tb132This comic mentions the Green Goblin by name (and has him on the cover!), and one main character debuted in Untold Tales of Spider-Man … so the review is on topic. Stop looking at me like that!

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WRITER: Andy Diggle
ARTIST: Roberto De La Torre
COLORISTS: Frank Martin
LETTERER: Albert Deschense

At the Thunderbolts’ prison hideaway, Yelena Belova, AKA Black Widow II, camera-spies on her subordinates. Eric O’Grady, Paladin, and Headsman (these guys need real names) dine and gossip about the reclusive and paranoid Ghost. Headsman brings Ghost some leftovers and asks him what he meant, in an earlier fight, when he said he saved Headsman before. Ghost claims he triple-checked the team’s gear for their first mission, in which Headsman impersonated the Green Goblin, and found a faulty gravity-grip which, unfixed, would have killed Headsman. Headsman considers that Osborn wanted him to die wearing the Goblin suit. Ghost then tells Yelena that he looped a C.G.I. construct into her video feed of his quarters, and if Osborn tries to have him spied on again he’ll stop his heart in his sleep.

The gang flies to Madripoor, where Mister X, their next target, attends a ballet with Tyger Tiger, the nation’s ruler. Mister X is a bloodsport champion featured in a some Wolverine issues from 2001, who psychically predicts his adversaries’ moves. Black Widow and Paladin sneak in as dancers while Ant-Man and Headsman teleport in stun guns, which kicks off the fight. As soon as everyone but Mister X and the Thunderbolts evacuate, X drops his act and exits with the Thunderbolts, leaving behind a dead body double so he can join them with impunity. They faked the whole event to gain a formidable fighter looking to murder some satisfying opponents.

After the tonally anomalous “Magnum Opus,” I worried I’d never take this team seriously again. Those fears proved unwarranted, thankfully, because Andy Diggle and Roberto De La Torre packed Thunderbolts #132 with every element needed to put the series back on course.

First, characters other than Black Widow finally develop, sometimes intricately, especially regarding the relationship between the quirky Ghost and the surprisingly likable Headsman. I missed the latter’s only non-Thunderbolts appearances in Untold Tales of Spider-Man, but here Diggle compellingly interprets him as a highly insecure man searching for approval and desperate to feel needed. Based on how he continually mentions his usefulness “to have around,” I conjecture that he joined the Thunderbolts for validation more than anything. The one teammate he’s connected with, possibly as a fellow outcast, disillusioned him regarding Osborn’s “use” for him, though Ghost didn’t have to do much convincing. Headsman is naive, but not dim; he can see the implications of what’s laid before him. And for a dude who dresses as an executioner and murders strangers for money, Diggle puts real warmth in his dialogue.

Ghost himself may be the run’s breakout character. He’s creepy, funny, perceptive and capable. More importantly, he has his eye on the big picture. He has an agenda, and that should make him interesting to watch.

Diggle and De La Torre also resharpen the team’s post-“Magnum Opus” edge by adding Mister X to the roster. This guy is supposedly so hardcore that he’s “killed more people than old age” and gets his rocks off from doing it. I hope this means Thunderbolts will have a body count again, to the lack of which this issue actually calls attention, but so far it’s all talk. Still, I have to congratulate De La Torre for pulling off a staged fight in tutus without letting the intrinsic humor overwhelm the action’s intensity. Unlike the Deadpool crossover, this single issue story keeps Thunderbolts fittingly gritty and clandestine.

“So where’s the Widow? I was looking forward to watching her eat. What? Sometimes I like to watch a woman eat! What’s wrong with that?!”

4 webheads out of 5. The best issue with the new roster so far–dense by contemporary standards and evenly balancing characterization and action.


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