Captain America: Civil War is finally here, and after sweeping box offices off their feet across Europe and America the dust is finally beginning to settle and, as is the case with fans with too much time on their hands (i.e. us), the questions begin to emerge.
Where did Black Widow go? What happened to Agent 13? Will Bucky ever get his backpack back? Despite the fact that Civil War manages to tie off multiple plot strands pretty neatly, there's never enough time to cover every element.
And there's one element that definitely requires proper attention. Speaking of which, this is your one and only spoiler warning, so if you haven't seen Civil War yet make like Cap and nope outta here.
If you're still with us, you'll know that the big plot twist of Civil War happened when Captain America, Iron Man and Bucky Barnes confront Baron Zemo at the Siberian HYDRA Facility toward the end of the movie. They discover that the other HYDRA sleeper assassins were just a red herring, a ruse designed to lure the three there so that Zemo could reveal to Tony the truth of his parents' deaths: that Howard and Maria Stark were killed by the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes.
This was, of course, first set up back in [Captain America: The Winter Soldier](tag:254973) when Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff discovered the consciousness of Arnim Zola in the secret bunker. Though it's not explicitly stated, we see a newspaper clipping regarding Howard and Maria's death flash up while Zola talks about the Winter Soldier's victims, and we find out in Civil War that Steve worked out the truth behind the Starks' deaths at this point.
Alright, it makes sense that HYDRA would want Howard Stark dead, given that he was one of the founders of S.H.I.E.L.D. Having him out of the picture would make it much easier for them to grow within the organization.
That plot point could've survived on its own, but Civil War expands upon it in the opening sequence, which sees the Winter Soldier being brought out of deep freeze and tasked with killing the Starks to retrieve a package. The operation wasn't necessarily intended to be an assassination — though we doubt HYDRA shed any tears over the death of Tony Stark's parents — rather the Winter Soldier was tasked with eliminating any witnesses while stealing the package Howard and Maria were transporting.
That package? It turns out to be super-soldier serum.
The stuff that gave Steve Rogers biceps as big as his head and the rest of his super-powers in The First Avenger, the stuff that turned Bruce Banner into Hulk, and Emil Blonsky into Abomination in The Incredible Hulk.
Alongside Dr. Abraham Erskine, Howard Stark was instrumental in the application of the serum that turned the weedy Steve Rogers into the beefy Captain America, but The First Avenger saw the death of Erskine, marking the end of the program. But still, attempts were made over the years following the supposed death of Captain America to replicate the serum, by both S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA.
It appears frequently during Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and is a major plot point in Agent Carter, as Peggy Carter eventually convinces Howard Stark not to produce any more of the serum synthesized from Steve's blood. And the events of Agent Carter are important here.
The question is not only how the 1991 Howard Stark made the serum we see in Civil War, but also — why? We know why HYDRA wanted the vials — in order to create more Winter Soldiers who ultimately meet their ends at the barrel of Zemo's gun — but why Howard Stark?
It's possible that Howard could've discovered that HYDRA was trying to recreate the formula and joined in on the arms race once again, but that solution in itself raises more questions.
Not least of all, where were he and Maria headed with the serum when they met their untimely demises? Was he selling it? Or delivering it to S.H.I.E.L.D.? Is this the first narrative marker leading to the events of The Incredible Hulk?
And will this come back around full circle now that Tony is aware of the circumstances that led to his father's death? It wouldn't be much of a surprise for him to begin investigating the serum that his parents died for. In fact, it would be perfectly in character for him to do so.
Perhaps if we ever get an Iron Man 4 these questions will be answered.
At least, thanks to Zemo, the Avengers won't have to worry about the rest of the Winter Soldiers, but this certainly suggests that the super-soldier serum arms race is far from over in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Perhaps this will be picked up in later movies, though it seems doubtful that there's going to be much room in amongst all the cosmic drama that is set to unleash itself upon the MCU soon enough.
Finally, here's something that could be really interesting that we noticed on the newspaper clipping from The Winter Soldier.
"It all just happened so quickly" a witness said "there was no time to see how the crash could have been caused."
Sure, we know, this could just be a throwaway line not meant to mean anything in the larger continuity. But if not, who was this witness, and why did they lie? What did they see on the cold, lonesome road where Tony Stark's parents died in the snow, at the hands of the Winter Soldier?