The Civil War is over. The Fifty-State Initiative is in effect and with it a whole new global police force of super powered individuals are ready to make the world a safer place. One such task force is the Colorado based Thunderbolts: Songbird, Radioactive Man, Bullseye, Moonstone, Mac Gargan/ Venom III, Penance and Swordsman, headed by the newly appointed Norman Osborn. Drafted for a one year tour of duty, each member will receive a new identity, ten-million dollars, and full government pardons for their past endeavours after serving their country. Their goal: to hunt down illegally unregistered meta-humans.
Bullseye is seated in a dimly lit room. A suited man stands in the shadows. The man asks Bullseye when he last committed murder – "three days ago" is his reply, a father and son he had the fortune of running into as he fled the Dallas D.A. office, having just killed the assistant D.A.; he used the broken stick of the popsicle the young boy was eating to impale their eyes. The man questions what Bullseye was thinking about at the time and is glibly told that he felt nothing, that the pair just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – an impulse instinct. The obscured man remarks on how interesting that is given Bullseye's current situation, informing him that the injection he received prior to their meeting was not a light sedative but actually a net of nano-sized generators, receivers and wires that have effectively transformed Bullseye into a walking cellular phone, thus allowing 'them' to dial into this internal network, wherever he may be, should he do anything to disobey orders (from trying to escape to unauthorised kill-shots). Bullseye is visibly infuriated but does not move and it is revealed that a heavily armoured and armed squad has him surrounded. Barely containing his rage, Bullseye demands to know what the man has put inside him, and he gleefully explains that when the net is triggered a large electrical current is delivered, temporarily incapacitating him for ten-fifteen minutes – the first time. The second time a shock is triggered, it will cause enough damage to hospitalise him for several days. The third time will lead to permanent nerve damage. The forth – brain damage and partial or total paralysis. Bullseye is clearly panicked, recalling how his brain tumour left him completely paralysed, leaving him to spend the rest of his life confined to a hospital bed. The man outlines that Bullseye is to follow his assignments and instructions to the letter: his new career as an acting member of the Thunderbolts is to track down and apprehend unregistered superhumans, a job requiring frequent violent altercations that skills such as his will, in extreme situations, make the difference between successful capture and public humiliation. In return for his services, which will last for an undecided period of up to one year, he will receive a new identity, ten million dollars, and a first-class ticket out of the U.S., or else be extradited. Bullseye tries to keep his nerve and, sweating profusely, declares that they have no power to exile him. The man leans in close and wipes the sweat from Bullseye's face, tasting it, noting that he "tastes scared" and teasing on how it must remind him of the days when he had the brain tumour. There are no laws for him to play or hide behind - right now the man is the closest thing to God Bullseye will ever meet. Resigned to fate, Bullseye asks when he gets to kill Daredevil ("All goo things come to those who wait"), and where he knows the man from. The suited man responds that everybody knows who he is - he's the new director of the Thunderbolts: Norman Osborn.
Cleveland, Ohio. Former hero Jack Flag is confronted by his girlfriend Lucy in their apartment as to why he still has his costume. He informs her that it was stowed away in a storage box just in case the time ever came again when it was needed. Lucy is fearfully of the consequence should it be discovered; paranoid that Jack will end up in the Negative-Zone super-Guantanamo with all the other unregistered heroes. He argues that it isn't like he'll be dressing up every night – it's just an insurance policy. Lucy snaps that Captain America isn't coming to recruit him again, if he even remembered him after five years. Jack shouts her down by saying that the suit had nothing to do with Captain America, and was in fact everything to do with his country – a place where no one should be driven out because of their differences in opinion. The costume stays. Lucy relents. Hearing a noise outside she looks out to see a mugging, and makes to call the police. Jack bitterly remarks that that did no good last time – he's going down there. She tries to stop him, pleading that if he's caught then they'll never be safe. Proclaiming he'll be okay so long as he wears the mask, there's no way he can go on letting the thugs below get away with this every week. She tells Jack she'll meet him down by the side door and with that he leaps into the night.
Across the news networks, reporters, hosts and guests vent their fears that Tony Stark will turn the country into a peace-loving, nation spying network operating under his dictatorship. One such guest outlines the similarities between "unregistered combatants" and unregistered superheroes, drawing conclusions that an unregistered soldier is a guerrilla fighter – a terrorist. Elsewhere, the Thunderbolts are remarked upon as being a dedicated group of Americans seeking redemption – which is further commented on during an interview with Osborn.
