Back in August 2014 on one of the press tours of Guardians of the Galaxy, director James Gunn was asked about this little Marvel team named Thunderbolts, to which he gave this reply:
Thunderbolts? I will tell you, one time I was saying to Kevin [Feige], we were sitting on set together on one of the days he visited and I said, ‘You know, I really want to make Thunderbolts,’ and he said, ‘James, if Guardians does well you’ll be able to do whatever you want so we’ll see what happens.
It was a reply that put the team’s name on the mouth of every MCU fan. Sharing the unifying trait with the Guardians of being an unconventional team with questionable morals, the Thunderbolts suddenly became an exciting possibility in the MCU. Fast forward to now – 10 months after his interview – the likelihood of the Thunderbolts coming to life just became bigger with the addition of a major Thunderbolts character in the MCU, Baron Zemo. In this article, we try to shed some light on these Thunderbolts and what they’re all about for those we might not be familiar.
Justice, Like Lightning
It was 1997. The Onslaught Saga just ended and majority of our biggest heroes gave their lives to defeat the behemoth that was Onslaught. This left a void in the Marvel Universe that had to be filled. Out of nowhere, a new breed of superhero arrived at the scene. Calling themselves the Thunderbolts, they rallied their cause in the face of villainy everywhere. The team was composed of never-before-seen heroes such as Citizen V, Atlas, Songbird, Techno, Mach IV and Meteorite.
Of course, there was more to them than meets the eye. Beneath the heroic facade was the same kind of evil the Thunderbolts sought to battle. In a brilliant twist in Thunderbolts #1 conceived by creators Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley, the heroes are later revealed to be members of the Masters of Evil, one of the meanest villain teams in the Marvel Universe if the name didn’t convince you already. Readers were shocked to learn that the team was being led by a disguised Baron Zemo – whom we’ll meet very soon in Captain America: Civil War – whose plan was to gain the trust of US government which in turn would allow him access to confidential files that he could in turn sell on the black market.
The introduction of a superhero team in the Marvel Universe composed of super villains with their own agendas was unheard of and pretty much set the stage for the Thunderbolts name. Throughout the history of the Marvel Universe, the team underwent several line up and leadership changes. The superhero Civil War brought upon change for the team as they were then officially sanctioned by the government as enforcers – tasked to bring down unregistered heroes.
In 2009, they were thrust to the forefront of the Marvel Universe during a major crossover event called Dark Reign. Led by Norman Osborn aka The Green Goblin, the Thunderbolts were given a promotion and rebranded as the new Avengers team. This upgrade however was short-lived (as teams with volatile, psychopathic members are) and the line-up changes continued to evolve.
In an attempt to “clean up” the team, Captain America appointed Luke Cage as it’s new leader during 2010’s Heroic Age. Spearheading the team along side Cage were reformed Thunderbolts mainstays Fixer, Songbird and Mach V. This run lasted several months until Marvel’s publication relaunch, Marvel NOW!. This time, the Thunderbolts were once again given a makeover and a new roster took up the mantle. Instead of a team composed of villains and psychopaths, it became a team of anti-heroes. This included the likes of the Punisher, Deadpool, Agent Venom, Elektra and their leader Thaddeus Thunderbolt Ross aka the Red Hulk.
Despite those constant changes, the team has a deep and rich history. There probably hasn’t been a team – sans the Avengers, Fantastic Four & X-Men – that’s as constant and relevant as the Thunderbolts. Considering how young the team is – 18 years young to be exact – that’s a feat in itself. All those years prove how important a team like the Thunderbolts is to the Marvel Universe. They’ve always been a team to watch out for and watching out we are, as the pieces for a Thunderbolts presence in the MCU have been moving into place.
Tailoring The Thunderbolts Into The MCU
With a team history as in depth and a roster as inconsistent as the Thunderbolts’, it’s perfectly normal to wonder how everything could work within the MCU. Really though, all it needs is a little tailoring. You take the best of the best in the comics, the existing mythology of the MCU and combine the heck out of them. We here at MCUExchange are self proclaimed experts on pulling these speculative ideas from our asses so with that being said, here’s how we envision the team might be.
