Marvel's Most Wanted
"Justice, like Lightning, should ever appear To few men's ruin, but to all men's fear..."
, Swetnam The Woman-Hater Arraigned By Women
; source of the original tagline
for The Thunderbolts
A Marvel Universe
comic book series that appeared in 1997 as a response to the disappearance of the big name heroes like the Fantastic Four
and The Avengers
as a result of the Onslaught Crisis Crossover
and the aborted Heroes Reborn
reboot. We are presented with a new group of colorful heroes who swoop in to protect the people from danger.
There's their leader, the swashbuckling patriotic hero Citizen V
; the massive size-changing Atlas
, the high flying MACH-1
, the mysterious Meteorite
, the beautiful Songbird
, and the machine savvy Techno
. They are soon warmly welcomed by New York City as their new heroes, but it is only then we discover that these "Heroes" are in fact former members of the Avengers' archfoes, the Masters of Evil
: Baron Zemo
, Power Man/Goliath
, The Beetle
, Screaming Mimi
and The Fixer
. Their plan is to use the hero ruse to win the trust of the people, so that Zemo will be granted the Avengers' old security clearances, letting him use them to perfect a master plan for domination.
It isn't long before Zemo's plan falls apart, along with the team, as a few of them discover that Good Feels Good
and some others find other reasons to rebel; the remaining members are soon led by former Avenger (and fellow former villain) Hawkeye
to seek redemption for their past misdeeds. The team broke up after a crossover with the Avengers
, but it was created again with a new line up afterwards.
The series has experienced a fair share of cancellations and Retools
since, but gained particular attention as a result of Civil War
with the team now made up of newer and deadlier villains such as Venom
, originally the Scorpion) and Bullseye
, working for the government under the leadership of Norman Osborn
, ruthlessly hunting superheroes who try to elude the Super Registration Act
After Secret Invasion
, Osborn is promoted to the head of all government superheroes, "officially" disbanding the Thunderbolts but retaining some members as his personal off-the-books black ops team. However, he is also having villains (including some ex-Thunderbolts) pose as heroes again, only this time as the well-known Avengers themselves in the series Dark Avengers
. Where the Thunderbolts have a bit of a rotating cast, Dark Avengers
features Iron Patriot
(Osborn, wearing Iron Man
armor with a Captain America
color scheme), "Spider-Man"
, the son of the real Wolverine), "Hawkeye"
(Bullseye), "Captain Marvel"
(Noh-Varr, aka "Marvel Boy"), "Ms. Marvel"
, and The Sentry
(neither one an impostor). In parallel, he also assembles a new formation of the Thunderbolts... as another off-the-books black ops team, comprised of Paladin, Ant-Man
(Eric O'Grady), Headsman, Ghost, Scourge (better known as Nuke, a Daredevil foe) and Black Widow
(Yelena Belova), who is later replaced by Mr. X once it's revealed that she's not Belova but Natasha Romanoff in disguise.
At the start of the Heroic Age
, following Osborn's downfall, the Thunderbolts are now the Raft (Super Villain Prison) inmate rehabilitation project. Led by Luke Cage, they are a team put together to try to set a number of villains on the path to redemption while giving a place to those who already have switched sides. The initial lineup includes a number of ex-Thunderbolts who are now heroes (Songbird, Mach V, Fixer), some of Osborn's former crew hoping to use it as a way to earn good publicity (Moonstone), the criminally insane (Crossbones), those who are caught in the Heel-Face Revolving Door
(Ghost and Juggernaut), and their transportation (Man-Thing
). Just before the Fear Itself
event, a second "Beta" team of Raft inmates, the Underbolts
, get introduced.
The series becomes the new Dark Avengers
series when, with the Thunderbolts lost in time, members of Norman Osborn's second Dark Avengers team are recruited to be the new Thunderbolts, all analogues to established Avengers: Ragnarok (Thor
), Trickshot (Hawkeye), Ai Apaec (Spider-Man), Toxie Doxie/Dark Scarlet Witch (Scarlet Witch
) and Skaar (Hulk
It has been announced that as part of the Marvel NOW!!
relaunch, a new Thunderbolts series will be released December 2012 initially written by Daniel Way with Steve Dillon on art, with Charles Soule taking over as writer with issue 12. The series will be about a new team brought together by former long time Hulk nemesis and recent Avenger, General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross aka the Red Hulk
, with the initial line up consisting of Agent Venom (Flash Thompson)
, The Punisher
Not to be confused with the Wonderbolts
, who manage to be even more colorful while facing far less drama.
