Thunderbolts: Becoming Heroes The New Thunderbolts, from the covers of 65,67,69,71,73

"Becoming Heroes" (2002/08/01)
"Moving Targets" Thunderbolts 65 (August 2002)
"Trust in Fear" Thunderbolts 67 (September 2002)
"Green With Envy" Thunderbolts 69 (October 2002)
"For the Common Good" Thunderbolts 71 (November 2002)
"No Lose" Thunderbolts 73 (December 2002)

Reader Rating: Average

Roll Call: Amazon, Cyclone, Harrier, Hawkeye, Skein, Songbird

Summary: The macguffin: Justin Hammer’s legacy -- a biotoxin that has been secretly placed inside every meta-human that Hammer has ever met.  The players: Hawkeye, Songbird and Plantman; the Crimson Cowl and selected Masters of Evil; and SHIELD.

After tracking Cyclone to Paris, Hawkeye convinces several Masters that the Cowl plans to use the fatal biotoxin to control them all. Cardinal, Gypsy Moth, and Man-Killer take new costumes and identities. Now known as Harrier, Skein and Amazon, they and Cyclone join Hawkeye and Songbird to form a new “Thunderbolts” team. Discovering that Plantman is the only one who can trigger the biotoxin, the ’Bolts battle for his freedom first from the Cowl and, following her defeat, from SHIELD.

On the verge of death, Plantman comes in contact with the "Verdant Green," a force that speaks for the flora of Earth. He completes a metamorphosis into a living plant creature, and takes the new codename Blackheath.

Then the neo-Bolts are called on to help Citizen V and the V-Battalion to rein in an other-dimensional void that threatens to engulf the Earth.

Silver Sable and some unidentified Wild Pack members aid in the battle against the Cowl. The Elite Agents of SHIELD are Dum Dum Dugan, M-80, Silicon, Skul, and two more who go unnamed. The Masters of Evil include Black Mamba, Hydro-Man and Machinesmith.

Continuity: The biotoxin is the “insidious gambit” that Techno detected inside Man-Killer way back in “V for Vexation!” (2000/05/03). Further details are provided of SHIELD’s recruitment of Hawkeye in prison (“The Pursuit of Justice”, 2001/06/01).  The Crimson Cowl is revealed to be Justine Hammer, the daughter of Justin.

Sam briefly recalls, somewhat inaccurately, his run-in with Spider-Man from "Deathgarden" ( 1978/07/01). Machinesmith hypothesizes that Sam's transformation into Blackheath may be related to the metamorphosis drug that briefly caused a similar transformation at the end of "I, Monster" (1998/08/01).

Flashbacks briefly recall Cardinal's childhood, his early days in the military (where his drill Sergeant refers to him as "Donald Joshua Clendenon"), and the one night stand with Sprocket during which Valerie (Meteorite) was conceived.

Sybil tells Katrina that she spends her free time running "sex clubs", and that she joined the Masters of Evil "just for kicks."

Pierre does not take a new identity, possibly because his powers are built-in to his costume or because Hawkeye knows right away that he is a hopeless case. He, alone, ends up in SHIELD custody.

The story runs concurrently with (and, in Chapters 1 and 5, parallel to) “Becoming Villains” (Thunderbolts/Next). That’s Zemo’s pistol in the last panel of the final chapter. Unseen behind Zemo in that panel: Dallas, Erik, the Fixer, MACH-3 and Moonstone. Jim Hammond and Elizabeth Barstow show up in the final installment.

Part way through this story, the team is whisked into the middle of "The End" (2003/01/01), then returned to precisely the point from which they vanished.

Comments: There's good stuff here. The first installment presents a view of Hawkeye as insightful as any in his long history. Songbird comes into her own in the strong showdown with SHIELD. Skein develops well. But this meandering serial has a lot of problems, too.

Some of the problems fall squarely on author Fabian Nicieza’s shoulders. The introduction of the new Thunderbolts is clunky, and their transition to new names and costumes completely unmotivated. Why, at the beginning of Chapter 3, do we spend three pages talking about a fight when we could have used the same space to show it? The disposal of the Cowl, while funny and logical, is frustrating for long-time fans. Silver Sable’s relationship with the Cowl goes unexplained, and Sable vanishes for large chunks of the storyline.

But more blame belongs to new editor Andrew Lis, who inexcusably yanks long-time T-Bolts artist Patrick Zircher in the middle of the second chapter, replacing him with a couple of hacks who don’t know the characters and can’t draw decent noses, much less a convincing action sequence. (Take a look at Hawkeye’s belt-buckle in the last panel of Chapter 3; I could have done a better cut-and-paste job with construction paper and glue.)  Lis chooses to waste space by opening each issue with an unhelpful "Previously" page that fails to recap relevant facts while giving away upcoming plot points, all with shaky grammar. He’s clearly a caretaker editor, interested only in churning out the final chapters of Nicieza’s run while preparing to launch his own, unrelated Thunderbolts series with issue #76.

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This page was revised on December 12, 2004

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