The Thunderbolts have reached the battlefront of Washington D.C and are engaged in combat with the Skrull armada. In a kamikaze mission, team director Norman Osborn piloted the Zeus into the heart of the Skrulls main dreadnaught to bring down the war ship from within. Despite initially holding the upper-hand with this unprecedented attack the Skrulls have been quick to respond to each members attack patters and dispatch the appropriate counter- measures; Songbird has been sent hurtling into the Washington Monument by a gargantuan Super-Skrull; Venom's prey lies hidden in a crowd of people, ready to transmit the footage of him worldwide as soon as he begins to attack the innocent onlookers; Radioactive Man has reached critical limit and must flee before detonation; Penance has been tricked into visioning the dead of Stanford; Swordsman was taken down upon reaching the bridge by a traitorous Moonstone, who asks what she can expect in return for selling out the planet. Elsewhere onboard, Bullseye has killed his escort and disappeared off the radar. Alone and deep behind enemy lines, Osborn is now confronted with an army of Spider-Men, the sight of which sends him in to a fit of hysterical laughter.
Osborn roars with laughter as he opens fire into the crowd of Spider- impersonators. As they lie dying the Skrulls revert partially back into their true forms – although their costumes remain as they were. Collecting himself awkwardly, Norman remarks on how therapeutic that was, but that their efforts were wasted seeing as Spider-Man is now so beneath his notice now that he has far more important matters to concern himself with. He nonchalantly crushes the head of one of the Spider-Skrulls as he makes his exit.
Penance has broken down completely, unable to cope with the guilt being inflicted on him by the tightening circle of disguised Skrulls. Over his com- link Osborn manages to get some semblance into Penance by reaffirming him that he spent months memorizing the face of every one of the Stamford victims – so does he recognise any of the faces around him? This question causes Robbie to pull out of his trance and after a moments pause agrees he does not. With rage fuelling his power, Penance charges up and releases the energy with such force that it blows a hole through the side of the ship. Osborn reaches ground zero to see the entire room in disarray and every one of the Skrulls dead from the single blast, clearly impressed. He remarks that they might just make a soldier out of Robbie yet. Robbie appears not to hear this – or pretends not to – telling Osborn that Radioactive Man is building to critical mass and needs evacuation immediately. Norman approaches the hole in the ships side, gazing down into the chaos and asks if Chen can keep it together for a little while longer (Chen agrees that it's possible) as there are bigger problems afoot on the streets - Venom has ensnared several people in a desperate attempt to find the Skrull that threw him from the ship. Reaching out to the symbiote, not Gargan, Norman puts things in perspective for the rampaging monster, reminding him that he needs his current host to survive and that he (Osborn) has the power to kill that host in an instant. He empathises that the symbiote has urges and has given him full licence to satisfy them within set parameters – Skrulls are the target, not humans. He is to back off if he understands. Venom pauses and mulls over this for some moments, then grinning madly he turns his attention on a child and ensnares the screaming kid in a suffocating grip. Utterly appalled and disgusted by this immorality and bestial behaviour the Skrull reveals himself and rages that the entire planet shall see what their protectors are capable of, that this will drive the humans to embrace the Skrulls as their liberators. However, Venom's tentacles are retracting to reveal his 'prisoners' are unharmed, if a little shaken, and the symbiote leaps at his foe – landing him a blow that sends him ploughing through the dirt. Norman congratulates Venom at his restraint and forward thinking, commending the whole team for taming their demons ("or at least directing them at appropriate targets"). Clearly not in the mood for a pep- talk, Penance reminds Osborn that they need to get Dr. Chen back to the Zeus immediately. Osborn seems unwilling to accommodate this request, informing Penance that the good doctor will in fact be staying right where he is. Penance is shocked by the audacity of this decision; however, Norman is tied up with trying to establish radio contact with Bravo Team – and failing - to check up on Bullseye's progress.
Moonstone is attempting to bargain with the fleet commander aboard the bridge. She re-affirms her offer: everything they need to know about the superheroes defences and weaknesses in return for South America. The commander allows that the armada will be installing native governors to ease the transaction smoothly along, and that he is sure they can accommodate her wishes – but what about her friend? The revelation that this is the real Andrea (not a Skrull impostor) catches Moonstone off guard, giving Andrea ample time to strike her with an energy beam. She rounds on the fallen traitor and demands to know how she dared to strike her brother – and from behind no less – and charges up for the killing blow, when without warning she is impaled from behind by Bullseye. As Andrea collapses dead to the floor Bullseye moans that it's only half as fun when you can't see their eyes. He unveils two throwing stars, commenting that the floored Moonstone has nice eyes. She has just enough time to turn intangible as the shurikens thud into the ground behind her head. Moonstone rounds on him, declaring she'll personally disembowel him if he ever tries that again. She enquires as to where his handlers are, to which he snidely replies they're dead – war's ugly like that. Moonstone pieces the information together and determines that Bullseye's stayed onboard and killed indiscriminately until made to stop as he knows that if he tries to escape they will activate the nanochain in his bloodstream. Bullseye squats down next to the unconscious Swordsman and teases that it'd be fun to kill him with the same blade used to off his sister. Moonstone has other plans and hoists Andreas onto her shoulder – telling Bullseye to bring his sister, as even dead she has her uses. Appreciating her sick mind, Bullseye complies and asks what they're going to tell Osborn. She tells him that they simply saw their duties through to the best of their abilities.
