In the wake of the Avengers and Fantastic Four, new heroes arise to protect the Marvel Universe, but are they all that they seem?

No, of course not.  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Thunderbolts #1 awaits!

Thunderbolts1CoverTHUNDERBOLTS #1
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Penciler: Mark Bagley
Inker: Vince Russell
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Letterer: Dave Lanphear/Oscar Gongora/Comicraft
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $2.99
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $4.00

Previously in Thunderbolts: Though his first professional comic-writing work was in 1983, Kurt Busiek didn’t “break out”, whatever that means, until the release of ‘Marvels’ in 1993.  Collaborating with Alex Ross, Busiek took the familiar moments and personages of the Silver Age of Marvel Comics and recast them in a whole new light at a time when the Marvel Universe was mired in the doldrums of GrimAnGritty.  Unfortunately for readers, things got much worse before they got better, leading to the madness that was Marvelution (about which the less said the better) and then the massive inter-title Onslaught crossover.  That book was designed to create the “Heroes Reborn” universe, wherein the Avengers, Fantastic Four and other stalwarts of the Marvel Universe were redesigned by the minds behind the Image Comics revolution a few years earlier, leaving the mainstream Marvel Universe in mourning for some of its most revered and powerful heroes….


For those who don’t recall, that mess of lumps is what Iron Man’s armor looked like (actually, under the pen of Mark Bagley, it looks 200% better here) while the gentleman with the face-stripes is 1996 Thor.  Having lost their heroes, the world of Marvel is in chaos (albeit, chaos that really only gets addressed in this title, what with Clone Sagas, Flashback Months and the cancellation of The Punisher), worried about the literal legions of bad-folk out there who want to stomp all over all that is good and pure…


…like the Masters Of Evil.  Having bought this book off the stands back in the day, I remember thinking how great it was that someone was going to follow up on that brilliant Avengers/Masters crossover (which is still the biggest assemblage of known characters into a team that I can recall) from a few years earlier.  (I was more right than I thought, as anyone who knows the secret of this issue will attest.)  Our intrepid reporter continues her cleverly disguised exposition, listing numerous threats who are at large, while a group of criminal scavengers known as The Rat Pack combs the post-Onslaught wreckage of New York, desecrating corpses and looting homes, only to find themselves face to face with a new heroic face.


The battle is joined, and the Thunderbolts, though outnumbered, immediately begin reducing the Rat Pack’s numbers.  In another really impressive bit of story-telling, it becomes clear that these are experienced combatants, and Citizen V’s leadership is almost as combat-savvy as Captain America’s himself, may he rest in poorly-drawn-Liefeld-peace.  As for the heroes themselves, they don’t lack for confidence…


…but their teamwork (especially that of Techno, the fellow with the machinery on his shoulders) might leave a few things to be desired.  The fight draws the attention of the media and the people of New York, with all eyes on the six new heroes, as they expertly take the Rat Pack down.


Sadly, superior planning allows the villains to escape, but Citizen V is still satisfied, as his intention was to get attention.  The team retreats to their temporary headquarters, and we once again get a glimpse into the personalities involved…


Seeds of a romance between M.A.C.H.-1 and Songbird are seen, while the enigmatic Meteorite keenly observes all her teammates.  When Atlas worries that Techno’s bravado might have ended badly, she reassures him that all will be taken care of, that he should just keep up the good fight, and let her and Citizen V take care of the big picture.  As for Techno himself, he is still bristling at the idea of being a working-class hero…


The arrival of the media is clearly the moment for which Citizen V has been waiting, and he once again takes center stage with the ease of a practiced leader and/or demagogue, introducing himself and his team to the awaiting public…


Pay careful heed to that “I wouldn’t call us heroes line,” Faithful Spoilerites, because foreshadowing is your clue to quality literature.  Things go quite well, with Citizen V carefully orchestrating the interaction, explaining that they can never replace the fallen Avengers, nor would they try, before encouraging the reporters to interview each of the heroes individually, giving the reporters (and, by extension, the readers) more information and explanation about who the Thunderbolts are.  Busiek’s plotting is incredibly skilled here, but Bagley’s pencils give the heroes even more character and personality, making for an excellent collaborative storytelling effort…


Their PR moment is interrupted by police reports of the return of the Rat Pack, and the team gives chase, only to fall into a trap, as the villains lead them into the clutches of The Wrecking Crew, Marvel’s beloved quartet of brutish schmucks (and Thunderball.)


