If you want to enjoy Thunderbolts #1 at all, do not read Greg Rucka's Punisher War Zone #2 immediately before it. All you will see is reasons why this revamp of Marvel's bad-guys-doing-good book doesn't work.
It makes sense on the surface – Marvel wants to figure out how to make the Punisher more involved with the rest of the Marvel Universe in order to maximize profits from the franchise he represents. Sure, previous attempts have been ludicrously bad, what with having Frank Castle murder villains in front of a room full of superheroes like an idiot in Civil War, or dressing up like a Punisher-Cap goof in the aftermath of Steve Rogers' death, but eventually, they have to hit the mark, right?
This ain't it.
By all rights, I should love this book. I'm a fan of Red Hulk, the new Venom, Punisher and Deadpool, plus, Daniel Way has even included an obscure Hulk pseudo-villain named Mercy in the lineup. I've also very much enjoyed the craziness Jeff Parker had been spinning out both with the prior run of Thunderbolts (which has since transformed into Dark Avengers) as well as Red Hulk (which is now Red She-Hulk). I love the concept of bad guys trying to ride that line between good and evil, and the idea of Thunderbolt Ross leading a team of jerk-killers should make me very happy.
Mitigating those factors, however, is the fact that I found Way's long run on Deadpool off-putting and uninteresting. Also, while I was relatively fine with Steve Dillon's artwork on Preacher, it has become tiresome to see that one face he draws on everybody. The writing here feels a bit limp, and Dillon is as Dillon does. Then, there's the fact that Greg Rucka has done such an amazing job with Punisher that this version of him seems like a crappy photocopy of the real Frank Castle we've seen there, and he's definitely not the one we get in Punisher War Zone #2 this week. THAT guy is such a tactically-brilliant lone wolf that he can spend a month avoiding the world's most competent superspy in Black Widow, and even when she finds him, he can still elude her with clever tactics. THIS guy has been captured and chained to a post by an old retired general with nowhere near Natasha Romanov's resources, and is browbeating him into accepting a superteam gig by stacking up criminal assholes waiting outside for the chance to murder him.
Right off the bat, we're getting a neutered, lame, pathetic version of the Punisher. Then, we've got Ross revealing himself to everybody as alive, when the whole crux of Parker's Red Hulk saga was that if he ever showed his real face again, he'd be destroying his own legacy. The world thought he died a hero and did not know that he was the Red Hulk who tried to take over America in a poorly-conceived coup after working with The Intelligencia. Yes, this is likely some kind of top-secret black ops team he's putting together, but it still seems shaky. Then, the notion that Ross is becoming a hands-on mass murderer now, enabling a whole crew of other mass murderers like Deadpool, Elektra and the Punisher, feels like a line is being casually crossed. Ross DID kill Emil Blonsky point blank as the Red Hulk, but Blonsky's the guy who killed his daughter (who is now alive again). I suppose being a general in the United States military means his hands have plenty of blood on them, but I'm not sure if I'm sold on the Red Hulk just being The Hulk Who Murders People.
Guess I'll have to be if I'm going to try to enjoy this new Thunderbolts. It's easy to buy, considering all the big names on the team, but it's hard to buy any of their reasons for being on that team in the first place.