By Andy Diggle (writer), Roberto De La Torre (artist), Frank Martin (colorist), Francesco Mattina (cover artist)

“You’re a warrior without a war,” Norman Osborn growls from the shadows to Russian secret agent Yelena Belova.  “But I can give you one. You see, I’m assembling a new covert assassination squad. Off the books…unlimited resources…no rules.” Although the means by which Osborn came to power are utterly ridiculous, I’ll be the first to admit he sure as hell knows what to do with it.

Since its release in 1997, Thunderbolts has been a series that takes pride in telling unconventional stories, but with this issue Diggle and crew have taken the team in a decidedly darker direction, one that’s darker than Ellis’s now infamous run in fact; and I am in complete support of that decision.  For now, Osborn’s team of assassins are a thoroughly wicked bunch of bastards, like the Dirty Dozen on crack.  They are Osborn’s shadow executioners, stalking the Marvel Universe with a grim determination to make sure that their master’s will gets done.  If Busiek’s original run on this title was about villains unknowingly fighting for redemption, and Ellis’s run was a political commentary on life after “Civil War,” Diggle’s interpretation of the team is pure nihilistic bliss, taking full advantage of Osborn’s new found power to tell tales of bad people behaving very badly.

Which brings up an interesting question: why aren’t there more comics about villains out there?  Why do companies feel they need to tell us safe stories about the heroes all the time?  Why can’t we cut loose and take delight in the dark side every now and then?  Thunderbolts now fully embraces this ideology, and I think that will make for some outstanding storytelling.

I should tell you about this issue specifically, shouldn’t I?  Well, Francesco Mattina’s covers are dark and unforgiving, and I hope Marvel releases them as posters as soon as possible.  Roberto De La Torre refuses to draw Osborn to look like Tommy Lee Jones, and for this I am grateful.  And Andy Diggle?  He has put this title in a choke hold and made it his own.  This is one of Marvel’s finest titles, and you’d be wise to give it a chance.

Grade: B+

-Tony Rakittke