After looking through the comments and past the people who took umbrage with the fact that I admitted my favorite comic books series wasn't perfect, I got the feeling that many in the comments wanted me to talk about Fabian Nicieza, Kurt Busiek, and Tom Grummett's New Thunderbolts series from 2004.
That's fine, because, when I first started reading Thunderbolts, this was the era I started in. I started around Civil War, and this title had dropped the New from the title in favor of original numbering and the traditional Thunderbolts name. Zemo was back by this point, and he was rounding up any villain he could to join up with the team while working for the Registration Act and Iron Man.
When I started collecting the trades, I started with the New Thunderbolts, specifically Vol. 2: Modern Marvels. This was just a random choice really. I was a lot younger then and far less obsessed with reading everything in order. I'm willing to fudge that rule still from time to time.
Nicieza and Grummett's Thunderbolts are easily in my top three eras of the Thunderbolts. The other two, well we'll get to that in later installments.
The bigger team with a more scattershot membership is interesting. Radioactive Man is a natural fit for the lineup. Seeing Mach IV trying to work out as a leader while keeping his own secrets is compelling. Songbird, my all-time favorite Thunderbolt, trying to figure out her new identity is an enthralling character arc. Atlas is great. Blizzard is sympathetic. Speed Demon is a charming asshole. Genis-Vell is crazy and interesting. I just love all of it.
The villains, Baron Strucker, Purple Man, Atlantean terrorists, and, later, the freaking Grandmaster, are great. Swordsman plays an interesting role later on. Moonstone's return was dramatic and shocking.
Tom Grummett's artwork is very much in the vain of Mark Bagley's style, and, as a result, it fits the book so damn well. There is an old comic charm to it with some new comic sensibilities. The figures are striking, the faces are unique and expressive, the action is kinetic; it all just works so well. The only drawback is some of the side profiles of male characters, which can look a bit horrid and caveman-ish at times.
Chris Sotomayor's color work is fantastic and skips around the color wheel. It keeps the pages interesting and allow for them to really pop for the reader.
The story of the first volume of New Thunderbolts is as follows. Abner Jenkins, former Beetle and current Mach IV, is starting up the Thunderbolts once more to give other villains who want to make an attempt at a change the chance to do so. His first recruits are Atlas, Songbird, and Blizzard.
They're quickly called to action when Atlantean terrorists attack the World Trade Center. Genis-Vell (Captain Marvel/Legacy/Pulsar/Photon) shows up to lend a hand. Before he's offered a membership, Atlas has a breakdown and beats him nearly to death.
From the shadows, Baron Strucker and the Purple Man run separate schemes against them in the shadows, the latter being responsible for Atlas' attack on Genis.
When the Thunderbolts battle the Wrecking Crew next, they are joined by Speed Demon to help defeat the villains. He is their next recruit.
Matters worsen when Namor is attacked by the Game at the UN Embassy in New York. A bomb goes off which almost brings the building down. This brings Radioactive Man to the scene, as China and Atlantis have had strained relations of late. Atlas manages to hold the building up against all odds, while a new mysterious Swordsman begins tracking down Baron Strucker.
Wolverine is on Strucker's trail as well, and this leads to a showdown between the Swordsman and Wolverine. Purple Man has orchestrated this encounter between the three men.
With Joystick of the Game and Radioactive Man of China now working with the Thunderbolts, another Atlantean attack on New York occurs. The Thunderbolts respond. However, after that is over, the Strucker and Hydra make a move. The Thunderbolts respond to this threat as well, and Genis-Vell makes a return in a new form, calling himself Photon this time. The Thunderbolts win the day and make a name for themselves once more in the absence of the Avengers.
As luck would have it, I stumbled upon a trade called Tales from the Marvel Vault, which is a collection of Marvel stories that were never printed prior to their inclusion in this paperback.
Among these stories is an issue of Thunderbolts that Fabian Nicieza put together in case he and the creative team ever needed a month to breathe. It tells of what could have been with the character of Jack Monroe, AKA Nomad, and his attempts to make atonement for his actions as Scourge. He tracks down the people who knew the Thunderbolts before they were the Thunderbolts, and he sees how their lives were in contrast to how they are now. He ends up running across Rock Python, a former member of the Serpent Society, working as a security guard at a bank. He convinces the former villain to stay on the new path he's chosen instead of giving into the temptation of his old life. The issue ends with the implication that Monroe will continue this path across the U.S.
This was a neat little "what could have been" for Nomad, who was actually killed by the Winter Soldier in Ed Brubaker's Captain America not too long after this was originally written.
So yeah, Nicieza's Thunderbolts is actually what sparked my interest in the team originally. I loved everything about his run, and it sparked a love in me that has yet to die out. Give Nicieza and Grummett's New Thunderbolts a read if you ever see it in your local comic shop. It's fantastic and worthy of the mantra, "Justice…like lightning."
I'm not sure where to go next with this discussion. I could continue with New Thunderbolts, jump around to Jeff Parker's Luke Cage-led team, or I could go over Zub and Malin's new run. Let me know what you guys think in the comments! Until next time.