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Jun 23

Daredevil Villains #28: The Thunderbolts

Posted on Sunday, June 23, 2024 by Paul in Daredevil

DAREDEVIL #69 (October 1970)
“A Life on the Line”
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Gene Colan
Inker: Syd Shores
Letterer: Artie Simek
Colourist: not credited
Editor: Stan Lee

No, not those Thunderbolts.

This story is set in Harlem, and there are multiple black characters with speaking parts. It’s Marvel in 1970, so that can only mean one thing: it’s time for an improving exercise in social commentary.

Daredevil stops two black gang members from robbing a warehouse. A third tries to escape, only to crash their van into a brick wall. He turns out to be a 15-year-old boy. The Black Panther shows up, and the heroes race the kid to hospital. His unspecified injuries call for a top surgeon, which Daredevil and the Panther are able to sort out. Although the story doesn’t labour the point, the clear implication is that the kid would otherwise have died thanks to the wonderful American health care system.

While our heroes wait for the outcome of the surgery, the Black Panther fills in some back story with an extended flashback. This is the period where the Panther had a civilian identity as school teacher Luke Charles. The kid is his brightest student, Lonnie Carver. Lonnie idolises his older brother Billy, who has just returned from Vietnam. Despite having become a pacifist as a result of his experiences, Billy wears his army uniform around the streets of Harlem, just in case we were in any doubt as to his status as a saintly veteran.

The Thunderbolts are a local street gang who try to enlist him as a member. They present themselves as black radicals, but Billy is unimpressed. “Shove off, man!” he says. “I don’t dig the war any more than the next brother, but I figure there’s better ways to protest it than to join a hate-crew like you ‘Thunderbolts’! Nobody with half a brain is gonna fall for that ‘white man’s war’ jazz you guys preach!” Then he tells the gang to “flake off”.

Given this response, the Thunderbolts attack Billy, who won’t fight back because he’s a pacifist now. So the Panther steps in, and he too emphasises that these radical types are definitely baddies, not like good old peace-loving uniform-wearing Billy. “Those vermin aren’t interested in black power… only in Thunderbolt power!”

Yet somehow, between the flashback and the main story, Billy has joined the gang after all. A heartbroken Lonnie has followed him. But Lonnie is so disappointed that he’s lost the will to live. Literally. But never mind! Daredevil and the Panther take down the whole gang on their own – the gang dismiss the Panther as “the original establishment black man”, by the way – and it turns out that Billy was actually going undercover on behalf of the District Attorney’s office. He was a good guy all along! Lonnie’s will to live is restored, and everyone’s happy.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with the idea of a black gang using activist rhetoric as a cover. Except that they’re the only representatives of any sort of radicalism here. They’re contrasted with a saintly “peace-loving veteran”. The story would have been a lot stronger, and would have aged a lot better, if Billy had come back from Vietnam as a radicalised activist instead; at least then he would have had a vaguely plausible reason to join the gang.

Instad, this is an issue in which Daredevil makes a vanishingly rare visit to the world of black folk, to assure us that all those uncomfortable activist sorts don’t really mean it and can be safely ignored. Which means we don’t have to actually deal with any of their complaints! Look, here’s the Black Panther to vouch for the essential goodness of white liberals! Thanks, T’Challa! Maybe this played better in 1970, but it’s all rather embarrassing in 2024.

It also makes an uncomfortable contrast with Phoenix in the previous issue. They were a white radical group. They were bad guys because they were… well, non-specifically radical. They weren’t an attack on any particular political opinion, heavens no! And that’s despite the fact that they were apparently serious in whatever it was that they believed in – their motivation was to raise money for their cause. When you follow that up with an issue in which the black radicals are given a more concrete agenda and aren’t even sincere about it and… well, it doesn’t look good, does it?

But to be fair, the next couple of issues will redress that balance. They’re… quite something. More of that next time.

There’s a surprising amount of follow-up to this rather inconsequential story. First, the story itself includes a passing mention of the Thunderbolts working for a mysterious boss. This doesn’t matter at all to Daredevil, but a passing line of dialogue in Avengers #82 reveals that the Thunderbolts were working for the Zodiac, of all people. Not the guy from Moon Knight, the weirdoes who dress up as astrological signs. It’s completely at odds with the tone of this story, but both issues were written by Roy Thomas and came out weeks apart, so apparently that was the plan.

