Can you believe it’s been 20 years since Kurt Busiek’s masquerading Masters of Evil pulled off their Mark Bagley-drawn masks for the ultimate last-page shocker in the very first issue of Thunderbolts? The innovating creators return with a bonus 10-page prologue in Jim Zub and Jon Malin’s Thunderbolts #10. Is it good?
Thunderbolts #10 (Marvel Comics)
Poor Atlas. He gets itchy when he’s left to himself. Gets him into trouble. Like, blast from the past, here come those bad influences from high school back to get you drunk in the cemetery again kind of trouble. But it’s not all terrible! Remember that girl who made your whole body tingle with electricity? She’s there, too.
Too bad some of your old friends are more susceptible to backsliding. A return to delinquency’s a lot easier when the new, straight-laced leader of your group skips out and reverts to a former form himself. (Wait, is Kobik a case of Busch Light in this analogy? I know it’s spoken to me before.)
Is It Good?
The band is back together, in more ways than one. Thunderbolts #10 opens with a 10-page prologue by original series creators Busiek and Bagley, one that pops Baron Zemo and a reconstituted Masters of Evil back on the scene in a big way. The brazen bad guys have taken advantage of a plot point set up by current writer Zub, and Atlas tries his best to thwart them with classic Bronze Age power feats. It’s a pleasant reminder of a slightly bygone style that will make any fan of the original volume smile, and it’s the best Bagley’s recently flagging art has looked in ages.
Zub’s subsequent main story is definitely different stylistically, but it continues to capture the core of the characters, albeit in a more modern sensibility. Zemo in particular is as manipulative and persuasive as ever, capitalizing on a rift in the Thunderbolts team and dangling sentimentality to get them to bite his lure. Kobik’s quick fix establishes a cliffhanger the follow-up to which is hard to predict, as it should be.
Malin’s facial expressions continue to improve as he tries to transcend the (unfair?) characterization of being just a ’90s tribute artist. Kobik’s emotion feels real as she switches from petulant when the Masters arrive to shocked and concerned when she sees what they’ve done to Bucky. There’s great characterization in the looks shot by Moonstone and Fixer during Zemo’s speech, something that not all artists could accomplish back in the day. Colorist Matt Yackey does a fine job tying the whole book together, deftly making the more monochromatic Kobik stand out from the bright bombast of the returning villains.
Thunderbolts #10 is maybe the best issue yet by Zub and Malin, even if their story is a little overshadowed by a well-tuned aside from the guys who made it all possible. This is not the huge, tribute-to-all-history anniversary issue that you might be expecting, though. It does, however, highlight the conflicting feelings of these characters as they wonder who they can trust and how they should go, which, given the past 20 years of Thunderbolts history, may be tribute enough.