The Thunderbolts were first presented as a group of superheroes like the Avengers, both to readers and to the Marvel Universe, who became heroes to help protect the world when the Avengers were declared dead after the events of the 1996 “Onslaught” crossover. However the final page of the first issue of their comic book revealed that the Thunderbolts were the Masters of Evil in disguise, a surprise twist carefully guarded by Marvel.
A new team composed of Red Hulk, Deadpool, Elektra, Venom, and Punisher debuted as a part of Marvel NOW! major relaunch. Written by Daniel Way with art by Steve Dillon. This incarnation is not a government-sponsored team.
Red Hulk assembles his incarnation of the Thunderbolts to be a strike team that is close to “Code Red.” He has gathered Deadpool, Elektra, Punisher, and Venom because “their conditions cannot be cured.” Red Hulk has his Thunderbolts do things that are similar to X-Force. Red Hulk has obtained Samuel Sterns’ body and hooks it up to a machine that emits Red Gamma Radiation onto Samuel Sterns. Deadpool later finds Samuel Sterns as a Red Leader with no apparent powers as he expresses his view that the Punisher won’t be pleased. Punisher finds Red Leader’s body and shoots him between the eyes disrupting whatever plans Red Hulk has for Red Leader.
Red Hulk brings the Thunderbolts along to deal with gamma technology on the island of Kata Jaya where the technology was supplied by Madman. During the fight against Madman, Red Hulk took the Leader to a pipe line that feeds Gamma energy to Madman’s lab. Red Hulk then absorbed the energy himself and then forced fed it to the Leader, bringing him back to life.
In Marvel Zombies: Dead Days, zombified Thunderbolts appear, rampaging across New York. The undead Thunderbolts are killed by the combined forces of Nova, Thor, and the Fantastic Four.
In the limited series, Wolverine: Days of Future Past, the Thunderbolts are the private security force of the ruling Sentinels, under the command of Baron Zemo. However, Zemo is also secretly working with Shinobi Shaw and Psylocke as part of a new Hellfire Club to bring about the Sentinels’ downfall.