Broadcasting live from outside Thunderbolt Mountain, one news station announces that the Thunderbolts have just declared an indigo alert. Inside, the team, shackled and under heavy armed escort, make their way to the Zeus carrier. From the mountain two Cloudeyes are launched to survey the incident area prior to the teams landing. Within the Zeus Moonstone is secured to her seat. The top of Thunderbolt Mountain opens and a prison frigate (a T-Wagon) is deployed – the news announcers state that this means only three or less criminals are to be apprehended today. Back onboard the Zeus the armed escort checks the final lockdown for take-off; Penance is secured with no countermeasures to be deployed upon any unauthorised behaviour; Venoms restraints are primed with a bio-toxin; Songbird is restrained; Radioactive Man is restrained with no countermeasures, as requested by the Chinese government; Swordsman is secured and his weapon stowed in a DNA specific cell set to trigger his nano-net if he interferes with it; Bullseye is secured with tranquilisers primed in his cuff – they are good to go. The launch pad descends and the Zeus takes off. Returning to the studio the news team cut to a commercial, promising to take the viewers to the action, live, as it unfolds. They cut to commercials advertising the Thunderbolt Mountain play- set, and Thunderbolt action figures taking down an "unregistered" Captain America figure toy. The advertisement ends with the plastic Thunderbolts (minus Bullseye) standing over the fallen figure of Captain America.
Some weeks earlier: Moonstone enters Osborn's lavish office. She mentions to him that since the return of her moonstones her health and strength have returned, and that she'd prefer he refer to her as Dr Sofen. Norman asks if she knows why she has been called to him. She understands that there is a position open in the commission of superhuman affairs for which her psychic talents may be useful. He agrees this is partially the case. The Thunderbolts are to be reconfigured, and with her skills in manipulation and deception he wants her to be field leader. Moonstone seems unphased, announcing that Songbird is the teams' field leader. Norman informs her that his dislike of Songbirds morals and ethical outlook means that is no longer the case, and that he needs a woman of no morals and no ethics. She is to be charged with commanding a group of criminals with no allegiances, so there is no room for anything but split decision-making and a domineering presence in order to control the volatile team. He hands her the new rota and she giver her opinions; Radioactive Man and Swordsman won't be a problem; she can easily play Venom; Bullseye may be a problem, but Norman reassures her that he is only to be used when necessary. In exchange for her cooperation she will receive full Presidential pardon ("meaningless to me" is her response), and will be free on the nano-net – she remains unmoved. Norman rounds off negotiations with his trump card; in addition to the $1M a month salary, which devolves to $500,000 monthly after a five year tour of duty, she is entitled to her moonstones when she retires. There is a pause, then, smiling, she agrees to read his contract – asking if he happens to have a pen.
Jack is on his way to his apartment when he notices the Cloudeyes scanning the area. Over the phone he tells Lucy that she has to go to her mothers immediately. Bursting into his apartment he asks Lucy where his suit is. She is already packing and informs him it's where he left it, and rhetorically questions if this is because of last night. Lucy attempt, teary eyed, to diffuse the situation with light-hearted banter. Jack agrees to meet her at her mothers later (he has some spare clothes stashed in the alley). Despite the odds Jack is certain he can take on the Thunderbolts because they are nothing but a bunch of small-time crooks that have been beaten by less capable superheroes than him dozens of times – all they have is fear tactics and Starktech toys. He tells her to take the car while he buys some time by messing with them before he runs for it. They embrace and she weeps that they are going to kill him for being a hero.
This looks set to become the dark face of Marvels The Initiative comic line. From the interrogation of Bullseye, through the media's blind sighted relationship with the team allowing giving them great PR to cover their backs, to the final dour panel it is clear that this comic is dealing with the most negative aspects of the 50-State Initiative firsthand. Nothing particularly happens in this issue – for new comers or casual readers it may be considered quite a tedious read, however, it is all obviously building up slowly so we can view the new team as it is unveiled to the public. To this end, the Thunderbolts themselves have seldom any page-time - there appearances are limited to Moonstone and Bullseye's interviews with Osborn and the scene when they are secured within the Zeus.
The main emphasis of this issue (and most likely future ones) is to show how influential a bias media is – an attack at how we are only allowed to see what has been pre-approved, and hear views of events that reflect the specific opinions of the producers of the media. There is no room for doubt or different views when you are influencing a nation. The very fact that Osborn now has a good relationship with the media, which in turn portrays him as a true patriot seeking redemption reflects this perfectly.
Mike Deodatos' art is masterful in its detail and is a perfect match for Rain Baretos' dark and moody colouring. Ellis' writing and plotting are intelligent and the satirical edge well observed from the way modern media is delivered (particularly in the States). Although just three of the Thunderbolts have lines, the characters are well defined and I can but assume this will go for the remaining members as they appear. The series seems to be in competent hands.
My favourite scene is the toy commercial, as it captures everything that is now wrong in the MU. There is something chilling about the final panel, as the plastic former villains look down on the fallen body of Captain America – clearly they were happily accepting change some time before the Secret Invasion. I also like that Bullseye's involvement with the team is being kept from the public. Its one thing to have the latest Venom in the public sphere as he has only been seen publicly once and thus can "seek atonement" for the previous hosts evil-doing, but Bullseye is a renown psychopath and remorseless murderer whom the PR peoples couldn't hope to put a positive spin on.
Outstanding art and colour, along with an intellectual story which magnifies contemporary social issues (as well as being entertaining).
Spider-Man does not actually appear in this issue, but I figured I'd review it anyway.