Baron Helmut Zemo recruited several villains from his Masters of Evil to capitalize on the disappearance of the Avengers and Fantastic Four after the Onslaught incident. They created new identities and successfully conned the public into thinking that they were heroes.
Eventually their secret was uncovered. Citizen V (Zemo) and Techno (fomerly the Fixer) reverted to their criminal ways. Songbird (Screaming Mimi), Atlas (The Smuggler), MACH-1 (Beetle) honestly wanted to reform and become heroes. Meteorite (Moonstone) joined them to spite Zemo.
The team went through a few roster changes and alternate dimensions. Currently Zemo has manipulated his way back as leader of the team. The current members include Songbird, MACH-IV, Atlas, Fixer, Radioactive Man, Joystick, Smuggler, Swordsman IV (Andreas von Strucker), and Blizzard II (Donald Gill).
Two weeks ago, the supervillain Nitro killed over 600 residents of Stamford, CT while fighting the New Warriors for an episode of their reality TV show. The reaction from the rest of the country hasn't been kind. This has been the proverbial last straw to push to Superhuman Registration Act into law, requiring all those with powers to officially register with the Federal government and become licensed agents to establish some accountability for their actions. This is forming a rift among members of the superhero community.
Blizzard, Atlas, Songbird, Joystick, Smuggler, and Swordsman arrive in Denver, Colorado to capture the supervillain Quicksand. After they secure her, they notice the television clip of Spider-Man unmasking on national television. Smuggler remarks that he's roughly the same age he is. Joystick is embarrassed that she was beaten by a "science dweeb".
Zemo, MACH-IV, Radioactive Man, and Fixer arrive for a meeting with Henry Gyrich and Dallas Riordan in Washington DC. They are brought inside the Department of Homeland Security under heavy guard to meet with Yellowjacket, Mr. Fantastic, and Iron Man. Zemo is momentarily caught off guard by their appearance but quickly recovers. He explains that he will not be intimidated by them and makes three well-orchestrated insults aimed at them before he reaches the bottom step.
After Iron Man responds to each of Zemo's insults, reminding everyone in the room that his reputation is dubious at best, he explains the reason they were summoned. With the enactment of the SHRA, their forces are spending most of their time trying to capture the rogue heroes, leaving nobody to stop the villains when the decide to surface. If the Thunderbolts are honestly trying to reform, they can begin by capturing and detaining the super villains for the Pro-Registration side. This will help legitimize the Thunderbolts's claims of reform; Zemo should take advantage of this while he can. Zemo responds that he intends to do just that.
After their meeting, Zemo dispatches the entire team to recapture the renegade "Beetles". Three college students stole MACH-IV's Beetle armors (mark I, II, and III) from one of their holding facilities in New Jersey. Each version proves to be more difficult than its predecessor, but they are all ultimately defeated. Fixer teleports them back to their detainment area and return to their headquarters.
Zemo and Songbird leave the rest of the team and inspect their prisoners. Zemo admits to her that while they are unconscious they are given R.E.M. cycle encouragement to join the Thunderbolts. He revels in the fact before Iron Man practically begged them to help, he had started that exact practice three weeks ago.
One of the things I always enjoyed about this series back in the day was the fact that everybody knew Zemo was going to double cross them somehow. They tried to prepare for it but could never guess exactly how or when. Thankfully that has been brought back in this volume.
Zemo's a great villain and this series showcases the character at his absolute best (or worst in this case). His arrogance leaps out of the pages. It's very entertaining to watch him play the heroes, even though we all want him to be brought down quickly when he enacts whatever plan he has going. But not too quickly.
3.5 webs. Nicieza delivers a story with good characterization and believable interactions. His depiction of Zemo is what really sells the book. Grummett continues his uninterrupted streak of quality artwork. Clear, precise line work plus great composition adds to the story.
The character Quicksand was introduced in Thor (Vol. 1) #392.
Joystick first fought Spider-Man (Ben Reilly at that time) in Amazing Scarlet Spider #2.
Dallas Riordan has a long history with the Thunderbolts. She was the mayoral liaison for the Thunderbolts before Zemo's plan (and their true identities) was disclosed. She later became the new Citizen V in response to the Thunderbolts unmasking and served in that capacity until she was framed as the Crimson Cowl. She would later be cleared of these charges.