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

Büge

Arm Candy
(she/her)
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.
Besides, there's probably an ordinance on the books in L.A. against creating cosmic phenomena, and the Bolts wouldn't want to be left holding the bag on that one.
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
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We’ve got an all time terrible sales pitch, a lot of justification to eating the rich and a surprising missed opportunity from Kurt Busiek in referencing a comic book in… A More Perfect Union

Last time, as you no doubt recall; Charcoal was gunned down on his second day of school by the Imperial Forces, trying to reclaim their lost asset, and Songbird walked in on Hawkeye and Moonstone doing naked kissing.

Well she was nakers, Clint was fully dressed in purple, medieval archery garb.

I’m not going to kinkshame.

Anyway, one full week later the Thunderbolts decide to do something about their team mate whose been captured by a violent, seditious militia and head to an Imperial Force recruitment drive.

In the past there’s been a justification in the Bolts not immediately leaping into action, either Zemo trying to show off how badly everyone is screwed without his help or else because the villain clearly isn’t going anywhere so why not wait until after a solid 8 hours sleep and a good breakfast… but there really isn’t a good excuse this time. Just… took their time I guess.

To be fair, it took Moonstone several tries to come up with a disguise that made her look like a small town yokel instead of a Sexy CEO, but she has a brand to maintain. Also the team apparently spent that week trying to convince Hawkeye that getting into a romantic relationship with the teams official Starscream is a tremendously stupid idea.

Anyway, at the rally, we’re treated to one of their spokesmen giving a truly, truly terrible sales pitch for why you, yes you, should uproot your life and pledge everything you own to the masked, Armored gun toting separatists who want to murder the entire governing body.

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TL/DR; they’re pitching medieval serfdom. Just straight up feudalism.

The crowd loves this… somehow, and everyone is eager to sign up for a lifetime of toiling in fields growing potatoes for the benefit of the mega rich, because they don’t feel like they should have the right to vote. And part of the sign-up process involves a medical examination to see where their particular strengths and skills can be put to best use.

This is where the Bolts infiltration plan starts to fall apart, as they didn’t think a medical exam would be required and they already knew that Imperial Forces are on the lookout for any humans with augmented bodies; such as what you’d find from exposure to an alien gemstone, a body comprised of Ionic Energy, an abnormal amount of bio-electricity, a bionic larynx or… umm… being a carny sharp shooter.

So the Bolts are identified basically immediately and word quickly spreads to the head of the Imperial Force; none other than… William Taurey.

This is a Kurt Busiek comic, so yes, Willy T is a long forgotten minor Marvel villain. Specifically, he was the mastermind behind the MADBOMB, a brief Captain America story arc from the mid 70s, right around the point where Jack Kirby came back.

His ultimate goal was to build a psychic bomb that, when detonated with inflict all the poor people with violent madness, making them kill one another and leaving America to the people who truly deserves it; the Multi-Billionaires.

Captain America and Falcon punched him a whole lot and hauled him off to jail, but I guess he posted bail or something because he’s back, baby. William has no idea who the thunderbolts are, but he knows enough to suspect that they’re Superheroes and he wants no business with them…

Anyway, unaware of this, the Bolts, the people who are real keen to get back to peasantry and surprise stowaway Citizen V (who is still trying to calibrate her moral compass, she’s reasonably sure the Bolts aren’t overtly evil, and the Empire is) are loaded into an airplane and taken to their headquarters; The Cornwallis Base.

Which is about as subtle as you can reasonably expect from a comic that is a follow up to a Jack Kirby story.

Once they land, everyone on board winds up broken into three groups, with the old and infirm, the hale and hearty, and… just the Thunderbolts; and it’s around this point that the non-superhero adjacent part of the assembly starts to suspect that this whole enterprise might have something amiss with it.

The Bolts, however are given a private tour of the Cornwallis Base by the high ranking officer; Cheer Chadwick.

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As you may determine from the general tenor of this story and the Imperial Forces in general; she is not named accurately.

