Falcon and The Winter Soldier — who are the Flag Smashers and Karli Morgenthau?

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Flag Smashers and Karli Morgenthau
(Image credit: Disney Plus)

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has introduced several antagonists — including a smarmy new Captain America, racism and a woeful Avengers salary system. But the big bad looks to be the Flag Smashers, led by a young woman named Karli Morgenthau. This villainous group's name will be familiar to readers of the comic books, but the Flag Smashers in Falcon and the Winter Soldier are otherwise quite different from the comic character.

So, who are the Flag Smashers? In the show, Sam Wilson aka Falcon (Anthony Mackie) first learned about them from his Air Force pal, Lt. Joaquin Torres (Danny Ramirez). As Torres explains, the Flag Smashers think the world was better during the Blip. "They want a world that's unified without borders," he says. In episode 2, we find out that formerly-Blipped refugee communities consider the Flag Smashers to be their Robin Hood.

In the first episode, Torres infiltrates a Flag Smashers gathering, which turns out to be a bank heist. One member bursts out of a window with bags of what is presumably cash, then beats up Torres. It's clear that this masked figure has super soldier strength. 

That's confirmed during a high-octane fight scene. A group of Flag Smashers steal a shipment of vaccines and Sam and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) attempt to stop them. They also think they're saving a kidnapping victim, but she turns out to be the terrorists' leader — Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman). And she and her fellow Flag Smashers go toe to toe with Sam, Bucky and John Walker, the new Captain America.

They manage to get away, but later, they're almost caught by a figure called the Power Broker. Yet another new antagonist on the scene!

Flag Smasher in the comics vs TV show

In the comic books, Flag Smasher was not a group but rather a person. Introduced in Captain America issue #312, the first Flag Smasher is Karl Morgenthau, the son of a Swiss banker-turned-diplomat. 

After his father is killed, Karl becomes a terrorist whose goal is to end nationalism and erase borders. The name Flag Smasher references Karl's desire to destroy the very idea of separate countries. Karl also founds the terrorist group Ultimatum, which seems to be similar to the TV show's version of Flag Smashers.

But the show's head writer, Malcolm Spellman, told Entertainment Weekly that the Flag Smashers weren't taken directly from the page. "People think they know" about the villains, he said, "and they don't."

One major change from the comics is that the show is gender-flipping Flag Smasher.

Director Kari Skogland explained, "The comics are a great source, but our stories are unique. They might draw from the comics, but they aren't actually in the comics so our characters can be unique and evolved and not be tied. We're not duplicating a story and we're not duplicating a character."

Falcon and the Winter Soldier does give a wink to the comics by setting the heist at a Swiss bank. On the page, Karl uses his father's banking wealth to fund his terrorist activities. In the show, the Flag Smashers don't appear to have a lot of money; they seem to use what they do have to buy supplies for the refugees.

Do the Flag Smashers have their own Winter Soldier?

Somehow, though, the Flag Smashers got their hands on super soldier serum. They may have stolen it from the Power Broker, who texts Karli, "You took what was mine." But where did the Power Broker get it? Sam and Bucky are planning to question Helmut Zemo (Daniel Daniel Brühl) and he may have the info.

In the comics, Power Broker was the one who gave U.S. Agent (the new Captain America, John Walker) his powers. Walker, as he is, doesn't have super strength. But the enemy of your enemy is your friend, as they say, and the Power Broker may give a dose of the serum to Walker so that he can be just like Steve Rogers. Then, Walker could take out the Flag Smashers, just like the Power Broker wants.

Kelly Woo
Streaming Editor

Kelly is the streaming channel editor for Tom’s Guide, so basically, she watches TV for a living. Previously, she was a freelance entertainment writer for Yahoo, Vulture, TV Guide and other outlets. When she’s not watching TV and movies for work, she’s watching them for fun, seeing live music, writing songs, knitting and gardening.