The shattered symbols of Captain America, Iron Man and Black Widow, who have left the MCU.
Farewell Captain America, Iron Man and Black Widow. Hello Black Panther? (Illustration by Elizabeth Wong, University of Rhode Island)
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The shattered symbols of Captain America, Iron Man and Black Widow, who have left the MCU.

Someone has to fill the void left by Iron Man, Captain America and Black Widow. Who will step up?

Superhero films have become a fixture in society over the past two decades. The “X-Men” and “Spider-Man” franchises of the early 2000s proved that superheroes can be interesting — that they are not just for “comic book nerds.” Nowadays, it’s impossible to meet a person who doesn’t know such Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) mainstays like Iron Man, the Hulk and Spider-Man. The superhero genre has since reached beyond its niche to a point where it is referenced in almost all forms of media.

While the aforementioned “X-Men” and “Spider-Man” franchises brought the genre to the mainstream, 2008’s “Iron Man” was arguably the beginning of the superhero-film craze.

Unlike other popular superheroes such as Batman and Superman, Iron Man was essentially obscure to the general public.

But the character wasn’t unknown just to moviegoers; even writers and directors passed on the film due to their unfamiliarity with the character, as well as not wanting to work for a company known for comic books.

The movie, however, was a surprise hit, grossing more than $500 million at the box office. Along with star Robert Downey Jr.’s stellar performance as the genius billionaire playboy philanthropist, the film was not only the origin story of Iron Man, but also of what is now known as the MCU.

The MCU refers to the collection of post-Iron man superhero films that intertwine with one another. The MCU is responsible for introducing even more obscure comic book characters in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Captain Marvel” and “Doctor Strange,” just to name a few.

Within the MCU is what’s known as the Infinity Saga, an 11-year epic that consists of 23 movies, starting with “Iron Man” and ending with 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” after the defeat of the saga’s overarching villain, Thanos.

The conclusion of the Infinity Saga saw — spoilers — the deaths and departure of Iron Man, Black Widow and Captain America, played by Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans, respectively.

Considered to be three of the most important characters in the universe, the trio’s exit from the MCU was met with sadness because fans have grown to love them over the last 11 years.

While it may be difficult to imagine a universe that does not involve the three characters, there are many opportunities for Marvel not only to bring previously underrated characters to helm the Avengers, but also to introduce new characters who could carry the superhero team to the next level.

Here are some characters, both old and new, who have the potential to become the next leaders of the Avengers.

Doctor Strange

2016’s “Doctor Strange” saw Benedict Cumberbatch portray the titular hero as he combatted the villainous Kaecilius and Dormammu. The film also introduced Marvel fans to the mystical side of the universe — something they have only scratched the surface of among Strange’s four appearances so far in the MCU.

Undoubtedly one of the strongest members of the Avengers, Strange’s magical powers allow him to control time and space. His upcoming sequel, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” may be an opportunity to showcase his growth by introducing even more of his abilities. And as the title suggests, moviegoers will see the hero travel between universes, which is already powerful in itself.

While he does not possess the leadership skills of Captain America or the technological prowess of Iron Man, his great abilities would make him a powerful leader for an already powerful team.

Captain Marvel

Brie Larson’s interpretation of Carol Danvers, otherwise known as Captain Marvel, has been a divisive topic among Marvel fans; many call her a “Mary Sue,” referring to the idea that a female character is so powerful that it is absurd.

I, for one, believe that the character is meant to be super powerful. After all, Danvers did get blasted by an energy ray due to an exploding spaceship. She also spent years training to control her abilities with a group of aliens.

Many people may not like the character, but Captain Marvel should, in one way or another, play a larger role in the Avengers. Her origin film takes place in the ‘90s, and she is later introduced to the present-day Marvel universe in “Avengers: Endgame.” The long gap between the two films explains how much experience the character has gained.

While we do not yet know the events that transpired between “Captain Marvel” and “Endgame,” it’s assumed that Danvers spent a lot of time honing her abilities as a solo hero. Like Strange, she is currently one of the more powerful characters in the MCU.

With a “Captain Marvel” sequel slated for release in 2022, perhaps fans will get to see whether or not Danvers has the capabilities to lead an entire team. I mean, who better to lead the Avengers than someone who has had decades of experience throughout the galaxy as well as on Earth?

Black Panther

One of the more obvious choices to lead the new Avengers would be T’Challa, or Black Panther. Introduced in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” and later getting his own movie in 2018’s “Black Panther,” Black Panther has proven that he is a natural-born leader, having led the entire fictional nation of Wakanda.

T’Challa does not have much experience in the outside world, but after experiencing a battle against aliens, the Wakandan king must feel the need to make a difference in the world and not just in his nation.

He also has access to Vibranium and Wakandan technology that would be very useful for the rest of the Avengers. Imagine how cool it would look if every Avenger got their own nearly indestructible Vibranium suit.

Falcon

The end of “Avengers: Endgame” showed Captain America himself, Steve Rogers, retiring his role as an Avenger and passing the mantle to his friend and “sidekick,” Sam Wilson, also known as Falcon.

Only a superhero for a couple of years, Wilson gained extensive knowledge in the realm of superheroism by gaining an allyship with Captain America. Although he is merely a tactician armed with mechanical wings and guns, perhaps he will make up for his lack of superpowers with his bravery and military training.

However, we have not yet seen Wilson lead a team in any of the MCU films. Luckily, he will be getting his own Disney+ television series, titled “Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” where we’ll hopefully get a glimpse into his evolution in becoming his own hero.

Perhaps the show will be Falcon’s testing ground to see if he truly deserves the title of Captain America.

Mister Fantastic

Some people may ask, “Who the heck is Mister Fantastic?”

Mister Fantastic, or Reed Richards, is a founding member and leader of the superhero family known as the Fantastic Four — maybe that rings a bell for you.

Richards and the rest of the Fantastic Four have yet to be introduced in the MCU, but with Marvel’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, many die-hard Marvel comic fans are hoping to see the family show up in future films.

Some may deem Richards’ ability to morph and stretch his limbs as silly. However, silly powers or not, he possesses superintellect to the point where he is considered the smartest character in the MCU — even smarter than Tony Stark.

If being an aerospace engineer doesn’t make him smart enough, Richards even found a way to travel between dimensions.

Even in the comic books, Richards has been in other groups, such as the Defenders, Future Foundation and even the Avengers, a claim not every superhero gets to make.

The future for the Marvel Cinematic Universe is bright. The original Avengers may be gone, but maybe it’s time to see other superheroes take the spotlight. Some people may perceive the Infinity Saga to be the end of an era, but it’s also the beginning of a new one. Characters will come and go, but one thing is for sure: The MCU is here to stay, and all fans should look forward to it.

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