Writer Kurt Busiek and artist Mark Bagley continue their tale of villains posing as heroes, in this second collection of the 1990s Thunderbolts. After building his team’s public profile in the first book, leader Citizen V (in reality, Zemo, grand-son of a Nazi from World War II) is ready to bring his plan to fruition, with the authorities beginning to trust them and providing access to global security systems, such as the Avengers’. Some were starting to enjoy being seen as heroes when the truth about the ‘Bolts is revealed to the public, forcing the hand of Zemo’s associates,. The team now have to make a decision: either they follow Zemo or they change sides, making them enemies both of the law for their role in the deception, and of their former criminal allies for turning on them.

While action and fights certainly fill a lot of pages, the character moments set this apart from all other team series: the doubts filling some characters’ heads, and the friendships (and more) burgeoning. One of the most interesting characters is Meteorite, a former psychologist with energy-based powers, who’s perpetually manipulating her teammates (as well as their leader) to further her own goals. It’s a pleasure to see a clever character, albeit one lacking morals, analysing her comrades and supplying a better hold on the characters — it almost feel like a meta-commentary.

That being said, Zemo’s plan is certainly large scale and brings a considerable number of legitimate heroes to the foreground. The trick Busiek plays on the Thunderbolts is to put them in a position to be the only ones who can save the day… at a real cost. The blend of external threat and internal strife, both high-stakes, makes for a gripping read.

The plots provide Bagley’s vigorous art continual opportunities to shine, with battles in space, lots of explosions and characters flying about. It also begins to be less angular and more rounded here and there, as well as leaving some of the typical 1990s bombastic style behind (but not all, far from it).

The 2012 book is out of print, replaced by a new edition published in 2016, which is far less expensive. The story continues in the third book reprinting the series.