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Not the Heroes who are Most Deserved, Just the ones who are Most Wanted: Let’s Read… Thunderbolts!

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
Hi, I’m Octo! And this is another Full Run Comic Deep-Dive!

If you were to ask the average person on the street who their favorite Marvel team was, they’d say “What? Who are are you. Leave me alone.”

Or else they’d probably say X-Men or Avengers. Maybe Fantastic Four, Guardians of the Galaxy or Runaways. Or Batman.

But very few people would say Thunderbolts, and that’s a shame as it’s arguably the best book Marvel had published through the 90s.



Not that competition was particularly fierce, but it really is a fun book.

More recent incarnations of the team have a pretty starkly different premise and team dynamic, as it became effectively Marvels version of the Suicide Squad; convicted supervillains getting reduced sentences in exchange for dangerous missions, but the original team, as envisioned by Kurt Busiek and Thwas something different all together. The most spoiler-free description of which being “What if the Avengers Had Spider-Man’s Publicity”.

Also, Wizard Magazine was quick to spoil that big twist at every opportunity back in the day; granted it happened in the first issue, but it sure would have been nice to have not known it before I was even aware of any of the characters who were upended because of it.

Much like Wolverine, the teams actual first appearance was as special guest antagonists in an issue of Incredible Hulk, which I won’t really bother recapping here as it’s really not germane to the plot; the T-Bolts show up, announce their names, and fail to stop the Hulk, and roughly half of them get a chance to show off their fancy powers. Also Henry Peter Gyrich shows up and is a dick, as is his job in the Marvel Universe. About the only indication that there might be something worth keeping in the back of your mind about this mysterious group of heroes is that one of them panics a bit when Hulk recognizes her voice.

Anyhoo; it’s a real fun comic and I’m excited to get to re-experience it, once I finish re-readings the first proper issue, probably later tonight.
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Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
Not gonna lie; that’s not a great Whole Team Group Pic; the interiors of the book are much nicer; Bagley gives everything an appealing, vaguely Saturday Morning Cartoon aesthetic without going all out with it like Joe Mad or Adam Warren.

It’s a great look for the tone of the book.
 

Adrenaline

Post Reader
(He/Him)
I really like the whole post-Civil War Thunderbolts era where the team is first run by Norman Osborn and later by Luke Cage, but I've never read the books before that. Interested to see how it goes.
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
While I’ve read and loved the Busiek run, I’ve got no experience with Fabian Nicezas work that picked it up.

Im assuming it’s at least pretty good; seeing as it last about as long, but Busiek is one of the toughest acts to follow there is in Comics.

And then there was a third run that doesn’t look or sound appealing in the slightest and torpedo’d the book immediately
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
Lord help me, I'm back on my horse-apples

detail.jpg

And here we start!

Surprisingly for a new comic made up original characters, the first issue (Justice, LIKE LIGHTNING) is less of an origin and more of an introduction; everyone in the team already knows each other, and have apparently agreed to form a super-hero group; our first exposure to the Bolts (besides the non-intro we got in that Hulk issue I mentioned) is what we see in this initial story.

And, appropriately, it opens by establishing the stakes, and why everyone is so quick to accept these new heroes even before they do much of anything to warrant praise; this story takes place shortly (mere weeks, as the narration box tells us) after the Onslaught crossover resolved. The full scope of that is beyond my ability to properly recap (or Marvels, for that matter), but the relevant parts are that the Avengers and Fantastic Four were all missing, and presumed dead in the aftermath, as both teams were consumed by the energies released in Onslaughts death-throes.

They all wind up alive and well a little while later (I don't think disappearing after being consumed by strange energy has ever successfully killed anyone in comic books), but as far as the public is concerned; New York lost all of it's A-Tier superheros at once, and the forces of evil have collectively decided it's open season on the city and world.

Also, a sizable chunk of the city is still on fire, or has immediately descended into an Escape from New York style dystopia.

Illustrating precisely how bad New York is in the wake of Onslaughts defeat, is newly orphaned teenager Hallie Takahama, who, after having witnessed her parents and home be smooshed to death by Sentinels, proceeds to have an even worse day when she's attacked, knocked out, and kidnapped by some masked looters scrounging around the ruins of mid-town.

Good news is that she comes back later, so she's fine. Bad news is that she lives in comic books, so "fine" still means she winds up having a weird, bad time.

Anyway, the masked looters, as it happens; have a team name and affiliation and aren't just Guys in Ski Masks and Little Concept of Personal Property; they're The Rat Pack (no relation to Frank Sinatra, outside of associating with known criminals), a gang of D-list Punisher Villains who are usually only alive because Frank is trying to conserve ammo. As the name implies, they mainly scavenge abandoned buildings, loot corpses, that kind of thing. Nothing super-villainous, just kinda trashy, but weirdly heavily armed and equipped despite that.

In fact, it's the fact that they're toting around machine guns while debating the merits of prying gold teeth out of some corpses they found that they catch the attention of someone who does not take kindly to that kind of nonsense; the guys whose name is on the cover of this very comic, in fact, The Thunderbolts!

And these are actual superheroes and not Guys With Ski-Masks, so it's really not even a close fight, but it does serve as a good intro to the team members;

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Might as well use that image again, clockwise from the top we have

Atlas; The Strong Guy! He can absorb ionic energy to increase his size and strength exponentially. He really wants this whole Superhero Team thing to work. He's Giant Man, except Friendly
Mach-1 The Smart Guy! His flight suit has "all the capabilities of a jet fighter". He's got a crush on Songbird. He's Iron Man except poor.
Techno The VERY Smart Guy! Has technopathic abilities and can build any kind of tool out of his backpack. He's got an overinflated ego. Tony Stark except far less humble
Citizen V The No-Powers Leader Guy! Looks like a combination of Captain America and Cobra Commander. Real good at making people listen to him, and also has one of my favorite superhero costumes of the 1990s. He's Captain America, but manipulative.
Songbird The Girl One! Can channel her voice into solid objects using her costumes harness. Is evasive about things. She's Green Lantern, except noisy.
Meteorite The Starscream! She has standard flying-brick powers, as well as intangibility, lasers and holograms. She's Starscream, and possibly my favorite character on the team.

So yeah, that's a pretty good assortment of super-powers, especially compared to a group whose abilities consist of "own ski masks and guns", so it really isn't a difficult fight for our heroes. But, what it IS, is very flashy and public. And, in less time than it takes for six people with good/great super powers to beat a bunch of grave robbers, all of the hero-starved people of New York hear about the fight and are immediately smitten with their new saviors.

Really, it is PREPOSTEROUS how quickly the entire city hears about and celebrates the Thunderbolts after their victory over the least dangerous criminal organization in Marvels entire stable. And even then, it's not even a clean win, since the Rat Packs leader (you can tell he's the leader because he's the only one without a ski-mask) manages to escape with some precious cargo, while the rest of the Pack is busy being beaten up/escaping into underground tunnels. Still, mitigated victory is better than no victory, and these guys look Avengers-y enough that the public is willing to celebrate them.

Especially the mayors top aide, Dallas Roidan, who realizes that having a superhero team that has immediately captured the publics attention and which lacks the controversial history of people like Spider-Man or the X-Men on the Mayors payroll would only help his electoral chances.

Anyway, we cut back to the Thunderbolts secret-base, after their successful battle against the Rat Pack, and... it's a dump. Up to an including the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who live in the sewer, it is the most underwhelming superhero headquarters I've ever seen; as the team is based out of a burned up pizza place, and attached (and similarly ruined) tenements, all destroyed in the wake of Onslaughts attack on the city.

None of the team is particularly happy about this arrangement, especially since, even if you disregard Techno and Mach-1s technical expertise, there are PLENTY of better choices for hideouts for anyone with their particular hobbies; New York is lousy with abandoned supervillain bases and any one of them would suit their needs with a far lower chance of tetanus. But Citizen V shoots down all their complaints, by pointing out that their objectives aren't helped if they hide from the public; they want everyone to see them as they surely are; humble defenders of truth and justice.

We're also informed that Citizen V "shuts them down with a look", which is pretty impressive considering how his mask is a featureless faceplate.

And it turns out, V was right about how the public would react to their new heroes lounging around in burned out pizzeria; the news teams almost immediately track down the Thunderbolts to their hideout, and Citizen V properly introduces the team to America by way of a (clearly rehearsed, and sound-byte heavy) impromptu news conference; very pointedly avoiding answering any questions pertaining to the teams origins or even oblique references to anything that could even passively be used to track their history.

As far as the public is to be aware; they're just a bunch of super-powered good Samaritans looking to help fill the void that the Avengers and Fantastic Four left with their passing. And luckily, when questions got a bit harder to side-step with newsworthy quips, the Bolts are called away by an emergency; as the Ratpack are back and... just... blowing stuff up at random.

These guys are really not compelling villains, but, of course, they don't have to be; the reason they were blowing things up was to catch the Bolts attention so they could lead them away; after all, the Rat Pack was just some extra hired help; and their employer has someone else on hand to help with the heavy lifting.

Which is to say that, using some stolen jetpacks, the Ratpack lead the Thunderbolts directly to Liberty Island where they are all collectively punched in the face by the gold standard of Comic Book Starter-Villains; The Wrecking Crew!

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While they all have different costumes, the Wrecking Crew all have the same abilities, personality and origins; they're brutes for hire, they all got super-strength courtesy of a botched spell from Loki, they're mean as heck and they're collectively as smart as a sack of hammers.

So yeah, much more dynamic and exciting comic book fight this time; in terms of raw power, the two teams are on roughly equal footing; especially after Atlas receives a sucker-punch that knocks him flat on his back, in the middle of the sea (a very bad place to be unconscious especially when you're the size of a building). And eventually the Wrecking Crew takes the advantage when they take the entire statue of liberty itself hostage; threatening to demolish it if the Bolts don't stand down.

All of which is very definitely caught on camera; the Bolts are FIRMLY aware that the whole country is watching them defend the State of Liberty from a bunch of violent sociopaths who define themselves by their ability to wreck things. Excellent news footage, this. Everyone will be talking about it.

Luckily, the Wrecking Crew is pretty overconfident, and they all interupt their fight to laugh openly at how effectively they've stopped the Bolts by threatening the statue;

So Mach-1 shoots a gas-grenade into each of their mouths, and Songbird encases their heads in air-tight sonic-domes.

Then Meteorite and Atlas just punch the last one of them over the horizon because his mouth was covered already.

And not only did the Bolts save the Statue of Liberty on live TV, and even take the time to repair the damage that the Wrecking Crew did to it (unlike certain superhero groups that we could mention). And Dallas Riodan shows up to offer the team a heartfelt congratulations from the mayors office, as well as a job offer and a promise that the city of New York will do everything it can to help our fair citys newest and greatest defenders.

Yep, pretty cut and dried superhero story. Nothing particularly noteworthy about it.

...

Riiiiight up until the last 2 pages.

While the rest of the team is busy watching the news (where even established superheroes like Spider-Man or... erm... Night Thrasher), overcome with the emotional high of being celebrated heroes, or flirting with one another, Citizen V walks in, without his mask; revealing his horrifically scarred true face. He apologizes for the lack of decorum, and quickly reapplies the mask that everyone is familiar with...

IMG_0221.png


OH SHIIIIIIII~

The Thunderbolts are revealed to be the latest incarnation of the long-time Avengers villains; The Masters of Evil, Citizen V is Baron Zemo ( the son of the one Captain America fought back in the 40s), and everything the Bolts have done has been in service of a manipulating the entire world to see them as heroes, because he's got something NASTY planned for the future; because not even death can save the Avengers from the vengeance of Baron Zemo.

Also, that kid that the Thunderbolts weren't even aware was kidnapped is now in a secret prison and her life is about to get MUCH worse, but that's more of a Hallie problem than an Everyone Else in the World problem

NEXT TIME: The Thinking Mans Villain
 

Büge

Arm Candy
(she/her)
I never got to read the Thunderbolts when they first appeared, but I have the (sigh) Warren Ellis Run from about ten years ago.
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
detail.jpg

And now the book is off to the races; the first issue was a pretty rote and uninspiring superhero story, even by Kurt Busieks standards (not a dig, but the dudes bread and butter is subverting rote superhero stories), but that last page reveal threw everything into a much different context. Let’s reintroduce the team;

Citizen V, as per her overly dramatic re-masking, is Baron Helmut Zemo, the son of the guy who froze Captain America in ice as retaliation for Cap gluing a mask to his head. While his son has a vastly less creative driving force of “Wants To Avenge His Dad”, he makes up for it by… being really really good at it. If not for the Red Skull, Zemo may be the main Captain America villain. He’s also, i believe, the only member of this team to show up in the MCU.

Techno, conversely is the vastly less popular Captain America villain The Fixer (Paul Ebersol), who has apparently been around since the 60s and I would have believed you if you told me he was newly made for this book. He’s a brilliant scientist and engineer for AIM that dates back to when they were called THEM. And they don’t let you in the front door at AIM unless you’ve built at least two doomsday devices in your sleep, so nothing about him stands out. He’s perhaps the 90s-iest looking guy here.

MACH 1 is the only guy besides Zemo I’d consider “recognizable), as The Beetle, Abner Jenkins used high-tech Iron Man-esque Armor to steal junk. Or blow junk up. Depends on what he was being paid to do. Little of his appearance suggests he knows what a Beetle looks like.

Songbird is actually Screaming Mimi, who is only technically more recognizable than Fixer, and that’s mainly because she spent most of her appearances up to this point looking like a Juggalo. Melissa Gold joined an all female team of wrestling-based criminals; The Grapplers, and proceeded to hire out their services in the field of breaking stuff. Melissa got a bionic larynx in order to make super sonic screams, but got a way better ability to create solid objects out of hardened noise when she joined the Thunderbolts.

Atlas is either Goliath or Powerman, depending on how far back you want to go; Erik Josten was a guy duped by the original Baron Zemo and given incredible ionic strength and size manipulation but was forced to use it to help the Baron in his generically evil plans. And by the time Heinrich died he was too well mired in villainy to really have an opportunity to back out. Then he spent the next few decades being beaten up and betrayed by basically the entire Marvel Universe.