Second, one of the gang members is Turk. He’ll eventually return in issue #159 and become a recurring comedy character. This isn’t really his issue, though – the focus is on the gang, and he’s just a gang member who happens to get a name. But yes, it’s his debut, and that makes it more significant. .

Third, later in the 1970s, Marv Wolfman will dust off Billy Carver in Power Man #41-43. That arc proves abortive, but Jo Duffy picks it up and resolves it in Power Man & Iron Fist #61-62. In those stories, a Thunderbolt’s brother takes revenge on Billy by murdering Lonnie. While avenging his little brother, Billy is struck by lightning, gains superspeed from an “experimental treatment”, and becomes the costume vigilante Thunderbolt in order to hunt down the killers. Yes, he names himself after the gang, for no entirely clear reason. You’ll be pleased to hear that he manages to finish his mission before dying of accelerated ageing.

And finally, the gang itself makes one further appearance, in 1979’s Black Panther #14-15. By that point they’ve become just a regular street gang and have nothing much in common with their original incarnation. The only reason for linking them back to this story is so that the Panther can lament their degeneration from a group who at least pretended to believe in something. It’s a generous interpretation of this story.

Bring on the comments

  1. Chris V says:

    Stan Lee used that “white man’s war” line in a similar dismissive fashion while writing another comic, but I can’t remember where it showed up (I’m thinking “Rascally Roy the Boy” might have been influenced by that idea from “Stainless Stan the Man”). There wasn’t even a pacifist character to juxtapose the intent in any way with Lee’s usage. In that comic, it was just “don’t buck the system, don’t forget your draft card”. Rather than the more obvious idea of being against the war no matter of racial identity.

    Thunderbolt (Carver as a superhero) reminds me of DC’s Black Lightning. They were almost introduced at the same time (one month apart in 1977). Is this another Man-Thing/Swamp Thing coincidence?

    The next story is great. It was my favourite DD story until Miller takes over (although I do also have a real soft spot for Gerber’s origin of Moondragon issue).

  2. Michael says:

    Roy Thomas also wrote the Avengers issue where the Sons of the Serpent turn out to be working for caricatures of William “What’s wrong with Jim Crow?” Buckley Jr. and Eldridge ” I raped white women as a revolutionary act and oh I also raped black women for practice” Cleaver. The twist was that the black and white extremists were working together. That also has issues.
    There’s considerable debate about whether Miller intended Turk to be the Turk from this issue or whether later writers decided they were the same guy.
    While we’re on the subject of things that look bad from a modern point of view, Miller’s depiction of Turk has been criticized as something out of a minstrel show. He’s an arrogant black man who always snatches defeat out of the jaws of victory by making stupid mistakes. It’s especially glaring since Turk was the major black character during Miller’s run. And other Marvel comics at the time had more rounded black characters- Iron Man had Rhodey, X-Men had Storm and Stevie Hunter, New Mutants had Sunspot, Spider-Man had Robbie and Randy, etc.

  3. Mark Coale says:

    Now I want to ask Kurt or Tom if the Thunderbolts were named that as a copyright renewal deal.

  4. Omar Karindu says:

    @Michael: And one issue after The Avengers v.1 #82 ties these Thunderbolts to the Zodiac Cartel, Avengers v.1 #83 has the major super-women of the Marvel Universe become caricatured radical feminists — he “Lady Liberators” — after being duped by the Enchantress, who’s mainly angry that the Executioner dumped her.

    But then, this is the same era in which Stan Lee was scripting Captain America stories with Black protestors and student radicals being dupes of MODOK, the Red Skull, and the gangster Stone-Face.

    Regarding Turk, I suppose Miller did eventually bring in Maxine Waters an Assistant District Attorney, in one or two issues. But his portrayals of Black people were otherwise quite stereotypical. Even at the time, Alan Moore, then in his brief stint at Marvel UK, satirized Miller’s tendency to present Black New Yorkers as hulking, boom-box-carrying toughs.

    In more comic-booky bits, there was a second speedster Thunderbolt introduced in a backup story in an Incredible Hulk annual in the 1990s who vanished without a trace.

  5. Luis Dantas says:

    Who knows whether this Turk is the same of the Frank Miller run. The character in #69 could conceivably be him… but neither appearance nor behavior match too closely at all.

