Forced to turn to crime, genius-level physicist Dr. Eliot Franklin ends up in prison where he meets criminal Dirk Garthwaite, AKA the Wrecker. When a jailbreak during an electrical storm endows them with powers—thanks to Wrecker’s enchanted crowbar being struck by lightning—they form the Wrecking Crew with Franklin as Thunderball.
Scientist Turned Criminal
A brilliant scientist turned brutal career criminal, Dr. Eliot Augustus Franklin was once a rising star in physics. Nicknamed “the Black Bruce Banner” for his expertise in the gamma radiation research pioneered by Banner, AKA the Hulk, Franklin works to miniaturize Banner’s infamous gamma bomb at Caltech. He later continues these experiments as a research scientist at Richmond Enterprises, inventing a baseball-sized compact gamma bomb ten times as powerful as Banner’s original device. He showed off his prototype to unscrupulous Richmond executive J.C. Pennysworth, who promptly confiscates the bomb and Franklin’s notes, and patents the device in Richmond Enterprises’ name. A furious Franklin protests that he had built the bomb on his own time, but a gloating Pennysworth reveals the fine print of Franklin’s contract gave Richmond complete legal ownership of the invention despite this. Caught trying to steal back his bomb from Richmond’s main laboratory, Franklin flees through an adjoining steel mill, pursued by security guards. The guards shoot the bomb out of Franklin’s hands while apprehending him, and it fell into a vat of molten steel. Knowing this steel would be used to construct three new Richmond skyscrapers in Manhattan, and that the bomb’s Adamantium casing would preserve it, Franklin resolves to retrieve his bomb if he ever regains his freedom.
Sent to prison, Franklin befriends fellow inmates Dirk Garthwaite, Brian Phillip Calusky, and Henry Camp. As the super-strong costumed criminal, the Wrecker, Garthwaite had been mystically empowered by Asgardian sorceress Karnilla when she mistook him for fellow Asgardian Loki Laufeyson, AKA Loki. Stripped of his powers after being electrocuted during a battle with Asgardian warrior Thor Odinson, AKA Thor, Garthwaite believes his lost power had actually been channeled into his signature weapon, a crowbar, and electricity could release it. Though deprived of his crowbar, Wrecker pays people to track its whereabouts while he was jailed. Escaping prison with his three friends’ aid, Garthwaite offers to share his power with them. Retrieving the crowbar, the four men grasp it simultaneously and lift it skyward during a massive thunderstorm until lightning strikes it. The lightning releases the crowbar’s stored Asgardian magical energy, channeling it into all four men and endowing each of them with a quarter of the Wrecker’s original power. Franklin, Calusky, and Camp adopted costumed identities as Thunderball, Piledriver, and Bulldozer, respectively, forming a super criminal quartet with the Wrecker leading them as the Wrecking Crew.
Like a Wrecking Ball
Thunderball has superhuman strength and durability and enhanced human stamina, all variable depending on the type and quantity of energy that empowers him. Typically able to lift 10 tons, his power has been temporarily boosted enough to lift 40 tons, sometimes increasing to possibly far greater levels.
Originally empowered by Asgardian mystical energy absorbed from the Wrecker’s enchanted crowbar, Franklin has been frequently stripped of that energy, regaining his powers by re-absorbing that same energy or replacing it with other forms of absorbed energy. His typical class 10 power levels may be stable for months or even years at a time unless an outside force absorbs his energy, though he has had periods of apparently naturally declining power levels believed to be due to long-term separation from the Wrecker’s crowbar.
When empowered by Asgardian magic, he can temporarily divert part of that energy to sustaining his breathing and vocal capacity in hostile environments, such as underwater. Since his alteration by Arnim Zola, Thunderball’s power gradually declines to an unspecified fraction of his typical power levels unless he absorbs outside energies, which can boost him to his typical power levels or higher depending on the energy source. He can absorb a wide variety of energies such as magic, energies within the electromagnetic spectrum (including but not limited to electricity) and the biochemical energies of living beings, notably fellow superhumans.
If he absorbs too much energy too quickly, the circuit is broken, and absorption ceases until he can resume it. His powers have been replenished or temporarily augmented by sources such as Asgardian magic, Asgardian life energy, the mystical Norn Stones, the demonic Great Beast Tanaraq, the cybernetic Kerwin Korman, AKA Doomsday Man, and unspecified technological enhancements by Zola and John Eden, AKA Quiet Man.