Come Captain America: Civil War, audiences will see the on-screen debut of one of Captain America’s most dangerous villains, Baron Helmut Zemo. The character of Baron Zemo has always been a villainous mainstay in the Captain America books. His father, Baron Heinrich Zemo, was a major figure in the Red Skull’s Nazi regime and was essentially the cause of Captain America’s demise during WW2 in the comics. After his death at the hands of Captain America, Baron Helmut Zemo carried on the legacy of his Red-Skull-loving, Captain-America hating-dad and brought his own reign of terror into the modern world by recreating the Masters of Evil (a group founded by his father). The Masters of Evil would of course be eventually reshaped into the Thunderbolts by Helmut himself.
Zemo’s introduction in Captain America: Civil War may prove fruitful since it potentially sets up game changing scenarios in the MCU mythology. Much has been said about Civil War being centered on superhuman accountability and such but what we’ve all been speculating on is who will be the ones behind such policies. If the comic books are any indication, it’s highly likely that it’s Zemo.
Despite him always having a personal evil agenda, Zemo has proven himself in the comics to be reliable when it comes to government sanctioned alliances and superhuman policing (as seen in the Civil War: Thunderbolts tie in). Who’s not to say that this wont’ happen in the film? MCU Baron Zemo could very well be a major political figure rallying the world for his own personal cause whom Stark allies with. The superhero Civil War in the MCU is sure to divide public opinion on who should be protecting them and a new superhero team emerging isn’t that crazy of a thought.
General Thunderbolt Ross
If the formation of the Thunderbolts in the MCU requires the need to be grounded and logical, then we have our answer right here. General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross will be making a long awaited re-introduction into the MCU in Civil War and who better to form the MCU Thunderbolt’s team (Zemo aside) than a guy named Thunderbolt?
General Ross’ disdain for powerful beings running around ungoverned is made no secret in the MCU. He actively sought out the Hulk for many years in his attempt to further biological weaponization for the military and has failed spectacularly at it. All of his efforts ended up with him creating the Abomination. The superhuman Civil War may be General Ross’ second chance to establish military authority over superheroes. Heck, he could have a team of his own by the time Civil War starts.
Several weeks back, we broke a rumor that a Hulk we have not yet seen will be appearing in the film. For the uninitiated, there have been multiple Hulk characters in the Marvel Universe for sometime now. The most popular of those new Hulks is a character aptly named Red Hulk. He was introduced as this mysterious efficient killing machine who not only exhibited immense strength but high levels of intelligence and tacitcs, as opposed to Banner’s untamed and savage Hulk. This Red Hulk was clearly the more efficient between the two and it’s identity was kept secret for sometime until it’s reveal in the storyline World War Hulks. That’s when readers found out that the Red Hulk was actually Thunderbolt Ross.
It was one of the biggest transformations by any villain in the comics for a very long time and it might just happen in Civil War. The change gave Thunderbolt Ross a much needed revamp and pretty soon, the Red Hulk became a fan favorite. Ross allied himself with the Avengers which led to his leadership in, as mentioned above, the Thunderbolts.
The return of Frank Grillo’s Crossbones will no doubt be one of the highlights of Captain America: Civil War. A lot of stakes rest on Crossbones, considering his key role in the Civil War comic – assassinating Captain America – so him being included as a major villain in the film is sort of a big deal. But regardless if he ends up killing Cap or not, he’s guaranteed to give Captain America a whole lot of shit to deal with.
A recent addition to the Thunderbolts line up in the comics, we may see Crossbones forming an alliance with Baron Zemo himself in the film, just as they did in the comics. In fact, Crossbones know-how of going up against Cap and Falcon would perfectly fit the mold of the MCU Thunderbolts field leader.
The inclusion of Bullseye in the Thunderbolts if a fairly new idea in the comics. Having spent most of his criminal career working for the biggest crime empires in the world and murdering the women in Matt Murdock’s life, 2006 saw Bullseye’s induction into the Thunderbolts program. Him along with other supervillains, were tasked to hunt down unregistered superhumans. What was supposed to be a temporary stint in the Thunderbolts soon became permanent when Norman Osborn came into the picture as the new appointed director. The murderous ruthlessness of Bullseye made him into a last-resort alternative to be used for direst of situations for the Thunderbolts and alas, a full-time member of the team.
