The Usual Suspects #60
Welcome back for another edition of The Usual Suspects. Continuing in the spirit of looking into books and topics that I personally don’t know a lot about; this will be my focus for a little while. I’ve enjoyed researching books and genres that aren’t in my normal wheelhouse. Keep the article fresh and maybe I can help some folks out who are also not as knowledgeable on certain titles by doing the research and digging for us all.
I’ve been collecting comics most of my life, but there are still plenty of books and genres that I know very little about. So, let me do the heavy lifting for you and tackle some topics and maybe we’ll all learn a little something.
Now on that note, this week I wanted to take a deeper look at a title I never read. I knew the broad strokes of the idea behind the team; but through all of its iterations, I never had it on my personal pull list. So, when last week’s rumors caused a spike in some books over some potential movie or streaming news, I was curious to know more about the team.
Remember these are all just rumors so I wouldn’t go running out buying up books just yet. But even a rumor warrants a closer look sometimes So join me this week in taking a deeper dive into The Thunderbolts.
Special thanks to CBSI’s own Jason Shaw who really got me on this topic last week. I read through his excellent piece from earlier in the year and he offered some first appearances and his theories on how the MCU could incorporate their current roster of villains into this potential franchise. But I am getting ahead of myself. Please do yourself a favor and check it out if you haven’t already done so in Connecting the Dots.
Now I might’ve tried something similar in the past; speculating on how current MCU villains may be worked into this team and even suggest casting ideas for others they might introduce. If you’ve read my stuff you know how I love to do a Casting Call, but Jason already did a bang-up job so no reason to retread covered ground. Plus he even added a new angle to the mix in his article this week.
So, given that the cinema angle has already been covered, I will take my article in a different direction. While I may repeat some of the first appearances, I will try to take a peek inside the pages and look at this strictly through the lens of a comic reader.
I’ll let Kevin Feige and Marvel figure out how to work this team into the MCU or onto Disney +. I will just expand my own comic knowledge and look into the history of the original team through the different iterations they’ve been through the last 20 years or so.
So, let’s just get this out of the way, you all know they were bad guys, right?
I mean, if my context clues above didn’t give it away already. I’m not sure if you can spoil something that occurred 22 years ago, but I will say it was a big deal at the time. Even though I wasn’t reading Thunderbolts, I do remember thinking that was a pretty cool idea when I heard it. I mean, Marvel’s newest superhero team was actually a band of villains?
And this wasn’t slow played like it would’ve been today. I mean, in today’s written for trade pacing, the reveal would’ve been dragged out for 5 to 6 issues even though it was already confirmed in the solicits. But not back in the day. Not pre social media. Nope, Marvel dropped the bomb that they were the Masters of Evil in disguise in a surprise twist at the end of the very first issue.
1st appearance of the Thunderbolts
(Citizen V, Meteorite, Techno, MACH-1, Songbird, & Atlas)
So, before we get to that big reveal, and even before they got their own title, the Thunderbolts first appeared in this issue of The Incredible Hulk. Not a good cover at all, if you ask me. This looks like the art on one of those old Impel Trading cards from back in the 90’s.
I like Mike Deodato, but this was not a strong offering. Definitely would work better on a smaller scale of a trading card.
But anyway, kickoff here is the classic fight introduction. You know the ol’ good guys have a misunderstanding and battle set-up. The last issue 448 ended with Hulk and his companion jumping off. You know as you do at the end of a long day, and then 449 opens with the Thunderbolts ambushing them.
The issue plays out as you might expect for a while. A lot of splashes to introduce this new team, and “clever” ways to force their names into the dialogue so we know who everyone is. You know where every character goes out of their way to make sure they say each other’s names. Seems totally natural.
You know I say this in jest. I realize it’s necessary to introduce the characters to the reader, so you know who’s who; but at the same time I have to admit that I do not use people’s names often. I have been married nearly 10 years and I have still never addressed either of my in-laws by name. We talk all the time, but I have not once used their names. I’m a weirdo, I know.
I just get your attention and I start talking. It’s that simple. I mean I look at the panels below and they just seem odd. I mean they are in the middle of a fight. Do they really have time for all the formality, dear reader?
I don’t know about you, but I always announce myself when I enter a room, so why wouldn’t I do the same in a fight. You know like Jason Derulo would do at the start of every song. Singing your own name isn’t weird, is it?
Anyway, back to our introduction to the Thunderbolts. So, the fight and awkward name-dropping continues. And then Hulk thinks he recognizes the voice of one of the characters. This is interesting in that it links to a 1st appearance under a different persona, but more on that later.
