This week, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will introduce Karli Morgenthau and the Flag-Smashers into the Marvel Cinematic Universe to challenge Captain America's two proteges — Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes. Karli's name may sound familiar to longtime fans of Captain America's Marvel Comics adventures but a bit off. That's because she's the cinematic version of Karl Morgenthau, the original Flag-Smasher created by Mark Gruenwald and Paul Neary in 1985. Gruenwald intended Flag-Smasher to be an ideological villain on the scale of the Red Skull, though supporting polar opposite philosophies. Instead, he was mostly forgotten after Gruenwald's run, then killed, replaced, and unjustly turned into one of Marvel's many villains diminished to a gag jobber.
Flag-Smasher's debut in Captain America #312 couldn't have been more on the nose. The issue opens with Morgenthau on a rocket-propelled hovercraft making a pass at the flags flying outside of the United Nations Headquarters, swinging at them with his mace like a teenager with a baseball bat hanging out of a car window to knock over mailboxes.
A few pages later, readers learn that Morgenthau is the wealthy son of a peace-seeking Swiss diplomat who died outside the Latverian embassy when a political demonstration turned violent. Morgenthau always planned to follow in his father's footsteps, but his father's death convinced him that diplomacy wasn't going to get the job done. Only by abolishing all nations, through violence if necessary, could the world achieve peace.
Seeing Captain America as his symbolic opposite, wrapped in a flag and espousing the nationalistic ideals Morgenthau found abhorrent, Flag-Smasher attacked the hero during a press conference. He hoped to raise his profile and that of his cause, but Captain America overcame the assault.
Though hated enemies, Flag-Smasher came to have a grudging respect for Captain America when the two faced off again in Captain America #322. By then, Flag-Smasher had founded ULTIMATUM (Underground Liberated Totally Integrated Mobile Army To Unite Mankind), a terrorist army fighting for his "anti-patriotic" ideals. Captain America and a team of SHIELD agents fought Flag-Smasher and his followers in the Swiss Alps, and the battle ended with Flag-Smasher crashing his escape helicopter into the side of a mountain, stranding both him and Cap in the snow.
Cap wakes up before Flag-Smasher, who remains unconscious for hours. Cap contemplates leaving Flag-Smasher to die in the snow, remember how ULTIMATUM agents gunned down hostages in a crowd earlier. But Cap can't bring himself to do it. He uses every survival skill he knows to keep himself and Flag-Smasher alive long enough for a rescue. Even as SHIELD takes Flag-Smasher away for medical attention, Morgenthau warns Captain America that he'll regret not letting him die that day.
But the opposite ends up being true in Captain America #348 and #349, a two-parter that proves Flag-Smasher is at least a man of principles. After escaping SHIELD custody, Flag-Smasher went back to his ULTIMATUM base and started building a doomsday device because what else is a terrorist supervillain going to do with his time? But he discovered that ULTIMATUM's funding was coming from Red Skull, somehow back from the dead. As mentioned, Flag-Smasher and Red Skull may both be Captain America's enemies but are far apart philosophically. Flag-Smasher's anarchist leanings are opposed to Red Skull's fondness for fascism. Flag-Smasher may have built a weapon capable of destroying civilization, but he'd be damned if he was going to let the world end on a fascist's dime. He took some hostages and demanded to meet with Captain America. The government sent Steve Rogers' replacement, John Walker, but Morgenthau could tell the difference and would accept no substitutes. After Flag-Smasher defeated Walker in combat, Rogers arrived. Together, Cap and Flag-Smasher disabled the doomsday device, which also made Rogers aware of his archnemesis' return.
Unfortunately, this is where Flag-Smasher peaked. He more or less faded from view after Gruenwald's run on Captain America. Later, someone talked Morgenthau into giving up his terrorist activities to instead promote his worldview by running the nation of Rumekistan, only to be assassinated soon after.
After Morgenthau's death, a new Flag-Smasher arose. Canadian ULTIMATUM agent Guy Thierrault assumed the role and spent most of his time in it getting beaten by teen superheroes and not being taken seriously. Another ULTIMATUM agent killed Thierrault and took the Flag-Smasher mantle. He turned out to be a Life Model Decoy planted by an evil version of Steve Rogers (it's a long story).
And so Flag-Smasher's dubious legacy came to an end. Though his successors were jokes, Karl Morganthau was an interesting and worthy adversary for Captain America, discarded and forgotten by Gruendwald's successors far too soon. Hopefully, Karli Morganthau and the Flag-Smashers will make enough of an impression that Marvel will revisit the Flag-Smasher concept.