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Waiting for the Trade - Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

Avengers/Thunderbolts vol. 2: Best Intentions
By Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza and illustrated by Barry Kitson and Tom Grummett.
Collects Avengers/Thunderbolts #1-6

Why I Bought This: Having finished Busiek’s legendary Avengers run I discovered this existed and it was like having a bonus Christmas since it meant more Busiek Avengers. (And I enjoy the Thunderbolts too on occasion).

The Plot – The Thunderbolts begin taking a proactive stance on international crime under Zemo’s leadership and announce they have a plan to save the world. However based on his past with Zemo, Captain America does not trust them.

(spoilers below)

Chapter 1 – Zemo & Moonstone force some fictional nation to capitulate to their demands to shut down their reactor program and then take their results very public. Hawkeye used to lead the Thunderbolts and feels proud of them but Cap has the opposite reaction given their tactics and Zemo’s leadership. We see some of the heroic rank and file Thunderbolts like Songbird, Atlas and Vantage also have doubts about Zemo but Songbird agues it is better to have him where they can keep an eye on him then letting him go about unsupervised. Their conversation is overheard by Plant Man. Also Moonstone has undergone a power upgrade lately which is making her act weird and distant. She is however working with Zemo, Fixer and Plant Man on a mysterious plan entitled Project Liberator. The air force of the fake country attacks T-Bolt HQ but Moonstone dispatches them in a single panel and then in retaliation Zemo leaks various personal scandals about that nation’s leaders to the press. Meanwhile Cap visits the former Thunderbolt Beetle/Mach One in prison to see if he knows what Zemo is up to. Jenkins does and tells Cap, the Avengers are going to have to stop the Thunderbolts.

Chapter 2 – The Avengers are losing a fight with Cobalt Man (primarily because if they hurt him he may go nuclear) when the Thunderbolts arrive to save the day as Fixer drains the excess radiation off of him. They then teleport away taking Cobalt Man with them. Hawkeye is suspicious that Iron Man couldn’t invent the same device Fixer did, and his suspicions prove true when he learns the Iron Man armor in the battle was run on remote control and Tony is in the Cobalt Man armor and now working with the Thunderbolts undercover.

Chapter 3 – The Thunderbolts raid the Wizard’s home but not to arrest him just to get some parts for the machine in their big plan. Hawkeye is conflicted but decides to keep quiet on Stark infiltrating the T-Bolts. Meanwhile the T-Bolts take over some old satellites. Moonstone is suspicious of Cobalt Man and talks to the real Cobalt Man’s family to see if he contacted them since coming back from the dead. Vision based on info Stark if feeding him realizes the T-Bolts plan to drain all superhuman energy off Earth and Vision finds a hidden protocol in the T-Bolts computer code that will store and channel the power, which even Hawkeye concedes feels like Zemo is up to his old tricks. The T-Bolts are ready to activate their machine when Tony intervenes, but not to stop them permanently but because they are using stolen Stark software and Tony realizes the outdated version will fry the satellites when used in conjunction with the other tech. This confuses Moonstone who was sure he was an imposter and yet now he just salvaged the plan. The Avengers are enroot as Zemo fires up the device and it has bad effects on the Pyms, Vision and Wanda.

Chapter 4 – Reed (of the FF) tells us the T-Bolts are draining all nuclear, microwave, gamma and tachyon energy sources as well including the nuclear armaments of all nations. We learn the Thunderbolts themselves are inoculated from this power drain and their device is safely storing the drained power. The Avengers quinjet from last issue is falling from the sky but Songbird and Atlas catch them. Zemo is about hack into television and address the world when Cap barges in and tells him he is under arrest. Songbird uses a sound wall to stop Cap and Zemo from fighting. Cap tells Zemo he can’t impose peace on the world and indeed we see various governments mobilizing their militaries. Zemo decides to turn the stored energy over to the Avengers to prove his motives are sincere but there is no energy in the machine to the bafflement of both sides leading to the obligatory fight scene. Fixer and Stark (as Cobalt Man) investigate the machine in the midst of the battle and discover a hidden Kree code in the programming that redirects the stolen energy thus it is not Zemo but Moonstone with the hidden agenda. Once revealed she has a seizure but then rises up more powerful than ever. She says she only put that code there in case Zemo tried to double cross the world but when Cap’s shield hit the machine during the melee it caused it to activate on its own. Now however the power being fed into her is making her go all paranoid and when she unmasks Stark that pushes her further over the edge especially since she assumes Hawkeye—who besides being a former team leader of the T-Bolts was Moonstone’s ex-lover—went along with the plan to spy on the T-Bolts. And then she uses the stolen energy to unleash a massive explosion.

