Plot: Luke feels like his tenure at the Raft has been a failure and even his team of miscreants realize that, if he withdraws, their regime as Thunderbolts also ends. Does this signal yet another change of direction for the title?
Comments: Acting rather like anxious children at the prospect of losing the semblance of stability that Cage provided, the subversive and paranoid Ghost leads the remaining teammates to make a break for it. He doesn’t, however, tell them that his ability to aim their erstwhile transport system, the Man-Thing, is far from precise. And his rebellious act coincides with the arrival of the Avengers, intent on assessing recent events.
Thor fails to persuade an incarcerated Asgardian to give up her trollish ways. Stark brings out the competitive anarchist in Ghost and Steve Rogers confronts his own assassin, Crossbones. Where they end up is a mysterious mystical way station that provides an innocuous setting for all involved to work out their issues with each other. Minus the distaff members, who have a role to play in another section of this expanded anniversary issue.
It’s as formulaic as an episode of classic Star Trek, but Parker knows how to work the formula in order to reveal and underline moments of individual character distinction. With the aid of a mysterious frog-like fisherman (and reflecting pools that reveal psychological insights), the heroes and villains confront the worst and the best in each other. Walker makes the setting dreamy but as bland as possible so that attention is focused on battling males, a few of whom have revelations.
Most interestingly, Ghost finds more in common with Stark than he expected, and everyone realizes the newly powered up Crossbones (he got too close to some Terrigen mists at some point) is beyond redemption. Which is the way it has always gone for this book, with some heroes emerging against unlikely odds, and others falling back into old ways. Rogers also convinces Luke that he’s been doing a fine job, so we end up not with a change in status quo, but an affirmation of the current direction.
Such themes become even clearer in the recap section narrated by Songbird and Moonstone, a clip show that runs through the relevant history of the title in the alternating voices of the two women who were there from the start. This is an amusing, informative section, though I miss the old way of doing such a taking stock issue, which was to have the current artist illustrate new versions of all the old scenes as one unfolding tapestry of events.
The third special feature is a reprint of issue #1, which, as it’s been 13 years, is a pretty timely move. Unlike the fate of our guest character in the first story, which underlines the dark humor that Walker excels at and Parker is also managing to channel in this current hard edged take on the concept. Let’s give those ladies more to do than to drool over any men who happen to stop by, though.