I wanted to take today to talk about one my favourite teams to ever come out of the Marvel comic universe and that would be the Thunderbolts. Most people aren’t very familiar with them if at all, and those that are familiar tend to view them as Marvel’s Suicide Squad. While the Suicide Squad did come first by quite a few years, the Thunderbolts have been right smack in the middle of some of the Marvel comic universe’s biggest events and played a big part in the original Civil War.
The Marvel Thunderbolts is a team made up (originally) of Super Villains that masqueraded as heroes and fooled the world into believing they were heroes. It was revealed in the final page of Incredible Hulk #449 from January 1997, that they were a team of villains (the Masters of Evil) led by Baron Zemo. Throughout their early publication the team became more and more heroic to the point where they ousted their leader Zemo and became heroes in their own right. Eventually Hawkeye led the team and continued to do so for many years. The team went through many re-launches and revamps through their short publication history until Warren Ellis took over the title making the team a black ops government sanctioned team that was tasked with rounding up fugitive superheroes during Civil War. This was by far the most successful run of the team and they even appeared in several tie in runs with Secret Invasion. The team was revamped during the MarvelNow! publications to operate as singular unit functioning outside the law and government sanction.
The team has gone through so many incarnations and revamps that it would take forever to list the teams and their respective rosters. That being said the following three rosters are the most popular from their publication history and have been present for some of the biggest events in Marvel Comic history.
#1 – Zemo and his Thunderbolts
This first incarnation of the team as stated before were the Masters of Evil masquerading as heroes after many of the heroes had been killed by the Onslaught event. This team consisted of: Baron Zemo, Goliath, Beetle, Fixer, Moonstone, and Screaming Mimi. As previously stated during their first foray into production, the team donned heroic personas to act as heroes after Onslaught had killed most of the main continuity heroes. The heroic personas they took were as follows:
Baron Zemo – Citizen V
Goliath – Atlas
Beetle – MACH-1
Moonstone – Kept her name
Screaming Mimi – Songbird
The team’s first mission was to rescue Goliath and kill the Avengers, obviously with the Avengers having been killed by Onslaught the team decided to fill the void left, learn the secrets of the Avengers and SHIELD and sell the secrets to the Criminal underworld.
#2 – Osborn’s Thunderbolts
The next most popular incarnation of the team is the one that came to popularity immediately after the events of Civil War. This team was led my Norman Osborn and served as the first step to him eventually being named director of SHIELD ( which he renamed HAMMER) and his Dark Avengers. Osborn assumed control over the team and began hunting down the remaining fugitive heroes who avoided the Superhuman Registration Act. One of the heroes that they attempted to take down after he killed Black Knight at a Pro- Registration rally to save the innocent people attending (more on that in a later post) was Moon Knight; at that point the team was made up of the following members:
Norman Osborn (Green Goblin) – Leader
Moonstone – Field Leader
Penance – Speedball from the new Warriors who caused the Civil War
This is arguable the most popular incarnation after the team. I say arguably because the original team led by Zemo was fairly popular and their reveal of who they really are is #11 on the Greatest Comic Moments Ever.
This team went on to repel the Skrull invasion on Washington D.C. during Secret Invasion and was played up to have had a much larger impact on the outcome of the invasion by Osborn. After Secret Invasion the team wen through a few more line-up changes most notably when Luke Cage handpicked the new Thunderbolts from Raft prisoners and became their field leader.
#3 – Red Hulk and the Thunderbolts
The third most popular team comes from the MarvelNow! run which was a complete revamp of the team and was made up of anti-heroes and a few villains. The team was recruited by Red Hulk and their mission were decided at a turn by turn basis. Each member put their names in a hat and General Ross (Red Hulk) would draw one name out, whoever he drew got to pick the mission and nobody could complain or say otherwise. Once your mission was done your name was left out of the next draw until everyone had a chance to pick a mission and then everyone’s names went back in. The system worked for the entire run with only a few minor hiccups. This team consisted of:
The Leader – After the first issue
Abigail Mercy – Midway through the run
Eventually during their run Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze) would join the team and assist them in some supernatural missions as well as testing their security. One such example was when the team tested if they could take down the Venom symbiote should it become unattached from Flash Thompson (Agent Venom). The battle was a little bit of a one sided event with the symbiote dominating until the Leader stepped in and subdued it. Punisher eventually quits the team and is almost killed by a bomb that was placed in one of his hideouts, in retaliation he goes after the Thunderbolts and takes them down 1 by 1. The run ends with Ross disbanding the team once the true culprit behind the attempted murder of Frank is revealed.
The Thunderbolts are one of my favourite teams of all time and I will admit that while I do enjoy the Suicide Squad the Thunderbolts still rank higher in my opinion. The Squad is great and their chemistry is apparent (sometimes) but the Thunderbolts just have that redemption quality that makes you want to believe in them. They started off being heroes in disguise and liked it so much they kicked out their Super Villain leader to be heroes full time, if that doesn’t just warm your heart than nothing will. Not only are most members great redemption stories, they also battle a lot of personal demons and do a lot of growth in the limited number of issues in each run. My favourite incarnation of the team is probably the Red Hulk’s but that’s because of Deadpool, Punisher and Agent Venom, not to mention GHOST RIDER!!!! I will admit that I haven’t picked up any of the newest incarnation from the All New All Different Marvel, but I have read that Winter Soldier is the new leader of the team, so that can only be a good thing.