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Thunderbolts #137: Review

Dec 2009
Rick Remender, Mahmud Asrar

Story Name:

(no title given)

Review & Comments

4 stars

Thunderbolts #137 Review by (April 24, 2018)
A usual misleading cover. Iron Fist does sort-of join the team but Luke Cage doesn't.

This is a fill-in issue written by Rick Remender in between the runs by Andy Diggle and Jeff Parker. The art team is also 1-off. But the covers continue to be by Francesco Mattina.

This scribe hasn't followed up on changes in the last page of last issue, and neither will Parker. Nuke still using the alias Scourge. Yelena Belova hasn't been brought out of cold storage. (The YB-Black Widow in the simulation will have been based on Natasha Romanova posing as her in recent issues.)

Luke Cage was severely injured in New Avengers #56-60, and has quit the team to recover and look after his child. Since then he's attended the anniversary memorial of Steve Rogers' death in Captain America #600, and cameoed in CA: Who Will Wield The Shield as Steve wonders whether to become Cap again (after CA: Reborn obviously).
Iron Fist was last seen in NAv#59-60 helping rescue Luke from Norman Osborn (the reverse of here) where Osborn *also* tried to get Cage to work for him.
Luke and Danny's friendship of course goes all the way to #48 of Cage's Power Man series which became Power Man & Iron Fist from #50.
Misty Knight's involvement with Danny Rand goers even further back to the 1st issue of *his* series. Her pregnancy here turns out (in a tale in I Am An Avenger #1) to be a false positive caused by Iron Fist's chi.

Ghost and Paladin (and Headsman) shared their dislike of Osborn's methods last issue.

Most of the TBolts won't go anywhere else before next issue.
Norman Osborn will start his Dark Reign: The List sequence by capturing Ronin in DRL: Avengers but the NAv will rescue him in their Annual #3. Some of his later apps will be Iron Man (2008) #14-20 as Madame Masque closes in on the fugitive Tony Stark, our #138, and later comics as part of the Siege of Asgard.
Ghost will pick up the baton in IM#20-24 trying to stop Stark being brought back to life, before he returns here for #138.

Luke Cage will help in NAv An#3. Then he'll appear in the Avengers Vs Atlas mini-series, cameo in Web Of Spider-Man (2009) #8, and have his own NAv:LC mini-series before getting dragged into Siege stuff.
Iron Fist will just jump straight to Siege.


Synopsis / Summary / Plot

Thunderbolts #137 Synopsis by Rob Johnson
We see New Avengers Captain America (Bucky Barnes), Luke Cage, Spider-Man and Wolverine attacking the Thunderbolts in their Cube HQ. Logan guts Ant-Man (Eric O'Grady). Black Widow (Yelena Belova), Ghost, Paladin and probably Headsman are already down. They find Iron Fist in chains and release him, but then he attacks them from behind. His glowing fist punches through Spidey's chest. He plucks Cap's shield out of the air and slices it through Logan's skull. And uses his chi to send Cap's bullets back where 1 of them blows his brains out. Now only Luke remains.

All the while we've heard a voiceover claiming that friendship doesn't exist - people just use each other for their own purposes. But when Danny Rand attacked his friends it turned into a conversation between Norman Osborn and Ghost. It seems this is a simulation and IF has nearly always killed Spider-Man, with lower scores for Wolverine and Cap.

But when Danny approaches his old friend Luke he can't bring himself to attack. He asks for help, which Cage gives by breaking his neck. It seems they've run the scenario over 3000 times and Iron Fist never kills Luke Cage.

We now see Danny's head hooked up to a computer system. Ghost is of the opinion that to change IF's mind that deeply would probably kill him. It would be safer just to wipe his brain completely. But Osborn doesn't want to lose Rand's martial arts learned skills. He's convinced that *anybody* can be persuaded to betray *any* friend with the right incentive. He orders Ghost to continue until Iron Fist is loyal only to *him* - or dead.

We now flashback 2 days to where Danny Rand heads for a meeting with a Mr Thompson. Who turns out be Norman Osborn. And he's brought Ghost, Mr X and Scourge (Nuke) as backup. Iron Fist's 'drunken' martial style beats Mr X's semi-telepathic anticipation of his moves. He agilely avoids Scourge's bullets. But Ghost pops up and drops him out of a window. As he falls down the side of the skyscraper Headsman swoops in on his flying disc and smashes Danny against the wall. Osborn details a H.A.M.M.E.R. Agent to cover his tracks by killing everyone who knows Rand was here.

In the present the TBolts are having a meal together (except that paranoid Ghost only eats his own food in his own room). Ghost congratulates the others on a job well done, because they followed *his* plan. Ant-Man prattles on about bonding, annoying Paladin and Mr X who threatens to cut his tongue out if he doesn't shut up. Mr X abandons his meal and leaves. The others follow suit when Iron Fist joins them, except O'Grady who tries to bond with *him*. But Rand quickly leaves, abandoning *his* meal too.

Next day Luke Cage is in a diner waiting for someone who's late (Danny Rand?). He gets a call which he thinks is from his wife (Jessica Jones) but it's actually Ant-Man saying Cage has just eaten his miniature self with his waffles. He threatens to expand inside Luke's stomach if he doesn't follow orders. LC points out that his body is steel-hard, and all we hear is a grumbling noise from his belly.

But O'Grady's not here alone. Paladin shoots Cage in the head with a nervous system disruptor ray which causes him to lose control of his body. It's also supposed to make him unconscious but that doesn't happen. And the motor-control bit wasn't that successful either, as Luke punches Paladin through a wall.

