The Thunderbolts has always been a red-headed stepchild of a superhero team. Born out of necessity when the heroes of the Marvel Universe were destroyed battling Onslaught, the Thunderbolts were a group of heroes shrouded in mystery until it was revealed that they were actually super villains posing as heroes (an excellent surprise that readers still remember fondly to this day).
After the Civil War ended and the Super Hero Registration Act was put into action, Tony Stark as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. put a cape-hunting team into action to round up anyone who refused to sign up, led by reformed super villain Norman Osborn. Made up of the most twisted villains of the Marvel Universe: Venom, Bullseye, the Swordsman, Moonstone and reformed criminals Radioactive Man and Songbird along with the mentally damaged Penance (formerly Speedball), the team was given free reign in how they brought in renegade heroes, resulting in leaving a trail of carnage (and body parts) in their wake. Osborn struggled to maintain a modicum of control over his team and his own sanity, something he managed to pull off by a hair before all Hell broke loose and it took a madman to deal with an alien invasion of Skrulls.
When Stark failed to protect the Earth from a Skrull Invasion, Osborn saved the day and was regaled as a hero. Given leadership of both S.H.I.E.L.D. (renamed H.A.M.M.E.R.), Osborn discontinued the Thunderbolts squad (killing Swordsman even) and reformed the team as a black ops group made up of villains who had never met before such as Scourge, Headsman, Ghost, Black Widow, Ant Man, and the soldier of fortune Paladin. During the Siege of Asgard, the team was routed by the Avengers and was arrested/disbanded.
In the aftermath of the Siege, Luke Cage traveled to the Raft (where the New Avengers team was first formed) to start his new job. A former prison inmate himself (framed by a friend for a crime he didn’t commit), Luke even took the last name Cage as a reminder of the time he served before he escaped. Luke had accepted an offer to take part in an experiment that would shorten his prison term. The experiment was interrupted by a guard who disliked Luke which had unexpected results, granting Luke impervious skin and unusual strength and endurance. Cage operated on the sidelines for years (aside from a brief stint in the Fantastic Four when Ben Grimm lost his powers) but finally found his rightful place in the MU when he was asked to join the New Avengers. After the death of Captain America, Cage has operated as a team leader for the group, keeping them safe, focused and motivated.
Of course all of this attention can be attributed to Avengers scribe Brian Michael Bendis who had a fondness for obscure characters such as Cage and Spider-Woman and used his new job as head Avengers writer to bring them to the forefront.
More recently, Jeff Parker (Agents of Atlas, Underground) has taken over the Thunderbolts, steering it through numerous crossovers and artist shifts that would try many a man’s patience! The series has been exciting and humorously different, making it into a sleeper hit comic for Marvel, much like his other ongoing series Atlas. Jeff will continue his magnificent run on the book as the Thunderbolts rise from the ashes of the Dark Reign of Norman Osborn and into the Heroic Age. The writer spoke to CBRNews.com to give the run down on what readers can expect:
Luke is the linchpin that holds it all together. After what Norman Osborn did with the Thunderbolts program, most people don’t want it to ever exist in any form at all. But some influential people understand the value of a program that tries to give these powerful agents a more noble purpose. So the next time an Osborn rises to prominence, maybe he won’t have so many big guns at his disposal.
To justify keeping Thunderbolts going, a very trusted figure had to accept the role as the mentor/leader, and had Luke not taken it, it would have been shut down completely. He’s perfect. He understands how you can take a wrong path, and how you can better yourself. And he’s tough enough to deal with the hardest criminal.
It is based in The Raft, now the only and most closely watched incarceration facility for extra-normal beings. The only possible way out, besides serving out your sentence, is proving yourself in the Thunderbolts. You can volunteer for it, but a committee has to select you. We’ll get more into that in the book.
It will incorporate the various tones that each era of the Thunderbolts have had- it’s a big sweeping ensemble book, and there’s room for all of that, from the hopeful goal of redemption to the depths that the darkest characters embody. And when you get comfortable with one, expect it to shift!
The Thunderbolts have had several line-ups to date, but this one has to be the most bizarre. Team leader Luke Cage leads an unlikely crew of Crossbones, Juggernaut, Ghost, The Fixer, Mach V, Songbird, Moonstone and Man-Thing who must all strive to earn a pardon as part of a team led by the toughest guy in the Marvel Universe.
As Parker put it: “I would rather have Luke Cage screaming at me as I run into the probability of certain death than rot in this cell. Except for the Man-Thing, of course – no one can ever tell what he’s thinking. And no one asked him anyway.”
The new direction starts this month in Thunderbolts #144.