The Thunderbolts are coming, but before we see them in the MCU, it’s time to rank all the teams from the comics.
The biggest news in superhero cinema at the moment is the Thunderbolts. Last week, Marvel confirmed what we had suspected since Contessa Valentina “Val” Allegra De Fontaine offered U.S. Agent a new job in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Now the Thunderbolts will be forming for their own feature film, and the fandom is rejoicing.
The indication is that Great Value Captain America John Walker and Yelena Belova will be Val’s first two recruits. Who else will join the Thunderbolts? The comics could lend a sneak peak. After all, there have been at least 12 (give or take a few minor character swaps) different versions of the Thunderbolts with a revolving cast that usually focuses on villains and anti-heroes.
On that note, it’s time to rank all the Thunderbolts.
12. All-New, All-Different Thunderbolts
First appearance: Thunderbolts #1 (2022)
The jury is still out on the latest version of Thunderbolts who will debut in August’s Thunderbolts #1. This could very well be a precursor to the MCU team, since we have three characters on the Marvel Studios radar: Clint Barton, Monica Rambeau, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ America Chavez. They’ll be joined by the newest Power Man, Victor Alvarez, and Persuasion, as well as new characters Gutsen Glory and Eegro the Unbreakable.
11. The Winter Soldier Era
First appearance: Thunderbolts #1 (2016)
Since there’s talk that Sebastian Stan will reprise his role as Bucky Barnes for the Thunderbolts, it’s put a new emphasis on the 2016 brand of ‘Bolts. In the wake of Avengers: Standoff!, Winter Soldier took the reins and commanded his new crew, which featured Thunderbolts mainstays Moonstone and the former Goliath, Atlas. They were joined by Mach-X and Kobik. This manifestation wasn’t among the most popular, and it lasted just 12 issues.
10. Heroic Age Thunderbolts
First appearance: Thunderbolts #144 (2010)
Once Norman’s treachery was revealed to the public following Siege, Luke Cage put together his own brand of Thunderbolts. Although they were led by a true hero, the team still encapsulated what fans loved by having former villains in the lineup. He enlisted a true heavyweight, Juggernaut, along with Songbird, Moonstone, Ghost, Crossbones, and Man-Thing.
9. New Thunderbolts
First appearance: New Thunderbolts #1 (2005)
Eight years after Zemo used villains posing as heroes, Marvel dusted off the Thunderbolts with a new concept. Rebelling against Zemo’s heinous group, Songbird formed her own team of Thunderbolts to take him down. This included Atlas/Goliath and fresh faces Monica Rambeau as Photon (before later transitioning to Pulsar), Radioactive Man, Mach-IV, Speed Demon, Joystick, and Blizzard 2. That may sound like scraping the bottom barrel, but it fits the trend of generic C-list villains being recruited for the Thunderbolts. Still, this was one of the more forgettable lineups.
8. Thunderbolts Army
First appearance: Thunderbolts #103 (2006)
Taking place during Civil War, in an uncharacteristically heel move, Mister Fantastic, Iron Man, and Hank Pym as Yellowjacket made Zemo an offer: recruit villains to their side of the Superhuman Registration Act or go to prison. Who could say no?
Zemo tracked down dozens of villains, all of whom opted to join the Thunderbolts rather than spending life behind bars. The numbers became so massive that the Thunderbolts became an all-out army, including Doctor Octopus, Mac Gargan’s Venom, Bullseye, Lady Deathstrike, and everyone’s favorite punching bag, the Wrecker. Reed Richards, Stark, and Pym ordered Zemo to publicly attack and embarrass Captain America’s rogue New Avengers. Afterwards, the Thunderbolts were tasked with hunting down fugitive heroes who fought against Iron Man and the other supporters of the Superhuman Registration Act.
7. Kingpin’s Thunderbolts
First appearance: King in Black: Thunderbolts #1 (2021)
During Knull’s invasion of Earth in the crossover The King in Black, the Kingpin of Crime had been elected mayor of New York City. In an oddly noble gesture, Wilson Fisk assembles yet another group of Thunderbolts to defend NYC from Knull’s forces. Kingpin added Taskmaster, Rhino, Batroc the Leaper, Star, Snakehead, and Ampere. Their first job is to do battle with the Symbiote Dragon, but things don’t go to plan. The dragon eats Snakehead, and that was enough for Ampere. He threw his hands in the air and tried to walk away, and Mister Fear promptly killed him. After the Knull threat ended, Kingpin would add more villains to the ranks, including A-listers Rhino, U.S. Agent, Electro, Shocker, and Doctor Octopus.
