Comic books have long featured veterans as heroes. It’s an easy way to explain the training, expertise, and mission sets certain superheroes rock and roll with. Some heroes have their entire persona built around military service, like my favorite Captain America. Marvel’s MCU has taken our favorite heroes and villains and given them a modern lineage not tied down by decades of comic books that often make backstories immensely complicated. This rewriting of history has spawned Marvel’s Spec-Ops community.
It could be argued that Marvel’s Spec-Ops community started with Captain America and Bucky Barnes of the Howling Commandos. They certainly get an honorary mention, but to me, this list is about the operators that served before becoming heroes, villains, and something in-between. Also, I’m using the term MCU loosely here: take it to mean the modern film and television representations of these characters. Don’t be the comic book guy in comments hitting me with a “Wellll… actually…”
1) Emil Blonsky – The Abomination
Emil Blonsky was loaned to SOCOM from the British Marines for a unique mission. Hunt down, capture, or kill Dr. Bruce Banner. Obviously, this is a complicated mission when the good doctor can become the Incredibly Hulk. He’s the only foreign member of Marvel’s Spec-Ops community.
The British Royal Marines are an elite military force that can trace their origin back to 1664. Modern British Royal Marines operate as seaborne commandos.
Their mission-set includes maritime interdiction, force protection, personnel recovery, direct action, and more. These troops undergo one of the longest and most physically demanding training regimes in the world, with recruit training lasting 32 weeks for enlisted personnel.
Emil Blonsky was a captain and therefore undertook 60 weeks of basic training. Blonsky had a fearsome reputation and refused promotion to a staff gig so he could keep fighting as long as possible. Eventually, he wanted the Hulk’s power and transformed himself into the Abomination. He was last seen as a cage fighter in China.
2) Sam Wilson – Falcon/Captain America
Sam Wilson recently took up the shield of Captain America and wore the wings of Falcon, but before that, he served his country. When the Global War on Terror kicked off, Sam was one of many million young men. He went on to become an elite member of the United State States Air Force’s pararescue teams, making him an elite airman in Marvel’s Spec-Ops community.
PJs, as they are affectionately called, are the 911 force for the world’s most elite fighting forces. When you are injured deep behind enemy lines, and the situation looks impossible, it’s likely that a PJ is coming to rescue you. T
his elite force trains to climb mountains, jump out of planes, and scuba dive. It is also arctic-trained so that they can save a life in any clime or place.
Sam served two tours in Afghanistan, where he utilized the EXO-7 Falcon wings. He completed numerous missions, including the capture of Khalid Khandil. Sam lost his wingman Riley and then left the Air Force and focused on helping returning veterans before becoming an Avenger, where he used his Spec-Ops training to do superheroes things without superhero powers.
3) John Walker – U.S. Agent
Not gonna lie. I was excited when U.S. Agent promised to enter the MCU but was a little disappointed that he was no longer a Marine. Something about a very violent version of Captain America being a Marine just made sense. However, John Walker briefly served as Captain America before it was decided his skills and violent tendencies would be better suited in a black ops role for the United States.
It’s never mentioned in MCU, but John Walker’s Ranger scroll and tan beret point to him being an Army Ranger. The Army Rangers are an elite light infantry force that is the shock in shock and awe.
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Ranger units can do it all, and John Walker did it all. He earned three Medals of Honor and is the only member of Marvel’s Spec-Ops community to have done so.
John Walker’s hand-to-hand skills and tactical mindset allow him to go after super soldiers and hold his own. After he gets his own dose of the super-soldier serum, he becomes a force to be reckoned with, and his Ranger skills are heightened even more.
4) Erik Stevens – Killmonger
You know you’re a badass when your name is Killmonger. Erik Stevens serves as the antagonist to Black Panther and sees himself as the rightful ruler of Wakanda. From an early age, he swore vengeance and joined the military to learn the skills necessary to dole it out. He marked himself for every kill, and eventually, his body was a tapestry of violence. This is why he earned the name Killmonger.
Stevens joined the Navy’s elite SEAL teams and graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis. He deployed around the world during the GWOT and eventually found his way into JSOC. Once there, he joined an elite ghost unit and conducted operations across the world.
He had the most kills in his unit and likely the most kills in Marvel’s Spec-Ops community.
Killmonger fought his way into Wakanda through an enemy of Wakanda known as Ulysses Klaue. Along the way, he took on Black Panther and shielded and held his own with standard firearms and a lack of superpowers. He defeated T’Challa in hand-to-hand combat and accomplished his goal to serve as Wakanda’s king… until Black Panther came back, of course.
5) Frank Castle – The Punisher
Frank Castle doesn’t need powers, iron suits, super-soldier serums, or a big fancy hammer to win a fight. All he needs is guns, lots of guns, and his Marine Corps training. The Punisher is the most grounded hero and the only member of Marvel’s Spec-Ops community that relies on his training to accomplish his mission.
Castle served as a Force Recon Marine. Force Recon Marines are the elite tip of the spear for the tip of the spear. As their name implies, they specialize in deep recon, with a ship-to-shore mindset. In the GWOT, they’ve been heavily utilized as a conventional special operations team tasked with raids, personnel-support detachment, and sniper missions.
Force Recon Marines excel in their tasks and are often underrated and underappreciated in the Spec-Ops Community.
Frank left the military and disappeared after the death of his wife and children. He re-emerged as the Punisher, a man set on killing the criminals involved in the death of his family. He used his skills with firearms, explosives, and infiltration to eliminate criminals in the most violent ways possible.
Marvel’s Spec-Ops Community
It’s no surprise that the writers of the MCU would turn to America’s heroes to influence and shape their characters. The GWOT changed American culture to its core and deeply influenced pop culture. The Spec-ops community offers the grounded foundation any hero, villain, or vengeance-filled maniac can make use of.
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