Under the watching eye of the news cameras, our heroes engage the villains (who, it should be added, have enough power to challenge Thor himself) in combat.  The battle doesn’t go well, with Meteorite and Atlas quickly taken out, with collateral damage to the Statue of Liberty making it look as though all is lost.  The Wrecking Crew laughs at their triumph, which allows the clever ‘Bolts to gas three of their number out of the fight.  As for the fourth, he quickly finds himself in classic “David/Goliath” moment, but not on his usual side of the conflict…


Atlas’ punch sends the last of the Crew flying back into The Bronx, and the city erupts in cheers for their new heroes.  With the symbolic savviness of a man who wears a flag, Citizen V takes advantage of the moment, coordinating his team to repair the symbol of liberty as their adoring public watches.

It’s a moment so perfect, that it almost feels like it was planned…    *coughforeshadowingcough*


The few remaining heroes of New York are interviewed about the newcomers (including, ominously, a somewhat distracted Black Widow, a moment that will be important in later issues) while the city celebrates their new heroic force for good.

That’s when the other shoe drops…


Boom.  Headshot…

Even in 1997, the amount of effort involved in keeping the team’s secret had to be MASSIVE.  Indeed, before this #1, the ‘Bolts had appeared in an issue of Hulk, as well as a Marvel Universe anthology title with no hint as to this shocking secret.  (Busiek has said that Marvel marketing actually made some last-minute alterations to solicitations in order to preserve the secret.)  Even with the slug on the cover, 27-year-old me (who, it must be noted, had already read FAR too many comics and wasn’t entirely ignorant of the magic of foreshadowing and such) was gobsmacked by this reveal, as were the majority of readers.  Re-reading the issue with knowledge of who the heroes actually are reveals multiple instances of overt foreshadowing, from Techno’s worry about fighting their old Wrecking Crew teammates to Atlas’ response to the Pym particles question to…

…preeeetty much everything.  It’s an excellent reveal, and one that leads to some great stories in the short term.  Thunderbolts #1 is a perfect example of a story that seems to be one thing, but reveals itself to be entirely different with the reveal of one bit of information, featuring excellent art by Bagley and Russell, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall.  Indeed, nineteen years down the line, this book and the stories it spawned remain the only positive thing to come out of Onslaught/Heroes Reborn.



Clever, intricate and well-drawn, with the gut-punch surprise ending that every surprise ending wants to grow up to be.

User Rating: 4.63 ( 5 votes)

About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.


  1. This books was one of those very pleasant surprises when I first read it. I had absolutely no intention of reading it since I wasn’t all that interested in their previous appearance I saw in Hulk’s title, but a friend picked me up a copy when I was sick and I decided to go ahead and give it a try. I loved the story, and the series quickly became one of my favorites and must-haves when it came down to having to choose between titles if I was lacking funds for more than one or two books.

  2. Wow, just gotta say, that Thor costume is one of the most 90’s comic redesign that ever came from the 90’s and luckily stayed in the 90’s. Shoulder pads, check. Straps, check. Pouches would have been overkill.

  3. I’m the same age as the article’s writer. I remember seeing it on the shelves, but ignored it for a couple of weeks. While waiting in line, I skimmed through it, saw the last page, said, “Holy shit!”, bought it, and read it monthly until it deteriorated around #75ish.

Leave A Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.