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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)
71SmmTD8iOL._AC_SL1014_.jpg

Boy, sure as heck can’t call Thunder and Lightning a dull comic; there’s more plot hooks in these 20 pages than in the whole run up to this point.

First and most prominently of which is resolving the previous issues cliffhanger; with the Bolts feigning losing a fight against Commander Bridges and his SHIELD team; only to run smack dab into their secret weapon; The Great Lakes Avengers!

The GLA hasn’t been seen in a while, recently (I think their last major appearance was around Civil War), but were mainstays of Marvels attempts at lighthearted goofier books through the 90s and early 2000s, right around when Deadpool started to become popular. Like a less cynical Nextwave. The team had to keep changing its name owing to cease-and-desist orders from other teams, and have also been the Great Lakes X-Men, Great Lakes Champions and The Great Lakes The Initiative. At this point they were the Lightning Rods, because they too fell for the Thunderbolts’ deception and wanted in on the ground floor.

Clockwise from the top, the team is;
Big Bertha, probably the character least likely to fly any more, she’s a combination of the Incredible Hulk and the X-Men villain The Blob; she’s a supermodel that can drastically increase her size strength and durability By creating and expelling bio-matter.

Dinah Soar is a pink skinned lizard lady from the Savage Land, she can only communicate by screeching so nobody actually knows what her deal is. She winds up marrying the team leader Mr. Immortal

Flatman has a stretchy flexible body and has a side hustle of being a celebrity impersonator for Reed Richards. He insists he’s a professor.

Door Man is the voice of reason for the team and has the genuinely useful and effective power of being able to create portals in any solid surface. He’s mainly lumped in with the GLA because his name is pretty silly. Later he got a job as a Grim Reaper, which finally made his dad proud of him.

Mr. Immortal is the team leader and the other guy with the useful power; he can instantly and fully recover the moment he’s killed. He can still be *hurt*, pretty easily and possesses no enhanced strength or anything; he’s basically Kenny McCormick. He’s supposed to take on Galactus’ role when the universe eventually ends; so… y’know… things are looking up for him.

Anyway, as I said, the GLA were so into the Thunderbolts at first and quickly opted to rebrand themselves based on them… and when the Bolts were revealed to be a group of villains attempting to take over the world, it dealt irreparable damage to the GLAs reputation, and they *really* did not have the kind of reputation that can take a bruising; so they insisted on helping SHIELD take down the Bolts in an effort to salvage what clout they possibly could.

Mr. Immortal also decides, then and there, that if they can bring down the Thunderbolts, they could rebrand themselves again as a division of SHIELD, but is quickly shot down; but does float SWORD as a name.

Anyway, as established over the last few issues, the Thunderbolts are, despite a 30+ year career of getting their heads handed to them in a superhero fight, really good when it comes to comic book fights, and had to just put on a good show of struggling so people would see them as underdogs. And they’re fighting the flippin’ Great Lakes Avengers, a team defined by being the jokey-losers of Marvel comics.

So you can imagine everyone’s surprise, especially Moonstones, when they wind up losing.

Moonstone is caught off guard by Berthas surprising physical prowess, Dinah Soar can disrupt Songbirds sonic constructs somehow, and Doorman keeps putting portals in Machs armor, so he and Flatman can just whale on him. Jolt and Mr. Immortal are on roughly equal footing since he doesn’t want to hurt her (her being an innocent caught up in the Bolts’ deception is known), and also just… not being able to actually lay a hand on her because of her speed and electricity.

Eventually Jolt realizes that fighting the GLA one on one was their mistake, and switches things up; first knocking out Doorman with a sucker-punch so he drops his portals on Mach, who then helps Songbird and Moonstone by firing rockets at them; and then everyone gangs up on Mr. Immortal.

They decide that the most prudent course of action is to probably give what Mr. Immortal wants; and using a combination of Moonstones light projection and Songbirds constructs to disguise themselves as the GLA, and announce to SHIELD that they successfully beat the Thunderbolts and left them tied up in the woods, so yes, The Great Lakes Avengers are DEFINITELY still good guys and no longer have anything to prove by apprehending the Thunderbolts, and then scramoosing before SHIELD can come in and properly arrest the Bolts and realize that the Bolts just beat them up and stole their clothes.

Well, that’s all settled!

During the fight, besides her new characterization of the Violent One of the team, Songbird keeps referring to herself as Screaming Mimi, causing Abe to transition from “Uh oh, my demure girlfriend no longer needs me to protect her” (which was a bad look) to “Uh oh, my demure girlfriend is reverting to the violent sociopath who committed mass destruction for the purposes of committing felonies” (Which is a more legitimate concern).

MEANWHILE, In the European Style Medieval Castle in Mexico; Baron Zemo catches a news report that the Thunderbolts have been found in Colorado or perhaps Montana, and have been seen fighting SHIELD and some “Unidentifiable superheroes”, which… kind of bugs him because it means he was wasting his time creating a trans dimensional teleport ray to get them back from Kosmos, and now has to think of a new revenge scheme on the fly. Luckily; he’s Baron Zemo and Revenge is where his heads at 99% of the time; and asks Techno “How is your robotics knowledge”

“…better than your German”

Also, that figure that looks a hell of a lot like Batman is still watching them, which is still *pretty weird*

Anyway, the eagle-eyed among you might notice that I didn’t mention Atlas at all during that fight scene earlier; and that’s because he wasn’t involved with it, and had no idea the Bolts were fighting SHIELD or anyone; as it turns out their hideout shack was pretty close to his old hometown, so he decided to take a little personal vacation and visit his family, and see how they’re doing.

As it turns out, pretty bad.

Even before the whole Thunderbolts fiasco, Erik Jolston being a supervillain who hung out with both of the more infamous Baron Zemos and tried to murder the Avengers and Spider-Man a bunch was pretty big local news in his home town, and the rest of his family was quickly shunned by the rest of the community, his parents apparently died of shame, their farm dried up and went to seed (did the dirt shun them too?), his younger brother moved away and changed his name and his older brother became the town drunk.

And THEN Erik helped Baron Zemo take over the planet for a couple of days.

Also, his older brother wracked up some pretty severe mob debts somehow, and some stevadores barge in to the bar to kill him for not honouring his loan sharkery, and whack him and Atlas in the noggin before Erik can realize what’s happening and that maybe he should grow big and use his super-strength to thwart them.

They wake up in a car-smoosher at a junk-yard, where the mob can easily dispose of their soon-to-be corpses and Atlas thinks for a moment before realizing “Oh right, I can get big and strong whenever I want” and immediately grows to Giant size, rips the car apart and scares off the monsters saying that the Jolston family is under SUPERVILLAIN protection. Except that his brother then immediately dies because it turns out that the mobsters also shot him BEFORE locking him up in a car to be smooshed by a car-smoosher.

That’s what Atlas says at least; more likely that the guy was hit by shrapnel when Atlas broke apart the car and the machinery of the smoother when he suddenly grew giant. But, y’know… guy has enough on his plate to feel guilty about, let the mafia shoulder this one.

Anyway, back at the Thunderbolts’ flophouse, the team is relieved to have escaped capture at SHIELDs hands, and the even more disappointing fate of being apprehended by the GLA, but also disappointed that getting into a very public fight against SHIELD and also what are *technically* Avengers did not do anything to prove their reformation to the rest of the world; when suddenly the TV show their watching is interrupted by a breaking story; the Hulk has been seen in the area near them and is on a rampage!

Moonstone is delighted by this because fighting a rampaging Hulk is, like, the main thing a superhero team has to do to prove they’re good! Why else would so many superhero teams do it!

She also doesn’t entertain any of the salient points the rest of the team raises like “Supervillains fight the Hulk a lot too” and “Hulk doesn’t really go on rampages anymore, and he hasn’t said “HULK SMASH” in a long time, I think there’s something weird about this” or “Fighting the Hulk was literally the first thing the Thunderbolts did and we couldn’t have done a worse job, when we had more and better team mates” or “Don’t you, specifically just have a grudge against Hulk for him beating you in every encounter you’ve had against him?”

But Moonstone is just an astonishingly bad team leader so she’s already out the door; flying to the Hulks last known whereabouts, and the rest of the team has to follow her because… well… it’s still a big nuclear rage monster attacking a town.

When the team arrives they do, indeed, find a bug green nuclear rage monster, but also note that there’s something off about it; while I don’t think that he was Professor Hulk at the time, Hulks usually a lot more erudite than this, acting more like a stereotypical Incredible Hulk than anything else. Also, his eyes are glowing red like and his head is the wrong shape; looking a bit more like a clean-shaven version of Technos head, in fact.

And, after a pretty excellent fight scene, the Bolts manage to blow off his face and revealing a metallic Terminator skull underneath; as the cover blurb promised/spoiled, it’s not Bruce Banner who was attacking the town, but a robot duplicate Techno whipped up in a hurry to let Zemo get revenge on his former team-mates via the tried and true Evil Robotic Hulk Duplicate technique.

And as Zemo begins to gloat that his master plan, which many villains have tried at various times before and has never worked even once, will surely be the end of the Thunderbolts, the mysterious Batman-like figure steps out of the shadows and reveals the self to be… Citizen V?

Swearing revenge on Zemo?

Ah…. hmm…

Didn’t see that coming.

Next Time: Things get Heavy
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
clean.jpg

We got Bagley drawing the hell out of a big superhero fight, and also drawing the hell out of a middlin’ superhero fight, the closest thing Moonstones had to a actual win as a team leader and them bringing in one of my favorite forgotten supervillains in… Matters of Gravity!

As we left things last issue, the Bolts we’re trying to restore their (understandably) ruined reputation by putting in the effort to stop a rampaging Hulk, who hasn’t really been all rampage-y in a while, and that’s because it turned out to be a robotic duplicate of the Hulk that Zemo and Techno whipped up looking to get revenge on the Thunderbolts for betraying them.

As we soon find out, this was just step one in a much more baffling plan.

Anyway, the public Who was *supposed* to be celebrating the Thunderbolts for saving Them from the nuclear rage-monster attacking the town sees that the Hulk attacking them was a robot duplicate and immediately do a complete 180 on them, deciding that the team built a fake Hulk to attack the town of Cottonwood, Wyoming in order to repair their reputation and are having NONE of it.

You learn to be fickle pretty quickly when you live in the Marvel Universe.

Anyway, the Bolts attempt to correct everyone’s misapprehension, which is proven by the fact that they’re still trying to save people and beat up an increasingly Terminator-y looking Hulk Robot, when they realize that the robot is absorbing all the damage they throw at it, and Mach identifies some of the machinery in it as being high-yield capacitors so the More they fight it the more they’re charging it up to do something… presumably bad; and so they change tactics to trying to *protect* the rampaging Hulk robot and keep it away from the town

…which works for a minute when the Great Lakes Avengers, EVEN MORE angry at how badly they were humiliated last issue come back in To protect the town form the Hulk robot and Thunderbolts (who they figure MUST be up to *something*). And then, getting increasingly frustrated with how bad her day is going, Moonstone grabs the robot and hauls him as far from the public as possible before smacking it as hard as possible.

And then it explodes… and umm… some… guy pops out.

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Mr. Immortal and Doorman are quite correct; Graviton showing up is indeed not good!

And Graviton showing up is also very much a Kurt Busiek-ass plot development; he’s obscure, Kurt loves him as much as I do, and he’s got enough holes between his appearances for Kurt to fill in all he wants. Originally a scientist, Franklin Halls experiment involving studying teleportation technology went wrong in a *weird* way and it gave him seemingly limitless control over gravity. Hall is smart enough to realize that total control over one of the fundamental forces of the universe makes him one of the most powerful beings on the face of the Earth, and he is enough of a megalomaniac and narcissist that he figured he should therefor rule the world.

He has *no idea* how to connect these two facts, mind. He knows he’s strong enough to rule the world, and he wants to rule the world, so he figures people should just… let him.

Just straight up Underpants Gnome logic. Can not understand that he needs a middle step between Getting Gravity powers and Ruling the World.

Anyway, between a quick recap of his life up to this point that Graviton himself recites (he’s more charitable than I was) and a quick summary from Zemo, who was watching this over the TV footage, we find out what happened to ol’ Frankie since his last appearance, when he fought the Avengers, and Vision seemingly killed him by tricking him into increasing his gravity until he collapsed into a black hole; turns out he was teleported into a Microverse dimension instead of being killed, which he DID conquer (the residents were friendly, obliging and amenable to being conquered, so there was no particular challenge to it), and he sent out a rescue-beacon to Earth in order to let someone try to bring him back; Zemo and Techno discovered it, and built a fake Hulk robot in order to facilitate bringing him back, and let the robot fight people until it built up enough charge to open a dimensional gate.

Like I said, complicated, baffling plan. But one that worked pretty well, so who am I to criticize them.

Anyway, Graviton immediately gets into a fight against the GLA and Thunderbolts, disappointed that none of the A-List Superheroes were around to fight him, and he had settle for letting a bunch of dweebuses welcome him back to Earth.

So they have a fight, and Graviton wins (Gravity-man) and… then we cut back to Zemos spooky European Cyber-Fortress in Mexico, where he and Techno are slapping themselves on the back for their success; Techno is kind of bewildered at how many extra steps Zemo needed considering how his end-goal was “send very powerful supervillain to kill his former team-mates”, but he doesn’t get much of an opportunity to open a discussion about it because he’s shot by an electrified arrow and knocked unconscious; and standing in the window is Citizen V!

Who has determined that two issues worth of watching Zemo from the window is enough, and has decided to speed up his own revenge plan by taking him out Right now. Zemo is really caught off guard by this as he is REALLY sure Citizen V died in World War 2 (his dad never shut up about strangling him to death), and he had no family (which is why he had no problem assuming that as a code-name when pretending to be a superhero), but doesn’t have much time to worry about it because he’s in the middle of a sword fight right now. Also, this new Citizen V took the time to fill the castle with land mines before starting the fight. He’s a little distracted.

Zemo realizes he’s at a severe disadvantage and can’t *bare* the idea he might actually lose a fight, so he plunges *into* the rapidly exploding castle saying a Zemo will gladly walk into death rather than admit defeat, and is not seen again; presumably having escaped via a secret tunnel, and the new Citizen V figures that, rather than dwelling on making sure Zemo is dead, he should prioritize the rest of the people who denigrated the Citizen V name; the Thunderbolts.

And he might not get a chance as we cut back to Cottonwood, half of which is now a crater thanks to Graviton trying to smoosh the assorted superheroes around him into jelly with his gravity manipulation. Luckily, while Graviton definitely knows what goal he should be pursuing as a supervillain, he doesn’t know the first thing about proper supervillain etiquette, and is launching into an unasked for and needlessly long monologue; which mainly recaps his origins for everyone who has no idea who this guy is (most readers and people in attendance). And he’s so focused on explaining that yes, the man named Graviton, has Gravity Powers *and those are good superpowers, dammit*, he doesn’t think consider that perhaps there could ever possibly be some more superheroes showing up to complicate his day.

