A super hero team made up of supervillains? It doesn’t sound like a ploy with staying power, but it’s one that’s endured since the Thunderbolts first debuted in 1997’s INCREDIBLE HULK (1962) #449. After the Marvel Universe’s greatest heroes appeared to die during the Onslaught incident, Baron Zemo concocted a devious plan to take advantage of the resulting chaos by disguising his Masters of Evil as super heroes. While the ruse didn’t last forever, the concept of the team did, and the Thunderbolts have existed in one form or another ever since. Let’s take a look at the Thunderbolts’ past, present, and future!
After bowing in INCREDIBLE HULK (1962) #449, the Thunderbolts launched right into their own series with THUNDERBOLTS (1997) #1 by Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley. Their secret identities remained a mystery until the very end of their oversized first issue, where Zemo laid out his villainous endgame. Under the mantle of Citizen V, a legacy title taken from 1940s freedom fighter John Watkins, Zemo recruited the following villains to his cause: Beetle (Abe Jenkins), Fixer (Norbert Ebersol), Goliath (Erik Josten), Moonstone (Karla Sofen), and Screaming Mimi (Melissa Gold).
For the purposes of Zemo’s deception, these Masters of Evil took on new identities. Jenkins became MACH-1, while Fixer used the name Techno and Josten took up Atlas as his alias. Additionally, Sofen went by Meteorite and Gold became Songbird. Inspired by his fond memories of Nazi Germany, Zemo named his team the Thunderbolts, although he publicly claimed he took it from a poem by 17th century poet Thomas Randolph. Together, they hoped to win the trust and affection of the public, so that the authorities might give them access to funds, classified information, and certain security clearances.
Zemo’s plan worked – for a little while, at least. After saving Franklin Richards’ life, city officials allowed the Thunderbolts to move into Four Freedoms Plaza. They were gifted a Thunderjet bought with public funds and donations. As they defeated supervillains like the Enclave and a new Masters of Evil team (a slight they took personally), their popularity skyrocketed, and they became New York City’s most beloved heroes in the absence of both the Avengers and the Fantastic Four.