption. It’s entirely possible someone in the U.S. government – some covert agency, some shadowy force – has figured out how to create more super-soldiers. The Power Broker – the one the Flag-Smashers appear to have stolen the serum from – could well just be a front, ensuring the government maintain plausible deniability.
Theory: The Flag-Smashers Are A False Flag Group
The Flag-Smashers are simply too convenient. If they did not exist, there are people in the U.S. government who would wish they did, and those people potentially have access to the super-soldier serum as well. All this raises the possibility Falcon and Winter Soldier have stumbled upon a grand conspiracy, with some in the government secretly pushing Karli Morgenthau towards extremism and providing super-soldier serum through the Power Broker. If this is accurate, though, they have made one major miscalculation; they are probably not aware Bucky remembers Isaiah Bradley, meaning the two vigilantes are approaching the crisis from the wrong end, focusing on the serum rather than the Flag-Smashers. John Walker’s attempt to encourage the two to work with him looks a lot more suspicious in this light, especially when you remember Walker was part of a conspiracy to make himself look like a hero in the comics too.
The best Captain America stories, including those in which Sam Wilson became Captain America, are not about embracing patriotism but challenging it thoughtfully. Time and again this has been done by revealing corruption that lies at the heart of the American political system, forcing the current shield-slinger to ask just what he wants to represent. It would be fascinating to see Marvel take the same approach in Falcon & Winter Soldier, revealing the Flag-Smashers are a false flag operation, allowing the series to really interrogate American self-identity in a post-Blip world.
More: Falcon & Winter Soldier Reveals Another Endgame Blip Problem
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