Villains Reborn Part 4: Only the Good Die Young

April 21st, 2012 by | Tags: , , , ,

Sorry for the extended break. Last time, I finished off Kurt Busiek’s knockout run on Thunderbolts, ending at #33. While Mark Bagley stays on board for a little while longer, the new writer is Fabian Nicieza. Nicieza is a great writer (listen, he’s posted in previous comment sections, so he might be reading this. Follow my lead) that you can usually count on. His pro is his great grasp on making characters interesting. His con is his habit of making plots a little too confusing and complex at times. Like, I loved his Cable/Deadpool run, but he had a thing for introducing maguffins that needed three pages of exposition to set up. After those three pages, I’d come out cross-eyed. Odds suggest he ghost-wrote Inception. One of the great things here is that Nicieza simply picks up where Busiek left off, not choosing to kill the setup for his own specific take. It’s very seamless.

While they are still investigating the Beetle appearances that have popped up in the media, the Thunderbolts continue to try and make themselves look better in the public eye. Hawkeye publicly states that they’re going to bring in the Hulk, a statement that the others aren’t so pleased with. Luckily, he has a plan. He has Moonstone in street clothes confront Bruce Banner and try to talk him into turning himself in for the betterment of society. Banner doesn’t agree, refusing to give up his freedom so the Thunderbolts can gain brownie points and turns to leave. Unfortunately, this guy named Clay Brickford is in town and he has a tense history with Banner and the Hulk. Without thinking, he punches Banner, who transforms and skips the scene.

The team of Hawkeye, Moonstone, Songbird and Atlas more or less fight Hulk to a draw. They use teamwork to set up an attack meant to exhaust and knock him out, he lashes out in a way that takes them all out, jumps away, then collapses and turns into Banner. Hawkeye is partially buried under wreckage and when that Clay guy shows up to kill Banner, Hawkeye fires an arrow into Banner’s shoulder, knocks him off a ledge and onto the top of a moving truck, where he rides off to freedom. The team decides to regroup, accepting that they failed. Still, that isn’t the real story of the issue.

Jolt and Charcoal are forced to sit things out so they can go to school instead. After school, they hang out with their friends – the kids who have previously asked the Thunderbolts for help – and the cliffhanger shows someone watching them through a sniper rifle.

Usually, you’d expect the cliffhanger to lead to the target being saved at the last moment by any number of factors, but not so much. The next issue opens immediately into Hallie’s funeral. Jolt has been shot and killed by an unknown assassin. Why? No telling yet, although the sniper’s referred to his actions as taking out the heart.

Everyone takes it really hard, but the curious part is how “Ogre” reacts. As of the end of Busiek’s run, Ogre has been kidnapped and replaced by Techno. Techno is an amoral asshole and carries even less emotion in his robotic form. He himself isn’t so sure why of all places he could work on his experiments, he chose to do so with the Thunderbolts under their nose. Additionally, he doesn’t know how to feel about Jolt’s death. He discovered a video diary she recently recorded and wonders if he should strike against the team by withholding it from them like the dick that he is. Later, Moonstone brings a copy of the video to Hawkeye, saying she received it in an email. Although Moonstone figures an explanation of how Jolt could have it sent to her, there’s a suggestion to the reader that it was Techno who made sure she received it.

It’s a powerful sequence of different characters reacting to her video in different ways. Atlas needs to run off and get drunk. Charcoal transforms into his powered form and smashes the TV in anger. But the saddest part is also the most subtle. There’s a panel we see of Songbird watching the video. The shot is from behind, so we don’t even see her face or reaction to all of this. We just see her standing. A later shot has Techno watching everyone’s reactions on various monitors while wondering what Jolt would have said about him. It isn’t until now that I notice that on one of his monitors, we can see Songbird’s reaction to the video. She isn’t just standing there. She’s sadly holding her hand over the screen, like she’s trying to touch Jolt. Damn.

