Marvel officially announced it was making a Thunderbolts movie back at San Diego Comic-Con. But the Thunderbolts team has been around for decades, and in that time they’ve had a whole bunch of different incarnations and lineups. Some versions are made up entirely of super-villains in disguise. Others have featured heroes like Hawkeye or Luke Cage leading groups of reformed villains. Sometimes the Thunderbolts are vigilantes, and other times they work for the government. Marvel Studios could have gone a lot of different ways with the concept.
At D23 they revealed a bit more about their plan — including the lineup of the team. The MCU’s Thunderbolts will be Valentina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), Red Guardian (David Harbour), Black Widow (Florence Pugh), Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), U.S. Agent (Wyatt Russell), and Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko).
Here was the concept art of the group they showed off:
It‘s an interesting mix of characters, some of whom have been in Thunderbolts comics, others of which have been teased for the team through their various appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. And plenty of the characters have history together; Black Widow and Red Guardian are (sort of) father and daughter, while Taskmaster was one of their enemies in the Black Widow movie, which should be… interesting.
The most surprising name who’s not featured in the lineup is Zemo, played by Daniel Bruhl, who previously appeared in Captain America: Civil War and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. In Marvel Comics, Zemo was the first person to assemble a team of Thunderbolts, and he’s been either affiliated with or opposed the team many times through the years.
Given how he was portrayed in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, he seemed like a lock for this movie, but unless they’re saving him involvement as a surprise in a future announcement, he’s not a member of the MCU T-Bolts.
Thunderbolts is scheduled to premiere exclusively in theaters on July 26, 2024.
The Weirdest Marvel Comics Ever Published
Of all the thousands of comics published by Marvel, these are far and away the strangest.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick’s epochal science-fiction movie inspired a short-lived but very strange Jack Kirby series of the same name. It took some of concepts from the film like the Monolith and prehistoric man discovering tools and violence, but gave them all kinds of new twists and surreal Kirby visuals. Later issues introduced the character Machine Man, who had no basis in the 2001 movie, but remains a member of Marvel continuity to this day.
What do Ghost Rider, Hercules, Black Widow, and Iceman and Angel of the X-Men in common? Basically nothing, but for some reason Marvel decided to throw them together in one team book in the mid-1970s. The public reasons for this particular lineup vary depending on who is telling it, but in at least one version of the story writer Tony Isabella mostly just wanted to do a book about Angel and Iceman, and was forced by his editors to add a woman, a strong male character, and at least one superhero appearing his own monthly series — hence the other three members. The book never quite found its footing, or an in-universe reason for the Champions to exist, and it was canceled after 17 issues. In the mid-2010s, Marvel created a new group of Champions — this one a team of teenage heroes — with zero connection to the original book.
They come from France! And in their “First Flark-Filled Issue!” the Coneheads got a Marvel Comic. Rather than an adaptation of the 1993 movie, this miniseries actually continued the story of Beldar and Prymaat Conehead as a pseudo-sequel to the film. I’m not sure the world was crying out for serialized comic versions of the Coneheads, but they got one, at least for a few months.
As Deadpool became an increasingly popular figure in Marvel’s library, they began putting him in all kinds of books, some of them very bizarre. Deadpool Corps is sort of like Into the Spider-Verse, but with Deadpool instead of Spider-Man. In it, a whole bunch of versions of Deadpool from around the multiverse team-up for a hugely consequential mission. The members included Deadpool, Lady Deadpool, Pandapool, Dogpool, Kidpool, and Grootpool. I did not make those names up.
Not only was Fantastic Force a weird comic, it has a weird origin. In the early ’90s, the Fantastic Four comic saw its sales dip slightly, and the editors in charge of the book tried to boost its popularity with a series of attention-grabbing events, including the shocking death of Mr. Fantastic. (It’s comics; he got better.) The constant upheavals led to a rumor that Marvel was planning to cancel the Fantastic Four comic and replace it with a series called Fantastic Force. (At the time, the X-Men spinoff X-Force was one of Marvel’s best-selling books.)
