So I mentioned my favorite superhero team yesterday, and that their existence was a direct result of the less than amazing Onslaught event that occured in mid-90s Marvel Comics. Well today you get to find out who they are. (Marvel Comics fans should already have a pretty good idea)
So in 1996, Marvel decided it was time to do something big. DC had recently killed and resurrected Superman and then replaced Batman with a crazy guy in armor, and apparently Marvel wanted in on this. Thus, Onslaught the X-Men story that killed the Avengers and Fantastic Four. Basically, Professor X birthed/became an evil super-powerful psychic entity due to his mind-wiping Magneto. Somehow Magneto's evil brain impregnated Xavier's psychic brain or some such. I'm honestly still not 100% clear on it; I wasn't actually reading comics at the time having quit a couple years prior, shortly after the Spider-Man Clone Saga started. That's a whole different barrel of crazy we won't get into today.
Anyway, evil super psychic guy. Ultimately, to defeat him, a whole bunch of super-heroes had to throw themselves into him to disrupt his energy form and destroy him. Conveniently, the mutant heroes couldn't be a part of this for fear that Onslaught might possess one of them and start the whole thing over, so the Fantastic Four and the Avengers sacrificed themselves. No more Avengers. Well, some of the C-list guys were still around, but they went on like one mission afterwards that went really bad, then disbanded.
So that led into Heroes Reborn, where Marvel re-imagined the characters who had died in the main Marvel Universe in a new edgier universe written and drawn by Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. It was kind of an early attempt at the Ultimate Marvel Universe as done by Image Comics.
Back in the main reality, there was a sudden hole in the superhero world. The Avengers were gone, so who would protect the world? Into this gap came a new team, the Thunderbolts!
Okay, it's a pretty typical superhero team: patriotic leader, power armor guy, giant super-strong guy, tech guy, etc, etc. Cool character designs, but what make it special? Ah, well that's where the final page of issue 1 comes in.
Wolves in sheeps' clothing! Villains masquerading as heroes in hopes of gaining Avengers-level security clearance! This was huge; nothing like this had been done before. Individual villains pretending to be heroes for a single story maybe, but not a book with that as the base premise. Better yet, some of these were the sort of villain who might not want to give up the fame and respect that comes with being a hero. On top of that, this actually remained a secret until the book hit stands. Nowadays it seems like every big twist is spoiled weeks or months out, but this one had full impact.
I came across this book while leafing through comics at Books-A-Million one day. I got to that last page and was just amazed. I bought it immediately and got every issue religiously until the day they turned it into super-hero fight club. Boy, that was weird.
Thunderbolts is single-handedly responsible for my getting back into comics. From that one book, I branched out to pick up other Marvel books. Then Heroes Return brought back the characters that died in Onslaught, and I was pretty much in it for good.