And, of course there is;

Atlas, having come to grips with his brothers recent death, has apparently chartered a plane, after hearing the Thunderbolts and GLA were busy in Wyoming fight a robot Incredible Hulk and also some guy in a cape making evil declamations, falls out of the sky while increasing his size exponentially, and Graviton (not thinking very tactically) increases his weight to stop him in place as he’s falling.

So yeah… Atlas ground-pounds him like Super Mario.

This breaks Gravitons concentration enough that the rest of the Bolts and GLA are freed and you’d *think* this would mark a rematch where the heroes rally and defeat their foe despite his offensive superiority because of teamwork and friendship.

But nope.

Moonstone does what she does best and just points out that Graviton has *no idea* how to be a supervillain;

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And while he’s a megalomaniac with a God complex, Graviton is not above taking constructive criticism and admits that Moonstone has a valid point;

So he just leaves, promising that he’ll think of an actually *good* villainous scheme and a long-term plan for *why* he wants to rule the world and come back to try again later.

Which moonstone takes as a resounding victory, and everyone else points out really is not because they’re *definitely* going to wind up having to fight Graviton again and next time he’ll actually have a plan and they did really badly against him when he was just winging it. But that’s Future-Moonstones problem, Present Moonstone is patting herself on the back for delaying a crushing defeat for a few issues.
Call it a mitigated success for our heroes.

NEXT TIME: Too Many Masters
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
clean.jpg

Well despite that dramatic cover, this issue is pretty light on narrative weight. But if you like seeing a low-morale superhero team, buddy, you’re ship has come in, in Career Opportunities

Opening up with Atlas looking morosely over a cliff side (not sure if he’s at regular or Giant size) where he’s busy recapping his entire life story, and Marvel Comics bibliography, to Jolt, which is a long way of saying “Yup, I make bad decisions on my own and rely on people yelling at me to determine the best course of action”. Which we know since we’ve been reading along, but it’s nice to spell it out for new readers.

And while Mrs. Holsters little baby boy is off feeling sorry for himself because of the time he associated with a known nazi war criminal and also punched Spider-Man, the rest of the Bolts are having similar inter and extra personal problems; Moonstone is coming to realize she’s much better at undermining authority than providing it, Machs confidence is shaken because he’s unable to repair his flight suit after Graviton wrecked it last issue (turns out Techno was the one who built it in the first place) and Songbird is growing increasingly annoyed at her boyfriend for not accepting her new super-violent and highly aggressive persona.

And Jolts fine.

Meanwhile, back over in Los Angeles, news has spread nationwide that the Thunderbolts were seen fighting, and eventually driving off Graviton (who, again, is as powerful as he is forgettable), which coupled with the word from the Avengers and FF that the Bolts turned against Zemo and Techno and are thus the only reason Helmut doesn’t presently rule the planet, and the public opinion has begun to swing back towards the Thunderbolts being *Good, Actually*, and a news agency (didn’t say which) has decided to assign their top reporter Gayle Rogers into investigating the team to see where their moral compass is pointing. Or else get some really gripping drama that can sell newspapers.

A task which she relishes, and looks *really* sinister about.

Ah, nothing to be worried about, I’m sure.

Anyway, back at the Thunderbolts secret hideout, a camping lodge Songbird is renting out, the Bolts are about ready to kill each other because morale is pretty low and everyone is stressed out, when the roof explodes off the building and a flying man with a cartoonishly thick French accent flies in; it’s Cyclone!

Remember Cyclone? From the Masters of Evil? He showed up briefly back in, like, issue 3 or 4 and then wasn’t commented on ever since?

Well, apparently he’s spent all that time practicing on how to perform better when it comes to superhero fights, as he goads the Bolts into attacking him and then single-handedly wipes the floor with them. In fairness, last time they fought, they also had a tactical genius leading the team and also a guy chock full of nano-bots building guns out of everything, and they were in a much better head-space, but it’s still embarrassing how quickly the entire team is beaten by one single guy with the powers of “Windy”. And he (moreso Bagley, I guess) makes an absolute meal out of this;

Like half the book is spent on Cyclone whomping the Bolts.

About the only thing that saves them is that Cyclone really doesn’t seem to be trying to hurt them, just humiliate them, and also the presence of Jolt, who is the only one that can match Cyclone for his speed and dexterity (which she learned she can crank up to recklessly high levels, for short bursts), eventually Cyclone leaves and Jolt tracks him to where he was staying; a secret mountain base which she alerts the rest of the Bolts to so they can get into a nice comic-book story rematch and regain their shattered confidence by beating down this one single guy.

…Except that this is just part one of the next big arc, so that doesn’t happen; inside the mountain are the rest of the Masters of Evil, and if the Bolts couldn’t handle the least impressive member of that team, they sure as hell can’t stand up to the lot of them; and they get absolutely wrecked.

Also, Flying Tiger makes some pretty racist comments to Jolt, and you’d think a guy who is half tiger would be more respectful of other people.

Anyway, the Bolts are all beaten down and are surprised that they woke up without being tied up in futuristic techno-bondage or welded to the floor or anything for once; turns out that the Masters of Evil beating them down was more to prove a point than to harm them; the Crimson Cowl is still leading the team, and is aware of the PR and morale problems the team is having and is offering a solution to them; if they all go back to team Bad Guys and join up with the Masters of Evil, they’ll look past their past history when Zemo was leading the team, and the Bolts get all the incentives that the Masters offer up to new employees;

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She also tosses in a bit of extortion by pointing out that if the Bolts don’t join them, they’ll reveal the Bolts’ whereabouts to all the other *really* dangerous people they’d been ticking off since the series began, like HYDRA and SHIELD (and… umm… the Mad Thinker and Wrecking Crew); and if Snitches get Stitches, just imagine what you get from betraying people with an unlimited killer robot budget.

All of which makes the Bolts go “Oh… that’s… a good deal you’re offering, Ms. Cowl”

NEXT TIME: Can’t spell “Geez, I’ll Draw” without WIZARD
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
Cyclone really is the “We Have A Cartoonishly French Supervillain At Home” of the Marvel Universe

Also the “We have a spinny windy guy at home” come to think of it
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
There's a cute little one shot story where it turns out Batroc being extremely French is performative (he is French but not cartoonists so in his daily life) and part of what he does; get hired to distract from other crimes and plots by occupying the superheroes with dumb fights.
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
clean.jpg


We get a brand new villain, the Bolts appreciating Spider-Man publicity, an open-ended ultimatum, a sincere impression that nobody really *wanted* to write this story AND the opportunity to teach a young fan the true meaning “Comics Will Break Your Heart” in Heat and Pressure!

Also, if I had my druthers, I would have used “Burning Man ‘98” as the preview blurb for the last update. Oh well.

Anyway, turns out that despite everyone mulling it over pretty intensely last issue, the Bolts have little interest in renouncing their less-overtly-evil ways and joining the Masters, despite the temptation that the Crimson Cowl laid out at the end of the last issue; they’ve been spending the last few weeks performing random acts of Justice all around Wyoming, foiling bank-robberies tracking down missing kitties and stopping runaway cars; all the basic low-level hero work usually relegated to side-quests in comic-themed video games, all in the pursuit of slowly rebuilding their shattered reputation. That and the fact that them fighting a rampaging Hulk robot and also Graviton is still in the news cycle.

Unfortunately, they still live in the Marvel Universe, and have a lifetime of evil deeds to live up to, and the court of public opinion still considers them to be threats and menaces Regardless of how many good deeds they do.

It gives Abner a newfound appreciation for everything Spider-Man has to put up with over the years and now he feels a sense of kinship with the guy who beat him up and tied him to light-poles every other month, which delighted me. I was even more delighted to see that the Bolts taped a piece of looseleaf saying “MISSION MONITOR” to the side of the crappy TV their hideout cottage was furnished with. Have to assume that was Jolts idea.

Anyway, the Bolts aren’t nearly as used to the idea of being constantly denigrated by the media despite their many good deeds as Spider-Man is (none of them are nearly as quippy for one thing), and Mimi suggests considering the Cowls offer; it’s not like their plan to sway public opinion back to their side is working, everyone already assumes they’re villains, and this way they’d at least get paid.

It sure would be a good time to have some kind of objective land in their lap that’s perfectly suited for their skill sets, well outside conventional means to solve, and is impossible to spin in a negative light.

Luckily that happens!

So overtly that none of the Bolts are willing to give it any credence to this not being a poorly conceived prank.

Some teens barge into the Bolts secret hideout, asking for help. Turns out the secret hideout cabin was a popular make out place for horned up local teens before the Bolts moved in, and now they have to monitor the place closely to make sure it’s empty before breaking in and rounding second base with one another; and in so doing they discovered it was the Thunderbolts new hideout.

Also they had a very extravagant fight against a windy Frenchman last issue so that didn’t help maintain the secret very well.

Anyway, turns out the teens have problems far more pressing that not being as free with licky-style kisses than they’d like; their town was secretly taken over by The Imperial Force of America and their muscle; Charcoal the Burning Man

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You may, reasonably, be asking “Who?” (The Bolts certainly did), and if you’re particularly savvy, you might think “ah, they were probably from some old Avengers story form the 70s that Kurt latched on to”.

And for once, that isn’t the case; wholly original characters. Just not ones Kurt had made himself. Seems that Wizard Magazine had a contest to create a villain for an upcoming issue of Thunderbolts, and Charcoal was the winner(s) Wallace and Kroja Frost. Unfortunately, Wizard kind of… made a bit of a botched job of the legalities of the contest and while Charcoal DID INDEED show up as a new villain in Marvel comics… that’s about all they did. Legal ownership of the character is murky to this day, and was ultimately killed off because the legal confusion and to avoid having to pay the creators for use of their IP.

Also, the Frosts didn’t get any of the other prizes promised to them. They get mentioned in this issues credits, that’s about it.

As for the man himself, he’s Sandman except he can also set himself on fire, and looks cool.

The Imperial Forces of America are… umm… just a bunch of crappy guys. Kind of look like a cross between HYDRA and AIM and want America to be Great Again. You know the type. Much more comfortable wearing masks in public though, I’ll give them that.

ANYHOO, the Bolts… don’t want to get involved with this; for one thing, nobody has heard anything about small towns in Wyoming being taken over by a fascist militia and a guy made of flaming rocks, which you would think would make the rounds even on a busy news day, and also nobody has ever heard of “The Imperial Forces”, and also the news comes from self-confessed troublemaking teens eager for the Bolts to leave their cabin so that their respective petting can go from light to heavy. But, well… Jolts been taking the teams backslide into evil pretty hard and figure that she needs a morale boost as much as anyone, so they get in the car and head on down to ol’ Burton Canyon to see what’s up.

Jolt doesn’t stop to wonder where they got the car, seeing as they didn’t have one previously until they arrive, and her realizing that, yup, they stole a car is priceless.

Anyway, despite (or thanks to) the extremely half-assed efforts by the Burton Canyon police to keep people away from the town, the Bolts arrive, and find the entire place… largely demolished and on fire, and all the citizens warded away in secret underground bunkers, and the town is patrolled by Charcoal himself;

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They’re unimpressed by the flaming jabroni and also quickly arrested with the rest of the town.

Luckily, being arrested was the Bolts’ plan, as Moonstone wasn’t among them when they got captured, having gone Intangible and busying herself scouting around the rest of the town, and sneaking the Bolts all their gear in prison so they can break out, with advance knowledge of how to best liberate the town.

Which they do, largely off panel, because the Imperial Forces are a friggin’ joke of an evil organization.

They get into a fight with Charcoal, and absolutely wreck him (Songbird encases him in a sphere, which Atlas then spikes into the ground, which is delightful; Bagley draws a fun fight scene), and just as the fight reaches its climax, and the Bolts are to be celebrated as *definite* heroes for saving the town from clear villains… Victory is snatched from them;

It turns out that the Masters of Evil have been watching them and are not pleased with their behaviour; they’d agreed to a temporary truce with the Bolts while they considered their offer and joined up with Team bad guy once again, but only to consider the practicality of joining with the bad guys; fighting crime and restoring their tarnished reputation is WAY outside the parameters set, and they only allowed it to go on as long as it did because their efforts up until now were clearly not accomplishing anything; so they’ve reappeared to make their ultimatum much clearer;

Either Become a Master of Evil or Die. No third option.

Jolt despairs at this because the team was finally regaining its morale after the last few issues and was back to enjoying being good guys, and this would definitely squelch any chance of redemption in them.
….except

As it turns out a team of (recently reformed) supervillains *really* don’t take orders well, especially dire ultimatums, and their response to this threat is “Oh SCREW THAT!” And have now moved their goal-post from “restore tarnished reputation” to “stop the Masters of Evil“.

NOW we’re cooking.

Next Time: A Wyoming Dust-Up
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
clean.jpg


We’ve got dissent in the ranks, dissent in a separate set of ranks, some actual forethought, and wonderful greeting, and a tragic farewell in the first part of the three-part close out to year 2 of Thunderbolts: Decisions: Part 1: Turning Point

And you know this is going to be a significant storyline because instead of a page of text, or a a handful of narration boxes summarizing the last issue, we get multiple pages recapping the story post Zemos conquest of the Earth, and a full page spread showing the present team dynamics as the Bolts head off to confront the Masters of Evil and give them a sound thrashing;

Moonstone is in crisis mode because her attempts to lead the team have been a succession of failures and she is desperate for a win so people won’t start questioning her authority.

Atlas is tired of being completely indecisive and wants to be the teams backbone as well as it’s muscle

Mach is concerned that his technical expertise really isn’t as good as he’d always assumed it was because his armor is falling apart on him.

Jolt is worried that the Bolts are going after the Masters for petty reasons like revenge instead of
Anything altruistic

Songbird is *really* steamed that the Madters stopped her from killing Charcoal last issue because AINT NOBODY taking a win from friggin’ Screaming Mimi

I liked Songbird from the jump by merit of thinking she had a cool costume and power-set, but I really like her transition into being the member of the team who is constantly about two seconds from murdering absolutely every single person in her line of sight.

Anyway, it seems that when the Masters showed up at the end of the last issue to issue their ultimatum, they also wound up letting it slip where they were going to be (they are consummate supervillains, and couldn’t help but say a weak, incriminating pun when they were leaving), and the Bolts arrive at the federal mint just as the Masters are wrapping up their theft of it.

