Writers: Fabian Nicieza and Kurt Busiek
Artists: Tom Grummett (p), Gary Erskine (i)
Reassembling is always more satisfying than disassembling. So when readers pick up this week’s NEW THUNDERBOLTS #1 (or #82 in old money) and see, stamped across its cover in white, blocky lettering, “Reassembled,” we’re led to expect a good story about the reunited group of villains-turned-heroes. That expectation, however, proves wrong. The story, “One Step Forward…” by Fabian Nicieza, Kurt Busiek, and Tom Grummett, isn’t good, it’s exceptional; and the story isn’t simply about reuniting, but about building; the story isn’t about villains-turned-heroes but about complicated characters whose exact definitions continue to enticingly elude readers. In short, THUNDERBOLTS re-launches in its own distinctive style—snubbing mediocrity and avoiding predictability, while championing an unapologetic superhero zeal.
Nicieza and Busiek show no sign of rust while driving the Thunderbolts back into action. The characters and their interactions are keener than ever as they are tossed into intensely awkward situations: the group is horribly understaffed, a thorny romantic triangle emerges, an original member lapses into destructive anger, and the Thunderbolts are on the verge of falling apart even before they completely unite. As is the general case, the Thunderbolts are being simultaneously pulled into opposite directions: good and bad, hopeful and dispirited, loyal and selfish. Songbird, perhaps, is the Thunderbolt that traditionally epitomizes this team dilemma. Here, her conflicting nature leads to stagnant uncertainty as she continues to mourn the assumed death of her former leader, friend, and Avenger—Hawkeye. “What’s the sense of driving so hard if the light at the end of the tunnel is going to get turned off?” she asks. Fortunately, Nicieza and Busiek offer her, and readers, an answer by suddenly staging an attack by Atlantean super-terrorists. The time to think is over; action must now expose her—and her teammates’—true natures. Again, this is yet another example of the magic of the Thunderbolts series, where action dominates thought and choices are always made on a gut level. In this fashion, readers are led into an unpredictable, unstable world, where shocking secrets are the only thing you can really count on.
Outside the fictional world, however, readers can definitely count on a lot, such as quality craftsmanship by this creative team. The dialogue is tailored, the narrative precisely summarizes each character’s situation for new or forgetful readers, and the story gracefully flows between soul-searching and action, soul-searching and violence, and soul-searching and surprises. Furthermore, the art is lively without being over-stated. Grummett is particularly skilled in capturing a wide range of facial expressions, evidenced as Songbird moves from uncertainty to determination. The action scenes are similarly impressive, especially when Atlas discovers his restored powers. The beating that he gives his unlucky opponent is so powerfully rendered that you can almost feel the shockwaves after each pounding. Grummett’s meticulous attention to this scene is appropriate since this is a crucial event for the character, an event that will probably haunt Atlas, especially since he’s been observed by a mysterious man, shadowed in the (especially purple) twilight. The only negative in the entire issue is Grummett’s tendency to exaggerate features, especially the characters’ chins; but, this is easily forgivable.
The Thunderbolts, in fact, are all about forgiveness, along with a potent mix of new beginnings, character development, juicy secrets, and classic superhero fun. This issue manages to show this and to prove that there’s a lot of story left for this reassembled team.
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