Updated March 21, 2019: With this week's revealation that Marvel Comics is publishing a True Believers reprint of Avengers Forever #1 on April 25 in conjunction with Avengers: Endgame (which they kept secret for two months following its original solicitation), we're taking a look back at this story, published nearly one year ago.
Updated April 18, 2018: With reports of an older Cassie Lang being cast for Avengers 4, we've updated our theory to figure out what this could mean. How could the older Cassie fit into the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe She fits quite seamlessly into our hypothesis, as luck would have it. Read on to find out how.
Original Story April 4, 2018: Avengers: Infinity War is just a few weeks away from reaching theaters, and while Marvel's blockbuster remains mysterious (with Marvel Studios claiming nobody knows the film's real story), its still-unnamed sequel is perhaps even more of a cipher.
But the untitled Avengers 4 isn't without its clues – from the fact that its very title may be something of a spoiler to the set photos that have been leaked from the production, and they're pointing us in a particular direction: Avengers Forever ... or rather ... no, we'll wait until the end for that.
For those not familiar, Avengers Forever was a 1990s comic book event in which a team of Earth's Mightiest Heroes assembled from across different eras were dispatched throughout the timestream to stop a massive threat.
Now we're not suggesting that Avengers 4 will fully adapt the comic book story, but we've got what we think are some good reasons to believe Marvel Studios will take some major inspiration from the comic book concept, a la "Winter Soldier," "Civil War" and "Infinity War."
How you may ask? Well, it all starts with time travel...
Time is on Our Side
We know from multiple set photos that many of the Avengers will appear in their classic costumes at some point in Avengers 4 - Thor with long hair and his cape, Captain America in his bright blue Avengers uniform, for example. Those set photos also seem to take place during the Battle of New York - the climax of the first Avengers film.
What’s more, those same set photos seem to show Ant-Man in an Infinity War-era uniform and Tony Stark with blonde hair hanging out with Battle of New York-era Cap, which sets the stage for a straight up time travel adventure. Working backwards from there, however, the method of Stark and Ant-Man’s time travel isn’t exactly clear.
One obvious possible answer to the question of how Tony and Ant-Man got to the past is through Doctor Strange’s Time Stone, housed in the Eye of Agamotto, which we’ve yet to see Thanos actually wield in any Avengers: Infinity War promotional material. What we do see is Strange seemingly tortured by who appears to be Ebony Maw, perhaps because Ebony Maw is trying to get the good doctor to reveal where the Eye of Agamotto is, maybe without success.
Based on what can seemingly be extrapolated by the trailers and advance press, sometime during the film Thanos comes in possession of the Space and Power Stones. And the Reality and Mind Stones, last seen in possession of the Collector and the Vision, respectively, seems like easy enough gets (with the latter's presence in Wakanda a major point in Infinity War).
That would give Thanos more than enough power to carry out what we now know is his ultimate plan - to wipe out half the population of the universe. But if the Strange-Wong-Iron Man-Spider-Man team was able to keep the Time Stone out of Thanos' hands, he could only do it from this point in time forward, not retroactively. Meaning the past could be our heroes' out.
Of course, there’s also the possibility that they aren’t actually traveling in time at all – remember in Captain America: Civil War when Tony used a special machine to rebuild his memories in virtual reality? Maybe there’s a reason for Tony to do that in Avengers 4. There have also been set photos that show the production team carrying containers bearing the name "B.A.R.F.," the abbreviated name of Tony's invention. It's hard to imagine Avengers 4 primarily taking place in Tony's memories, but perhaps it could serve as a map to his adventures in time.
Say Hello to my Little Friend
Still, that doesn’t exactly answer the question of how Ant-Man fits in.
Aside from a Vanity Fair photoshoot (look left), Ant-Man has been conspicuously absent from any Avengers: Infinity War marketing. Paul Rudd's name isn't even on the poster. We’re pretty sure he’s in the movie – so where the heck is he?
The answer may lie, naturally, in Ant-Man’s mysterious Quantum Realm – the subatomic dimension that Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige said would play an important role in the future of the MCU back in 2015 when Ant-Man hit theaters.
But it’s been largely ignored outside of Ant-Man… At least, so far.
July’s Ant-Man and the Wasp will send the titular diminutive duo out into the Quantum Realm to rescue the original Wasp, Janet Van Dyne, who has been trapped there for decades. Ant-Man and the Wasp also may be a direct sequel to Captain America: Civil War, taking place chronologically prior to Infinity War.
Ant-Man established that time and physics may work differently in the Quantum Realm, meaning that it could be a place where, say, an Avenger or two could hide from a mad villain with godlike powers. What if Ant-Man hasn’t been seen in Infinity War because he’s hiding in the Quantum Realm, a kind of bite-sized back-up plan? Remember, pulling off elaborate capers is Ant-Man's unique MCU skillset.
If Ant-Man can get Tony Stark (and any other potential Infinity War survivors, wouldn't it be sooooo Marvel Studios to have Loki join the action?) and the Time Stone into the Quantum Realm, that may be exactly the Hail Mary the Avengers need to eventually take down Thanos.
Now, if hiding in a realm out of Thanos' omnicicent notice sounds familiar, you may be thinking back to the comic book Infinity Gauntlet when Adam Warlock and others were hidden inside the Soul Gem, a trick he later used against Thanos himself. But there's an added wrinkle there - one involving time travel.
