Thunderbolts #1 Review: Modern Spin on Classic Team Might Be Too Self Aware

In the latest chapter of "comic Marvel doesn't really know what to do with so it's being reinvented again," the Thunderbolts are back in print (fresh off the confirmation of a movie in 2024). After the events of Devil's Reign, the series, traditionally composed of villains or anti-heroes, has been reclaimed by the powers that be as a group of do-gooders and with a spin so modern that its self-awareness may lead to it bringing itself online like Skynet. While mostly new reader friendly, the new Thunderbolts seems like it's on one of two paths: making huge swings that can alter Marvel continuity for ages or being brushed under the rug without a second thought.

Writer Jim Zub pens the new series which puts together the likes of Hawkeye, America Chavez, Power Man (Victor Alvarez), and two new characters: Persuasion (one of the Purple Man's children) and Gutsen Glory (a throwback to 90s excess in all of the best ways). After Mayor Fisk made the Thunderbolts into his own private police, newly elected NYC Mayor Luke Cage is reclaiming the name with his own team assembled by a delicate algorithm and the marketability of the heroes chosen. This is where the series is perhaps its most interesting, satirizing the modern desperation by entertainment companies (and let's face it, almost all others) in seeking computer generated solutions to problems they can't quite define. Thunderbolts #1 digging into this silliness delivers some of its best material, and makes it ripe for some fun riffs in the future.

Since this is a new series' debut it primarily provides a catch-up for new readers and a status-quo check for those returning to these characters, but as a result we don't actually get to know very much about the team members that are making their debut in the Marvel Universe. Gutsen Glory seems like it could be something fun, and perhaps a larger commentary on reboot culture with regard to algorithm abuse, but his presence as a unique tech-savy hero with a hidden secret, is about all we get. Even the marketing professionals that have put together this new Thunderbolts don't feel like they have an actual presence, they're just present to move the pieces into place. 

Sean Izaakse provides interior artwork for the issue with colors by Java Tartaglia and the pair mostly do good work. The larger action beats—pitting the new Thunderbolts against the Thunderbolts they're replacing—offer room for meticulous detail that flesh out all of these characters in fun and recognizable ways. Some unique panel work also makes sure to introduce the new characters in ways that make their arrival in the Marvel Universe somewhat memorable. 

A striking visual drag on the issue, whether it be an inking problem or a coloring one is unclear, is the contestant silhouettization of figures, items, and parts of character's bodies. Be it a gun on someone's back that is shaded entirely black for no clear reason, or a person running off panel that is just a blob, it happens throughout the comic and is genuinely hard to look at. One instance of this, seemingly done to portray shadows on Luke Cage's head only highlights his ear on the side of his face to laughable effect; another shows a character with black hair standing in front of a shadowy wall with no distinction of where their head ends and the wall begins.

Thunderbolts #1 is a pretty extreme swing for the fences in terms of Marvel's narrative. While lambasting corporate overlords (even its own) the world over, the series' interest in being a satire of modern business convenience seems like it's going to get lost after setting up the team in this first issue. There are moments where the new series shows visual promise, the action beats in particular are fun, but overall there's an inconsistent quality to the world that sometimes makes this hard to read and interpret. Like nearly every other attempt at rebooting Thunderbolts, there's a kernel of a good idea here, but it seems to be the latest in a lineage of "Marvel has no clear idea what they want the Thunderbolts to be, but it's still time to try again."

Published by Marvel Comics

On August 31, 2022

Written by Jim Zub

Art by Sean Izaakse

Colors by Java Tartaglia

Letters by Joe Sabino

Cover by David Nakayama