But Hulk figures to put a bunch of innocent lives in danger by jumping through a dam to allow the “heroes” to prove they are there to save people from him, by putting people in danger to force them to save people from him…?
Anyway, you get the idea. Classic misunderstanding first meeting, or was it? Seems like someone has a grudge. Couple that with that voice recognition from before, and the seeds are sown for The Thunderbolts first issue a few months later and the big reveal at its end.
Market Analysis: Lots of copies sold the last week. CGC 9.8’s are back up approaching $400 where they were down closer to $200 over the summer. Raws seem to be a solid $50, with a high reaching $80 this week.
Thunderbolts revealed as the Masters of Evil
Well here we are with the debut issue of those rando “heroes” from that issue of the Hulk. Why did these guys get their own ongoing?
That’s what I thought when it came out. What is this nonsense? but Marvel did a great job keeping that M. Night Shyamalan twist under wraps through this issue’s release. They obviously were building to this and even tease the shocking secret on the cover. But who would’ve guessed it?
What’s even more surprising is that this title lasted as long as it did. I mean this premise works for a mini-series, but then where do you go from there. A lot of places apparently as this ran for 174 issues. Yeah, this ran for 15 years. Amazing, and I still never read an issue until now.
But let’s look at this team. They were introduced as a replacement for the Avengers who had disappeared thanks to Onslaught.
What crazy times those were. Image superstars Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld coming back to revamp Marvel's biggest titles in their own universes. Only in comics.
But that’s a story for another time. This issue is our big introduction to Marvel’s newest team supreme. These guys certainly look the part. I mean they got a big guy, and flying armor guy, a blonde and a brunette, and a guy who looks like Forge. Wait are we sure that isn’t Forge? He’s even got the red headband and the facial hair.
Oh, and let’s not forget Citizen V. Dude is wearing the stars and stripes and has a cape and a sword. Doesn’t get more iconic-ly heroic than that does it? The purple is an odd choice though. Should’ve been a tip off from the start.
I mean Bad Guys wear purple. That’s the way it always has been. It’s like a rule or something.
So, we really shouldn’t have been surprised by that ending then. I mean he was wearing purple. I could’ve kept adding purple villains above like Vile from Mega-Man, or Ivan Ooze, or Skeletor, or even Thanos…
Market Analysis: Looks like 9.8 or bust on this one. And prices shot up a ton with that recent sale. Raws will run you near $10 bucks these days.
1st appearance of Helmut Zemo.
So, this book features the first appearance of Baron Zemo, or should I say “a” Zemo. There has been more than one. But Zemo was in disguise as Citizen V and leader of The Masters of Evil, I mean The Thunderbolts.
I picked this book up a while back with that first wave of interest thanks to Captain America: Civil War. Everyone remembers that movie for Black Panther and Spider-Man showing up. Sure I will admit that airport battle was pretty cool.
But let’s not forget that Daniel Brühl played a very understated and yet effective villain. I’m stocked he’s returning for the Falcon and Winter Soldier streaming show on Disney +. I think he’ll kill it.
I know the photo is blurry but that’s the best we have right now. But it confirms that he’ll put on the mask at some point. If they do, it could be epic.
Not sure they’ll go the whole nine and give him the tiara? Is that what it’s called? What do they call a men’s tiara? Or is it a crown? And what about the cloak. Will it be a fuzzy cloak? Why do I feel like I am describing King Corbin from WWE Smackdown?
You know before he started going by King Corbin after he won King of The Ring, he was Baron Corbin. Baron Corbin? Baron Zemo? Coincidence?
Anyway, Zemo always had a really cool design if you ask me. I still haven’t gotten around to picking up his recent Marvel Legends figure. That things is pretty cool and is one of the few that actually trades at a premium. That’s like a $50 piece right now.
Wish I still had my Marvel Secret Wars one from 1984. That thing was super sweet. That’s also a $70+ figure in package or a $20 loose piece. Go check it out.
Speaking of which, if vintage toys interest you, then you should check out our new site that focuses on Classic toys at Toyinformer.com. I’m gonna be writing 2 weekly columns over there, so go and check it out. If you grew up in the 80’s/90’s then it should be right up your alley.
Market Analysis: Shameless plug aside, this book hasn’t moved a lot of graded copies of late. Raws however are back on the upswing as it’s back up to a $20+ book in higher grade.
1st appearance of Karla Sofen (Moonstone)
Ok, so here I have two books because our Thunderbolt, Meteorite is actually Dr. Karla Sofen who was previously known as Moonstone. Now There are 2 books listed because she was first introduced as Karla Sofen, a lackey of sorts for Dr. Faustus.