Marvel had no such plan, but when they saw all the attention the Fantastic Force rumor got they decided, what the heck, let’s actually do it. Instead of replacing Fantastic Four it became a spinoff, starring the suddenly grown-up Franklin Richards, the son of Reed Richards and Sue Storm, as the leader of an oddball superhero team. Despite appearances from the original FF and Black Panther, the comic never took off. But then why would it? People were intrigued by a book that would replace Fantastic Four. But that series was never canceled, and the Fantastic Force team were basically a bunch of nobodies. (My apologies to the huge Devlor stans out there.)
For a character with one of the most grounded and plausible concepts in all of Marvel, the Punisher sure has taken some strange twists and turns through his career. In one such bizarre period, the Punisher was murdered and dismembered by Wolverine’s evil son Daken (Did you know Wolverine has an evil son? He does!) and then got sewn back together and reanimated as “Franken-Castle,” essentially a Frankenstein’s Monster who went around battling evil with the help of some other supernatural creatures. This will not be the last time the Punisher appears on this list.
The cover of the first issue of Hulkverines lays out the premise pretty simply: “Hulk + Wolverine = Weapon H.” Then below the title it includes the line “(C’mon, you know you love it)” seemingly acknowledging the absolute insanity of the concept. The series lasted for three issues, with Hulk and Wolverine doing battle with a creature that had both of their powers. It’s just too bad we never got a sequel, Wolverulks.
Marvel Zombies proved such a popular franchise in the mid-2000s that the company looked to expand the concept by trying to imagine what other types of creatures it could turn its superheroes into. That thinking begat Marvel Apes, set in an alternate reality that’s basically Marvel meets Planet of the Apes; it’s an Earth ruled by monkeys, some of which have powers like the members of the Marvel Universe. (Naturally, the heroes are known as the Ape-Vengers.) Marvel Apes didn’t take off in quite the same way Marvel Zombies did (can you believe it?!?) but it did at least get one sequel book — where the characters met the Marvel Zombies.
For decades, Marvel has distributed “No-Prizes” to fans who not only spotted continuity errors in Marvel comics, but were able to come up with clever in-story reasons to explain these gaffes. (These heroes were sent empty envelopes — hence “no prizes”.) By the early 1980s, the No-Prize had become so famous in Marvel lore that it got its own comic starring Stan Lee, and featuring reprints of some of the company’s worst blunders. Some companies might want to sweep its mistakes under the rug. Not Marvel; they sold a whole comic full of screwups to its readers.
Marvel: The Lost Generation
That quirky creature on the cover is really a minor element of the strangeness that is Marvel: The Lost Generation, a 12-part miniseries published in the early 2000s. The concept wasn’t all that weird; the book purported to follow the adventures of a forgotten group of heroes that protected the Marvel Universe between World War II — when the first age of Marvel heroes like Captain America and Namor first emerged — and the Silver Age, when the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and the Avengers all debuted.
The quirky part was the way the story was told. The issues were released in reverse order with #12 hitting store shelves first, followed by #11, #10, and so on. The story was told out of order too; the first (final) issue showed the characters’ demises, then the series worked its way backwards in time to their earliest days. It’s an interesting experiment, but the fact that Marvel has not repeated it since then probably tells you everything you need to know about how well it was received.
If you don’t know Bill Jemas, you must not have been reading Marvel Comics in the early 2000s. In that period, Jemas became the company’s executive vice president and was an outsized presence in its marketing and publicity materials. Among his stranger attempts to grab attention for the company was a stunt called “U-Decide,” where the company published three different books — a new Captain Marvel, a series called Ultimate Adventures, and a third book written by Jemas himself called Marville — and let sales numbers determine which would continue as a regular series. Jemas’ Marville was an almost-unreadable mess; a blend of satire, industry in-jokes and shameless cheesecake. It lasted only six infamous issues.