The killer is still on the loose and while he has the chance to take out Atlas, he decides against it for now. Instead, he kills off Gayle Rogers – the reporter who has covered everything Thunderbolts for the past few years of comics – for getting too close to the truth. It’s not that big of a deal, since she ultimately hasn’t done much in-story other than be a mouthpiece.

The Beetle plot begins to kick in. In review, Henry Gyrrich and Val Cooper have sprung Abe from prison and suddenly a more enhanced Beetle is robbing banks and making things difficult for Justin Hammer. While it’s almost definite that this is Abe in the armor, Nicieza doesn’t outright state it. All we know is that whoever is wearing the armor feels that the government will screw him over in the end because he’s too much of a security risk to run free.

After beating up some of Hammer’s goons, he reveals that all of this was a way to prove himself to Hammer so he can hire out his services. Right as he’s about to reveal himself and seal the deal, the Thunderbolts bust through the wall with a distraught Songbird wondering if that’s really the man she loves. The fight continues to make it apparent that it’s Abe, though nobody is 100% sure. “Ogre” points out the schematics of the armor run on the same wavelength as the MACH armor. Beetle noticeably tenses up when Charcoal tells him that Jolt is dead. Hawkeye begins to notice that there’s more to his actions than just fighting them. It’s like he’s trying to cause collateral damage in Hammer’s facility.

Beetle ends up blasting Songbird out of the sky, emotionally gutting her. Hawkeye fires a scrambler arrow meant to screw up Beetle’s controls and they finally have him cornered. Gyrrich is pissed, figuring that Beetle did this to set up a public unmasking to expose everything. So who is under the helmet? Abe Jenkins? Someone else?

How about neither?

Unmasking count: 4

The issue that follows is mostly a lot of the team playing catch up so they can figure out what’s going on. As it turns out, yes, that was Abe after all, controlling the armor from a remote location. The feds wanted him to take down Justin Hammer and Roxxon for the sake of having deniability. The empty Beetle armor was his way of keeping his own deniability, especially knowing that Gyrrich would fuck him over at the drop of a hat. After doing some very illegal information gathering that he recognizes as going over the line, Hawkeye confronts Gyrrich and makes him agree to letting Abe go free. Gyrrich is plenty bitter and reluctant, but Hawkeye is able to cut down any arguments by pointing out his hypocrisy. It isn’t all bad for Gyrrich as the Beetle armor proceeds to capture Hammer and deliver him as a parting gift.

There’s a problem in there about Abe rejoining the team and society. As far as the world is concerned, Abe is still incarcerated, so having him return is tricky. Not only does “Ogre” improve his armor to the point that Abe is now MACH-2, but he gives him some plastic surgery to make his new identity complete. What the team doesn’t expect is that Abe is now a black dude.

Unmasking count: 5

I absolutely love this panel. The reactions are perfect. Songbird is overwhelmed. Hawkeye and Atlas are shocked beyond belief. Moonstone has her trademark sly smirk. Then you have Charcoal, with his incredulous smile. It’s like he can’t believe there’s finally another black guy on the team, even if it’s artificial.

Also funny is how this is partially Techno pulling a prank of sorts on Abe, since “Ogre” doesn’t fully understand Techno’s plastic surgery technology, hence the radical change.

In-between issues, we get Thunderbolts Annual 2000 with Norm Breyfogle on art. The story centers around Daimon “Son of Satan” Hellstrom telling Hawkeye that he needs to go to Hell and rescue Mockingbird’s soul. Hawkeye goes alone, with Moonstone feeling angered and jealous. The team ends up following him with the help of Scarlet Witch and Pluto. Hawkeye fights through a demonic phantom version of the first Swordsman and makes his way to Mephisto, who has a female wrapped up next to him. Mephisto directs Hawkeye’s attention to the personal Hells that all the Thunderbolts are forced to face.

