If any comic deserves its 150th issue, it’s “Thunderbolts.” Having weathered a storm of reboots, re-numberings and complete conceptual reworks, the series’ century-and-a-half features a fair chunk of the original team and a similar spin on the original concept: villains working as heroes.
And if you’re interested in how it started, this issue’s bonus content does a great job of informing you, with a “Thunderbolts Saga” retelling of the entire series alongside a reprint of the now-classic Thunderbolts #1 by Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley. Even robbed of its shock ending (which, let me tell you, was a big one at the time) the comic is largely enjoyable and worth the cover price alone.
However, it helps that Jeff Parker and Kev Walker’s lead feature is great too.
With the Shadowland tie-in over, the T-bolts’ anniversary is marked by a stand-alone story guest starring Iron Man, Steve Rogers and Thor, who come to evaluate the team’s performance and instead find themselves in the middle of their bid for freedom.
To Parker’s credit, he keeps the cast light, packing off certain members of the team to the fringes of the story before the action begins so that there’s enough space to accommodate the guest stars. While it might have been nice to see the original team’s surviving members get the spotlight in this issue, it’s rather hard to complain when the title has such a strong cast, with Juggernaut, Crossbones, Ghost and Cage getting most of the page time.
Although the presence of the Avengers is a good excuse for a fight, Parkers uses the T-Bolts arrival in an alternate dimension to explore the psychologies of the characters, both in the characters he pits against one another, and the mystical properties of the new dimension. As a result, the characters feel more genuine than ever. The members of the previous iteration of the team didn’t inspire much empathy, so it’s good to see Parker address it head on.
On a purely visceral level, it’s hard not to love the way Kev Walker draws the book. His hard edged characters perfectly convey the Thunderbolts’ confrontational attitudes (which applies to the “good” members of the team too) and the fights are raw and believable, with a sense of weight and motion that eludes many artists. Parker and Walker even manage to have a bit of fun with the series in the form of an anthropomorphic frog, and if that sounds too light-hearted for a book like “Thunderbolts”, well, wait for it. The best issues of Thunderbolts wouldn’t be the same without a twist ending, and this is no exception.
Ultimately, this is a fantastic issue, and a brilliant single-serving primer for those curious about the series. Superhero comics don’t get much better than this.