The Avengers and X-Men’s Epic Battle is over. Scott went insane. Charley took the dirt nap. Hope and Wanda made everything better. So Now what?

Well, NOW is the time for Marvel to shuffle the deck and play a new hand. It’s relaunch city as The House of Ideas brings us 20-something new #1s with all-new creative teams over the next 5 months. What will the new 23 have in store for us Marvel Zombies? Well, be sure to check out this column each week as we dissect the first issue of every new title under the Marvel Now Banner. And I don’t mean Bruce Banner…..well except when the title has the Hulk in it….you get what I mean. So sit back and relax as we check out what’s new in the 616.

The Thunderbolts is a title that seems to have always had an identity crisis. If you go back to their debut in the mid-nineties, they were introduced as The Masters of Evil masquerading as heroes during the dark era where The Avengers and Fantastic Four were MIA. Then they liked being heroes so much that they started to act like heroes….until their true identities were revealed. They were on the run. But that’s just one incarnation. There’s also the version where they’re Marvel’s answer to the Suicide Squad. Norman Osborn leading a team that both Bullseye and Venom on it and they were trying to convince the world that they were the good guys. And lets not forget the short-lived Super Villain Fight Club. These are just a few of the versions of this book that I remember. Thunderbolts has always been a title with a loose affiliation with villains and few ground rules. So when it was revealed that Marvel Now would be releasing a new Thunderbolts book, I was surprised that it wasn’t going to be about villains per se. No, they really went out on a limb here by changing the concept from a group of villains being brought together to fight injustice to a group of anti-heroes coming together to fight injustice (please tell me you are reading the sarcasm intended with this statement). Not only would it be anti-heroes but this team would be lead by the General Thunderbolt Ross (aka Red Hulk) and feature loners like The Punisher and Elektra. It sounded like an idea doomed to fail. Then I heard who would be working on the book together: Daniel Way and Steve Dillon. Way and Dillon have collaborated in the past and the results for the most part have been more than entertaining. Mini series like Bullseye’s Greatest Hits and Nighthawk as well as the first arc on the ongoing title Wolverine Origins spring to mind. On top of that, Dillon has drawn some of the most iconic Punisher stories of the past 12 years. So I began to stop hating the idea of this book and withhold judgement on the first issue. Now after reading the issue in question, I can honestly say that my fears may be unfounded….or not. The vote still kind of out on this one.

The basic structure of the first issue is all about putting the line up together. And this is done in a very simple and somewhat effective way. The first few pages show Frank Castle chained to a pillar. There are dead bodies all around him. It’s not revealed whether he killed all these crooks or not because Frank the only one left…..he’s joined by a figure who remains in the shadows. He tells Punisher that there isn’t a whole lot of time as an army of crime families are on their way to take what they believe to be a helpless man. There’s no mention of how these mob guys know Punisher is there or how he came to be chained to this pillar. That’s really not important. What is important is that Punisher listen to what this man in the shadows has to offer. The man in question is, of course, General Ross and he has a proposition. He’s also got one for Venom…..and Deadpool……and Elecktra. Pretty much any anti-hero with possible military training, he’s talking to. Why? Because he wants to assemble a team to do what Punisher usually does on his own: Punish the Guilty to protect the Innocent. Turns out Ross and the Government have been keeping tabs on Frank. They like his style and they want to emulate it, utilizing the the abilities of the greatest assassins and soldiers on the planet. We see throughout the book how the others have decided to sign on. Now it’s up for Frank to decide if he wants to join. If he does, than he doesn’t have to face the Mob that’s coming….or does he?

While not the most original set up issue, Thunderbolts #1 served its purpose. We get introduced to the team and see that the focus of the book will squarely lay on the new business relationship between Punisher and Red Hulk. We also see the other teammates joining but we kind of already knew they would say yes. That’s why Way does the smart thing here and give the fans the story they want. Will Punisher join a team? It’s something that been thrown around for years and the answer has been 100% NO every time because he doesn’t fit with a group. But what if he was presented with a team whose objective is to do what he does on a larger level. Instead of taking out one street gang, you take out all the crime families on the eastern seaboard. Punisher’s more likely to listen if you actually speak his language. So General Ross is dangling this carrot in front of him and even though you’re pretty sure he’s gonna bite there’s this feeling that that might not be the case. Way plays the tension of the scene to its full effect. He also keeps the character voices pretty much in check. Ross is all business. Punisher sticks to an economy of language. Elektra does the same. Venom responds like a soldier talking with a superior officer. The only voice I found wrong is surprisingly the one that Way has had the most time with. Deadpool doesn’t seem like himself for the 2 pages we see him. But he is fighting mimes so that’s true to form. Regardless, the characters and the plot, although both are broken down to their most simplistic level, are spot on.

What’s really spot on for me is the artwork. I know that Dillon is not everyone’s cup of tea but for me, he is the quintessential Punisher artist. Since Punisher Max ended at the beginning of this year, I’ve really missed seeing Dillon’s rendition of Frank Castle. It was great to see it it here. Plus, it’s great to see how fun Dillon can make brutality look. He is a master at storytelling and his facial expressions are delightful. I especially love his use of deadpan. The simplicity of the story is conveyed beautifully by the simplicity of the artwork. And that is a compliment as that’s what you want with a team of killing machines like this one – no complex plot. Just right to the action.

If you are a fan of the Punisher and you were worried that this book might ruin him, your fears may be a bit relieved after reading the first issue. But that doesn’t mean we’re not out of the woods yet. This book could still go terribly, terribly wrong. If you are a fan of Punisher or Red Hulk, I suggest picking up Thunderbolts #1. For everybody else, while the story is told well, there really isn’t anything in here for you unless you’re a fan of these men. So take that in mind when you standing in front of the shelf trying to decide.

So this 1st Issue is done but there’s plenty more to come. Check back here in the coming week’s to find out which books are worth your time which are a waste of it.

And if you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!

Whoever these guys are shooting at are probably dead already.

Recent Marvel Now Reviews:

The Job Interview (My Review of Indestructible Hulk #1)

The 4 minute Substitutes (My Review of FF #1)

And There Came A Day (My Review of Avengers #1)