It begins like this:
The Thunderbolts, a team of villains on work-release as heroes, have become unstuck in time.
It ends like this: “Poo-tee-weet?”
After the jump, Major Spoilers reviews what happens in between.
Previously in Dark Avengers: Listen: The Thunderbolts, a team of villains on work-release as heroes, have become unstuck in time. After tousling with Jack the Ripper and King Arthur, the team is hurled into a (stop me if you’ve heard this one) post-apocalyptic dystopia. Meanwhile, a new Thunderbolts team, made up of Norman Osborne’s criminal Dark Avengers, has replaced the missing team on a mission to the desert nation of Sharzhad, which has been taken over by alien-powered megalomaniac Sultan Magus.
MEET THE NEW BOSS
This book used to be called Thunderbolts, and I’m sure it will be again when they’ve exhausted the name recognition boost from the Avengers movie. In the A-story, the “current” Thunderbolts team has had a fun Quantum Leap/Sliders-style romp through the time-stream, but in this issue the adventure stalls. Their latest jump lands them in a fight between random rebel mutants and Luke Cage’s grandson who is the despotic ruler of the Northeastern seaboard and also likes to dress up as Judge Dredd. The “Mutant Rebels” have no distinctive character than those two words and “Boss Cage” doesn’t do anything except get hit by a rock and explode. The Thunderbolts decide to throw in with the rebels, and I hope they have more fun storming the Mega Mondo City next issue, but I fear it’ll take a miracle.
Meanwhile, in the B-story, Thunderbolts leader Luke Cage is trying to catch up to the “new” team which has ditched him in the desert under secret orders from the government bureaucrats who oversee the Thunderbolt program. With his sidekick Skaar, son of Hulk, Luke instead finds Sultan Magus, a villain established last year in Hulk, which admittedly I did not read. Coming in cold to the character, all I know is that Sultan Magus doesn’t want foreigners in his country. A cross between Black Adam and John Cena, Magus’ power level is established by having him no-sell Skaar impaling him with a sword. (I swear, “blade through the chest” is the new “crashing helicarrier” in “things that should be impressive events but keep happening with no repercussions”.) I will be very disappointed if the conflict ends up being resolved by Skaar or Cage just hitting Magus harder, and with more feeling, but I retain enough confidence in the writing of Jeff Parker to come up with something better than that.
The other part of the B-story follows the Dark Avengers team who were introduced in New Avengers vol. 2 #18, not to be confused with the previous team that Osborn created right after Secret Invasion. I read their introduction and previous adventure but still don’t feel I really know enough about these characters. In this issue, you can pick up their names and powers from the Dark Avengers talking to one another, but in the end it feels like you’ve read a Wikipedia bullet list instead of a story. I just don’t care about them as characters.
The problem may be trying to fit too many characters, settings and events into one book. This takes the focus away from the established characters and necessitates more “telling” rather than “showing”. It also feels like someone in a boardroom decreed that “no one knows who the Thunderbolts are, so we’d better get some Avengers shoe-horned in there right away.” I don’t know that to be the case, but the fact that it feels that way indicates that something went wrong.
DOUBLE RAINBOW–WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
I appreciate the way that the art compliments the parallel structure of the story by using color palettes for each storyline that contrast with one another. The future is yellow-pink while the present is blue-grey. The two pages of C-story incorporate both palettes. This visually separates the stories and reinforces the dramatic tones. In the dark present everything is going wrong, while in the bright future everything is bad, but going to get better.
The actual settings add little to the story. The backgrounds are drawn very nondescript: post-apocalyptic wasteland vs desert wasteland. Either way we get a bunch of rocks and a hazy horizon. There’s no sense that the action is taking place anywhere in particular.
The way the characters are drawn is a little cartoony for a Marvel book, especially in the faces. This allows for powerful and emotive expressions, but I find it a little distracting at times where it pulls me out of the drama. It also doesn’t fit with Boss Cage’s Judge Dredd cosplay. Maybe that’s supposed to provide contrast, but it looks out of place. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a scene where MACH-V looks like Megaman, which is similarly distracting.
THE BOTTOM LINE: SO IT GOES
Every story has it’s slow parts to give contrast to big action and excitement. With two and a half stories going on in this book, it feels like .they’re all hitting their lull at the same time. It’s not terrible, but as much as I’ve enjoyed Parker’s run on this book, I’m disappointed. I give it 2 Stars of of 5, but I have my fingers crossed expecting the title to get better in the next couple issues.