And finally Meteorite, or Moonstone (which is a WAY better name) is Karla Sofen, (and not Sophia Karlson as I keep wanting to call her), who was oddly not historically a Captain Marvel villain even though they had basically the exact same origin of “caught in a weird space blast that provided Flying Brick Powers”. Karla’s real strength comes from her medical history; as she’s a completely amoral psychiatrist who uses her abilities to manipulate people into furthering her own goals, which comes in handy much more often than her ability to punch with a trillion newtons of force. But she can do that too.

Anyway, this issue is titled Deceiving Appearances, which pretty much says the quiet part loud for the whole series.

Which opens with Zemo recapping the basic premise of the series for anyone who missed the first issue; this team is latest incarnation of the Masters of Evil, exploiting the fact that the city is desperate for any kind of superheroic help in the wake of the battle against Onslaught that they'd accept anyone who even looks vaguely Avenger-y and give them anything they want, leaving them free and clear to conquer the planet assuming they do the bare-minimum to keep up appearances.

And keeping up appearances, they DID, having also apparently defeating the Circus of Crime (the only criminal organization that can rival The Rat Pack in terms of irrelevance) somewhere off panel since the last issue, alongside their much more public saving the Statue of Liberty and attempt to apprehend the Hulk. Their social stock has never been higher!

Granted, given that all of them but Atlas are unrepentant criminal sociopaths who are part of a group called The Masters of Evil (he's very repentant), their stock really didn't have anywhere to go but up.

And while Zemo is busy smirking at the witless fools he's exploiting (again, his mask is a FEATURELESS METAL V, how can he smirk so much?!?!), and explaining his plan vaguelt to Atlas, helping him with repair work on their ramshackle pizzeria headquarters, we get a brief montage of the rest of the team; letting us see their abilities and relationships;

Mach-1 and Songbird are sparring outside; him teaching her how to better fight in midair (she's always been more of a ground-based supervillain), which he assumed meant they were flirting, and he attempts a make-out, only yo get blasted in the chest by her sonic blasts. He assumes this to mean she has emotional problems and vows to not leave her alone until he can solve them for her.

He's been a good guy for, like, a week. He has a learning curve about things.

Techno and Moonstone, meanwhile, have an argument about the fact that they're living in a pizzeria that was completely destroyed by a combination of giant robots and a giant, angry psychic demon and that sucks, and also he can control nano-machines with his mind and is a genius inventor so he could turn it into a super-science fortress with literally no effort whatsoever, and Karla responds by saying the whole point is that they're trying to look humble and Good Guys Don't Build Cyber Death Fortresses.

IMG_0223.png


She illustrates the fact that they are acting as good guys by lifting him off the ground by his neck and implying she will throw him clean into orbit if he doesn't stop jeopardizing Zemos plan by trying to get some working plumbing.

I love Moonstone.

ANYHOW, while the Thunderbolts are enjoying their unearned praise, the rest of New York has instead decided to instead offer earned praise to the (presumed) deceased Fantastic Four and Avengers; by having Franklin Richards unveil a statue dedicated to the fallen heroes.

Franklin is, like, five years old and speaks with an exaggerated adorable speech impediment. This is WAY above his pay grade.

And when Zemo hears this and thinks that making an appearance at a statue unveiling will help the teams popularity, in a distant jail, the news reachs an imprisoned Mad Thinker who is just as pleased at how the statue unveiling will help his position in life.

The Mad Thinker, of course, is a Evil Smart Guy, and his name is about as close as you can get to just calling someone “Mad Scientist”. Likes robots, that one.

And at the statue dedication, The Mayor of New York (I have no idea if he's ever named, he looks like Jerry Springer, if that helps you any) briefly recaps the gist of why all the superheroes are dead (as per editor notes; Tom Brevoort was getting real sick of recapping Onslaught in little text boxes)

Also Franklin eulogizes his parents on the grounds that his primary legal guardian and caregiver Alicia Masters is too broken up to do so.

He is Five Years Old

Anyway, the statue in unveiled and it’s a couple of big fists and even the Thinker, whose whole deal is being purely driven by logic and is always defeated because he can’t comprehend emotional responses, thinks it’s a really gaudy and tasteless way to honour the fallen heroes. Which isn’t why he then interrupts the unveiling by sending his latest iteration of Awesome Android to attack the Mayor and his aides, but it certainly helps.

Luckily the Thunderbolts arrive at the same time, and see a bunch of innocent civilians being attacked by murderous robots with featureless slabs for head and Zemo figures “Hey! Free publicity!” And the fight is joined.

And it is a pretty fun one; this particular model of Awesome Android looks more intimidating than the original (whether or not this is an improvement if a question only you can answer for yourself), and they have the ability to adapt to whomever they’re fighting and reproduce themselves somehow, so the Bolts are pretty much immediately on the defensive, this being the first Actually Dangerous enemies they’ve fought (not counting the Hulk).

Well, except Techno, he’s living his best life, gleefully being able to explode evil robots with his mentally controlled laser weapons, proving his tech is better than an internationally reknowned roboticists.

Anyway, the fight against the Awesome Android(s) was just a feint, the Thinkers actual goal was Franklin Richards; whom he kidnaps with the help of another Android that had avoided the battle, with the intention of using him to gain access to the Baxter Building and also extracting any of Reeds tech he may have seen form his subconscious (presumably fatally), and Zemo realizes that leaving the orphaned son of the Fantastic Four be kidnapped by a murderous criminal genius would not reflect well on his teams effectiveness (and also because saving Franklin Richards would mean he may be able to wheedle his way into getting his hands on to Reeds advanced tech as a reward, which would really help his master plan get going.

And this is why he commands the Bolts to pursue Franklin.

Well, it’s why he, Techno and Moonstone do it, everyone else just doesn’t want to see a kid be murdered by robots on general principle. You know, whatever gets their butts moving.

The fight eventually works its way to the Four Freedoms Plaza (site of the World Famous Baxter Building), appropriately enough, which has as it turns out, been gutted (Reeds dad, who may or may not be an alternate reality Kang, took all the Good Stuff out of it after Reeds apparent death, to prevent a situation like, say, a jealous mad scientist breaking in to steal them for malicious ends). And the Bolts are still no match for the Bots, until Zemo realizes that, we’ll, the Mad Thinker is standing nearby. And the Thinker is definitely still in jail, and furthermore, isn’t known for intentionally being in the middle of superhero fights.

Also, he just grew a jet pack and laser arms, and his whole thing is building advanced robots.

So yeah, Zemo realizes that this Thinker is a robot duplicate built by the real Thinker, who is still in jail, and if he’s a robot he doesn’t have to pretend he isn’t a murderer, and he takes the things head off immediately, making a really weak quip as he does so (superheroes make quips, you see, and Zemo is utterly humourless).

So the Mayor is pleased that the city’s newest heroes have again saved the day, and has decided to very public ally lend his support to the Thunderbolts, and ask Franklin for his permission to cede control of the Baxter Building to the Thunderbolts so they could use it as their headquarters instead of a burned up pizzeria.

And apparently this five year old also holds power of attorney because he says yes and apparently that’s legally binding?!?

I guess he’s also technically omnipotent, so he’s got way more power than that of an attorney.

ANYWAY, the Thunderbolts evil plan (whatever it is) has been inadvertently given a real shot in the arm because of the Mayors grandstanding, Atlas meets up with the Mayors aide, Dallas Roidan and they hit it off really well (he gives her his pager number) and Moonstone… is really baffled that Zemos plan is working this well, this fast. And even someone who loves manipulating people as much as she does can’t help but feel like it’s about to become more complicated than it needs to.

Next Time: Well, that got complicated
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
detail.jpg

We all learn an important lesson about intellectual property rights when we are confronted with Too Many Masters!

But first, getting us caught up on a sub plot that’s not really been acknowledged a whole lot so far (but to be fair, it’s only issue 3); Kidnapped Teen Hallie Takahama! She did not enjoy being kidnapped very much, and was being held prisoner in a spooky castle (apparently somewhere in New York), guarded by unspeakable bio-monsters, and being experimented on by sinister unknown figures. Pretty bad couple of months for her, all things told. Luckily, she somehow managed to escape her captors and is hightailing it to the World Famous Baxter Building, knowing that whoever abducted her and whatever their plans are, The Worlds Greatest Superhero Team will be able to set things right.

Unfortunately, she hasn’t been watching the news lately…

Meanwhile, in New York, Mach-1 has been doing his due diligence in keeping up the façade that the Thunderbolts are a force for good by apprehending a cat burglar who was robbing high-rise apartments and dropping him off in front of the police station. He has absolutely no proof on hand, mind, but dropping people in front of police stations is just the kind of service superheroes are supposed to provide. Given the sheer number of times Spider-Man did that to him personally, I could see why he would think this.

He also apologizes that he couldn’t apprehend the criminal who made off with all the burglars ill-gotten goods, and this is because Mach-1 himself stole them from the burglar, figuring that nobody would trust his story against that of the cities newest most celebrated hero.

Just want to point out that Mach-1 is one of the more sympathetic and likeable members of the team.

Of course, Mach does get chewed out by Zemo and Moonstone when he returns to the Thunderbolts new headquarters, The World Famous Baxter Building (rebuilt by the City, and with the giant 4 on the roof replaced with a giant lightning bolt), when they point out that the lynchpin of their ultimate plan revolves around the idea that nobody suspects that the Thunderbolts are actually the Masters of Evil, a plan which is working very well seeing as how they were just given The Baxter Building and all of The Avengers' Cool Stuff for free, and stealing evidence and shaking down burglars for loot is counter-productive to that goal.

Luckily, Dallas Roidan calls the team up to offer some unsolicited, and very convincing, evidence thatnobody suspects that the Thunderbolts are not the Masters of Evil;

Namely that the Masters of Evil are attacking the city right now, and the Mayor would like the heroes he has on speed dial to come and solve that problem for him before the voters start getting mad at him.

As you may expect, everyone is pretty surprised by this news. Well, everyone except Zemo, he's just furious that someone's has formed a new Masters of Evil without asking him for permission first. And is using it to try to murder Black Widow (a goal he is ambivalent towards).

Naturally, the Bolts waste no time in making their way to the dock in order to confront the Masters of Evil and teach them a thing or two about respecting the sanctity of the concept of "Original Character Do Not Steal"; and this particular incarnation of the MoE is... well... it's not a supervillain team-up designed for broad appeal, I'll give it that. Lots of tigers, however.

We have;
Tiger Shark is a mutant shark-man with a big dorsal fin. Mainly a Namor villain, unsurprisingly. Big and strong and as sharp as a sack of beach-balls.
Klaw: The Master of Sound, made of hardened noise. Mainly a Black Panther villain, but also happy to fight anyone because he's a bad guy.
Man-Killer: The 1970s' idea of what a feminist must be. Her big muscles are matched only by her general hatred of dudes. Was once beaten when when she realized some of the scientists who made her super-strong were men, and so she had a psychological breakdown.
Flying Tiger a Tiger man who can fly? I guess?
Cyclone technically a new character, but there's been Cyclones in the past; his suit lets him make tornados. Also he is French. Very, extremely, cartoonishly French.
Crimson Cowl is the team leader and also technically a new character. The original Cowl was a disguise Ultron used for... reasons that are not clear, but this one is A Human Woman and wields a lot of advanced technology woven through her cloak. I've read this series enough to learn her true identity and it does not make a friggin' lick of sense.

Anyway, Zemo is even more outraged when he sees the Masters of Evil in action; bad enough that someone is using HIS GUYS' team name, but populating a Masters of Evil team with such D-listers is just insulting.

Naturally, a fight breaks out between them, and seeing as how Black Widow had them on the ropes all by herself, the Masters were quickly and completely outmatched when the Bolts showed up, and retreat thanks to Cowls teleportation tech. Not before Klaw has a good hard look at Songbird and realizes that basically everything she can do came from someone stealing his own technology and decides he ALSO has a new arch-enemy thanks to IP theft.

Also outraged that the bolts showed up is Black Widow herself. She'd been tailing the Masters of Evil for a while, as part of an independent investigation, and discovered they were connected to a secret arms deal involving some substantially more dangerous criminal elements who were looking to move into New York thanks to the Avengers no longer being a going concern. But, well, the Bolts showed up and scared them off so now she has nothing to go on.

Furthermore, she shows better judgement than anyone else in the city by pointing out that she doesn't like or trust the Thunderbolts and doesn't like the fact that the City just gave them a bunch of Avengers and FF tech as a reward for little reason beyond the fact that they kind of look like The Avengers, if you squint, and did some grandstanding when dealing with lower-tier supervillains; and tells them so before leaving the Bolts behind to destroy the black market weapons cache the Masters were guarding.

Mainly because Zemo wanted to show how ineffective these bootleg Masters were compared to a proper, Baron Zemo lead team, and hopefully get them in trouble with their boss.

Being a megalomaniacal son of a nazi war criminal isn't enough for Zemo, he has to talk to everyones manager too.

A few days later, we get an update on Mach-1 and Songbirds relationship status (which, for those keeping track at home has consisted so far of "Awkward flirting" and "Mellissa caving in Abners sternum with a sonic blast"), and they're surprisingly quick to open up to one another emotionally; spending time with Mellissa is the first thing Abners cared about besides stealin' junk and getting revenge on Spider-Man, and Mellissa is reluctant to pursue a relationship because everyone she's ever loved has either died or betrayed her; and everything about Zemos plan is going to involve at least one of those outcomes.

Also, Atlas has been crushing on Dallas Roidan non-stop, but that's less of a focus for this issue.

Zemo, of course, has been ignoring which members of his team want to smooch who (or, in the case of Techno and Moonstone, pulverize and manipulate), he has something FAR more important to deal with; someone not respecting his god damn trademark. And has, using his supervillain connections, figured out where the weapons deal that the ersatz MoE were involved with is going to take place, and he and the Bolts head off to deliver some justice vengeance.

The weapons deal is taking place at an upstate palatial mansion, and is being overseen by... umm... guys in balaclavas and apparently Lex Luthor (he's not named but it is clearly Lex Luthor) and it's immediately crashed by the Bolts, flying in on their Flying V (which I didn't mentioned until now; it's a giant letter V with jet engines; it's completely absurd, I love it) who demand a stop to their chicanery and also for the Masters of Evil to come out and fight them RIGHT GOD DAMN NOW!

