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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sunday supervillainy: Thunderbolts - "Justice, like lightning!"

I'm reinstating my regular "Sunday supervillainy" feature, starting with a shout out to the Thunderbolts from Marvel Comics, which is now into a new series (scripted by Jim Zub) with a familiar cast of characters.

The Thunderbolts, recall, were originally the Masters of Evil in disguise, pretending to be superheroes for their own complicated and nefarious purposes at a time when other heroes such as the Avengers were unavailable. Some of the Thunderbolts discovered that they actually enjoyed being heroes, though they were, and remain to varying extents, morally flawed individuals.

The new line-up includes the main stalwart of the team over the years, and one of my favourite Marvel villains: Moonstone (Dr. Karla Sofen). As always, Karla thinks that she should be leader, since she is arguably the most powerful. She is a brilliant psychologist and a (near?) psychopath, whose bonding with a cosmic gemstone gives her a wide range of super powers; these make her a competent and formidable opponent even for the likes of Captain Marvel or the Hulk.

Karla is backed up by Atlas (who was the original Power Man - though that title was usurped by Luke Cage a long time ago - and was known at one stage as Goliath), Mach-X (who was originally the Beetle), and the Fixer.

That's a classic and versatile set of Thunderbolts, though some fans will surely miss Songbird (originally Screaming Mimi).

In the new series, the Thunderbolts are now under the command of the Winter Soldier (a.k.a. James "Bucky" Barnes), who has the difficult job of keeping this villainous, headstrong crew under some semblance of control while leading them on missions for the greater good. He has also picked up the task of looking after (and likewise controlling, if he can) the insanely powerful and unpredictable Kobik - a set of Cosmic Cube fragments that has taken on the appearance and personality of a little girl.

When the Thunderbolts are well written, they're a lot of fun. They'd be worth reading for Moonstone's antics alone ... as she manipulates everyone else (with mixed success), tries to assert her superiority, sometimes does manage to pull off small coups, and occasionally connects with others on the team just enough not to look like a complete psychopath.

In fact, what makes the Thunderbolts likeable is the way this bunch of ex-crooks relate emotionally to each other. All of them originally chose to use their powers (or in the case of the Fixer and Mach-X, their inventive genius) for criminal gain. But none of them is all that evil. The Fixer and Mach-X are fairly decent guys when given a chance; Atlas is more unimaginative (and not terribly bright) than a truly nasty piece of work; and even Moonstone has at least developed some fondness and loyalty toward her teammates.

At this stage, just a couple of issues into the new series, the Thunderbolts have got themselves into a mess (as usual), with Kobik having just ripped out Moonstone's gem - nearly killing her - before being persuaded to put the gem back inside Karla's chest. Moonstone is now wandering around in a dreadful state trying to recover from the ordeal, but she and the others have managed to trash a nest of Inhumans' pods that hatched a whole bunch of giant humanoid ... monsters. Having killed all the "monsters" in an unnecessarily destructive brawl, the Thunderbolts now find themselves confronted by a powerful and angry team of Inhumans, led by Crystal. Grab the popcorn!

I'd love to see the Thunderbolts brought to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How about it, Disney?

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