Marvel’s new Thunderbolts series is one of the most retro comics that it’s done in quite a while. But even if you love comics from the ‘90s, you may have a hard time loving this book.
I’ve been a fan of Thunderbolts since the first series by Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley, which turned the villains pretending to be heroes into truly compelling characters. Fabian Nicieza picked up where Busiek left off on the original Thunderbolts run and carried the strange journey of these former villains even further. The characters continued to evolve over the years, but the new Thunderbolts series by Jim Zub treats its lead characters as if the last two decades worth of stories didn’t happen. The costumes may be the same, but the Thunderbolts themselves feel oddly bland and one-dimensional. And it was disconcerting when the dialog of Atlas and Mach-X was largely interchangeable in this issue. Even Moonstone seems to be lacking her subtle and manipulative ways. She’s far too overt when she finally makes her power play.
The Thunderbolts new series was launched out of the Avengers: Standoff crossover, with Bucky Barnes/the Winter Soldier leading most of the classic Thunderbolts including Moonstone, Atlas, Fixer, and Mach-X on a new mission to expose the dark secrets of S.H.I.E.L.D. to the world at large. That’s an understandable motive for Bucky, but it’s less clear why the Thunderbolts have bought into this mission as they don’t have a very personal stake in it. Perhaps the biggest misfire in the book is Kobik, the sentient Cosmic Cube that looks and acts like a four-year-old girl. Bucky seems to feel protective towards Kobik, but the older brother and younger sister dynamic between them seems forced. Kobik also has a tendency to instantly appear when she isn’t needed, which actually makes her really annoying.
However, the biggest downfall in this book is the art by Jon Malin, who seems to be attempting to channel Rob Liefeld’s signature style without any of the charm. Liefeld’s style only works for him. Everyone who has tried to ape Liefeld ends up looking second rate and that’s what happens in Thunderbolts. Malin’s figures are stiff, poorly proportioned, and he doesn’t have a great grasp on drawing distinct human faces with a full range of emotions. It’s shocking that Marvel not only deemed Malin’s artwork worthy of publication, they gave him the reigns of a book that had a very strong artistic legacy. The original Thunderbolts series had its own style under Bagley’s pen. This new book looks like a leftover Youngblood fan comic.
Longtime comic fans may recall that the very first issue of Thunderbolts had a very memorable twist on the last page that set the tone for the series. And there is something at the end of this issue that may be Zub’s attempt to replicate that sense of surprise. But instead of a classic ending, we got a very out-of-character moment for Moonstone and Bucky that was followed an act that was probably meant to be shockingly violent. However, the art and the script failed to properly execute it. It was more silly than shocking, and not in a funny way.
Neither Zub nor Malin brought their A-game to Thunderbolts, and it’s an extreme disappointment. These characters deserve to have a place in the All-New, All-Different Marvel Universe. Marvel needs to find a way to remind fans why they loved the Thunderbolts in the first place. This is a book that needs stronger writing and better artwork. Until it gets that, I can’t recommend Thunderbolts to anyone. It deserves to be left on the shelf.
RATING: 0.5 OUT OF 5 BURRITOS
Thunderbolts # 1 is out in comic book stores this week.
Images: Marvel Comics