And in a bit of a reversal of how comic book stories are usually structured; the first fight went strongly in favor of the heroes (well, "not-presenting as villains" at least) and in this one the forces of Overtly Evil are the clear winners; mainly because the Bolts decided to each go after the MoE one on one, and they consistently chose the single worst opponent; since he invented all of her tech, Songbird has no chance against Klaw, Atlas is a match for Tigersharks strength but can't handle his animalistic savagery, Flying Tiger is apparently better at aerial combat than Mach-1, Cyclone is too single-minded to be outwitted by Moonstone and Techno is a skinny nerdy guy and Mankiller hates all three of those things.

Cowl and Zemo are at least on even footing, and we get a pretty cool sequence of him dueling her cape when it turns into a bunch of blades.

Luckily the tide is eventually turned; when in the process of kicking him around like a soccer ball, Mankiller winds up accidentally knocking Techno into one of the weapon caches. Which he reacts to like a supervillain who just drop-kicked Santa in the nards and stole his bag of toys.

He uses all the nano-machines in his tech-pack to break down and absorb all the (very many, and very, very deadly) weapons he landed into, and transforms them into a giant-ass Hydra-tank.

Hydra like the big snake thing with a bunch of heads, not the terrorist organization.

And since the Masters of Evil are now confronted with a guy who responds to most of the challenges he encounters by creating gun-golems and gleefully exploding things, and he now has enough bullets on his person to blow half the eastern sea-board to rubble, they decide to scrammoose before he decides to start actually using them for something; and Zemo vows to bring them to justice for DARING to call themselves the Masters of Evil.

Black Widow, meanwhile, was also apparently involved with this fight and was busy capturing and detaining, you know, all the arms dealers and mafiosos who were actually involved with the illegal weapons sale, and which the Thunderbolts basically ignored in favor of taking down the much less dangerous, but significantly more visually exciting Masters of Evil, as that was the group that slighted them and also makes for better press.

You know, because she's an actual force for good, and they are not, and she lets them know that she's aware that somethings up with these guys

Well... that's future Zemos problem. Present Zemo is happy that he showed the world that you can't just *call yourself* a Master of Evil if you don't have any evil mastery you can back it up with.

And as the team heads back to their new headquarters at the World Famous Baxter Building, they find that someone has beaten them to it, and tripped all the FFs security features; none other than the long since kidnapped and ignored Hallie Takahama!

And she demands to see the Fantastic Four, and won't take no for an answer!

And also she's seething with Kirby Krackle, which is definitely something new that's happened in her life.

Well, that's a cliffhanger ending that Kurt will take a month off before resolving!

NEXT TIME: Previously!
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
clean.jpg

Getting something a little different this issue, as a narration box from The Smilin' Man helpfully informs us, this month of comics had a special Throwback theme, showing what each of the stable of Marvel comics were doing, roughly ten-15 years ago, before they got around to doing any proper superheroing. But, since this is Thunderbolts, it's instead showing how each member of the team got their start in the field of Evil.

Except Atlas, since he's a Good Boy who fell in with a Bad Crowd. And one character who hasn't actually joined the team yet, so astute readers could probably make a solid guess about future storylines (don't need to be *very* astute because they say it outright in the "Next Issue" blurb).

Anyway, while the book is rich in incident, it's also a bunch of real short, single character vignettes, so it's going to be a pretty brief recap. It's also one of the few issues in the Busiek run where Bagley isn't on art duties; instead we have Steve Epting, who does a real good job with it.

Zemo and his story picks up just after learning his dad, the original Baron Zemo (technically the twelfth Baron Zemo) was an escaped Nazi War Criminal. And furthermore, that he was such a terrible person that he had to wear a mask at all times to hide his identity even from other nazis because even they considered him to be too much of a bad guy to want to associate with.

Then later it got glued to his head, which instead made it really easy to pick him out of a crowd.

Anyway, Heinrich, the Elder Zemo, is telling his son all about his glory days, of terrorizing Poland in the 1940s, personally strangling the leader of Polands resistance movement (the original Citizen V) to death, and also showing off his cool stuff like the advance techno-compound he built in the ruins of a Mayan temple, all his jackbooted thugs who have stylized Z armbands, and the rejuvenating pool of a medicinal compound he invented that kept him alive and vital even though he's well into his 80s, referring to the local population as "Slave Laborers" and occasionally shooting them when they show themselves to be upset to be enslaved by a nazi and forced to convert cultural heritage sites into a base for the forces of evil.

Helmut, to his credit, does NOT like the nazi or indiscriminate murder angles one bit, but he IS a big fan of the idea of making people obey his every command and decides to make Rule the World a life goal.

(Stan pops up at the end of the issue to say that this part of the story took place a day or two before Heinrich wound up dying in a fight with Captain America, so don't let the bummer ending get to you too bad)

Moonstone opens with her attending a psychology conference, chaired by the only working therapist in the Marvel Universe; Leonard Samson, who informs all the burgeoning psychiatrists in attendance that their job is about helping control peoples behaviours and that means helping them through personal crises; advice which Karla takes to heart and then takes the exact opposite stance that Lenny was suggesting; calling up the husband of one of her clients and leaving a message on it with a seductive voice, that way she'll worry more and Karla won't be left without a high paying client.

Screaming Mimi somehow manages to beat out the one with all the war crimes for being the least fun vignette of the issue; going back to when Melissa was a kid, where she was teased and taunted relentlessly because her mom is in jail and furthermore, a prostitute. And also her father is an abusive alcoholic. And so she decides to run away from home and change her name from Melissa to Mimi. Then she gets into a van driven by a gross, sketchy guy while hitchiking. Then that part of the story ends abruptly and each vignette is doing that thing where the dialogue at the end of one section is actually the first line of dialogue at the next so... umm...

It... does not suggest... a nice time.

Conversely, Beetle gets a much nicer one that paints him in a more sympathetic light than anyone had yet used for him; he was the lead mechanic for a military airplane manufacturing plant who was tired that nobody responsible for approving designs for aircraft would give him the time of day when he tried to submit his designs for a bespoke armored flying suit (this being before Iron Man first appeared, so the idea was absurd), and tired of being constantly rejected, he quit his job and drew up designs for an armored flying suit that people will learn to FEAR AND RESPECT.


Which would probably have worked better if the original Beetle armor didn't look like this;

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Hallie Takahama doesn't do a lot in her scene because she's was an infant back then, but her parents just moved to New York, and everything is going great for them! Her dadjust got a great job with a short commute, her mom is a grad student, and they're both just full of love of being alive, and especially love how every day of their happy marriage has not involved them being smooshed to death by Onslaught and his robot army. Then l'il baby Hallie sees some lightning and thinks "Oh, sick!"

Everythings coming up roses for the Takahama family! And will continue coming up roses forever!

And finally The Fixer opens his story by breaking up with his girlfriend on the grounds that she has no megalomaniacal plans or desire to build cyber weapon-systems so, y'know, whatever. Fortunately, he's been tracking down a group that loves that kind of thing when he detects an elite squad of HYDRA troopers hunting down and attacking a homeless man in the Bowery. And getting the absolute trash kicked out of them for doing so.

Half of that is chalked up to the fact that HYDRA isn't actually very good at what they do, and half is because the homeless man is actually Namor the Submariner, who is disguising himself as a regular person in order to see what the surface world is up to.

Fixer is quick to jump to HYDRAs aide with his weapon harness, pointing out all their myriad flaws with their "ambush a homeless man and hope he has super-powers" plan (implying they weren't even aware of the second part of that plan), and gives them help in escaping the police, and also showing off the power of his weapon system by blasting Namor with enough missiles to blow him clean through a couple of buildings (and winds up giving him amnesia with the concussion), which proves his use in the lucrative field of Evil Science-Weapon Design and General Mayhem, securing him a position in their upcoming diabolical empire.

Good for you, Techno, you did it!

And that's about it, give or take a bookend from the Zemo part of the story.

NEXT TIME: Tele-tummies
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
detail.jpg

The books team dynamics really come together, and the series' main hook that none of these people actually know how a superhero is supposed to actually behave, and also the conclusion to a minor background plot are all in the spotlight in A Shock to the System

Not counting a pretty unnecessary in medias res opening, the issue picks up where the last one drops off, with Hallie Takahama being apprehended by the Baxter Buildings security system and demanding to see the Fantastic Four because she as a Reed Richards kind of problem (and also is crackling with electricity); and she recaps, and expands her entire D-plot that's been simmering in the background in the first three issues.

Some of which we've seen (she was orphaned after Onslaughts attack on New York, kidnapped by the Rat Pack, and then experimented on by monsters in a creepy castle), but new information comes up; turns out that damn near everyone in her neighborhood was ALSO orphaned by Onslaught (he... just decided to go after parents, I guess?) and being the oldest, she wound up acting as a mother to a whole whack of l'il nippers. Unfortunately, 15 year olds aren't great parents at the best of times, and "scouring the ruins of a shattered city" qualify as "bad times", and one by one all of her charges wound up getting kidnapped; and she was the last holdout. Also, the castle dungeon she wound up in was also full of missing people from her neighborhood, and their numbers kept dwindling, while the number monster guards in the castle kept increasing (a detail which the rest of the team is quick to put together but Hallie is in pretty deep denial about). When it was Hallies turn to be taken to the lab and experimented on, something went weird and instead of turning into a horse made of human arms or a hundred snakes in a people-suit or something, she instead got superpowers (specifically the ability to fill her body with electrical energy to give her a huge boost to her speed and strength, and also electrify anything she touches; she's basically Miles Morales if he was inspired by Jubilee instead of Spider-Man). Hallie escaped the monster castle and ran clean to New York, and that brings us to right now. Hallie needs superhero help to go back to the castle and shut it down, and most of the Heroes have been Reborn into Rob Liefeld comics and thus not able to help right at the moment.

Interestingly, there's no explanation for WHY the procedure gave Hallie electrical powers instead of turning her into a monster; feel free to concoct your own.

The Thunderbolts are internally split on what to do with this information; Atlas is a big ol' softy and wants to help Hallie on general principle, Songbird sympathizes with the connections between their respective upbringings (Hallies dad wasn't an abusive alcoholic, but people who have been smooshed by giant robots are also not likely to be forthcoming emotionally), and Mach 1... is still ccrushing on Songbird pretty hard and just wants to do what she wants to do.

On the other hand, Techno doesn't *care*, and Zemo doesn't see any way he could turn stopping a secret biolab turning orphans and homeless people into monsters into a media circus that makes the Bolts look like heroes. Moonstone also doesn't care, but realizes that if they turn Hallie away it would probably reflect badly on the teams effectiveness if she told anyone else and also it could drive a wedge internally with the team if they abandoned her.

So she convinces Zemo that *just this once* they should do something selfless and help someone for no reward for the greater good. Which they can then leverage into the Greater Bad, which Zemo agrees makes sense. And Techno goes along with it too on the grounds that there will be a bunch of monsters there for him to explode with lasers.

They also get Hallie a much needed hot meal and use Technos uniform replicator to give her a new set of clothes; which they note can't make *normal* clothes, only superhero costumes (they have to keep up appearances), which is still less conspicuous than a torn up and scorched hospital gown.

Also, not gonna lie; it's a good costume she gets; and it's definitely one that Bagley has a lot of fun drawing.

Also, as it turns out, the creepy monster castle is Dr. Dooms abandoned castle in upstate New York, which is something I'm always delighted to be reminded of as being something that Dr. Doom just, you know... has. He doesn't usually travel to New York in a non "Kill Reed Richards" capacity, but he likes to know he has a nice place to stay when he's there.

Anyway, the Bolts land in the castle, are relieved to see this is one of the times when Doom is not in residence, and that it's someone else squatting in his house, and the next dozen or so pages of the issue are wholly dedicated to an entire Castlevanias worth of people fighting Weird Monsters in Castles.

And, again, it's really clear that Bagley is just having the time of his life going nuts drawing Weird Monsters to Fight, and people fighting them. The most significant plot related point is that Zemo hauls Techno aside and asks him to use his Tek-Pac to build a bunch of camera drones to follow the team around as they fight so they have great footage of the Thunderbolts Acting Like Superheroes, and also Hallie ignores the command to stay behind on the Thunderbolts' modified Quinjet and jumps into the battle beating the hell out of monsters herself.

Eventually, somewhere between kicking a guy made of snakes into a big ol' boogerman and kicking over walls, the Bolts wind up fighting their way into the heart of the castle, and they find the guy who's been responsible for kidnapping people and turning them into Biomonsters;

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ARNIM ZOLA!

Arnim Zola, as you can tell from the picture, is one of the weirdest damn characters Jack Kirby ever designed, and that is a crowded field. Originally a mad scientist who specialized in genetic manipulation for the nazis, Arnim Zola perfcted the means to keep a brain living long after the rest of the body died, and fortunately didn't think to share that information with Hitler, and instead used it on himself; using cutting edge 1940's technology to build a crude robotic body with a giant TV screen projecting his face for a body, and a old reel-to-reel camera for a head as a housing for an inexhaustible series of clones of his own brain. He also likes scrambling up peoples DNA for funsies or to make monsters for people like the Red Skull or HYDRA to use as cannon-fodder for their other evil schemes.

Zemo isn't that shocked to see that Zola is the mastermind behind all this (only so many people with the know-how to make biomonsters like this, and most of them are busy doing their own thing), and ask who he's working for; this is plainly too big and elaborate of operation for Zola not to be supplying people with home grown monster henchmen, or working towards some master plan.

And Zola confirms that... nope, no master plan, no buyers. He was just bored, and figured he could mess up some people who nobody would notice missing. Just wanted to keep in practice, y'know?

This entire arc was born solely out of the fact that Arnim Zola was worried he was getting rusty at turning people into monsters.

Anyway, the Bolts are kind of put off by this in general (they're bad guys, but they have standards) and Hallie in particular is outraged and she goes off to attack Zola, only to be stopped when he reveals why he's considered the Master Geneticist; turning a bunch of homeless orphans into snakemen and minotaurs and the like is one thing, but that's not really flashy enough for him; at his command the monsters all flow together into one another into a giant cthulhu-voltron; a gigantic writhing mass of tentacles, eyeballs and teeth that completely fills the castle.

Luckily, even though the monsters showed no signs of sentience when they were individuals, now that they're all gooped together into one gestalt entity, they seem to have some degree of awareness of themselves, and recognize Hallie as the girl who tried to help them when they were all human, and start trying to fight Zolas control over their body.