Gotta say; robbing the Mint is… kind of adorably quaint villainy; especially for the 90s. The Bolts already dealt with world conquest via Bio-Modem, Nazi Monster Science and Graviton; robbing a bank is… kind of low grade. Even if it’s an important bank.

Anyway, the Bolts are, overall, batting about .500 when it comes to dealing with the Masters, but they went in with an actual solid plan this time (not one concocted by Moonstone), and not only hold their own, but wind up winning pretty decisively; Jolt disables the tech-based Masters using her bio-electricity and speed, Atlas and Moonstone provide muscle picking appropriate targets (Cyclone isn’t nearly strong enough to hurt Atlas, and Man-Killer doesn’t like to attack women, so Moonstone can handle her easily), and while Songbirds tech is based on Klaw, he can’t handle her new killer instinct and winds up getting dissolved by her.

How that happens isn’t explained, but it looks cool.

Anyway, it’s a pretty clear and decisive win for the Thunderbolts, but it’s less than halfway through the first issue of a three parter so… naturally things go bad. And, naturally, it’s because of Moonstone.

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Moonstone, naturally, sees the impending victory of her team over the forces of evil as a perfect opportunity to claim it as a victory for just herself, and starts shouting commands at the rest of her team in order to “lead them to victory” so she can take credit for it all herself.

Which really just winds up distracting everyone so severely that the Masters can take advantage of the resulting confusion and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat; knocking out the Bolts and then trapping them in sonic MURDER COCOONS by Klaw, who is about to just stab the absolute hell out of them with sound-knives until the Bolts cease being a problem.

Moonstone, you friggin’ idiot.

Luckily, just before Klaw can start getting Loud and Stabby, the day is saved twice over; for one thing, the Bolts aren’t dummies and they called the cops BEFORE they went off to fight the Masters, and they wound up showing up just before the executions could start up. And while the Masters are, in general, more than a match for even the most over-militarized police force, they’re kind of worn out from the whupping they just received, and the murder of an entire police force is more of an escalation than they’re presently ready for.

And the second thing that saves the day comes as a genuine surprise to absolutely everybody.

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The Dreadknight shows up, kicking down a wall and saving the Thunderbolts!

Wha?

Honestly, I don’t know either…

Dreadknight is an obscure Iron Man villain (this is a Kurt Busiek book, of course it’s an obscure character) who once worked with Dr. Doom, but did something to tick off Victor (not difficult), and in response, Victor magically fused a suit of demonic-looking armor to his body. Dreadknight then took on a bunch of jobs that fall under the heading of “general evil” on the grounds that few people are willing to give suits of demonic armour non-evil related jobs. He should not be confused with Black Knight who ALSO has a suit of demonic armour and a cursed sword that gravitates towards evil. And also that exact same flying motor-cycle. And he usually speaks all stiff and formal like Dreadknight is here.

Different hat, for one thing.

Anyway, this bank robbery has clearly gone sideways so the Cowl calls a retreat via Klaws sonic abilities (noisy floating sphere, in this case), which Klaw takes poorly and is leads him to start questioning Cowls leadership status; blaming her for the fact that this low-level villainy job went so badly.

And the Thunderbolts (with Dreadknight, who DID just save their bacon) figure they should also take off since they DID just invite cops to watch them visit the federal mint, which is currently in shambles and all the guards inside are knocked out/dead and there’s nobody around who can corroborate any story about them NOT perpetrating either of those deeds.

And then we get a couple of cut-away scenes while the Bolts scramoose; TV Reporter Gayle Rogers is dedicated to keeping the Thunderbolts exploits in the news; by having a special guest on her news show asking if it’s *really possible* that supervillains could reform (he says “No” despite pointing out that people like Black Widow, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Namor, Quicksilver and sometimes Magneto did).

And we also get Dreadknight recapping his origin to the rest of the team, which is helpful for the readers because, as I said, Dreadknight is NOT well known outside of Kurt Busieks brain. However, Jolt keeps pestering him with questions and pointing out that Dreadknight doesn’t even seem to be able to keep his own origin straight, except for the broad-strokes; and seems to be conflating himself with Black Knight.

And then we cut back to the jungles of Mexico, where we catch up with Techno and Zemo for the last time; it seems they both survived the destruction of Zemos secret fortress, and have spent the last few weeks… umm… with Techno… turning into a big spider-throne and giving Zemo a piggy-back ride through the forests;

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Doing that is the difference between being a good friend and a dear friend.

Anyway, this is effectively their farewell from the book; Zemo realizes that his whole Thunderbolts plan faile, and he doesn’t even care enough about getting revenge on them to dwell on it any longer, and if Crimson Cowl wants to usurp the name of the Masters of Evil, what of it? He’s not using the team, so let her have it. He’s just going to let bygones be bygones. Which makes him possibly the most emotionally stable supervillain in the history of comics.

Anyway, he’s decided to just focus all his attention on avenging his nazi dads death on Captain America, who was standing nearby when it happened. Really get back to basics on what it means to be Zemo.

Which Tom Brevoort helpfully says we can look forward to in the upcoming Captain America/Citizen V one-shot!

And Techno just… doesn’t care that much for Zemos company so he’s just going to leave.

And back at the Thunderbolts secret base/hunting cabin/teen make-out spot, we get another team falling-out; albeit one with far fewer demands of revenge; as everyone finally realizes that Moonstone is just… just the absolute worst leader any of them have ever had. And Atlas considers a good leader to be whoever is yelling at him presently, so the bar is not high.

Unfortunately, they’re light on options for assistant managers right at the moment; Mach has lead a couple of small time gangs in the past, but really doesn’t have the temperament for organization, Atlas couldn’t command a stuffed dog to stay still, Songbird doesn’t have a lot of room for strategy beyond “KILL THEM” and Jolt… is fifteen years old (they admit that if she was not 15 years old, she would be the easy pick for team leader), so Moonstone gets to keep leading the team by default…

Except that Dreadknight perks up to offer an alternate suggestion as he has a lot of experience both with reforming supervillains and also leading superhero teams, taking off his mask and revealing himself to be The Purple Arrow himself; Hawkeye!

Oh… umm…

Huh?

NEXT TIME: Birderer
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
clean.jpg


We've got some tragic backstory, a lot of enthusiastic non-violence, and someone overjoyed to be back in their wheelhouse with Decisions: Part 2: Trust.

Also, man, I love all those extra blurbs on that cover.

Anyway, the last issue ended with the Dreadknight (who was introduced, like, five pages earlier) dramatically unmasking himself as perrenial Avenger Hawkeye, and then saying he should be leader, and this one opens, on page one, with all of the Thunderbolts immediately attacking him.

To be fair, a lot of that is force of habit; most of the Bolts have a long history of getting shot at by him, or punching him in the face a bunch. And also he startled them, and the bolts are pretty sure the Avengers still want to toss them in jail on general principle.

Hawkeye doesn't take it personally, and, despite his panicked inner monologue, has a long history of beating the individual members of the Bolts when they're not quite as startled and uncoordinated, so he's easily able to knock them all out without breaking a sweat (our heroes); occasionally by exploiting weaknesses the members have that hadn't been previously established.

After knocking out, burying, or tossing into a tree, the respective members of the Thunderbolts without receiving so much as a bruise in response, Hawkeye has an opportunity to explain why, exactly, he went through the process of disguising himself as Dreadknight in order to find the Thunderbolts and then give some pretty passive-aggressive notes while proceeding to embarrass but not injure them.

Turns out that ol' Clint was a bit more sympathetic to the Thunderbolts' plight than most of the rest of America; he'd been in the same situation they had (more or less) as he was a criminal marksman manipulated by the (then evil) Black Widow into committing cold-war style treason, but then given a membership to the Avengers because he felt bad about it, and then proceeded to be the teams No Super Powers guy ever since. So he went to the... umm... Supreme Court, I guess (Top Officials is how they're identified), and asked to be given the chance to prove that the Thunderbolts have been rehabilitated, and act as their Parole Officer. Furthermore; the Thunderbolts clearly need a better team leader on the grounds that Moonstone really sucks at it, and Hawkeye has enough experience both leading superhero teams and enough legitimacy with the public that he can get around their terrible reputation.

Plus; Kurt Busiek is writing Avengers right now, and that team has *more* than enough superheroes to make up for his absence.

And for the most parts, the Bolts accept this; Atlas and Mach for the reasons Hawkeye laid out, Moonstone because Clint has a reputation of being easy to manipulate and it frees her from the burden of responsibility, and Jolt because "Omigodomigodomigodomigod I'M TALKING TO A REAL AVENGER!"

The only holdout being Songbird, who points out that Hawkeye spent most of his professional career beating them up and hauling them to jail, and now wants to watch them under threat of beating them up and throwing them to jail if they don't live up to his standards and also being a good guy SUCK and she wants to just WRECK STUFF, so she flies off in a huff, and Mach runs after her, because... umm... his girlfriend is having a *day*.

As it happens, while she's still, literally, incandescent with rage, Melissa flies over a town that also houses a National Guard base, which sees the Screaming, known supervillain who recently took over the planet and is known for the highest level of collateral damage of the team, and is also screaming and glowing bright enough to turn night into day and figures "Well... better shoot that down". Which suits Songbird fine because she has no lack of stress to work through; and flattening an entire regiment of soldiers does a better job calming her down than squeezing a ball full of cornstarch.

Fortunately for the Industrial Military Complex, (I guess?) Mach catches up to her before she can commence to squishing a bunch of soldiers with impervious sound-constructs and tries to talk her down. ANd also tackles her to throw off her aim before she can commence to a-murderin'. This works and distracts her enough from her impending rampage and causes her to reevaluate her present goals to defending herself and Mach from the armies counter-attack, and also Machs already pretty severely damaged armor finally gives up and ceases working; forcing Songbird to take him down to an abandoned warehouse that she can defend with Sonic Armor a lot more effectively while they try to figure out how to get rescued, and they spend their down-time with Songbird giving a rundown on her entire backstory; some of which was briefly touched on previously;

Melissa Gold had a mother (Mimi) who was hauled off to jail, her dad (who already sucked) took to Heavy Drinking and Punching as a means to cope with being a single dad, so Mel ran away at a young age and started calling herself Mimi, both to honor her mother (she assumed her mom was framed for her crimes at the time, and idolized her) and to act as a kind of psychological buffer and coping mechanism because it turns out that The Mean Streets are kind of rough on her otherwise; whatever Melissa couldn't handle, Mimi could. Ironically, she herself eventually wound up in jail after being framed for high end robberies, and her cell-mate was the low-level supervillain Poundcakes, who was looking to start an all-female wrestling themed villain team called The Grapplers. Mimi signed up with them, as Screaming Mimi, a name which later made a lot more sense when she got a bionic larynx that gave her super-screamy powers, but the team later disbanded. Later she teamed up with Angmar the Screamer, who also had super-screamy powers on merit of the fact that they had a lot in common (decibel levels, mainly), Angmar died for a while and that lead Mimi to figure "Well, every time I love someone, they wind up abandoning me, so I shouldn't love anything", which lead her to greater levels of evil.

Then she signed up with the Thunderbolts, and you can read the rest of this thread for how her life went since then. Handy recap for anyone just coming in because of all that praise Wizard was heaping on to the book from the cover, though.

Anyway, Songbird explains that the reason she's gone back to the Mimi persona recently was because the Thunderbolts were clearly dissolving, because she enjoyed them and Mach in particular, so she kind of went back to default settings (granted; this started long before that during that Elements of Doom story, where she wound up destroying a couple of them in a panic, and realized that she was much more self sufficient than she suspected), and Mach comforts her saying that he has no intention of leaving her, and the Bolts have a chance at actual legitimacy with Hawkeye around and maybe loving things doesn't mean she will inevitably lose them.

Which is very sweet, if not for the fact that the army is presently shooting a lot of rockets at them. so some degree of separation seems pretty likely.

Luckily, while the flying and missiles part of his armor is busted; the radio still works, and he's able to get a hold of the rest of the Bolts, who at first figure "Okay, we can take out ONE measly base of National Guard guys." and Hawkeye points out that constantly getting into fights against the US Military and every superhero and law enforcement agency they lock eyes with is a big part of why, exactly, they have such a bad reputation, and suggests an alternate plan that's much less likely to result in damage to public property; having the rest of the team start rough-housing and wrecking abandoned buildings on the opposite side of town, which would make the guard leave to go deal with the much more immediate threat, and thus letting Songbird and Mach escape.

This plan works, and later the team all reconvenes at their secret teen-makeout base, where they decide to make it official that Hawkeye is now going to be the team leader, since he has the backing of the supreme court to exonerate them and everything...

...and we get a flashback that shows that Clint was kiiiiinda fudging the truth a little bit on that; the Top Officials he was talking to explicitly told him they would NOT do that, the Thunderbolts are still wanted fugitives, and if anyone catches Hawkeye associating with known felons on that scale, he'd have his Avengers status revoked and he'd be tried for their crimes as a collaborator.

Oh, Hawkeye, you keep getting yourself into these pickles.

Also; Hawkeyes first action as leader is to point out that the team definitely has to make a very public showing of how much they intend to be reformed if anyone is going to take their status as Actual Good Guys remotely seriously; and while the law is murky on Acts of Supervillainy, it's pretty cut on dry on acts of regular VIllainy, such as grand-theft and murder, and the only member of the team that is known to have commited both of those crimes is Mach-1, so he has to turn himself into the police to pay for his crimes.

Hey, that's kind of going directly against what he and Songbird were talking about earlier! Wow! What a coincidence!

Meanwhile; TV Reporter Gayle Rogers tracks down Dallas Roidan (remember her? The New York Mayors aide who was a scape-goat that took all the blame when the Bolts were outed as villains and lost her job?), to ask what she thinks of the recent attempts by the Thunderbolts to redeem themselves in the public eyes; and Dallas tells her in no uncertain terms that the Thunderbolts have ruined her life and ambitions and wishes they were dead before slamming the door in her face, and Gayle figures she can use that to sow further uncertainty in the public eye about where the Thunderbotls lay on the moral spectrum.

Well, surely nothing about this interaction is relevant.

NEXT TIME: Two Birds and a Lion
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
1000


We’ve got some (very) long overdue comeuppance, rookie mistakes from the new guy, and lots of punches in this; Decisions: Part 3: Taking a Stand

Also, really not sure why this is a three part arc, because there are no more or fewer decisions than in any other issue of this run, and there is no real central story they’re built around beyond “And now Hawkeye is here as well”.

Anyhoo; if you were disappointed that the previous issue was light on Mike Bagley Fight Scenes in favour of Tragic Expanded Backstory Recollection; fewr not because this one is basically a 22 page boxing match.