Mort the Dead Teenager
The title of this book is not a euphemism or a metaphor; it’s a very dark comedy about a kid named Mort who dies but returns to life as a sort of undead creature with a couple of vague superpowers. (For example, he can detach his head because he was beheaded in the accident that took his life.) As weird as Mort the Dead Teenager is, here’s something even weirder: A movie version almost got made years before Iron Man and The Avengers — with both Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino involved as producers at different points in its long and unsuccessful development
Ah yes, NFL SuperPro, the only Marvel superhero based on a sports league. The character wore a ridiculous costume that looked like a football uniform on steroids and fought crime alongside Spider-Man and Captain America. The villains featured in the series included Quick Kick, a former field-goal kicker who became a ninja, and Instant Replay, who could time travel. This may surprise you, but NFL SuperPro is widely regarded as one of the worst things Marvel has ever published.Obnoxio the Clown
Obnoxio the Clown
Your eyes do not deceive you. That’s the X-Men battling a dude named Obnoxio the Clown. The character was created as Marvel’s equivalent of Alfred E. Neuman for its own humor magazine, Crazy. Shortly after the magazine’s cancelation in 1983, Obnoxio got his shot at comic-book stardom in a one-off book where he met (and even partnered with) the X-Men. The X-Men’s ability to sell comics was never tested more severely than here.The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe
The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe
This bleak and extremely violent book reads like the darkest What If…? story ever. In it, Frank Castle’s family is killed as innocent bystanders in the middle of a battle between superheroes; instead of swearing revenge on the mob, this Punisher sets out to kill the Avengers, the X-Men, and the rest of their costumed ilk. And he mostly succeeds, in extremely brutal fashion. It’s not every day you read a comic that slaughters literally every hero in the Marvel Universe, which could be why this book has become something of a cult favorite in the decades since its release.The Punisher Meets Archie
The Punisher Meets Archie
At the total opposite end of the tonal spectrum from The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe is The Punisher Meets Archie, about as out-there a premise for an intercompany crossover as Marvel has ever published. In it, the Punisher follows the trail of a drug smuggler to Riverdale, where he winds up teaming up with Archie and the gang. The book became a surprise hit, thanks in part to its clever and unusual art; Archie penciler Stan Goldberg drew the Riverdale characters while Marvel’s John Buscema drew the Punisher. As paradoxical as its premise might have sounded, it worked well enough that it became the first of several bizarre Archie crossovers through the years, including the immortal Archie vs. Predator.Star Trek / X-Men
Star Trek / X-Men
Speaking of strange crossovers, a few years after Archie fought crime with the Punisher, the X-Men somehow managed to find themselves in outer space in the future, where they boarded the Starship Enterprise and met Kirk, Bones, and Spock and battled a creature that was equal parts the Star Trek character Gary Mitchell and the X-Men villain Proteus. Marvel didn’t have the Star Trek license long, but while they did they also made a crossover with the X-Men and the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew. Do you think Jean-Luc Picard noticed his uncanny resemblance to Professor X?Steeltown Rockers
Here is a Marvel Comic that is weird because of its total lack of weird elements; it has no established Marvel characters, and no super-powered heroes or villains to speak of. Instead, Steeltown Rockers was a humble coming-of-age book about the members of a small-town rock band. It remains a curious aberration in their catalog to this day.U.S. 1
In the early 1980s, Marvel readers cried out in one voice and demanded a series about a hard-driving superhero trucker. And Marvel responded with U.S. 1, a baffling series based on a line of toy trucks, featuring the adventures of Ulysses Solomon Archer (U.S.A., get it?) Even weirder, U.S. 1 featured rare artwork from reclusive Spider-Man and Doctor Strange co-creator Steve Ditko during his return to Marvel in the 1980s.WCW World Championship Wrestling
WCW World Championship Wrestling
Professional wrestling’s colorful babyfaces and heels and soap operatic storylines make it a close cultural cousin to comic books. So it makes some sense that various publishers have tried to combine the two through the years. None ever really took off, and some were downright strange. Marvel’s one entry in the genre, WCW World Championship Wrestling almost defies description — you sort of just need to experience it for yourself. (No, really, you need to just bask in its pure deranged madness.)