Thunderbolts #159

A comic review article by: Jamil Scalese
In the aftermath of a giant mallet destroying the Raft, the home team has a whole mess of trouble to deal with. The villains are scurrying off the island like rats and it is up to the Thunderbolts and Underbolts to not only track them down but also save the prisoners trapped under the rubble. In a smart move, Marvel doubled the page count of this issue with four stories all examining a different perspective of the significant disaster related to the current tie-in event.

SPOLER ALERT: The Raft getting trashed will be the justification for the return of low to mid ranking bad-guys for years to come.

The four stories showcase the long arm of Thunderbolts and the built-in ability to reach into just about subsection of Marvel’s diverse library. Only the Avengers brand is better at it. Then again, there are stories about the villains of the Avengers… and Boomerang.



"Underbolts
by Jeff Parker & Declan Shalvey



First, the negatives: only twelve pages and no Kev Walker on pencils.

Shalvey is talented and beyond suitable. His style resembles Walker, and his art continues the high standard set in the past year. Shalvey has worked on this title as recently as two issues ago, so he’s familiar with the characters.

The dozen pages were simply some of the best of Jeff Parker’s Thunderbolts. Last issue’s Fear Itself tie-in dealt with the immediate aftermath of Juggernaught snatching up the god-hammer, and this edition primarily follows the beta team as they plan their escape from forced service and incarceration. The energy of the Underbolts rogues on their mission is undeniable. Shocker, Boomerang, Centurious and Mr. Hyde compliment each other in the ugliest way possible. Parker’s use of humor and banter gives the highly sensational world of superhuman a common man feel, and I can not get enough of it.

This is a book where anything can happen. There is no status quo in Thunderbolts except to surprise the fuck out of you. Keep the double issues coming, but make it all Jeff Parker!



"Group Therapy"
by Joe Caramagna & Valentine de Landro



Oh Moonstone, such a conflicted character. An evil psychiatrist? Aren’t they supposed to be nice people? She has a supervillain career facing the Hulk and Cap… Well, she sucked at that, so now she’s a good guy. However, she’s mean and doesn’t seem real invested in heroism.

(If you’re like a huge Moonstone fan, and/or think I’m wrong, please contact me and tell me why.)

While she hits the girls in the orange jumpsuits with some snappy retorts, Moonstone also portrays courage and concern for others before herself. In contrast, Parker has portrayed her as a catty bitch that doesn’t have much going on for her outside a powered rock (cake topper: Satana wears her costume better). However, trying to tell an optimistic story wasn’t the downfall. The unsubtle dialogue was the major problem for me in this story

Joe Caramagna is a longtime letterer, and unfortunately he picked up on all the tired formulas of villain/hero dialogue. Moonstone is a little too righteous and the bad girl -- a power dampener named Indali -- is simplistically foul. It’s not all bad, but overall I thought a story about female super villains could have more excitement and bravado.

The art side was a great effort by Valentine de Landro. His clean and hard pencils gave the story a very serious tone. Some panels were confusing, and in some action scenes I’m not sure what happens. The storytelling aspect was a little edgy on the detail, and overall it might have affected the story.


The Ghost & Mr. Walker
by Jen Van Meter & Eric Canete



Ghost, a throwaway Iron Man villain, has increased had his likeability increased exponentially during his tenure with the Thunderbolts. An idealistic phantom -- a nobody who can pass through walls -- Parker has given Ghost some amusing and poignant moments while not forgetting he’s a weird tech geek who deliberately detached himself from the world. Also familiar with the nature of change is John Walker, the former U.S. Agent. Bound to a wheelchair, his new job is warden of the most ridiculous jail floating in the New York harbor.

Van Meter pairs the odd couple up as the rush to save other inmates of the Raft. The basically anarchist Ghost narrates his view on Walker, a man who heads the idea of institution in its most concentrated form -- a prison in America. The exchanges between the warden and his inmate/guard perfectly reflect the militaristic attitude of the current core Thunderbolts story. Ghost being portrayed like the geek he is, just blabbering status reports, was also a nice touch. I applaud this story for featuring two of the core themes of the title -- redemption and public perception -- without getting too grave about it.

On a down note, Eric Canete’s art is eccentric -- even erratic -- in places. In addition, the coloring by Fabio d’Auria is hit and miss. Some spots, like Ghost and his milky aura, are well done, but others vary between oily and bland. All together, the collaboration gives a feeling that isn’t in the vein of the current main series in terms of visuals. All of the other artists in this book have similar gritty and realistic style while Canete’s pencils are a little too “Spider-Man” whimsical for me. Characters are not consistently drawn, with limbs and body parts changing sizes or shape panel to panel, and overall the story suffers.

Still, it’s a very readable story about two characters that probably aren’t on anyone’s list for most pivotal. Van Meter nails the mood and demeanor of both Ghost and John Walker, and manages to give scope to two men who have changed their outlooks since the beginning of their Thunderbolts affiliations.



"Double Cross"
by Frank Tieri & Matthew Southworth



What has Crossbones been up to? Followers of Thunderbolts know that the Red Skull protégé was dismissed from the team after getting too liberal with the freedoms of the job. Being a cop-killing Nazi-associate dickhead will do that.

Tieri gives us a glimpse into the mind of Crossbones and his situation at the time of Juggy’s destruction of the Raft. We find him in the weight room dealing with some other inmates who think he’s soft for his joining a major superhero team. Crossbones is saved by Man Mountain Mario, the apparent cousin of Marko, and later tries to escape the floating prison with the assist of the aforementioned inmates and a sharp rock.

Frank Tieri always does very well with gritty, dark characters and his ability shines in "Double Cross." Nothing here shocked me, but I was smiling by the end of this because of how deliciously evil the conclusion was. Parker has promised Crossbones would be showing his face again in the title, and I’m not sure if this is the actual return of rouge teammate or the prelude to it. Either way, the choice to feature the (kinda) assassin of Captain America in one of these backup stories is clever and entertaining.

Matthew Southworth's art takes a solid script and makes it a gorgeous read. The emotion of the faces of the character and the color work evoke the dark, seedy mood Tieri was going for. Southworth provides some of the best art of the issue, and almost no one shows up in costume outside Mach V, so this wasn’t just good comic art, it was good art period.



Overall, Marvel deserves an A+ for effort. The choice to make this issue a collaborative effort was risky, since Jeff Parker and Kev Walker have absolutely dominated this title with their talents. In the end, I enjoyed it thoroughly. If anything, I think this proves how much Parker has done with Thunderbolts to have all these splintered, standalone stories make sense and be interesting and relevant. However, the price tag is $4.99, and while the pages are doubled there is only half the story in reality. It is a must grab for anyone following the title or looking to jump on, but as is the typical situation with Thunderbolts , it's really for those care about the B-list villains of the Marvel Universe… or fantastic story-telling within the team concept, complimented by sensational art.

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