Yes, this version of her is no where near the next iteration that will tie back to out Thunderbolt introduction. But first I wanted to take a quick second to highlight the most interesting guy in this book. And that would be the little Mobster “Heels” who wears platform shoes for some unknown reason other than it was the 70’s. Makes me think of Fly Guy from I’m Gonna Git You Sucka!
Ok, little Mobsters in platform shoes aside, Karla Sofen would return in Hulk #228 after training under Dr. Faustus, Karla Sofen would return mix things up with the Jade Giant who was staying at this military base.
This was definitely a 70’s book as it appeared that Hulk was working with the military here, staying at the base with his very own bunk.
This reminds me of when Doctor Who gave up his timey-wimey space travels to stay on Earth and work directly with the international military group UNIT as a scientific advisor. This is when The Doctor was reinvented as sort of an action hero type more than the explorer.
This may seem strange to see The Doctor sword fighting in the swinging 60’s, but no odder than seeing Hulk playing nice with the puny army men. I didn’t read a lot of Hulk books from that era, so this is odd to me. But anyway, Hulk’s investigating brings him face to face with Moonstone.
They’d go onto to fight as you would expect, but there’s an odd moment when Hulk takes note of a change in her voice for some reason. I think it’s interesting that #449 sort’ve calls back to this issue when Hulk recognizes Meteorite’s voice.
Market Analysis: Plenty of Raw sales and both books are under $20. Truth be told you can prob find these much cheaper in the wild if you know what you are looking for. Not a lot of graded sales, but you can review them below.
1st appearance of the Grapplers (Letha,, Titania, Poundcakes & Screaming Mimi)
Let me start off by saying that outside of our 1st appearance of our Thunderbolt Songbird (Screaming Mimi), this book also features the “death” of Deathlok and the 1st Titania. She’s been speculated as a possible villain in a She Hulk series. So that’s something to keep in mind.
This issue also had the 1st Poundcakes and Letha the other 2 members of The Grapplers, as well as an appearance by Thundra. This little wrestling fight scene only lasted a couple of pages before it ended with Thundra tossing them all around like Becky Lynch with her Bexploder.
Now that I think about it, maybe it was Thundra rumored. Doesn’t really matter. But again, this isn’t much of an appearance for Screaming Mimi, but here it is. She showed up again with her crew The Grapplers a few times before Zemo eventually recruited her to The Masters of Evil where she first appeared working with Grey Gargoyle in Avengers #271.
Market Analysis: Raws are getting pricey on this one as it has a lot of firsts and a death, so it checks a lot of boxes.
Origin and 1st appearance, of Power Man (Erik Josten).
Well, this one features the 1st appearance of Erik Josten as Power Man. This guy has been around. Sure, he would eventually become Atlas in the Thunderbolts, but before that happened, he had a couple other aliases.
Following his introduction back in ’65 as Power Man, he would eventually become The Smuggler in Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #49 and then take up the moniker of Goliath in Iron Man Annual #7.
Looking at these 3 first appearances and the covers, this dude has an affinity for the color Brown. Not your most popular costume color but it can still serve a purpose.
But he eventually got himself together and brightened up his look as Atlas. Honestly, with all of these other aliases, he must’ve been searching for an identity. I mean there have been a few Goliaths. Maybe he was still sore that Luke Cage had stolen his Power Man name while he was on the shelf for a while.
Market Analysis: This is an oldie so graded copies don’t come up often. And Raw sales are very grade dependent. With that black cover, high grade is tough so you can get a low grade for a decent price.
Origin and 1st appearance of the Beetle, (Abner Jenkins).
Another older villain that Zemo recruited for his Thunderbolts was The Beetle. While he first appeared here in Strange Tales facing off against The Human Torch, I always think of him as a Spider-Man villain having tussled with him a few times.
But the character would take on the Mantle of MACH-1 when he was with the Thunderbolts. Much like Iron Man and his armor upgrades, Abner did the same as well. He also upgraded to MACH-2, MACH-3, MACH-IV (going Roman Numerals now), MACH-V, MACH-VII (hey, what happened to 6?), and MACH-X. Sure why not jump up to Mach 10 now. Who cares? Or is that X as like X-Men or just the letter X. Not sure if that’s just to be cool or incognito.
Not sure everyone will get that reference from House Party. I probably should’ve stuck with something more popular like Jason X. Where that was Jason…in…spaaaaaace. You should read that in the Pigs in Space voice, BTW. If you watched the Muppet Show growing up, you know what I am talking about.
