Out this week is THUNDERBOLTS v3 #1, by Jim Zub and Jon Malin, and by all accounts looks to be a return to the roots of the series, something we haven’t seen in nearly three years. Here’s a little bit of a quick-and-dirty history lesson to get you up to speed.
THUNDERBOLTS began as an interesting gambit, in-universe and out. In 1997, Marvel was in a very strange place after ONSLAUGHT tore the universe a new one and “killed” about a dozen super-heroes. Among those, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom, the Incredible Hulk, and all of the active Avengers roster with the exception of Black Widow and an extremely inebriated Hercules. Celebrated veteran writer Kurt Busiek and artist Mark Bagley came together and decided then was the perfect opportunity for new characters to take the spotlight while the rest were getting Heroes Reborn’d on Counter-Earth (and the X-Men had a separate spotlight all to themselves).
Debuting in INCREDIBLE HULK v1 #447, the THUNDERBOLTS operated under the leadership of CITIZEN V, a team comprised of ATLAS, TECHNO, SONGBIRD, METEORITE, and MACH I. But there was surprise twist, revealed only to the reader initially, that these new heroes were simply the latest iteration of the MASTERS OF EVIL in disguise, all villains, and with the exception of BARON ZEMO, all of small renown. By posing as heroes, the T-Bolts hoped to fill the void left by the FF and Avengers, gaining trust and power before ultimately conquering the world.
Over a period of 16 years, THUNDERBOLTS followed the team’s rise and fall, a cast lineup changing as schisms in leadership arose. Many of the members actually enjoyed the new chance to be heroes, striking out on their own against Zemo. HAWKEYE eventually took leadership of the team once the Avengers returned, working to “legitimize” their heroism after their villainous identities had been revealed. Baron Zemo, reformed in as much as his selfish altruism would allow, would even lead the team against the Grandmaster and through the Superhuman Registration Act CIVIL WAR. Eventually, NORMAN OSBORN was assigned control of the team and used them as a platform to take leadership of SHIELD and turn it into HAMMER, clearing out the members that had any heroic integrity and turning what was now a team of out-and-out villains into the DARK AVENGERS. After Osborn’s failed SIEGE of Asgard, LUKE CAGE was put in charge of the program, bringing it back to its original roots. Under Cage’s administration, there was an added Suicide Squad-like twist; the more nefarious members could earn time off their sentence, but ran the risk of explosive nanites going off if they disobeyed. After a number of time-and-space multiversal jaunts that split the group, master manipulator member MOONSTONE led a final group of rechristened Dark Avengers from the brink back to the 616.
The title was cancelled and eventually replaced with a new volume starring DEADPOOL, VENOM, ELEKTRA, and THE PUNISHER as a black-ops mercenary task force led by General Ross, the RED HULK. And for a while, that was the last we’d heard. Now, with AVENGERS: STANDOFF in full swing and CIVIL WAR II looming as a result, it’s the perfect time for a WINTER SOLDIER gone rogue to assemble a team of newly liberated villains under his leadership– the ideaologies of both volumes, now in one book! Check it out!