Thunderball wields a steel wrecking ball attached to a 4’ length of chain. The ball and chain are mystically enhanced by power derived from Thunderball himself or from the Wrecker’s crowbar, or both. His ball has been destroyed or lost several times over the years, but he always restores or replaces it, doing so at least once by adopting a conventional wrecking ball the Wrecker enchanted using his crowbar. Thunderball usually swings or throws his ball in combat; when the ball is thrown, he can mentally control its flight path, and it magically returns to him.
He can also mentally animate and manipulate his wrecking ball from distances up to hundreds of feet away even if it is not already in motion, though this may be more difficult since he seldom does so. His wrecking ball can drain energy from both biological and mechanical sources on contact, often by enwrapping his target in its chain. Thunderball’s wrecking ball can resist some mystical attacks and it also insulates him, rendering him largely immune to electrocution. He can swing his ball fast enough to deflect bullets.
Thunderball can temporarily boost his power levels by wielding the Wrecker’s crowbar himself. The bar’s close proximity enhances his power levels somewhat even if he is not directly wielding it. He has also used the crowbar to magically convert his clothes into his Thunderball costume, and to teleport himself and others.
Eliot Franklin is a gifted physicist, an experienced planner and tactician, and a practiced street fighter. He is also highly proficient in the fields of computers, cybernetics, chemistry and mechanical engineering. His inventions include doomsday explosives (notably a miniature gamma bomb), a mini-laser, a self-contained compact flamethrower, a freeze ray, a vertigo projector, radiation trackers, and a trans-dimensional power siphon designed to reverse his occasional power loss. Patterned on his altered superhuman cellular structure, the siphon is programmed to begin a search-retrieve sweep if his bio-readings alter, locating and restoring his lost energies.
During one of his disempowered periods, Franklin designs and wears a mechanical strength-enhancing exoskeleton with a built-in energized wrecking ball on a retractable cable; the ball and cable could be electrified, and the suit also fired electrical blasts.
Nearly Unstoppable Antagonists
When they were among Earth beings kidnapped by the Beyonder for a superhuman war, Thunderball and the Crew face Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America, Thor, James Rhodes, AKA Iron Man (later War Machine), Peter Parker, AKA Spider-Man, the Avengers, the X-Men, Fantastic Four, the Hulk, and Julia Carpenter, Spider-Woman (later Arachne).
Other foes Thunderball and the Crew face include the sorceress Morgan le Fay, and several iterations of the Thunderbolts, members of the Midnight Sons, street level heroes, the Defenders, Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), and many other major Super Heroes.
Thunderball helped participate in near-fatal assaults on Janet Van Dyne, AKA the Wasp, Jennifer Walters, AKA She-Hulk, Heracles, AKA Hercules, Hogun the Grim, AKA Hogun, and Walter Langkowski, AKA Sasquatch, among others, and while possessed by one of Morgan le Fay's minions, Thunderball kills civilian Kelsey Leigh, who was then reborn as Captain Britain.
Thanks to the Wrecker sharing his mystical super-strength and abilities with his fellow inmates, including Dr. Franklin, the physicist becomes the formidable Thunderball. He joins the Wrecker’s aptly named Wrecking Crew. The ambitious Thunderball repeatedly tries to usurp the Wrecking Crew’s leadership or the Wrecker’s full power or both, sometimes succeeding briefly, but the Wrecker always reasserts his dominance eventually. Thunderball sometimes operates solo or as part of other groups, but he seldom works without one or more of his original criminal crewmates.
The Wrecking Crew’s members often serve together as part of other groups as well. Such groups include Parker Robbins, AKA the Hood’s criminal gang, and they briefly double as government Initiative agents under Norman Osborn, AKA Green Goblin’s corrupt leadership. Other team-ups include Secret Empire, Victor Von Doom, AKA Doctor Doom’s Battleworld army, his own criminal gang, the Frightful Four, and multiple incarnations of the Masters of Evil led by Baron Helmut Zemo, AKA Baron Zemo, Max Fury, and Edward Lansky, AKA Lightmaster. Though he briefly romanced his Masters’ teammate Coachwhip, Thunderball’s only enduring passions are for science, money, violence, and power.
Occasionally stripped of his Thunderball powers by various means, Franklin always regains or enhances them through assorted forms of technology and magic, notably developing energy absorption powers after scientist Arnim Zola’s modifications of the Wrecking Crew’s abilities.