We kick off with a flashback to the 1980s (as per publication date, “several years ago” by comic book time), specifically to the Under Siege arc of Avengers; which is generally considered to be one of the better Avengers stories pre-Busiek taking over the book; Baron Zemo did what he does best and assembled a carefully selected team of Masters of Evil and had them go ham on the Avengers base; a plan that worked incredibly well as Zemo went with a *massive* army of supervillains this time, each hand picked, and established a careful plan to use their abilities in tandem to bring down each Avenger in turn.

Definitely one of the high points in Helmuts career; been chasing that high ever since.

Anyway, one part of that plan involved getting every guy who scored at least a 9/10 on a Marvel Trading Card for strength to gang up on a very drunk Hercules and beating the absolute hell out of him; and one member of that group, and the one who did the most damage, nearly killed Herc and left him with crippling CTE injuries, was Goliath, who is now on the Thunderbolts as Atlas.

This will all become relevant backstory in a page or two; first off we have to deal with the fall-out from Hawkeyes first major decision as the team-leader of the Bolts; that Mach should go to jail because of the murder he definitely did commit (a criminal doctor he killed in order to gain respect from other villains back in the brief minute he was the leader of the Sinister Six, Mach always had a thing with his low self-esteem); and the rest of the Bolts immediately point out the faults with Hawkeyes decision; like how the rest of the team has LOTS of other crimes to their name, so why single out Mach for that one, that it’s the 1990s so there are LOTS of superheroes who killed people, and also Moonstone is a straight up war-criminal on the planet Kosmos, which is consequently going to declare war on Earth (Songbird is shut up before she can reveal any of that part since the rest of the team still isn’t aware of that).

Clints responses are;
1. Technically “Attempted World Conquest” isn’t a crime
2. None of them are Avengers, and The Punisher really isn’t trying to win public approval
3. Sorry, what was that you were about to say?

Anyway, this is a lot for Mach to process so he flies off to be by himself and think things through, and everyone else is standing around in shock, because Hawkeye has a point, even if they don’t like it (and it’s easy to dispute and poke holes into).

Yeah, it’s a pretty grim situation all around; be a great time for a screaming (literal) Party God to punch down a wall screaming revenge;

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Oh, there we go!

Herc is perhaps best described as Party Thor; while the Odinson is generally pretty serious all the time and shouting how he is a warrior born and giving a rousing speech at least twice an issue in his every appearance, Herc is content to show up, drink an entire bar under the table and then start flexing and bragging about how strong he is. He likes Thor because that’s the only person he knows who can match him for strength and so he can go all out fighting him, Thor hates him because his personality is a bit intense for… basically everyone. Recently he quit drinking and started dating Marvel Boy, he’s a lot happier now.

While he hasn’t really shown up in the MCU yet not counting a mid-credits scene, his presence is still felt as Chris Hemsworth is basically playing this guy in all the movies; and the Taika movies really play that aspect up.

Anyway, rowdy Prince of Power just knocked down the Thunderbolts‘ wall and punched Atlas through the opposite wall; and the team has mixed feelings about this;

”Oh crap, I forgot Herc probably has a real problem with Atlas”
”Oh Boy! Another Avenger! Oh No! It’s the real strong one with no impulse control!”
”Why do we even bother fixing this friggin’ cabin?”
”Oh good, Hercules is the easiest to manipulate person in the world”
”Ow! I was just punched very hard”

See if you can match which thought to which character. I like providing homework assignments to comic recap threads!

Anyway, most of the rest of the issue is the Thunderbolts then trying to beat the crap out of Hercules, and failing, because Herc is as strong as Thor, hAlf as patient, and twice as angry; and while Mark Bagley Fight Scenes are always a treat; especially when it’s everyone tagging in to fight someone as absurdly powerful as Herc, this one… kind of feels half-baked. It’s *fine*, but considering some of the real highlights of this series, “fine” isn’t something to brag about.

Anyway, as expected, everyone punching and shooting noisy holograms at him doesn’t do a lick of good. Eventually, Atlas recovers from the severe punch he received in lieu of a handshake and confronts Hercules directly, apologizing for… the severe brain damage he gave Herc last time they met, and explaining that he himself was after having been driven mad by Kosmosians torture science and full of unfiltered Pym Particles at the time they last fought so he wasn’t in control of his faculties.

Herc doesn’t necessarily accept this apology (he *really* did not enjoy having cranial trauma) but is willing to stop attacking the Bolts if he’s allowed to whup the crap out of Atlas just as bad as Atlas once whupped him, and Erik agrees on the grounds that his body is made of Ionic Energy now, so it’s not like he can actually be injured.

Unfortunately, this is just as Mach returns from his walk, having decided that yes, he WILL turn himself in for the crime of murdering a known felon, on the grounds that accepting responsibility for (this one) past misdeed would imply that the rest of the Thunderbolts are reformed. And then he see’s a very angry God of Strength beating the absolute hell out of his good friend, and decides to shoot some missiles at Herc without knowing the context for anything.

To his credit; that’s friendship, right there. Unfortunately, Herc sees it as Atlas trying to play dirty by having one of his criminal buddies ambush him with missiles, and any hope that this fight was going to resolve peacefully with Hercules just beating on Atlas like a sandbag is quickly squashed.

And speaking of things being squashed, the Thunderbolts are about to be because Herc picks up a very large rock to drop on top of them.

At this point, Hawkeye decides to get a bit more involved with leading, rather than yelling “Use your [superpowers]” at his team mates And “Watch out, he’s strong!”

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So that gets resolved, but, as this is Thunderbolts, it’s not a clear victory so much as it’s a “This situation is not bothering us any more at this moment, but we definitely just made everything worse” kind of ending, as Herc… likes talking about his adventures, and nobody is supposed to know that Hawkeye is with the Bolts.

Among the people who aren’t supposed to know that Hawkeye isn’t supposed to be hanging with the Thunderbolts is the mass media, and Gayle Rogers just got handed some camera footage from the previous issue, showing Hawkeye saving Mach and Songbird from the army.

Oh Hawkeye, you’ve been on the job for a day and your every attempt at subterfuge immediately crumbled.

NEXT TIME: AVENGERS! DISSEMBLE!
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
clean.jpg


“Well wait one gosh darn second, Octo” I hear you say, “That masthead says Avengers: Earths Mightiest Heroes, and not Thunderbolts: Marvels Most Wanted, did you read the wrong comic? I WANT MY MONEY BACK!”

And you’re right to make that demand, I’ve already mailed the cheques.

But more to the point, this issue of Avengers (Old Entanglements) is the direct continuation of the last issue of Thunderbolts (where the Bolts’ secret hideout/teen make-out cabin) was completely leveled by Hercules and also Hawkeyes involvement with the team was leaked to the public.

It’s also a direct continuation of the previous issue of Avengers, but I’ve only read, like, two issues of the Busiek run there so I’m less invested with that storyline, but this ain’t Kurt’s first rodeo and he’s good at getting you up to speed, and besides this is much more of a Thunderbolts story featuring the Avengers, than an Avengers story featuring the Bolts.

Also, while George Perez is one of my all time Favorite illustrators, he isn’t really able to match the Saturday Morning Cartoon aesthetic I love about Bagleys art, so it looks… kind of off.

Anyhoo; we get a brief recap on the recent important bits of Thunderbolts courtesy of some news coverage, which mainly exists to let people who’d been reading this book and not that one, know what their deal is; and most concerningly, that longtime Avenger Hawkeye has apparently joined the team.

News which comes to a pretty big surprise to comparably long time Avengers, Captain America and Hank Pym. Actually let’s go over the full team because it’s not a… super conventional Avengers line-up;

Captain America (Super Soldier, Living Legend, Americas Ass)
Scarlet Witch (Mistress of Chaos, Sometimes Mutant, Robot-smoocher)
Wonder Man (Invulnerable D-List Actor, Loves being Alive)
Vision (technically Wondermans brother, Nice Robot Son of Killer Robot Dad, Is Very Sad)
Firestar (Amazing Friend, Living Microwave, Too Radioactive)
Justice (I 'unno, some kinda cape guy? Friends with Firestar?)
Hank Pym (terrible)

Thor and Iron Man are also technically on the team at the moment but they’re Hecking off in Asgard and Recuperating From Many Broken Bones at the moment so they don’t show up much or at all on this story.

Anyway, we’ve got a montage of the Avengers showing off where they each are on their personal character arcs, while Cap and Hank both try to call up Hawkeye on the phone to ask him “Hey! What the hell, man?”

Firestar needs to wear a specially modified undersuit to maintain her powers which are otherwise killing her
Justice feels like he really doesn’t warrant being on the same team as Captain America (I feel the same way)
And Wonderman, Vision and Wanda are presently entangled in the weirdest love-triangle in the history of comic books because she used to be married to Vision, before he had his personality sucked out, and now he has it back, but she’s dating Wonderman who is delighted to be alive again, and shares the same brainwaves as Vision so it’s *basically* like her dating her old boyfriend, by merit of encephalogram.

God I love Comic Books.

Wonderman, incidentally does not realize he’s involved in a love triangle at all because he’s just so giddy to be revived after the last time he was killed (it happens to him a lot, and he does not like being dead)

Anyway, the absolutely baffling array of interpersonal romance is cut short, when Hawkeye… does the superhero communicator equivalent of butt-dialling the Avengers Mansion, and reveals his location to the team;

As you might have guessed, he’s at the Dominus Base in Arizona.

What’s a Dominus Base you may well be asking?

Well, you probably are asking because the Thunderbolts have no friggin' idea themselves, including Jolt who is basically a living Marvel Universe Guidebook. Luckily, being one of the people involved with the Dominus storyline, Hawkeye is able to tell her.

And I swear you can just hear Kurt Busieks giddiness at being able to bring Dominus Base back for the sake of a one-off crossover story; if there’s any doubt that Kurt is absolutely the kind of comic nerd who just LOVES being able to bring up weird ephemera this would lay it to rest.

The short version is that the Dominus was a sentient alien computer created by a race called The Arcane, who sought to, well, dominate the Earth. Or annihilate it if it proved undominatable. It mainly tried to do this with its avatar, the long forgotten silver age villain Lucifer (no relation to any other Lucifer), whom Hawkeye identified as "a turniphead". Eventually, long after the last time it tried, the West Coast Avengers found Dominus and destroyed its central computer system just as it was gearing up to trying conquering/destroying the planet again. And then they just left a giant techno-base buried underground in Arizona because all the cool alien tech inside it was destroyed; so it was just a fancy underground warehouse.

The "big fancy hidden technobase" being the aspect that's particularly important here; since the Thunderbolts actual hideout was completely destroyed in the last issue; to the lament of all the horny teens in Wyoming. The Dominus Base needed all kinds of surveillance equipment to aid in its conquest of Earth, and it had to be livable for Dominus' avatars and host-bodies, so Hawkeye figures it's the perfect place to set up as a new headquarters for the Bolts.

So the Bolts set about trying to find an entrance way into the base, mainly by exploding large chunks of the walls, while having a quick montage of their thoughts and feelings for readers of the Avengers who haven't been following the T-Bolts. And no sooner do we get through them all, than a Quinjet appears out of nowhere and blows up one of Songbirds constructs as she tries busting into the base.

Yep, we have a superhero meeting, and that means Everyone Has To Fight. Technically, this is the second time the Bolts and Avengers have met, but the last time the Avengers were being mind-controlled, so that doesn't count.

Anyway, it's a big ol' smack-down, and it's a really good one. Not quite as hyper-kinetic as a Bagley fight scene, but there's some real neat stuff with panel layouts that I really should have taken the time to screen-cap, and it gives lots of chances for everyone on each team to show off exactly what they can do.

Except for Hawkeye, who isn't contributing to the fight, and Scarlet Witch, who SHOULD have been able to shut down the Thunderbolts immediately with her Chaos Magic, if she felt so inclined. She doesn't feel inclined, however, because what little magic she was spending on the fight was spent trying to figure out who the actual villain is using... I guess a Detect Good and Evil spell, and realizing that NOBODY on either team is actually being mind-controlled into violent or criminal acts; Hawkeye is on the Thunderbolts of his own free-will and the Bolts were just investigating a disused Evil Techno Base for benign purposes.

So she and Hawkeye call a time-out on the superhero fight and explain things a bit; and Hawkeye explains why, exactly, he's signed up with the Bolts (because the Avengers gave him a chance when HE had a criminal background); and calls out Cap for doubting him by saying his objections are "BUSHWAH".

Which is a hilarious thing to yell during a screaming match.

Anyway, after yelling BUSHWAH, tempers cool a bit, and both teams begrudgingly agree to stop fighting. And we're only midway through an extra long comic, so this would be about the ideal time for both groups to come together to fight a common foe.

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Oh, yes, that will do nicely.

As it turns out, the Dominus Base wasn't just an abandoned techno base buried in the ground; it was a Transformer; and the force of the battle between the Thunderbolts and Avengers knocked a few pieces of it back into place; reactivating its main computer and causing it to assume its true form; the enormous robot Dominex

Everyone spends a moment wondering if they were mispronouncing its name as "Dominus" all along, or if this is a new guy, before Dominex makes his intentions a bit clear by blasting everyone with eyeball lasers; and announcing that since the Dominus was created to Conquer or Destroy the Earth, and since the Dominus was blown up and no aliens currently rule the Earth, it had it was time to get crackin' on Plan B; to march over to the thinnest point on the Earths Crust, and overload its power-core, resulting in an explosion so massive it will split the Earth asunder and kill every living thing on it.

Naturally, neither team is a fan of this plan, so they fly off to try to stop the Dominex before it can reach the fracture point and explode. As does the US air force, as a mile-tall robot screaming its intention to crack the planet open like an egg tends to attract attention. The Avengers are late getting there, as they took longer to recover from Dominex' eye-beams (Jolt was immune and revived her own team quickly, not realizing that Vision and Scarlet Witch are probably better choices for this kind of mission than Hawkeye is).

So now we got everyone fighting Dominex, and it's a George Perez comic where a whole lot of people is fighting One Big Guy, so of course, it's amazing to behold; but ultimately, the good guys are losing; Dominex has a forcefield that keeps anyone from so much as scratching it, and when the Bolts get inside it by hopping into one of the gaps in its armor they made trying to get into the Base BEFORE it was a big robot, they find that it can self-repair and undo any damage they deal to its interior.

The Bolts manage to delay Dominex by having Moonstone use her ability to change the structure of her costume (which IS one of her powers, as situational as it is) and slaps on one of the old helmets used by Dominus' avatars in order to try to convince Dominex that the Conquer Earth plan is still on-going so breaking the planet apart is premature; and relying on the fact that a mile-tall alien robot made out of a building would probably have a hard time telling one human apart from another so it would probably not notice that Dominus has a has a different face, voice and gender than it did previously.

