THUNDERBOLTS #18-19 (1998): 1st Charcoal

In another example of why Thunderbolts is one of the best books of the ‘90s, the first half of this issue has them each wrestling with their own doubts and issues.  The character work is deep and well-done, and we actually see signs of leadership from Songbird, who presses them all to be kinder to each other so they can learn to work better as a team.

Then Cyclone busts in.  He’s much more powerful (and competent) than I remembered, and is able to take on the whole team.  They manage to fight him off, but now they know that the re-formed Masters of Evil know where they’re hiding.  Frustrated, several of them say it would be easier just to be criminals again—since they’re fugitives now anyway from both the law and their formal evil boss Baron Zemo.  Also a new plotline is introduced about a news reporter named Gayle Rogers who is assigned the story to track down the T-bolts, so that will be an additional thorn in their side.

The Thunderbolts decide to take the battle to the new Masters of Evil, but after an initial skirmish a dude named “Cowl” shows up with a promise of a new base, a pension plan, and a fully legal (but for profit) offer to serve as a superhero team.


Crimson Cowl will turn out to be Justine Hammer—daughter of one of Iron Man’s greatest corporate foes.

The Thunderbolts say they’ll consider the offer, but in issue #19, the Masters prevent the Thunderbolts from doing some basic superheroics, which makes the team decide against joining up with Crimson Cowl and, in fact, they decide to fight back. 

Incidentally, those basic superheroics involved saving a school taken over by “The Imperial Forces of America,” which (we don’t know this yet) are a force formed by Baron Zemo, who also created this guy…

This is Charcoal’s first appearance.

The story here gets increasingly complex but never sacrifices good scripting and character development. 

Anyhow, like I said, the Thunderbolts are fed up and take the fight back to the Masters.  That signals the start of the “Decisions” arc that begins next issue.

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