Warning: SPOILERS ahead for The Falcon & The Winter Soldier episode 3, “Power Broker.”
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier added Conrad Mack (a.k.a Smiling Tiger) to the MCU’s mythology — here’s a breakdown of how the figure compares to the comics. Reprised by Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, respectively, Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes are eager to bring down the Flag-Smashers and uncover the origins of the group’s powers. As teased last week, that goal would lead them right back Baron Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl).
After Bucky facilitated his escape from prison, Zemo led the titular duo to Madripoor. Established as a pirate sanctuary in the 1800s, the island nation had maintained its lawless ways over the centuries. Now said to be overseen by the mysterious Power Broker, Madripoor was home to every kind of mercenary and criminal imaginable. Heading to the worst of the areas – Lowtown – Zemo sought to strike a deal with a former contact named Selby. In order to reach her establishment and make it out alive, however, the three had to blend in fully.
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To that end, Bucky had to pose as a still brainwashed Winter Soldier and Zemo acted as his handler. As a known Avenger, Sam Wilson, meanwhile, had to become somebody entirely new. Fortunately, Zemo knew of a figure that shared more than a passing likeness. Named Conrad Mack (but known as the Smiling Tiger), Sam was given similar clothes to wear and a personality description to emulate. Though things inevitably went awry, the ruse worked long enough for them to get the information they needed regarding the new super-soldier serum. As hardcore fans know, however, the persona wasn’t entirely made up for the show. Conrad Mack has made multiple appearances throughout Marvel Comics. Here’s everything you need to know regarding the Smiling Tiger’s origins, abilities, and how the show greatly diverged.
Who Is Conrad Mack/Smiling Tiger
Created by Fabian Nicieza and Mark Bagley, Conrad debuted in 1992’s New Warriors #19. An animal/human hybrid, the Smiling Tiger got his name from the thick coat of orange fur covering his body. That and the fact he often smiled whenever he took a life. As a member of a group called the Folding Circle, he battled such teams as the New Warriors and such heroes as Night Thrasher. After learning the truth of his origin, however, Conrad briefly aligned with those heroes to defeat a sorceress named Tai. In the wake of that adventure, Conrad and the rest of the team stole a Quinjet and settled (after crash-landing) in Madripoor. There, a new leader named Midnight’s Fire assumed control of the Folding Circle.
Under the guidance of Midnight’s Fire, Smiling Tiger and the others became prominent figures in the Madripoor underworld. They were even specifically chosen to aid Tyger Tiger, the nation’s ruler — taking down her rival, a mutant crimelord named Aardwolf. Alongside the others, Smiling Tiger also clashed once more with Night Thrasher. Following the Civil War, however, Conrad became a registered superhero and joined the infamous group known as the Thunderbolts. Based in Los Angeles, Conrad’s principal adventure saw him protect the Wellspring of Power from the Grandmaster. Despite being briefly being taken over and forced to turn on his teammates, Conrad ultimately helped facilitate the Grandmaster’s defeat.
Smiling Tiger’s Comics Origin & Powers
For a time, Smiling Tiger’s origins were shrouded in mystery. Discovered living on the streets, he was recruited into the Folding Circle by Diego Casseas (a.k.a Left Hand). Ultimately, it was revealed that he and several others were the results of a pact made by their parents. In Conrad’s case, his stark appearance and abilities were because of his father. During the Vietnam War, Collier Mack had been part of a squad called the Half-Fulls. Together, they’d stumbled upon the temple of the Dragon’s Breath Cult in the Cambodian jungle. Meeting the aforementioned sorceress, Tai, they were told that if they married a wife of the cult, their offspring would rule the world. Collier agreed — eventually helping to conceive Conrad.
In terms of his abilities, Conrad was born and initially raised in relative normalcy. As such, his skill with hand-to-hand combat and the like came directly from being personally trained by his father. After Conrad’s transformation occurred, he developed razor-sharp claws — on each of his toes as well as all of his fingers. Conrad rapidly learned to incorporate the use of these claws in his various battles. Once he assumed his Smiling Tiger form, each of Conrad’s senses was also greatly enhanced. That even went for smell, despite having no visible nose. As such, Conrad proved an extremely formidable foe, no matter which side of the law he fought for.
How The MCU Changes Smiling Tiger
Described by the now mask-wearing Baron Zemo as “a charming, sophisticated, African rake“, the Conrad Mack of the MCU couldn’t be more different. When Sam was undercover, Selby noted that he was taller than she’d imagined. At 5’10, Mackie and the comics’ version would actually be the same height. Therefore, it was suggested that the MCU version was shorter than his counterpart. Even more pronounced, there was no fur. There were no claws. There were no red eyes. And a nose was visibly present. As such, the Smiling Tiger name was less literal than the comics — though it may still stem from being gleeful when killing. A safe bet would be that it’s merely a mercenary name he’d acquired over the years. That would fully befit the more grounded tone being put forward by The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.
What the show offered regarding Conrad also suggested deeper changes beyond the surface level. In the comics, Conrad was a feral mute and only able to communicate only in grunts. That would hardly be conducive to being charming or rakish. As such, this version of Smiling Tiger is likely much more talkative — or, at the very least, has the capacity to be. It’s unclear whether this Conrad shared the half-Cambodian heritage of his comic book counterpart. The same could be said of whether he was trained by a military-experienced father. Whatever the case, given his established renown in and around Madripoor, the MCU’s version of Conrad Mack would no doubt be in possession of equally proficient combat skills.
Whether or not Sam or Bucky eventually come up against those skills shall remain to be seen. It would certainly be interesting. After all, Conrad could develop a personal grudge against Falcon for stealing his identity and potentially besmirching his reputation. More interesting still would be what his inclusion could mean for what’s to come. As it stands, the mention of the Smiling Tiger was likely just an Easter egg for hardcore Marvel fans. After all, delving properly into more overt animal/human hybrids would probably be a step too far into the outlandish, at least for this series, without modifying their backstory somewhat. That being said, following Joaquín Torres, the mention of Conrad marked the inclusion of two such figures within The Falcon and The Winter Soldier alone. And with a figure responsible for such hybrid transformations in the comics, the Power Broker, equally established, the MCU may be paving the way for a bold new direction.
More: Falcon & Winter Soldier Is Making MCU’s Old Phase 1 Villain Mistakes
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