Little by little, Marvel is revealing the secret Cold War history of the MCU – with Arnim Zola confirmed to run the Soviet super-soldier program.
Warning! Spoilers ahead for Marvel’s What If…? episode 8.
Marvel confirmed the MCU’s secret Cold War history in Marvel’s What If…? episode 8. The existence of superheroes may only have become common knowledge relatively recently in the MCU, when Tony Stark outed himself to the world as Iron Man, but it’s gradually becoming clear there’s a secret history of superhuman activity running through the twentieth century. Ant-Man revealed Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne had worked with SHIELD during the Cold War, while The Falcon & the Winter Soldier introduced Isaiah Bradley as the first Black Captain America, a super-soldier who served during the Korean War in the 1950s.
Black Widow went further, though, hinting at a superhuman arms race in the Cold War. It introduced the Red Guardian, Russia’s answer to Captain America, a physically powerful super-soldier who genuinely believed he’d gone up against Steve Rogers; in doing so it confirmed the USSR had worked on its own super-soldier program during the Cold War, pointing to a shadowy fight between superhumans that must have raged over the decades. Now, surprisingly, Marvel has revealed more about this Cold War arms race in Marvel’s What If…? episode 8; although this is set in a branched timeline, it split away from the main timeline during Avengers: Age of Ultron, meaning its history is the same.