Jim Zub, Jon Malin, and Matt Yackey's Thunderbolts is one of the best comics to come out in recent years. There, I said it.
It's the truth. Here we have a comic that perfectly balanced character and action, perfectly understood the characters and the spirit of the team, and had some of the most endearing moments in recent memory. Every issue was a 8-10 on ratings scale, and it was easily one of my most anticipated comics to come out each month.
And then it abruptly stopped at the beginning of Secret Empire.
Curse you, Secret Empire. Must you take everything from me?
I mean what I said at the top of this article. This was one of the most perfect superhero comics to come out in the 2010s. It was such a precise blend of action, heart, and everything that makes Marvel one of the Big Two. It had lovable characters, interesting plots, great art, and it felt like the PG-13 spiritual successor to Gail Simone's legendary Secret Six run in the 2000s (unfortunately without the awesome sex-positivity that Simone's series had).
For the record, Secret Six is the only comic in which Bane is an acceptable character, and he is freaking awesome in it.
This series had an explosive start, opening with a scene I'll never forget: the Winter Soldier and his Thunderbolts beating the tar out of some S.H.I.E.L.D. Guardsmen stooges. This bit of fighting-the-power is something that surely pleased the discontented punk rocker in anyone who checked it out.
From there, the Thunderbolts took on aliens, the Inhumans, and the Squadron Supreme.
In between the awesome fights, we get to see Moonstone struggle under Bucky's relatively straight-edged leadership, the sweet big brother-little sister relationship between Buck and Kobik, and, course, Atlas and Mach X bonding over bro-time.
The issue that tied into Civil War II was, without a doubt, the best Civil War II-related content that was printed. Bucky, learning of Ulysses' vision about Miles Morales killing Steve Rogers, hunted down the young Spider-Man, attempting to capture him. This was amid flashbacks to Buck and Steve's partnership and Steve's death at the end of the first Civil War that could bring tears to even the most stone-hearted reader's eyes.
Buck almost catches Miles, but S.H.I.E.L.D. intervenes. The Soldier is sent off to a prison facility. The Thunderbolts, with the help of fellow founding member Songbird, break Bucky out, and Songbird joins the team.
Not long after, Baron Zemo and a decked-out Masters of Evil squad, made up of the Wrecking Crew, Tiger Shark, Absorbing Man, Man-killer, and some other bruisers, attack the Thunderbolts. This happens at the same time Jolt makes it back to Earth from Counter-Earth. She has a reunion with Atlas that is cut short by the Masters. The team is decimated by Zemo. Atlas, Fixer, and Moonstone would go on to join Zemo. Mach X appears to have died. Songbird runs away in the destination. Ghost, who had been spying on the team, makes off with Jolt. Bucky later seems to be killed by Zemo and Steve Rogers himself.
Writer Jim Zub clearly did his homework with this series. His love of the Thunderbolts seems to rival even my own. This man should be allowed to continue to bring his vision of the Thunderbolts to life. His short-lived series is easily among the best runs on the Thunderbolts, and this is a series that has had talents such as Warren Ellis, Rick Remender, Fabian Nicieza, and of course, Kurt Busiek.
A lot has been said about Jon Malin's artwork. Many have called it Rob Liefeld-esque. I can't say that's a bad assessment, and if you don't like it, I can't say anything to really change your mind. If art doesn't work for you, it doesn't work. However, I will say why it worked for me, despite the reminiscence of many a Liefeld nightmare (you killed Savage Hawkman, you monster).
To me, Jon Malin's artwork takes the Thunderbolts back to their '90s roots. While the 1990s were a rough time for comic books, the Thunderbolts were a genuine gem that emerged in that maelstrom of mediocrity. I don't think the series should shy away from its origins.
And Matt Yackey is a great partner for Malin. He brought paler yet bright colors to the mix that really seal the aesthetic. However, when the colors needed to be more dynamic, he was able to do that, too.
Was this just a rambling defense of one of my favorite comics in recent years? Yes, it was. But it's also about defending an overlooked gem of modern comics. It was a fantastic, fun, and heartfelt series that deserves more time to leave its mark. So keep hassling Marvel to bring it back, and if you take it to Twitter, use the hashtag #bringbackthebolts.
If you haven't checked out any Thunderbolts yet, you can grab Vol. 1 on Amazon and Comixology right now.