The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: The Flag Smashers explained

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
(Image credit: Disney Plus)

Spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier follow.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has finally arrived on Disney Plus. If episode 1 is anything to go by, Sam Wilson and James ‘Bucky’ Barnes will certainly have their hands full this season. One of the threats facing the duo this year is a group called the Flag Smashers, and it looks like they mean business - the group is ideologically opposed to the idea of national borders in the post-Thanos world of the MCU.

If you want to know more about the Flag Smashers, including their comic book history and how they’ll tie into The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s plot, we’ve got you covered. There are mild spoilers for episode 1 from here on out, so proceed at your own risk. 

The Falcon and the Winter Soldiers: The Flag Smashers’ comic history 

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

(Image credit: Disney Plus)

Final spoiler warning for episode 1. Turn back now if you haven’t watched it yet.

While the Flag Smashers are a group of terrorists in the Disney Plus TV show, Flag Smasher is actually a solitary supervillain in Marvel comics.

Flag Smasher first appeared in Captain America #312 in December 1985. Created by writer Mark Gruenwald and artist Paul Neary, Flag Smasher was a terrorist who used anti-American rhetoric and actions to spread panic across the US. A gifted hand-to-hand combatant, Flag Smasher is also a master strategist and fluent in seven languages. Flag Smasher is also the founder and self-installed Supreme Commander of the terrorist group called Ultimatum, which may be the group that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s Flag Smashers are based on.

There have been two incarnations of Flag Smasher in the comics. The first was Karl Morgenthau, who was the son of a wealthy Swiss banker-turned-diplomat. After his father is killed during a riot in the fictional Marvel city of Latveria, Karl vows to bring an end to the concept of nationalism. Believing humanity needs to let go of the idea of countries separated by borders, Karl adopted the Flag Smasher title to destroy nations that view themselves as superior to other countries, including the US.

Karl held on to the Flag Smasher pseudonym until his apparent assassination by X-Force member Domino. After that event, Canadian Ultimatum member Guy Theirrault took over Morgenthau’s mantle for a while. However, his stint wasn’t as long as his predecessor’s, and Thierrault was slaughtered alongside his Ultimatum forces in Deadpool #45.

Flag Smasher has long been a thorn in Captain America’s side, but the villain is yet to get one over his adversary. With Cap an old man following the events of Avengers: Endgame in the MCU, however, it’ll be up to Falcon and the Winter Soldier to put an end to the Flag Smashers in the Disney Plus series.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: How the Flag Smashers affect the show’s plot 

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

(Image credit: Disney Plus)

The Flag Smashers, much like their comic counterpart, are an anti-patriotic group who believe that Earth was a better place during the Blip. Sam Wilson’s army contact Joaquin Torres states as much during one of their interactions in episode 1, and he explains that the Flag Smashers want a world that’s unified without borders.

We only see the Flag Smashers in action once in episode 1. In this sequence, Torres goes undercover to infiltrate a Flag Smashers meet-up in Switzerland which, as we know, is Karl Morgenthau’s nation of birth in the comics. Not long after, we see a masked figure handing out similar face coverings to the assembled crowd, and this is where the show makes one of its other major changes from the source material.

While we don’t see her face during this scene, the masked individual is Karli Morgenthau. Marvel has switched up Karl’s gender for the Disney Plus show and, rather than install Karli as the sole Flag Smasher, she is the de facto leader of the group despite what Sam and Torres claim in the episode’s closing scene. Karli is portrayed by Erin Kellyman and, if you’ve seen any of Falcon and the Winter Soldier trailers, you will have seen her face already.

Back to the show. The meeting quickly turns on its head when one of its members escapes a Swiss bank with two bags full of cash. In the ensuing panic, the bank’s police force are prevented from stopping the robbery by other Flag Smasher members. Torres, who sees an officer violently kicked towards a pillar, attempts to arrest the robber in question, but is easily overpowered and injured by the suspect.

Such is the force that the Flag Smasher uses on Torres, it’s possible that the group have some form of superpowers of their own. As the below Falcon and the Winter Soldier trailer teases, the organization may have access to a type of Super Soldier serum - the same concoction that gave Captain America his abilities - that temporarily grants them superhuman strength and endurance.

If that’s the case, it may well be that Sam and Bucky will need all of the help they can get. We know that the duo will enlist the aid of ex-SHIELD member Sharon Carter, but they might need the assistance of other superheroes. We don’t know if James Rhodes, aka War Machine, will feature during fight scenes even though he appeared briefly in episode 1.

Someone else who might want to help, however, is the new Captain America, who was shown off at the end of the series’ first instalment. You can read our explainer to find out more about this character, their role in the show, and their comic book history.

The Falcon and Winter Soldier releases every Friday on Disney Plus.

Senior Entertainment Reporter

As TechRadar's senior entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You'll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.

An NCTJ-accredited journalist, Tom also writes reviews, analytical articles, opinion pieces, and interview-led features on the biggest franchises, actors, directors and other industry leaders. You may see his quotes pop up in the odd official Marvel Studios video, too, such as this Moon Knight TV spot.

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