And this is where the connection between the art and the text kind of breaks down, and what happens next is kind of vague; as the heap and Hallie stare at each other, then there's a "SPLRRT" and then Hallie is standing in a smoking hole in the middle of its body, and I'm not *quite* sure if the heap attacked her and she had to put it down Old Yeller style, if Hallie lost control of her powers trying to comfort the monster and accidentally blew a hole in it, or if the monster realized it couldn't fight Zolas control (or was so horrified at what happened to it) and it committed suicide by explosion.

Either way, Hallie ain't happy about the way this story wound up ending, and Zola says "Well, that was fun, bye" and escapes while everyone is staring at Hallie alone in a flesh-crater.

Naturally, when Zemo had Techno start recording their fight through the monster hoard earlier, he also made sure to have him hijack every TV in New York, so all the people could see their new and greatest heroes fight to protect an innocent teenage victim of a nazi scientist and also stop a monster army that was SURELY to come for them next, and once again the public loves them for it; and the Mayor loves the free publicity he gets for associating himself with them and vows to do everything in his power to make sure the Thunderbolts get unlimited access to even the restricted technology and information left at the Avengers and FFs disposal, which is exactly the outcome Zemo was expecting.

The outcome he wasn't expecting or prepared for, is that when the inevitable news conference about their latest victory over evil arrives, the reporters ask who Hallie is, if she's the newest member of the team and what her superhero name is. Zemo has NO IDEA what to do with this question; he's a sociopath himself, and from his own experience he has no idea if he's supposed to foist teenagers off on their parents or recruit them as sidekicks or what.

He's about to declare her "Just another citizen saved by your heroes, the Thunderbolts" and then send her merrily on her her way to an orphanage, when Moonstone jumps in to say "Definitely a new member of the team! Attempt no efforts in learning her true identity or look into her any farther", rationalizing that a lot of the footage Zemo took of the team fighting Zolas mutates involved her backflipping around and punching lightning bolts at people, and if she wasn't on the team, people might start asking questions.

Hallie is completely down with this, (she loves superheroes, and especially the bolts for helping her get revenge on Zola) and gives herself the codename Jolt, and the rest of the Team collectively realizes "Oh crap, she doesn't know we're secretly evil... and now she lives in our house".

And you can almost hear the Odd Couple theme start playing.

NEXT TIME: Big Trouble in Little New York
 

Kirin

Summon for hire
(he/him)
That is a surprisingly practical costume on Jolt there. I mean granted it's all skin-tight spandex, but at least there's no ridiculous cut-outs or patterns further sexualizing a teenager, and she even gets knee-pads!

The anatomy on that cover illustration is a bit suspect though, got some real "How To Draw Comics Good" vibes coming off it.
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
clean.jpg


Well, I feel like the cover blurb about having to happen is a bit presumptuous; The Growing Man is I guess among the list of Other Guys What Get Big that could show up, but he’s not high up there.

My guess is that Kurt was just really excited to title a story Growing Pains and needed all the justification he could find.

Anyway, we got us a cold open this time, with those gangsters who the Bolts (well, Black Widow) thwarted a few issues ago when someone stole Zemos precious IP. And, as it turns out they weren’t just some common, gutter trash mafiosos; they were HYDRA, which we learn because the guy doing all the complaining is the first of this issues multiple Special Guest Villains;

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BARON WOLFGANG VON STRUCKER
Strucker is one of the supreme leaders of HYDRA (possibly THE Leader, but they like the keep the hierarchy secret, because people like exploding HYDRA bases on general principle, they're not good people); and a bonafide escaped nazi war criminal. His (relative) hale and hearty appearance is thanks to the Devils Claw on his hand; which bestows health on him at the expense of sucking the life out of anyone he touches with it.

ANYHOO, Strucker is not aware that the Thunderbolts are secretly actually villains (they wouldn't get along anyway, they can't be co-rulers of the worlds) and he certainly isn't aware that the teams leader is the son of his ol' buddy Baron Zemo. All he knows is that New York is supposed to be superheroless, and instead it's got a bunch of guys who alllllmost look like Avengers out there thwarting evil and scuttling his diabolical plans, and figures it's about time to do sumpin' bout this; and authorizes the use... of WEAPON XF3


Not Weapon X23, that's something different. I got briefly excited, before I remembered the cover.

Also, Weapon XF3 looks like one of those pills that you put into water and it grows into a tyrannosaur. I just realized that and love it.

MEANWHILE

The Bolts are taking their new sidekick Jolt out on the town,on their first day off as Superheroes; this is so that Jolt won't start to think there's anything odd about this team of heroes who came out of nowhere and and are wholly focused on keeping up appearances, and partly because Zemo couldn't focus on making any progress on any Evil Master Plans when he's worried that an affable teen might wander into his command room, and is just desperate for any excuse to get everyone out of their base.

Jolt assumes the reason is because Citizen V is a Boring Leader Guy who doesn't know how to have FUN, because she's comic book savvy.

And the rest of the team is receptive to this; Beetle and Mimi finally get to go on an actual date (he takes her to all the usual touristy parts of New York, which is also a guided tour of all the places Spider-Man and Daredevil have beaten him up over the years). He points out that technically he's won more fights than he's lost, but everyone just remembers his losses because they typically resulted in him going to jail. Atlas also finally gets to go on a date with Dallas Roirdan, but feels bad about it because his secret identity means he can't really reveal anything about himself.

Given how thorough every other part of his plan is, you'd think Zemo would have at least gotten some Fake IDs for his team, even if "Erik" weren't a pretty inconspicuous name, but he can't even tell her that much so she settles on an alias for him, deciding his name is now Steve. Also, he's not wearing a mask or anything this time.

Also she reveals she used to be a cop before she abandoned the police force in favor of being a Mayors Aide, so if anyone is likely to be able to connect the dots between this Mysterious Growing Super Hero who looks exactly like an established Mysterious Growing Super Villain, it'd be her. This relationship is off to a fraught start.

Techno, as per him... being as he is, decides to spend his day off taking off his Techno disguise (which it turns out is a hologram of a goatee) and decides to hang out with his criminal buddies and beat them all at poker, thanks to his nanotech, and also say "Yeah, sure is sucky for all of you, my fellow criminals, that the Thunderbolts are out there, taking all your opportunities to steal money. Much like how I am taking your money right now."

And Moonstone, acting even more true to her Starscreamy self, decides to spend the day with Jolt, since the rest of the team likes her, and therefor if she can figure out how Jolt thinks, she could manipulate her and therefor manipulate everyone else so she could overthrow Zemo and take over the team for herself. A plan which she ultimately succeeds at by "accidentally" bringing up the fact that Jolt is now an orphan and was experimented on by a robot nazi and now everyone she knows is dead, SURE MUST BE TOUGH, and Jolt has a bit of a rage-induced panic attack and she explodes a mailbox.

Then she says "Hey everyone, check out us superheroes!" and she and Jolt suit up and start signing autographs, so Jolt would ingratiate herself to her by associating it with this apparent act of trying to make her feel better.

And then that missile containing Weapon XF3 lands in the the middle of the street and it hatches into this issues OTHER special guest villain;

latest


THE GROWING MAN!
The Growing Man is a robot (Stimuloid, if you want to talk all Jack Kirby-y)! Kang the Conqueror owns him, and usually lets him out to punch Avengers while he's off further some unrelated evil scheme. He grows bigger the more he's punched. And he's also pretty severely bow-legged based on Bagleys art. My knees ache just looking at him.

Moonstone has no idea who this guy is, despite her long career of also fighting the Avengers (the Masters and Kang don't run in the same circles), but Jolt does as she admits she's always been an Avengers fangirl ("It's the Growing Man!" "What does he do?" "He GROWS!"). Unfortunately, she's too busy geeking out about joining up with a superhero team to fight an ACTUAL Avengers Villain to be able to offer helpful advice like "don't punch him because he'll get bigger and stronger" until after Moonstone clobbers him real good and he suddenly doubles in size.

The GOOD news is that a punch from Moonstone at full power produces a large enough flash that the rest of the team notices it, at least.

She's able to reach Mach-1 and Songbird before they can fight and warn them about his whole "don't hit him because he gets stronger" thing and they try to work out some non-violent way to stop the rampaging Robot (which Jolt is quick to point out is actually a Stimuloid, not a robot completely different bit of machinery). Unfortunately, she doesn't get to Atlas before he can make a dramatic entrance, sucker-punching the Growing Man while he's at full size; making Growing Man get bigger and stronger still.

Luckily, the team has a guy who Does Machines on the payroll, and when Techno wanders in, having successfully fleeced his buddies, recognizes the Growing Man for what it is (he has a professional interest in studying advanced autonomous weapon systems, even if it weren't a hobby with him), and he's got a plan for beating the Growing Man; just have everyone pound the ever-loving bajeezus out of him.

Techno would be able to deactivate the Growing Man from the inside pretty easily if he was big enough to comfortably walk around, so all they have to do is get him up to Kaiju size; the only problem being that Growing Man only grows in response to threats and he's already big enough that the Bolts can't actually deal any damage to him, and Atlas reveals that he does actually have limits to his own ability to grow (if he expands too much his ionic body will dissipate and he'd die).

Moonstone mentions Atlas already got WAY bigger before, back in the first issue fighting the Wrecking Crew, and realizes that it was because Atlas was FURIOUS then and that must have held him together, so she drops a hint that if Atlas was so limited he couldn't beat a D-lister like the Growing Man he has no place on the team and she'd just "accidentally" drop hints to Dallas to let her know his real identity.

Which DOES tick off Atlas enough that he's able to grow large enough to make this a full on Kaiju Fight, and Techno does indeed crawl inside Growing Man and deactivate his brain. Which caused him to revert to capsule form and also shot a mysterious signal into deep space as he did so.

Well, that's probably nothing to worry about.

And in the Thunderbolts headquarters, Zemo calls up the mayors office saying "Hey, if we're being attacked by old Avengers villains, we should really have access to all of the Avengers' classified secret files. You know, so we we'll be able to save the day. That's why you should give us all of the Classified Avengers Files. Immediately."

And the Mayor says that only SHIELD can authorize releasing the Avengers files, and he'll do what he can to make sure SHIELD gets a hold of the Thunderbolts as quickly as possible.

Well, that's probably nothing to worry about.

And then Zemo calls up Baron Strucker, on a private line, and says "Hey, I know you sent a killer robot after my team, and that you you have no idea who we are so you used a generic Smashing Stuff robot. So I'll be nice and tell you to lay off us and we'll just treat you like any other villain. Otherwise, we'll come after you directly, and BUDDY, you have no idea what I can do to you, Wolfy"

And Strucker definitely recognizes Zemos voice as he does so.

Well, that's probably nothing to worry about.

NEXT TIME: The Scent of Evil
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
Rereading this has taught me that basically everything I loved about Superior Spider-Man can be traced back to Zemo in Thunderbolts.

He’s just so very bad at being a good guy, his entire master plan hinges on him failing upward.
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
clean.jpg


Far and away, the most fun part of this series is what a complete jerk Zemo is at every opportunity; even setting aside the megalomania and the fact that his dad is a nazi, he's just such a stick in the mud and so very bad at even pretending to be a hero that it's downright baffling his scheme has worked as long as it has. He's like a combination of Oscar the Grouch and Frank Reynolds. And so I am happy to report that Unstable Elements puts a hard focus on "curmudgeonly sociopath" Zemo.

But first our cold open, in the Avengers Mansion, which is presently the property and a field base for SHIELD (I forgot to make a note of what that's an acronym for this month), and the current head of SHIELD; GW Bridge, who apparently beat Samuel L. Jackson Nick Fury to the punch of being the first black Commander of SHIELD by several years. He, however, does not look like any actors who immediately spring to mind, so that's a mark against his career. Also, I was unaware of his existence outside of this comic series.

ANYHOO, it seems that Commander Bridges is chewing out one of his subordinates who has been tasked with tracking down Baron Zemo since the Baron escaped from the super-max supervillain prison known as The Vault, and then completely disappeared. But it seems that SHIELD is aware that Zemo is still active, and has heard chatter of him being JUST FURIOUS that someone else stole his supervillain team name, and with Baron Strucker for allowing it to happen. Furthermore, they're pretty sure that the only thing worse than a Zemo who is on TV screaming threats at the Avengers (and blowing up their house) is a Zemo who is avoiding the public attention all together; because that means he's up to something...

Of course, as we all know, Zemo has been doing the exact opposite of avoiding the limelight; he just isn't screaming his name into the cameras nearly as often; as we see when we cut to the World Famous Baxter Building, now the Thunderbolts Headquarters (which does not have a cool name), where Zemo is watching all of his team mates/minions over secret closed-circuit cameras and is just furious that their morale is so high. He sees Techno giving Atlas a physical (his powers have been wonky as compared to his old Power Man/Looter/Goliath days) and then makes some good natured jokes about how serious Atlas and Dallas' relationship is getting, Mach 1 and Songbird have briefly stopped smooching long enough to start answering fan-mail (and for that matter, getting fan-mail) and are overcome with the joy that comes honestly helping people instead of blowing them up to rob them, and Moonstone and Jolt... resume their extremely manipulative relationship where Moonstone is trying to subtlety manipulate Jolt into going full on team-evil. Or at least Team-Moonstone, and then kill Zemo and take over.

That one is the last straw for Zemo; who isn't so much upset that Moonstone is obviously the teams Starscream (they've known each other for years, and nearly wiped out the Avengers themselves back in the 80s, they KNOW they're going to betray one another), but just that she's being too subtle about manipulating Jolt; even Zemo is convinced that his default-best friend the manipulative sociopath might actually *like* somebody besides herself, and insist she drop the charade and just kill Jolt here and now to prove she's still got the goods on being bad, and let him focus on being the best Zemo he can be by not having to pretend to actually be a superhero for some idealistic teenagers benefit. And furthermore; the only reason Moonstone is on the team is to keep the rest of the Bolts from killing each other, them all becoming friends is completely off base; so clearly Moonstone is not taking her work seriously.

Moonstone admits that, yes, "friendship" was unexpected and distasteful and steps should be taken to address it, but murdering Jolt is out of the question; not for any ethical reason; just because it would hurt the teams branding if they take on a cute, affable teenager and then get her killed.

