The Eternals trailer asked who should lead after Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. We have some suggestions.

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While the first Eternals trailer flaunted an ensemble cast of eternally good-looking stars, from Angelina Jolie as immortal warrior woman Thena to newly chiseled Kumail Nanjiani as a godlike Bollywood megastar, the sneak peek got Marvel fans talking for a different reason.

The MCU's race of immortal beings, who protect earth from mankind's oldest enemies, the Deviants, gather 'round the dinner table for a meal when Sprite (Lia McHugh), the centuries-old being who's trapped in a youthful form, pipes up. "So, now that Captain Rogers and Iron Man are both gone, who do you think's gonna lead the Avengers?" she asks.

While the world ponders this question, EW puts together some candidates based on where the Marvel Cinematic Universe is at this point in time.

First things first, are the Avengers even technically a thing? Earth's Mightiest Heroes disbanded during the events of Captain America: Civil War, they reluctantly reformed to battle Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, but the Sokovia Accords, which pulled them all apart in the first place, is still very much a thing. On top of that, as Sprite references, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is now an old man after traveling back in time to be with his love, and Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) died in the final battle against the Mad Titan. The remaining members seem to have splintered off in various directions, and, in the real world, there's no Avengers movie currently on the MCU release schedule.

That said, there are still some names that rise to the top of mind, assuming the Avengers team as we've come to know it is still a thing. Let's run down the candidates from least to most likely.

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Black Panther

Sometimes, real life does get in the way of fantasy. In the wake of Avengers: Endgame, it seemed like a no-brainer that Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa was poised to take a major leadership role in the MCU going forward. The skill and charisma needed to rule a nation could translate well to headlining a team of superheroes, and Black Panther is even depicted as the leader of the Avengers in current Marvel comics. 

But as we all know, Boseman tragically passed away last summer, and now the on-screen future of Wakanda is clouded in uncertainty. We’ll have to wait for the release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and the planned Disney+ series to understand what Wakanda means without T’Challa. His sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) has previously taken up the mantle of Black Panther in Marvel comics when T’Challa was unavailable, so perhaps the same could happen on-screen at some point. But first, a nation needs time to mourn. — Christian Holub

Richard Madden in 'Eternals'

Ikaris

And just for s---- and giggles… Ikaris, the Eternals member played by Richard Madden, throws his name into the Avengers leadership discussion in the new movie’s trailer. Everyone laughs it off, but let’s actually consider him for a second. Ikaris is one of (if not the) most powerful of the Eternals. Aside from maintaining the common attributes of his fellow family race — immortality, immunity to things like disease and aging, godlike durability and strength, amazing good looks, etc. — he can, according to the comics, make himself and others fly at incredible speeds, manipulate his own molecules and those of other beings, perform low-level telepathy and illusions, and wield incredible cosmic energy. He was also capable of bearing the Blue Flame, which is an energy that can reshape the physical forms of Eternals into one hive-mind entity with the combined strength of all their powers. Eternals, the movie, sets up a story about Ikaris and his family of near-gods as they touch down on earth thousands of years ago and help guide humanity’s progress. Theoretically, could he offer the same guiding hand to a team like the Avengers? Sure. Though, the Eternals, from what we know about them in the MCU so far, seem preoccupied with more cosmic things. Historically, they have not intervened with human affairs — even when it came to Thanos. (Hopefully the film will explain their absence in Infinity War and Endgame.) — Nick Romano

AVENGERS: ENDGAME
Credit: ©Marvel Studios 2019

Bruce Banner

With Tony and Natasha dead, Steve aged out, and Thor off in space, there aren’t many founding Avengers left on Earth. Bruce Banner’s experience thus grants him serious consideration as a potential leader, especially since both halves of his personality and power finally seem to have reconciled. Banner could be a bridge between the original team of Avengers and the new generation of MCU heroes, but then again maybe he’s too comfortable in cardigans now and would rather take selfies with fans then get up to his old Hulk smashing. — CH

WANDAVISION
Credit: Suzanne Tenner/Marvel Studios

Monica Rambeau

Here’s an underdog pick: Monica Rambeau by way of Teyonah Parris. The MCU character may not have the kind of pedigree comparable to Steve or Tony, but there’s precedence in the comics for the character to make that ascent. Monica debuted in 1982’s Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 from writer Roger Stern and penciler John Romita Jr. As one of the Marvel heroes to bear the Captain Marvel name, she would later join the Avengers with the ability to convert herself into any form of light. She then became the leader of the team after its former head, Janet Van Dyne’s Wasp, had to step down. So, it wouldn’t be a far throw into left field if the cinematic version of Monica took a similar route.