Market Analysis: You get the idea by now, older book and not a lot of graded sales. Plenty Raws in the $30 range but grade dependent.
1st appearance of Paul Norbert Ebersol (Fixer)
Up next in our original Thunderbolts lineup is Techno, who was originally known as Forge from the X-Men. There I did it again. My bad. But seriously this is just too much. What are the chances that the technologically inclined guy would rock the Tony stark lite facial hair?
Seriously if I didn’t tell you that the Fixer was on the left, would you be able to tell the difference? And again, why do they both have the red headbands? That’s an odd costume design choice to maintain through the 90’s. A decade earlier I get it. Maybe they were both big Brett Michaels fans. Hey, I am too, but not enough to rock the bandana headband. I’m not trying to walk around looking like Murder Falcon.
But enough about mustaches and headbands. The Fixer has been around the Marvel Universe. I mean he’s had time with Hydra, tried to mess around with Deathlok, and mixed it up with the Micronauts. And he’s even has crossed paths with Marvel heavyweights like Spidey, Cap, Ironman, and the Avengers. And this all before he joined the Masters of Evil when they went after the Avengers in issues #270-277 back in 1986. But Fixer didn’t enter the mix until issue #273 that had that awesome Black Knight Marvel 25th Anniversary frame cover.
Then you start getting into some craziness with the Super Adaptoid, Robotic bodies, time travel, cosmic cube returns and eventually joining Bucky’s 3rd iteration of The Thunderbolts. Oh yeah, we probably should address the other versions of the team. But patience, we’ll get to that.
I stand corrected, I guess bandana headbands were still a thing in the 90s. Sorry Axel.
***And I realize this song came out in 1987, but Axel did keep rockin’ this look into the 90’s. So before you jump on me for that, I just wanted to clear that up. End editor’s note.***
Market Analysis: Another slow-moving graded book, but raws have jumped up as of late. Sure, this is still a very cheap book considering it’s a classic from the 60’s. I mean around $10 bucks won’t break the bank if you were interested in something like this. You could spend your $10 on worse things.
Then again, I am getting a little chubby and it’s getting tougher each morning to get those socks on. The struggle is real folks.
New team (Norman Osborn, Moonstone, Songbird, Radioactive Man, Bullseye, Venom, Penance & Swordsman) begins.
Ok, so here we have our first major overhaul of the Thunderbolts squad. A couple carryovers from Zemo’s Masters of Evil squad, but Norman Osbourne started running the show and brought in some new blood.
This lineup featured some classic Marvel Villains like Bullseye and Venom. This would be the Mac Gargan (Scorpion) version of Venom. Warren Ellis had taken over writing duties on the title and it had almost a Suicide Squad type vibe for a couple years there. Mike Deodato was on interiors showing he’s much better than that Hulk #449 cover would have you believe.
This issue also had a decent 2nd print that draws some attention and a gorgeous Leinil Yu variant cover. That is the book of the 3 as the regular edition can easily be found in dollar bins if you look.
Honestly there are tons of Thunderbolts books in the dollar bins and you really should consider grabbing them. This run by Warren Ellis ran for 12 issues and had some great Marko Djurdjevic covers.
But this team would evolve and would also be the bones of what would eventually become Osborne’s Dark Avengers team. Crazy times in the Marvel Universe back then. It was almost like Norman was reverse engineering the Thunderbolts into the Avengers.
I mean you had villains who pretended to be heroes, who sort’ve became anti-heroes, that would eventually become villains who would again be posing as heroes while following the machinations of a villain who had reformed but who’s stability was slowly crumbling…my head hurts thinking about this.
Market Analysis: Again, the regular edition is a dollar bin book all day. The 2nd print you can usually snag cheap if you look hard enough, but it is a bit more difficult to find and it could run you up to $10 or a sock slider.
The Yu variant is the one to own as that could run you anywhere between $40-$80 raw these days.
These 1:50 incentive covers are becoming impossible to find at a decent price these days. It’s a pretty cool connecting cover image, and kudos to anyone out there who was lucky enough to complete the set. My only gripe is that the red background comes off a bit boring. I mean I get it, that’s the new team direction color for this new iteration of The Thunderbolts, the black and Red; but with black and red characters on top of a red background, they kind of wash out the Billy Tan art.
Here is the cover set all together below:
Interesting lineup of killers in the Marvel Universe. And I get that Red Hulk uses weapons, but why is he holding that Commando style Rocket Launcher with the stock on the outside of his arm? Not gonna get much bracing action like that. And even if Hulk is strong enough to “shoulder” the kickback, you would think the aim would be way off.