Fortunately for Jolt, there's an interruption before Zemo could float any suggestions on how to make her death look like an accident; there's an emergency call from the Mayors office!

Atlas tries to use this as an excuse to continue flirting with Dallas who points out that she's calling on the emergency line because there's a city wide crisis that requires superheroic intervention, not for a date; it seems that a transport ship coming from... somewhere in Eastern Europe sank (the Thunderbolts do not care about this), and that the perpetrators have given the Mayor warning that they intend to similarly destroy Grand Central Station and the Kennedy Airport (they also don't care about this, but have to keep up appearances); and since there are TWO threats, that gives Zemo an excuse to try to one-up Moonstone at manipulating the team by separating them into groups that DON'T already get along; Techno, Moonstone and Mach-1 head to the airport, and Zemo, Atlas, Songbird and Jolt head to the station.

Setting aside the fact that he is pointedly doing this to keep the teams Support Conversations from developing, this is also some pretty terrible planning on Zemos part; the Growing Guy and the Flying Girl are a really bad choice for the underground place, and Techno... can't fly which is a problem for the airplane place.

As for the identity of our mystery villains, we’ll surely you just have guessed it by now; it’s none other than…


latest


THE ELEMENTS OF DOOM
We’re once again granted some villains so obscure that the first result from a GIS is a panel from this same issue. And who I strongly suspect are only showing up because they were from an Avengers story Kurt read when he was a kid and just really stuck with him for some reason. They’re basically Marvels version of DCs Metal Men, except they’re evil and there’s one for every element on the periodic table. I don’t believe that their creator made one who was wearing a sexy nurse outfit and then was disappointed that it was in love with him but… maybe it just didn’t come up in this issue.

In any case, the Elements of Doom are perfect Thunderbolts villains; they’re very flashy and cool looking so the footage of them fighting is suitably helpful for their reputation, nobody knows who they are (except Jolt, being an Obscure Avengers Villain fangirl) so there’s not likely to be any traceable retribution, and they’re honestly pretty dangerous since they have bodies made of stuff like chlorine gas and lead. Furthermore they don’t seem to have any loftier goals than General Mayhem and Terror, so… nobody is going to sympathize with the goblin made of poison gas.

And so a big ol’ superhero fight happens, and Bagleys got his sea-legs with the book by this point and drawing shapeshifting monsters that don’t need to stay on model is something he excels at so it’s a pretty darn fun one. Delightfully; Jolt is the hero who acquits herself best as she took high school chemistry classes much more recently than anyone else on the team so she knows how chemical reactions work in terms of hitting Potassium with water from a fire hose, or electrifying gold.

Jolt is in fact much more informed than I am because I didn’t take notes on what she hit with water and lightning and just assumed it was Potassium and Gold.

As for the rest of the team; Atlas and Moonstone are really strong, Techno and Mach-1 have about a million guns each, and Songbird has sonic forcefields, so they all just use violence. Zemo is a complete liability but he has to be there to keep up appearances. All he has to offer is a sword and bossiness.

Eventually the two groups of Elements realize that since their goal is just “break stuff”, they really don’t need to stick around especially since the Bolts are kind of outmatching them so they leave pleased that they’ve wrought enough destruction; which now presents a brand new problem for our protagonists; the group at the airports damage the hell out of one of the planes coming in for a landing, and the ones in Grand Central Station… are well, made of poison gas and the roofs collapsed so now the air down there is unbreathable.

This is a bit of a sea-change for the group in how they respond to these respective crises; as Mach and Moonstone immediately abandon the idea of chasing the fleeing Elements to save a plane (and Techno goes along with them because they’re his ride) and the Bolts in the tunnel are panicking because there’s no way to clear the air and they have no way to save the people trapped in there with them (Zemo is just upset because he’s likely to be among the corpses).

And teamwork saves the day!

Or more accurately, Techno the most violently sociopathic member of a supervillain team, saves the day, bafflingly enough.


He uses his Tekpac to wire the crashing planes avionics system to Macy’s flight suit letting him guide it himself the same way he normally does, and after the plane lands safely he has enough time to build some powerful air-purifiers out of his nano bots on the way to the station, that the Bolts then use to remove all the chlorine gas before everyone can asphyxiate.

Now that’s “not everyone” and not “anyone” as there’s still a good few dozen fatalities between the fight, collapsing walls and poison gas, but given the Masters’ general career path, “a dozen or so” fatalities is a real improvement.

Back at the Thunderbolts’ HQ, the mayor calls up the team for mostly saving the day; and reassure the team that most of the people in the hospital for toxic gas inhalation are probably going to be fine… and Zemo decides to start playing hard ball;

Theyre still fighting leftover Avenger villains and they’re still being denied the Avengers’ classified intel and files and so he’s done playing nice; the Thunderbolts are going on strike; No More Superheroics until the Mayor gives them some classified information held by an international counterspy organization.

Next Time: Death is in the Air
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
clean.jpg

The inexplicable multipart issue with the D-est of D-list villains continues with The Revolt Within, along with guest co-writer Blyberg and penciller Jeff Johnson, who isnt capable of matching Baileys semi-cartoonish style, but we won’t hold that against him.

As those who remember… the post immediately preceding this one will recall, Zemo has declared that the Bolts are officially on Strike until such a point as the city of New York can release the secret files of the Avengers, currently under SHIELD custody. And further more, there are 109 shape shifting golems made of poison and metal at large, committing wide-spread acts of chaos and destruction, so there’s kind of a ticking clock on them getting back on the job.

Zemo is confident that this is where the matter should drop, because he’s incapable of reading the room, and the guy on his payroll responsible for reading the room is actively working against him, and through his entire life, making open ended threats to people has always gotten him what he wanted.

This time, however, he’s working with a much more dysfunctional team with conflicting goals; Jolt and Atlas can’t in good conscious let the Elements of Doom remain free as their goals are pretty clearly “kill everyone”, and Songbird and Mach have both become too fond of the superhero lifestyle to want to jeopardize it by deliberately avoiding helping save people.

Moonstone, of course, does not care, but sees an excellent excuse to drive a wedge through the team that she can exploit when it comes time to overthrow Zemo. And Techno cares even less (and in fact, respects the Elements’ hustle) but also realizes he’s completely outvoted and is also well aware that Moonstone is manipulating the team in a bid to replace Zemo, and doesn’t want to be on the wrong side of history when that happens; so the whole team decides to go n strike against Zemo instead and head after the Elements on their own.

Luckily, it doesn’t take long to track the Elements’ hideout as Techno was easily able to build a scanning device able to detect the just ludicrous number of radioactive and poison elements that the Elements are made of.

And it takes even less time because the Elements are not being subtle at all and built a massive crystal citadel in the middle of Central Park; the police point out that it literally was not there five minutes ago, so that at least explains how nobody noticed it before now.

Anyway, the Bolts quickly decide that it’s now Superhero Fight Time, and Moonstone… is quick to realize that there’s a *big* difference between manipulating people and leading people, as the Elements absolutely *wreck* them in short order Thanks to their superior teamwork and tactics… and the fact that they outnumber them by about 15 to 1 and are all shapeshifting golems made of poison and metal.

Most noteworthy; Helium attempts to suffocate Songbird, which doesn’t hurt her, but it does screw up her voice enough that she can’t use her sonic powers. Everyone else just gets either beaten up or gassed and hauled into the Citadels prison. Zemo watches all this from afar and figures “Well, I guess that’ll learn Miss Sofen about being all Starscreamy”) and then calls up the Mayor to complain about the fact that he hasn’t circumvented the UNs top anti-spy organization yet, and to show off what happens when he’s denied Avengers top-secret files; his entire team gets captured and now New York is back to *no* Superheroes.

Except Spider-Man and the X-Men, I guess.

Anyway, in the prison, the Bolts are in a bit of a rough spot; the Elements are smart enough to remove and destroy Technos tekpak, Mach has been bolted to the ground (they couldn’t figure out how to remove his armor), and the rest of the team has been fixed in place with form-fitting techno restraints, too tough to break, and too resistant to Jolts electricity to damage. And Moonstone’s been gassed all to hell and back so she’s barely lucid, not that a big guy made of pure bromine is receptive to her high persuasion rolls.

Luckily, the Elements weren’t prepared for how sneaky the REST of the team is; Songbird used her solid sound powers to discretely increase her size, so the form-fitting manacles wound up being much too large when she dropped them, and while the Elements broke apart his backpack, that wasn’t the only place Techno was storing nanobots (he doesn’t elaborate where, exactly he was storing them…), and he’s able to build a set of lock picks and a mini-computer out of them as well.

And while the team is covertly freeing themselves from their prison, we cut over the to scientist who created the Elements of Doom, who gives us a quick rundown on their origins (he built a device that could turn people into half-human, half-chemical hybrids back during the Cold War, then they betrayed I’m and the Avengers beat them all up. In the interim, he figured that the reason he was betrayed was because the Elements were half-human, so he made a new generation of Elements that were pure chemical. Then he’ll hold the world for ransom until someone gives him a radioactive atoll somewhere.

I mean he wants a radioactive atoll, I think he could just move there and nobody would notice or mind, he doesnt need to attack any cities with nuclear rockmen.

As it would happen, the actual leader of the Elements, Europium reveals that he made a slight miscalculation in his overall plan; it wasn’t the original Elements’ humanity that lead them to betray him, it was the fact that nobody likes him. And also being a group of poisonous rock monsters without even the tiniest shred of humanity in them doesn’t really make this new group any more personable; point in fact THEIR plan is to use the devices that their creator made to convert the entire human race into mindless elemental drones, starting with the Thunderbolts. And ending with the scientist on the grounds that they figure they owe him for creating them, I guess.

Anyway, unbeknownst to the Elements, the Bolts have begun their escape attempt, Techno copies the citadels blueprints into his own brain thanks to his nanobots, and leads Songbird on a solo mission around the complex trying to shut it down, as she’s the only one capable of holding her own against the Elements.

….and then Tungston walks in to the prison, sees what’s going on, and immediately snaps Technos neck mid-sentence, killing him instantly.

And Techno isn’t what you’d call a popular character so… yeah… he dead. Not a hoax, not an imaginary story.

Well… heck.

NEXT TIME: Caged Bird
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
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Well, this story comes to a relatively happy ending in Songbird Alone. Certainly happier for some people than others. And, you know, it’s Thunderbolts, so them having a happy ending is kind of a net loss for society.

Anyway, kicking things off, while the Elements of Doom re-imprison the Bolts and chuck Technos corpse in the garbage heap, using him like a compost pile (they explain that throwing corpses into garbage cans instead of burying them is why they are inherently superior to mere humans). Meanwhile, All the remaining superheroes in New York (like the Heroes for Hire and… umm… the New Warriors) join forces to try to stop the Elements themselves by attacking their fortress directly, using the Bolts’ spectacular failure to do so earlier as instruction on what not to do. AND ALSO, it seems that Zemo going on strike and not really acting on his entire team getting beaten up and captured by poison golems has finally paid off, and SHIELD has forked over the Avengers files.

But they’re still encrypted, and the security on them is beyond even their ability to crack.

Well, that’s Future-Zemos problem. This has otherwise been a great day for him.

Anyhow, as the title suggests, this is a Songbird focused issue; as she was the only member of the team to actually successfully escape the fortresses prison. Unfortunately, outside of the vague instructions of tracking down the scientist who created the Elements, and receiving directions from Techno on how to find him, shortly before he died.

Now, that’s the good news. The bad news is that Mel is, physically, the weakest of the Bolts, especially compared to shapeshifters made of metal and there’s a bunch of them standing in her way. Also, it turns out she has a really severe issues with abandonment (which is why she’s exclusively appeared in supervillain *teams*, even if it’s just with someone like Angmar the Screamer), and she considers heading back to the prison and abandon her mission just so she wouldn’t die alone.

All in all, pretty stressful situation for her to be in. And she can be forgiven for panicking a bit when she’s attacked by a couple of Elements.

And, as it turns out, extreme stress and panic work… pretty well for someone who has superpowers based on screaming; and in her terror she absolutely wrecks the hell out of them. Just two solid pages of her quite literally pounding them flat; demolishing them so severely they couldn’t even regenerate as they‘d been doing all along. This is also pretty cathartic and emboldening for Mel too, as she then sees that these shapeshifting poison golems aren’t really on her level after all, and she proceeds to wreck house through all them jokers, making her way to the prison where the scientist was being imprisoned And frees him, by exploding the hell out of Europium, the erstwhile leader of the Elements.

The Scientist is pretty grateful for the rescue, and also contrite about the fact that he’s *definitely* going to jail for trying to conquer the world with nuclear rock men, but figures that that’s still better than being enslaved and killed by his rebellious creations, and agrees to join up with the Bolts to work on a plan to create some means to disable and destroy the Elements’ artificial brains. Unfortunately, his own skills and expertise aren’t enough to do such a thing; they’d need some kind of expert on engineering and weapon design. Maybe someone with a nanotech filled backpack that responded to his mental commands.

Unfortunately, that guy very unambiguously died a little while ago.

FORTUNATELY, he only died after linking his brain up with the the central computer of a shapeshifting fortress created by sentient elementals; Techno was able to build a new completely robotic body for himself out of the trash in the Fortresses garbage dump, the left over nanobots from his tech pack, and his own consciousness uploaded into the computer. And he kinda looks like a Mega Man X boss;

IMG_0245.png

His name is more appropriate now, too!

Anyway, between Songbirds newfound love of righteous violence and the new and improved Techno, they’re able to free the rest of the Bolts pretty easily, and the Scientist and Techno whip up some plans to build a weapon capable of shutting down all the Elements at once; all they need is some common household chemicals to build a bomb.

All of which are conveniently all running after the bolts trying to punch them in the face. It’s basically one-stop shopping for them.

The Bolts are able to complete a shopping list of bomb components by beating the hell out of their captors and harvesting their corpses, and Techno realizes that since his new body is made partly out of nano-tech he can just reshape himself into any kind of weapon or device he needs, and make good on their escape by destroying the fortress and releasing a blast that shuts down all the Elements’ brains. Just in time as the superheroes fighting outside had bothered them enough that they were sending out guys made of depleted uranium and plutonium to fight.

