King in Black: Thunderbolts #1 Review: 'The Dirty Dozen' Meet Knull in a Rollicking Affair

King in Black Thunderbolts #1 Review - Cover
(Photo: Marvel Entertainment)

Most superhero event tie-ins are bad, but that doesn’t mean superhero event tie-ins are inherently bad as various examples from “King in Black,” including King in Black: The Immortal Hulk and King in Black: Namor, continue to make clear. King in Black: Thunderbolts #1 makes that case once more with a debut that takes advantage of the event status quo to channel The Dirty Dozen and classic Suicide Squad. The new miniseries may not be built to last, but it’s determined to tell a rollicking adventure that veers away from rote storylines of Big Two fare with the time it is given.

Thunderbolts #1 quickly lays down its premise: Mayor Wilson Fisk assembles a team of C-list supervillains to take down the threat posed by Knull. It’s apparent from the very start that they stand no clear chance against this godlike being and are almost certainly doomed, but it’s those very expectations that allow writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Juan Ferrerya the freedom to surprise readers. What will they accomplish? Who will survive? How ugly will it all be? The endpoint of King in Black is all but certain, but Thunderbolts presents a genuine opportunity to surprise and engage readers familiar with the rhythms of superhero comics.

The character selection for this new iteration of the Thunderbolts is a key part of the package. Besides Taskmaster and Rhino, there’s not a single name on this team that would pick up a headline if they were to be killed in a horrifying fashion—and the release of this first issue will test that theory. They are individuals established within Marvel Comics, but lacking in consistent characterization, which creates an opportunity to quickly (re)develop them for the story at hand. Rosenberg recognizes and takes full advantage of this by quickly distinguishing each individual using a blend of humor and action. Even a true nobody like Ampere offers readers a sense of who they are in only a handful of panels.

That rapidity with which Thunderbolts establishes its characters and premise is a key component in the reading experience. There’s not an ounce of wasted space to be found on the page as each the resolution of each current conflict is immediately preceded by another. There’s no problem that cannot grow larger and not a single moment of rest. It makes for a truly exciting read that—in spite of the apocalyptic dressing and brutal violence—is simply a lot of fun. It may be modeled on similar stories in comics and film, but the formula still works when given a new cast and an original approach to disposing of characters judged as disposable from page one.

Ferreyra brings the blockbuster scale of violence that readers should expect given the nature of this title. It has an announced premise and endpoint, and the first issue does not draw out the core attraction of that arrangement. Violence arrives unexpectedly with clear consequences. Unlike most Marvel fare, characters die and are left dead in this story. Ferreyra drops these moments with page turns and carefully paced panels making each twist a delight to discover. Readers invested in C-list villains and action-fueled superhero stories alike are bound to revel in his non-stop, “out of the frying pan, into the fire” delivery of ever-worsening scenarios. Much of the delight in his artwork is found in discovering those surprises, which makes it difficult to discuss in a review without spoilers, but be assured there are several panels from this issue that will stick with readers long after they turn the page.

It’s easy to approach superhero event tie-ins cynically, most of these publications earn that attitude and more. However, the quick cash grab represented by mediocre entries like King in Black: Planet of the Symbiotes don’t represent the potential that comes with any endeavor. It’s a potential that is seized and well utilized in King in Black: Thunderbolts #1. The premise may not be entirely original, but it’s well played with engaging takes on unfamiliar characters, fast-paced storytelling, and viscerally thrilling action sequences. Regardless of how “King in Black” plays out, the arrival of its Thunderbolts tie-in is something to be celebrated independently. If you’re a fan of Ostrander’s Suicide Squad or similar set ups, then you are bound to get a kick out of this.

Published by Marvel Comics

On January 13, 2021

Written by Matthew Rosenberg

Art by Juan Ferrerya

Colors by Juan Ferreyra

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Cover by Kyle Hotz and Dan Brown