REVIEW: Dark Avengers #177

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Or – “It Used To Be Called ‘Thunderbolts’.”

Apparently, the several-issue arc in New Avengers with Norman Osborn’s latest attempt to clone the Avengers was a huge hit, warranting that it take over this book.

Either that, or Marvel just loves selling us the adventures of people whose assembled archetypes vaguely resemble the Avengers of yore.  Whatever the case, your Major Spoilers review awaits!

DARK AVENGERS #177
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artist(s): Kev Walker & Declan Shalvey
Colorist: Frank Martin Jr w/Antonio Fabela
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Editor: Tom Brennan
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $2.99

Previously, in Dark Avengers:  The latest incarnation of the Thunderbolts went awry quickly, with a large group of the convicted superhuman felons of the team sending themselves through time and space in their headquarters, leaving Luke Cage with no team, no HQ and no real reason to go back to the drawing board.  Enter the government, who saddled Luke with a ready-made team of subjects, Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers, all of whom were more than happy to see the former Power Man call it quits.  Not only did Luke outwit them, he outplayed them by adding his own recruit:  Skaar, the lost son of the Hulk, who holds a grudge against his old teammates.  In the DISTANT past, the T-Bolts encountered a time-lost Victor Von Doom, who hijacked their time castle and returned them to the recent past, then tried to kill them all.  Either way, things look bad…

STILL THE OLD T-BOLTS MAGIC…

Jeff Parker has put together a very cool set of personalities in his new Thunderbolts (a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen inspired Mr. Hyde, the aboriginal warrior Troll, the manipulations of Moonstone, a bit of lunacy from Satana, the tactical prowess of the Ghost and Centurius, and the team cabbagehead, Boomerang) and that balance is still wonderful to see in play.  Shalvey and Walker deliver the goods with a big battle sequence versus hundreds of Doombots, while the Thunderbolts deal with shrapnel and the revelation that they’re almost home.  As for Luke Cage and the Dark Avengers, there’s some tension in the ranks (as Cage points out, these people recently tried to murder his family, after all) but he takes command and leads the team into a strange middle-eastern country, continuing the plot from a recent arc of Red Hulk’s title.  I do like that sort of tie-in, as it reminds me of the old Marvel stories, where a villain could escape the Human Torch and get brought down by Spider-Man a few issues later, or the Cask of Ancient Winters affecting ALL the titles that the company brought out that month.  There’s some interesting wrinkles in the life of the Man-Thing, who has found a mind at last, but lost the powers that made him the team’s transportation specialist.

…EVEN THOUGH I DON’T KNOW HALF OF LUKE’S NEW TEAM.

The presence of Clor (the cloned Thor from Civil War, now going by Ragnarok) doesn’t even completely torpedo the Dark Avengers portion of the book, but since I have no idea who the new Scarlet Witch and Spider-Man are or what they can do (I think I missed an issue) there’s a problem with their storyline for me, and while their confrontation with Sultan Magus is nicely handled, it’s hard to get invested in their story.  I want Luke Cage to survive, sure, but otherwise they can all pretty much die in a fire, as the Dark Avengers concept is one that outlasted it’s limited appeal halfway through Dark Reign.  I am particularly enamored of Satana this issue, though, as she out-magics Victor Von Doom, and the Thunderbolts team are once again thrust through time, with the possibility of some Judge Dredd references in coming issues.  The last panel reveal reminds me a bit of Hulk: Future Imperfect (in a good way), and gives me at least a passing interest in what happens next…

THE BOTTOM LINE: TWO GREAT TASTES THAT TASTE WEIRD TOGETHER…

There are two stories about two teams in this book, and only one of them really works for me, leaving me with the cumulative effect of channel-surfing on a Friday night.  I don’t get enough story from the Thunderbolts, whose struggles interest me, while I don’t find much enjoyment in the Dark Avengers portion of the tale.  Artwise, it’s a very strong issue, and there are lovely character moments for The Ghost, Satana, Cage and (surprisingly) Boomerang, but things never germinate into a full-blown enjoyment for me, with some puzzling and annoying events throughout. Dark Avengers #177 (which is certainly not Thunderbolts #177 in any way) is a mixed bag of good and problematic elements cemented by solid art and some nice character work, but still earning a composite 2.5 out of 5 stars overall.  If they’re using the Dark Avengers name change as a gimmick to give the book more prominence, I’m all for it, but it seems like this isn’t going to give Thunderbolts some rub as much as it’s going to muddy the story with unnecessary characters.  Maybe it’s like Ostrander’s Suicide Squad run, where we’re going to start blowing the villains away?

Rating: ★★½☆☆