Anyway the tour of the base starts at a level of “Hmm…” (the workers are crammed eight to a room, while the commanders are given executive suites) and gradually work their way down from there; with mind control indoctrination, heavy weapons training and horrific invasive genetic tampering to make stronger, more docile workers. Which generally results in misshapen hulking brutes who Cheer refers to as “Labor Zombies”.

Also it turns out that the Imperial Forces only subcontracted Arnim Zola as a consultant before; he isn’t actually associated with them; kind of cleans up a minor plot hole there.

Anyway, while the Thunderbolts are being lead around increasingly horrified of what they’d always assumed was a pretty rinky-dink villainous organization, Citizen V is sneaking around the rest of the base and learns that the Bolts are only being shown the niceties; she finds a room where all the weak and infirm recruits have been assembled; and it turns out the Imperial Forces found a valid use for them after all; testing the new doomsday weapons they’ve been developing to replace the MADBOMB in terms of the mass execution of people not in their financial bracket.

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They rate this one an 8/10…

So while this is all going on, Cheer leads the Bolts to the final chamber, where she admits that the Forces know exactly who the Bolts are, and that the Labor Zombies were just the result of “inferior” genetic stock; the cream of the crop is… The Brute Force!

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Wait… sorry… no. Inexplicably, not the existing obscure Marvel team Brute Force. It’s these guys.

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To be fair; pretty solid designs. Good example of Miniboss Henchmen.

Anyway, Mark Bagley are his vegetables of 15 pages of talking and human rights violations so now he gets to have his ice cream of Superheroes Fighting.

The Bolts win handily, freeing Charcoal in the process (the fight was in the same room he was being held captive and tortured, for some reason), but their victory is short lived, when concealed weapons in the floor and ceiling activate and knock out the Bolts before they can react, and Hawkeye realizes that the Imperial Force base and all its commanders are the same as the ones Captain America fought years ago and it’s a new incarnation of The Royalist Force of America…

And William Rainey emerges and informs him that the Royalist Forces have had a bit of a rebranding since then;

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They’re not just a secretive empire… they’re The Secret Empire!

Oh dip! I hope our heroes aren’t going to wind up in some manner of Kill Derby next issue.

Next Time: Karla Sofen will… Kill Derby
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
clean.jpg

Well, we just had 22 pages worth of plot, so it's only fair that we get 22 pages worth of Punching in... Blood Sports

Incidentally, the previous issue promised this one was going to be called Blood and Circuses (which would have been appropriate), the cover says KILL DERBY (which certainly got MY attention), and the interior says Blood Sports (which is literal), you can take your pick as to which is better. I know which one I'd choose.

Anyway, last time, the Thunderbolts took a good week off, after their youngest (?) member was shot and abducted at school, and taken to a secret base where he was ceaselessly tortured. And when they finally opted to go after them, that the Imperial Forces (a distant 4th for Major Thunderbolts villains), were substantially crueler than they'd expected; abducting and brainwashing people into medieval serfdom or else just using them for target practice, all for the benefit of the 1%. Furthermore, the Imperial Forces leader revealed himself as William Taurey and that the Imperial Forces are, in fact... The Secret Empire.

The Secret Empire is effectively the third branch of HYDRA, the first name of Marvels premier villainous organizations. While AIM is concerned with Mad Science based evil, and HYDRA itself is more of COBRA (but based on a different kind of serpent, and also nazi-ier), the Secret Empire is alllllll about subterfuge. They were introduced in Stan Lees first attempt at a major crossover storyline back in the '60s (it was a mess, but definitely ambitious) as a misdirect to hide the return of the seemingly destroyed HYDRA, and brought back in the 1970s when it was discovered to have been secretly run by Richard Nixon who then committed suicide and caused Cap to cease wanting to associate himself with America. They've shown up a few other times since then to a greater or lesser degree, culminating with the poorly received Secret Empire storyline from a few years ago that turned a bunch of superheroes into nazis because of Cosmic Cube nonsense.

Anyway, long and short is that this stories villain is a compatriot of Richard Milhouse Nixon, a man who Henry Kissinger described as "a madman".

