Thunderbolts (volume 1) #18 by Busiek / Bagley
Despite loving the concept and generally enjoying the modern day iterations of the series, it has taken me an insultingly long time to check out the series that started it all. Fondly remembered by most, I was lucky enough to find a handful of issues in a 50p bin at my local comic shop recently, this issue being one of my favourites.
Did it meet my lofty expectations? In short - pretty much yes. Kurt Busiek is a master of characterisation and that is where this issue, and indeed the series as a whole shines. Previously bland characters such as Goliath and the Beetle are given believable motivations and are made to be impressively likeable characters. Goliath (now calling himself Atlas) is characterised very believably given the characters history. Each character has a clear and well defined role in the team and a realistic reason for being there, something pleasing to see in the current age of teams being seemingly randomly thrown together.
Busiek manages to fit a lot of plot into the issue along with the character development, it is all fairly standard stuff but enjoyable enough. The status quo (or lack thereof) of the team is very refreshing. While the idea of the heroes being mistaken for villains has been around since the 1960s (Spider-Man the X-Men) the fact that the Thunderbolts were initially genuine villains (with many still unsure of where their loyalties lie) is a superb twist on a fairly tired idea. Jolt's presence as the teams moral compass is also an inspired move on Busiek's part.
That said, the story isn't perfect. Busiek's dialogue is not his strong point and his love for silver age comics is clear from his portrayal of the stories villains, who primarily come in the form of cackling ciphers. The Masters of Evil are still fun enough villains though and Busiek crafts a good fight sequence that stands as a good contrast to the stories quiet beginning.
Mark Bagley is on solid form, despite not quite matching the heights of his work on Spider-Man. His storytelling is solid and he is predictably adept at fight sequences. I think he works better on solo rather than team books but there are still few that I would rather have had drawing this issue.
Overall, on the strength of this issue The Thunderbolts probably deserves its reputation. A genuinely original concept, coupled with a solid plot and excellent characterisation. Not even some slightly iffy dialogue and hackneyed villains can drag this issue down. Recommended.