Songbird is in fetal position within a giant Angar the Screamer’s throat as he screams that his death was her fault. Charcoal is in high school, where Jolt attacks him and blames him for her death, pointing out how he hid under the table upon hearing the gunshot. Atlas is at a bar as his dead brother tells him that he’ll never succeed as a Thunderbolt and will instead just let everyone down. MACH fights the Beetle, who is piloted by the man he killed years ago. Moonstone ends up fighting a Kree warrior that she admits to having strange dreams about.

Unmasking count: 6

They all get past their ghosts in one way or another and meet up at Mephisto’s throne. Hawkeye is attacked by tortured souls from every direction and seems screwed until a battle-stave – the weapon of choice for Mockingbird – lands by his feet. It has magical properties and saves his ass. Then he adds it to an arrow he has that’s filled with chaos energy and fires it at Mephisto, destroying him for the time being. They grab the mummified woman and race out of Hell as Atlas wonders aloud how Mockingbird would be able to give the assist if she was tied up. As he says this, we see the silhouette of Mockingbird looking on from the background.

Though I guess when you factor in later retcons, it was a Skrull Mockingbird. Whatever. What’s important is that the soul they bring back to Earth isn’t Mockingbird but Patsy Walker, otherwise known as Hellcat and slain wife of Daimon Hellstrom. Hawkeye is furious at being used, but Hellstrom explains how Mephisto was going to use Hellcat’s soul for some evil power thing and going in alone would cause a massive war. He tricked Hawkeye, figuring that he’d get to see his wife in the middle of it all. Hawkeye points out that in the end, he never got to see his wife and Hellstrom’s wife wants nothing to do with him. But hey, at least he now feels closer to his team for having his back.

Wait… does unwrapping Hellcat count as–? You know what, screw it.

Unmasking count: 7

Back to the main series, Hawkeye and Moonstone go rock climbing as he tries to figure out how every subplot ties into each other. Like I said earlier, welcome to Nicieza comics, buddy.

Citizen V appears before Hawkeye and Moonstone. There’s been some setup in previous issues where the V-Battalion, Citizen V’s bosses, have given her an order to assassinate someone. She’s disgusted by the idea and is now wanted for being a traitor. The V-Battalion follows her to Thunderbolts HQ just as the other teammates appear for the brawling. Citizen V demands help from the Thunderbolts and says that they owe her big time. Atlas scoffs at this until…

You guessed it! Unmasking scene!

Unmasking count: 8

All right, so remember how Dallas turned out to be Crimson Cowl a while back? That was real Crimson Cowl dressing up Dallas in her outfit and skipping town. Dallas has been Citizen V ever since her first appearance in the blue tights. The people who busted her out of prison were the V-Battalion. Looking back, Busiek and Nicieza do a pretty good job of painting it that Dallas is Crimson Cowl up until this reveal.

Before anything can really happen, the actual Crimson Cowl appears, grabs Citizen V and teleports away with her. Dallas ends up in a jail cell with no light while wearing no clothes because why not. After a couple issues of hanging out with her lady parts hanging out, she sneaks out of her cell.

She finds her costume lying around, finds Crimson Cowl and fighting ensues. Cowl ends up escaping while dropping Citizen V off a ledge and into some water after a long drop. Normally, such a drop wouldn’t do so much damage in a comic book. Luck isn’t with Dallas as her body washes up on a Latverian shore and she ends up hospitalized. The diagnosis? Her spine is destroyed and she’ll never walk again. Ouch.

Atlas blames the V-Battalion for Dallas’ sudden disappearance and gets all angry at Hawkeye, citing that they went to Hell for his lady, but won’t do shit for his. He ends up infiltrating the V-Battalion and hides out for a while as they take a trip to their base in Symkaria. The Thunderbolts search for their meatheaded chum, but need help. MACH recruits Sandman to help them find their way around the country, since he holds a grudge with the country’s leader Silver Sable for incredibly stupid reasons caused by John Byrne. I’m just happy to say that of all the Thunderbolt characters to turn good and then bad, not a single one of them was handled as badly as Sandman.

