The New Thunderbolts consists of a team of reformed supervillians that are under the authority of the U.S. Government (The Commission on Superhuman Activities). The current incarnation of the team consists of Photon, Radioactive Man, Songbird, Atlas, and Speed Demon.
The Feds are understandably not happy that Captain America has re-formed the Avengers without any governmental or UN oversight (plus that they have already gone up against SHIELD in the Savage Land doesn't make the government feel secure with a rogue superhero team running around, even if it is headed up by a super patriot who wraps himself in a flag and has been an American icon for better than 60 years). Needless to say, certain shadowy elements within the government have determined that now is the time to do something about it, and determined to set the New Thunderbolts on the Avengers.
The story starts out with a memo from Carol Danvers, Director of the Homeland Security Agency to someone named Eagle 2 where she airs her objections to what she refers to as a "private smack-down match" between the two groups. She feels that while the New Avenger team is something of a loose cannon, most of the players on the team (as has the team itself) always been part of the country's (as well as the planet's) national and global security forces. Further, she observes that some of the objections come from within SHIELD, and as we all know, there is something shady going on within that organization as well.
From that rather staid memo, we jump right into a blowout between the two team taking place on the Jersey shore (the New Thunderbolts suckered the New Avengers into responding to a fake threat from Red Ronin, a gigantic transformer-type robot, which - when the Avengers arrived - turned out to be a solid sound construct courtesy of Songbird. As we enter the fray, Sentry is facing off against Photon, old foes Iron Man and the Radioactive Man are at it again, Spider-Man is attempting to fend off a faster Speed Demon than he remembers, Captain America is facing down Songbird, and Atlas (having tossed Luke Cage about a mile off shore into the ocean) is ready to wail off on somebody.
The Avengers are trying to hold back on the T-Bolts as they are quite unsure as to the why of the attack, and don't perceive them as a real threat in spite of the fact that all of the T-Bolts show increased abilities and training. Using the Avengers complacency against them Photon transports himself and sentry off world even as Spider-Man webs himself to the giant Atlas to avoid Speed Demon, only Atlas, has anticipated this move on Spidey's behalf, and suddenly shrinks, causing Spidey to hit the dirt rather hard, where Speed Demon clocks him.
Shooting back up to full height, Atlas stomps down on Iron man, pummeling him into the beach. As this occurs, Cap observes that they are all too well trained, and something else is going on here. He then slips into his role of tactical field leader of the team, and instructs everyone to mix up their partners. Only this move has also been anticipated by the T-Bolts, and Photon returns on cue to take out Cap. Down to two Avengers standing, Shell Head opines that he has his Platinum Amex card on him (perhaps hoping that he could buy off their impending doom).
Meanwhile, back at Stark Towers, Spider-Woman (playing "the Avenger left behind" role) faces off against Joystick, who has invaded their space. The two ladies are trading punches across the landscape of Stark's new space for the the New Avengers, with no one getting the upper hand. While Spider-Woman (unaware of what is going on down at the Jersey Shore between the two teams) is attempting to make sense of the attack, we learn that the real goal of Joystick's home invasion is for her to scatter miniaturized surveillance probes (designed by former Avenger Hank Pym) so that Carol Danvers, Peter Henry Grych and their agency can keep tabs on the New Avengers. Needless to say, every time Joystick swings her truncheon, she is scattering a boatload of the probes throughout the apartment.
Finally, just when Spider-Woman apparently puts Joystick down for the count, we cut away to the Big Apple Strip club in Brooklyn, where Abe Jenkins and Norbert Ebersol (the Fixer) are looking up a dejected Donnie (Blizzard). According to the dialogue, Blizzard has been hanging out in the club ever since Songbird fired him off the T-Bolts.
Cutting back to the Avengers/Thunderbolts throw down, Cap has joined Sentry in the Microverse (courtesy of Photon) just in time to be part of some sort of meteor storm. Photon pops back in , and 'ports Cap away someplace else, and then resumes his pounding of Sentry. Cap reappears on Earth only to wind up in the direct path of a full-on repulsor blast from Shell Head who had a perfect aim on Radioactive Man. Needless to say, he plows Cap down with it. Spidey then takes a one-two from Speed Demon and Radioactive man, while Iron Man lays into Atlas.
Getting back up, Cap appeals to Songbird telling her that the Avengers can help the T-Bolts if they are being blackmailed into fighting the Avengers. This is when Iron Man voices the probability that they are being blackmailed into fighting the Avengers, but it is the U.S. Government that is holding the vig. Just then, Photon and Sentry return with a resounding boom, flattening the Avengers. This event is witnessed by Cage who has just now made it back to shore, with a serious mad on. He is ready to stand his ground and take up the fight, only Songbird informs him that this lesson is over, and the T-Bolts transport away.
Back at Stark Towers, beaten all but to a pulp, Joystick knows that her mission is don, and beats a hasty retreat, leaving Jessica behind, very confused, especially when she witnesses the Thunderbolts collecting Joystick, and flying off. Our last view is the inside of the Homeland Security Agency with Danvers, and Pym, Grych, all of whom are apparently in league with Baron Zemo, who claims that by installing monitors on the Avengers, the FF, and the T-Bolts, the Agency can keep tabs on all of them, as it is Zemo who will ultimately save the world.
You know after reading both issues #s 13 & 14 I have to say I'm impressed. In an era that has thumbed its collective noses at "toiling in the corporate gardens" as it were, you have to admire a writer that, utilizing only company- owned characters and concepts that has rendered a so interesting concept. I mean here is a series of cast-offs and secondary characters. Save for the Avengers themselves, this book is populated with a bunch of "B" characters, none of whom on their own could support an on-going title. All have been cast off into the limbo of "could-a-beens" and "never-weres" and yet, Nicieza has crafted a very fine concept out of it (even considering that the concept itself is a bit hackneyed and frayed about the edges).
Still, this story (at least) was an interesting set up. By juxtaposing the two teams, he has not only set up some very interesting conflicts but has floated some very intriguing riffs on the entire superteam concept. The Avengers, once a group of independent heroes who went "corporate" and gained "official government status as a law enforcement division (complete with a U.N. charter, and sanctions by SHIELD), and has since "gone rogue" by tossing off their governmental ties, being taken down by a band of former supervillains who have gained legitimacy by accepting government backing (at the risk of having to do the government's Black Ops "wet work").
I haven't been following the T-Bolts, but after this two-parter, I just might have to pay more attention to them, as this could get very interesting.
Watching the two groups of heroes play off each other, (and not being entirely certain which team is composed of the good guys) made for an interesting story. Especially considering how the T-Bolts were so obviously coached in their strategy and tactics, and knew what the Avengers were going to do, even before the Avengers seemed to know. (To be sure, this story would probably have had a different outcome if it had appeared within The Avenger's continuity).
It would be interesting to see a rematch of these two teams take place within Avengers continuity just to see what Bendis does with it.