"Thunderbolts" has always been a second tier title at best, even after a 12-issue run with Warren Ellis at the helm. The concept, however, has been more than strong enough to keep the title going despite the uncertain waters that saw the title cancelled for a short period some years ago. Christos Gage becomes only the fourth writer to regularly write the team after 122 issues, and comes from a good pedigree -- Gage recently penned several of the "Thunderbolts" one-shots that punctuated Ellis' era, so he's already well-integrated in the team's mythology.
This issue is the first to tie in (somewhat belatedly) with "Secret Invasion", and contains a different perspective on a scene from "Secret Invasion #1" where the man that no-one besides me is calling "Captain Marv-Skrull" breaks his way into Thunderbolts Mountain to take out those he considers villains. Before that happens, Gage somewhat smartly takes the opportunity to introduce the current status quo to readers by having Osborn and Moonstone evaluate the team as they fight Swarm, complete with power descriptions slotted into the dialogue. The character interplay is fantastic, nicely carrying Ellis' tone without feeling like an imitation, and with lines like "Why do you think we haven't been allowed to go after Daredevil or Luke Cage? Perhaps because we can't stop a Nazi made of bees without eating him?" Gage promises to keep Osborn as a source of demented humor.
The latter half of the issue deals more directly with Skrull plots -- it's not hard to guess how the unexpected, unexplained resurrection of Swordsman's sister fits in with "Secret Invasion", for example, though by playing it straight Gage does at least introduce an element of tension, even if the outcome seems pretty clear. Long-time "Thunderbolts" fans will undoubtedly be pleased that Gage gives Genis-Vell a brief momentary nod in the dialogue too.
Incoming penciller Fernando Blanco is the greenest member of the "Thunderbolts" creative team, but turns in some solid work for his debut issue of the title. While certain pages appear slightly rushed, his work is always serviceable and communicative, with one or two pages standing out as particularly enjoyable. It's likely his run on the title will be accepted without criticism, especially if he turns in some Venom material as good as the opening few pages with any kind of regularity.
Ellis' suddenly-announced departure may have left a few people concerned about the future of "Thunderbolts", but Gage's "Secret Invasion" fill-in suggests that the newly announced writer of Andy Diggle will still have a hard act to follow. For a title that's been plugging away as long as "Thunderbolts," it's promising to see the quality bar remains high even for a fill-in like this.