And he's also not *terribly* creative as a supervillain, as his master plan here is to use giant weaponized tuning forks to murder all the poor people so that the Ultra-Wealthy can rule America and... I guess... hope that a lot of vital infrastructure takes care of itself.

Most civil engineering projects can be accomplished if you yell "FASTER, YOU FOOLS!" at a cringing henchman.

Anyhow, the Thunderbolts got suckerpunched in the last issue and have now woken up in a vast death arena, where Taurey is going to have them publicly executed for the delight of his toiling workers;

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This ain't Hawkeyes first day on the job and is completely underwhelmed.

Anyway, as expected, the Secret Empires genetically mutated mini-boss squad, The Brute Force pour into the arena for a rematch against the Thunderbolts (they did very poorly last time, despite the Bolts concern) as well as a whole bunch of heavily armored shock-troops, just to make it a fair fight.

Taurey promises 10,000 credits worth of corporate scrip and a one-month long promotion to anyone who kills a Thunderbolt, which is all the incentive they need. And we then get 22 pages worth of Arena Death Fight, which the Thunderbolts keep INSISTING they're having a hard time with, even if nothing about the art implies it's anything but a victory lap for them.

Anyway, watching the attempted execution of several criminals-turned-vigilante, two teenagers, and a publicly beloved superhero, is also Citizen V, who still knows that she doesn't like the Thunderbolts for helping tarnish her familys name, but also knows that she likes the Secret Empire a lot less for unrepentant acts of super evil, associations with Richard Milhouse Nixon, and the fact that she just watched them murder, like, two dozen people as target practice for a doomsday device. And while she *could* jump into the fray to help the lesser of two evils triumph over the greater of two evils, she instead calls in some ringers, and heads off to take care of the Shriekquencer while the entire Secret Empire is crammed into this one room.

During the fight, Hawkeye decides to take a page from Moonstones playbook, and separates one of the soldiers from the rest of the melee and tries to convince him to work along with the Thunderbolts, escape the arena and overthrow Taruey and the empire... only to be immediately betrayed and literally stabbed in the back by aforesaid soldier the moment it became convenient to do so.

Moonstone gently reminds him to play to his strengths (shooting arrows and snarky comments) and leave psychological warfare and manipulation to the experts.

Following that, the Bolts wind up with their backs against the wall, the Brute Force and soldiers have them outnumbered... when that phone call Citizen V made earlier comes through, and charging through the wall comes...
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US Agent and the Jury! Turns out that V was trying to solve all her problems at once; calling the Juries toll-free number to reveal what she said was the Thunderbolts' base, rightly counting on John and his ro-buddies to correctly identify the monarchists and their mutant murder-men as being the greater threat than the Thunderbolts, and then also arresting the Thunderbolts, as that'd what Edwin Cord, Asshole Billionaire, pays them to do. Surprisingly; Edwin Cord, noted billionaire and asshole who hates superheroes, is not associated with the Secret Empire. Genuinely did not see that coming.

Anyway, now that the Thunderbolts have been joined by a bunch of jabronis who they beat before, and easily, this existing group of jabronis they've beaten before, and easily, proves themselves to be no trouble whatsoever.

Taurey realizes his elite death squad is getting their asses handed to them, and the deadly superweapons he used to knock out the Bolts before are drastically underperforming (can't really trick Songbird with a sound-based weapon twice), and he frantically runs out of the arena to call for his own back-up from the real leader of the Secret Empire; someone who he knows hates the Thunderbolts more than (almost) anyone else in the world...

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BARON ZEMO!!!

Unfortunately, despite the dramatic reveal of his final trump card; this really does not work the way Taurey was expecting; Zemo didn't actually expect any kind of success rate from the Empire, he was just hedging his bets with supporting various megalomaniacal organizations because he respects the hustle of trying to take over the world, he has less than no loyalty to Taurey, and he has very publicly ceased caring about the Thunderbolts, even if they did betray him; he wants to focus all his hate and wrath on subjects he feels are more worthwhile. So he hangs up on Taurey without so much as a "Smell Ya Later" and tells him if he can't even handle some dweebs that Zemo doesn't care about, he really deserves to get thwarted.

