In 1997, readers were greeted with one of the most unexpected, and arguably most exciting, twist endings to a superhero comic book. At the end of Marvel Comics' "Thunderbolts" #1, the team was revealed to actually be a group of supervillains masquerading as heroes. Since that time, the super powered rogues have fought long and hard for redemption; they've tried to be real heroes. Sometimes they've succeeded, and sometimes they've failed. The team's adventures lasted for 75 issues and ended in 2003. Issues 76-82 of "Thunderbolts" featured new characters and a new direction that did not catch on, and the series was subsequently cancelled. But the Thunderbolts were not finished atoning for their villainous pasts, returning in 2004's "Avengers/Thunderbolts" six-issue limited series. The series was well received and a team of familiar and new faces was assembled in the pages of issue #1 of a new ongoing series titled, "New Thunderbolts."
Issue #18 is the last issue of "New Thunderbolts," at least as fans know it. Next month the book permanently drops the "New" from the title, and returns to its original numbering with the release of the "Thunderbolts" #100. CBR News spoke with "Thunderbolts" writer Fabian Nicieza about the milestone issue and what other events he has in store for one of Marvel Comics most interesting super teams.
It was Nicieza's editor, Tom Brevoort, who suggested dropping "New" from the book's title and returning to the series original numbering. "I thought it was a good
idea," Nicieza told CBR News. "Besides the fact we've seen the return of several original team members into the mix in recent issues, I think it is also important to acknowledge the series' longevity to its fans. How many books make it to #100 anymore? Yes, I know we kinda got fired once, then cancelled, but taking the 6 issue T-Bolts vs. Avengers limited series into account, and the current state of long running series getting relaunched, making it to #100 still means something to me and I think it also means something to a lot of our readers."
Returning Thunderbolts fans and new readers looking to jump onto the series will find issue #100 quite accessible. "I have always tried to use the Recap Page, narrative and character interaction to explain at the same time as we advance," Nicieza explained. "I don't think #100 is any different. The book ALWAYS has LOTS going on -- sorry, I know that befuddles some readers -- but y'know, my old editor Danny Fingeroth used to say, 'Don't be afraid to put the book in comic book,' and 'T-Bolts' is what it is: a book where there's always a lot going on."
One of the recent stories in "Thunderbolts" has involved the slow disintegration of the team, on a number of levels. "In many ways they are unraveling, and that was part and parcel of the very threadbare way they were put together," Nicieza said. "Mistakes come home to roost in a lot of ways, and for all the readers who felt the New Thunderbolts felt a bit haphazard in comparison to how tightly organized the original team was, well, that was kind of the point all along. The last few issues have been playing that up and #100 resolves a lot of that -- or at least flows smoothly into #101 that sets up the new status quo for the team."
The recent firing of team member Speed Demon by the team's leader, Song Bird, is just one of the ways the team is unraveling. Fans of the super fast former Thunderbolt need not worry, as his former teammates have not seen the last of him. "His role in the book is not over, as people who saw the cover to #102 can attest," Nicieza stated. "I like Speedy a lot, but his heart really isn't into the whole T-Bolts shtick, and I felt that the team needed to be shaken up, so having his mistakes cost him made sense. That being said, he joined the Squadron Sinister, who will have a major role in an upcoming storyline."
Speed Demon won't be the only member coming back to haunt the team in the near future. Former Thunderbolts team leader M.A.C.H. IV has joined a new team, consisting of former Thunderbolts that includes Man-Killer, The Fixer, Blizzard, and Moonstone. Former Masters of Evil member, Blackout, is also a member of the team, and his former team's name should give you an indication of the past. The man who originally brought the Thunderbolts together, the villainous Baron Helmut Zemo, assembled this team.
Zemo's team will clash with the Thunderbolts; however, Zemo's group won't be tackling the T-Bolts with hopes of conquering the world. This time, they want to save it. "I can't tell you about Zemo's agenda," Nicieza said. "I will say that he believes he is indeed saving the world. In fact, since he's caught glimpses of the future via the double moonstones that float around him like cosmic pit bulls, he not only believes it, he KNOWS it. He knows it enough that he's been able to convince several characters and the Commission on Superhuman Activities that he is right. Now of course, the interesting question is, what happens if the savior is responsible for the very things that need saving?"
The Thunderbolts will be receiving some unexpected help in their clash with Zemo's group from the new Swordsman, who arrived at the end of issue #18 to warn the team of a surprise attack by Moonstone. The Swordsman was recently revealed to be Andreas Strucker, who formerly led the terrorist group Fenris with his deceased twin sister Andrea. "Swordsman will be a reluctant team member and they will be very wary of him," Nicieza explained. "Andreas Strucker is and always has been a fundamentally flawed person, both morally and emotionally, but the plus is, he finally knows it, admits it and he's trying to get better. Really, he is. Does he have the chops for it?
In "Thunderbolts" #100, The T-Bolts finally go head to head with Zemo's group to decide the fate of their teammate, Photon. "As Fixer says in the issue, 'Leave it to the T-Bolts, in order to save the universe it requires killing an innocent guy!'" Nicieza stated. "The plot of #100 is simple: Zemo's team wants to kill Photon in order to save the universe. Songbird's team has to decide if they will allow that to happen or not."
"Following #100, Zemo's greater motivations are further fleshed out," Nicieza continued. "He's been a behind the scenes player since issue #1 without people knowing it, and we'll start to learn why. Here's a hint: it involves saving Earth. Really, it does."
This summer the heroes of the Marvel Universe will have to answer the difficult question of "Whose side are you on?" when the epic "Civil War" storyline begins. For the Thunderbolts, that won't be a difficult question. "The T-Bolts will be involved in 'Civil War' in that it is very easy for them to choose a side: public and government legitimacy can be obtained by hunting down renegade heroes? That's a no-brainer," Nicieza explained. "The ramifications of 'Civil War' will also greatly affect the T-Bolts in the short term, while not changing their long term story plans."
The Thunderbolts recently made small a cameo appearance in a book featuring renegade heroes, "Cable & Deadpool" which is also written by Nicieza. In "Cable & Deadpool" #25, Cable reveals to Captain America the real reason why the Thunderbolts attacked the New Avengers in "New Thunderbolts" #13-14. "I was basically cleaning up a minor dangling thread from my own obscure, ignored, but ever hopefully optimistic little Fabey-Verse. We all play in a sandbox together. If I mess around with someone else's toy a little bit, I like to try to fix it if I can, so I did."
Fans of both "Thunderbolts" and "Cable & Deadpool" have frequently asked Nicieza for a crossover story between the two books that make up the Fabey-Verse. "I still have no plans for a T-Bolts/CDP crossover," Nicieza said. "I honestly have stories in both books that can be told without the need for a crossover. If I find threads from one that work in the other, then I'll do it -- like an upcoming 'CDP' story will take place in the fictional Central European country of Rumekistan that follows up on story threads from a Citizen V Limited Series I wrote a few years ago."
Nicieza hopes that new readers eager to see what's in store for the Thunderbolts will jump on board with issue #100. "It's a giant-sized issue with lots of new story content and lots of cool reprints that provides a pretty darned good bang for your buck," he said.
"Month in and month out, all we want to do is entertain you fine folks, so just give us a cane, a top hat and a stage, and we'll just do our darndest to put a smile on your face and a little bit of comic-geek happiness in your pants. Uhm... did that come out right?"
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