Examples from all versions:
- Retool: Sometimes it is just small tweaks, other times it is full blown revamps, but Thunderbolts' basic premise or direction is usually always changing at some point to find new ways to get its casts together.
- Villain Protagonist
- What the Hell, Hero?: The basic charm of the series (there's basically an example at every issue). The cast always includes a hero who has been a villain all his life up until 5 minutes ago, or a former villain who is playing hero for the wrong reasons (like the thrill of the action, or because everybody else in the gang is doing it, or because the government forced them to). Old habits die hard, so don't expect them to follow the "how would Captain America do it?" book (or expect them to fail while trying). Even when Zemo saved the universe from destruction (you can't ask for something more black & white than that), he resorted to blackmail in the middle of the fight.
- The ultimate example in the series—and one pointed out by Luke Cage himself—is that Crossbones was added to the first "Cagebolts" team. Crossbones was the man who assassinated Captain America.
Examples from the original series:
- A God Am I: Zemo and Moonstone at separate points in the series.
- Technically Ares. Because, well, Ares.
- Action Girl: Quite a few, but the one who has stayed constant throughout most of the series is Songbird.
- Animal-Themed Superbeing: Songbird, and when he was a villain named The Beetle, Mach-1.
- Anti-Hero: Most members are type II or III, while Moonstone is a type V.
- Anti-Villain: Meanwhile, even Baron Zemo himself discovered some heroic tendencies from his time on the team.
- Ascended Fanboy: Jolt is an Ascended Fangirl. She knows more about some of their enemies than the rest do, despite some of them having been in the superhuman game since the Silver Age.
- The Atoner: Several. Until the reboot, this is a running theme of the Thunderbolts. In each incarnation there's at least one person who finds redemption from the things he or she has done. Even the Daniel Axum arc had him leaving the fight circuit and make peace with the guy he beat up for the local championship.
- Back from the Dead: Fixer, Jolt (twice), Zemo, Atlas (twice), Smuggler.
- Badass Normal: Citizen V
- Barrier Warrior: Songbird
- Batman Gambit: Tell Joystick that she can't do something. She will do it. She frequently lampshades just how easy it is to pull this on her.
- Becoming the Mask: Kind of the point of the original series. Played straighter with Mach-1, Songbird and Atlas.
- Big Bad Wannabe: Graviton — a supervillain who is to gravity what Magneto is to magnetism, held back mostly by his personal inadequacies. Became a recurring opponent to the team, mostly because of Moonstone repeatedly manipulating him — only for the attempts to backfire.
- Black Like Me: Abe (MACH-1) Jenkins was technologically disguised as a black man to cover up the fact he'd been released from prison around the time he upgraded to MACH-2.
- Blood Knight: Joystick. She would fight anybody and do anything if it meant a thrill or winning a bet.
- Changed My Mind, Kid
- The Chessmaster: Baron Zemo
- C-List Fodder: The Thunderbolts themselves were mostly C-List Villains, as were most of their opponents.
- Contest Winner Cameo/Ascended Extra: Charcoal began as the winner of a Wizard magazine "Create A Villain" contest who made a Heel-Face Turn and joined the team. Most of his traits beyond his powers and monstrous superpowered form were created by the series' writers.
- And while they were preparing that contest, Marvel staff discovered the existence of Humus Sapien, a fan-created character who won a "Create An X-Man" contest in 1973, but who was never actually used. Deciding it wouldn't be right to use a new fan-character while ignoring the old one, they finally brought him into Thunderbolts as a villain for one storyarc, twenty-eight years after he was created. And they even let his original creator help plot his storyarc and ink a page with him.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Meteorite lays one on Zemo when the Thunderbolts break away from him, revealing in brutal detail what would really happen when someone with super-strength fights a non-powered opponent. (Hint: it involves a lot of broken bones.)
- Dark Messiah: Zemo
- Deader Than Dead: Zemo atomized Photon and scattered him across space and time, claiming that he was like this. Fabian Nicieza confirmed that Zemo is merely Genre Blind, because Photon will return as soon as Marvel feels like using him again.
- Deadpan Snarker: Fixer, the self proclaimed patent holder on snark.
- Dirty Coward: Blizzard, who spent so much time whining about his suit's freon supply that he was ineffective. He eventually Took a Level in Badass, though.
