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

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
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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

Mysterious Contraption
(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

Mysterious Contraption
(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

Mysterious Contraption
(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

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
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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
 
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