The Thunderbolts are coming to the MCU in their own 2024 movie. But the version of the team brought together for the MCU doesn’t much resemble the original Thunderbolts or the team’s classic gimmick of a group of villains in disguise as heroes.
However, some of the characters involved are actually longtime members of the Thunderbolts, though few of them have much connection to the original team. With that in mind, we’re counting down our picks for the best Thunderbolts members ever, including a few of the ones from the MCU and many we hope will eventually appear.
The movie Thunderbolts
Though several of the movie Thunderbolts make this list, some of them don’t. US Agent was part of the Thunderbolts program but got more involved in the era when the team became the Dark Avengers. Meanwhile, Taskmaster was only briefly part of the team in the Devil’s Reign era. Meanwhile, Red Guardian has never been a Thunderbolt, nor has Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. For everyone else, read on to see whether they fit in!
Black Widow’s brief tenure on the Thunderbolts is interesting as it somewhat mimics the original team’s classic trick of presenting villains in disguise as superheroes.
Though Yelena Belova was the Widow recruited to the team, ‘Yelena’ was actually Natasha Romanoff in disguise, working to spy on the team from the inside.
Luke Cage’s backstory involves a life of crime, a wrongful conviction, time in prison, and eventually reformation as a superhero. So when the Thunderbolts were relaunched as a government program designed to oversee the transformation and training of villains as heroes, Cage made total sense to lead the team.
Though he first started to gain the trust of the team, they eventually went AWOL, going on the run from Cage’s supervision and winding up in an alternate dimension, where they became a new incarnation of the Dark Avengers.
Now, as mayor of New York City, Luke has once again revived the Thunderbolts program as the only superheroes legally allowed to operate in the city.
Following the story Avengers: Standoff! in which villains had their personalities and likenesses transformed through the power of a reality-altering Cosmic Cube as part of a plan to secretly imprison some of the biggest threats in the Marvel Universe, the original Thunderbolts reunited – minus Baron Zemo – to guard the Cosmic Cube, which became sentient and took the name Kobik.
To lead the team, former villain turned hero Bucky Barnes AKA the Winter Soldier took the reins. However, Bucky’s tenure as leader of the Thunderbolts was all too brief, as the subsequent story Secret Empire revealed that the Cosmic Cube had been used to remake Steve Rogers as a Hydra agent, in a story that led to several of the original Thunderbolts reverting to villainy after years spent as heroes.
To say Penance is a controversial character is underselling it a bit. Originally the happy-go-lucky ’90s hero Speedball of the New Warriors, Robbie Baldwin’s kinetic powers evolved after he suffered serious injuries in the events that kicked off the story Civil War, in which many of his New Warriors teammates died.
As Penance Robbie became much darker and serious and engaged in self-harm to activate his powers, joining the Thunderbolts in one of their most brutal eras. He eventually became part of the Avengers Initiative training program, aiming to help other young heroes avoid the mistakes of the New Warriors.
He along with the superhero Jolt (stay tuned) are the only characters on our list who have never dabbled in supervillainy.
Despite appearances, the Thunderbolts don’t have much in common conceptually with DC’s Suicide Squad beyond a few very basic similarities. But in the era when the Thunderbolts were most like the Suicide Squad, operating as the Marvel Universe’s most vicious black ops agents, their Amanda Waller-like manipulator/leader was Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin.
Mostly operating as in his Norman persona, Osborn led the team on a series of brutal missions, all the while playing them off each other with violent psychological manipulation. It was as the leader of the Thunderbolts that Osborn played a key role at the end of the story Secret Invasion, defeating the Skrull Empress to become not just a government operative, but the leader of a whole new SHIELD-like organization called HAMMER – and eventually the leader of the Dark Avengers.
Ghost is part of the MCU Thunderbolts, and is one of the movie team members whose comics pedigree runs deepest, as a long-term part of the team when Luke Cage was heading up a program to reform supervillains into heroes.
But even in his semi-heroic era, Ghost stayed one of the creepiest and most closely guarded characters to ever join the Thunderbolts. And like the rest of the team, Ghost eventually went AWOL, with his era of Thunderbolts relaunching as a new version of the Dark Avengers.
The Swordsman of the Thunderbolts is actually Andreas Strucker, the second character to use the name. The son of Hydra leader Baron Strucker, Andreas was a mutant who shared his powers with his twin sister, Andrea, as the villainous pair known as Fenris. When Andrea and Andreas touch, they can manipulate energy.
However, after Andrea is murdered by Zemo, her body is skinned and used to make the leather handle wrap of a sword that is given to Andreas, allowing him to use their powers even from beyond the grave.