- Dishing Out Dirt: Charcoal
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Unfortunately, due to the vague terms of the contest and the winner feeling undercompensated (for various reasons), Charcoal was killed off to prevent a lawsuit over his ownership. Fabian Nicieza has stated that he had a possible way to bring the character back without bringing Charcoal back (as the character's "civilian" name and most details of his personal life were not created by the contest winner), but enough time has passed since Charcoal's death and Nicieza's tenure on the book (and his working for Marvel in general) that the possibility is pretty much moot.
- Elaborate Underground Base: The vast base within Mount Charteris.
- Evil Costume Switch: Zemo goes back to his old threads.
- Evil Plan: The first reason for suspicion whenever Baron Zemo comes up with a new plan to "save the world" is that every one looks exactly like a villainous plot to take over the world. At least Zemo has stylistic consistency.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin
- Executive Meddling: Humorously, this was both the reason that Genis-Vell (Captain Marvel/Photon) was added to the team and the reason he was killed off.
- The original twist ending is an example of Executive Meddling done right. To keep the twist ending of the first issue a secret, Kurt Busiek had to convince the execs not to tease at the ending in Previews. He even enlisted Peter David to get his editors to change the solicit for the Hulk's issue where they first appear.
- Charcoal was eventually killed off due to rights issues.
- Face-Heel Turn
- Fan Nickname: Fightbolts — The first massive Retool of the title, revolving around C-List supervillains in an underground fighting circuit.
- Fight Clubbing: At the end of the original run, there was a brief period when the book stopped being about supervillains turned superhero, and instead became an underground fight club for supervillains.
- Fire-Forged Friends: Spidey and MACH-1
- First Episode Spoiler: One of the most famous in comics. It was a huge surprise that the Thunderbolts were revealed as the Masters of Evil at the end of Thunderbolts #1. Good luck trying to avoid this spoiler now.
- Flying Brick: Charcoal, Moonstone, Abe in most of his armors, Atlas after merging with Dallas Riordan.
- Fun with Acronyms: MACH-$NUMBER
- In the Diggle run it's established that Abe and the Fixer are themselves not entirely sure what it actually stands for, but then settle on "Mechanized Aerial Combat Harness".
- Gadgeteer Genius: Techno/Fixer
- Gambit Pileup: The grand climax of this incarnation consisted of Zemo, Grandmaster, and Songbird trying to enact their own plans while Joystick and Speed Demon followed their own agendas within those plans.
- The end of the "redemption" arc at around the four-year mark involved no fewer than three secret conspiracies, a ton of mysterious masked people hunting down the team for assorted reasons, fully half of various Thunderbolts' major secrets from the rest of the team being outed, and at least one person being mind-controlled to do what he was going to do anyway. It would have given Chris Claremont a headache.
- Genki Girl: Jolt. It's kind of her power, actually.
- Good Feels Good: One of the major themes in the original run: The team realizes they like being praised instead of booed, or some of them do at least.
- The Government: The Commission on Superhuman Affairs or CSA for short.
- Green Lantern Ring: Songbird's carapace. Even literally works like a Green Lantern's ring on a less cosmic level, but with additional uses related to her pre-existing sonic powers.
- Handsome Lech: Photon
- Hannibal Lecture: One of Moonstone's specialties.
- The Heart: Songbird. She's the moral center of the team who doesn't backslide into criminality or rage like her teammates.
- Initially, Jolt was The Heart. Songbird needed a lot of Character Development until she could fill out this role (especially during her tenure in the team under Norman Osborn's rule).
- Jolt was so much The Heart of the original team, that before Hawkeye showed up, the revolting Bolts voted out Moonstone and came close to nominating Jolt as team leader since everyone else were still not confident enough to trust in themselves. Also when she got assasinated (she got better) the team was badly messed up, even Moonstone cracked up and admitted she liked Hallie.
- Heel-Face Turn: Not all of them, but a good chunk of them, anyway.
- Heroes Want Redheads: Atlas' love interest and later girlfriend Dallas Riordan is a redhead.
- Hoverboard: The V-Wing
- Intangible Woman: Moonstone.
- Karma Houdini: Moonstone, full stop. Hawkeye convinces Abe to serve prison term for murder while Moonstone kept her murder of a Kosmosian king under wraps. She never gets outed for that, nor does she get much comeuppance for her twisted mindgames she plays with her teammates.
- Kid Hero: Jolt, Charcoal.
- Knight Templar: Zemo in Thunderbolts/Avengers and New Thunderbolts. He is constantly making huge grabs for power that are all for a supposed greater good, but his plans always involve forcing his will upon the world as a dictator.