Depending on when Daredevil Season 2 is released, it would make a great deal of sense for Bullseye to make his debut in Civil War. Not only does it make for brilliant cross pollination among the MCU brands but it deepens the mythology for both Daredevil and the Thunderbolts at the same time. You don’t need much backstory for a character like Bullseye either – Baron Zemo recruits one of the world’s most notorious criminals for a skirmish against the wanted Avengers and it goes badly for the two teams. We speculated that Bullseye ends up in prison where he meets a fellow inmate named Wilson Fisk, while other fans have theorized that we have already seen a glimpse of Bullseye in the first season of Daredevil.
Melissa Joan Gold aka Songbird was a runaway-turned-criminal who came across the dealings of the Roxxon Oil Company. In order to make a living for themselves, she and a bunch of her friends agreed to do a little bit of work for the company as hired guns. Armed with a biotech device which allowed her to produce deadly sonic screams, Melissa Gold officially began her life as a super criminal. The death of her aforementioned friends eventually led Songbird to join Baron Zemo’s Masters of Evil, the team preceding the Thunderbolts.
Songbird in the comics was one of the few Thunderbolts whose significance grew larger with each lineup change. She was a constant member throughout the team’s diverse history, a minor member who made her way into becoming a major player for the team. Songbird was also one of the members who sincerely chose a path of reform. Albeit a slow transition, she nevertheless proved herself to be one of the finest members of the team.
We think she fits pretty well with the existing bounds of the MCU. The company she was working for – the Roxxon Oil Company – has been referenced several times in the MCU. An ability similar to her destructive sonic abilities was already displayed in an episode of Agents of SHIELD, by a character known as Angar the Screamer. Coincidentally, Angar the Screamer happens to be a character closely connected to Songbird in the comics. Additionally, the technological upgrade given to Songbird in the comics is based on the tech of Ulysses Klaue, whom we first saw in Age of Ultron and will most likely be a future Black Panther villain.
Andreas and his twin sister Andrea were born into a world of chaos and hate brought upon by their father, the Baron von Strucker. The Baron’s affinity for genetic experimentation led to his children developing powers of their own, essentially making them mutants of sorts. Using the codename Fenris, the twins followed their father’s footsteps and led a life of villainy. It wasn’t until the death of Andrea, that Andreas sought out to prove himself to be more than a mere villain. Through the machinations of the Purple Man and Baron Zemo, Andreas von Strucker took the moniker Swordsman and joined the Thunderbolts.
Introducing Andreas and Andrea in the MCU won’t require too much of a change in the narrative. Details behind the life of Baron von Strucker is left up in the air so it’s definitely a possibility that he has children that he himself tried to experiment on. Having the figurative last son of HYDRA join a team dedicated to undoing the handiwork of the Avengers would make a lot of sense due to the familial ties to the team.
Meet Abe Jenkins. A former Spider-Man villain turned Thunderbolt. He began as a mechanic that turned to a life of crime after being dissatisfied by his menial job. Donning a mechanized suit and calling himself the Beetle, he went on to fight superheroes such as Spider-Man, whom of which became his main adversary. The life of a B-list supervillain did not bring Abe Jenkins any sense of fulfillment or satisfaction. He was constantly defeated, humiliated and reprimanded by the authorities. It was during this period of defeat for Abe that led to his alliance with Baron Zemo. With a new found sense of purpose, Abner Jenkins renamed himself Mach 1.
One recurring theme the Thunderbolts stories had was redemption. Writers often toyed with the notion that some of these Thunderbolts were genuinely seeking redemption from their criminal lives and Abe Jenkins was one of those few. In a team of murderers and psychopaths, its always an interesting concept to include characters such as Abe, which is why he’s part of this proposed lineup. Plus, how else would the team get those fancy weapons? Can’t have a superhero team without the tech guy.
If the Thunderbolts had to give out distinctive titles to their members, Karla Sofen would get the distinction of being the Most Despicable in the history of the team. A degree and successful practice in psychology has made her a very capable manipulator. Her deception of others is what led her to acquiring the Kree moonstones, tiny rocks which give the bearer a significant amount of power. Lusting for more power, Karla went on to become a full fledged super villain. In her longtime stint as a Thunderbolt, Karla has made numerous attempts to usurp the leaders of the team or murder her teammates. Despite these actions, Moonstone is often considered to be one of the definitive members of the Thunderbolts.