Jolt may not have the Marvel Universe profile that some of her teammates in the Thunderbolts do, but she’s notable as one of the first Thunderbolts recruits who was actually a totally original hero, not a former villain or an existing hero.
A teen girl who survived experimentation by longtime Captain America villain Arnim Zola, Jolt joined the Thunderbolts after leading the team in rescuing Zola’s other young test subjects from his lab.
After the original Thunderbolts broke with Baron Zemo, they set out on their own as outlaw heroes – eventually encountering the Avengers, who were absent and presumed dead when the Thunderbolts originally debuted in the Marvel Universe.
Sensing the good in the reformed Thunderbolts as well as their need for direction, former supervillain (albeit briefly) Hawkeye volunteered to take the job, leaving the Avengers to become the new leader of the Thunderbolts, drawing on his own history as a reformed villain to bring them together as heroes.
Now Hawkeye is back with the Thunderbolts, working under New York City mayor Luke Cage as NYC’s only sanctioned superheroes.
While most of the original Thunderbolts tried (and in many cases, succeeded) in reforming to become heroes, Techno was pretty much always in Zemo’s villainous pocket, acting as a spy for Zemo after the rest of the team separated from his leadership, later even reverting to his original codename of the Fixer.
Even after his betrayal, Fixer became involved in the Thunderbolts again several times over the years, including in the era in which Winter Soldier led the team. But even despite his stints on the heroic Thunderbolts, he’s really a villain at heart.
Meteorite is one of the original Thunderbolts’ biggest powerhouses, with incredible cosmic energy channeling abilities. But she’s also one of the original team’s most committed villains, who struggled the most with turning to heroism. In fact, after Baron Zemo turned back to villainy, Meteorite changed her codename back to Moonstone and found herself at odds with the team more than a few times – though she also developed a brief fling with Hawkeye in his time as leader.
In the years after the original Thunderbolts disbanded, Moonstone stayed with the team for a while, both as something of a prisoner in the Thunderbolts program and as a willing hero trying to reform. However, in the story Secret Empire, she went back to villainy along with several of her other Thunderbolts teammates.
Poor Erik Josten, the original Thunderbolt known as Atlas, had everything going for him as a hero: an improving reputation with his peers, a group of trusted allies, and growing powers that made him among the strongest people in the Marvel Universe. But when his powers started undergoing unpredictable changes thanks to meddling from cosmic beings and mad scientists, his transformation into a hero started to fray.
Though he tried to stick with being a superhero, even joining the Avengers Initiative training program, Atlas started to slip more and more back toward villainy, undergoing an attack from none other than original Thunderbolts leader Baron Zemo when he refused to join Zemo’s new Masters of Evil. That all changed in the story Secret Empire when Atlas slipped back into villainy alongside fellow original Thunderbolt Moonstone.
Mach I/The Beetle
The Thunderbolts have their share of success stories when it comes to reforming villains into heroes, but few of them are as iconic as the classic Spider-Man villain the Beetle. Maybe he didn’t have the profile of Venom or Hobgoblin, but the original Beetle, Abner Jenkins, has been in the Marvel Universe since the early ’60s.
So when his transformation into armored hero Mach I (and then Mach II-Mach X) took hold and stayed after the reformation of the original Thunderbolts, it was a bit surprising – and more than a little emblematic of what it means to be part of the team. In the years since becoming a hero, Mach I has even become a mentor and sponsor for other villains working their way to being heroes.
Almost more than any of the many villains-turned-heroes who have joined the Thunderbolts over the years, Melissa Gold AKA Songbird (originally Screaming Mimi, as a villain) truly came to embrace and embody the spirit of change for good that became the team’s mantra.
When the original Thunderbolts broke from Zemo, Songbird wholeheartedly stayed on the side of the heroes, even going on to become an Avenger, first in the time-traveling story Avengers Forever (opens in new tab), and then later in an incarnation of the New Avengers (opens in new tab).
Songbird remains a fan favorite character to this day, despite her low profile in recent years, and one of the comic Thunderbolts most requested for the movie.
Citizen V/Baron Zemo
If there’s one character who is truly synonymous with the Thunderbolts in comics, it’s Baron Zemo. Zemo is the villain who transformed his Masters of Evil into the Thunderbolts and created the original team’s plan to conquer the world by posing as superheroes.
Even after the Thunderbolts betrayed Zemo, he stayed a long-term part of the team’s adventures as their primary nemesis and has taken several opportunities to attempt to bring together his own team of Thunderbolts several times since his split with the original roster.