Anyway, the Elements are no longer a threat, and the scientist who made them is hauled off to jail for creating an existential threat to the human race. And Zemo shows up to take credit for the Bolts saving the day, and says it’s all thanks to the fact that SHIELD agreed to play ball and give him the Avengers files, and imply that it SURE WOULD BE NICE if SHIELD kept right on giving them Avengers and Fantastic Four stuff to them. You know; to help them continue to safeguard the city and all.

A reporter starts to ask him what his actual plan to save the city entailed, and also why Techno is a robot now, and he yells out INTERVIEW OVER and then storms off.

Zemo is a cool customer.

Back at the Thunderbolts Headquarters, Zemo chews out the team for going against his direct orders by trying to fight the Elements despite the labour strike he instigated, but figures he won’t punish them for it because it directly resulted in Zemo getting what he wanted and getting the Avengers files and also Techno got turned into a cool robot man, which is doubly helpful because a genius who is made of computers is going to have a REAL easy time breaking the security protocols on the Avengers files.

Which is good because Zemo is getting mighty sick of this whole “pretending to be a superhero” plan, and now has the means and motive to drop it all and get back to his real passion; Total Global Conquest.

UH OH!

NEXT TIME: Avengingers
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
Okay, yeah, it was... pretty easy to identify.

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We've got a pretty misleading cover, a strong indication that Bagley really likes drawing Black Widow, very little actual Thunderbolts stuff and a SHOCKING SURPRISE all in Life Lessons.

Kicking things off in medias res this issue as Mach and Songbird are busy fighting Ogur! Remember Ogur? I sure as hell don't, and I strongly suspect that he's only here because he was presumably in a comic that Kurt Busiek read when he was a kid. Anyway, he's a big monster, and Mach and Songbird beat him up real bad until Songbird just knocks him right the hell out by making a sonic hammer and clobbering his jaw (an idea that comes to her after hearing that Thor fought this thing once and, well, maybe Hammers are its weakness). Partly to establish that her role on the team has just transitioned from "the girl one" to "the tough one" after completely wrecking the absolute hell out of the Elements last issue.

According to the internet, this is also the last appearance of Ogur, so presumably she did, in fact kill him. Goodbye, Ogur, guardian of Wazir the Prophet. You will be missed.

And watching the two of them bring down a giant monster, and deliberately not contributing in any capacity, is The Black Widow! As well as a surprising amount of lovingly rendered closeups on her butt and chest, considering how Bagleys art generally avoids that kind of thing. Anyway, Black Widow, as you may recall, showed up waaaay back in issue 3, where she was pretty clearly the only person in the country who was *not* willing to accept that the Thunderbolts were good guys based entirely on the fact that they kind of look like the Avengers and purposely sought out crimes with the best optics to fight, and has been busying herself in the mean-time looking in to the Bolts and just what kind of people they are.

She claims she has no idea what their actual identities are, but context clues leave it clear that she's got some pretty good ideas. And furthermore, spending her entire life embroiled in clandestine spy organizations, political assassinations and part-time Avengering means she has a really well honed sense of being able to read people, and she sought out Mach and Songbird deliberately as they're the two members of the team who most clearly *want* to be superheroes because it's better than what they were doing with their lives before.

Well, other than Atlas (who never wanted to be a supervillain in the first place) and Jolt (who is still oblivious to everyones employment history). And so, she tells the two of them an UNTOLD STORY OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE from waaaaaaaaaaay back in Avengers #16; when the original Avengers line-up disbanded, forcing Captain America to form a new team made up of Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye, a team of villains who decided to take super-heroing up as a hobby instead.

Black Widow insists that this story *certainly* has no bearing on any present day superhero teams. None whatsoever.

Anyway, the bulk of this story is this flash-back, where we learn that the public was not merely dismissive of the new Avengers team, as they were back when Stan and Jack (or possibly Don?) were penning it way back in the day, they were actively hostile. Hurling insults at Hawkeye and... umm... bricks at Scarlet Witch and Quick Silver (to be fair, it was from people from Santa Marco, which they had conquered recently on Magnetos orders, I'd have my hackles up too).

Anyway, the new Avengers team takes this... pretty demotivating press release with various levels of grace; ranging from completely indignant (Clint) to aggravated frustration (Pietro) to resignation (Wanda), all of which drives a wedge in the new team; Pietro pointing out that most of Clints actions involved him robbing people with a crossbow and running away and commiting felonies instead of explaining himself, wheras the two of them have a whole world that hates and fears them because of racisms.

And speaking of racisms...

Hearing all about how the American public hates this new Avengers team, and seeing how easy it is to exploit it, is this issues special guest villain (besides Ogur);

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THE RADIOACTIVE MAN
Now, to be fair, Chen Lu, the Radioactive Man is *vastly* less problematic in this story than he was in the 1960s (low bar to clear), but he has a long history of being the C-list also-ran of Marvels Yellow-peril villains, and is generally a Thor bad guy; originally he was an atomic scientist who was tasked by the government to find some means to defeat Thor (there was... way more Jingoism in those early stories than you'd think), where he decided the best way to do it was to expose himself to radiation until he reached the point where he could project it out of himself, as opposed to dying horrifically. And because Stan Lee had no idea what radiation did, this translated to Lu having a *baffling* array of powers, ranging from hand-lasers and super strength to hypnosis and telekinesis.

Eventually, his goals changed from "defeat Thor as propaganda for the Peoples Republic of China" to "Conquer the World", a task which he's made precious little headway with.

Coincidentally, he did eventually join the Thunderbolts and also the Masters of Evil, but not in this run.

Anyhow, ol' Lu hears about the strife in amidst the new Avengers, like I said, and figures this is a good time to avenge HIMSELF for a change, and lures Cap away from the team with a painfully obvious trap, telling him that a *certain green skinned radioactive guy* Caps interested in tracking down is in the city, playing off the fact that he apparently knew that Cap was trying to find the Hulk as well.

Also, technically not a lie, so... he's an honest megalomaniac.

Anyway, Cap gets got, and Lu issues an ultimatum to the rest of the Avengers saying they better go ahead and get the REAL Avengers back so he can get revenge on his previous defeats or else he'll kill Captain America; and the team rallies behind this; bristling more at the "Real Avengers" crack than at the fact that Captain America has been kidnapped by a guy made of plutonium.

So they head off to Radioactive Mans hideout, and a fight breaks out between the Avengers and Lus robot-guards, and then Cap reveals that he wasn't actually captured, the trap was much too obvious for that, he just let everyone assume he had been as a morale-building exercise and to let the team bond over fighting a bunch of robots and a rogue element from a foreign nation. A plan which works; and the newly bonded team holds a new press conference to tell the public that even though they have a history of criminal misdeeds, they can come together to help one another and save the city.

...and the public still hates them because they tried to murder people with arrows and took over South American countries, like, LAST WEEK.

At this point, Mach points out that this is a terrible story if Black Widow is trying to convince them of anything; as the moral is that the Avengers, despite having the approval of flippin' Captain America and saving the day from Radioactive Man were still hated by basically everyone. And Natasha points out that the actual morale of the story is that they *kept* doing superhero work despite everyone hating them for it and now are among the most celebrated and revered people on the planet (well, Clint is. Wanda and Pietro still have that whole "world that hates and fears us" thing going on), and that might be something to keep in mind if, hypothetically, Citizen V turned out to be a major global threat and someone needed to stop him.

You know... in theory.

And speaking of;

Back at the Thunderbolts HQ, Zemo and Techno have successfully broken the Avengers files; and we learn that that was just a feint from Zemo after-all; the files were irrelevant to his master plan (unless he really wanted to build a Quinjet or win at bar-trivia about obscure villains); he just wanted them in order to to prove to everyone that the Bolts can be trusted with the highest level of security clearance, and have proof to himself that claims that the city of New York will give him all the resources he needs wasn't just idle talk. And it's about high time the world realized that Thunder comes to all mens ruin.

And also;

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Next Time: Further proof that Wizard magazine really liked this series
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
clean.jpg

Okay, so the next issue listed in Marvel Unlimited, and on the Marvel.com was a Wizard Magazine special bonus issue, and I was all prepped for that, but as it turns out, that *really* doesn't fit in continuity as I'm covering the series, as it's a filler issue that's supposed to fit in several arcs down the road. So I ain't bringin' it up. Which is probably for the best as Heroes Reward is a *big'un* for the whole series; kicking off the arc that best sums up Thunderbolts as a *thing* in Marvel overall.

Okay, so... as noted repeatedly in the series up until now, and especially through the course of this thread, the main reason the Thunderbolts got to be as successful as they were was entirely based on the fact that the country was desperate for more superheroes after the battle against Onslaught seemingly killed off the Avengers and Fantastic Four. In truth, those heroes just hecked off to an alternate dimension for the better side of a year in a terribly mismanaged attempt to reset continuity and give Rob Liefeld something to do. Well, eventually the Heroes Reborn continuity proved to be really unpopular so Marvel axed it and brought the FF and Avengers back.

And while you might think that would put a real stick in the craw of Zemos plan to exploit everyones desperation in controlling the publics hope in order to exploit the entire country for everything it was worth, it turns out it didn't. The Thunderbolts are still being celebrated as the heroes who kept the seat warm until the Avengers could return, and a reward for their selfless sacrifice, they're being honored by the Mayor and being officially given Paragon Status, which is apparently the same legal status given to the other top-tier superhero teams around the world that gives them carte blanche to use any and all military, UN and peace keeping technology and legal rights across the planet in order to safeguard mankind from extra-normal dangers.

I do not know if this is something that carried forward in Marvel continuity, as its existence either explains or introduces a lot of plotholes. Anyway, it's definitely a bad thing for someone like Baron Zemo to be given.

Luckily, there's, like, half of a page for anyone to stew on that, because a whole crap load of SHIELD agents, lead by GW Bridge (remember him? I barely did and I'm re-reading this series!) tear down the wall of City Hall, aim guns at the Thunderbolts and expose their true identities as the Masters of Evil and Baron Zemo.

News which absolutely shocks everyone in attendance (especially Jolt), except Zemo (who shrugs and effectively says "Aw shucks, ya got me") and Techno (who releases a powerful EMP and flash bomb to distract everyone enough for the rest of the team to scatter).

Techno, incidentally, redesigned his new body so it looks like a bulkier, armored version of his previous outfit and deliberately gave himself a spooky robotic voice, because Technos gonna Techno).

Anyway, this is all by, like, page 4; normally whatever is on the cover is a fakeout or it's spoiling the last couple of pages; we've got a LONG way to go now; the world has, even by Marvel standards, collectively done a complete 180 on the Thunderbolts; they don't just want them arrested; they want them dead; and most of the issue is about how the team is attempting to regroup at their headquarters at the Baxter Building, which still has all of Zemo and Technos specially designed defense systems in place, keeping everyone out.

Moonstone has a brief skirmish against Hawkeye (not for any particular reason; they just happened to wind up in the same place; Clint is punching WAY above his weightclass against her, but she's more interested in escaping than wasting time fighting), Songbird and Mach regret not acting on Black Widow suggesting they turn against Zemo earlier, Atlas is torn between regret seeing Dallas' reaction to seeing his identity exposed and also thinking back to the death of his little sister (first I'd heard of it, nothing he was accountable for), Jolt is realizing that she overlooked all the obvious signs that the team weren't who they said they were (notably, all the times that Moonstone was referred to by that name instead of Meteorite) and... Zemo and Techno already made it back to the Baxter Building, so they're having a grand time shooting at every superhero and police officer nearby with laser guns and rocket launchers.

Look; sometimes you just gotta shoot a missile at Speedball.

Eventually the team reunites in the Baxter Building (including Jolt who took it on herself to sneak in to the building in order to bring the team down herself and atone for her bad judgement, Solid Snake style); where Zemo is happy to have taken off and destroyed the Citizen V costume and stand around in his traditional ski mask and ermine ensemble; and he also explains that, yes, he's not an idiot he realized that Moonstone was trying to turn the team against him by merit of her being Starscream and also Songbird, Mach and Atlas were going a little too Method with their whole “pretend to be a superhero” thing and also he really, truly hated pretending to be a superhero, so he tipped off SHIELD so he could drop their facade in the most dramatic way possible and before his plans could get any more sidetracked. And he also indicates that now the rest of the Bolts had to be ride-or-die with him as EVERYONE in the country now wants them dead; the general public for betraying their trust and for being, you know, murderous sociopaths who tried to take over the world a bunch in the past, and the rest of the supervillain population because snitches get stitches.

Techno, once again, LOVES being a villain and shooting people with laser guns so… he really did not need or receive any convincing.

Zemo then destroys the Baxter Building with explosives charges he had secretly laced throughout the building, partly to cover the teams escape to start the next phase of his master plan, partlyin order to just destroy the Baxter Building for the sake of destroying it; he turned Avengers mansion to rubble in the past, so he has a tradition to maintain. And mainly for the symbolism of laying to waste the very first superhero headquarters in the Marvel Universe.

THAT is how you Supervillain!

NEXT TIME: And now things escalate
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
clean.jpg

And escalate they have, as we see in The High Road, which picks up a few days after the last issue ended and Zemo has… already taken over half the planet, as we see in an in medias rez opening, of various militias and armies around the world suddenly stopping what they were doing and launching multiple simultaneous military coups all over the globe and demanding their countries cede control of the world over to Baron Zemo.

Then we cut back to Zemos new headquarters; an AIM satellite he had commandeered, and hidden from radar detection, where Helmut and Techno explain to one another, the full scale of what their plan was, and how they implemented it;

Using the Avengers files they’d stolen they discovered that there was an AIM satellite with the needed materials on board for Techno to repurpose with his new ro-body; also in the brief window where they had access to all the worlds military computers, Techno was able to infect all of them with a computer virus that prevented anyone from revoking that access, and also using something called a Bio-Modem from an issue of Marvel Team-Up that I didn’t read, they were able to make those computers give off a mind-control beam; granting the Masters of Evil full control over most of the worlds armies.

Zemo mentions that he COULD have just done all that and given himself full control of the worlds population by hypnotizing *everyone*, but conquest is much more fun.

Also, Techno will NOT shut up about how much cool stuff he can do now that he’s a robot and it’s driving Zemo nuts; I love these two chuckle-heads.