    This Turk’s surname is not revealed AFAIK; he is shown to use corrective glasses which the Miller character never seems to require; his assertiveness and courage are a cut above that of the character from 100 issues later; and I don’t think he ever mentions the Thunderbolts nor the Black Panther during the first Miller run. Apparently it was something called the “Marvel Comics Index to Daredevil” that made it so that the characters from #69 and #159 are one and the same.

    For all we know, “Turk” may even be this character’s nickname, not a given name. In appearance he reminds me of Rafe Michel (a Captain America and Falcon character from #143-178) than of Grotto’s sometime partner in crime.

  6. Michael says:

    @Omar Karindu- the Daredevil character was named Maxine Lavender. Her being named Maxine Waters would have been a weird coincidence.

  7. Omar Karindu says:

    Ugh. That’ll teach me to go from memory.

  8. Thom H. says:

    I just want to say I love the Zodiac. For reasons I can’t quite describe, I enjoy any group that has strictly defined roles that occasionally get replaced. The Zodiac, the Fantastic Four, the Imperial Guard, the Legion of Super-heroes. So satisfying.

    Also, the political/racial commentary in this issue is…yikes.

  9. Tobias C. says:

    Seconding the Zodiac love here. When I was young, I was a pretty avid West Coast Avengers reader when said book started out, and the clashes between multiple versions of the Zodiac was one of those “only in superhero comics!” moments that grabbed my attention. I mean, what’s not to like about two rival versions of astrology-themed supervillains, one of which is comprised of robots led by Nick Fury’s robot brother?

  10. Mike Loughlin says:

    Ouch, this sounds awful. I’m not a big fan of Roy Thomas’s writing, but he’s at his worst writing anything involving politics. To be fair, most past comic book writers fumble when the message gets more complicated than, “racism bad!” Thomas tended to make his characters obnoxious as a matter of course, which didn’t help. His politics aren’t mine, but that’s not a deal-breaker for me (to a point). It’s the artlessness and dismissiveness I find grating.

    As for Frank Miller, I thought Turk was a racial caricature when I read the Miller DD in my teens. He also wrote Luke Cage as a buffoon in a guest appearance. The only lead character of color I remember Miller writing without stereotypes is Martha Washington. I’ve only skimmed MW in a library, so I might have missed something. IIRC, one of the leads in Sin City was mixed (Dwight, maybe?), so I’ll give Miller that one as well. But almost anyone else not white, male, and/or “tough” is mishandled under Miller.

  11. Chris V says:

    The first Martha Washington series (Give Me Liberty) is great before Miller turns the character into Ayn Rand in the next mini. I’m not a huge Miller fan, but Give Me Liberty is one of his better comic series. I enjoy his earlier work from before the 1990s when he went overboard with the aspects of his style that were better controlled while he was writing something like DD (“Born Again” is still a classic). Nevermind, his post-9/11 work when he went off the deep end.

  12. Luis Dantas says:

    What I find most significant about this issue overall is the bonding between DD and Black Panther. Tchalla had learned DD’s secret identity back in #52, but here he reveals that and also that he has been working as a school teacher under the alias “Luke Charles”.

  13. Mark coale says:

    Kurt said the name was not due to copyright/trademark renewal. But they were named after the speedster who was named after the gang.

  14. David Goldfarb says:

    @Thom: I’m wondering in what way does the Legion of Super-Heroes have “defined roles that…get replaced”? I mean, okay, there was a second Invisible Kid, but the group went for like a decade with no Invisible Kid in it. I’m a Legion fan myself but this strikes me as a weird thing to say about it.

  15. The Other Michael says:

    My first encounter with Thunderbolt (the hero) was in the OHOTMU Book of the Dead, but I always thought he had a pretty cool costume and it’s surprising that the identity basically remained retired ever since, save for the brief appearance of a second guy…

    In a world where we’ve had multiple people using the Torpedo armor, certainly there’s room for someone new to take up the Thunderbolt identity.

    With regards to the Legion… maybe it’s a reference to the “one unique power per member” rule? Or “one representative from a planet” standard? Because I can see where the idea of the Legion having nebulously defined roles might make sense on a lager level.

    Other replacements I can think of besides Invisible Boys I and II are Karate Kids I and II (II sucked sorry), Cosmic Boy and his brother Magnetic Kid, and Lightning Lad who was temporarily replaced by Lightning Lass before he was revived and she had her powers altered…

    I’m partial to themed super-groups myself like the Death-Throws, Serpent Society, Demolition Crew, Wrecking Crew, Circus of Crime– the ones where you have to fit a specific theme or profile before they let you in.