- Not always; his plan in T-bolts/Avengers did involve him stealing huge amounts of power from the citizens of the world, whom he deemed too stupid to wield it...but then, to prove his good intentions and that he didn't plan at all to use the power for his own gain, he offered to turn it all over to Captain America. His old arch-enemy. Pity that Cap hadn't quite overcome his mistrust yet...
- Legacy Character: Zemo is the thirteenth Baron Zemo; his moniker of Citizen V is also based on an obscure patriotic hero from World War II.
- Locked Out of the Loop: Jolt, the only member of the original Thunderbolts who wasn't in on the masquerade when she joined.
- Manipulative Bastard: Meteorite, who never stopped thinking about how to turn situations to her advantage. Unfortunately for her, the others were never quite as clueless as she thought when it came to such scheming.
- The Mole: All the team was initially created for this purpose, villains posing as heroes to receive SHIELD's secret codes (of course, it did not work as intended)
- Cobalt Man, secretly Tony Stark, Iron Man.
- Ogre, AKA Techno.
- The Swordsman also counts, having secretly been mind controlled into joining by the Purple Man.
- Morality Pet: Jolt
- Person of Mass Destruction: Photon. Having just ended a period as a Reality Warper with a god complex, he was given a Repower that simultaneously drew power from the beginning and end of time; if left unchecked, his powers would have destroyed the universe. He begged Zemo to let him live long enough that he could use his Cosmic Awareness to find a timeline in which the universe survived, but Zemo deemed him too much of a threat to take that risk.
- On a lesser scale, Radioactive Man. One of his reasons for turning to heroism was finding out how many people had been killed or given cancer by his radioactive powers.
- Pet the Dog: How do you reconcile Zemo's newly acquired good intentions with his past Moral Event Horizon moments? Have him use time-travel to give Captain America all of the personal possessions that he ordered destroyed back in Avengers Under Siege.
- Also, when Zemo jumps in front of a huge incineration blast to save his arch nemesis, Captain America, from the now insane Moonstone, returning his new younger body back to its horribly disfigured state, for the sole reason that he believes that he saving the world means saving each individual person in it. Aww.
- Powered Armor: MACH-1 and Abe's later armors; the updated "Beetle" suit.
- Put on a Bus: Jolt. "I have to go back to Counter-Earth. They need me."
- Second Super-Identity: The original premise was that the Masters of Evil took on new (faux) super-hero identities and presented themselves as a replacement for the Avengers.
- Shock and Awe: Jolt
- Sizeshifter: Atlas
- Steven Ulysses Perhero: Janice Olivia Yanizeski, a.k.a. Joystick.
- Technopath: Techno. More efficient when his consciousness is put in a robot body.
- The Reveal: The end of the first issue, in which Citizen V takes off his mask and reveals his team's real identity.
- The Starscream: Moonstone
- When Zemo took over the team in full Knight Templar mode, Songbird began plotting behind his back to foil his plan and assume leadership.
- The Stoic: Radioactive Man.
- Think Nothing of It: Spidey and MACH-1
- Token Evil Teammate: Moonstone. While the rest of the teammates who betray Zemo do so as part of their Heel Face Turns, Dr. Sofen does so for her own agenda. Though she occasionally flirts with becoming a better person, she never really stops being a manipulative schemer. And the story repeated itself later with Osborn: one of the reasons why he never got off the slippery slope is because Karla swapped his medication behind his back.
- Two Aliases, One Character: Just about the entire team.
- Unreliable Voiceover: The first Annual, in which Citizen V tells Jolt about how he brought the team together, without mentioning the parts about them all being supervillains.
- Warrior Therapist: Moonstone
- West Coast Team: Under Hawkeye's leadership.
- Wham Episode: The Reveal that the team was secretly The Masters of Evil is widely considered one of the greatest twists in comic book history.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Given that the team is made of reforming villains this is common. After the fight club arc, Speed Demon gives a big one to Songbird after she fires him for stealing money from Nighthawk's company. He calls her out on her hypocrisy - he admits he's been stealing to fund the team when their money from Hydra ran out, but where did she get off being so high and mighty when she was the one who ordered the team to pummel the New Avengers in order to get government funding.
Examples from the Warren Ellis retool:
Examples from Andy Diggle's retool :
Examples from the Jeff Parker retool the Cagebolts:
Examples from the Daniel Way/Charles Soule (Marvel NOW!) retool: