Written by Christos Gage
Art by Fernando Blanco
Wow, Christos Gage brought his A game for this issue of Thunderbolts. After some less than stellar Tbolt one-shots during Ellis' run, I was beginning to think Gage just didn't get these characters and wasn't expecting anything to come from his follow up to Ellis' critically acclaimed run.
I'm glad I gave him the benefit of the doubt and picked this issue up because it was an all around great issue and, while not as off the wall and over the top as Ellis' run was, Gage still manages to channel a lot of the humour and team dynamics (or is that team disfunctions?) that made Ellis' so great.
For instance, this issue kicks off with the team attempting to take down Swarm, an old "Bee"-list Spider-Man villain, and Gage really nailed Norman Osborn's character on the Zeus, specifically in regards to his conversation with Moonstone and random Gwen Stacy fetish jokes.
While not as off the wall and over the top as Ellis' run was, Gage still manages to channel a lot of the humour and team dynamics that made Ellis' so great.
Overall, this opening sequence was a great introduction for everyone on the team and for any readers late to the party or just picking this title up for the Secret Invasion tie-ins.
Speaking of Secret Invasion, Swordsman's "sister" mysteriously showed up this issue and Gage plays it like she was resurrected by Arnim Zola. Norman doesn't particularly like this because he was using Strucker's sister as leverage to keep him in line and under his thumb. If this wasn't labelled a Secret Invasion tie-in, I almost would have believed this mystery return as it was a plausible explanation. However, it is an SI tie-in and, at this point in time, I can't see any other conclusion other than her being a Skrull.
Finally, the last few pages of this issue are dedicated to retelling the Captain Marvel attack on Thunderbolts Mountain and next month should pick up with the Norman / Cap fight. One new detail from the fight was Songbird's mentioning of Genis and Skrull Captain Marvel confusing her mentioning of his son with Hulkling, which was another nice nod to past continuity on Gage's part, referencing the Young Avengers Presents - Hulkling issue, something we don't see too often these days.
While Gage managed to knock the characterization of the Ellis Thunderbolts out of the park, the same can't be said for Fernando Blanco's art when compared to Mike Deodato's. He didn't do a terrible job here, but it's clearly no where near Deodato's level and a drastic dip in quality when compared to the past year's worth of art.
Verdict - Must Read. If you dropped this with Ellis and Deodato's departure or were leary of Gage's work after his lackluster one-shots, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how well this issue turned out and this is also far more than a simple Secret Invasion tie-in or filler issue.