    Speaking of teams with defined roles, how about the way the Justice League lineup has basically become a collection of archetypes to the point where it can be used as “greatest heroes in the world” shorthand (get yourself a flying brick, a dark night detective, an Amazon, a glowing energy-wielding space cop, a fast guy, an underwater guy, and maybe an archer or screamy girl or winged guy or shapeshifter…) I think Warren Ellis is the worst offender of using this trope.

  16. Thom H. says:

    @David: The Legion had that rule about not duplicating powers, which sort of defines roles in reverse. Like Saturn Girl filled the “telepath” role for a long time, even though that role only existed because they had a telepath on the team in the first place.

    And it wasn’t all of the roles that got replaced 1:1 like your Invisible Kid example. But Paul Levitz especially didn’t like to see the founding members not represented on the team in some way at least most of the time:

    Lighting Lad –> Lightning Lass
    Cosmic Boy –> Magnetic Kid
    Saturn Girl –> Tellus

    And when Superboy became unavailable, they used Mon-el/Valor in his place as the team’s inspiration.

    So it’s certainly not every character, but if your role in the club was important enough, they’d find a direct replacement for you.

    I have to admit that I’m not sure if the pattern carried through any further than the early ’90s because I stopped reading after Giffen exploded Earth. Maybe subsequent stories didn’t include the founder archetypes so much?

  17. Thom H. says:

    Oops — we overlapped. What The Other Michael said. I forgot about Karate Kid, as well.

    I also love themed villain groups and all of the Ellis JLA knock-offs. Between the Authority and Planetary, I wonder how many of those he created.

  18. The Other Michael says:

    Let’s see.
    There were the unnamed seven heroes who fought Doc Brass’s team in Planetary to save their simulated reality.
    Bendis’ secret team in Stormwatch which gave us Apollo and Midnighter.
    DID Ellis have more than just the two?

    Other fairly obvious analogues:
    The first lineup of the Guardians of the Globe in Invincible.
    The original lineup of the Squadron Supreme.
    The Great Society as seen in Marvel’s Secret Wars buildup.
    The Seven in the Boys.

  19. Si says:

    Themed super teams are cute. There was one in Spider-Man, run by White Rabbit. They were all supposed to have an animal theme, and she insisted on calling Skein by her original name, Gypsy Moth, so she’d match the theme.

  20. Zoomy says:

    I do love the Astro City story where Crackerjack is outraged to find that the latest incarnation of The Chess Set are committing crimes that don’t even have anything to DO with chess! Stupidly themed super teams are the greatest. 🙂

  21. Omar Karindu says:

    @The Other Michael: Ellis also had some JLA archetypes in the SevenGuns from the Black Summer and in the general collection of hero archetypes in the High’s group in Stormwatch.

    There’s also the issue of Planetary that shows the Four killing analogues of Wonder Woman, an infant Superman-like alien, and an alien Green Lantern-like character before they can become superheroes. In a nice little tie-in, Randall Dowling gives the lantern tech to Henry Bendix, suggesting an origin for Bendix’s “black ops” Green Lantern knockoff in the Apollo/Midnighter backstory.

  22. Michael says:

    @Si-But writers sometimes have to cheat to make it work. When Englehart created the first two Serpent Squads, he was criticized for including the Eel, since an Eel is not a snake. And he also had Krang find the Serpent Crown just so he could ally with the second Serpent Squad.
    @Zoomy- And then there’s the Captain America story where Sidewinder is angry that Porcupine tried to sell him his battle suit since a Porcupine is not a snake!

  23. Aro says:

    Gotta love bringing in The Black Panther to chastise a black activist movement …

    There are several indications that Marvel became skittish about having a character called The Black Panther at the same time that the Black Panther Party was making headlines. I wouldn’t be surprised if this issue was the outcome of an editorial meeting about wanting to make sure no one would conflate one with the other…

  24. Thom H. says:

    There was the Planetary/JLA 1-shot, too, which featured alternate timeline versions of Clark, Bruce, Diana, J’onn, etc. Drawn by Jerry Ordway. Good stuff.

  25. Chris says:

    All the good names are taken

  26. Mike Loughlin says:

    If I never see another Big 7 JLA analogue, it will be too soon.