She literally grew up around superheroes (Carol Danvers), she comes with experience working in the government (notably S.W.O.R.D. during the events of WandaVision), and she’s proven to have a steady hand when dealing with chaotic situations (the chaos magic of Wanda Maximoff). A post-credits scene in WandaVision saw Monica being called to space by a Skrull, teeing up the events of The Marvels, the sequel to Captain Marvel that will feature Monica, Carol, and Iman Vellani’s Ms. Marvel. We could totally see Monica becoming a liaison of sorts between the earth and the cosmos, given her footing in both worlds. — NR

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Credit: Marvel Studios

Doctor Strange

If WandaVision taught us anything, it’s that magic is going to be a big part of the MCU’s future. It therefore makes sense for the Sorcerer Supreme to play a large role. Kevin Feige has even admitted that Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange was strongly considered for an appearance in the WandaVision finale before the idea was ultimately scrapped so as not to steal the spotlight from Wanda. Strange will nevertheless have to deal with Scarlet Witch and whatever’s going on with the Darkhold in his upcoming sequel Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Strange already played a big part in organizing the counter-offensive against Thanos, and as he builds more connections with other MCU heroes, it becomes easier to imagine him taking on a leadership role — he might just need to dial down the condescending attitude first. — CH

THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER
Credit: Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

Sam Wilson

An obvious candidate is Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson for the obvious reason that he is now the new Captain America — a transformative journey at the heart of the Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. He’s carrying the vibranium shield, and he even has a new flight suit now, courtesy of Wakanda, with the stars and stripes. Steve was the de facto leader of the Avengers. It seems natural to see Sam now in that role. Beyond that, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was, once upon a time, meant to kick off this new age of Marvel Studios on streaming — similar to how Iron Man kick-started the MCU in 2008. Though the pandemic forced a reshuffling of the schedule, Marvel President Kevin Feige confirmed plans for the show largely hadn’t changed.

The makers of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier also speak as though Sam is going to lead the Avengers one day. In an interview with EW following the show’s season 1 finale, Marvel Studios executive producer Nate Moore unpacked this central question: “A big question of the series was, can we make it feel like this [shield] is Sam's? Not that it was given to Sam, but this is Sam's. In my mind, the notion that Sam would, if we're ever so lucky, be the head of the Avengers one day... if we hadn't had the series, I don't know that I would buy it. You think about all the Avengers from Thor to Captain Marvel. Why are they going to follow this guy? He has to earn the right to carry the shield, and part of that is really interrogating why he's the right guy.”

Then there’s the other glaring hint flashing in our faces: EW confirmed that a fourth Captain America movie, penned by The Falcon and the Winter Soldier head writer Malcolm Spellman, is in development. Now, that’s not definitive proof that Sam will lead the Avengers, but it seems he’s a central part of the plan for Marvel’s Phase Four slate of releases. — NR

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Credit: Chuck Zlotnick/©Marvel Studios 2019

Captain Marvel

Let’s face it: It’s just easier to make your case as a leader of the Avengers if you have “Captain” in your name. Like Steve and Sam, Carol has a military background that lends itself well to being a tactical battlefield leader — in fact, she has military experience from two different empires, America and Kree. With the Skrulls infiltrating Earth and a Secret Invasion story on the horizon, Carol’s familiarity with intergalactic politics would also be a big help to the Avengers in figuring out that mess. 

Being the most powerful member of the team doesn’t automatically qualify you to be a leader; it just so happens that Carol is both. Remember when she blew Thanos’ flagship out of the sky, and incinerated Ronan’s fleet decades before that? Any extraterrestrial threat would have to think twice about invading Earth with Captain Marvel in charge of the Avengers. Plus, it’s a minor thing, but “Captain Marvel” does seem like the right name for the leader of Marvel’s pantheon. 

The only knock on Carol as a potential Avengers leader is that she spent so little time on Earth in the years after her powers first emerged. But she did help hold the fort during the five-year Blip, a crucial difference between heroes like Sam and Wanda who have found themselves rather discombobulated after returning to life. Carol is better prepared to navigate the post-Blip world than most of the current Avengers, and it looks like she’ll probably be on Earth for the long haul. On top of her friends the Skrulls doing whatever they’re doing, the emergence of Monica and the imminent arrival of Kamala Khan means many new heroes will already be looking to Carol as an elder statesman and role model. Why not make things easier for everyone by incorporating that organic leadership into the Avengers hierarchy?  — CH

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