Anyway, not loving these two chuckleheads is Jolt, who snuck on to the Masters’ shuttle last issue and is now secretly in the base with them; eavesdropping on this whole conversation, of Zemo and Techno laying out the crux of their evil plans (the Bio-Modem) and what makes them so untouchable (the cloaking device that keeps anyone from locating the orbital base).

She’s also fully transitioned form “Denial” to “Anger” about how the Masters had tricked her into thinking they were superheroes; but is boldened by the fact that, like the readers, she’s aware that only about half of the Bolts are still unrepentant evil; and tries to find the rest of the team elsewhere in the base.

As for elsewhere in the base, the rest of the Bolts are now kind of reconsidering throwing their hats in with Team Zemo (Teemo), for all the reasons you may expect (change of heart, not actually being evil, being Starscream), but aren’t able to figure out why, exactly, they feel bad about taking over the planet, until Moonstone just up and says the quiet part loud and openly says what each of the team-members is motivated by.

Interestingly, Moonstone says that Atlas’ whole thing is that he just prefers being told what to do, so he’s only upset because everyone near him at the moment is upset. Also because Zemo yelled at him when he almost gave up the game by calling Dallas Roiden on the satellite phone to apologize for taking over the world (she didn’t take his apology well).

Then Jolt appears, surprising everybody (they’re happy she isn’t in a supervillain prison, for what it’s worth) and offers her own suggestion for why everyone is bummed out; they liked being superheroes, and should RESUME being superheroes, especially since this is probably the last opportunity anyone will ever get to try to stop Zemo, as he’s already conquered half the planet and that number is growing by the hour.

She doesn’t appeal to Moonstones better nature, she just points out that Moonstone is Starscream, so she’d best get Starscreamin’ while the gettin’s good.

Then Zemo and Techno walk in on them, kind of spoiling the mood. Naturally Techno is plugged into every inch of the base (one of many, many new powers he has and speaks at length about, to Zemos still increasing irritation), and so Jolts appearance wasn’t a surprise; Zemo just wanted to sit back and make sure she got everyone’s hopes up sufficiently before crushing them. He also makes Atlas un-betray him by just glowering at him, because Atlas is now basically a dog.

Then a comic book fight happens For the rest of the issue.

And, y’know, I’ve been generally pretty pleased with Bagleys art in this series, but this is probably the best looking thing I’ve ever seen him draw; it’s a great fight; lots of back and forth; easy to follow and neither the Thunderbolts nor the Masters have a clear advantage over one another.

And we got one of these panel layouts for a fight scene; I love those;

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Ultimately, though, the fight is just a distraction; during the resultant confusion, Jolt slips away and heads back to the bases control room, where she shorts out and destroys the stealth generator cloaking the satellite, and sends a message to the Avengers and Fantastic Four, telling them both where to find Zemo; and just as the last of the Thunderbolts falls to Technos incredible power, Atlas’ resiliance and Zemos tactical brilliance, a small army of superheroes appear in the base, just in time to turn the tide and save the day!

buuuuuuuuut…

Zemo ain’t no fool, and, like I said, he already knew Jolt was in the base when he started pointing out the possible vulnerabilities in his plan; and he used the Bio-Modem on the Avengers and FF before Jolt could even begin to convince the team to turn against him;

The Thunderbolts are already beaten and now they have to deal with another dozen Superheroes; all being completely controlled by Zemo.

Oh shiiiiiii~

NEXT TIME: End Times, kid
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
clean.jpg


We’re closing out the first story arc, and year, with a double-length issue as we enter… the End Game. I have no idea if the comic was intended originally go keep going past this point, or it was just fan reaction that kept it going; the actual ending leave that pretty ambiguous. But if this was supposed to be the actual finale of the series, it definitely would have ended on a high note.

As the last issue ended, Zemo took over the planet using a mind-control device you’d *really* have thought would have been mentioned prior to this moment, the Bolts had a schism as Jolt convinced half the team to turn against Zemo by appealing to their better/worse natures, only for Zemo to reveal that he’d already used his Bio-Modem to hijack the minds of the Fantastic Four and Avengers, who he summoned to his base to act as his enforcers.

And this issue opens with Zemo triumphant, standing over the his captive former comrades, and finally about to do something he’d been meaning to do for the last eight issues; shoot Jolt right in the face. She just really bugged him, and forced him to mess up his master plans; way more than Moonstone constantly trying to usurp him.

Jolts reaction to this is to say “Go ahead and shot me, all that’ll happen is that I’ll be dead and you’ll be a JERK” which is some pretty next-level posturing one-liner delivery.

Luckily, “shooting a helpless teenager directly in the face” is kind of a triggering thing for Atlas, who then decides to re-betray Zemo, and punches him in the back of the head, and frees the rest of the Bolts, leading them down an escape corridor while the mind-controlled Avengers attack them. The good news is that the Bio-Modem has to work over-time to control as many people with as much power and strong personalities as the Avengers, so while they’re still completely under Zemos control, and fighting with murderous intensity, they’re also fighting very poorly and Zemo can’t coordinate that many people that effectively all at the same time.

The Bad News is that Techno isn’t just controlling the satellite base anymore, he’s completely merged with it and it’s less of a space fortress and more of a single Giant Techno, a fact he reveals when he allows the Bolts to escape just to twist the knife on exactly how meaningless them betraying Zemo really is;

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Anyone who turns a spaceship into a giant replica of their own head is getting full credit in terms of being a supervillain in my book.

Anyway, things aren’t QUITE as hopeless as Technos giant disembodied head would have them believe, as it turns out that Mach was studying the Avengers files all along (Moonstone is put out because they wouldn’t even let her look at them, and that’s because everyone knows Moonstone is Starscream, but nobody gave even the tiniest bit of consideration to Mach whatsoever), and because the Avengers are just as dedicated to remembering old comic book ephemera as Kurt Busiek is, Mach knows exactly where to track down a completely different satellite base the Avengers had to thwart waaaaaaay back when (Egghead built it, so… you know… not exactly a major storyline, you’re forgiven for not knowing about it).

And just as they arrive, Jolt gives another impassioned speech about maybe NOT letting the son of a nazi war criminal conquer the planet, which does a fair-to-middlin’ job of convincing the team to take another whack at stopping Zemo, but does a MUCH better job at convincing the other resident of the base that the Bolts are as reformed as they pretended to be; Iron Man!

Turns out that Tony wasn’t ever actually mind-controlled with the rest of the Avengers and FF, he’s gotten mind-controlled or had his armor hacked enough times that he’s built way more counter-measures for that kind of thing. He just didn’t help the Bolts earlier because he had no idea they were genuinely good guys now, also because he was outnumbered, like 20-1.

Anyway, now that the team is bolstered by an A-list Avenger (well, C-List, this was the 90s), and the fact that the Bolts have most of the teams heavy hitters still on the side of the angels, they concoct an actually viable plan to take Zemos base. Meanwhile, the team has a bunch of monologues establishing that Mach much prefers the respect he got as a superhero than he did as a tertiary Spider-Man villain, Atlas regrets punching Zemo in the back of the head considering how Zemo saved his life once (a long while ago, not in this series), and Songbird realizes that she’s an up and down better and more fleshed out character on this team than she was in the previous twenty years or so of being an even smaller scale background villain than Beetle.

And Moonstone gives herself a new, easier to draw costume;

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Oh, and Zemo is about to use the Bio-Modem to make Captain America commit suicide, but decides against it as it doesn’t seem as much fun to kill him that way.

Anyway, the crux of the Bolts’ plan is that they have to disable the Bio-Modem in order to break Zemos control over the planet and Avengers, but they can’t since the Modme is part of the base, as is Techno, and he’s able to move it wherever he wants within his body. So Iron Man and Mach combine their resources to create a jamming device, which they toss directly into the middle of the combined Avengers/FF team-up, breaking Zemos control over them while they’re all in the same room. And then exploit the requisite Comic Book Team-Up Fight

Naturally, both teams to look at the Thunderbolts, say “Hey! Those are the bad guys We fight all the time!” And immediately start a big superhero fight against them. The Bolts, aren’t fighting especially hard, and in fact are just taunting the Avengers (“We’re attacking you… BECAUSE WE’RE SUPERVILLAINS” says Atlas) and making sure to wreak as much environmental damage to the station as possible. All of this is just to distract Techno, who is too busy trying to repair the damage and apprehend/kill the Bolts so that he can’t redirect the Bio-Modem to where the team can’t reach it.

At one point, Moonstone breaks away from the melee and tracks down Zemo, in order to give him a well deserved personalized beat-down, and lay into him not so much for the repeated betrayals and attempted murders over the last couple of hours, but because Zemos master plan, after all his grand posturing was just to take over the world;

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I don’t think this is the moment I decided Moonstone was my favorite non-Techno character, but… maybe it is?

Anyway, the Bolts plan backfires a bit, as Techno realizes what they’re trying to do and redirects the modem anyway, and he manifests in a wall to taunt Moonstone again, so she changes tactics a bit; trying to seduce him saying that she’s made of pure energy so she’s literally the only person who could give him any physical affection.

Techno responds by pointing out that he was asexual even before he was a giant robotic head, so… kind of backing the wrong horse there, lady.

She makes MUCH more headway when she attacks his vanity points out that nobody has even heard of Techno before He joined the Thunderbolts, and even if Zemo takes over the planet, he’d be known as a flunky to a guy with unresolved dad-issues; he immediately stops fighting all the superheroes on board in order to hack into the interpol database in order to make himself the worlds most wanted man.

I love Techno.

At about this time, the assembled Avengers and FF realize just what was going on with the Thunderbolts attacking them and then focusing more on punching walls than punching people, and realize that the station itself was their target, so they all collectively team up and shut it down by locating and destroying the main computer core, holding Technos consciousness; and setting off a chain reaction that will destroy the base.

Atlas helps Zemo escape, saying that they’re even for Zemo saving HIS life now, and Technos face briefly appears on his escape pod, and the Bolts help the Avengers and FF escape by coming back with that satellite (somehow?); which, combined with the fact that they were instrumental in stopping Zemos conquest of the planet, gives the two teams the idea that they HAVE reformed and will be taken into account when they’re taken to trial for their many many crimes.

Moonstone is willing to accept this, and agree to go peacefully…

When the Thunderbolts are suddenly engulfed in blue light and teleport out of the rescue ship.

Which… umm… which was weird.

That was a weird thing that happened just now.

NEXT TIME: Things Get Weirder Than That
 
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Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
clean.jpg



Hoo boy, kids… We just wrapped up the first year of Thunderbolts with a big double-sized issue that threw everything they had in the tank out, cleared off the main arc the series had been building itself around, and changed the series status-quo irrevocably. And so, as in the grand tradition of long form superhero comics, that means it’s time for a Weird-Ass Breather Mini-Arc.

And lemme tell you, it don’t get much weirder than In The Court of the Kosmos

Okay, so as the last issue ended, the Genuinely Good half of the Thunderbolts (and also Moonstone) freed the Avengers and Fantastic Four from Zemos control and officially renounced their evil ways by beating the ever-loving garbage out of him and Techno… and then disappeared in a flash of blue light just as they agreed to stand trial for their many, many, many, many crimes.

And the Avengers were left wondering if that was the Bolts *escaping* or if some weird space hole problem just happened and the Bolts actually need rescuing.

As it turns out, it’s the latter, as a very confused Thunderbolts suddenly find themselves in an arena on an unknown planet called Kosmos, populated by bug-people with names like “Jekkuakekt; Primotaur of the All-Hive”, which… would make this recap extremely hard to write, so I’mma just refer to everyone by their title. It’s also what the Bolts do for exactly that same reason.

While the rest of the team is overcome by some pretty understandable culture shock and confusion over what the hell just happened to them (as did the Kosmosians, just having a bunch of NON bug-people suddenly show up in the middle of their senate), Atlas is not. He takes one look around and says “Oh crap, not these guys” and the General of the Bugs looks at him and says “Oh frig, it’s that big guy!” And a confused and panicked riot breaks out.

The Bolts use minimal force in the ensuing melee (except Songbird who is enjoying herself a bit over-much), since they figure that making first contact with an alien species by exploding the hell out of them would probably come back to bite them sooner rather than later, and eventually the team manages to escape, and Moonstone makes Atlas explain why he and the bug-people know each other.

And yeah it gets… weird and Old Comic Reference-heavy to the extent that the narration boxes ask Kurt to please stop referencing so many old forgotten comics. I’m familiar enough with Tom Brevoort to assume he’s loving it, however. That being said; there’s a lot of… real confusing Comic Book Malarkey to get through here;

Kosmos is a planet in the Microverse (Quantum Realm, if you’re more familiar with the MCU), a series of dimensions only accessible if you shrink down tiny enough that the laws of physics can’t handle you, so you’re shoved into the next universe over. And it’s, in fact, the Microverse Dimension where the Pam-Particles that power Ant-Man’s suit come from. Because Hank Pam kept robbing them of their primary energy source, they kind of hate him, but very rarely do anything about it. Atlas, for a while back in the Bronze Age when he was Goliath, was himself using Pym Particles to change his size and wound up travelling to Kosmos at one point, where the native Kosmosians came to the conclusion that he and Hank must be in cahoots and decided that All Shrinky/Growy humans must SUCK, so they attempted to invade Earth as a means to safeguard their planet, using Atlas as a launching platform for their invasion force, and generally torturing the hell out of him.

As the Earth was not conquered by sub-atomic bugs, you can make a guess how well this plan worked.

So setting aside a few other questions that were really baffling the team, how sub-atomic bug men from another universe can speak perfect English (provided by a beautiful non-explanation that the bugs are equally baffled that a bunch of primates from the Macroverse can speak perfect Kosmosian) or how they could recognize Atlas at all considering how he had extensive cosmetic surgery so nobody would recognize him as Goliath (why assume they see with their eyeballs?), the team focuses on the more pressing concerns; like why the Kosmosians seem to be in the middle of a pretty horrifically vicious civil war, and how the heck do they get back to Earth.

Luckily, we get another, even more bewildering exposition dump to explain all that, as it turns out the Prince of the All-Hive was sneaking around the campsite the Bolts had been resting in; needing their help and assuming the Thunderbolts were heroes by merit of the fact that they weren’t murdering the soldiers that attacked them earlier.

To be fair, he’s 80% correct.