Though Brubaker’s use of Zemo is making me a little anxious these days.

Wait, I just remembered that Radioactive Man was a villain again in X-Sanction just because. So Jeph Loeb gets the prize.

We get some Thunderbolts vs. V-Battalion action that causes Moonstone to freak out. She starts vomiting as the voice in her head that wants her to be righteous is pointing out how messed up both sides are. The V-Battalion are good guys who do bad things to get the job done while the Thunderbolts are bad guys trying to do good. She ends up turning everyone intangible, meaning they can’t fight. She then flies off into the sky in a fit of madness, sitting out the next few issues. The two teams settle down, and then agree to team up against Sandman. Considering he’s a guy who loses to Spider-Man even when part of a team of six, this is no real challenge.

I feel bad talking about the whole V-Battalion thing in Thunderbolts because it just isn’t for me. Obviously, the design for Citizen V was too good to simply use as a throwaway identity for Zemo. Busiek felt the need to make it into a fully-realized character. I’ve wanted to like the whole Citizen V thing, but once the mystery is done away with, there’s nothing really compelling about the whole concept. Ah, well.

The next few issues mainly tie in with Avengers #32-34, the finale to the Busiek/Perez collaboration. For the most part, the Thunderbolts are of little importance compared to the Avengers in this 6-issue story. In their own series, we get more focus on the stuff with Dallas and Scourge (I’ll get to him in a bit). What is important is the first part of the story in Thunderbolts #42 as we finally get a little closure on the Atlas/Man-Killer story that’s been going on for well over a year. If you need a refresher, the supervillain Man-Killer is a bartender at Atlas’ local place and he recognizes her. He’s been spending every other scene agonizing over not blowing the whistle on her to the point that I’m begging the writers to come up with something new for him. It’s become the comic book equivalent of me spending hours a day pondering if I remembered to add the fabric softener.

He’s chilling out, drinking some beer and Wonder Man shows up to beat the holy hell out of him for mysterious reasons. At this point, Man-Killer reveals that she knows Erik is Atlas and he reveals that he knows she’s Man-Killer. He asks for her help in fighting Wonder Man, but she laughs him off. After all this build-up, she states that she would never become a Thunderbolt and suggests that Atlas probably intended a romantic relationship out of it too.

“I call myself Man-Killer! How do you think I really feel about you?”

Funny thing about the use of Man-Killer is that she’s obviously written as a lesbian, but I guess they couldn’t outright say it. They do lay it on incredibly thick, though.

Can’t see it well in that panel, but it’s a Lilith Fair button on the right.

Man-Killer curses Atlas for ruining her civilian front and takes off. Wonder Man continues to beat on Atlas without reason and even when Charcoal tries to help out, the ionic Avenger still flies off with Atlas’ beaten carcass. It turns out he’s been brainwashed by Count Nefaria and he does the same to Atlas. His plot is something about using ionic energy to power himself up and blow up the world and all that. He gets beaten by the Avengers, Thunderbolts and his daughter Madam Masque. Like I said, the Thunderbolts are merely guest stars who help out. The most we really get is some interaction between characters, so if you want to see Charcoal make snide remarks at Triathlon, here you go.

Though there is a nice little moment where MACH tries to help out Masque.

She graciously says no, but thanks him. See, Man-Killer? That’s tact.

Now’s the part of the article where I go over what everyone’s deal has been for the past bunch of issues. Hawkeye has a tendency to mull over how he feels he’s been less than stellar as a leader, which makes it a good thing that he has Moonstone to comfort him. Other than that, the only thing he has going for him is his mounting feelings of loyalty to the team to the point that he adds a Thunderbolts logo to his outfit during the Avengers crossover to show where his heart truly belongs.

