20 Years of Justice…Like Lightning

Prologue: Like Lightning

Kurt Busiek (W), Mark Bagley (P), Scott Hanna (I), Matt Yackey (CA)

Return of the Masters Part 1: Bonds Unbroken

Jim Zub (W), Jon Malin (A), Matt Yackey (CA)

Cover by Jon Malin and Matt Yackey

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Price: $4.99

          My older brother read the Thunderbolts when I was younger. I never looked at his comics, but I do remember it was the era when Hawkeye was leading the team. The premise of reformed villains trying to do some good immediately stood out to me, and Hawkeye looked like such a cool character.

I read mainly the Marvel Age, Marvel Adventures, and Justice League: Unlimited comics at first. When I came of age, I began reading some Marvel Masterworks, namely Silver Surfer, the Avengers, and Giant-Sized X-Men, all of which belonged to my dad. When I started reading new mainstream Marvel comics, it was during the original Civil War event. I was obsessed with Spider-Man at the time, and mainly read the Amazing Spider-Man, though I did dabble in Wolverine, the Incredible Hulk, Ghost Rider, and Punisher: War Zone. It was at this time that I first picked up a Thunderbolts comic. It was a Civil War tie-in, and it detailed how Baron Zemo and the Thunderbolts became enlisted by Iron Man to help hunt down unregistered super heroes. For reasons I can’t remember, I chose not to add Thunderbolts to my pull list at this time. That’s a shame, because the story which followed this Civil War tie-in, Guardian Protocol, is one of my favorite Thunderbolts stories.

I did not read Thunderbolts at all during the Warren Ellis/Rick Remender era when Norman Osborn was leading the team, and I stayed away when he made a new team led by Scourge when Osborn became the Iron Patriot. I now own all of these stories in trade paperback form.

I picked up a few issues when Luke Cage became the new leader of the Thunderbolts and Jeff Parker was writing the book. For some reason, I still didn’t want to subscribe to the book. The only justification that I can remember was that I was getting two Avengers books, neither of which I wanted to drop, and the New 52 kicked off, which led to me finally reading mainstream DC Comics. I now own the vast majority of this run in trade paperback as well, and it is my favorite era of the Thunderbolts (though Jim Zub’s work is now in competition with it).

I read Thunderbolts steadily during the Charles Soule/Red Hulk era. However, I fell out of love with it around the Annual. I do intend to the collect the rest of that series, but I don’t regret dropping it from my pull list.

At this moment, about half of my collection of trade paperbacks have the name Thunderbolts on the spine. I love this team so much. I love the different lineups of B-list villains. I love that it’s been led by people like Baron Zemo, Hawkeye, Luke Cage, and the Winter Soldier, all of which are among my favorite Marvel characters. I love Songbird, Mach X, Moonstone, Atlas, Fixer, Jolt, Blizzard, Speed Demon, Boomerang, Green Goblin, Swordsman, Scourge, Ghost, Venom, Crossbones, Paladin, Man-Thing, Satanna, the Juggernaut, Radioactive Man, Mr. Hyde, Troll, Penance, Shocker, Red Hulk, Punisher, Ghost Rider, Genis-Vell, Bullseye, and almost everyone who has ever been a part of the Thunderbolts.

Needless to say, this is an exciting 20th anniversary for me. The fact that they brought back Kurt Busiek, Mark Bagley, and Scott Hanna for the prologue made me so excited.

The story begins with a streak of light with a silhouette of a person inside shooting across space and towards Earth. We see Atlas standing outside the Arctic headquarters of the Thunderbolts. His inner monologue lets us know that he is unhappy and discontent. He remembers Jolt and how good she was at pulling him out of bad moods. He pulls out his phone, gets a random call, and suddenly a Masters of Evil lineup consisting of the Wrecking Crew, Tiger Shark, Whiplash, the Klaw, and Man-Killer come through a portal. They used the phone signal to find the location of the Thunderbolts.

Atlas attempts to fight them off as best as he can. The numbers and power of this Masters ensemble eventually overwhelm him, and it looks like it might be the end of Erik Josten. Suddenly, a lightning bolt hits the brawl, and we see none other than Helen Takahama aka Jolt standing in the dust. She streaks off with Atlas, leaving the Masters of Evil behind.

Jolt explains to Erik her recent adventures on Counter-Earth and how the Young Allies helped her get home. Erik thinks he’s hallucinating and passes out.

Back with the Masters, Baron Helmut Zemo himself steps through a portal to join his merry band of rogues. Man-Killer explains to him what happened with Atlas, and they turn their attention towards the base itself.

The main story by Zub and Malin starts in the next scene, and Moonstone is seen brooding. Songbird and Mach X are debating over how to go about a supply run. Moonstone meets up with Fixer, and she details a gap in her memory. She immediately puts it on Kobik. Fixer decides to investigate for her.

Next, we see Bucky going through his own struggles. He thinks of Steve Rogers and Black Widow. He gets a text message from Atlas and becomes angry that Erik was that reckless. He goes outside and is ambushed by Bulldozer. The rest of the Masters follow.

Moonstone and Fixer confront Kobik about their missing memories. Songbird and Mach X intervene, and the power to the base goes out. When the lights come back on, Baron Zemo is before them. Kobik becomes hostile, and Zemo contains her in some kind of energy field.

Zemo then makes an offer to the Thunderbolts. He wants them to join him once more. During this sales pitch, we see Bucky fighting for his life against the Masters of Evil. Before the Thunderbolts have a chance to answer Zemo’s offer, the Masters of Evil appear with a beaten and bloody Bucky in tow.

Songbird resists and shatters the device holding Kobik. The child sees the wounded Bucky and leaves with him. Songbird frees Mach X, and the two flee further into the base to retrieve his armor. Fixer and Moonstone are left with the Masters and Zemo. They agree to help them.

Next, we see Bucky waking up to find himself in his old World War II uniform, looking far younger, and presumably in the World War II era itself.

I absolutely adored this comic book. It was steeped in Thunderbolts history. The story was action-packed, intense, and so exciting. Every bit of it was enjoyable, and I couldn’t get enough.

The opening story with Busiek, Bagley, and Hanna was cool, and it was awesome to once more see Atlas and Jolt drawn in Bagley’s unique style. The fight between Atlas and the Masters was really cool and creative. They didn’t simply stick to the giant guy bunching down into the crowd format.

This new story arc with Zemo laying siege to the Thunderbolts with a badass Masters of Evil lineup looks like it’s going to be so very awesome. This issue alone had me on the edge of my seat and grinning ear-to-ear.

Malin, as always, delivers with his 90’s-esque style. The main story looked awesome and the fight scenes were so cool. There was one in particular where Bucky was repeatedly stabbing Tiger Shark in the back that looked great.

I did notice that Thunderball, the Wrecking Crew member who was recently with the Hood’s Illuminati and seemed to be on the path to reform, was in the prologue but not the main story. I know that’s a weird and small detail to notice, but it did stick out to me due to my love of the B-List villains. It would make sense that the old Thunderbolts creative team may not be privy to the current goings-on of the Wrecking Crew where Zub and Malin might be. However, it’s a really minute detail and wouldn’t distract most people.

This is probably my favorite comic being published at the moment. The Ultimates and Power Man and Iron Fist do give it a run for its money, but this comic is often the one that gets me most excited every month. I can’t recommend it enough, and this issue works as a perfect jumping-on point for the future of the series.

Final Score: 10/10

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