The Marvel Cinematic Universe is no stranger to putting a spotlight on not-your-usual superhero teams. They did it really well with 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and they’re at it again with Thunderbolts.
But the Thunderbolts aren’t exactly like Star-Lord’s squad of lovable misfits. So who is this team, and who are its members? And what is their background according to Marvel canon? Scroll down and find out.
Who Are the Thunderbolts?
In the comics, the Thunderbolts are an anti-hero team. They first appeared on the pages of The Incredible Hulk in the late 1990s. And as you’ll soon find out, they have an interesting backstory.
Back in 1996, Marvel had its Onslaught crossover event. Like any other crossover event, this storyline led to some pretty intriguing consequences. Chief among them is the death of most of the superheroes on planet Earth. Even the Avengers were declared dead.
In the Avengers’ absence, the Thunderbolts came into the picture as the new protectors of Earth. But it was later revealed that they were actually the Masters of Evil.
Wait – who exactly are the Masters of Evil? They’re old foes of the Avengers. And when we say old, we mean really old – like, debuted-during-the-early-1960s-old. The group was formed by Nazi baddie Baron Zemo and has gone through several incarnations in the comics over the decades.
The 1997 version that posed as a superhero team was actually the sixth incarnation of the Thunderbolts. Led by Zemo, it consisted of the Fixer, the Beetle, the Screaming Mimi, Moonstone, and Goliath. All of them were criminals disguised as the good guys.
But to Zemo’s surprise, this Thunderbolts team decided to rebel against their leader. Not only that, they actually tried their hand at being superheroes. And they later did become superheroes – under the leadership of ace archer Hawkeye.
Over the years, the team would undergo a lot of roster changes. The list of characters who have joined the Thunderbolts is quite long. And even a few of its members would get back to being villains.
What About the MCU Thunderbolts?
The MCU’s upcoming Thunderbolts movie seems intent on remaining true to the comics version’s format of fielding reformed criminals or supervillains.
You got Black Widow’s sister Yelena Belova (who attempted to kill Clint Barton in the 2021 Hawkeye series), the Winter Soldier (the baddie in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier), U.S. Agent (an antagonist in the 2021 The Falcon and the Winter Soldier series), Taskmaster (the villain in 2021’s Black Widow), Red Guardian (Russia’s supersoldier answer to Captain America), Ghost (The Wasp’s nemesis in 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp), and lastly, Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (who caused some trouble in Hawkeye and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier shows).
Some of these characters do indeed have dealings with the Thunderbolts in the comics. For instance, the Winter Soldier led a Thunderbolts team in the late 2010s. More recently, U.S. Agent also served as the team leader in the early 2020s Devil’s Reign arc. As for Taskmaster, she first joined the Thunderbolts during the first Civil War event before eventually becoming a leader herself. And then, in the late 2000s, the Dark Reign saga saw Ghost become a Thunderbolt for the first time.
Are the Thunderbolts Mutants?
No, the Thunderbolts are not mutants. They don’t have mutant powers like the members of X-Men, X-Force, or other mutant superhero teams.
But they do possess superpowers, or in the case of Yelena Belova and Valentina Allegra de Fontaine in the MCU version, elite combat skills.
Okay, did the Thunderbolts ever have members who are mutants? Yes, it did. During the Red Hulk’s tenure as team leader, Deadpool was in the team. And although technically he’s not a mutant, regular X-Men villain Juggernaut joined the team in the early 2010s.
Are the Thunderbolts Villains?
No, the Thunderbolts are not strictly villains. They’re more like anti-heroes. Although it must be said that throughout the team’s existence in the comics, a number of true superheroes did join its ranks. The most obvious examples are Hawkeye, Ant-Man, and Ghost Rider, just to name a few.
It’s also true that more than one supervillain was forced to join the Thunderbolts. In the first Civil War, the team transformed into the Thunderbolts Army. A good number of its members were supervillains apprehended and made to choose between going behind bars or joining the Thunderbolts. After the Civil War crossover ended, many of them never reformed.
Are the Thunderbolts Heroes?
No, the Thunderbolts aren’t exactly heroes, either. Or at least they’re not like regular Marvel superhero groups.
You can always count on teams like the Avengers and the Fantastic Four to protect innocent lives and champion justice.
As for the Thunderbolts – well, let’s just say that, for the most part, they’re not role models for kids. But they do choose to do good, although in the case of the Thunderbolts Army members, they were manipulated to do someone else’s bidding.
Are the Thunderbolts the Dark Avengers?
Not really, but allow us to explain. During the Dark Reign saga (2008-2009), Earth is still recovering from the Skrull invasion (as told in the Secret Invasion storyline). Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin himself) rises to power after beating the Skrulls and is now S.H.I.E.L.D. director.
He then renames S.H.I.E.L.D. as H.A.M.M.E.R. This new organization is tasked to oversee a new Thunderbolts team, which Osborn then transforms into his own assassination squad.
Not content with that, Norman then proceeds to form a new Avengers team. But this time around, he takes ex-Thunderbolt members and new recruits and then disguises them as superheroes. It paves the way for the Dark Avengers storyline, which ran from 2009 to 2013.
Are the Thunderbolts Like the Suicide Squad?
Marvel’s Thunderbolts team does have similarities to DC’s Suicide Squad. For one, they’re populated with anti-heroes in their respective rosters.
But there are big differences between the two. The Thunderbolts’ history is rich with stories of supervillain members who actually succeeded in becoming true superheroes. As for the Suicide Squad, they remain villains through and through, and they’re only doing the mission because the government will kill them if they don’t.