Chapter 5 – The short recap is everyone fights Moonstone for the entire issue, but if you want the play by play read on. When the smoke clears we see only the Avengers are down. Vantage and Hawkeye try to talk her down, while Zemo’s talk may or may not be helping. Moonstone decides she will teleport everyone into another dimension but Plant Man stops her by literally rooting the room to the spot. Moonstone pummels him severely for that which forces Songbird to try and take her on. Songbird is about to win when Zemo tackles her. Moonstone is pissed so the Avengers regroup and attack her to no avail. Vantage joins in the assault and Moonstone breaks most of her bones in response. This causes Atlas to grow to maximum size and he too seems like he is about to win this fight until Hawkeye interferes with a Pym Particle arrow to forcibly shrink him. Tony switches to his Iron Man armor as Karla decides she wants to kill Zemo. Cap makes the save and then when Moonstone tries to kill Cap, Zemo reciprocates although since he does not have a shield he ends up burned and disfigured for his trouble. And then former Thunderbolt Jolt arrives (a teen hero in the team’s early days, and the only member who was never a villain) who Moonstone feels motherly towards. This gives Moonstone pause but as Jolt assesses the situation she power up some gizmo Tony and Fixer built and this rips the stolen energy out of Moonstone. Of course she still has her own double power level. The gizmo can drain that from her too but they way her powers work may end up lobotomizing her. Hawkeye weighs the consequences and fires an arrow as we hit the cliffhanger.

Chapter 6 – Hawkeye’s arrow destroys the gizmo and he asks everyone to let him talk to Karla without interference. Vision attacks anyway and Hawkeye takes him down revealing he has an arrow for every member of both teams. Wanda tries her powers and they interact weirdly with Moonstone causing a dimensional rift that threatens to destroy the world. Fixer has a device that could disrupt her intangibility power and with everything getting worse this time Hawkeye uses it on her causing her to phase but not her stones and Vision phases and grabs them out of her. The stress takes down Vision and Zemo capitalizes to steal the stones. He curses Cap and Hawkeye for how this turned out and teleports away. Hawkeye checks on Karla and she is lobotomized. In the epilogue the Thunderbolts disband and we see where they end up (Songbird even refuses Avengers membership). Then Jenkins gets released from prison and decides he is going to start a new Thunderbolts team. And in the end we see Zemo plotting with his new power.

Critical Thoughts: It’s nowhere near the level of Busiek’s Avengers run but it is still a perfectly enjoyable comic book on its own merits. As always Busiek’s characterizations for both these teams is strong and if you like fight scenes the last chapters are basically one extended fight (and for once Wanda doesn’t just waive her hands and solve everything either).

Hawkeye is the real star of this book as he has to choose between his loyalty to both teams and Busiek rights his motivations leading up the climax really well. Hawkeye is one of my favorite Avengers and this is a strong outing for him. The Hawkeye has an arrow specially designed to take out each teammate feels a bit too much like Batman but I can’t say completely out of character. In the West Coast Avengers it was shown he does carry arrows specifically for longtime recurring foes like Ultron so it’s not a total stretch he could have them for his teammates particularly in this situation when he knew he was likely to choose a side and fight one of the teams eventually.

The Thunderbolts also really shine hear with the differences between those who have completely reformed and those who can never be fully trusted. In many ways this is more of a Thunderbolts story than an Avengers one, which is fine because you can do more with their characters than the core Avengers who generally have their status quo at this point. I think the trade is very successful in generating interest in the T-Bolts, as after reading this book I purchased the New Thunderbolts trade that the epilogue sets up.

That is not to say the Avengers get the short shrift. The Cap-Zemo dynamic feels spot on and it leads to a rare Cap admits his judgment may be compromised and considering what Zemo put Cap through in “Under Seige” it is perfectly acceptable that Cap would be unwilling to give Zemo the benefit of the doubt. I also liked Iron Man’s doubts once he is undercover with the Thunderbolts on whether or not to let them proceed with their plan to remake the world, as we would see in Civil War Tony is the rare hero who believes it is okay for superheroes to institute large scale social changes, so some ways this is a precursor to Tony’s “futurist” persona that has become his dominant character trait for the past decade.

Grade B