REVIEW: Thunderbolts #154

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With the Thunderbolts recovering from their disastrous Hyperion flirtation, it’s time to take stock of their transportation situation. Is using the mossy Man-Thing for their taxi service really the best idea? Find out… in Thunderbolts #154!

THUNDERBOLTS #154
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artist: Declan Shalvey
Color Artist: Frank Martin
Letterer: Albert Deschesne
Cover Artists: Greg Land & Dan Brown
Publisher: Marvel
Price: $2.99

“Whatever knows fear, burns at the Man-Thing’s touch.”

Previously, in Thunderbolts: With the murderous, lying Crossbone booted from the team, the Thunderbolts decide to up the power and add Hyperion to the team. Unfortunately, they tap the evil version of the character, who decides it is more fun to beat up on our reluctant anti-heroes than it is to fight godzillas. A last minute save by the enigmatic Man-Thing helps the Thunderbolts finally unite as a team… which begs the question, just what is driving that shambling pile of peat?

ANY RELATION TO THAT OTHER THING?

Thunderbolts #154 is all about answering that question. Similar to Ghost’s story from a couple issues back, this provides some of the back-story and motivation for one of the more mysterious members of the Thunderbolts. Jeff Parker has a tough row to hoe with this one. Man-Thing inevitably elicits comparison to his more recognizable DC counterpart, Swamp Thing. Their similarity comes from more than just the names; both characters debuted in 1971 with almost identical origins, and they both do pretty much the same thing. Parker’s task in this issue is to make Man-Thing something more than a seeming Swamp Thing rehash. And he succeeds.

If there is a knock on this issue, it’s that it is a little too predictable. The team is getting audited by bureaucratic stooges who are less than kosher with the idea that the Thunderbolts’ main form of transportation is a pyrokinetic mass of teleporting broccoli. Since this is the worst possible time for it to happen, an old pal of Man-Thing grabs him from his supposed bondage and shunts him off to the Everglades to take care of some extra-dimensional marauders with a penchant for feeding Florida fishermen to their giant gecko. The main conflict that arises then is whether the Man-Thing wishes to return the team or will even be allowed to by the suits. This story hits all the expected beats and doesn’t really sell the idea that Man-Thing leaving the team is a possibility. For the record, the other team members save for Luke Cage and Songbird are mostly offpage in this issue.

BUT DON’T LET THAT STOP YOU

What this issue does do effectively is pay off one of the storylines that Parker has been subtly weaving through the book since he took over. Parker is good about giving each character their own voice and motivation, and lets the team’s conflicts arise from these distinct individuals bouncing off of each other. Man-Thing has been one of the most impenetrable characters since he can’t, y’know, talk and the rest of the team doesn’t even realize he’s a little more sentient than your average lima bean. In this issue, Man-Thing takes center stage, and the odd little things he’s done over the course of the series are put in stark relief. With the Thunderbolts finally realizing Man-Thing is more man than thing, it promises an interesting new team dynamic. Jeff Parker writes an issue that provides a little drama, a little action, and a little backstory while maintaining the consistently entertaining standard he’s set for the Thunderbolts book.

Declan Shalvey continues his impressive work on this issue. His characters are roughly sketched with thick lines, which combine with Frank Martin’s dark, brooding colors to create a murky atmosphere suitable for a swamp (or a team of badguys). He also does a bang-up job on his nicely detailed backgrounds, giving the art on the page a real heft. And Shalvey’s Man-Thing just looks freaky.

THE FINAL ANALYSIS

This issue isn’t a great jumping-on point, so unless you’ve been reading Thunderbolts or are a big Man-Thing fan, it’s not essential. It’s a little too conventional for that. But it is further evidence that Jeff Parker and Declan Shalvey are creating one of the best, most consistently entertaining books that Marvel is putting out right now. At $2.99, this book deserves a look from anyone who likes reading good superhero comics. Thunderbolts #154 contains three extradimensional hunters, two spears through chests, one giant gecko, one shotgun to the face, and one immolation, in addition to two bblams, one kraack, later out done by a krraackk, a rrmmmmmrr, a hraaoonk, a hhssssss, a scrhrrsssh, and finally, a bronkbronkbronk.

Rating: ★★★½☆