Meanwhile, Dr. Hesperus Chadwick realizes that this whole Secret Empire plan is rapidly falling apart, so he goes off to grab the plans for the Shriequencer so he can flee the Cornwallis Base and start up his own Mad Science lab elsewhere... only to run into Citizen V, who gleefully informs him that she just destroyed the prototype, all the design documents and the computer files related to the weapons design... and also filled his lab with enough bombs to completely detonate the entire base.

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Between Vs bombs, the severe damage that the fight in the arena is doing, and the fact that Songbird overloaded every circuit in the base reflecting the sound-blasters, Cornwallis base is soon in complete shambles; most fo the commanders attempt to escape only to be captured (Taurey has a private jet and the Bolts are too exhausted to chase him, but as he leaves he swears vengeance on the Bolts for ruining his vision of a perfect utopia and also avenging Dr. Chadwick

Hawkeye has absolutely no idea who Dr. Chadwick is; this is the first he's heard the name.

And that's about it for the Imperial Forces; the bulk of them are going to either go to jail or intensive psycho therapy for either their terrible crimes or to be unbrainwashed, depending on how culpable they were, William Taurey is going back to the bottom of the list of Major Thunderbolts Antagonists, Hawkeye is going to get a hold of Captain America to let him know to be on the lookout for Royalists and a certain little Miss Takahama is going to have some private counselling sessions with the teams resident Evil Therapist, Moonstone about why she's missing so much school.

And also, as they arrive back at their base, the Bolts are surprised to find a whole fleet of flying motorcylces that have been literally giftwrapped for them, at which point Hawkeye says "Okay, this is getting ridiculous, all superheroing is on hold until we figure out what the hell is up with thi base!"

Which will finally be answered in the finale issue of Kurt Busieks run of Thunderbolts...

NEXT TIME: Don't Call it a Come Back
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
latest


Well, here we are with the final issue of Kurt Busieks critical and commercial success, Thunderbolts. There’s a lot of unanswered questions and this issue.., answers just the one of them. And ends with two cliffhangers for Fabian Niceza to have to resolve.

In our last issue, the Bolts managed to rescue Charcoal and dismantle the Secret Empire, which seemed genuinely surprised that someone would successfully try to thwart them, and then decided that it’s about time Jolt went to therapy for her unresolved trauma (and as this is a comic book, and the Thunderbolts doesn’t have great health insurance package, that means Resident Evil Psychiatrist, Moonstone) and also Hawkeye wants to figure out who’s squatting in their base fixing their stuff.

So we get resolutions to both of those plot lines here, and gentle acknowledgement of “What’s Mach 1 up to?” And “Where’s Techno?”.

Anyway, Jolts part of this story is half of a brief recap of her origin and half of her admitting that she’s been using Superhero Stuff to distract her from coping with the fact that her entire family and friend group (and even the school bullies who taunted her for being a superhero fangirl) all got killed by Sentinels and a giant psionic demon when Onslaught attacked New York, then she was abducted by paramilitary scavengers hired by a Nazi mad scientist cyborg, and then experimented on, and all the kids she found herself acting as a surrogate mother for were mutated into Cronenberg-y monsters while she got super speed and bio-electricity.

You know, that old saw.

Anyway, Moonstone says “Well there’s your problem.” And Jolt says “Huh… you’re right. You might be a manipulative criminal sociopath, but you’re actually a very good therapist.” That’s basically word-for-word.

And that’s it; Jolts done with therapy now. She succeeded at it.

As for the rest of the team they’re busy hunting down their mysterious unseen benefactor like a wild animal.

Which is also not an exaggeration; they’re literally laying out packs of food for them under a big net, trying to catch them.

Cut them some slack; The Thunderbolts’ skill set doesn’t extend far beyond “Doing a passable job thwarting villains nobody thinks to do anything about”.