Moonstone has been confused over her own character development, constantly taken aback by her own selfless dialogue and feelings for Hawkeye. The Annual has a backup story where Moonstone gets out of the shower and sees various reflections in the mirror based on her past self. She ponders the fear that she’s becoming a better human being and how she doesn’t know if she can live up to that. Her visions of the blue-skinned version of herself grows stronger and controls her more until she goes off to find answers, constantly switching between speaking English and speaking Kree. She makes appearances at the Baxter Building and Attilan before flying off into space. She’ll get her answers in the next update.

Atlas only has that Man-Killer subplot going on and once that ends, he deals with the aftermath of the Avengers crossover. He’s been overloaded with ionic energy and it’s turned him into a human-shaped blaze of red plasma. He’s kept in a tube at Thunderbolts headquarters while they try to treat him.

Charcoal is increasingly frustrated in the team for being constantly distracted by other adventures when they should be searching for Jolt’s killer.

Songbird is having trouble with MACH‘s new look, but won’t discuss it at all, always feeling the need to talk about other matters. The black MACH concept starts off with enough gas, but then peters off to the point that it’s easy to forget that they changed him in the first place. Songbird is extremely uncomfortable being around him and Moonstone even brings up the idea that Songbird’s upbringing has led to some racist undertones that are coming into play. That actually could have worked well, since the series has been doing a good job of breaking down Songbird by pointing out her flaws and then rebuilding her into a better person. While the subplot does get follow-up – as does a ham-fisted “we don’t like YOUR KIND in my store, good sir” scene – it isn’t really that interesting.

Techno volleys between dickery and sentiment when watching the team perform. We soon find that not only does he have Ogre in a stasis tube, but two others. Sure, we can easily guess who the unsaid female prisoner is, but the third one is a complete mystery. He plays the role of Ogre well to the point that the only one who finds anything off about him is Black Widow when she teams up with them. She finds him socially awkward, yet there’s an underlying feel that he’s faking his awkwardness. Techno does get Hawkeye with a brilliantly-written practical joke that will come into play in the next article.

And what of Zemo? I’ve been pretty quiet about him, haven’t I? Zemo gets attacked by Scourge, the man responsible for the deaths of Jolt, the reporter investigating her death and the employee who leaked information to that reporter. Originally, Scourge was a mysterious Punisher-type of character who went around killing villains. This new one shares the same air of mystery, but is definitely someone else. Also, he looks like a cross between Jack of Hearts and Magog.

Scourge breaks into Zemo’s base and fights him over the course of an issue, getting the best of him at nearly every turn. His style of fighting is rather unique, constantly pulling out weapons from appears to be thin air and then discarding them the same way. His battle with Zemo brings him into Zemo’s father’s trophy room where he has mementos to celebrate the death of Bucky Barnes. Scourge is noticeably rattled by this and tries not to make this personal. He breaks out a version of Captain America’s shield to block a sword swipe and then impales Zemo with his own sword. Zemo is sure that it’s Captain America and then removes Scourge’s mask to utter disbelief.

I’m… I’m not going to count this one just yet, since he’ll unmask again soon with better lighting. Though a lot of the fans figured it out almost immediately, judging from the letters pages. No way were they going to bring back Bucky, so it didn’t leave too many options.

Scourge then beheads Zemo and his kill count grows.

Next he hides out in the Thunderbolts headquarters and waits for everyone to fly off to track down Moonstone. He attacks Techno, who at first figures Scourge to be a nuisance. Scourge seems to vanish until hours later, Techno explodes. Scourge – who has been using Pym particles to shrink and grow his weapons all this time – had shrunken himself and hid inside Techno since their first fight. Now he’s using a force field of solidified air to hold Techno’s body to the ground. In a rather grizzly way, he shows him what’s become of his old buddy Zemo.

Scourge would have everything wrapped up if it wasn’t for Atlas breaking out of his chamber and growing into a huge mountain of red energy. Scourge runs outside to go deal with that, allowing Techno the ability to save himself. There’s a problem, though. The mystery girl in one of his stasis tubes is stirring and appears about ready to break out. He could reroute the power of the base into his body and reinvigorate himself, but doing so would kill her.