Luckily, that is exactly the case; the Dominex doesn't *stop* but it does slow down enough for Mach to use his armor computer system to upload Dominexs schematics to Vision and Hank Pym outside (and Tony Stark, in his hospital bed, with many, many broken bones) and help the team track down Dominexs central core and destroy it before it can start repairing itself, or figure out that a lithe blond lady is not a stocky, brown haired man and resume trying to blow up the Earth.

Dominex shuts down, permanently this time (as per Marvel Fandom Wiki, this was its first and last appearance), and the Avengers are forced to admit that, yes, despite their lifetime of evil up until recently, the Bolts really DO seem to have genuinely turned a leaf and are acting like good guys. But they're not completely convinced, and remind Hawkeye that if Clint is a member of that team and they DO revert to their criminal ways, it implicates the Avengers as well.

And Hawkeye solves that problem by officially quitting the Avengers so he can be a Thunderbolt full time.

Cap says "Well... I guess... that addresses my concerns?" and both teams head off into the sunset. Except the Thunderbolts are still homeless because their prospective housing was once again completely annihilated because of superhero shenanigans.

NEXT TIME: Wizard Magazine Would, Once Again, Like to Remind You They Love This Comic
 
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Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
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Well, the next issue was a special promo included in Wizard Magazine, and while it’s a good intro to the series, it’s also tremendously slight. So I’ll cover the next real issue as well.

Anyhoo, as I’m sure the people reading this thread recall, besides pricing guides, creator interviews and spurious casting decisions, Wizard would also frequently offer free promotional comics; generally light-hearted side stories. Like a FCBD issue, except you had to buy a magazine to read them.

I’m not saying that the rise of Free Comic Book Day lead to the dissolution of Wizard but… nobody is going to stop me if I do.

Anyway, A Rare Night Off is one of those issues, and given the just enormous amount of love Wizard has for Thunderbolts, it’s not a surprise to find that it’s a very good introduction to the team for anyone not reading the series already.

Like, half this book is a truncated but very readable summary of the first twenty-ish issues. It also has a different inker (Al Milgram instead of Scott Hanna) and he’s, y’know, very good, but the Bagley/Hanna team is what I fell in love with.

Anyway, we pick things up in the midst of the Bolts’ current housing problem (staying at a upper tier hotel for a few days, as their every other home base was destroyed), which everyone is presently loving; Jolt hasn’t had a bed that wasn’t either mildewed, scorched or dangerously close to the Negative Zone Portal since before Onslaught attacked, Moonstone hasn’t had a bath in months and… Atlas and Songbird are just really excited by the prospect of pay-per-view movies and a minibar.

Who is paying for all this I don’t know; maybe Hawkeye still has money saved up from his carnie days…

Oh and then the next 9 out of this comics 18 pages are a quick recap of the entire series thus far.

Anyway, the only person not enjoying himself is Mach, as he’s about to go to jail and he really doesn’t want to. So the rest of the team decides to cheer him up by going to a fancy restaurant and having a grand ol’ time. Hawkeye, meanwhile, is at that exact same restaurant, with Gayle Rogers, and trying to negotiate some decent press coverage for Mach turning himself in to the police for the crime of having once killed another criminal.

Anyway, both groups evening of friendly banter and romancin’ news reporters gets interrupted by jet pack nazis.

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Which is a real mood killer.

Naturally a fight breaks out, and there’s some back-and-forth (the Bolts have the advantage of muscle, the HYDRA guys have the advantage of numbers), but eventually the good guys win, because Hawkeye is out of costume and that’s rare enough that nobody really notices him amidst the crowd.

Anyway, Hawkeye explains to Gayle that if they stick around to deal with the cops who have been alerted to the whole “Jetpack nazis busting up a restaurant" thing, the Hydra guys will have time to recover from being beaten senseless and then we’d have a *second* instance of jet pack nazi violence, so *just this once* could she try to not to make the public unclear on the Thunderbolts’ morality. And she agrees because she got a lot of great footage of them beating the hell out of HYDRA, which always makes good TV.

Also Moonstone tricks the leader of the strike team into thinking she has telepathic powers and that she’d leak all of Hydras secrets to the media after scanning his mind (she doesn’t and can’t, Techno just used to work with this guy and never shut up about working with Hydra).

And we close out with Gayles latest report on the Bolts, showing that maybe they’re good because they’re extremely eager to beat up flying nazis (the baseline for “good behavior”) and we get a quick montage of all still At Large Thunderbolts villains, like Zemo, Crimson Cowl and The Real Citizen V (who isn’t actually a villain, I’ll grant you) saying “Well, we better deal with those jokers”.

Also the Avengers, so I guess this story was supposed to come just before that last one.

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And that leads us to Public Relations (Or: Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200), and hoo boy, if you were complaining that the last few issues of Bolts didn’t have a lot of plot progression buckle up.

This is one of the most preposterously Important Stuff Happening comics I think I’ve ever read.

So getting right to it; we open with what’s been promised for a little while now, and Abner Jenkins, the man in the broken Iron Man suit, Mach-1, is being lead away in handcuffs for the one murder that can be provably be placed at the Thunderbolts’ feet.

The rest of the team is watching Abe’s arraignment on TV, and Jolts taking it pretty hard as she’s the only member of the team who hasn’t been in jail before; and Songbird comments that being in prison is “a torture you can’t imagine”.

I want to point out that Jolt was imprisoned by a nazi mad scientist and literally tortured after her parents were smooshed by giant robots commanded by a psionic demon.

I think she has a frame of reference.

Anyhoo; Hawkeye is answering questions as Mach is being lead away, and intercutting his interview is a second interview, apparently like, ten feet behind him, with Colorado’s most prominent multi-billionaire, Edwin Cord, who insists that it’s impossible for a criminal to want to repent their behavior and assures viewers that all of Colorado feels the same way, but not to worry because he’s dedicating his time and fortune to make sure the Thunderbolts pay for their crimes.

He is immediately ignored because there’s a literal Avenger standing behind him and everyone likes him a lot more than a ranting billionaire spouting bilious hate. One of the few areas where the Marvel earth has an advantage over Normal Earth.

Unseen, a teenager plops a little piece of coal in Hawkeyes quiver; one could read this as him being one of the people Edwin hired and the piece of coal is symbolic of the fact that the Thunderbolts are all naughty.

Its not but boy would that be more plausible.

Anyway, back at the Thunderbolts’ latest secret hideout (another cabin, but one they rented this time, as opposed to an abandoned one they just decided to squat in to the disappointment of all of Wyomings horniest teens), and Hawkeye decides to let the team work out their stress with a training session; despite the fact that this latest base doesn’t have any kind of security systems in place, so it’s open and vulnerable to any of the many people who are after the Thunderbolts’ heads.

Which is proven because there’s like, three of them sneaking around the place *at the same time*.


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Well, the Real Citizen V and Cyclone are people who are known to hate the Thunderbolts at least, Teenager Charlie Burlingham is new. Or at least the Bolts think so, because they don’t have any idea who he is.

But they also forgot that they live in Comic Books and that Burlingham sounds like Burning Man…


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As in Charcoal; The!

Now the last time Charcoal showed up, he was clearly a Bad Guy, trying to help Discount Hydra take over a small town in Wyoming. The Bolts have not forgotten this and spend a page or so trying to fight him because, y’know… he’s a fireball rock monster. Then Hawkeye tells the team to stand down because Charcoal came to them very politely because he wants to repent his own evil ways and also he didn’t *want* to work with the Imperial Force of America, he was coerced. He wants to join the Thunderbolts because, well, this seems to be their mission statement now; reforming supervillains.

Anyway the team doesn’t have time to say “Well let’s think about this” or “Wow, there’s a lot that happened in this comic and we’re only halfway through it” when yet another series of explosions that heralds a Mark Bagley Fight Scene breaks out;

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This time it’s The US Agent and The Jury!

Wow… that’s… a Wild combo. I mean, it’s not exactly a surprise since they were on the cover and everything but still, weird.

US Agent was one of the main antagonists on the recent Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and his deal in the comics is largely the same; he’s Captain America, if Captain America sucked. Not sure if he predates DCs Peacemaker, but they’re effectively the same guy, except Peacemaker is played as a joke. He’s intensely loyal to the US government as opposed to any kind of moral code and he has a dollar-store knockoff of the Super Soldier serum. He's usually forced to work with the C and D-list superhero teams, where reactions to him range from "Edgy Captain America" to "Man, *this guy*, am I right?" (this issue is firmly in the latter camp).

The Jury are much simpler; they got knock-off Iron Man armor and hate Venom. Later, they changed goals to "Hate anyone they're paid to hate, but mainly Venom". It's very hard to tell them apart, but apparently they... well, they all have different names.

So at this point things move into a simpler gear, as now it's Thunderbolts vs. US Agent and the Jury, and Bagley gets to go ham on another Big Fight Scene; the second in this issue.

And once again, Bagley is *really good* at superhero punch-em-ups, but they're not conducive to recapping. Songbird notes that if Edwin Cord is paying the Jury to apprehend them, why didn't he just pay the Bolts to stop doing things. And Hawkeye points out that it's a *really* stupid idea for US Agent to be throwing his shield around when he's fighting a guy who shoots arrows, and also insults Mrs. Walkers little boy by pointing out... umm... that he's just awful at every component of his life. The Thunderbolts completely outclass the Jury on their worst day, and if anything, Hawkeye is disappointed it takes the team several pages to finish them off.

The closest thing the Jury gets to a win is a sense of swelling pride when US Agent suggests they escape rather than risk their lives further antagonizing the guys who are just utterly pounding them into the ground (this counts as a morale boost because the Jury as as bad at supervillainy as Agent is bad at leading people).

Oh, and also one of them accidentally explodes the cabin, which has to be a record for the fastest turnaround they've had for losing a headquarters. Citizen V and Cyclone are secretly disappointed that the effort they both seperately went through bugging their hideout was a waste of time, and they scram before anyone notices they're there.

The other bit of bad news about the fight is that Cord went all in on getting media coverage of what he was *sure* was going to be the downfall of the Thunderbolts, showing that capitalism can do anything, and backpedaled it to showing that the Thunderbolts are clearly evil because they attacked a fully deputized police force.

And in the Masters of Evils' secret lair, the Cowl see this broadcast and tries to reinforce her dwindling support among her fellow villains by saying "See? The Thunderbolts just defeated themselves; I didn't even need to reveal an evil plan to defeat them, WHICH I TOTALLY ALREADY HAD! AND IT WAS A GOOD ONE!"

And then we get a rebuttal from Hawkeye;

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NEXT TIME: They're going to WHAT?!?
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
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We’ve got fraught team dynamics, off-panel character growth, and some surprise escalation in… Eye of the Storm!

Which is also the penultimate issue of Year 2 of Thunderbolts. Let’s go into more detail, shall we?

Naturally, in True Marvel Method Style, we kick things off with everyone on the team trying to kill one another so as to get new readers up to date on everyone’s powers and personalities, and also to recap recent events. In this case that Hawkeye has very publically given a threat to the Masters of Evil that they are this years big villains, and will correspondingly be dealt with imminently, and that, once again, the Bolts’ headquarters has been destroyed so they have to live in a culvert somewhere in Nebraska.

Furthermore; recently reformed villain Charcoal has joined the team and everyone was attacking him because he was looking over everyone in his fiery rock monster form while they slept (it’s because he was getting up to go pee, and it was otherwise very cold in a soggy Nebraskan culvert if you’re not a giant flaming rock man)

Anyway, we also get a recap of Charcoals origins, that gets cut off before he can get into great detail (his dad was the kind of person to be pretty susceptible to the bilious rhetoric of a fascist paramilitary group, and forced the family to sign up with Discount HYDRA, which it turns out was actually working for Nazi Mad Scientist Par Excellance, Arnim Zola, who was looking for candidates for human experimentation. Charcoal was one of the “lucky” few that fit Arnims criteria as being worth close attention).

Naturally Jolts ears perk up when Charcoal mentions Arnim as that happened to her too, but, as I said, everyone gets interrupted because Hawkeye wasn’t really paying attention (heard one story about a kid being abducted by a nazi mad scientist and given elemental powers after ghastly experiments, heard them all) and was instead checking the radio for any mention of any evil, and the mastery thereof, that happens to have made it onto the news.

And by gum, there is; the entire force of the Masters of Evil are making their next big play; the random-ass attacking of Robinette, Nebraska!

I genuinely love that this book keeps sticking to the most unassuming places for its major battles.

Anyway, after confirming that Hawkeyes whole plan for going on TV and calling out the Masters was to draw them out, as being hard to find is their main area of expertise, the team heads to Robinette and engages in a short skirmish against the Masters in order to send them packing…

And it’s only a short skirmish because the Crimson Cowl ain’t no fool and figured Hawkeye was goading them into a trap, so she was instead going to spring her own *much better* trap; which I honestly thought she was bluffing about in the last issue; and things get even more Saturday Morning Cartoon than they already were;

Turns out that besides the Masters established MO of robbing banks, and saying “Oooh, I’m gonna getcha!” they’ve also built a Weather Dominator.

And they’re going to use it to murder the Thunderbolts with… umm… thunderbolts.

Good plan if you can swing it.

Anyway, with the town of Robinette now at the epicentre of an apocalyptic super hurricane ( or “Deathstorm” as the Cowl refers to it), the Masters say “Well, everyone here is gonna die. Good game, y’all.” and teleport away using the Cowls tech, while the Bolts scramble to get all the residents of the town into one, more secure location Instead of scattered around where they’d one hundred percent definitely die.

Which is some unambiguous Good Guy behaviour, so good for them. It’s also when, as the cover promised, Citizen V shows up, looking to finally bring those criminal fiends to justice, by chopping the hell out of them with a sword.

Its also revealed that this new Citizen V is a woman, which I don’t think was mentioned before, or if it was, it really wasn’t obvious because Bagley drew her *exactly* like Zemo, and now she has a more feminine build. Also, this is shortly after a Captain America story involving her and Baron Zemo, and Cap gave her a Captain America speech about not dedicating her life to revenge (he’s okay with beating the hell out of any Baron Zemos on general principle) and she decided to internalize that as meaning that Revenge is a sometimes-food. And shes had the moral equivalent of getting a good job in and eating a lot of vegetables so she can justify a little retaliatory violence against the people that associated themselves with a guy who ruined her grandpas legacy.

Hawkeye confronts her and says “Look, if you want to murder my entire team because they have criminal backgrounds, sure go ahead, but could you wait until after we save this town from a Roland Emmerich movie?” And she has to agree that, yes, killing the Thunderbolts before they can save anybody would… probably not reflect well on her own ability to ride any high horses, and decides to help the team by tracking down whatever caused the Deathstorm (she succeeds, but is knocked out by an unseen assailant before she can do anything to disable it).