Anyway, this Wile. E Coyote level of subterfuge works about as well as you might expect (not because they don’t fall for it; just because they have access to technology that lets them get around sonic barriers and… umm… Big Nets), but then Atlas has the idea to just pay them a sincere compliment for fixing up all their busted technology and sewing costumes.

And you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. And who loves honey and flies more than…

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THE OGRE!

You might be asking “Who dat?”. I certainly did, and he’s so unknown that even Jolt has to admit she’s never heard of the guy. And with good reason; he’s a solid contender for the most obscure pick for a Deep Cut Marvel character Kurt Busieks ever brought out. As a point of comparison; look at every previous issue of this series.

The Ogre is a very minor Mutant super-genius who briefly fought the X-Men a couple of times back in the Stan Lee (possibly Roy Thomas) days. He coerced Banshee into attacking the team at the command of the mysterious organization Factor 3 (who had been the ones to build the Charteris Mountain Base in the first place, as a beachhead for an alien invasion) and when that plan failed, Factor 3s leader told him to stay at the base to await proper punishment for failure.

Then the X-Men beat Factor 3 so severely that nobody ever mentioned them again, but nobody passed the memo to Ogre whose… just been chillin’ in the base ever since.

It’s a *nice* base so he didn’t mind, and he kind of assumed the Mutant Master of Factor 3 just plum forgot to punish him, and over the unspecified number of years, had a change of heart on the whole Evil Genius thing. Several other villainous organizations moved into the base in the interim (such as August Winters’ militia, HYDRA, and the Klan expy; The Sons of the Serpent, as well as the Masters of Evil), on the grounds of “Hey! Cool Alien Base!”, but we’re all eventually beaten while he hid elsewhere in the bases catacombs. Then the Thunderbolts moved in, and did not seem like a terrorist cabal trying to conquer the Earth (he doesn’t watch the news much), so he tried to discretely help them along.

So Hawkeye hears his story and says “Well, helping reformed supervillains is kind of our thing, and we currently have no Smart Guys on the team so… I guess you just had a successful job interview!

Ogre is ecstatic, less because he finally has some friends who don’t want to murder him for failing to kill any X-Men, and more because he doesn’t have to leave his secret mountain base, if he doesn’t want to.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt a deeper spiritual connection to a super villain than I do with The Ogre.

Anyway, we’re nearly done the issue and nothing particularly comic-booky has happened, so an alarm goes off around the base (Ogre mentions he also rigged the PA to do that, if something Super-villainous was going on anywhere) and that’s because reports are coming in of a large, heavily Armored man tearing into bank vaults all around the West Coast; and from that description, the silhouette and the fact that a (very obscure) X-Men villain was the focus of this issue, you’d think that’d mean it’s Juggernaut. A villain who ticks all those boxes.

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But nope! Apparently it’s The Beetle! Apparently after Mach 1 was paroled from Supervillain Jail he immediately, and uncharacteristically built a new extra large Beetle suit and went right back to his old tricks.

Not… where I thought his arc was going.

Anyway, the Bolts decide to solve this problem the way they solve most of their problems (take a nap, deal with it in the morning). And Ogre heads off to start tinkering up some new gear that will help the team beat the stuffing out of their old friend with the help of their new friend! And he’s really just too happy to have any friends that he doesn’t stop to overthink this.

He also doesn’t stop to overthink anything about the curious silence of his intruder alarms, which allows him to be blindsided by the other surprise return of this issue, and the guy who I really thought was going to be the mysterious benefactor;

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TECHNO IS BACK, BABY!

Wow, what a pair of cliffhangers! And we won’t learn how they’re resolved because I was just going to cover Kurt Busieks run, and that’s over now.

Sorry Frank, you’re a good kid, but I made my choice.

NEXT TIME: I wonder if there’s another prominent, late 90s Kurt Busiek Marvel comic series…
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
I feel like there's something about this kind of storytelling that's lost to day. It feels very by the seat of his pants at a certain point. I respect it.
 
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