The second episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was pretty stuffed with incident, introducing a new Captain America (aka Wyatt Russell’s John Walker), giving more detail to the Flag-smasher organisation and also bringing classic comic-book character Isaiah Bradley into the fray.
However, in the Isaiah Bradley scenes you’d be forgiven for missing the introduction of a key new character – Isaiah’s grandson Eli, played by Elijah Richardson in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role that largely entails opening a door for Sam and Bucky and standing in the background.
For comic book fans, though, this character may be ringing alarm bells – because Eli Bradley is a pretty significant hero in his own right, the leader of the “Young Avengers” and a mainstay of the Marvel comics world for a number of years. And considering how many other Young Avengers characters are starting to crop up, it certainly seems possible Marvel are heading towards a major team-up.
Still, some background first. In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Isaiah Bradley is presented as an early successor to Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) in the super-soldier programme, who went on to be a hero but was arrested and experimented on for his troubles. Give or take, this is roughly the same biography that Isaiah has in the comics, albeit with some details (he’s considered the black Captain America, rather than just a super-soldier) changed slightly.
Years later, this identity inspired his grandson Eli to become a hero himself. Tracked down by a character called Iron Lad (really the time-travelling younger version of a villain called Kang the Conqueror, because comics) as a potential future Avenger, Eli claimed that he had his grandfather’s enhanced abilities, acquired from a blood transfusion.
In reality, Eli was actually abusing a dangerous drug called Mutant Growth Hormone to stimulate super-strength, but he kept that secret and took on the identity of Patriot, a hero based on both Captain America and Bucky but largely intended to honour his grandfather. In the Young Avengers he served as a valued team member and eventual leader after Iron Lad left, fighting alongside a group of young heroes and eventually getting his powers through a blood transfusion after all once his MGH use was exposed.
His presence in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier could just be seen as an Easter egg – but to be honest, we can’t help but wonder if there’s more to this. Already, several members of the Young Avengers have started to appear in other properties, with four appearing in Disney Plus series alone. Alongside Eli we can count Scarlet Witch’s children Billy and Tommy (appearing as children in WandaVision), weapons expert Kate Bishop/Hawkeye (who is set to appear in Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye series played by Hailee Steinfeld) and Cassie Lang aka Stature, the daughter of Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man who has appeared in various Marvel movies.
Further ahead team member Miss America (aka America Chavez) is set to turn up in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness played by Xochitl Gomez, and altogether this collection of key figures has fans wondering if Marvel is replicating its gambit from the early days of the MCU to gradually assemble a team of heroes across different properties. Surely a Young Avengers series or film can’t be too far behind all these characters appearing?
Still, for now it’s difficult to say. If Eli Bradley does gain super-powers in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – maybe by his grandad, maybe by the Power Broker or whatever route the Flag-smashers picked up their abilities – it seems likely that his adventures as Patriot can’t be too far away.
And if that’s the case, it’s hard to imagine waiting too long for him to meet his comic-book (and fellow Disney Plus-created) team-mates. Young Avengers, Assemble!
Read our latest The Falcon and the Winter Soldier review.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier releases new episodes on Disney Plus on Fridays. You can sign up to Disney Plus for £7.99 a month or £79.90 a year.