The Prince explains why the Bolts were suddenly taken to Kosmos, and why the bug people seem to be trying to kill one another and the explanation involves Kang the Conqueror and it is, even by Kang the Conqueror standards; REALLY CONVOLUTED. You may wish to take a moment to get a cool drink and a comfortable seat for this.

Are you hydrated? You should really have some water, I’ll wait.

Okay… so… okay.

Remember back when the Thunderbolts had to fight Kanes sentient weapon, The Growing Man, back in issue #5? Well when they defeated it, it sent a mysterious signal into deep space as it powered down, which was very confusing but which nobody had the context to be very concerned about. As it turns out, that wasn’t a message being sent to Kang, as you might have assumed at the time, but to the Growing Man’s actual creators, the people of Kosmos. It seems that, in the future, Kosmos will be conquered by Kang, who will enslave the people and force them to convert their entire planet into a vast weapons factory for Kangs long-term goal of total temporal conquest. The Kosmosians, as you might expect, didn’t *love* this, so they programmed the Growing Man robots they were designing to send a warning to Kosmos if one were to be destroyed, knowing that Kang was going to be deploying them all along history, letting the Present Day inhabitants know of their fate and to do anything in their power to stop “The Blue Man” (as they call Kang) from finding and taking over their world.

Well, when the Bolts managed to destroy the Growing Man that existed in the present day, that signal went to current residents of Kosmos, who, understandably, freaked the hell out when they saw it, and surmised that they could strike back at Kang by attacking his generals, who must logically be whoever was standing around a Growing Man robot when it was destroyed, and started to dedicate their efforts into building a machine capable of summoning them, Meanwhile, and slowing down production of a transporter like that, news got out that someone from the Macroverse was going to take over Kosmos and the general population FREAKED OUT even farther, leading to a civil war between factions who advocated a preemptive attack on our universe and who advised against antagonizing us on the grounds that people from the Earth Dimension tend to beat the hell out of the people from Kosmos.

After digesting all of that story roughly as well as I did (with a lot of saying “wha?”) the Thunderbolts decide that their best course of action is to go to the King of the Kosmos (Na-NA… nana-NAHnanuhna) and explain to him that they’re not associated with Kang in any meaningful way, they just blew up one of his robots because they were fighting against him (they weren’t, but the Kosmos people didn’t know that), and furthermore that they really, truly promise to not invade and conquer their world because they didn’t want to come here in the first place.

Also, they’ll return the prince to the All-Hive Palace because…. That seems like it’d be more helpful than not.

So they do, and the King listens to their testimony and agrees that it makes a lot more sense than what his generals and Chancellors were telling him about them, but at the same time, he’s got a whole dang civil war going on entirely because of people from Earth existing, let alone existing on his planet, so it seems like the best decision for everyone involved is to just publicly execute the Thunderbolts and claim that’ll solve the problem of Kang probably conquering them in the future, ending the civil war which stands to destroy their civilization much sooner.

A verdict that makes the Thunderbolts say “Aw frig, that’s not what we wanted to happen at all”.

So while the rest of the team is busy moping around, waiting for their imminent execution, Moonstone breaks away from the group using her powers of intangibility and light-manipulation and sneaks into the Chancellors quarters, where she tells him “Look, I’m the teams Starscream, and you’re a Chancellor, so you’re *definitely* a Starscream too… let’s have a discussion you and I…”

Which is where we end this issue! I bet this has a happy ending:

NEXT TIME: In Bugs We Trust
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
clean.jpg

Well I took a month off and now the thrilling continuation of Kurt Busieks run on Thunderbolts!

Previously, we had one of the weirdest and most back-story heavy comics Busiek ever wrote (and he is *literally* Kurt Busiek, so that is saying something) when the Thunderbolts are suddenly whisked into the Microverse Dimension of Kosmos, shortly after defecting from Zemo and Techno and deciding to be Good Guys full time, where they learn that the people of Kosmos got a warning from the future that they will be enslaved by a completely unrelated villain and the news of that plunged their society into civil war and they consider anyone from the Macroverse to be enemies. And since the Kosmosians know that the Thunderbolts were standing around when one of Kangs weapons was destroyed they must be in cahoots with him and decide to put the team to death.

Which is where this issue, Casualties of War picks up, with the Bolts in jail waiting for their day in court, and summary execution for the crime of standing near a robot which exploded. Except for Moonstone, who can turn intangible and went off to have a little chin-wag with the Grand Vizier. The Crown Prince is trying to cheer the bolts up because he's sure he can talk his dad down from Execution to a mere lifetime of imprisonment and hard labour. Which sin't really *better*.

Also he's sweet on Jolt, which is cute. She's an augmented human with bio-electic powers, and he's a sub-atomic bug-man from the Microverse. The original starcrossed lovers.

Right around the point where everyone notices that Moonstone ISN'T in the escape proof jail cell with them, she returns, phasing through the walls and seems *pretty confident* that the team is going to be okay and make it back to Earth... later on that same day. She also chides Jolt for forgetting that she has intangibility powers, given that, besides being the teams moral compass and hot-head, Jolt is also the Superhero Fangirl of the Bolts, so she should really know about what a noted Avengers villain can do.

Before she can elaborate on WHY she's confident that they're not about to be summarily executed, the palace and dungeon are rocked by a huge explosion; turns out that the civil war that had been raging on Kosmos for months now has finally reached the Imperial Throne, and the Kings guards are overtaxed and stretched too thin to hold off the rebels, and the rebels also seem to be weirdly well informed and organized. The King calls teh Thunderbolts forward and says that he promises he'll give them a lighter sentence in exchange for their help holding off the uprising; and lacking any real leverage, the Bolts agree to this.

Though Moonstone deosn't stop to argue the point, and manipulating people is her whole deal, and the Vizier looks weirdly smug about all of this.

Well, nothing for anyone to be concerned about, I'm sure.

Anyway, Superhero fight breaks out; a bunch fo Space Bug Guys vs. The Thunderbolts, and, just like in the last issue; the Bolts are *definitely* in the position of power here and can handle themselves easily, and this time don't need to hold back and leave survivors so it's not even a fair fight. Few delightful notes; because Kosmos is the world that Pym Particles originate from, the rebels use them offensively in some clever ways; knocking down some debris and then enlarging them mid-fall and increasing the size of their weapons after stabbing them into some soldiers (which thankfully happens off panel and makes Jolt throw up).

Most noteworthy, when they encounter the leader of the rebel army, he lets it slip that the Vizier was helping them form within to overthrow the king so he could take over the throne himself... but he was using everyones full names instead of titles when he did so, and the Bolts have *barely* spent a day on this planet, don't know who anyone is and all their names are just messes of consonants and apostrophes so they have *absolutely no idea* what he's talking about.

Knowing EXACTLY what he's talking about is Moonstone, as she was also colluding with the Vizier, but is smart enough to not blab about it; she made a deal with him to make sure he gets control of the Thone of Kosmos in exchange for getting the Thunderbolts back to Earth, and had him leak information to the Rebels to attack when they did so the King would have no choice but to ask them for help.

A plan which is going off right then and there, as she lures Mach-1 and Songbird away from the battle to the throne room and gives a slightly jaundiced account of what's happening to try to goad one of them into committing regicide so she'd have something to hold over them later when they get back to Earth and also to guide them back to Team Bad Guy. Unfortunately, for all her skill at social manipulation, Moonstone didn't realize exactly how much Abe and Mel *want* to be heroes, and an execution-style killing of a bug man who is pleading for his life really doesn't seem like the kind of behavior that Captain America would encourage, so they can't go through with it.

Moonstone, absolutely can, and blows his head clean off his body without even looking at him, says "Hey, we good now?" to the Vizier and then calls the rest of the team back to the palace to be transported back to Earth.

When they reunite, Jolt is quick to point out some oddities with the story the Vizier is telling the people about the sudden tragic death of the King (such as that the assassin was a guy she was fighting, on the opposite side of the castle at the time the king was dead, and also he was knocked unconscious at the time, and furthermore, the only person openly agreeing with him about the story is the Unrepentedly Evil Thunderbolts team member, and Abe and Mel won't look her in the eye when she questions it). She then drops the subject when she realizes that if her suspicions are right, well, they'll definitely be executed without a trial as soon as the Kosmosians find out.

The Vizier is as good as his word (to Moonstone, by merit of quid-pro-quo) and sends the team back to Earth, confident that a firm, authoritarian hand will get Kosmos back on track, and leaving the Thunderbolts with a now pretty visible schism developing in its ranks, as Moonstone now knows how to better manipulate everyone in the team and what their limits are. Also; they're back on Earth with *none* of their resources and everyone still hates them for that whole Baron Zemo thing.

And speaking of Poppa Heinrichs bouncing baby boy

As an epilogue we go to the Meso American temple that Zemos father had established as his base, shortly before his death, where we see Zemo and Techno, alive and well! Techno survived having 99% of his body destroyed and rebuilt himself after the orbital base he'd merged with was destroyed, and Zemo survived having most of his skeleton and internal organs pulped by using one of the rejuvenating baths his father invented restore his broken and mangled body (which I *think* is a retcon Kurt made to explain how Heinrich survived long enough to be a credible threat to Captain America in the present day). Now that he's done nursing his wounds, Zemo is quick to get out of the tub and start work on his next project; turns out he *really* didn't like the way his whole Fake Avengers plan shook out and has moved the Thunderbolts in general, and Moonstone in particular, to the top of his Revenge List.

However, I also think that Techno and Zemo barely appear again after this, as far as I've read, so... umm... keeping that revenge on a low-simmer, I guess.

NEXT TIME: The Heroes Who Are Most Wanted
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
latest

Year 2 of Thunderbolts starts in earnest here, with Dead or Alive, and while the main draw of the first year is done and over with (sadly, as Zemo attempting to act like a hero based on how the guy who beats him up a lot behaves was a big part of what made thone issues work), but on the other hand we’ve got a brand new masthead over the logo which is what I titled this thread after! Also, we’ve got Moonstone showing us why Starscream doesn’t really ever *actually* take over.

Let’s get into it, shall we?

Kicking things off with SHIELD, and current acting director, GW Bridges. Who you may recall as being the agent who took it upon himself to look into the Bolts before they were revealed to secretly be evil, and who proved to be wholly ineffective at apprehending the Bolts when they DID turn out to be evil. Up to and including the teenage girl who made them all look like a bunch of dweebs. Turns out, he’s not a Forgive and Forget type, and has spent the last few issues stewing over that pretty major black mark in his super-spy career. All of which also serves as a pretty handy catch-up for anyone who missed the first run of the comic and wants to get into it now!

Also, it turns out that the rest of the world is ALSO putting some extra pressure on SHIELD to bring the Bolts to justice. Not just the enduringly evil ones, but the five who had a change of heart. The statue of limitations on trying to conquer the earth is longer than two months, I guess.

Also working alongside SHIELD is an unknown figure standing in the shadows, who Bridges doesn’t enjoy having to work under. We don’t know who it is just yet, but they’re wearing a red white and blue costume and have taken the Bolts deception especially hard.

See if you can guess who it is! There will be a test at the end!

Meanwhile, MONTANA! Where we find the Mach and Moonstone flying around and strafing… bunny rabbits.

Just straight up blasting bunny rabbits with anti-personnel rockets.

Now, what they’re doing is hunting for food as they can’t really go into a store and buy lunch, being internationally wanted fugitives and all, but I have to question how much viable meat there is on a rabbit after it gets a missile in the face.

After a few days worth of roughing it in the foothills of Montana, and also Moonstone working out the proper angles to manipulate everyone from, the Bolts collectively decide that they want to continue being heroes (Mach is getting respect, it’s what Jolt thought they were doing anyway, Songbird can’t see anything else to do with her time and Atlas… is being yelled at to do something), and have to work out the best way to go about things. They debate just starting a NEW superhero team with new costumes, but figure that everyone would immediately figure 5 new superheroes popping up with their exact same team dynamics and abilities would be… pretty obvious to everybody.

Instead they’re going to unite under Moonstones leadership (terrible idea, her job is to undermine leadership, not supply it), wait for the… international heat to simmer down a bit, and then slowly rebuild their terrible reputation. And that means forging false identities so they aren’t IMMEDIATELY found by the authorities.

And we get a montage of Mach digging up the hidden money he had stashed from his bug-themed theft days, everyone forging new IDs, and getting jobs i the service industry.

Except Moonstone, who only wants to delegate work to others, and immediately tries to get a managment job in a high finance firm, fails, and then throws some guy through a wall when he makes a disparaging remark about her personality.

The mark is completely justified, and honestly probably the most sincere compliment she’s ever been given (he called her “snooty”), but still, straight through a wall he goes, and she leaves; proudly unemployed.

Meanwhile, in scenic… spooky Gothic Castle built somewhere in the jungles of Mexico, Zemo and Techno are busying themselves by making long term revenge plans against their former colleagues and Techno has also decided that there are some drawbacks to being a living robot and tries to clone himself a new body based on Zemos DNA (seeing as he had access to it), Zemo shoots this plan down, literally, with a gun, and informs Techno in no uncertain terms that there is ONE Baron Zemo.

Not counting the last 12 generations of his family. And watching this drama is a surprise guest star.

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Did… not expect them to show up.

And speaking of surprising appearances, it turns out that apparently word got around to SHIELD about a woman who fits Karla Sofens exact description, who was trying to manipulate her way into a high level finance job and then threw a guy through a wall, and Moonstone left the address of the flophouse the Bolts were staying at as contact information.

So… now they got a whole bunch of SHIELD agents in mecha-suits in their driveway shooting missiles at them.

Moonstone is precisely as bad at leading a team of superheroes as Zemo was.

Anyway, big fight pops off, and, as befits Bagleys artistic talents, it’s a really fun one; Moonstone is overreacting to every attack from the SHIELD agents (she’s invincible, but really wants to sell being the underdog) and Mach has to remind Songbird that they’re fighting federal agents and murdering them is counterproductive to their stated goals of convincing everyone they’re reformed and to rein things in.

Eventually they manage to put together a convincing enough show of barely holding their own against guys they desperately outclass and run off.

And realize that even if they were faking being outclassed, they still got away too easily. Like they were being lead in that direction, purposely.

And then we find out who that mysterious figure who was talking to Commander Bridges earlier.

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Did you guess “Mr. Immortal of the Great Lakes Avengers”?

I sure didn’t!

NEXT TIME: They’re not even Good Lakes!
 
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