Written by Andy Diggle
Art by Roberto De La Torro
While the opening two issues of Diggle's run on Thunderbolts were more or less just treading water and wrapping up Ellis-related plotlines, he truly makes the book his own with this issue. Where Bendis seems to be aping Ellis' style for the Dark Avengers, it looks like Diggle isn't content to just follow what came before and he's taken the book in a similar, but unique direction with his first issue into the Dark Reign era and I'm thoroughly impressed with what I see so far.
Where Dark Avengers #1 simply went through the passes of introducing each character on the team, one by one, Diggle goes with the slow burn approach and is gradually introducing the new members of his team, starting with Yelena Belova, the third Black Widow who supposedly died in the Savage Land in the opening New Avengers arc.
The flashback to her recruitment was quite impressive and De La Torro did an excellent job illustrating one scene where Belova disarms and kills two guards. It had a very cinematic look about it, yet maintained comic book-like feel. Osborn has set up Belova as his new team leader for this covert Thunderbolts team and her death is retconned as merely her faking her death. I honestly thought they would have just made that other Belova a Skrull, but I didn't feel cheated by the explanation we got either.
The other members introduced this issue were Ant-Man and Ghost, the latter of which shows up briefly and had a better introduction over in Dark Avengers than here, but I imagine we'll learn more in future issues.
One aspect that impressed me was the seamless guest appearance of the newly elected President Obama. It doesn't feel like a cheap publicity stunt like it did in the recent Amazing Spider-Man issue and it worked extremely well. My only complaint is that with how advanced the government's funding is for things like SHIELD and HAMMER, they have the president flying on a regular Air Force One plane when everyone and their mother in the Marvel Universe seems to have their own Blackbirds with cloaking and various other features. Not something I dwelled on, but odd to see, nonetheless.
Finally, the best part of this issue is the appearance of Leonard Samson, who's advising the president against Norman Osborn and even has tapes of his Moment of the Year worthy rampage at Thunderbolt Mountain in last year's Caged Angels arc. Diggle nails Osborn and Samson's dialogue perfectly and it's one of the best scenes I've read this year. Osborn knows Samson has him and uses his new Thunderbolts to manipulate the situation to frame Samson and the political maneuvering of each character as they try to one up each other is handled well.
Verdict - Must Read. Dark Reign seems to be doing everything right coming out of Secret Invasion and it's been a while since I've been this impressed with the direction of the Marvel Universe outside of their cosmic line or Captain America.