Moonstone’s abilities are similar to that of Carol Danvers‘ – aka Captain Marvel – whom Moonstone has fought countless times. It’s this rivalry and similar display of abilities that makes a character like Moonstone a must-need in the MCU. Not only do we need more of a female presence in our major rogues gallery but we need one who is capable of actually inflicting some serious damage to our heroes. Moonstone without a doubt fits that mold. Rewrite Karla Sofen into a HYDRA agent/psychiatrist who gets her abilities after coming in contact with the Monolith we saw at the end of Agents of SHIELD and call it a day.
So Absorbing Man may be the only unofficial Thunderbolt in our list and that’s okay. His affiliation with the Masters of Evil makes him a prime candidate for our proposed team. We all saw Crusher Creel make his MCU debut in the second season of Agents of SHIELD. Creel was also referenced in Daredevil, as the last boxer Jack Murdock ever fought. In Agents of SHIELD, Creel is a freelance criminal working for the then-boss of HYDRA, Daniel Whitehall. Crusher Creel displayed wondrous abilities that allowed his body to mimic the physical properties of whatever object he touched. This of course, posed a huge problem for Coulson and his agents. At the end of his run, we saw Coulson surrender the body of Crusher Creel to the military.
Absorbing Man is one of the few Agents of SHIELD villains who happens to be a major A-list villain in the comics. Absorbing Man has went up against the likes of Thor, Hulk, Captain America, Captain Marvel and lived to tell the tale about it. It’s an about time a villain of Creel’s caliber gets his due on the big screen. However it’s also possible that Creel will remain on TV and join the now confirmed Secret Warriors team in season three of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – the character known as Stonewall – Creel’s son in the comics – was a founding member of the Secret Warriors team.
Other Possible Members
We’ve only scratched the surface on who could make an appearance on the team. Several others were intentionally left out that we think are still worth mentioning.
Man-Thing was referenced in an Agents of SHIELD episode so his existence in the MCU isn’t completely ruled out. The Groot-esque behemoth was made a Thunderbolt during Luke Cage’s stint on the team.
Now that the Pym Particles are making their relevance known in the MCU, characters like Atlas/Erik Josten and Eric O’ Grady could make for an Ant-Man size-altering analogue in our Thunderbolts team. These two were staples of the difference incarnations of the team.
A few years ago, a rumor went around that one of the actors in Iron Man 3 was set to play Chen Lu, the Chinese national who would one day become Radioactive Man. We’d love for that rumor to come to fruition in the MCU one day as he’d be an interesting addition to the team.
Norman Osborn becoming the director of the team is something we would love to see happen as well in the MCU. What was formerly thought to be impossible is now something that’s very likely. It’s a fresh new take on a villain that’s commonly associated with Spider-Man. Norman Osborn’s time in the Thunderbolts was one of most terrifying periods in the villain’s history and eventually led to a shift in the Marvel Universe with the event, Dark Reign.
Justifying The Team
You’re probably wondering why a team like the Thunderbolts deserves an appearance in the MCU. After all, we’ll probably see a similar take when DC’s Suicide Squad lands in theaters, right? Yes, the concept of villains getting the Seven Samurai treatment has been done to death in the comics and no, since it’s less of “Who did it first?” and really more of “What did it change?”.
In keeping up with the Ultimate Universe’s influence on the MCU, the Liberators serve as a good basis on how a Thunderbolts team should be addressed in the films. The Liberators were basically the Ultimatized version of the Masters of Evil in the comics. The team was formed by various countries in the wake of the ever growing anti-America sentiment due to the US sanctioned actions of the Avengers. Minus the in-your-face anti-American subtext, that’s how we envision the Thunderbolts could exist in the MCU. A super-coalition sanctioned by nations all over the world – led by Baron Zemo – made to counter the impending threat that is the Avengers. The Thunderbolts are there to rival the Avengers’ naive ideology, essentially providing the world with an alternative and proving that it can truly be saved.
For the first time, you have more villains that serve a larger purpose in the larger scheme of things. Characters like Baron Zemo, Bullseye and Moonstone all represent a grander sense of villainy. These are villains with so much crossover potential. Not only are you getting long term characters but you’re also eliminating the need for disposable one-off villains. For the first time, you have a team that could stand against the Avengers. Regardless if it happens in Civil War, post-Infinity War or if doesn’t pan out at all, these are pretty much all the reasons why we’re exciting for a potential Thunderbolts presence in the microcosm that is the MCU.