But Arnold would have made a pretty cool Red Hulk back in the day. I’m picturing a TV version with Schwarzenegger in Red body paint, facing off against Lou Ferrigno’s Jade Giant. I realize that makes no sense, but you don’t need to make complete sense when you are using your imagination. Tell me that wouldn’t have been cool in a cheesy sort of way. Def would’ve been cooler than the Thor battle.
Ok, nonsensical imaginary dream TV specials aside. Red Hulk assembled this squad as sort of a strike team that is close to what X-Force was to the X-Men. And Daniel Way and Steve Dillon gives us a wild no holds barred romp in the vein of something Dillon would have done with Garth Ennis. These guys don’t pull punches and aren’t afraid to take lives.
Now I realize we would never get the above team in the MCU, but that’s not the point of this article. I don’t really care what lineup Marvel decides to use, or if this rumor ever comes to fruition. The rumor only got me thinking about this team, so I wanted to know more.
And I’ve seen enough here to look into this a bit more personally. Specifically, this Vol 2 lineup. This looks like it could be a fun read. I know I will never get these 1:50 variants, but I think I may have the reg issues of a couple tucked away in a box somewhere. And if not, I know I’ll be able to score them out of Dollar Bins with a bit of patience. I suppose you could call that a loose shameless plug #2 for one of my other columns, Dollar Bin Digging.
Market Analysis: Again, asking prices are jumping on these books right now. Not a ton of sales in the graded market, but there aren’t many slabs out there to sell if you look at the census below. And those sales that happened the last few years appear to be steals.
There are raws to be had under ratio, but then others looking for 3-4x ratio. Wildly inconsistent right now so be wary. The later issues (#4,5) with Deadpool and Agent Venom seem to be the more sought after. That’s probably a combination of character popularity and later issue lower print runs.
So, that brings us to our final section. Here I’ll throw out a few more quick hits From the Thunderbolts. I decided to spotlight a few variants and focused these extra highlights all based on covers. Some big prices on some of the below, even if I didn’t give them the full-on deep dive. Please enjoy.
I absolutely lucked into this awesome Jock variant for only a buck. Some shops aren’t up on there variants and miss these books when they are clearing out collections. So be vigilant.
That said, I believe this may be a 1:10 so it may not be too rare. But that black cover makes high grade a tough ask. Not sure I would’ve paid market for this one, but it definitely is a striking image.
Sometimes you just get lucky in the bins.
Typical Sales Data:
CGC Census 9.8 – 22
1:50 Noto Variant
This is just a cool cover. I really dig that old pulpy vibe Noto has given us here. And a 1:50 on a late issue in the run makes this a tough book to track down.
I’ve not seen one in the wild, but if I did, I might have to check my wallet to see if it were at a price I could afford. Only one on eBay right now and it looks like it’s been listed a few times. even looks like it sold in Oct and must’ve fallen through. And at $72, it is tempting.
Prior to this, one sold raw for $175 in September. So make of that what you will.
Typical Sales Data:
CGC Census 9.8 – 2
1:50 Christopher Variant
This is another one that has seen some crazy prices lately. It’s a striking cover. Love how G.R.’s skull just pops.
Just gorgeous, and impossible to find. And I do really like the JTC cover. But at $250 raw?
Typical Sales Data:
CGC Census 9.8 – 5, 9.6 – 2
1:25 Checchetto Variant
This one popped on the market a couple years back. For a hot minute Checchetto was the next big deal cover artist. This one and that Gamora one had their day in the sun.
It’s maintained pretty well holding at double ratio. I think the spec around that little girl Kobik pumped this up initially as she had the power level potential to be a game changer in the Marvel Universe.
That may have faded following that Pleasant Hill event, but this cover has persevered. Not sure why that last 9.8 sold so cheap in the summer as it averages well over $100 normally. I mean look at that raw selling for $20 more in March.
Typical Sales Data:
CGC Census 9.8 – 35
Francesco Mattina Covers
This is just a great cover run by Mattina. Again, you can find these in dollar bins as I think they were heavily printed. But only 12 issues in the set and it could net you a solid return if you can complete it on the cheap.
The Deadpool covers on #130 and #131 are the standouts, I think. Again, inconsistent pricing, but even for the PC these are worth a look. These remind me a lot of the Azrael cover run he had around the same time.
So, scour those dollar bins and grab them if you fancy the cover art. Then stay for the Andy Diggle stories inside.
Typical Sales Data:
Raw Set – $45.00 on 8/29/19
Sorry this is hitting the site kind of late this week, but it was a rough week with the real job, so my spare time was limited. But we got through it, and hopefully you all enjoyed it. Anyway…