Back at the Zeus Osborn welcomes the return of Moonstone, Bullseye and the other three "wayward children". Norman notices that Andreas is dead and asks what happened. Moonstone allows that they thought she was a Skrull, but turned out she was the real deal. He questions her whether Swordsman saw how his sister died, enthralled by the news that he had not. Moonstone glances over at the glowing Radioactive Man and shows vague interest in his condition. Norman thanks her for reminding him of this problem and states that he is going to explode – and that Moonstone is to be with him when he does.
Penance is less than happy with the decision to leave Dr. Chen behind, despite the doctors' request, and Norman offers him a chance to do something helpful for a team mate by rescuing Songbird who is barely holding her own against a giant Super-Skrull. Meanwhile, Radioactive Man and Moonstone are at the helm of the Skrull dreadnaught as they pilot the craft into the upper atmosphere. Moonstone asks Dr. Chen if he thinks he'll survive this. Chen admits that even if he does he may not be able to bring his radiation levels back under control, and that it may be more practical to just leave him up here to die. A platoon of Skrulls storms the bridge as they reach their destination point in the atmosphere. Moonstone declares that now is the time and becomes intangible as Radioactive Man releases the pent up radiation with such force that it destroys the entire ship. As the debris floats out into the void Moonstone locates Dr. Chen, who is now feeling much better an asks if it's about time they got back to the primary mission. She flies Chen back to earth where the rest of the team (except Bullseye for PR reasons) engaged with the Gigantic Super-Skrull. Norman Out lines the plan; the Skrull turns intangible whenever they attempt to land an attack, so Radioactive Man and Moonstone are to determine the right frequency required to disrupt this ability. This course of action doesn't sit well with Moonstone as it will allow the enemy to know what frequency her powers work on, but Norman is in no mood to argue the point seeing as he has to go wake up Swordsman – implying that she'd better follow his orders unless Andreas is to be informed that his sister died whilst in her care. Inside the Zeus' medical bay Osborn brings Andreas to. Seeing the body of his sister he breaks down, giving Osborn the angle he needs to manipulate his emotional turmoil by sympathising for Andreas' loss, consoling him by saying that those who did this paid with their lived. Andreas is in no mood to be patronised and places the blame for her demise on Osborn – the only reason he'd brought her along is because he couldn't bear to let her out of his sight again. More than willing to accommodate culpability, Norman points out that there's an entire ship of Skrulls outside waiting for Andreas to wreak his vengeance. Putting on his helmet and leaping from the Zeus, Swordsman fires a blast of energy that completely penetrates the Skrull shields and sends the vehicle plummeting to earth. Swordsman runs screaming at the downed craft, and Norman remarks that he'll have to be watched from this moment on. Radioactive Man and Moonstone approach Osborn and inform him they have found the corresponding frequency. Congratulating them, Osborn gives new orders that Moonstone is to dress Bullseye in field armour and discreetly seize what's left of the warship, along with rounding up a few prisoners – kill the rest. Radioactive Man is to stick by Osborn. With the local camera crews watching him, Osborn gives a patriotic battle call to the Thunderbolts and they engage the Super-Skrull, backing him part way into the Washington Monument before Radioactive Man hits him with the frequency blast that causes his to become tangible and fuse into the structure – killing it instantly. The Thunderbolts engage the remaining Skrulls that pour from the crashed ship as Norman declares that while the peoples of earth still breathe they will never accept the invaders rule quietly, will never stop fighting. On national television, Norman sits at the base of the Lincoln Monument and states that this is their country.
Another fine issue. The ending, with hindsight is clearly the beginning of Normans rise into the public domain once again, this time as a patriot and honourable soldier – and the Dark Reign Saga that is to follow. The art work and writing remain strong throughout as usual – there is a particularly creepy rendition of Venom in the panel in which he mulls over Osborns words of holding back his bloodthirsty urges that give the character a monstrously alien visage that I have never seen before in designs of his character throughout the last twenty years. But as usual it is the team dynamic that turns the story - that would otherwise just be a group of superheroes beating on Skrulls for thirty pages – into something much more enjoyable than it otherwise may have been if centred on another team of supers. The scene when Bullseye kills Andrea simply because she is there, and then tries to murder Moonstone too because she is weakened demonstrates how animalistic the character is, where as Venom, for the first time since bonding to Gargan, actually shows he can strategise, making him more that just a brute both speak volumes about the individual team members. When Penance shows remorse at leaving Radioactive Man behind to possibly die, or as Osborn capitalizes on the camera crews around him to make a moving speech to the nation, its little touches like these make the characters flourish. In terms of actual plot progression, this issue offers seldom beyond Bullseye gaining a respect for Moonstone that will pay off in the next arch, the decommissioning of the Skrull dreadnaught, the death of Swordsman's sister, and Norman appealing to the American nation.
The genuine surprise twist of the issue is that Andrea wasn't a Skrull, but the real deal – which I'm sure no one saw coming. It's almost a shame that she was killed off again so soon after this revelation, but it proved integral to the plot so I suppose this is easily forgivable.
I'd class this as the issue that identifies where each team members loyalties lie, ready for the events of Dark Reign and the rearrangements to the team that follow. To surmise, this is the continuation of the battle against the Skrulls and rounding off of the cast that affirms their allegiances. For newbies not so familiar with the cast and their goals it has plenty of action and suspense, shocks and twists, peril and drama to keep you interested, but for fans it maintains the superbly character-driven narrative I'm sure the majority of us read it for.
Continuing to keep up the high standards of the title – it's just a shame the roster is going to change so soon after only two years.