It all began with that one (terrible) decision by Marvel to run with a story in which the malignancy of anger and hate inside of Magneto's mind corrupts Charles Xavier and leads to the birth of the most potent and deadly villain ever; Onslaught. The fallout of this story was that Earth's Mightiest Heroes were lost (actually in most cases they were taken away from competent, talented writing teams and handed over to the Image founders to butcher and devalue for an entire year.)
But from even the worst ideas we sometimes glean inspiration for the best of ideas.
Enter The Thunderbolts.
With The Avengers, Captain America, The Fantastic Four and Iron Man all shunted into another universe by the awesome power of Franklin Richards there was a power vacuum in the Marvel Universe in desperate need of filling, and Kurt Busiek (who will always get a great deal of love on this blog) and Mark Bagley did exactly that when they introduced a new team called The Thunderbolts. The team debuted in the pages of The Incredible Hulk, being written at that time by the greatest Hulk writer of them all (Peter David) and then later were launched as their own book.
It was the conclusion of that first issue which opened my eyes to the genius of the series concept and the brilliance of Kurt Busiek (once again!) The final panel of Issue #1 of Thunderbolts revealed that the newest super heroes of the Marvel Universe were, in fact.......The Masters Of Evil!! One of the most dangerous teams to ever square off against The Avengers, this plot twist represented one of the most impressive concept launches in the history of comic books, as we discover the true meaning of hiding in plain sight.
The series quickly became a fan favorite as it charted the nature of heroism and watched the eventual reformation of many of the Masters of Evil into genuine heroes. Kusiek wrote the series for thrity-four wonderful issues, and was replaced by Fabian Nicieza when he left. The series continued its strong run, though as it approached issue #75, Marvel EiC Joe Quesada came up with a "brilliant" idea and almost killed the series forever. Somebody get this guy away from Marvel's helm. NOW.
After much tumultuousness and the series cancellation, some storylines came together which brought The 'Bolts back into being, although radically different and with new leadership. This second era of the 'Bolts was highlighted by the run of Warren Ellis, who came on board for the better part of a year and did the story from a very dark place. With the fallout of the Civil War, his Thuunderbolts were criminals acting under the government's control to hunt down unregistered super humans. It was a terrific, dark reflection of the power that political agendas can bring to bear on the world.
The book is now in the hands of Andy Diggle, and while it is no longer the book that Kurt created, it continues to be a series of interest for me because of the constant questions that seem to arise. A new Black Widow leader Norman Osborne's Thunderbolts? Maybe not. An enigmatic Ghost who seems at cross purposes with Osborne? Doc Samson framed for trying to kill the President? Nick Fury responsible for the infiltration of the 'Bolts?
This book still has legs in my mind, and while it isn't yet back to the level of the story it was launched as, I'm not read to bury it. This one may not be the greatest series being written right now, but it is an overlooked gem in the Marvel line-up and it's hiding in plain sight.