In comic book continuity, Adam Warlock comes to reside inside the Soul Stone once again – at the hands of his time traveling past self. What's more, the Soul Stone was left on Warlock's grave, where it was collected by the Elder of the Universe known as the Gardener and stored – where else? – the subatomic planet K'ai.
Now, we’re not necessarily saying the subatomic Quantum Realm and the MCU’s Soul Stone are connected .... but we’re also not necessarily saying they aren’t.
Heroes of Stature
Since the original version of this story was published, reports have surfaced that actress Emma Fuhrmann will play a teenage version of Cassie Lang – Ant-Man’s daughter – in Avengers 4.
Fuhrman seems to have hinted at her casting via Twitter, posting “Ready to assemble?” with a link to an Avengers: Infinity War trailer back in March. This could imply that, if the reported casting is accurate, Cassie might follow in her comic book footsteps and become an Avenger, where she became the size-changing hero Stature and later used other tech to become Stinger.
Of course, the character of Cassie Lang has already appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, played in Ant-Man and the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp by 10-year-old actress Abby Ryder Fortson, who is significantly younger than the 16-year-old Fuhrmann. That lends even more credence to the idea that time travel of some kind will be central to the story of Avengers 4.
Remember, Avengers Forever involved not just Avengers from the past, but Avengers from the future, a "realm" a Time Stone wielding Tony and or Scott could access.
And then there’s the fact that, in comic books, Cassie is a founding member of the Young Avengers. While that name might not work as well in movies as it does in comic books, what are the chances the next era of the MCU could include some version of the Champions – perhaps with Peter Parker, Shuri, and others in tow? Pretty good, if you ask us.
Whether Cassie suits up in Avengers 4 or not, her reported presence in the untitled sequel is yet another indicator that Ant-Man's biggest days in the MCU are potentially still to come.
I Got Soul But I’m Not a Soul Stone
And that brings us back to next obvious question: where is the Soul Stone? It’s the last of the Stones yet to appear on film, and the biggest question going into Avengers: Infinity War.
There are many theories about the Soul Stone – some believe it’s in Heimdall’s possession, considering his powers and the vision Thor had in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Some still think it’s connected to Black Panther’s Vibranium, considering Wakanda’s ancestral realm. And of course, there’s the chance that it’s got a Quantum Realm connection.
Again, Feige has stressed the importance of alternate realms before and since Ant-Man and the Soul Gem is the one we don't know anything about.
Whatever or wherever it is, what’s certain is that to become master of all existence – and to complete the Infinity Gauntlet – Thanos is gonna need that missing Soul Stone.
As we say, by all indications Thanos does not complete the Gauntlet by the end of Infinity War, but that shouldn't keep him from achieving a seeming victory, perhaps with most of the Marvel heroes being in the 1/2 of the Earth's population Thanos makes go away. Marvel Studios has not been shy about framing Infinity War as an "end." And they'll have the dubious task of trying to top whatever occurs in just one calender year in Avengers 4.
And not for nothing, the two MCU films in-between Infinity War and Avengers 4 – Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel - appear to be, and are, set in the past, respectively. That means Marvel can make a Thanos victory as complete as they want it to be in Infinity War.
So let's try to tie this all together....
Perhaps the only way to escape and eventually defeat Thanos is by a small group of hidden heroes traveling into the past, a realm Thanos does not control, to assemble a complete Infinity Gauntlet before Thanos does, with at least Tony and Ant-Man going to places where the Infinity Stones used to be (like the Tesseract and Mind Stone at the Battle of New York, for example) and teaming up with Marvel heroes from the MCU's past?
Of course, if you assemble an Infinity Gauntlet, someone’s gonna have to wield it…
Infinite Iron Man
Which brings us to good old Tony Stark. Back in Avengers: Age of Ultron, poor, embattled Tony had a vision (get it?) of the whole team being brought down with him left the last man standing among his wrecked teammates. There’s an interpretation that this vision was Tony foreseeing Ultron’s destruction, but we think it goes even deeper than that.
Tony’s been the MCU’s leading man since day one – literally. He's also been the one most affected by the seeming doom that's been on its way since Avengers. And with Infinity War perhaps/probably giving more than a few of the MCU’s classic faces a potentially tragic send-off (at least temporarily), it makes perfact narrative sense the second and final round will be Thanos vs. Tony for all the MCU marbles.
Either which way, be it because of aging actors who want/need to move on, Disney's probable acquisition of 20th Century Fox and Marvel Studios' recovery of the film rights to the Fantastic Four and X-Men, the post-Avengers 4 world will be one filled with major changes.
A last act of Avengers 4 with Tony wielding the Infinity Gauntlet defeating Thanos and restoring what he destroyed will give Marvel unlimited options. Deaths ... recastings ... reboots, it'll ALL be on the table and at the hands of the MCU's original hero, futurist and greatest inventor.
And that'd also be as good a moment as any for Robert Downey Jr. and Tony Stark to say their goodbyes.
But what the Avengers stand for – in Tony's own words from the first Avengers, that they'll defend the world or at least avenge it – would certainly live on.
Or ... dare we say ...
It couldn't be that simple, could it?