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The ’90s Revisited: Spider-Man Team-Up #7 (featuring the Thunderbolts)

Old Scores

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artists: Sal Buscema, Dick Giordano
Lettering: Comicraft’s Team Dave
Colors: Tom Smith
Cover: Steve Lightle, Mark McNabb
Assistant Editor: Glenn Greenberg
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $2.99
Cover Date: June 1997

I remember the hype around the whole Heroes Reborn thing. After the Onslaught event (which began as an X-Men “event” and spread to the wider Marvel Universe), the Fantastic Four and the more prominent Avengers (specifically Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man) were shunted to another universe and “our” Marvel Universe was left without its heroes–just mutants more hated and feared than ever before.

And I remember learning of some new super-hero group, the Thunderbolts. Without researching and lacking 100% memory, I want to say they first appeared in an issue of The Incredible Hulk, and were going to be seen around the Marvel Universe, filling in a bit of the void left by the other heroes’ disappearance. Then I learned they were getting their own series. Cool…an actual brand-new super-hero group. And of course, thanks to (most probably Wizard) I was “spoiled” as to their Great, Dark Secret–though it would be a few months after Heroes Return when Hawkeye left the Avengers to go insert himself as leader of the Thunderbolts that I started buying their title–I actually, truly followed Hawkeye FROM the pages of Busiek‘s Avengers to Busiek‘s Thunderbolts.

So though I was aware of them, it was a good way into the run that I started with Thunderbolts–it’s only been in the years since that I’ve gradually been acquiring their earlier appearances–the Hulk issue(s?), and even the early issues of their own series. And when I saw this issue in a bargain-bin recently, it hit on some interesting buttons for me, just from the cover and concept.

For one thing…it’s a ’90s bargain-bin issue…to me, you can hardly go wrong getting a ’90s comic for only 25-cents (or less, even, with the right bargains or bulk-purchases!). For another, this is an early appearance of the Thunderbolts (I believe their own #1 is cover-dated May 1997, this is cover-dated June ’97). So this would be within the earliest concept of the Thunderbolts characters–before they were “outed” to the world for actually being the Masters of Evil (not really a spoiler, it’s been 15+ years AND it’s detailed within this very issue). And as a bonus, ’90s Spider-Man long before any talk of One More Day or a Brand New Day (and as I found out reading this, no talk of clones, either!)

I often lament contemporary comics’ high prices–hating the $3.99 price point and wishing for the previously-lamented $2.99-from-$2.50-or-less as $2.99 by comparison is much preferable. And here, this comic from 15 years ago is carrying a $2.99 cover price…but it’s a 38-paged issue (easily $4.99 or $5.99 and an “Annual” at that, these days!). Reasonably-priced at $2.99 with the extra pages, putting it well enough in line with $2 cover prices for 20-22 pages at the time.

The story itself is at once simple and cliched as well as nicely layered. When a guard at a warehouse is killed, a survivor sees a figure making a getaway that can only be Spider-Man! The mayor’s office reaches out to the Thunderbolts, to track Spidey down and bring him in for questioning…a task some on the team are all-too-thrilled to take on. The ‘bolts split into three groups to take on different aspects of their task–looking into the crime site, specifically searching for Spidey, and keeping an eye on a potential target-site.

Meanwhile, the true culprits are revealed, as well as the reason Spidey was mistakenly “identified.” We see some developmental moments between the ‘bolts as their relationships were still being developed, and their motivations kept to the fore. And when Spider-Man himself enters the picture, the battle is joined–the wall-crawler lamenting the whole super-people-fight-before-talking-it-out meet-ups thing…a nice “commentary” on that sorta situation.

Finally things are sorted out, with the Thunderbolts and Spidey going their separate ways–Spidey leaving more of a mark on the team than he realized.

Rather than being just a typical fight-’em-up battle, there’s actually a method to the madness, with the various ‘bolts feeling things out and having mixed motivations. Mach-1 (formerly The Beetle) wants some payback on Spider-Man…but recognizes a long-term plan and refrains from throwing it down the drain for some stereotypical dumb-villain-can’t-stick-to-a-plan-from-desperation-for-revenge moment. He also is clearly conflicted between his past as a villain and appreciating what it is to be a hero–and a bit of positive attention with teammate Songbird (formerly Screaming Mimi).

The interactions between Mach-1 and Songbird were the gem of the issue for me–I remember the tension between the two from the several years I followed their title in the late-90s but don’t remember if they ever truly “got together” or such, nor where they’ve wound up since. But I enjoyed seeing these beginnings to the two, this early in things.

Though the comic is Spider-Man Team-Up, to me this felt much more like a Thunderbolts comic, with Spider-Man as the guest-star. That makes sense, though–Busiek was the writer on this issue, so shepherding his characters throughout.

The art didn’t particularly impress me on the whole–it wasn’t anything amazing or spectacular, but it was not bad at all. This “looks” like a ’90s comic (duh) and the visuals get the job done without losing me. I’m not sure what I expected of the art–except perhaps my expectations were for some reason too high.

But really…looking at this simply as a one-shot comic book story, this is a great issue. Extra pages, so it’s not crammed into a too-short set of pages…nor is it drawn out into some 2-4 issue arc. You don’t really need to know much of anything in particular going in, and this issue doesn’t specifically lead into anything else–you’re not sent off chasing a continuation in some other issue or story; though you could obviously find the continuing adventures of all involved by reading any of their titles.

For $2.99 this would be a well-worthwhile issue to read…for a mere 25-cents it’s an absolute treat.

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