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Once they were the world's latest, greatest team of super heroes -- hailed and revered by an adoring public. Then, their darkest secret came to light. In reality, they were the Masters of Evil. Now, the Thunderbolts have achieved the impossible: redemption and an official pardon for past crimes!

Base of operations: Various
First appearance: Incredible Hulk #449 (1997)

History: Most of the world's protectors were presumed dead. The mighty Avengers, the fabled Fantastic Four and countless other costumed champions had fallen before the might of the sentient psionic menace known as Onslaught. In a world without heroes, the Thunderbolts answered the call to action. Emerging from the ashes to deal justice like lightning were the enigmatic patriot Citizen V, the towering titan Atlas, the energy-emitting adventurer Meteorite, the multi-talented man-at-arms Techno, the sonic sculptress Songbird and the armor-plated aviator Mach-1.

Quelling the fears of a panicked populace, the Thunderbolts charmed their way into the heart of a hero-less nation. But the Thunderbolts were a fraud. In reality, they were the Masters of Evil: Baron Helmut Zemo, megalomaniac and would-be world conqueror; Erik Josten, a.k.a. Power Man, a.k.a. the Smuggler, a.k.a. Goliath; Dr. Karla Sofen, a.k.a. Moonstone; P. Norbert Ebersol, a.k.a. the Fixer; Melissa Gold, a.k.a. Mimi Schwartz, a.k.a. Screaming Mimi; and Abner "Abe" Jenkins, a.k.a. the Beetle. Seizing on the absence of the Avengers and their ilk, Zemo had handpicked his operatives and crafted their true objective. The pseudo-Citizen V believed the public's trust in the Thunderbolts would enable the villains to rise up and rule the planet.

But Meteorite, Songbird, Atlas and Mach-1 came to see themselves as the heroes they were only pretending to be. Together, they challenged Zemo's plan to infect the unsuspecting citizens of the world with a computer-transmitted virus. With the help of Earth's heroes reborn -- and recent recruit Hallie Takahama, the hyperkinetic teenage sensation known as Jolt -- the Thunderbolts struck down Zemo's broadcast satellite. Now on the run, hunted and hounded by those they once protected, the T-bolts were forced to wonder: Is it truly possible for hardened criminals to find redemption? Or must they eventually be forced to return to their lives outside of the law?

Overpowered by a new incarnation of the Masters of Evil, the Thunderbolts were rescued by the arrow-slinging Avenger known as Hawkeye. Once viewed as a criminal himself, Hawkeye empathized with the T-bolts' plight. He sought to lead the wayward adventurers, hoping his support would lend credibility to their efforts at reformation. Hawkeye convinced the T-bolts that a federal pardon would be forthcoming if only they could distinguish themselves as heroes. Accepting him at his word, the team evicted the Masters of Evil from their hidden base in Mt. Charteris in the Colorado Rockies with the help of a new member: genetically gifted teenager Charlie Burlingame -- alias Charcoal, the Burning Man. The Thunderbolts established themselves in the deserted command center, now aided by the reclusive machinesmith known only as Ogre -- secretly their former teammate, Techno.

As the Thunderbolts continued their crusade for justice, unknown forces were plotted the team's destruction. The mysterious mercenary known as Scourge first assassinated Jolt, then slew Baron. His third target was Techno, who managed in the moments before his death to release the secretly resurrected Jolt. The next Thunderbolt to fall was claimed not by Scourge, but sacrificed his life in the line of duty -- a true hero. While attempting to defeat the criminal mastermind called Count Nefaria, Atlas was forced to absorb into his body a massive ionic discharge. His own ionic energies thus destabilized, Atlas began to expand uncontrollably. Ultimately, the chain reaction of events caused him to discorporate. Revealing that he was not acting according to his own will, Scourge mercifully contained Atlas' energies within his gauntlet to prevent him from destroying the nearby town of Burton Canyon.

The Thunderbolts tracked down the mastermind behind their misery, only to be opposed by a team of pawns who had assumed their former identities: Citizen V, the Smuggler, Meteorite, Beetle, the Fixer and Scream. The T-bolts destroyed the device controlling their foes, discovering in the process that the government had played a role in the technology's development. Surrounded by military forces, the team learned that Hawkeye had lied: Exoneration for past crimes never had been a realistic option. Armed with his knowledge of the government's complicity in the mind-control debacle, the archer was able to broker a bargain. He would serve time for the crimes he committed by joining the Thunderbolts, but his teammates would be pardoned -- though they were prohibited from using their powers in any public way. Is freedom the end of their story -- or just the beginning?

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