When it debuted in the 1990s the Thunderbolts was Marvel's most successful super-team launch in years. A first issue with a genuinely surprising twist - the brand-new heroes were actually the Masters of Evil - provided a big boost in interest and careful characterisation amid twisty-turns plots saw things sizzling for years. It was fascinating to see most of the villains, bit by bit, decide that, actually, they might rather like to be heroes. But the first couple of creative teams left and desperate changes of direction failed to catch on.
Now the series is back, with a team comprising mostly original members. There's no Songbird as she's on an Avengers team, while appealing point-of-view character Jolt is, so far as I know, still living on Counter-Earth. And original organiser Citizen V is back being Baron Zemo. To make up the numbers, we have Winter Soldier Bucky as leader and Cosmic Cube kid Kobik - a refugee from the Assault on Pleasant Hill event - as mascot cum wildcard WMD.
Bucky has enlisted Moonstone, Atlas, Fixer and Mach X to help him protect the planet, his Man on the Wall mission to be Earth's first line of defence from alien threats still being active. They owe a debt to him for freeing them from Pleasant Hill, where SHIELD had wiped out their identities. This debut story sees the team follow information gathered by Fixer to Georgia, where they find a vault containing dozens of mysterious pods. The Thunderbolts reckon they aren't Inhuman cocoons, but what are they? Before they can look inside one, an argument breaks out between two team members, with dire consequences...
... which makes me happy - what's a Thunderbolts #1 without a killer ending? And while what happens here isn't quite up there with the surprise delivered in 1997 by Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley, it's certainly enough to bring me back next time. Of course, when you have a Cosmic Cube Kid around, anything can be undone, so writer Jim Zub has to defy our expectations. Oh, I do like a 'now get out of that'.
Zub does a fine job of re-introducing everybody, with the old relationships intact. No one seems to have suffered from the recent mind-mangling, which is fair enough given there was no brainwashing via mental torture - Cosmic Cube effects are basically magic. And I'd hate to see Moonstone as anything other than the untrustworthy biddy she's always been - I hope to see her trying to manipulate Kobik, talk about playing with fire.
Given that familiarity means the four originals already work well as a unit, there's no real need to have Bucky around as wrangler, the position Hawkeye once needed to fill; I'd love to see him go off with Kobik, they could be a Marvel Lone Wolf and Cub(e). It's not that he isn't a nice guy to have around, but he can hardly be fulfilling his Man on the Wall remit while grounded on Earth - send him back to the Moon or wherever, with the useful, yet mercurial, Kobik at his side.
(To be honest, I've no use for Bucky until he gets a haircut...)
Artist Jon Malin's work is likeable despite a few problems. Characters' eyes are mostly dead, while bodies are over-idealised even for superhero books - shirtless Atlas looks like a side of beef gone wrong, while Moonstone is a tad brokeback. But there are some very effective individual images, and I think Malin might quickly grow as a creator.
Overall, Thunderbolts #1 is an enjoyably old school comic. If Zub can get some classic Thunderbolts/Suicide Squad-style intrigue going, bring in the old redemption theme and Malin dials back the god-bodies, this could become a great series. Just one creative Jolt could do the trick.