Warning: this article contains full spoilers for Black Widow as well as The Falcon and the Winter Soldier!
Black Widow is in theaters now (and on Disney + premier access), and the film’s post-credits scene features the return of a character we first met in the penultimate episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Yes, it’s the return of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, star of Seinfeld and Veep, as Countess Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, also known as Madame Hydra in the comics!
Considering Contessa’s ties to other Marvel heroes like Nick Fury, and having such a famous actress playing her, it’s clear that she’s going to play a big role in Phase 4 of the MCU as she appears to be putting together a sort of superhero team (villains?) at this point. To get a feel for what that might entail, let’s take a look at Contessa’s comic book roots and what might be in store for this intriguing and deadly character.
Valentina of Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Black Widow
In Black Widow’s mid-credits scene, which takes place sometime after Avengers: Endgame, and therefore after the death of Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow, we see Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova visiting her “sister’s grave.” “. And then Val appears, whom Yelena clearly already knows and with whom she works. La Contessa gives Yelena her next mission, and it is none other than Clint Barton, whom Yelena must eliminate (Belova has the mistaken impression that Clint was the cause of Nat’s death). Which, of course, sets the stage for Pugh’s appearance in the upcoming Jeremy Renner / Hailee Steinfeld Hawkeye Disney + series.
For more details on the Black Widow post-credits scene, head over here. But read on to find out more about the history of Contessa’s Marvel Comics and how it could feature in the MCU in the future.
Who is Countess Valentina Allegra de Fontaine?
Her name is quite long, but Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine aims to make a strong first impression. She certainly left an impression on Nick Fury. Created by writer / artist Jim Steranko, Contessa debuted in 1967 in Strange Tales # 159. At the time, Nick Fury was not yet the director of SHIELD as we know him today. Instead, he was simply Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD, and his globetrotting adventures were heavily inspired by the James Bond films. And what’s a Bond adventure without a Bond girl?
This is essentially where Contessa comes in, although describing her as “Nick Fury’s girlfriend” doesn’t begin to do it justice. She immediately wins Fury’s Eye (no pun intended) with a well-placed judo throw in a practice match, and the two have been virtually inseparable ever since. As Fury moves up the ranks, Contessa also becomes one of the agency’s most valuable assets. She’s also a member of SHIELD, sadly named Woman Force, a team led by none other than Agent 13 herself, Sharon Carter. Along with former Howling Commando Dum Dum Dugan, Contessa is Fury’s staunchest ally.
Or so he thinks. As it turns out, there is a lot more to his tragic story than even the director of SHIELD could have guessed. Contessa may be wealthy, easygoing, and of literal Italian nobility, but her childhood was anything but easy. As a child, she saw her parents executed for helping a group of rebels. Although she claims to have joined SHIELD in order to make sense of their deaths, Contessa is actually a mole linked to both Hydra and her Russian counterpart, Leviathan. His love for Fury is genuine, but his goals don’t necessarily align with those of SHIELD or the US government.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Is Contessa a Hero or a Villain?
Watching Louis-Dreyfus in action as Contessa, it can be difficult to know who she is and what she really wants. Why exactly is she trying to recruit the discredited former Captain America John Walker, who takes the name of American Agent at the end of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier? Is John Walker prepared to join a team of fanatical and patriotic killers? At this point, we just don’t know, but we do know that Contessa is a character that doesn’t quite fit into the hero or villain categories.
For most of his comic book career, Contessa has been portrayed as a heroic agent of SHIELD. It wasn’t until 2009’s Secret Warriors (a major inspiration to Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter) that Fury learned the truth about the agency to which he dedicated his life. SHIELD has always been part of Hydra. At this point, Contessa reveals her true colors by claiming Madame Hydra’s coat. But it’s not long before she betrays her Hydra allies by revealing herself to be truly aligned with Leviathan. So basically it’s a double mole. At the end of the series, Fury manages to outwit his enemies and manipulates Hydra and Leviathan into killing each other, leaving a defeated Contessa to rot in a German prison. But still romantic, Fury gives up everything to free “his daughter” from a life of captivity.
At this point, it’s hard to say whether Contessa will be a force for good or evil in the MCU. We don’t even know how well, if at all, his story with Nick Fury will be suited for this universe. But as someone who suffered immense tragedy as a child, she seems to appreciate those who are willing to cross moral and legal lines in order to do what needs to be done (as she sees it, anyway). This may explain the literal business card she leaves for John Walker. One side is black and the other white, which suggests that she thinks good and bad are just two sides of the same coin.
The future of the MCU of Contessa: Dark Avengers or Thunderbolts?
Again, surely we haven’t seen the last Louis-Dreyfus as Contessa in the MCU. Around the time she debuted on Falcon and the Winter Soldier, we learned that Contessa was originally destined to appear in the Black Widow movie for the first time. Of course, because of the pandemic, Black Widow has been delayed. But now we can discern a pattern in her appearances: she recruits super-folk! First John Walker, and now Yelena Belova. It certainly involves a connection to the seedy, spy-focused basement of this superhero universe. Could she be part of the Leviathan organization? Leviathan once played a big role in Agent Carter, but this organization has had decades to come together and plan their next move.
If Leviathan returns, Marvel could finally prepare to show us what the state of the spy world is like after the collapse of SHIELD. As far as the movies would have us believe, Hydra was effectively dismantled the year following the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Agents of SHIELD have shown this isn’t quite the case, but it’s still unclear whether the films will ever recognize the events of this series. The inclusion of the Darkhold in WandaVision may suggest that neither Agents of SHIELD nor Hulu shows like Runaways are officially part of the MCU. So everyone can guess at this point if Hydra could come back. Perhaps Contessa will become Madame Hydra in the MCU, playing Hydra and the relatively young agency SWORD against each other for Leviathan’s benefit?
But now, after Black Widow, it’s clear that Contessa is building a team no matter who she answers to. And maybe, unlike the Avengers, this team aims to get results despite the collateral damage they cause along the way.
Could we see the seeds of the Thunderbolts in the Marvel Universe? A Thunderbolts movie / series has been the subject of a lot of rumors for some time now. This team has undergone several incarnations in the comics, most notably as a very Suicide Squad incarcerated villain lineup. But the original Thunderbolts were a team of villains taking on new identities to fill the power vacuum left by the missing Avengers. This team was even led by Baron Zemo!
Finally, it’s also worth pointing out that Contessa is one of the many Marvel characters kidnapped and replaced by an impostor Skrull in 2008. Secret Invasion. With a Secret Invasion series centered around Nick Fury in the works at Disney +, it might not be a coincidence that Fury’s special girlfriend has suddenly made her first appearance in the MCU. Regardless of Contessa’s motives, we can guarantee that the rabbit hole is very deep.
What do you think is going on with Contessa in the MCU? Let’s discuss it in the comments!
July 9, 2021: This story has been updated with the latest information on Black Widow.
Jesse is a mild-mannered writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by follow @jschedeen on Twitter.