Meanwhile, the Bolts wrangle all the townspeople into one spot and, assuming that even a nuclear shelter wouldn’t be able to last long against the Death Storm, so instead Songbird encases the residents in a constantly reinforced sonic barrier, which Charcoal buttresses by shapeshifting around it and hardening to diamond density and… Atlas gets really big and just hugs the dome really tightly (which really doesn’t seem like it work as well as it does).

Before too long, thankfully, the storm generator burns out, but not before the entire town is completely leveled, but every single person survives (everyone is suitably grateful to be alive that they dont notice that the entire town has been obliterated). And also during the fight with the Masters earlier, Charcoal snuck a few shards of his body into Mankillers costume, so now he can track them to their hideout.

And they do, and Hawkeye is pretty pleased to see what a great secret base it is, real fancy, lots of crazy comic book tech all over the place. Real snazzy digs. Which All they gotta do is beat up the Masters of Evil, throw them all in jail and then they can move in to their house nice And legal.

I know they’re bad guys who literally call themselves The Masters of Evil and just annihilated a populated town, but… kind of harsh there, Clint.
But first, they just have to beat up the Masters of Evil, something the Thunderbolts have done many times already.

thing is… they’ve had a bit of a membership drive…

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If you can name half the people in this picture then… Hello Mr. Busiek! I’m a big fan!

NEXT TIME: Geostorm 2: This Time It’s The Day After Tomorrow, Too
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
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If you were to enumerate everything I love about Thunderbolts, not counting the basic premise being incredibly fun, it's the fact that it's an excuse for Kurt Busiek to just play with as many toys in the Marvel toybox as possible, a showcase for Mark Bagley to go sick-nuts with incredible looking action scenes, and plot swerves surprising enough that I go "wha?" at least once an issue. And the close-out to Year two of the book, Saving the World has all that in spades!

Well, the plot swerve made me go "Wha?" in a bad way. But we'll get there.

ANYHOO

In the previous issue, we learned that the Crimson Cowl and her Masters of Evil weren't just doing random crimes for the sake of living up to their reputations of being Evil for the requisite 10,000 hours it takes to master it; they were building some straight-up doomsday devices in the form of weather control stations capable of unleashing Roland Emmerich-level natural disasters. The Bolts destroyed the weather station that annihilated Robinette Nebraska and tracked the Masters to their secret mountain base, where they learned that the Cowl had been busy recruiting an army of supervillains. Which Kurt has helpfully laid out, as he is aware that not everybody reading the book is as familiar with Marvel D-Listers as he is;

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For the record, I only could recognize Boomerang, Constrictor and M'Batu the Man-Ape, not counting the established MoE members. I have no idea what the Fabulous Thunderprize mentioned in the caption is, but I'll assume it has remained unclaimed to this day.

Anyway, Cowl is definitely someone to stand on ceremony, but not while there's work to do, so while she's busy congratulating her work team for a job well done, she's also subjecting the Earth to a series of Geo-storms; the main story keeps getting interupted to show how different Marvel teams (ranging from the Avengers and X-Men, down to the Winter Guard and Big Hero Six) are busy trying to either quell the raging storms or save people from the frankly impossible natural disasters. The Thunderbolts being the only hero team remaining who are aware of where the Masters are hiding, let alone that they're the ones responsible for the... umm... incipient apocalypse.

The Bolts, furthermore, are also outnumbered 5 to one; and even if the opposition consists of people like Constrictor and Slyde, the weight of the large numbers means they can't just charge in and start throwing hands. Furthermore, they're aware that if they don't properly shut down the Weather Control Unit, there's a decent chance they might kill the planet instead of saving it. Which would prove the title of this issue a filthy lie.

Luckily, as Hawkeye points out, the Masters DO want, and expect, the Bolts to join their ranks anyway. And furthermore; the Thunderbolts already have Starscream in their ranks, so if anyone was going to offer a perfectly convincing choice as a no-good backstabbing traitorous sell-out, if it was anyone EXCEPT Moonstone, nobody would credit it.

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Karla can't really dispute that.

Anyway, she barges into the Cowls command center declaring "Yo, Red. I realize that my team-mates were friggin' dinguses, and I'd rather get to be on the winning team and also be filthy rich, so I'm joining you guys." (I'm... not paraphrasing very much) and Cowl responds by accepting her proposal, but also only deciding to throw her in the brig with power-damping handcuffs and conduct her job interview after the current "Hold the world for a one trillion dollar ransom by inflicting Geostorms" plan is resolved, because the Cowl has been paying attention and is fully aware that Moonstone is Starscream, and will correspondingly do something Starscreamish at a very inconvenient time.

As she's being lead away, the Masters who are escorting her make a big point of laying out their specific psychological failings and triggers are as they monologue to one another; apparently not getting the memo that you shouldn't reveal how you can be manipulated to friggin' Moonstone.

Naturally, one would be therefor lead to think "Aha, this is how Moonstone will escape the brig; she'll turn her captors against one another with her silver tongue and nefarious wiles."

Well, you're wrong; turns out the guards chuck her in prison and the Bolts just straight up take them down Solid Snake style;

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Well, if Solid Snake could throw around telekinetic shields, at least.

As for Moonstone, she opts to sit around in her cell for a while, bitter that literally everybody bases their day on the expectation that she's definitely going to betray them at some point, and decides to have a little flashback to her origins, which also keeps popping up as flash-backs in the middle of the main story. But it's also very clear from the flashbacks that her recollection doesn't reflect reality at all; growing up as the daughter of a butler and maid who worked for a fabulously wealthy family, and being the best friend of that familys daughter... and automatically deciding she was secretly in a psychological battle of wills over the other kid over who was actually the subservient one in their relationship (she wasn't; other kid genuinely liked her and considered her a friend), and deciding her mother was a simpering buffoon for working long, hard hours after the death of her father because she wouldn't accept the charity the rich family offered of paying for housing and schooling for the Sofen family (she considered her mother sacrificing anything of her own for anyone else, even her own daughter, to be a sure sign of idiocy), and also how she became a psychologist specifically in order to con rubes into being juuuust vulnerable enough that she could bilk them for years...

Then she found a magic space-gem and decided to fight the Hulk instead.

*ahem*

Anyway, mid-reminisce, Moonstone notices that there's a key to her power-dampening shackles in her cell and wonders "How the heck did those get there?!?" before immediately picking them up, sneaking out of her cell and, seeing the rest of the Bolts poorly disguising themselves as the members of the Masters they'd previously beaten up, decides to head off to the Cowl to tattle on them.

The Cowl, incidentally, has been calling up various world leaders and demanding her One Trillion Dollar ransom or she'd crank up the intensity of the storms, and also she's launched the Masters base into the sky, as it turns out the mountain was a launch platform, and the base itself was actually a modified Helicarrier. So she's clearly been VERY busy.

And, naturally, the Cowl quickly changes from "Wait, why aren't you still in jail" to "Wait, the Thunderbolts are here?" when Moonstone confronts her, and then decides that, clearly, Karla MUST be genuinely evil now, as opposed to... umm... well she was never not evil, but... hmm...

Well, she's the kind of Evil that is conducive to the Cowls benefit, now, so she takes Moonstone and a couple of other Masters to the bases main console that commands the Weather Control unit, which is carried in YET ANOTHER smaller Helicarrier, because a good idea is worth doing multiple times, and leaves the main body of the Masters base to plummet to the ground with the remaining 17 Masters all ganging up on the 5 Thunderbolts in the same room...

And then you can just hear Mark Bagleys smile growing because he gets to spend, like, the entire back half of the book drawing the crap out of a fight scene.

Despite the huge advantage in numbers and power that the Masters have, the Bolts manage to pull off a pretty impressive win; the Masters can't help but get in each others way, and are pretty antithetical to team-ups in general while the Bolts have been practicing with Hawkeye for long enough that they can work together effectively, and have the advantage of being so outnumbered that no-matter where they aim they're clearly going to hit somebody who needs a beat-down.

And even on his best day, Slyde is a guy whose superpower is "slippery" so he's not approaching this from a position of power.

Eventually the Bolts win, and realize, long after it being something relevant to be thinking about, that, oh yeah, the Cowl jettisoned the important part of their base from the rest of it and is still threatening the world, and also has their team-mate and friend Moonstone with her, who has apparently for-real betrayed them and say "Oh... we... didn't help at all here, did we?"

And what happened then? UWell, up in the sky, they say, Moonstones heart grew THREE SIZES that day.

Which still puts her heart at about one-half the size of the average persons, but it's still progress.

Karla thinks back to her origin again and suddenly realizes that she's the asshole, and has always BEEN the asshole, and decides to finally do something unambiguously good;

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Blast the hell out of Crimson Cowl, the remaining Masters, and the Weather Dominator; immediately ending the Geostorms all over the globe and saving the planet, and billions of innocent lives.

Which, honestly, probably goes a long way to correct her evil past of ineffectively fighting the Hulk a bunch.

She also brings the pretty badly beaten Crimson Cowl down out of the ship, and takes off her Crimson Cowl, revealing her identity to everyone;

Could she really be TV Reporter Gayle Rogers? And her "Are the Thunderbolts Good or Evil?" news stories were designed to keep the public from supporting the team all along?
Could she really be former Avenger and Ultron Bride Jocasta, connecting this Crimson Cowl to the original?
Did Baron Zemo secretly have a daughter and this new Masters of Evil was created as part of her fathers legacy?
Is the Crimson Cowl a wholly original character?

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Nope! It's Dallas Roidan; former New York Mayors Aide!

What?!?!

This plot twist makes no friggin' damn sense whatsoever! I don't recall any explanation for How and Why and "No, Seriously, HOW?!?! What? How?!?!" but I also didn't quite finish the Busiek run on the series before starting this thread, so... y'know... I hope some explanation is coming...

Anyway... the world is saved, public opinion has shifted to "Okay, MAYBE the Thunderbolts don't totally suck" and Moonstone decides that thinking she might, might have been in the wrong at some point in her life was a momentary lapse of judgement nd decides to go right back to trying to con her way into being the shadow leader of the Thunderbolts by tricking Hawkeye.

Alls well that ends well?

NEXT TIME: Vault Prison Blues
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
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Well, we just wrapped up a big, year end story arc, and that means it’s time for a weird one-off! And if the last one was excessively weird, don’t worry, this one is just tonally inconsistent with the rest of the series; which is because Lockdown is largely the works of Joe Casey and Leonardo Manco, as opposed to Busiek and Bagley. Well, except for the first and last pages.

Anyway, we open up with a quick recap of the last couple of issues, thanks to Gayle Rogers, the Thunderbolts have completely redeemed themselves in the publics eyes (again) by apprehending the 25-strong Masters of Evil and saving the planet from their Weather Dominator.

Also the Thunderbolts have moved into the Masters’ secret mountain base, as it’s much roomier without the Cowls Hover Dingus (Hawkeyes words, not mine) taking up so much space. The team didn’t really need a weather manipulator anyway.

Anyway, more to the point, DAs and prison wardens across the country are overjoyed at their embarrassment of riches with how overcrowded their prisons now are in order to accommodate the Masters (Gayles words), especially since Marvels traditional means for incarcerating supervillains, the Vault, has been destroyed.

I didn’t know the Vault was destroyed at this time, but it winds up getting destroyed a lot so it’s hard to keep track.

And you know who else is in a regular prison instead of a dedicated supervillain prison? And who is one of the founding members of the Bolts, and is very prominent on the cover of this very issue? Why, Mach-1 himself; Abe Jenkins!

And boy, it’s a whole different world behind bars;

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Complete with an entirely different art and writing style.

Everyone is also wearing blue coveralls and defaults to “scruffy white guy” so it’s *really* hard to tell who the characters are supposed to be unless you already know what Boomerang or Blizzards real names are.

Anyway, Mach, along with a bunch of other supervillains (including several of the Masters) have been transported to the Georgias off-coast maximum security prison; Seagate (also known as Little Alcatraz and a manufacturer of portable hard drives). And the guards range from Purple clad Robo-coppy looking guys to… what I can only assume are people who spent a fortune on Shadowrun LARPs. All cyber-masks and katanas and machine guns and spiked Mohawks and the like.

And Punisher insignias, of course

Anyway, Mach really isn’t enjoying his stay in prison, partly because prisons aren’t fun places to spend your time in general, and mainly because it’s pretty public knowledge that Abe is a reformed supervillain who was a superhero for a while; meaning a lot of the people, who are his former buddies, are now locked up in there because of him.

About the only person who doesn’t want to shank him is The Human Cannonball from the Circus of Crime, which really illustrates how little social standing he has right now.

Anyhow, one of the people especially ticked off at the Bolts in general and is delighted to have an outlet for those frustrations is Fred Myers (aka Boomerang, who was among the Masters of Evil), who decides to shank him then and there, by twisting a prison cafeteria knife into a boomerang and hucking it at him. Abe catch the knife in midair, but the guards only see the last part where Abe is holding an improvised weapon, knock him out and throw him into solitary.

That whole sequence is legitimately very cool, but it’s also kind of hard to follow because, again, out of costume and wearing matching jumpsuits, all these people look nearly identical.

Anyway, Abe is pretty content to be thrown in solitary, even if it’s under false pretenses, because there’s fewer people trying to shank him in there. And he isn’t very alone because he starts chatting with the narration boxes, which we learn are actually a secret communication between Abe and his former frequent employer in his Beetle days; Justin Hammer.

Hammer ain’t in this story enough to warrant my usual write-ups, but for the sake of clarification; he’s a scummy businessman who hires supervillains to further his evil schemes. Usually an Iron Man villain; and was arguably the best part of Iron Man 2.

For the purposes of this story, Hammer has a lot of Seagates guard staff on his payroll (thereby explaining why Abe was thrown in solitary for catching a thrown knife, and not the guy who was throwing knives), and has made offers to a number of inmates to stage a jailbreak so he’d be able to have a bit of staff on hand for his next Evil Business Man Plan; and he’d like Abe to work for him again like in the old days.

We also learn that the crux of Hammers plan to engineer a prison escape involves Seagates biggest name prisoner; also featured prominently on the comics cover, and kept in constant sedation and guarded at all times by three Shadowrun LARPers;


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Alexei Systevich / Alexander O’Hearn, The Rhino!

Rhino is a long standing Spider-Man enemy, and really not one that requires a lot of set-up to explain. He was a Russian mob enforcer who volunteered for an experiment that permanently bonded him to a a rhinoceros-like exoskeleton that increased his strength from “Incredible” to “Monstrous”. Then he rented out his skills (brute strength and a Kool-Aid Man-esque disrespect for walls) to whoever pays him. He’s pretty much the gold standard for Big Lummox style supervillains.

