The new government sanctioned Thunderbolts team have been charged with tracking down and imprisoning unregistered superheroes in the Colorado area, by any means necessary. Director Norman Osborn has just briefed his team on their latest target: the Steel Spider (Ollie Osnic), who has returned to his vigilante peace-keeping ways following the events of the Civil War. Elsewhere, American Eagle (Jason Strongbow) is travelling to Phoenix to prevent a potential gang war by talking the Steel Spider down from his brutal enforcement methods which now have him black-listed by his latest foils, and Shadowoman (Jillian Woods) is also on her way to Phoenix for an interview. The pieces are in place and the stage is set for war.
Ollie, Jason and Jillian arrive in Phoenix as the Thunderbolts board the Zeus back at Thunderbolt Mountain. Jillian and Ollie suddenly notice the Cloudeyes which are circling the neighbourhood. Meanwhile, Jason is stowing his motorbike away in a remote back alley, unaware of the imminent threat. Adorning his American Eagle helmet, he gives an exacerbated sigh and grapple- hooks his way to the rooftops to seek out the Steel Spider as the Zeus launches. Ollie is atop a water tower panicking over what Spider-Man would do and what he should do (rationalising that Spidey wouldn't run from an outnumbered fight, and that if Spider-Man fought Venom then so should he) when American Eagle finally catches up with him. Having never seen or heard of American Eagle before, Ollie demands to know if he's working with the Thunderbolts. Jason admits that he is not, but he is there to talk to him about the problems his vigilante style of peace-keeping has been causing. Misreading Jason's intent, Ollie rounds on him believing that it was American Eagle who called the Thunderbolts down. Far from in the mood for this Jason tells the Spider to back off – seeing as his antics have done little but land people in hospital and create a lynch mob willing to turn down-town into a free-fire zone. Unwilling to admit that he was doing anything but good, Ollie rages on how he will soon be beaten within an inch of his life just for trying keep his neighbourhood a safe place – for being unregistered. The Zeus is now in view, so Jason desperately tries to get Ollie to submit peacefully, albeit by labelling him as "just another crazy spandex white-boy" desperate to be Spider-Man who's brought all this down upon his head. Ollie rebuffs, sneering that this is about the American Eagle seeing him dead and replaced by some government certified hero. Jason tries to restate his point but is cut off by Ollie's remark that he's just there to watch him be crippled or killed as part of a public example. As the Zeus stops directly above them Ollie questions who's side American Eagle is actually on. Jason replies that it isn't the Thunderbolts and reaches for his grappling hook.
The Thunderbolts deploy. From the ships dock Moonstone informs them they have ten seconds before the Zeus moves out. American Eagle attaches a reel to his hook and fires whilst counting down from ten. The hook spears Moonstones wrist and the reels tether magnetically attaches to the ships hull moments before the Zeus launches, ripping the projectile straight through the side of her arm. Moonstone is down before the team even hits the floor. Venom is the first to land and is taken completely off-guard by a shot to the face from the Steel Spiders gun tentacle, sending him staggering backwards and toppling into the street below. Songbird quickly takes down American Eagle with a sonic blast that also sends him falling to the street, as Radioactive Man and Swordsman attempt to take-down the Steel Spider. A swipe from one of the Spiders' tentacles shreds part of Chens' suit and he begins to leak radiation, which disorientates Ollie long enough for Swordsman to strike his head with the flank of his sword, and sending him plummeting off the roof.
In the street below Venom is on a rampage - smashing cars and viciously knocking away the crowd as he looses all control over the symbiote. Jillian is among the crowd and deploys her shadow powers. As the shadow lunges at Venom he demand to know how many heroes are actually involved in this fight and warns her to back off so he can get on with his job, until the shadow envelops him and tosses him aside. Jillian is now in full costume and pleads the onlookers to run while she detains Venom as best she can, which doesn't look like long as Venom is now towering above her – a hulking mass on muscles and teeth over ten foot high. On the other side of the building in a quiet alleyway Ollie hits the ground, but there's no time to recover as Swordsman is already leaping after him wit sword poised to land with a killing blow. Thinking fast, Ollie whips a tentacle into Swordsman's face and swings him head first into a wall and flinging him through a window and straight into a television advertising the Thunderbolts action figures. Back on the roof Songbird picks up Radioactive Man and drops him between the Steel Spider and the street to minimise bystanders getting involved. He asks her what they should do about the other one (aka the American Eagle), to which she replies to let the poor guy run.
Field medics are trying to tend Moonstones wound, although because a chunk of her wrist is missing it's proving difficult. More intent on revenge then her injury, Moonstone orders the shadow ops team to deploy Bullseye, track down American Eagle and cripple him.
Shadowoman is being worn down by Venoms' constant onslaught. Just as Venom looms in for the first bite American Eagle lands a blow that sends the symbiote stumbling back, followed by a concrete-cracking face-plant. Threat momentarily eliminated, Eagle and Shadowoman exchange pleasantries and battle strategies based on what they've seen so far as the Thunderbolts surround them. Steel Spider joins his fellow heroes as the Thunderbolts close in, remarking that it's almost a fair fight – "bet they weren't expecting that".
After the steady build up the action finally unfolds, and it does not disappoint. The previous encounter with Jack Flag demonstraighted that this team know how to write, direct and illustrate action scenes, but whereas the initial battle was a poorly coordinated attack plan, now we have a no-holes- bared slug-fest spanning three mini-fights, allowing us to see what each member of the Thunderbolts (minus Penance) is capable of when let off the leash. There is little in the way of advancing the story once Jason and Ollie have exchanged words, but that's no important once the action begins, added to which the story has been built up anyway over the last four issues regardless.
This title is much darker than its previous hundred issues, relating to the murkier waters the Marvel inhabitants are treading post Civil War, but it never feels forced. This is a situation where murderers, psychopaths, and ethically-devoid individuals (baring Songbird, Radioactive Man and Penance) are allowed to exercise their powers to the full extent with little in the way of repercussion thanks to Osborn's PR work and their rights as enlisted superheroes. As such, we have a Mac Gargan who is unable to control the symbiote's' baser instincts once he is pushed too far, leading him to develop into a much more monstrous (figuratively and literally) incarnation that we have seen him before, as well as Bullseye now being given permission to cripple and torture on the order of a woman who herself is unstable (and even placed in the position of field leader for her vicious and malicious ways), and Swordsman, an arrogant son of heritage who believes himself to be above anybodies rules but his own. It would have been too easy for Ellis to have written Songbird, Penance and Radioactive Man in a grittier manor, but this would have disturbed and overpowered the emotional focus of the team. Instead, by keeping their intentions as pure as they are able within the parameters of the missions it makes things even more intense by allowing the mistrust to grow between the two fractions.
Absolutely everything about this title works: story; characters; action; art; motive; pace; direction, and I seriously doubt the finale will disapoint. In short, this issue and the arch as a whole delivers everything you could want from a comic book. By far the best post Civil War spin-off. I just hope I've covered everything.
This is immensity enjoyable and a well crafted character piece, as well as a high octane piece of action that gets the adrenaline pumping.
This is actually the cover for issue 115 however I lack the equipment to change this. The actual cover shows Penance fighting the Steel Spider which is a complete misnomer considering Penance only appears at the end as they crowd around the unregistered heroes.