Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artists: Tom Grummett (p), Gary Erskine (i), Sotocolor's J.Brown (colors)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Civil War invades the recently re-named (de-named?) Thunderbolts this month, prompting me (and, no doubt, what Marvel hopes to be a significant number of other readers) to check back in with Marvel's greatest team of anti-heroes. Issue #103 might be most famous for spoiling the events of Civil War #2 a week early (I pity the fool who read T-Bolts first), but it's actually quite an interesting tie-in if you're a fan of the direction Marvel is heading in.
Thunderbolts has never been a cut and dry, black and white superhero book. It revels in various shades of grey as the characters walk the tightrope between good and evil. No matter what you might think you know, surprises lie behind every cliffhanger, and ulterior motives are the norm. The book has got the exposition-heavy dialogue that has characterized Nicieza's long run on the series, which, while often exasperating, is undeniably a part of Thunderbolts's identity and charm. The book has a loyal following for a reason.
I haven't been keeping up with the series lately, but it appears Baron Zemo has once again taken control of the team he formed nearly ten years ago. The series is at its best when Zemo is a central figure, and that rule holds true here. The plot stems from the idea that Tony Stark would offer Zemo and the Thunderbolts an opportunity to prove their worth by rounding up supervillains and recruiting them to the pro-registration cause. It's a concept that would likely fail even if the job was placed in more trustworthy hands. Stark is uncharacteristically reckless in doing business with a Zemo, but it's entirely possible that he's two steps ahead of his reluctant ally, just as the final page proves that Zemo is two steps ahead of him. Watching their match of wits unfold proves to be the most exciting scene of the book.
The rest is fairly standard, but fun. Tom Grummett's work is traditional superhero art at is finest. The inks are solid, the colors are bright, and the aerial action, which has always been a strong suit of Grummett's, is just what we've all come to expect from the series. It's full of corny dialogue and endless bickering between team members, which now includes the relationship between two brothers and the icy cold dynamic between two former lovers. The "Beetle Reunion" is a neat idea, although the battle is routine and inconsequential. Sure, much of the action seems irrelevant to the larger picture, but it's the complex characters who are far and away more interesting than other carbon copy superheroes that drive the story forward.
The Civil War tie-in is worth recommending for no other reason than the intriguing possibility of seeing Zemo make some major noise following Iron Man's proposal as the war rages on. The cliffhanger, in typical T-Bolts style, ups the ante and adds another layer to the conflict. Thunderbolts fans should find a lot to enjoy in issue #103, and readers just stopping in for the Civil War tie-in might be surprised by the quality of what they read.
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