Back in the late 90s, Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley had quite a surprise in store for Marvel Comics readers when they introduced a new team of heroes to fill the void after the disappearance of the Avengers and Fantastic Four during Marvel’s big “Onslaught” storyline. Debuting in Incredible Hulk #449, the Thunderbolts burst onto the scene to calm a rampaging Hulk.
Both readers and denizens of the Marvel U presumed only good things from this new squad, that is until the very end of the first issue of the Thunderbolts comic, which revealed that each of the members was actually a previously established Marvel villain! As it turned out, Baron Zemo had ingeniously hidden his Masters of Evil team in plain sight, attempting to gain power through insidious means. From there, the Thunderbolts concept grew and changed a number of times through the years, though often focusing on the idea of whether supervillains could truly cross over from the wrong side of the tracks.
The group was initially an independent way for villains to go straight — whether as a ruse or for real, depending on the specific members — but it has been co-opted by the government on more than one occasion. No matter the reason behind a new Thunderbolts team’s formation, though, it typically revolves around baddies trying to become superheroes, whether to truly redeem themselves or to further their own schemes.
With an ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe, could we see the Thunderbolts concept adapted for the big or small screen? It’s certainly possible, as we continue to meet characters in the MCU (and sometimes outside the MCU) who have ties to the Thunderbolts in the comics.
Here are a few candidates for membership…
The man who came up with the entire Thunderbolts concept in the comics, Helmut Zemo, made his big screen debut in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Given a more sympathetic backstory than his comic book counterpart, the MCU Zemo’s family was killed during the Avengers’ fight with Ultron in Sokovia, which inspired him to demolish the team by driving a wedge between Captain America and Iron Man. Helmut was taken into custody at the end of his scheme, which means he could be developing yet another plan to get back at the team that ruined his life – as we’ll see in the Disney+ series Falcon and The Winter Soldier when he returns with his comic-based mask, as you can see in the photo at the top of this page. Could this all be setting the stage for Zemo to become a more overt costumed nemesis and to eventually form the Thunderbolts?
In the comics, Hawkeye eventually got fed up with the Avengers and took over as the ‘Bolts’ leader during a time when they separated from Zemo. Having his own history with being labeled a villain, the archer grew to support his new team and looked to inspire them, much like Captain America had done for the Avengers. Clint Barton’s been a part of the MCU since his first appearance in Thor and is still kicking around post-Endgame (and will be getting his own Disney+ series), which means he could offer some experience to a Thunderbolts team. While never quite the supervillain he first was in the comics, Clint’s time as the murderous vigilante called Ronin — something said to be explored further in the upcoming Hawkeye Disney+ series — could still be used to fuel his connection to others trying to make up for past sins.
With the impending debut of Yelena Belova in the Black Widow film, which is set prior to Avengers: Infinity War, fans are curious where we might eventually see Yelena, who also goes by the name “Black Widow” in the comics, in the MCU’s modern era. Another product of the Red Room, Yelena appeared to join the Thunderbolts during the time when Norman Osborn used a group of villains as his personal tools of vengeance and destruction. As it turned out, this “Yelena” was actually Natasha Romanoff in disguise. But with the MCU Natasha no longer in the picture after Avengers: Endgame, we could see Yelena sneaking in to fill any and all super-spy needs — and perhaps a genuine role on a Thunderbolts team.
A new Ant-Man came into the picture in Marvel Comics in 2006 when S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Eric O’Grady stole one of the Ant-Man suits and used it for problematic purposes. Always looking out only for himself, he survived the Skrull invasion and parlayed that into a spot on Osborn’s Thunderbolts. His ability to shrink made him perfect for plenty of black ops missions. We already know that Hank Pym’s suits exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so maybe a bum like O’Grady could get his hands on one — or something could happen to the MCU’s Ant-Man, Scott Lang, who has his own criminal history, to send him down the path towards Thunderbolts membership.
Another member of Norman Osborn’s Thunderbolts in the comics, Mac Gargan — once the Spider-Man enemy called Scorpion, but then possessing the Venom symbiote — also became a part of Osborn’s “Dark Avengers.” He went on missions as the barely-in-control Venom, but also became a twisted version of Spider-Man for a time. In the MCU, Gargan appeared in Spider-Man: Homecoming as a criminal looking to buy alien tech from the Vulture, Adrian Toomes. He was captured by the Wall-Crawler — suffering injuries in the process — and locked up alongside Toomes. If he eventually gets a Scorpion suit, the MCU Gargan could parlay his skills and contacts into a T-Bolts gig.