Manco also keeps drawing him with little grey underpants and that makes him look WAY nakeder than he would be without them

Anyhow, Justin Hammers master plan is to use the guards he bribed to cease sedating Rhino, wait for Him to wake up and proceed to Rhino the hell out of the prison and allow the villains he’s hired to escape in the confusion. As an added level to this, Hammer isn’t *quite* sure where Abe is, morally, so the escaping villains are to visit him first to either recruit or murder him based on how Abe is feeling with regard to induction or prevention of crimes.

And we’re halfway through a one-off story that still needs to make time for a prison break and a book-ending sequence, so he doesn’t agonize over it for long.

That night, on schedule, Rhino wakes up and proceeds to rampage, and the other villains, lead by Boomerang, head to Abe’s cell and murder him regardless (Boomerang is still pretty sore at the Thunderbolts, regardless of whether or not he’s being paid to break out one of prison) and Abe was expecting this and manages to beat down all his assailants with his bare hands i to the added training Hawkeye gave him in the short period before turning himself in.

And again, very well drawn sequence that’s hard to follow because all these people look almost identical. Also, while no justification for why Whirlwind, who was among their group, would still have his powers; Rhino has the explanation of being constantly sedated, and the other villains in there require some external gear to do their respective things. My no-prize explanation is that the prison normally has some kind of power dampening field to handle supervillains and Rhino smashed it when he broke free. Otherwise it's a plothole that kind of sticks in my craw.

ANYHOO...

Abe beats down his would-be killers and, dodging Rhino, who is just going pell-mell through the prison, reaches the PA office, where, using some of the technical knowledge he gleaned off Techno when they were building Songbirds suit,, alters the audio output on the intercom enough to send out an incapacitatingly loud blast of feedback that knocks out every single person, guard and prisoner alike, in the building, ruining Hammers attempt at a jailbreak while also hiding the fact that he was responsible for thwarting the jailbreak from everyone, because he does want to serve his time.

And then we get the actual final page where Kurt Busiek is back in the drivers seat, and we get a last minute plot swerve that fits right into his wheelhouse of our heroes accidentally making everything worse for themselves, as we cut to a secret meeting in Washington, where General Thunderbolt Ross (guy what hates the Hulk), Henry Peter Gyrich (guy what hates everyone who doesn't share his precise socio-political leanings) and Some Lady (I'unno who she is) are going over the riot and immediate pacification in the Seagate Prison, realize that it had to have been Abe Jenkins who stopped it, and then deciding he's perfect for a little clandestine secret project they're working on.

Well, I'm sure that's nothing to worry about.

NEXT TIME: I'm Sad That I'm Flying
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
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All right! Back to the good stuff! We’ve got Atlas being oblivious, Mysterious Expiration Dates, Sky Crimes, Overdue Commupence, and HighSchool Anxiety and a sideways misinterpretation of Wolverine Publicity in Flight Plans!

And, as that truncated summary implies; this is one of those comic book issues that exists to set up, like a half dozen story arcs to be addressed over the course of the third (and final) year of Busieks run.

And because there’s a lot of ground to cover; why not start off with a bang;

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And an opening splash page of SKY CRIMES fits the bill nicely, as we see dozens upon dozens of flying jacks apes and nogoodniks descend on Sam Francisco, stealing bags of groceries, makin’ smooches and wielding baseball bats!

They’re also shown doing much more larcenous activities like abducting people for unsanctioned smooches and beating the hell out of people. Also a comic shop gets robbed and the owners look a little too specific to be generic background people, so I don’t know if they’re people Kurt and Mark knew or what…

And just as soon as the Flying Miscreants appear, they vanish, and everyone in San Francisco is pretty surprised to see a floating island over the city.

Well, well just stick a pin in that for now, there’s a lot of plot in this issue.

For example, back at the Thunderbolts’ new headquarters, The Masters of Evils Old Headquarters (identified for the first time as Mount Charteris, outside of Burton Canyon Colorado), Hawkeye has a little surprise for Jolt and Charcoal, the two youngest members of the team; fake IDs! And this is because they also have to go to school now and can’t do that if everyone recognizes them as wanted felons!

Charcoals new Id lists his last name as “Cole” which is, if anything, an even more obvious connection to his identity as Charcoal than “Burningham”. Jolt just had her last name changed to Sakimoto which… does not imply electricity or being tricked by disguised supervillains to my knowledge, so her fake ID is much better.

Anyway, Jolt is not happy that Hawkeye intends to send two fifteen year old orphans to high school when they could be part of a morally questionable vigilante group made up of hardened criminals, and besides isn’t it hypocritical of Clint to make a pair of fake ids when he had Mach-1 thrown in jail for his own criminal behaviour.

Hawkeye responds by saying there’s… kind of a gulf between getting a GED and murdering someone, and foists them off to be the Colorado School Boards problem.

Charcoal, for his part, is very happy about all this because he really didn’t like what the Imperial Forces brought to the table re; schooling.

At School, Hallie threatens to destroy the first guy to approach her on the combined grounds of “Hey, A Cute Girl” and “Oh a new classmate!” so… Maybe Clint was on to something about the Bolts skewing with her sense of proper socialization. Also, some of the Horny Teens who were making out in the Bolts’ old hideout see and recognize her, so… her cover is already blown.

Meanwhile, at the Base, Songbird is assigned to full map out the place on the ground that she’s the one with the tech-based powers, which she calls out as unfair because other people were in charge of maintaining and building all her stuff; she doesn’t have a clue about how any of it works, and also Hawkeye sent her boyfriend to prison (she’s never going to let that go), but even with her knowledge she notices there’s weird stuff with the Mountain Base, like how it’s way too big and fully equipped for everything the Cowl was intending it for, and how it’s got a fully stocked kitchen with MREs that were manufactured years earlier; before the original Crimson Cowl appeared let alone the second.

And speaking of the second Crimson Cowl, that segues into Atlas' part of the issue, as (allegedly) in disguise he goes in to visit Dallas Roidan in prison... apparently you can just do that to people who very recently tried to extort the entire population of the planet earth by threatening them with Geo Storms, and he says that he understands why she's mad, because the Thunderbolts did *technically* betray her trust, but that's no reason to get revenge by forming her own supervillain team and trying to murder the entire human population of the world, but he also doesn't raise the pretty significant point that Dallas was the person who originally sent the Bolts after the Masters when they first showed up, and also it makes no friggin' sense whatsoever for the Cowl to be Dallas.

Also, she isn't saying anything, or moving or anything, just staring blankly forward... when suddenly the prison explodes and a bunch of figures in spooky black armor appear out of nowhere and visibly abduct her.

You or I may have looked at something like this and figure "Hmm, Dallas definitely wasn't complicit in this, or even seemed to be aware anything was going on. There's obviously more going on than a simple jail break, and leading the Masters of Evil is wildly uncharacteristic and impossible for Dallas..."

But Atlas is basically a big dog, so he assumes that Dallas left him again, and he's going to go to the nearest bar and drown his sorrows. Apparently not stopping to inform anyone in The prison “Hey a bunch of guys in weird scary armor just broke an internationally wanted supervillains out of jail” or being questioned about it.

To be fair, he lives in Comic Books; stuff like this doesn’t make the news on a boring day.

But luckily it doesn’t take him long to see a familiar face, as, while he can’t be sure, he’s reasonably certain that the new bartender at his usual place is the still-at-large Mankiller, who escaped from the Masters’ base when the big fight was happening and has been missing ever since.

Now, granted, she isn’t wearing her weird overall battle armor thing, and she’s toned down her androcidal tendencies, but she’s still a ridiculously jacked, 7 foot tall woman with a bright orange flat-top mullet. She is not someone who can fade into the background easily.

But again, Atlas is a big dog, so he just assumes the odds are equally good that this is a different supremely jacked giant woman with a bright orange mullet, or else it IS Mankiller but she’s trying to go straight.

As for Hawkeye, his part of this issue gets the most page time, ties in to the cover and gives Kurt Busiek a chance to do what he does best and play with the toys nobody else wants to bother with; he invites Songbird and Moonstone along with him as he has a little surprise for the team; presently the Thunderbolts' aerial capabilities consist of the flying motorcycle he took from Black Knight (see issue #20, true believers) and Songbird being able to create levitating bubbles (see every other issue of Thunderbolts, True Believers), and that's not especially practical; so he went ahead and called up his old buddy/occasional love interest/only woman who will answer the phone for him The Black Widow, and got her permission to borrow... The Champ Craft!

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A GIS could only bring up an image from a couple issues from now when it gets a Thunderbolts-rebranding, but it looks red with a bit stylized C on it normally. The Champcraft was the primary means of travel for the Champions of Los Angeles; which was surely somebodies favorite 1970s Marvel team; consisting of Black Widow, Hercules, Ghost Rider and Iceman, which proported to be a team of superheroes "for everyone".

Because a Greek demigod, Infernal Vengeance Demon, Morally Compromised Former Russian Assassin and a Mutant can definitely relate to the common man.

Well, I guess Bobby is a gay member of an in-universe ethnic minority, so sure, that I'm willing to accept, if you squint your brain.

But more the the point, there was one other member of the Champions, who probably has better say than Black Widow for saying who gets what, since he was bankrolling the team;

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The Angel! Also known as The Avenging Angel (nobody ever calls him that), Warren Worthington the Third or Archangel (depending on how blue he's feeling at the moment). He's a founding member of the X-Men (he's wielding either a big pipe or a bazooka on the cover of the first issue. Like all Mutants, he's feared and hated by the human race. Unlike most Mutants, he's also incredibly handsome and enormously wealthy and he can easily disguise his mutation under his clothes and the majority of the world isn't aware he's a mutant at all, so he really has nothing to complain about. He was eventually crippled when his wings got badly damaged fighting Mr. Sinisters henchmen, and in return, Apocalypse rebuilt his body, giving him metallic wings, blue skin and a real hankerin' for murder. Then his feathery wings grew back in, and his murder-rage turned into Clinical Depression. But Comic Books doesn't have therapy so he usually channels his depression into punching supervillains or else being a bad boyfriend.

Anyhow, ol' Warbles here didn't quite get the memo that the Thunderbolts are Legitimate Good Guys now, and figures they're trying to steal his stuff, so a big ol' scuffle breaks out (Songbird, rightly, points out that the X-Men have had SO MANY reformed villains on their team, and recently their leader turned into a giant psychic demon and annihilated New York, so he really doesn't have a moral high-ground for thinking villains can't turn good)

Eventually, the Bolts win, which is good because losing a 3-on-one fight against flippin' Angel would be a blow their egos would never recover from, and Hawkeye uses the lull in combat to explain the whole situation to Warren so the Everyone Fights part of the superhero team-up can resolve a bit faster.

And just in time, because as the group arrives back at Mt. Charteris, along with everyone else who finished up their own storylines at about the time time, a breaking news report comes on. Remember that floating island hovering over San Francisco from the start of this issue? Well... CNN knows about it now too.

And more to the point, sitting in it, atop a throne of bikini girls, is Graviton. Who apparently took Moonstones advice to heart back when he last appeared and is now prepared to do a proper job of global conquest, and now he has a small army of loyal soldiers at his beck and call AND a floating air-fortress, on top of his existing mastery over one of the funamental forces of the universe.

Well... can't say he doesn't take constructive criticism well.

Next Time: The Gravity of the Situation
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
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Castle in the Air

Well, the previous issue did severa comics worth of set-up, so that means that Castle in the Air can focus entirely on throwing hands.

Genuinely unsure if the title was supposed to be referencing Laputa; that phrase feels kind of clunky to not be a reference to something, but other than the presence of a castle in the sky, there’s not really a lot of connective tissue to Laputa. Well… sky pirates too, I guess.

Anyway, after a (justificatory lengthy) summary of everything that happened in the previous issue; we pick up where that story left off; with the rest of Gravitons pronouncement that he’s back and thought of a pretty solid plan for global conquest; maybe not DEEPLY creative, but there's something to be said for elegant simplicity;

Using his gravitic powers, he's parked an island, with a castle, in the sky over San Fransisco, and, for the low price of Blind Obedience, he'll accept anyone who wants to emigrate to Skyland and give them super-strength and flight using a portion of his powers. And once he has a large enough population of Sky Raiders, he'll go ahead and conquer the rest of the country. And it turns out he managed to get a lot of takers from the Criminal Sociopath element with a sales pitch like that, as the average Criminal doesn't pay close enough attention to Marvel Trading Cards to know exactly what kind kind of win/loss rate Graviton has.

Anyway, the Thunderbolts watch this broadcast, and quickly decide that Only They, The Only West Coast Adjacent Superhero Team can stop Graviton as, even if he isn't an A-list villain, Graviton is a tremendously powerful and dangerous one. But they also figure that it's getting pretty late in the day, so they'll just turn in for the night and thwart Gravitons diabolical dreams of conquest in the morning. Except for Jolt and Charcoal, because they've got school in the morning (Hawkeye admits that these are weird priorities he's assigned).

Also, Archangel, who is still hanging around, decides to team up with the Bolts on the grounds that this will let him decide for himself if the Bolts are good, and, more importantly, Graviton is basically just Magneto with a Goatee, and he's had lots of experience fighting Magneto, so with his help, they could have this guy done before McDonalds stops serving breakfast.

And we also learn that technically, the Bolts are NOT the only Superhero team near the west coast, as US Agent and The Jury, hired by Cantankerous Billionaire Edwin Cord a few issues back, are still extant, and really hangry to go after Graviton themselves. While the US Agent suuuuucks, he still thinks of himself as a superhero, and going after a guy who hijacks TVs in order to proclaim his intent to conquer the US with flying pirates and is also flinging National Guard units into the stratosphere seems like it should be the kind of thing that he should be doing. The Jury doesn't care because nobody is paying them to go after Graviton. And Edwin Cord ESPECIALLY doesn't care because he's paying a fortune for these people to kill the Thunderbolts, and it would be a waste of money for them to go after someone who is not a Thunderbolt.

Anyway, the next day, the Bolts arrive in 'frisco, just as Graviton arrives for an immigration drive (I... guess?) and for oen thing, shows off that his offer is good by having one of his lieutenants show off his Graviton-born powers of strength and flight, and then also casually pounds him into the ground with the snap of his fingers in order to show off exactly how much blind obedience he requires of his citizens (dude did an Unsanctioned Crime).

Then Graviton sees the bolts and figures "Well, what did I build an army of flying jackasses for if not exactly this situation?", and forces the Sky Raiders to attack.

And we get ourselves a big ol' Comic Book Donnybrook, with four members of the Thunderbolts, and also Archangel, all fight, like, one hundred guys with mohawks, studded vests and tube-tops.

