Review by François Peneaud
An all-new status quo is set up in this third collection of the 1990s Thunderbolts. After a period of posing as heroes to further the world-domination goals of their leader Zemo, the former villains are on the side of the angels — at least, most of them are, on the surface. Complications arise from the fact that both authorities and criminals are after them. Their main chance at succeeding in turning their lives around is a newcomer, in the person of Hawkeye.
Writer Kurt Busiek has made good use of the long and complex history of the Marvel universe right from the start of the series, and using the archer who began as a villain before joining the Avengers made a lot of sense. Hawkeye wants to help the Thunderbolts remain on the right side of the law and offers to lead them, but that offer comes at a cost: the one known murderer on the team must willingly go to jail (there’s another, recent murderer, but Hawkeye is unaware of that). Yet another moral dilemma, by now a characteristic of this series.
Hawkeye’s arrival changes the dynamic of the group by providing a (somewhat stained) moral compass, but the grey morality that made the characters enjoyable from the start remains in place, albeit with a different contrast. Whereas the reference used to be the incontrovertible evil of Zemo, it is now the seemingly plain rectitude of Hawkeye. The reader now feels as if he were looking at the Thunderbolts through another facet of the same prism, a smart choice from the creators.
The would-be heroes face a number of old and new foes, clashing again with Zemo, still plotting against them, as well as meeting Graviton (an extremely powerful gravity-controlling madman) and a group of fascists offering simple solutions to complex problems to a small town. They also face the consequences of their past deeds, as Hercules, once badly beaten-up by Atlas, comes for a rematch — and let’s not forget a crossover with the Avengers, then written by Busiek, which enables Hawkeye to clearly state his current priorities.
Depending on the reader’s aesthetic preferences, George Pérez’s art on the Avengers issue will show Thunderbolts artist Mark Bagley’s shortcomings, or Bagley’s very 1990s verve will make Pérez’s detailed art somewhat old-fashioned.
With this third collection (reprinted in 2016), Marvel stopped reprinting the Thunderbolts series. Readers would have to wait until 2016 for a continuation, bewilderingly retitled and renumbered as Hawkeye and The Thunderbolts vol. 1.