Despite fans best efforts to keep up with all the MCU’s various twists, turns, and surprises, the newest trailer for the upcoming Shang-Chi movie proves the masterminds at Marvel will always be a few steps ahead of us. In the film’s most recent trailer, none other than the classic Hulk villain Abomination made an appearance, marking his first appearance in the MCU since Edward Norton’s The Incredible Hulk back in 2008. While it was rumored Abomination would make his big return in Disney+’s upcoming She-Hulk series, seeing him in Shang-Chi is a bit shocking to say the least. As such, you might be wondering why Abomination, why now, how did he even get there, and — most importantly — what does this mean for the MCU at large. While we can’t say for certain until we see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings this September, let’s go over a few theories.
First things first: could different Hulk actors mean The Incredible Hulk took place in a different universe?
While it seems very apparent that the future of the MCU will be filled with multidimensional madness (or a multiverse of madness, if you will), unless they did some serious retconning The Incredible Hulk is pretty firmly considered canon in the MCU. Despite Edward Norton being replaced by Mark Ruffalo, Marvel treats the change as a simple recasting rather than a reboot and for good reason — the film features Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man in its end credits and the MCU has brought back William Hurt’s General Thunderbolt Ross in multiple films, making it pretty impossible to shrug off. In addition, it is included in all MCU phase one box sets. Despite seeing Doctor Strange‘s Wong in the trailer, I don’t think Abomination has much to do with the upcoming multiverse — though he might have a place in a major future collaboration of villains… or perhaps heroes.
Makes sense. Okay so, if it’s the same Abomination from the established universe… how did he get there? And where is there, for that matter?
Okay so, let’s start with the question of location. If you’re a Marvel comics reader — or watched The Falcon and The Winter Soldier — you might recognize this city as the fictional, Southeast Asian city of Madripoor. According to the comics, Madripoor is a place of lawlessness and extreme economic disparity, with powerful elites controlling the city while the working-class citizens struggle under their oppression. Additional fun fact: it’s also a place of significance in the X-Men series, which was recently acquired by Disney. Wolverine and Daken cameos, anyone? Anyways, based on all this it makes sense we see what is essentially an underground fighting ring taking place in the Shang-Chi trailer.
Now let’s tackle how Abomination got here. At the end of The Incredible Hulk, Abomination (aka Emil Blonsky) is imprisoned rather than killed off. He is taken in by none other than General Thunderbolt Ross who brings him to the elite prison he runs known as the Raft. So, if he was kept at an elite prison, you might be wondering how he escaped. Well, there are a few likely answers.
Culprit 1: Baron Zemo
When we last saw Baron Zemo in The Falcon and The Winter Solider, he was being taken back to the Raft to finish up his remaining time after seemingly being reformed through his time with Bucky and Sam. It could be then that Zemo will ultimately reemerge in the MCU as leader of The Thunderbolts, a Suicide Squad-esque team of reformed supervillains formed after his time in the Raft. Based on the fact that we see a U.S. Agent poster in the Shang-Chi trailers, we know the film takes place after all of Baron’s character growth. As such, it seems possible Zemo broke out Abomination to recruit him to his cause. There’s also a possibility it wasn’t a breakout at all.
Culprit 2: General Thunderbolt Ross
It could be that the head of the Raft, General Thunderbolt Ross himself, could have let Abomination escape either as a weapon of the U.S. military or as an ally through his affiliation with The Thunderbolts. You see, despite Zemo’s arguably closer affiliation with the Thunderbolts, at one point in the comics General Ross becomes Red Hulk and forms a version of the Thunderbolts himself. Something that adds some fuel to this fire is that in the comics, The Thunderbolts fight off the Skrulls during the Secret Invasion arc, which is being adapted into a Disney+ series. Regardless of who is leading, it seems possible this could happen and have something to do with Abomination’s appearance.
Culprit 3: Mephisto
Now I might be shoving my foot in my mouth a few years later, but despite both Wandavision and Loki stirring rumors about Marvel villain Mephisto (Wandavision because of his partnership with Agatha Harkness in the comics, Loki because a figure that looked like him was depicted in a stained glass window) I think his involvement as of right now is a bit unlikely. However, he is a villain in both Spider-Man and Doctor Strange and some evidence exists to I don’t think it’s fair to rule this theory out completely. If it is Mephisto, Abomination — as well as other Raft prisoners Vulture and Baron Zemo — are a part of his Legion Accursed supervillain group. Not only that, but if Kraven and Crimson Dynamo (Black Widow) make appearances in these upcoming phase four movies… well this theory could have a lot of weight behind it. In fact, I might have sold myself more on it just writing this!
Looks like we’ll have to wait until Shang-Chi hits theaters September 3 to figure out just what’s going on.