But Paladin's not alone either. Mr X and Scourge leap down from the hovering Thunderstrike jet. The disruptor *did* affect Cage's brain in that he's only communicating in grunts, and Mr X can't predict his moves as he grabs X's 2 swords in his invulnerable hands and kicks him in the gut. Scourge uses his guns again until Luke picks up a car and buries him under it.

But then Iron Fist attacks. Luke can't bring himself to fight back, and Danny's glowing chi-fist puts him down.

They take Cage to the Cube and Ghost reports to Osborn with Iron Fist. (I guess Ghost was piloting the plane.) Norman is amusing himself completing a very large domino layout while hovering on his Goblin glider. He dismisses the fact that Ant-Man is still trapped inside Cage as a minor annoyance. He wants Luke reprogrammed to serve him as Rand does - and as he promised to do earlier.

Ghost reminds us of reasons why Osborn hates the hero. In The Pulse #5 Cage caused Norman to publicly expose himself as Green Goblin, and he beat him up and took him to jail. In New Avengers #48 Cage agreed to work for work for Osborn if he helped find baby Danielle Cage kidnapped by Skrulls. But Luke reneged on the deal in NAv#49.

Paladin, his face in bandages after his confrontation with Cage, confronts Luke in adamantium restraints. He prepares to get revenge on the prisoner when the cuffs open and Cage hits him in the face again. Ghost leads Iron Fist and Mr X to the scene. X follows Cage's escape route into the ventilation system but runs into 3 Goblin pumpkin bombs which explode in his face. Ghost reports the escape to Osborn, suggesting Ant-Man may have set him free as petty revenge for being left inside him.

Luke drops out of a vent into a kitchen. A voice tells him that a vent to the outside will open in 5 minutes (on a regular schedule), and tells him how to get there. On the way he is assaulted by small flying discs, 1 of which acquires his DNA from a skin sample (even his invulnerable skin presumably still discards dead flakes). They then set up a laser grid. Scourge shows himself and describes the system as DNA lasers which attack the flesh only of the target DNA. And they use a negative biological frequency to negate his invulnerability (either that or they wave their hands).

Scourge shoots at the caged Cage. But he's still invulnerable enough to survive. And he grabs 1 of the discs and throws it at Scourge. The disc reads Scourge's DNA and the lasers turn to attack *him*. Luke delivers the coup de grace with an uppercut.

Cage continues to run towards his target vent, followed by Headsman on his flying disc. The chase includes a long leap down into the bowels of the building. Norman Osborn is watching it all on a monitor screen in his office. He comments on how events have consequences, toppling his domino display as a metaphor. Cage sent him to jail, but Norman later became as he describes it 'ruler of the Earth' and now gets revenge by using his best friend Danny Rand to kill him.

Luke has indeed run into Danny, along with a lot of rats. He tries to persuade his friend to escape with him - the vent is only a short distance away. But Iron Fist has now been successfully programmed to believe Luke is his enemy. He spouts a rationale based on Osborn's idea of the non-existence of altruistic friendship. Luke tries to get through to him and only fights back defensively. He says he doesn't blame him for what he's doing because his mind has been messed with. Osborn continues to watch as his convoluted array of dominoes continue to fall.

Luke's final gambit is to remind Danny that his lover Misty Knight is pregnant. His dying wish is that Danny let the child grow up with Danielle, as they always said they would. But Iron Fist replies that his child will never even know Luke existed, as he lands a final chi-laden punch in his face. And Osborn's final domino tips over.

Ghost, Headsman and Mr X catch up with Iron Fist standing over Cage's body. Headsman examines Cage's bloody head. and discovers it's only blood from a nearby dead rat. Luke hits him and then the heroic duo turn their attention to Mr X. As they fight they exchange banter about what broke Iron Fist's programming. Luke says it was his brilliant psychology, Danny says it was summoning all his chi for that final blow. Meanwhile Mr X's move-prediction is defeated again, this time because he can't read 2 minds at once. Headsman returns with his flying disc and axe and tries to slice Cage's head in 2, but Rand kicks him with what appears to be a chi-powered foot.

Ghost runs away and the pair follow him hoping he'll lead them to Osborn. Who is mightily enraged and scatters his dominoes. But instead Ghost leads them to a chamber which (presumably) teleports the 2 away.

Later Osborn berates his 5 failures (Ant-Man is still missing). Headsman, Paladin and Scourge have various levels of injury. he's going to dock their pay for this. He also claims to have planted a file of false info to suss out any traitors. He knows someone stole it and helped the prisoners escape - and he claims to know who it is. But if the culprit owns up he won't be killed. He doesn't get any response and storms out.

When Ghost and Paladin are alone Ghost says the file was true and revealed that Osborn intended Cage and Iron Fist to replace the Thunderbolts and kill them. Paladin says Ghost should have warned him he was going to release Cage's bonds, but Ghost replies that he couldn't risk Norman hearing. And they needed the 'hero program' to fail so completely that Osborn wouldn't try it again.

The last scene is Danny and Luke in a restaurant. Luke is having digestive problems which he blames on the meat he's just eaten - he's just returned from the toilet. But we see a wet and soiled miniature Ant-Man creeping out of the place.

Mahmud Asrar
Rebecca Buchman
Bruno Hang
Francesco Mattina (Cover Penciler)
Francesco Mattina (Cover Inker)
Francesco Mattina (Cover Colorist)
Letterer: Albert Deschesne.
Editor: Bill Rosemann.


Listed in Alphabetical Order.


(Eric O'Grady)
Iron Fist
Iron Fist

(Danny Rand)
Iron Patriot
Iron Patriot

(Norman Osborn)
Luke Cage
Luke Cage

(Power Man)

Plus: H.A.M.M.E.R., Headsman, Mr X, Nuke, Paladin.

> Thunderbolts: Book info and issue index

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