A Super Criminal’s Record
Secretly seeking Franklin’s bomb, the crew masked their true agenda with a spectacular protection racket, threatening to demolish Manhattan skyscrapers unless the city paid them millions. The city refused, and the crew demolished two of Richmond’s three new skyscrapers, threatening to level the whole city unless their demands were met. Trying to save Richmond’s third skyscraper, Pennysworth hired superhuman mercenary Luke Cage to protect it. The informal Super Heroes, the Defenders, also intervened, since Defenders member Nighthawk was secretly Richmond Enterprises owner Kyle Richmond.
Despite the combined efforts of Cage, Nighthawk, and fellow Defenders Dr. Stephen Strange, AKA Doctor Strange, and the monstrous Hulk, the Wrecking Crew demolished the third skyscraper; however, the heroes ultimately defeated the criminals, and when Franklin’s bomb was accidentally triggered during the confusion, Banner defused it.
While working for the Secret Empire he used his technological expertise to improve cyborg operative Jeff Wilde, AKA Midnight, and built himself an armor. He once vied with Eddie Brock, AKA Venom, for leadership of their fellow inmates during a mass breakout at the Vault super-prison foiled by the Avengers and Freedom Force.
Following the collapse of the Multiverse, Thunderball (or an alternate-reality counterpart) was active in the Manhattan district of Battleworld, a planet created from reality's remnants by an all-powerful Victor von Doom, AKA Doctor Doom, where he battled many heroes. After being returned to Earth, Thunderball and the Wrecking Crew joined Zemo’s Masters of Evil in a campaign against Heracles, AKA Hercules, which left him comatose. This altercation led Thor to avenge his fellow Avenger by using his hammer to transfer the Wrecking Crew’s power back into the Wrecker’s crowbar, and the Crew were sent to prison. Using Zemo’s resources, the Wrecker helped Thunderball and his Crew escape. Meanwhile, Thunderball craved the Wrecker’s power having previously used the crowbar and he turned on him. While they were battling each other, the Crew fell to Spider-Man and Arachne.
Thunderball later battled the Fantastic Four, and with the crew faced off with Damage Control (though Thunderball aided Damage Control in secret). Though it was this battle where the Wrecker repowered the Crew with his crowbar, thanks to Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man, inadvertently magnetizing it. Thunderball and the Wrecker’s feud was temporarily forgiven, but Thunderball sabotaged them due to his friendship with Damage Control’s John Porter. With the Wrecker’s anger towards Thunderball reignited, Thunderball went into politce protective custody and without close proximity to the crowbar, he was powerless while he was hidden at a Yancy Street safe house. The Wrecker found him there, collapsing the building which killed civilians, but ended up only sending him to the hospital with injuries on account of viewing him as a brother. Ben Grimm, AKA the Thing, intervened and captured the Wrecker. Thunderball and the rest of the Crew intercepted his prison transport but only to steal the crowbar and thus the power. However, the Wrecker revealed that he was the source of the power, thanks to learning a few tricks from fellow prisoner and Asgardian rock troll Ulik. The Wrecker violently reclaimed leadership of the team.
It wasn’t long before they were imprisoned yet again at the Rocky Mountain’s Vault prison. The Crew joined a mass breakout led by Eddie Brock, AKA Venom, but Thunderball opposed his leadership and splintered off with his own gang of escapees, ending up against the Avengers. Though, he sided with them to prevent the Vault’s core breach.
Thunderball and the Crew eventually escaped. Thunderball’s relationship with the Wrecker remained strained until they went up against Hercules again. Working together restored their relationship but they were soon depowered in a plot by Loki who desired the power originally meant for him. Thunderball and the others lost access to their powers yet again, while Wrecker was tortured by Loki and sent to another dimension.
Without powers from the Wrecker, Thunderball worked with the Secret Empire, gaining a suit of armor that mimicked his previous abilities and joining them to harness the powers of Richard Rider, AKA Nova. Opposed by Spider-Man, Marc Spector, AKA Moon Knight, Chris Powell, AKA Darkhawk, Dwayne Taylor, AKA Night Thrasher, and Frank Castle, AKA Punisher, Thunderball and the Secret Empire ultimately surrendered.