There’s a pretty big difference between the comic book and movie versions of Ghost. The former’s an unnamed, unhinged anti-establishment thief who can phase through anything and is intent on destroying corporations — especially those owned by Tony Stark — who eventually joined Osborn’s Thunderbolts team. The latter is a young woman who went somewhat mad after one of her father’s experiments went wrong and she became non-corporeal, tangling with the two title heroes in Ant-Man and the Wasp. However, with Ghost receiving help from Janet Van Dyne and making peace with Ant-Man and the Wasp by the end of the film, she might be looking to make up for some of her crimes. And maybe there’s a team that could seemingly give her a way to do so…
In the comics, Bucky Barnes put together a new team of Thunderbolts to keep Kobik — a living Cosmic Cube with astonishing reality-warping abilities — safe and uncompromised. Still dealing with the knowledge of all the terrible things he did while under Russian control, the Winter Soldier did his best to keep teammates Atlas, Fixer, Mach-X, Moonstone, and Kobik on the straight-and-narrow. In live-action, we know that Barnes will be busy keeping the Marvel Cinematic Universe safe along with Falcon in their upcoming Disney+ series, but he could also eventually make for a great Thunderbolts leader on the big — or streamed — screen.
At the time of his arrest, the comic book incarnation of Crossbones was known as the man who attempted to assassinate Captain America and loved the Red Skull’s daughter, Sin. Luke Cage almost immediately vetoed his involvement in the Thunderbolts, but he still went on a handful of missions, which lead to his exposure to the Terrigen Mists. In the MCU, Brock Rumlow was initially introduced as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in Captain America: The Winter Soldier but turned out to truly be part of Hydra. He was hurt badly by the end of that film, but returned in Captain America: Civil War with a new look and gear, as he attempted to steal a biological agent with his team. The Avengers stopped him and Rumlow died by his own hand, but hey, he’s a Marvel character! He can still make an unexpected return…
Okay, so there’s been very little connection between the previous Marvel TV series and the films, but Thunderbolts might be a great way to officially bring Luke Cage into the MCU. In the comics, after Norman Osborn made the foolish decision to attack the Asgardians, he was ousted from power and Cage took over. Thunderbolts was now a program aimed at rehabilitating imprisoned super criminals and Luke brought a unique perspective because he had once been wrongly imprisoned. Could this lead to Mike Colter reprising his role as Cage from the now-cancelled Netflix Luke Cage series? Maybe the tenuously-related TV and movie universes could come together in a way hinted at in the title of Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness! An active multiverse could lead to all sorts of characters crossing over from one previously established universe to the other, like how Jamie Foxx’s Electro from Amazing Spider-Man 2 is said to appear in the third Sony-Marvel Spider-Man flick. Or, they could just create a brand new incarnation of Cage if need be…
At this point we know that one-time Captain America fill-in John Walker will appear in the Disney+ series The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, where he is played by Wyatt Russell. Walker has had several levels of involvement with the T-Bolts. When he worked for a mercenary group called The Jury, he was sent after the team and its leader, Hawkeye. Much later, after suffering grave injuries, Walker became the Warden of The Raft, the prison holding members of the Thunderbolts, working directly with Luke Cage while Cage headed up the team. He was serving in that capacity when he and some members of the team wound up on an unexpected trip through time and space that eventually restored him physically. It’s assumed that the MCU version of Walker will be working for a U.S. government that’s been trying to control the heroes ever since passing the Sokovia Accords in Captain America: Civil War. Down the line, it’s possible that U.S. Agent could be used to head up or even infiltrate a new hero team like the Thunderbolts, depending on which version comes to the MCU first.
One of Luke Cage’s Thunderbolts team, Juggernaut took to the idea of playing hero, as he has on a number of other occasions throughout his super-powered career. Though depicted quite differently each time, Juggernaut has appeared in two different 20th Century Fox X-films, X-Men: The Last Stand and Deadpool 2. With Disney snatching up 20th Century Fox and the X-Men film rights, it would seem within the realm of possibility for Professor Xavier’s half brother to wind up eventually turning over a new leaf with the T-Bolts.
In 2013, General “Thunderbolt” Ross — whose comics incarnation had become the Red Hulk — put together a new Thunderbolts team that consisted of characters who’ve all, by this point, been established in Marvel movies and shows — albeit some that are not part of the MCU, or at least haven’t been up until now. This team featured Deadpool, Elektra, Punisher, Bullseye, Agent Venom, Ghost Rider and Red Leader. MCU versions of Ross and Leader (or at least Leader’s alter ego, Samuel Sterns) debuted in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, and Ross has since been seen onscreen in Civil War, Infinity War and Endgame and will return in Black Widow.
Deadpool’s onscreen future isn’t quite clear, though it’s been said we will see Ryan Reynolds return as the Merc with a Mouth at some point. Meanwhile, Elektra, Punisher, Bullseye and Ghost Rider have all shown up either on Marvel Netflix series or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and though it’s not expected that we’ll see those versions of the characters again, it’s also not impossible because of the multiverse. Or, Thunderbolts could be a way to introduce new takes on some of these characters that firmly place them in the MCU.
Finally, Venom/Eddie Brock, of course, had a hugely successful Sony film and the person who merged with the symbiote to become “Agent Venom” in the comics, Flash Thompson, has been Peter Parker’s classmate in the MCU Spider-Man films. A version of Venom is probably the trickiest of the bunch to make it into an MCU Thunderbolts story, given Sony controlling the film rights to the character, but anything is possible, as we’ve seen with Spidey himself joining the MCU and the upcoming return of Jamie Foxx as Electro…