If you’ve been paying attention to any of the latest rumors about Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you might have heard that a certain ragtag group of comic book villains/heroes/vigilantes may soon make their MCU debut. According to Deadline, Jake Schreier is set to direct the top-secret Thunderbolts movie. There have already been hints within several of Marvel’s movies and shows as to what characters may be a part of the team. The original leader of the team in the comic books, Baron Helmut Zemo, has already appeared in both Captain America: Civil War and Falcon and the Winter Soldier. The team’s founder, Thadeus “Thunderbolt” Ross,” also appeared in The Incredible Hulk. Other rumored characters include US Agent, Taskmaster, Yelena Belova, Ghost and the Abomination. While fans salivate over the forthcoming film, let’s take a look at the history of Marvel’s Thunderbolts.
Much like DC’s Suicide Squad, the Thunderbolts are a group of “reformed” supervillains brought together to perform secretive missions. Though the reasons for their original formation were quite nefarious. Baron Zemo formed the team as a secretive version of his “Masters of Evil.” Zemo even went under the guise of the heroic Citizen V persona. With several of Earth’s superheroes missing following their battle with Onslaught, the Thunderbolts rose to prominent positions of trust and power. Villains such as Goliath, Beetle, Fixer, and Screaming Mimi also joined Zemo by taking on new heroic identities. The final member to join the team was Moonstone, a criminal psychologist who partook in some unethical practices.
Villains Become Heroes
Not long before many of Earth’s heroes returned from their banishment to a pocket dimension by Onslaught, many of the Thunderbolts began to think of themselves as actual heroes. Though Zemo made a power play for control, he was ultimately ousted from the team. Soon after, Hawkeye joined the team. Having formerly been a criminal himself, he worked to reform the team as their new leader. It was soon discovered that Hawkeye lied to them about getting pardons from the US government, which put a strain on team relations. However, Hawkeye eventually did get them their pardons. It came at the cost that he would have to go to prison for aiding them while they were still fugitives.
In Hawkeye’s absence, Baron Zemo found a way to manipulate his way back into the good graces of the Thunderbolts. When Hawkeye was eventually pardoned himself, Zemo convinced him that he wanted to reform after the team defeated the Crimson Cowl. Under Zemo’s renewed leadership, the team partook in several acts of questionable heroism. Zemo had the belief that the ends justified the means. Leadership of the Thunderbolts eventually changed again. Norman Osbourne served as a notable leader after he gained power following the superhero Civil War. He used the team’s role in repelling the Skrull Invasion, as well as Tony Stark’s failure to protect the Earth, to position them as the Dark Avengers.
An Uncertain Future
The team went through several leadership changes after Osbourne. Luke Cage, Red Hulk, and Winter Soldier all served as leaders in the years following. More recently, Wilson Fisk used his own team of Thunderbolts to fight against superhuman vigilantism as mayor. Following Fisk’s defeat, Helen Astrantia was tasked with reforming the Thunderbolts. She and Luke Cage have targeted Hawkeye as a potential leader once again.