- Avengers often trust villains – a number of their earliest members were villains.
- Thunderbolts origins – Kurt Busiek’s idea for the Thunderbolts stemmed from an early Avengers storyline where super villains considered pretending to be superheroes.
- Dark Avengers – Norman Osborn created the Dark Avengers, a team of villains pretending to be superheroes, similar to the Thunderbolts idea, but in an old Avengers issue, Power Man and Enchantress considered being fake superheroes, as well
This is Past Was Close Behind, a feature that spotlights moments, exchanges, etc. from older comics that take on a brand new light when read in concert with later comic books or events. Basically, stuff that looks hilarious (or interesting) in hindsight. Today, we look at how the Masters of Evil considered pretending to be superheroes decades before the Thunderbolts and the Dark Avengers.
One of the funny things about the Avengers is that they seem to be way too trusting when it comes to who they have join the team. After all, the team started as just a few superheroes tricked by Loki into fighting the Hulk, and when most of the team decided to take a break a year or so into their existence, they hired three super villains as their replacements! Two of them got their gigs by literally writing a letter saying, “Hey, we’d like to be Avengers please now that we’re no longer members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.”
It was that looseness that led to Kurt Busiek to come up with an Avengers idea where the Avengers would slowly but surely add new superheroes to the roster as established members left the team until it was just Captain America and a group of new superheroes, at which point he would learn that he was the only real superhero on the team, and all of his teammates were secretly the Masters of Evil! Obviously, years later, with the Avengers and the Fantastic Four seemingly dead following Onslaught, Busiek adapted that idea into the Thunderbolts. The funny thing is, though, that an early Avengers storyline had a moment where a group of super villains also considered tricking the world into thinking that they were superheroes!
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How the Masters of Evil became “superheroes”
Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley’s Thunderbolts debuted following the Onslaught crossover, where a number of the Marvel Universe’s main superhero teams were seemingly killed in a battle with a new villain, Onslaught (the interesting thing about the battle is that the X-Men were the only survivors of the battle, and yet no one really seemed to do much with the concept that the X-Men were the only survivors of a big battle that saw the most beloved heroes all dying. You’d think that would have worked to make the world hate the X-Men even MORE, right?).
In a world desperate for superheroes, the Thunderbolts were quickly revered, and given some high level security clearance. Of course, that led to the big twist, that the Thunderbolts were actually Baron Zemo and the Masters of Evil, a notable super-villain team, secretly pretending to be superheroes…
Of course, the problem for Baron Zemo’s plan was that a number of the team really ENJOYED being superheroes, so when Zemo’s master plan for world dominance kicked in, they fought him, and became legit superheroes. The team eventually broke up, and there have been a number of varieties of other teams using the name Thunderbolts since.
How the Avengers went “dark”
Years later, after Norman Osborn was put in charge of a version of the Thunderbolts that was more similar to the Suicide Squad (supervillains forced to work for the government), he slowly took control of S.H.I.E.L.D., and with the actual Avengers discredited following the superhero Civil War (where half of Marvel’s superheroes refused to register with the government, and went rogue, being underground superheroes), Osborn was given control of the “official” Avengers, and he decided to create his own team of Avengers (commonly known as the Dark Avengers, in a series called Dark Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis, Mike Deodato and Rain Beredo),
This team, though, was made up of mostly super villains pretending to be superheroes (Moonstone as Ms. Marvel, Bullseye as Hawkeye, Daken as Wolverine, Venom as Spider-Man, etc.). Eventually, Osborn was deposed as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Dark Avengers broke up.
With this in mind, it’s funny to see how there was a brief plot that was sort of like this, way back when.
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How the Masters of Evil considered being superheroes decades ago
It all started in Avengers #21 (by Don Heck, Stan Lee and Wallace Wood – the inking by Wood on Heck’s pencils is GORGEOUS), when Eric Josten, one of the henchmen of the original Baron Zemo (the father of the current Baron Zemo, and the founder of the Masters of Evil), finds his way to the place where Wonder Man was given his powers by Zemo as part of a scheme against the Avengers. The Enchantress sees him there, and gives him Wonder Man’s powers…
Erik is named Power Man by the Enchantress, and the two become a two-person Masters of Evil, and begin their plan to take down the Avengers…
Now, as you all know, the citizens of the Marvel Universe are prepared to see the Avengers turn bad at any given moment, so when Enchantress uses her powers to make the Avengers look like they’re destroying the city (when they think that they’re fighting a giant monster), the city begins to slowly turn on the heroes…
Then Power Man shows up, and attacks some guys in front of Captain America. Captain America goes to fight him, but the Enchantress messes with Cap’s shield, leading to him getting beaten by Power Man. And when it turns out that Power Man was doing something very publicly heroic, it makes the Avengers look REALLY bad…
Finally, after the Avengers are tricked into breaking into Power Man’s home, the Avengers are so disgraced that the government turns on them, and Cap decides to just disband the team…
In the next issue, the other Avengers all try to get new jobs. It’s all kinds of silly. However, a press agent then visits Power Man and Enchantress, and he suggests that they just form their OWN Avengers team, because everyone believes that they are heroes…
Power Man is then tricked into revealing the truth, and the press agent turns out to be Captain America in a disguise…
So the Avengers’ names are cleared, but it is funny to see Power Man (who later became Goliath, who was a founding member of the Thunderbolts as Atlas) think about the “pretend to be superheroes while being the Masters of Evil” decades earlier!
Thanks to my friend, Chris, for suggesting this one! It’s Chris’ birthday today! Happy birthday, Chris! If anyone has a suggestion for some hilarious in hindsight stuff, let me know by dropping me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!