ThunderboltsMarvel’s Suicide Squad, is wasted potential made up of boring characters that prove the MCU mishandles its villains.
Although we know there will be Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars in 2025, the superhero team has been absent from all of this early Phase 4. Luckily, the Marvel Universe has a team to take over, the Thunderbolts, villains pretending to be heroes. The idea is exciting on comic paper, but the composition of the band unveiled by Marvel at Disney’s D23 disappoints: Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), Red Guardian (David Harbour), the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan ), Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko), Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) and US Agent (Wyatt Russell).
This MCU version of the Anti-Hero Squad is boring. Still, the Thunderbolts have a history worthy of the best superhero teams in just 20 years of existence. They passed through the hands of many characters, good and bad, and have been central to several major events in the Marvel Universe. Thunderbolts doesn’t seem to come close to any good idea in comics, and might even be less exciting than the Suicide Squad by David Ayer.
—Marvel Entertainment (@Marvel) September 11, 2022
The very first iteration of the Thunderbolts appears in Incredible Hulk #449 in 1996, before they had their own series in 1997 in Thunderbolts from Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley, the creators of the team. It was under the orders of Baron Zemo that first officiated villains pretending to be heroes in order to gain the trust of the citizens in the absence of the Avengers (they had died during the event Onslaught) and acquire classified documents. But playing good guys is starting to appeal to a lot of Thunderbolts who betray the Baron. For several dozen numbers, budding heroes will try to prove their good faith.
Techno, Atlas, Songbird (the most famous member of the team), MACH-1 and Meteorite will be the first of the team. But its composition will change very often. During Civil Warthe team becomes a special force commanded by Iron Man and tasked with tracking down superheroes refusing to obey the law. The Thunderbolts will evolve into an even more fearsome version as Bullseye, Venom, Taskmaster, and other psychopaths join the team and nearly kill Spider-Man.
Almost all Thunderbolts in history
This band of mad dogs will take on another appearance following Secret Invasion (the event adapted in the future series with Samuel L. Jackson). Norman Osborn, who has become a national hero after giving the final blow to the Skrull leader, assembles a new team playing the Avengers. That’s when Ghost (the villain of Ant-Man and The Wasp and member of the Thunderbolts) joins the roster, along with Yelena Belova, actually Natasha Romanov undercover. The Thunderbolts are here in their darkest versionsbut will be disbanded to form the Dark Avengers, during the era Dark Reign from 2008 to 2009.
General “Thunderbolts” Ross, the Red Hulk, will also create his commando of killer heroes with Punisher, Deadpool, Elektra and Venom in a series of 32 issues between 2012 and 2014. Then it’s the turn of Captain America to recruit inmates to form the Thunderbolts of which Luke Cage is the commander from Thunderbolts #144 during the arc heroic age. Then the Winter Soldier takes the lead of another version of the squad with several original members of the Thunderbolts. This team takes on SHIELD after the events of Pleasant Hillan illusory prison that locked inmates in a rewritten reality.
In the following years, the Thunderbolts will be led by Wilson Fisk, Zemo and Osborn who will use antiheroes to do their dirty work or save appearances in public by playing the heroes. US Agent will become one Thunderbolts during this time. 2022 sees the appearance of new Thunderbolts more heroic than before with Hawkeye, Monica Rambeau or even America Chavez.
The first Thunderbolts led by Bucky Barnes
At the sight of the MCU’s Thunderbolts, there is something to be disillusioned about. Among them, three are super soldiers : US Agent, Red Guardian and the Winter Soldier. Both Black Widow and Ghost exhibit abilities for infiltration, while Taskmaster is an expert in close combat, so nothing that sets her apart from her fellow abilities. All are also linked to government officials, or former agents in the service of a country.. Here we are with a super-squad of good soldiers led by Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), the MCU’s Amanda Waller discovered in Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
One of the strengths of Thunderbolts is of propose ambiguous characters on the notion of good and evil in a Manichean universe. The early members loved being heroes because they were finally winning – which is a pretty meta joke – and therefore sought redemption through their actions. In future versions of the Thunderbolts, there are killers who take advantage of this hero status. However, the characters of Thunderbolts are all “bad guys” who have already redeemed their behavior. Ghost no longer has any interest in being naughty, ditto for Taskmaster, released from his leash at the end of Black Widow. The Winter Soldier in his case concluded his forgiveness arc in Falcon and thing.
Who wanted to see him again?
The other anti-heroes, Red Guardian and US Agent, have the primary desire to do good. None of the Thunderbolts are actually bad people being asked to be good under duress., or operating for a just cause in its interest. There is therefore no justification for them joining a government team to do the dirty work. This even comes into contradiction for several of them like Taskmaster, who must rather want to enjoy his new life, Bucky Barnes has become a real Avengers, or Yelena Belova who knows that Allegra de Fontaine lied to him (without subtlety) in Black Widow.
Thunderbolts especially embodies the problem of the MCU since its inception: there are not enough preset villains that could join the squad. Because it was the most exciting for a team of dirty faces in a shared universe like Marvel’s to bring back old mobster Avengers characters (which Warner could not do with The Suicide Squad). However, Marvel has always had a problem with its villains who end up either dead (Iron Monger, Whiplash, Malekith, Mysterio) or responding to the same archetype of leader unable to evolve in a group.
With him, the Thunderbolts would have had less of a lucky charm head
This problem of managing its villains, the MCU suffers the consequences with the future series iron heart whose the villain The Hood has the strength of being a kingpin leading other second-rate bad guys. A skill whose color it will be difficult to see without adding to the shoehorn the idea that there is a plethora of other thugs in the MCU that we have never been told about. Captain America: New World Order conversely unearths a forgotten character, the Leader (Tim Blake Nelson), seen in The Incredible Hulk from 2008. Marvel resurrects him, like it did for the Abomination in She-Hulk: Lawyerand finds himself dependent on seeds dropped at the start of the MCU.
Fact, the MCU has very few second knives, these villains present to take a few slaps and to test the power of a hero. In this category, we find Shocker by Spider-Man: HomecomingBatroc of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (already back in Falcon and the other) and Titania and the Demolishers seen in She-Hulk: Lawyer. But that’s too little to yield an exciting Thunderbolts team that, for now, is reminiscent Suicide Squad for its lack of diversity.