REVIEW: Thunderbolts #171

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Or – “Solo Songbird Story Time!  (Doo Dah!  Doo Dah!)”

The Thunderbolts have been through a lot of changes since their inception during Heroes Return, but Melissa Gold (aka Screaming Mimi, aka Songbird) has been one of my favorite characters in any version of the team, as well as one of the only constants throughout the team’s history.  With the ‘Bolts cascading through the timestream, Songbird has been left behind, and has some time on her sonic-powered hands…

THUNDERBOLTS #171
Writer: Jeff Parker
Penciler: Kev Walker
Inker: Terry Pallot
Colorist: Frank Martin, Jr.
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Editor: Tom Brennan
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $2.99

Previously, in Thunderbolts:  The latest incarnation of the Thunderbolts was created by Captain America as a sort of work-release program for super-villains, led by Luke Cage.  The mess that was Fear Itself blew up the prison and left the Thunderbolts falling through the timestream.  Songbird, one of Cage’s trusted lieutenants, has been left in the present, and has taken some time off to rest after her job literally exploded in her face.  In so doing, she is about to learn Peter Parker Rule #14: Don’t take a vacation, you’ll only get attacked by Sauron at the South Pole or something…

TAHITI, CHEESECAKE AND ROMANCE…

I’ve missed an issue or two of Thunderbolts, so I’m not entirely clear on what Melissa Gold and the rest of the Songbirds “ground crew” has been doing, but this issue opens by clearly explaining everything I need to know.  Warden John “Used To Be The USAgent” Walker and Thunderbolts ramrod Luke Cage are dealing with the super-powered inmates of The Raft, who have been transferred to Ryker’s Island.  Their conversation naturally leads us to the status of Songbird, cutting to an out-of-costume Melissa Gold in Tahiti.  I’ll say this for Kev Walker:  For a guy I only know from Marvel Zombies, he draws a very attractive female form.  Songbird spends the issue in a bikini, hanging out in pools, drinking mai-tais and ogling cute boys.  There’s no way that any of that would ever end up badly, right?  I mean, it’s not like former super-villains spend their time hanging around in Tahiti and committing horrifying genetic atrocities on the locals while mind-controlling everyone he sees, right?

…YEAH, NO WAY THAT WOULD LAST.

So, turns out that there’s a former super-villain who spends his time hanging around in Tahiti and comitting horrifying genetic atrocities on the locals while mind controlling everyone he sees.  The madman in question, one Doctor Lemuel Dorcas, is an old foe of the Sub-Mariner, long thought dead, but his experiments with regenerative starfish tissue allowed him to survive what should have been a fatal encounter with the evil Tiger Shark.  The rest of the issue has overtones of the Human Centipede and Saw movies, as the monsters in Dorcas’ employ (both literal and figurative) mess with Melissa’s head, heart and, in a creepy sequence, have very inappropriate interactions with her toes.  Dorcas’ plan is to use Songbird as part of a revenge plot against Namor, but he soon finds that he should have done the research on what Melissa’s original powers are.  The rest of the issue is a tour de force that positions Songbird for bigger and better things, as well as giving her a pretty impressive new haircut (thanks to unauthorized brain surgery, but still…  New haircut!)

THE VERDICT: TOOK A LEVEL IN BADASS.

I’ve always loved The Thunderbolts, especially the original characters, and the presence of Songbird as a truly reformed super-villain has stood as one of the few things that Marvel editorial hasn’t backslid on.  Her turns as a future hero in Avengers Forever were intriguing, and it’s good to see some definition for a 90′s character who isn’t Deadpool.  In short, this issue has great character developments, some lovely art, a nice focus on a favorite character, and the trademark Jeff Parker subtle-build-to-awesome moments, making for an excellent overall package.  Thunderbolts #171 came out of nowhere to earn a VERY impressive 4.5 out of 5 stars overall, and officially bringing Thunderbolts back to the top of my Must-Read list.  With Bagley returning as a collaborator on this book, it may be a new era of awesome for the ‘Bolts, and you heard it here first…

Rating: ★★★★½