I was there from the very beginning, which is to say I read the Thunderbolts’ premiere appearance in The Incredible Hulk #449. I knew that they were soon going to spin-off into their own title and I knew the team was going to stay together even after the Avengers returned from the “Onslaught” universe, but what I somehow missed back then was that the identities of these presumed heroes was to have been something of a mystery. I didn’t find out about that until after I had read the big “reveal” on the last page of their first issue. [SPOILER for anyone reading this who may not know, but the Thunderbolts were actually the villainous Masters of Evil. [END SPOILER] At that point I was a little disappointed to learn of the fan speculation prior to the revelation because I was certain I could have figured it out. I had just assumed they were all new characters who saw an opportunity and took it.

Before or after the revelation, I wasn’t too interested in the concept, whether they were going to remain a group after the return of the Avengers or not. Nevertheless, I followed them into their own series but stuck around for only three issues, even though it was written by the same guy (Kurt Busiek) who was writing Avengers, my favorite Marvel title at the time. A couple of years ago, I was reading X-Men Forever by Chris Claremont and Tom Grummett. That series led me to seek out other comic books drawn by Grummett, so I bought the series of trade paperbacks collecting The New Thunderbolts by Grummett and Fabian Nicieza. (Discussion here: http://captaincomics.ning.com/forum/topics/the-new-thunderbolts) That series led me (eventually, recently) to read three volumes of New Warriors Classics, and now I have come full circle to Thunderbolts Classics.

I bought volume one this week and plan to read it over the weekend. It comprises 10 issues worth of material (plus extra features) arranged in the following order:

Thunderbolts #1
The Incredible Hulk #449
Tales of the Marvel Universe
Thunderbolts #2
Spider-Man Team-Up #7
Thunderbolts #3
Thunderbolts #4
Thunderbolts Annual ‘97
Thunderbolts #5
Thunderbolts # Minus 1

I always assumed Hulk #449 occurred before Thunderbolts #1, but Marvel’s been pretty good lately about assembling their collections in the proper reading order. If I like this collection as much as I expect to, I’ll be following it up with Thunderbolts Classics Vol. 2 (and Thunderbolts Classics Vol. 3 is supposed to ship next week). This is an invitation for anyone interested to dust off your old Thunderbolts (or just your memories) and follow along!

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Oh wow. I read much of this series as it first came out, and then went into a resurgence period when Fabian Nicieza came on as writer. Don't think I have many of those issues anymore, but I will share my memories!

The Thunderbolts Classic tpb also reprints two introductions: one from the Thunderbolts: Marvel’s Most Wanted tpb (1998) and one from the Thunderbolts: Justice Like Lightning collection (2001). The former is a collection of first appearances of the individual Masters of Evil, and the introduction to the latter details the difficulties of keeping the surprise ending of the first issue a secret. Speaking of which (apropos my introductory post to this discussion last week), I had no memory at all that Hulk #449 alluded not once but twice to a former relationship between the Hulk and Meteorite (Moonstone), at least not until I read it (for only the second time) over the weekend.

Regarding the tpb presentation order, Hulk #449 could take place either before or after Thunderbolts #1, it doesn’t really matter. Although Hulk #449 was the actual first appearance, as an actual first issue, Thunderbolts #1 reads better first in sequence so I approve of the editor’s decision to insert Hulk #449 after Thunderbolts #1 in sequence. I thought I had caught a boo-boo when Thunderbolts #3 shows their headquarters at Four Freedoms Plaza still clearly under construction, while Spider-Man Team-Up # 7 (presented earlier) shows it completed, but a footnote in #3 places Spider-Man Team-Up #7 between pages 10 and 11 of issue #3 and it reads very well in the order presented.

Speaking of Spider-Man Team-Up #7, it’s written by Thunderbolts scribe Kurt Busiek (so the characterizations and continuity are in synch) and is drawn by the unusual but much appreciated pairing of Sal Buscema on pencils and Dick Giordano on inks. Thunderbolts #3 itself is still in my collection, but I realized as I was reading that I had never read it before. Probably what happened is that I hadn’t yet read it by the time #4 shipped, and thus I dropped the series.

Issue #4 introduces a young girl named Hallie Takahama to the team as the hero Jolt. Hallie has been in the background since issue #1 and, being ignorant of the events of Onslaught, finally made her way to Four Freedoms Plaza seeking the help of the Fantastic Four, but she found the Thunderbolts instead. Meteorite/Moonstone, for as-yet-undisclosed reasons of her own as revealed in an internal monologue, manipulates Citizen V/Baron Zemo into letting her join the team. Unlike the other Thunderbolts, Jolt is an innocent herself and has no knowledge of her teammates’ criminal past.

That’s as far as I have read so far. I’m looking forward to seeing the situations being set up by Busiek play out in future issues.

OK, that is a surprise.

Thunderbolts was one of the few Marvel titles I stuck with during the seeming long, dry spell that was Heroes Reborn/Return. I was genuinely surprised by the twist ending in T-Bolts 1, and really enjoyed Bagley's art (I mean, how could you not? As I recall, it was one of his first gigs), and I liked it enough that I hung in there after Busiek left (and I was glad I did, Nicieza turned his retro-storytelling up to 11 and did a fine job). I finally bailed out when they rebooted the book as "Super-hero Fight Club", and came back only once, for Warren Ellis's short but super-grim run.

 

Good times.

It’s a surprise that I didn’t read it, you mean? (Dne’s and my tastes are remarkably similar.)

According to Wikipedia (not always the most trustworthy source of information, I admit, but it rings true in this case), the only reason for the editorially mandated abrupt change in direction was that it had been so successful for Joe Quesada with X-Force.

I suspect you would like Nicieza and Grummet’s New Thunderbolts.

THUNDERBOLTS ANNUAL ’97: As many of you reading this may remember from previous posts, I’m not a big fan of the “number zero” issue gimmick*, but this annual is one I may have actually accepted as such. Baron Zemo (as Citizen V) recites his own version of the origin of the team to tyro member Jolt. *(Note that Thunderbolts will eventually get a Wizard “Zero” issue, but it would be better numbered #22½ because that’s where it falls in continuity.)

THUNDERBOLTS #5: Atlas fights the Growing Man. Meanwhile, does Citizen V tip his hand to Baron Strucker?

THUNDERBOLTS #-1: Although I dropped Thunderbolts after the third issue, this is one of the “Minus One” issues I did pick up back in the day. I bought it mainly because it featured the original Baron Zemo (i.e., the 12th, the current one’s father) and the Sub-Mariner during his amnesiac period on the cover. I enjoyed it then but I enjoyed it even more, in context, now. This special issue was drawn by the talented Steve Epting.

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