Story Arc Review: Thunderbolts #168-171

A comic review article by: Jamil Scalese

You've might have noticed a change in how we review ongoing series here at Comics Bulletin. Instead of focusing on these stories piecemeal we're taking a step back and covering them in larger chunks. It's the right move considering a greater emphasis on the trade market and the push toward making plots with discernable start and finish lines. Plus, it's kind of a celebration of a truly distinctive element of our beloved reading choice: the story arc.

The arcs of Thunderbolts are typically compact, and the series often -- and superbly -- utilizes one-issue spotlights for the sprawling cast. This grouping of  issues I'm covering here doesn't fit perfectly into a story arc format, but it's appropriate to review it as a whole. The first and last (#168, 171) are spotlight issues on Luke Cage and Songbird, respectively. The middle issues deal with the convict Thunderbolts, now essentially the only team in the book since the present day T-bolts are quelling riots and hunting down escaped prisoners whilst rebuilding the Raft. First, let's deal with Fixer, Hyde and the rest of the time-travelin' fools.

These escapees, fresh from Victorian England where they assisted in the Ripper killings, land smack dab in the middle of times of Arthur and his knights. Due to Boomerang rocking the Black Knight and stealing the Ebony Blade (yeah, you read that right), Arthur and his boys take the fight to Thunderbolts tower. Now you'd think a few dudes with swords would have disadvantage against Moonstone, her moonstone and a that smart mouth, but considering that Merlin is on their side the odds are surprisingly even.

Real quick tangent on Merlin. Sure, we're all aware of him, but did you know how convoluted Marvel's Merlin's history is? Jeez, he's been everywhere from Strange Tales to Hulk to Excalibur. Second, damn does Kev Walker draw him like a freaky mountain hermit.

The trip to the time of round tables is a pretty fun read, probably not better than the previous two time jumps, but it has its moments. In particular, Gunna the Troll and Boomerang get some valuable face time here, and it's with Boomer that you see how much fun Parker has with this book. It's phrases like: "Daaayaamm, this sword is the sweetness." that warm my heart. 

Kev Walker does the work on the Arthur arc, and it's no lie to say he's a remarkable talent. Walker has been steadily gaining more notoriety, and has landed some bigger gigs with Marvel, but I am extremely happy to know that he will continue to work with the series he, along with Declan Shavley, have helped build. What I like most about his style is the ability to sway from sleek to savage in the same panel. He is adept at drawing the grotesque or outrageous, which is a boon for Parker's scripts, but does wonders in portraying nature or a beautiful woman.  Just look at characters Ghost and Mr. Hyde: one is a sickly thin tech wizard and the other a heaving brute with a bowler, and they somehow co-exist and even look natural together. Plus there's a scene where the team is having breakfast, which is just wonderful at its core.

The two solo issues are extremely similar, focusing on a individual member in the perilous situation with an old school villain. In the case of Luke Cage, his run-in with Mr. Fear gives us a view into the headman of the Thunderbolts program. Luke has an interesting role, he's the leader but only when he has free time, and is generally more of a keyholder and jailer that he is field commander. Parker keys on Luke's insecurities, and some truths about how he views his place on the team. The "worst fear hallucination" concept is played to death with Scarecrow over at DC, so it does not hold much water here, but the story carries some juicy character moments. Oh, and two-thirds of The Enforcers show up. It's always fun to see Fancy Dan.

The art for the Luke Cage issue is a big letdown. Some characters, like Mr. Fear, look fantastic, but overall the scenes fail to come close to the high quality established by Walker and Shavley. Those two artist are great at detail and rendering (just look at Merlin!), and Southworth is more of a painted, slightly abstract type of artist. He's quality talent, but it doesn't really jive with the ongoing look of this title. 

Ask any of the clamoring Melissa Gold fans I see across the net: the Songbird issue is long overdue. It centers on her taking a needed vacation to tropical beach setting and getting royally gypped by some weirdo pretty-boy. I got to say, Thunderbolts #171 is a pretty twisted comic. Parker brings back a classic, Silver-Age baddie in a creative way, and does weird things with Songbird's feet. The visuals served up by Kev Walker are visceral, savage and sexy. The story manages to hit on many aspects of Melissa's character and history, and culminates with her getting a new haircut, which serves as character development these days, I guess.

At the conclusion of #170 the rogue T-bolts stumble into the near present to set up the incoming much anticipated 1990s Thunderbolts versus 2010s Thunderbolts throwdown. I'm probably anticipating this more than Avengers vs. X-Men. And if you haven't heard by now, this summer Thunderbolts will change over to Dark Avengers, a move that will introduce characters like Skaar and Ragnarok to the lineup. The move is bold, but necessary. This title deserves publicity and name recognition! As Songbird woefully admits, "We don't get Avengers-level press."



Jamil Scalese is just like you -- an avid comics reader and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, devotee of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation. Check out his original, ongoing webcomic And Then There Were Zombies and follow his subpar tweeting at @jamilscalese.

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