Thunderbolts Classic volume 1


By Kurt Busiek, Peter David, Mark Bagley, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5309-2

At the end of 1996 the “Onslaught” publishing event removed the Fantastic Four, Captain America, Iron Man and Avengers from the Marvel Universe and shared continuity, ceding creative control to Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee for a year. At first the “Image style” comics got all the attention, but a new title created to fill the gap in the “old” universe quickly proved to be the true star sensation of the period.

Thunderbolts was initially promoted as a replacement team book: brand new and untried heroes pitching in because the beloved big guns were dead and gone. Chronologically the team debuted in Incredible Hulk # 449 (cover-dated January 1997), a fairly standard game of “heroes-stomp-monster”, but that seemingly mediocre tale is perhaps excusable in retrospect…

With judicious teaser guest-shots abounding, Thunderbolts #1 premiered in April and was an instant mega-hit, with a second print and a rapid-reprint collection of the first two issues also selling out in days.

This classic compendium gathers all the early appearances of the neophyte team from January to July 1997: the Hulk tale, Thunderbolts #1-5, the Minus -1 special and 1997 Annual, plus their portion of Tales of the Marvel Universe one-shot and Spider-Man Team-Up Featuring… #7.

Sadly although the stories are still immensely enjoyable this book simply can’t recapture the furore the series caused in its early periodical days, because Thunderbolts was a sneakily high-concept series with a big twist: one which – almost impossibly for comics – didn’t get spilled before the “big reveal.”

The action here starts with issue #1 and ‘Justice… Like Lightning’ as Kurt Busiek, Mark Bagley & Vince Russell introduce a new team who begin to clear the devastated, post-Onslaught streets of New York of resurgent super-villains and thugs making the most of the hero-free environment. Amongst the Thunderbolts’ efforts is a resounding defeat of scavenger gang the Rat Pack, but although they rout and round up the looters, the leader escapes with his real prize: homeless children…

Captain America tribute/knock off Citizen V leads the valiant newcomers who comprise size-shifting Atlas, super- armoured Mach-1, beam-throwing amazon Meteorite, sonic siren Songbird and human toybox Techno, and the terrified, traumatised citizenry instantly take them to their hearts.

But these heroes share a huge secret…

They’re all super-villains from the sinister Masters of Evil in disguise, and Citizen V – or Baron Helmut Zemo as he truly prefers – has major Machiavellian long-term plans…

When unsuspecting readers got to the end of that first story the reaction was instantaneous shock and jubilation.

The aforementioned, untitled Hulk tale anachronistically appears next, as Peter David, Mike Deodato Jr. & Tom Wegrzyn pit the neophytes against the Jade Juggernaut in their campaign to win the hearts and minds of the World, promptly followed by the Tales of the Marvel Universe tale ‘The Dawn of a New Age of Heroes!’ as the group continue to do good deeds for bad reasons, readily winning the approval of cynical New Yorkers.

Thunderbolts #2 ‘Deceiving Appearances’ (Busiek, Bagley & Russell) finds them garnering official recognition and their first tangible reward. After defeating the Mad Thinker at a memorial service for the Fantastic Four and Avengers and rescuing “orphan” Franklin Richards, the Mayor hands over the departed FF’s Baxter Building HQ for the team’s new base of operations…

Spider-Man Team-Up Featuring… #7 ‘Old Scores’ by Busiek, Sal Buscema & Dick Giordano sees them even fool the spider-senses of everybody’s favourite wall-crawler whilst clearing him of a clever frame-up and taking down the super-scientific Enclave. However the first cracks in the plan begin to appear as Mach -1 and Songbird (AKA the Beetle and Screaming Mimi) begin to fall for each other and dream of a better life, whilst Atlas/Goliath starts to enjoy the delights and rewards of actually doing good deeds.

And whilst Techno (The Fixer) is content to follow orders for the moment, Meteorite – or Moonstone – is laying plans to further her own personal agenda…

Thunderbolts #3 finds the team facing ‘Too Many Masters’ (illustrated by Bagley & Russell) as dissension begins to creep into the ranks. The action comes from rounding up old allies and potential rivals Klaw, Flying Tiger, Cyclone, Man-Killer and Tiger-Shark who were arrogant enough to trade on the un-earned reputation as new Masters of Evil.

One of the stolen kids from issue #1 then resurfaces in ‘A Shock to the System’. Hallie Takahama was one of the prizes taken by the Rat Pack and her new owner has since subjected her to assorted procedures which have resulted in her gaining superpowers.

Her subsequent escape leads to her joining the Thunderbolts as they invade Dr. Doom’s apparently vacant castle to save the other captives from the monstrous creations and scientific depredations of rogue geneticist Arnim Zola.

However, the highly publicised victory forces Citizen V to grudgingly accept the utterly oblivious and innocent Hallie to the team as trainee recruit Jolt

Thunderbolts Annual 1997 follows: a massive revelatory jam session written by Busiek with art from Bagley, Bob McLeod, Tom Grummett, Ron Randall, Gene Colan, Darick Robertson, George Pérez, Chris Marrinan, Al Milgrom, Will Blyberg, Scott Koblish, Jim Sanders, Tom Palmer, Bruce Patterson, Karl Kesel & Andrew Pepoy, which could only be called ‘The Origin of the Thunderbolts!’

In brief instalments Jolt asks ‘Awkward Questions’ of V and Zemo offers a tissue of lies regarding the member’s individual origins…

Beginning with V’s ostensible intentions in ‘The Search Begins’, gaining ‘Technical Support’ from Fixer, examining Songbird’s past in ‘Screams of Anguish’, obscuring the Beetle’s ‘Shell-Shocked!’ transformation and how ‘Onslaught’ brought them all together, the fabrications continue as ‘To Defy a Kosmos’ reveals to everyone but Jolt how ionic colossus Goliath was snatched from incarceration in another dimension before ‘Showdown at the Vault’ brought Moonstone into the mix with men she had previously betrayed…

Thunderbolts #5 then introduced more ‘Growing Pains’ as the team took a personal day in civvies in Manhattan, only to be targeted and attacked by Baron Strucker of Hydra, using one of Kang the Conqueror’s Growing Man automatons…

The comics content of this collection concludes with Thunderbolts Minus #1; part of a company-wide event detailing the lives of heroes and villains before they started their costumed careers.

‘Distant Rumblings!’, illustrated by Steve Epting & Bob Wiacek, examined key events in the lives of two Baron Zemos, mercenary Erik (Atlas) Josten, unscrupulous psychiatrist Karla (Moonstone) Sofen, trailer-trash kid and future Songbird Melissa Gold, frustrated engineer Abner Jenkins AKA the Beetle and gadgeteering psychopath P. Norbert Ebersol who parleyed a clash with an amnesiac Sub-Mariner into a thrilling life as Hydra’s prime technician and Fixer…

Also offering a promotional page from Marvel Vision #13, a ‘Thunderbolts Fact-File’, a golden Age ad for the original Citizen V, covers-&-variants by Bagley, Deodato Jr. and Carlos Pacheco, Busiek’s introduction from the 1998 and 2001 collected editions, and 12 pages of character designs describing the metamorphosis of second-strung villains into first rung heroes, this is a solid superhero romp that managed to briefly revitalise a lot of jaded old fan-boys, but more importantly it is a strong set of tales that still pushes all the buttons it’s meant to nearly 20 years after all the hoopla has faded.

Well worth a moment of your time and a bit of your hard-earned cash.
© 1997, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.