Thunderbolts Lineup D23

Will ‘Thunderbolts’ Give Us a Decent MCU Romance?

No, not Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson ...

The Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t perfect, and I accept that while remaining a fan. But one area they really need improvement on is the romantic storylines. First of all, we don’t need romances for every superhero. Some stories are great without romance (like Thor: Ragnarok). That being said, when romance occurs, it doesn’t need to be shoehorned into the plot and should feel natural for the characters.

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No one liked the Sharon Carter and Steve Rogers storyline. For me, even Tony Stark and Pepper Potts felt strained, and I’m sorry but I hated Steve Rogers going back in time to be with Peggy Carter for several reasons. (He had created a whole found family that he gave up for someone he knew for a short time! And he really was going to sit by while historic tragedies happened around him?!) Not to mention the awkward (and gross) romantic feelings between Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) and Bruce Banner (Hulk).

Don’t get me wrong, there are a few pairings in the MCU I love, such as Wanda and Vision or MJ and Peter Parker. But the announcement of the full lineup for the Thunderbolts at Disney’s D23 expo got me thinking about a classic Marvel Comics romance that worked really well and fans loved. It was when Black Widow and the Winter Soldier (James Buchanan Barnes) fell in love.

Black Widow and the Winter Soldier in the comic books

Black Widow Winter Soldier Marvel Comics
(image: Marvel Comics)

In the Marvel Comics version of the story, Bucky and Natasha were Russian operatives at the same time period (also, both of them had a version of the Super Soldier Serum to combat aging). At the time, Natasha went by Natalia and she always called Bucky by his first name, James. While in the Red Room (where Black Widows are made), James trained Natalia to become the fighter we know and love. Both characters were grappling with their own trauma and loss while appearing to be ice-cold assassins.

Slowly, they were drawn to each other. As Bucky once put it, Natalia was the all that made him feel human and kept him from taking his own life. They loved each other deeply and against the odds of what was around them. When those in charge found out about the forbidden romance, Bucky had his memory erased and was put back into a deep freeze. When the Winter Soldier and Black Widow met during the Avengers era, it was a bittersweet reunion. In some alternate universe stories, they had a happy ending and started a family together.

What could be in the MCU

Obviously, we can’t have this same pairing in the MCU now that they killed off Natasha (Scarlett Johansson). However, there is a new Black Widow with the wonderful Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh). I will admit that, seeing her with Kate Bishop in the Hawkeye show, I shipped them immediately. Now looking at the lineup poster of the Thunderbolts team, with Yelena standing next to Bucky (Sebastian Stan), I wondered if WinterWidow still could happen.

Through several movies and shows, we have come to know Bucky and Yelena on their own. Right now in the story, both of them are in more vulnerable places emotionally than they have been before. Yelena is recovering from the loss of her sister and the truth about the Black Widow program, while Bucky is struggling to right the wrongs of his past and discover who he is as a person (and a good guy). Like in the comic books, they have the shared trauma of the Red Room, even if they didn’t experience it at the same time. Underneath their badass outer shells, both characters have good hearts and a great sense of humor. If done right, I think their relationship could be layered and feel authentic in a way the MCU romances often lack. Who would you like to see pair up in the MCU?

(featured image: Marvel/Disney)

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D.R. Medlen
D.R. Medlen (she/her) is a pop culture staff writer at The Mary Sue. After finishing her BA in History, she finally pursued her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer in 2019. She expertly fangirls over Marvel, Star Wars, and historical fantasy novels (the spicier the better). When she's not writing or reading, she lives that hobbit-core life in California with her spouse, offspring, and animal familiars.