Since the first issue, Techno/Fixer has been the most evil character on the team outside of Zemo and at least Zemo has emotions to drive him. As Fixer he was a complete dirtbag and by becoming a robot, he should conceivably have less humanity. That’s what makes the following inner monologue so damn good, solidifying this as one of my favorite Thunderbolts issues.

Now – while Scourge is distracted – I can feel the systems link – I can touch the power conduit flow – hot to my cybernetic touch – I’m sorry to do this to you, but I have no choice. If I were safe in the knowledge that my redundancy program would kick in – perhaps I would allow this robotic form to cease functioning – but Scourge has cast doubt over that safety net. The other two I could care less about, but you… you were… special.

Why did I come here to begin with? Why did I impersonate the team’s resident mechanic, Ogre? Why did I struggle to restore you to some semblance of life? WHY?! Is my uncertainty an emotional glitch – or merely scientific reluctance at seeing such hard work come to naught?

Ever since I replaced Ogre, this has been more than a game to me. I can readily admit I missed the daily challenges of being a member of the Thunderbolts. And the varied social interaction has been… stimulating… When Scourge killed Hallie Takahama, a part of me was… unsettled. While another part of me saw it merely as an opportunity for engaging scientific research. The chance to study the relationship between energy and organic matter – within the context of a genetically advanced human body that contained massive amounts of bioelectric energy.

A girl so capable… so confident… She was meat… but she was vibrant and… infectious… in her unbridled enthusiasm for life.

What kind of fool am I? I know what Zemo would do were he in my place. Even what Techno would do. But what would Paul Norbert Ebersol do…? What would… a Thunderbolt do…?


A Thunderbolt… would choose to die… like a hero…


As the red light in his eye goes out, we notice his gritted teeth becomes a smile.

Scourge is outside, trying to figure out what to do against the red humanoid cloud that is Atlas, but then he notices that Atlas is looking past him. A lightning bolt knocks him over and Scourge grows annoyed.

And that’s where we’ll leave off. Next time we’ll get a new Citizen V, a couple shocking returns, some hero slaughter and some cyber cowboy that nobody cares about.

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11 comments to “Villains Reborn Part 4: Only the Good Die Young”

  1. I could read (and enjoy) these issues in half the time it takes to read this long-winded summary.

  2. Actually, I think this version of Scourge was going more for a Paul Kirk Manhunter-esque look. Especially given how Scourge’s real identity mirror Paul Kirk’s “man out of time”-ness.

  3. @Wackadoo: Then you probably should. Comments like that make it sound like you have trouble enjoying things in general.

    @Lysander: Hm. Yeah, I can kind of see that. At the very least we can agree that his look is grossly inferior to the previous Scourge’s “MUSCLE BEACH” t-shirt.

  4. Ah, the days when writers created colorful, fun, thrilling comics.

    (Yep, the 1980s.)

    (Yeah, I know T-Bolts is from the terrible 90s but Busiek was 1980s-level good.)

  5. Once again, thank you for doing this series.

  6. I remember Wizard doing a ‘Who is Scourge’ bit at the time.

  7. It’s actually not of deep concern to me what you think I do and don’t enjoy.

  8. Continue to inform us in great detail of what does not concern you. I assure you, it is FASCINATING. My seat, she is ALL EDGES and I am on ALL OF THEM with my CAPS LOCK KEY held FAST AND TIGHT.

  9. Another great installment. In a similar vein, I did my top five favorite T-Bolts stories a month or two back-


  10. @Mike Priest: Fantastic list. One thing you’re wrong about. Sure, those pages you showed for #2 make for an amazing cliffhanger, but it’s only the close second best cliffhanger of that arc. The best is that one where they question who could possibly stand up to Graviton as we see a seriously pissed off Citizen V step out from the rubble with cracks all over his mask.

  11. @Gavok: Heheh, that was pretty sweet as well, but I had to go with the “everyone shows up” ending!