    Themed villain groups rule. Then again, there is the Deqth Throws, a group of villains whose gimmicks revolve around…

    … juggling.

    Do I hate fun? No, but if you’re juggling, say, explosives or gas grenades, or whatever- just throw them. You’ll save so much time and effort.

  27. Mark Coale says:

    I was skimming through, but in case anyone didnt mention them yet, the Royal Flush Gang are fun, across multiple versions. Loved the Perez drawn version in JLA.

  28. Michael says:

    @Mike Loughlin- Gruenwald’s logic with the Death Throes seems to have been that Boomerang and Bullseye are good villains and they’re former pitchers. So therefore a group of evil jugglers should work. Of course, the difference between pitchers and jugglers is that pitchers throw a ball as fast and hard as they can. A major league pitcher can KILL someone with a baseball.An evil juggler isn’t as threatening.
    Gruenwald tried to build them up in their first appearance.
    (“Oh no, he’s caught Hawkeye’s arrow. No one but Quicksilver can do that.”) But it didn’t work and no one wanted to use them. They showed up a few years later in an Avengers Spotlight story alongside such villains as Bobcat, Bullet Biker. and the Brothers Grimm who had been hired by Crossfire to cut off Hawkeye’s arm. That cemented their reputation as lame villains.

  29. neutrino says:

    @Aro: At one point in the Avengers, citing the political implications, he changed his name to “the Black Leopard”.

  30. Omar Karindu says:

    @Michael: As I recall, Gruenwald was pretty open at the time that he liked juggling himself and figured it would be a fun theme for some villains. To his credit, he only used the Death-Throws once, in the earlier chunk of his Captain America run.

    And in further fairness, when Oddball debuted earlier along Bombshell, she wasn’t a juggler, just an explosives expert. In Gruenwald’s Hawkeye miniseries, Oddball and Bombshell just seemed to be villainous foils to Hawkeye and Mockingbird.

    So Oddball was initially played as another kind of old-fashioned skills-based entertainer — a juggler rather than a carnival trick-shot archer — with the potential advantage that it’s faster to throw a ball than to nock and shoot and arrow (though an arrow can move faster once fired).

    However, I think the Death-Throws probably ensured that Oddball and Bombshell didn’t stick as minor Hawkeye villains, adding a bunch of extra silly baggage to two already lightweight baddies.

    It doesn’t help that the other members had even sillier gimmicks, with Tenpin being the worst. And yet it’s Tenpin who was adapted, albeit in almost unrecognizable form, for the Daredevil streaming series!

  31. Omar Karindu says:

    @Mark Coale: I really liked that Gerry Conway co-created version of the Royal Flush Gang as well, and I enjoyed what Karl Kesel did with them years later in a fill-in arc in New Teen Titans.

    They had distinct personalities, gimmicks, and interesting team dynamics. I’m much less interested in the “52 cells across the nation” version; when you bring in the whole deck, it’s not even a royal flush anymore!

  32. Omar Karindu says:

    Correction: Kesel updated the Royal Flush Gang in New Titans, not New Teen Titans

  33. Steven Kaye says:

    There are some interesting bits in Alex Grand and Jim Thompson’s Marvel Age interview with Roy Thomas (

    Roy Thomas:
    Yeah, Stan and I, we tried to walk a kind of middle of the road, because we didn’t really want to offend anybody, unless there was a total bigot, or something. And we didn’t want to look like we were trying to come down, and say, “We’ve got all the answers,” or, “This side is all right.”

    Alex Grand:

    Roy Thomas:
    I think one of the stories that I was always the proudest, that was … What was it? The second Sons of the Serpent, when I did one, and it had two leaders, and one was white, and one was black. And I did that on purpose, symbolically, because I wasn’t going to say all black people are evil, certainly. I’m not going to say all white people are evil; it’s ridiculous. So I made one of each, being there. And one of the things, so that story, which is that a cause can be right, even if a leader or two is wrong; and I think that’s what you have to remember. Because nobody’s perfect, and all the people that are pretending they’re perfect, they’re no more perfect than anybody else.

  34. Jason says:

    There’s no way Frank Miller intended his “Turk” to be this “Turk.” Zero percent chance. I don’t see how anyone could think that, even if someone at some point retconned them into being the same guy. (Which, after reading every issue of Daredevil at least twice, I can’t remember anyone ever doing.)

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