Thunderball went back to his roots and designed a “Trans-Dimensional Power Siphon,” which restored and heightened the Crew’s strength, but only temporarily. While Odin Borson, AKA Odin, attempted to evade Ragnarök (the twilight of the gods), the Crew’s powers waned since they were of Asgardian origin. The Crew then worked with Arnim Zola who gave them a temporary power boost to battle the Thunderbolts but they suffered a crushing defeat. Thunderball continued working with the Crew against Spider-Man, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and the Thing but again imprisoned. When Kerwin Korman, AKA Doomsday Man helped free them, the Crew was given the power to absorb energy into their bodies and tased with kidnapping Carol Danvers, AKA Warbird (later Captain Marvel). Doing so led to a battle with the Avengers, whose Wanda Maximoff, AKA Scarlet Witch, accidentally sent the group to the otherworldly realm of Polemachus, where they defeated its rulers, Arkon and Thundra, and assumed control over the realm. Though the Doomsday Man was subsequently defeated which caused the Crew to lose their powers.
When the Crew battled Thor and the Warriors Three. Thunderball nearly killed Hogun the Grim, AKA Hogun, before Thor caught up to the Crew and defeated them. They ended being shuffled through different prisons and used as pawns by sorceress Morgan le Fay. Thunderball became her magical Knight and in going up against the Avengers again, slayed Kelsey Leigh, who was soon resurrected as the new Captain Britain. Thunderball continued working with the Crew and faced the Runaways, Patrick Mulligan, AKA Toxin, and also forced to serve in Zemo’s Thunderbolts, fought Cain Marko, AKA Juggernaut, and his allies on Excalibur.
Thunderball continued to cause chaos and terrorize innocent civilians while on a crime spree in Toronto, Canada, where he and the Crew battled Walter Langkowski, AKA Sasquatch, the alien Beta Ray Bill, but the Crew received more power from the Great Beast Tanaraq and were able to subdue the latter. Though their power was removed due to an intervention by Canadan Super Hero team Omega Flight’s Elizabeth Twoyoungmen, AKA Talisman, which allowed the team to defeat them. While in prison in Manitoba, Thunderball planned an escape, goading the Wrecker into an attack which distracted the guards and allowed him to set off a self-made bomb to free the Crew. Though the Wrecker was upset he was left out of the plan and beat Thunderball senseless, reminding him who led the Crew.
Returning to America, Thunderball and the Crew joined Hood’s army of Super Villains, participating in one of the largest bank robberies in history. They also joined the Hood in a massive attack on Dr. Stephen Strange, AKA Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum, where they met defeat at the hands of an outlaw team of Avengers before escaping. Following this setback, Thunderball and Bulldozer briefly terrorized Hell’s Kitchen before regrouping with their teammates in the Hood’s army.
Loyal to the team, Thunderball aided them in many subsequent criminal endeavors, even helped their enemies the Avengers against the alien Skrulls, and joined a new iteration of the Masters of Evil fighting the Superior Six.
Later, while working as a bouncer at Club Fenris, Franklin was captured by the King of Wakanda T’Challa, AKA Black Panther. In a surprising turn of events, T’Challa recruited Franklin for his scientific background, recalling his pioneering work in gamma radiation and used his full name, Dr. Eliot Augustus Franklin, as a counterpoint to his nickname “The Black Bruce Banner”. He noted that the people who gave them names like this had no imagination and requested his help, his brilliance, and that he believed him to be a good man once and that he might be so again. T’Challa explained that he needed Franklin’s help to help find a kidnapped girl, Asira, and to examine subsonic energy signatures that could prove his enemy Ulysses Klaw, AKA Klaw, was orchestrating a transdimensional crisis in Wakanda. Random gateways were opening across the country and strange things would happen, such as water turning into desert, and suddenly once-banished inhabitants of Wakanda, the Originators, were invading through these gates. Franklin agreed to help him. Franklin figured out that Klaw was behind some of the gates and warned T’Challa that he was likely trying to hit T’Challa when he was weakest.
When the mysterious Ras the Exhorter led Wakandans to worship a new god called Sefako, Ras brought down T’Challa’s fleet and then the Originators attacked. Franklin donned his Thunderball duds and signature wrecking ball and fought them off alongside Black Panther. They were soon joined by T’Challa’s ex-wife and X-Man Ororo, AKA Storm, and allies until Ras the Extorted was revealed to be Asira. While Asira was captured, Franklin continued to help T’Challa concoct a plan to defeat Klaw, who was busy battling the Midnight Angels. Before T’Challa faced Klaw, he left Franklin with gratitude for his contributions and a reminder of his reckoning, specifically that the struggle for his name wasn’t complete. Since working with the Wakandans, Franklin has a change of heart about his life of crime and later joins Black Panther and other heroic allies in subsequent fights for Wakanda’s future.