6. Zemo’s Return
First appearance: Punisher #13 (2019)
Once again, Baron Zemo is brought back into the fold, but this time he is partnered with Kingpin. Wilson Fisk had been elected mayor of New York City for some reason. Zemo approached him with an offer to reform the Thunderbolts to take on the Punisher. Similar to the Dark Avengers, the crew was revealed in a press conference and presented as heroes. Led by Zemo in his Citizen V attire, he put together a team of Moonstone, Radioactive Man, Ghost, Fixer, and Paladin, who was actually Jigsaw in disguise.
5. Citizen V and the Thunderbolts
First appearance: Incredible Hulk #449 (1997)
It’s been 25 years since the original Thunderbolts graced the pages of Incredible Hulk. At first, Citizen V and his superteam appeared to be new characters Citizen V, Atlas, Mach-1, Techno, Meteorite, and Songbird. They got their collective name from Hulk’s longtime rival, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, who brought the team together to battle his nemesis. After the Green Goliath made short work of Ross’ latest scheme, the real story emerged. These were not heroes at all. Underneath their masks, they were all established villains. Led by Baron Zemo, the remainder of the team was comprised of Goliath, Beetle, Fixer, Moonstone, and Screaming Mimi. The secret was revealed in their first solo series, beginning with Thunderbolts #1 in ‘97.
4. Norman’s new Thunderbolts
First appearance: Thunderbolts #128 (2009)
This particular lineup was built on the foundation of Brian Michael Bendis’ epic crossover, Secret Invasion.
In that story, the Skrulls had supplanted themselves in high ranking positions of power across the globe. Right under the Avengers’ noses, the Skrulls had abducted numerous heroes and replaced them with shapeshifting agents. By the time the world discovered the truth, it was too late. The Skrull Queen, who had been posing as Spider-Woman, initiated the full invasion. Heroes and villains alike were forced to work together to thwart the Skrull takeover, and Norman’s Thunderbolts were front and center. In the final battle, it was Norman Osborn who delivered the killing shot to the Skrull Queen. With that moment captured on television, it made Osborn an international hero, which was exactly what he wanted.
In the beginning of Dark Reign, Norman decides it’s time for a Thunderbolts overhaul. He and Moonstone hatch a scheme to rid themselves of any members who might object to their brand of ruthlessness. They committed Penance to a maximum security mental hospital and had Radioactive Man’s visa revoked, promptly deporting him to China. Norman orders Moonstone, Bullseye, and Venom to kill Songbird, who narrowly escapes thanks to Swordsman. Osborn then fired Swordsman from the team and went full Max Schreck by tossing the Z-lister out of a window.
3. Red Hulk and the Thunderbolts
First appearance: Thunderbolts #1 (2012)
A decade ago, the Thunderbolts’ namesake, General Thunderbolt Ross, returned to lead his handpicked strikeforce against some of Marvel’s deadliest threats. Of course, Ross was in his Red Hulk guise, and many fans are wondering if he will arrive in some fashion in the MCU. This was one of the cooler lineups with Red Hulk recruiting what could be a preview of Savage Avengers, namely Elektra and Punisher as well as Agent Venom and Deadpool.
2. Dark Avengers
First appearance: Dark Avengers #1 (2009)
Technically, these weren’t the Thunderbolts, per se, but the Dark Avengers were the team’s evolution. If we are lucky, we will see a similar transition in the MCU. No matter what the name, this Thunderbolts/Dark Avengers is the best incarnation of either group.
Banking on newfound celebrity status after Secret Invasion, Norman parlayed that into a new position, taking Tony Stark’s place as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Osborn rebranded the organization H.A.M.M.E.R., seized Avengers Tower, and cracked open Stark’s Hall of Armor. Giving an Iron Man suit a star-spangled paint job, the former Green Goblin christened himself Iron Patriot. Combining the Thunderbolts with the remaining Avengers, Norman created the Dark Avengers. They got a major power upgrade with the additions of Sentry and Ares. Posing as Wolverine, Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye, and Captain Marvel were Wolverine’s son, Daken, Mac Gargan, Moonstone, Bullseye, and Kree supersoldier Noh-Varr. They would usher in the next major crossover, Dark Reign, that would end in the annihilation of Asgard on Earth.
1. Thunderbolts Reborn
First appearance: Thunderbolts #110 (2007)
After Zemo and his army disbanded after Civil War, a more sinister team emerged. Instead of following Thunderbolt Ross or Zemo, this group was under the command of a newly resurrected Norman Osborn. Publicly dropping the Green Goblin gimmick since his respite from death, Norman worked for the United States government and was put in charge of the criminals handpicked for the Thunderbolts. With their new headquarters on Thunderbolt Mountain, Osborn pieced together arguably the best version of the team, featuring Mac Gargan as Venom, Bullseye, Songbird, Penance, Radioactive Man (not to be confused with the Simpsons character), and Swordsman.