As you might expect, this fight is completely one-sided in favor of the guys with actual experience fighting with superheroes. And Even Graviton has to admit that while he had zero expectations that his adhoc army of Background Extras from The Warriors, he really expected them to put up a better showing than that... and decides that it's time for the level boss to show up now that all the cannon fodder enemies are down.

And the duration of the issue is everyone attempting to fight Graviton and having a substantially harder time of it; as often noted, Graviton being a forgotten nothing of a villain has nothing at all to do with his capacity for destruction, because he is ludicrously powerful.

That being said; BOY HOWDY, does Mark Bagley have a ball drawing the fight;

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It's rare you get onomatopoeia that works that effectively to sell impact in a comic.

Anyway, there's a lot of punching back and forth, and a lot of Graviton bragging that his super powers are really good (you controla fundamental force, we get it) and eventually Graviton wins, and knocks the Bolts completely unconscious by merit of raw power... except for Jolt and Charcoal, who were playing hooky from school and decided to sneak in to help in the fight...

And who only actually arrived in time to see the Bolts beaten senseless and seemingly killed and deciding that... well... maybe the Gravity Manipulating Supervillain Megalomaniac is a bit out of their weight class.

NEXT TIME: Heavy Metal
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
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We’ve got Graviton insisting on being taken seriously, unexpected romance, the day being saved because of obscure Marvel trivia and the kind of Wolverine Publicity that only works on Kurt Busiek in Fundamental Forces

But first, prior even to the recap that sunny up this storyline so far, we get to catch up on what those cops that Graviton hurled into space as a show of force in the last issue are up to.

They immediately died and we get a really graphic description of what being tossed unprotected into space does to a human body.

Whuff… doesn’t really set the tone for the rest of the issue either…

Anyway, we get that, and a quick recap (Gravitons back, he parked an island over San Francisco and populated it with malcontents and bikini girls and decided he’s King of the Sky, the Thunderbolts fought him, got beaten like a rented drum, and that just leaves Jolt and Charcoal who were supposed to be in school that day), and then we’re off to the races.

Graviton could kill the Bolts here and now, but he’s playing directly from the Generic Supervillain Handbook and wants to make a big spectacle of it so he’ll wait until the morning and execute them publicly, and has them chucked into the prison on Sky Island for now.

Jolt and Charcoal see all this and Jolts immediate reaction is to try to desperately run up and punch Graviton full in the face, but the guy who literally has flaming rocks for a head, proves to be much less hot headed and flexible and points out that that is a tremendously stupid idea, and a better plan is to play to Jolts greatest strength; her being an author insert for Kurt Busieks endless love of Marvel comic history and obscurity, and they should call in a ringer to help them out.

The Avengers and FF aren’t available (makes sense; even a C-Lister like Graviton warrants an immediate response, even if he didn’t have a fair-sized island parked over a heavily populated metropolitan area), so Jolt stops and realizes that there’s really only one superhero who has nothing but free time and a bonkers Jack Kirby born non-explanation for handling a guy who can control gravity.

There’s a hint on the cover, but we’ve got some other subplots to get through first.

Least prominent of which being that Mach-1 has been let out of jail early at the behest of long time low-key X-Men antagonists Henry Peter Gyrich and Valerie Cooper, who want to enlist him in Marvels version of the Suicide Squad.

Well, Thunderbolts itself later becomes Marvels version of the Suicide Squad, but… not them.

More prominent is what the rest of the Bolts are up to while in prison; Atlas thabks Songbird for fixing up his costume after it got wrecked fighting the Masters of Evil (she didn’t, and is confused he thought she would have; there’s something benevolent but weird in their new base), Sonbird decides to start up a relationship with Hawkeye on the grounds that she’s pretty sure they’re about to die and figured he’s the nicest guy nearby so she has to express a real hankerin’ for intimacy to someone (he lets her down gently, albeit reluctantly) and Hawkeye… decides to break out of the prison by flinging himself at a gravity-well that composes the cell.

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Doesn’t work, but bless him for trying (this page was also difficult to read on Marvel Unlimited, page kept rotating on me).

And Graviton brings Moonstone into his Bikini Girl Throne Room to gloat at her; it was the mean constructive criticism she launched at him before that made him decide to get serious about being a proper villain, instead of his initial plan of “Fight Superheroes Until I Rule the World”, and it’s clearly going great! He’s terrorized San Francisco, beaten up several Thunderbolts and Nobodies Favourite X-Man! And he’s got a loyal army of toadies, a flying castle and a bunch of bikini girls lounging around his throne!

And Moonstone points out that literally every part of everything Graviton has done in this story is completely unoriginal. Right down to his word choice in his evil monologues, everything about him is a walking cliche and even his super powers make him Magneto except he has a Goatee instead of a Compelling Tragic History. Even this entire interlude serves no purpose but for Graviton to insist he’s a big deal to someone who made fun of him. The guy is just pathetic, vindictive and incredibly thin-skinned, and that’s obvious to anyone who hasn’t made a career out of psychologically manipulating people.

Anyway, ol’ Gravy Boy takes this bit of criticism with less due consideration than the last bit, and figures he’ll just resume his plan to build a Mad Max style flying Raider Nation and execute the Thunderbolts in the morning. He might be in creative but you have to practice the fundamentals.

Moonstones reaction to this is to admit she probably should have stroked his ego so everyone wouldn’t wind up dead. Well… live and learn.

Anyway, cutting back to Jolt and Charcoal, we learn who it is that Hallie decided was the one person who could lend a hand to their efforts to defeat a gravity controlling supervillain;

And as the cover promised it’s…

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Aaron Stack/X-51, The Machine Man!

Present day readers best know Aaron from Warren Ellis’ Nextwave, and every appearance he’s had since then, which characterized him as effectively being Marvels version of Bender; a surly, human hating alcoholic robot who isn’t above a little larceny between friends (and later still, a militant robot-rights activist). But this was written before Futurama aired, let alone before Nextwave came out, so it stuck with his original background and personality; the fifty first in a series of autonomous robot weapons developed by the military, who instead developed a conscious and fought to protect rather than attack the human race. Johnny 5, if he looked like The Phantom.

Anyway, as it turns out, Aaron lives in the neighborhood (Jolt knows this because Aaron was the subject of a 20/20 special report on whether AI take vacations), and because this is pre-Warren Ellis Aaron Stack, he doesn’t mind a couple of super-powered teenagers writing X-51 in giant flaming rocks, high above his house trying to interrupt his time off.

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Aaron is happy to hear their story, and admits that he knew that Graviton is in the area, and parked an island over San Francisco and is building a raider nation of flying pirates, but, unfortunately, it turns out he can’t do a heck of a lot to help, as he’s in the middle of his annual maintenance. But he certainly can do something to help;

As explained by Jack Kirby, back when he introduced Aaron way back in the day, Aarons flight ability has nothing to do with any kind of jet pack or rocket-boosters or anything like that; he simply “has circuits that cancel the gravity equation” (everyone is quick to admit that they have no friggin’ idea what that means), and he has piles of loose circuits laying around his house at the moment, so he hands a bunch of them over to Jolt and Charcoal, expecting that cancelling gravity is probably a really helpful thing to have a guy who is quick to remind everyone that controlling gravity is, like, his entire job.

So the next day, Graviton makes good on his promise to very publicly smoosh the Thunderbolts to death on live TV in order to prove to everyone that his name is Graviton and he’s the master of the Fundamental Force, when Jolt makes good on her promise from the start of the issue, and punches him right in the friggin’ face.

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This is partly out of a personal sense of satisfaction and mainly to distract Graviton so that Charcoal and give the Gravity Circuits to the rest of the team; letting them break free of Gravs hold and making it so that his powers are, if not ineffective, certainly a great deal less effective.

And then hoo boy. I’ve said before and I’ll say again that the Bagley draws fight scenes is one of the high points of this series, but this one is one of the best of his career. Everyone Vs. Graviton feels like one of the fights in One Punch Man where the studio had an especially high budget.

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Between the 8-way beating against a borderline invincible enemy who has suddenly lost his offensive abilities, and the fact that Moonstone just refuses to stop needling him, Graviton completely loses whatever shred of cool he had left in the tank (which had to be maybe a teaspoons worth), starts demolishing large chunks of San Francisco with gravity bursts and hurled rocks before finally unleashing his super mode (which, continuing that OPM reference from earlier, makes him look weirdly similar to Boreas) and becoming a sentient black hole;

Uh Oh.

Next Time: Uh Oh
 

Fredde

Let me rock you Chaugnar Faugn
(He/Him)
Does Machine Man make any references to the fact that he originally appeared in Kirby's extended adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey? I imagine that they try to skirt around that fact for copyright reasons.
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
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Hawkeye says “Uh Oh”, Moonstone says “Uh Oh”, Songbird says “Uh Oh”, Charcoal says “Uh Oh”, Jolt says “Uh Oh”, Graviton says “Uh Oh”, Citizen V says “Uh Oh”, the Sky Raiders say “Uh Oh” and Atlas says “I think I made a new friend!” In… Uh Oh!

And this is the culminating issue of a big arc so naturally the main threat is dealt with pretty quickly and everything else is picking up all the recent plot threads that had been dropped because of Gravitons foolishness.

As we left our heroes, they’d broken free of Gravitons clutches thabks to the completely nonsensical Jack Kirby science that powered Machine Man, and they collectively pounded the bajeezus out of him. This, combined with Moonstone constantly taunting him, lead the Graviton having a bit of a metaphorical meltdown, which then quickly transitioned to him having a literal meltdown. To a collective “Uh Oh” from Hawkeye and Moonstone

Moonstone is also quick to take the blame for that, which represents real character growth on her part.

The rest of Gravitons Sky Raider army is *also* saying “uh oh” because they’re aware that their boss is not one of those “Suffer fools for their failures” kind of bosses, nor is he a graceful loser, and furthermore they’re all on a footing island and only able to fly because he deigns it so; so they’re quick to escape the island and get safely on the ground before Graviton can take his power back from them.

So that just leaves the Bolts, and while they’re immune to Gravitons powers for the moment, they’re not optimistic they can take him down before those circuits burn out, so Moonstone comes up with an honestly pretty good plan to stop him…

Which everyone immediately agrees to disregard because every single one of Moonstones plans has made things much worse for everyone, especially all her plans involving Graviton, and the Thunderbolts are painfully aware of this fact.

Instead, Angel takes the gravity cancelling bracelets from the rest of the team and flies after Graviton directly and slaps them on *him* (Moonstones plan was for her to do that, but everyone pointed out that Angel has a much higher Dex Save); this worked, but as it’s a Moonstone plan involving Graviton it backfires spectacularly; and by Cancelling the Gravity Equation (a term which the Narration box admits to still being confused by) on Momma Halls Special Baby Boy, it turns out that makes his powers go backwards, and he turns into a black hole, pulling himself, and the island, into himself.

The rest of the team is (justifiably) concerned that they just killed a man, but Hawkeye says "Nah", every time Graviton shows up he winds up getting tricked into turning into a black hole and being pulled into himself. It's basically giving him a time-out. And that's about that; the team quickly scrams before the police can show up (they are still technically wanted felons) and Angel agrees to let them have the (tremendously wrecked) Champcraft because he now believes them that they've reformed; noting that sure, society hates and fears the Thunderbolts too, and that it's kind of different circumstances, but he sees where they're coming from.

And that would be about it for Graviton except as we see; in the empty void he brought himself into, he's somehow confronted by a mysterious robed figure who offers him a new career.

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Well, surely the Thunderbolts didn't solve a problem by making a new much worse problem again.

Anyway, on to everyone elses problems/storylines

The next day the severely busted up Champcraft is completely rebuilt, good as new, and Charcoal has a new superhero uniform made of Unstable Molecules and everything, and nobody has the slightest idea how or why; reinvigorating Hawkeyes sense that there's somethingweird as hell about their new base and deciding to investigate farther. This investigation goes nowhere as their base is enormous, and the mountain range it's integrated into has thousands of side tunnels so if there's someone hiding in there, it'd be impossible to find them even if they wanted to be found.

Jolt has lots of unprocessed PTSD about attending school, because the last time she was in school was slightly before Onslaught attacked New York, her parents got killed, and she was abducted by a Nazi mad scientist and tortured until she had unlocked a new branch of the human genome, and non-stop superhero antics was keeping her from confronting anything like that. She decides to tough it out because nobody in comic books goes to therapy (to be fair, the only therapist she knows is Moonstone and she does not portray her profession well).

Atlas resumes going to the bar he's pretty sure is tended to by Man Killer, formerly of the Masters of Evil, and is still trying to circuitously determine if that's really her (she is, again, a huge, incredibly jacked woman with a bright orange flat-top haircut) and if she's laying low to avoid the cops, or if she's legitimately turned her life around and found a fulfilling career as a bartender.

Further evidence that it isn't Man Killer; she seems pretty friendly, as opposed to homicidally inclined, towards men.
Further evidence she is Man Killer; astonishing knowledge of professional skiing, her career before being turned into an androcidal cyborg.

The jury is still out!

Also, while visiting the bar, Atlas sees someone who looks for all the world like Techno, before he became a living machine.

Hmm...

Meanwhile, in... some town... Citizen V is chasing down some criminals looking for some information, Batman style. Turns out that after her explosion-based prison escape, the Crimson Cowl was thought to be in the area, and would likely be recruiting new teammates to replace the Masters of Evil. The stoolie she's chasing doesn't know anything about the cowl, but does admit that there is someone in town has been recruiting a lot of particularly vicious criminal-types.

And as for Charcoal, unlike Jolt, he's excited to be in school, as his previous schooling came from a vengeful paramilitary secret organization that had been usurping small, Middle American towns. So... Regular High School is novel and inviting for him.

Unfortunately, it turns out the high school didn't do as good of a job as they could have on background checks on their staff;
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The Janitor is a member of the Imperial Forces who conscripted Charcoal and gave him Flaming Rocks powers in the first place, and they really want to recoup that investment; and a squad of Imperial Soldiers explode the school, gun down Charlie with tranquilizer rounds, and steal him away (to which he says Uh Oh); just as Jolt works up the courage to go back to school confident that she CAN resume her schooling without anything terrible happening.

Girl... just get a GED through the mail.

Jolt, after her own private freak-out and Uh Oh, alerts the rest of the team about what just happened; which Songbird receives, and heads off to let Clint and Moonstone know...

And it turns out that those two went to the bases gym for a workout... which transitioned to joke-flirting... to real flirting... to Second-base and Flirtin' to "Naked Make-outs".

To which Songbird said "Uh Oh"

NEXT TIME: Well, Maybe it's a GOOD Empire?
 
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