‘Avengers’ Villain An Infinite Mystery

MTV News speculates on which Marvel Comics baddie will be joining forces with Loki when 'Marvel's The Avengers' assembles this summer.

“Marvel’s The Avengers” promises to pit Earth’s Mightiest Heroes — Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, in case you’ve somehow forgotten — against the trickster god Loki, as well as another nemesis that remains unidentified. Popular theories have long pegged the Skrulls, Marvel’s shape-shifting alien menace, as the likeliest group to join forces with the disenfranchised Asgardian prince. Many fans are also expecting to see another possible foe, “Captain America” villain Red Skull, based on his inclusion in an upcoming “Avengers” action figure line.

But leave it to Kevin Feige, head of Marvel Studios, to bust both rumors. Speaking with Empire magazine last week, he revealed that the still-unknown secondary baddies are “not Skrulls.” Additionally, while it would be nice to see Hugo Weaving’s villainous visage at some point down the line, “he’s not in this one.”

So, no Skrulls. No Red Skull. It’s Loki, and it’s … someone or something else. But who or what?

Feige promised that while Marvel wants to hide the identity of “the alien race” that’s confronting our favorite superheroes, their identity is “not impactful,” even though they exist in the comic books. One imagines, then, that the Kree are out along with the Skrulls. Perhaps it’s as simple as a return of the Jotunheim, last seen in 2011′s “Thor.” Maybe it’s just arbitrary and the identity of these aliens truly does not matter.

That doesn’t mean the mystery isn’t important. And that doesn’t mean the aliens are the mystery villain, either.

The < i>Latino Review once put forth a report — one that’s unverified by all accounts — stating that Thanos, the hulking purple-skinned alien that’s frequently dusted up with the Avengers and other Marvel heroes, is the secret villain we’ve all been wondering about. It’s a rumor to be sure, but it’s one I’m inclined to believe for a couple of reasons … and it all goes back to Comic-Con.

In July 2010, the Marvel booth at Comic-Con featured a display case filled with items from the studio’s upcoming comic book movies. Among them: Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, Captain America’s mighty shield and the bejeweled Infinity Gauntlet. The Gauntlet is one of the more prominent items in the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe, one that’s virtually synonymous with Thanos. Indeed, its inclusion in the Marvel display case felt like an unspoken promise that Thanos would someday have a part to play in the company’s cinematic future.

Cut to “Thor” almost a year later, and the Gauntlet appeared as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Easter egg that came and went when Jotunheim thieves infiltrated Asgard to reclaim their long-lost prize, the Casket of Ancient Winters. Could it be that the Gauntlet only existed as a wink and nod to the fans back home? Entirely possible. But what if Loki, who clearly knows the history and value of the Casket, has information on the other items contained in Asgard — including what the Gauntlet is, and who would do anything to have it? For someone mightily pissed off at his brother and the Earth-dwellers he’s become so fond of, that’s very powerful information indeed.

Consider also that Feige, the same man who kiboshed the Skrulls and Skull, has long said that the cosmic side of Marvel is a big priority for him. In fact, just a few months ago, he revealed that movies based on the “Inhumans” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” were on the docket at Marvel Studios. Fantastic reads both of them, no question, but obscure beyond belief to the non-comic book reader. If Feige is looking ahead at “phase two” of the Marvel plan, as he’s called it in the past, are “Inhumans” and “Guardians” really the best places to start?

Perhaps they are … if someone huge, someone massive, someone like Thanos, makes his first appearance in “Avengers,” and lives on to stalk the stars (and the screen) another day.

It’s not the meatiest theory out there. It’s based on a rumor, on a taste of what Marvel has given us both on and off the screen, and on a desire to see someone important occupy this oh-so-secretive role. For Feige to come out and say the movie’s second villainous force is not the Skrulls and not Red Skull, and that Loki’s alien army is “not impactful” in identity … either he’s not telling the full story on who or what this unseen enemy represents, or the big reveal is going to be a massive letdown. Given how Marvel has operated in recent years, and given the importance of “Avengers” to their brand and plans, I just don’t see it being the latter option.

Here’s what I do see. Loki aside, “The Avengers” will have another deeply meaningful foe to fight come May 4, 2012. And my considerably sized gut tells me it’s going to be Thanos.

Who do you think the secret “Avengers” villain will be? Tell us in the comments section.

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