In the wake of the Onslaught that wiped out most of Marvel's greatest heroes, including such legendary teams as the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, a new super-team called the Thunderbolts has stepped in to fill the void. While earning the trust and admiration of millions, the Thunderbolts have closely guarded their darkest secret: they are, in fact, the villainous Masters of Evil, biding their time as heroes, earning the trust of the public, and waiting for the perfect moment to strike back against the innocents in the Marvel Universe.
Having recently earned the trust of the New York city mayor's office, the new team of "super-heroes" known as the Thunderbolts are given the task of hunting down and capturing Spider-man -- who, officials believe, is responsible for the late night murder of a Micron Industries security guard in a Brooklyn warehouse. In truth, however, the men responsible for the attack are actually members of a secret criminal organization called the Enclave (a group of scientific geniuses seeking to rule the world in order to make it a better place).
The purpose of the warehouse invasion was not murder, but rather the theft of a key piece of equipment that would allow the Enclave to complete their plans for world domination (just an aside, though: if they're such geniuses, why did they have to steal the scientific equipment in the first place? Why not design it themselves?). Eventually, after the obligatory fight between Spidey and the T-bolts, they eventually track down the Enclave and foil the criminal organization's evil plans. Spidey is once again cleared, and the heroes go their separate ways.
Although bogged down by a completely lame group of villains like the Enclave, this issue did feature some wonderful interaction between Spider-man and the T-bolts. In particular, the transformation of Abner Jenkins (now MACH-1, formerly Spider-man's nemesis the Beetle) from a man out to get revenge on Spidey to a semi-heroic protagonist who helps clear the web-slinger's name, is moving. In addition, the relationships within the T-bolts themselves continue to grow, and we learn more about the goings-on within Marvel's newest super-team.
Three and a half webs. Busiek has a great feel for both Spidey and the T-bolts, and brings the two together in a well-written, well-paced issue. Had there been a decent group of villains with something beyond the standard world-domination plot, this issue could have been a gem.
I have to agree that the potential for this issue to be superb was squandered a little. The idea behind Thunderbolts is one of those humdingers which is really obvious once you see it done, but it seemed to take a burst of inspiration to come to fruition. The Thunderbolts title seems to have quickly developed a reputation as something original and highly readable.
It's just a shame that this story was held back by a poor supporting cast. I also find it a little disappointing that Beetle seems to be going soft. I would just love to see a title where the villain stays a villain. Then again, I suppose that what you do is what you are. Maybe it's hard to play at being a super-hero without being tempted by the buzz you get from gratuitous do-gooding.