As Andy Diggle moves on to Daredevil, there’s a definite sense that his Thunderbolts run died before it really had a chance to live. This issue is a fill-in by Rick Remender which kills time before Jeff Parker takes over, and truth be told, it’s not a particularly promising vote of confidence for the series.
For a start, almost nothing of Diggle’s previous, climactic issue is referenced. Scourge’s identity is kept covered, even though it was shown at the end of the last issue. The Black Widow, unveilled by Osborn in the same scene, is nowhere to be found. The original team that Diggle had worked heavily into re-introducing his run are completely absent. Indeed, since it focuses more on Iron First and Luke Cage than the Thunderbolts, this fill-in feels like it should’ve been a one-shot that came out 6 months ago or as part of a different series entirely. As a Thunderbolts fan, it’s not what I want to read.
It might be more forgiveable if it was better – Remender has done great work on some of his other books, but his attempt at writing the Thunderbolts feels watered-down and generic – the personality that Diggle injected into the characters is missing, making them seem like generic supervillain thugs – which would be fine, were it not their name on the cover. Luke Cage and Iron Fist get some good moments, but characters like the Ghost, Mr. X and Headsman who came into their own under Diggle’s pen are almost unidentifiable here.
Artistically, the book also seems sub-standard. The rotating art teams on Thundebolts over the last few years have established an almost universally gritty, harsh look to the series, but Asrar’s work is much more traditionally superheroic, and it places the book almost at odds with its concept. Maybe this was an intentional move, given that the issue stars two superheroes, but it has the secondary effect of turning its dark, twisted regular cast members into the C-list campy villains they’d be if they turned up in a Spider-Man book. About the only material that works involves Ant-Man, and that’s because he never really fitted into the book’s new direction anyway.
Seeing the writer change so frequently on a book as fragile as Thunderbolts is always a worry for someone with my fondness for it. In truth, there’s no way of knowing if Parker’s run will be an overall improvement or not – but it’ll be hard to get much more disappointing than this.