As a long time fan of the Suicide Squad concept (that is, force super-villains to go on dangerous missions in exchange for their freedom), I was immediately drawn to the Warren Ellis relaunch of Thunderbolts a few years back. The title has changed hands a few times but Jeff Parker has been crafting a pretty fun run of comics. With the recent expansion of the cast, a Fear Itself tie-in and the fact that this title seems to come out twice a month (like X-Factor seems to as well) there is a lot that can go wrong here. It is a testament to the creative team that it remained a decent read despite the saddled with some really lame baggage.
With the escape of the Raft inmates back in 158, the Thunderbolts have been rushing to contain the damage (the double sized issue 159 was lots of fun and I would recommend it). Centurius has found a way around the “nanochains” that keep the villains from running whenever they are let out and is encouraging an insurrection within the Underbolts (the b-team of villains who step in when the main team is busy). Right now, the Underbolt storyline is the most engaging bit of business in the title but it has to be pushed onto the back burner for the latest crossover nonsense.
And that crossover nonsense is one of the major complaints I have. Lately, Marvel has impressed me with their crossovers in that I honestly didn’t have to read the main mini-series to keep understanding my monthly books. Take Secret Invasion (for example), the concept was simple (Skrulls launch a kind of Jihad on Earth) and each title found a way to tell their own story that seemed to be important even if it was never mentioned in the main title. X-Factor tried to capture the Skrull’s religious leader, Hercules took a group of Gods to destroy the Skrull pantheon and the Thunderbolts fought to save Washington from an invasion force. I didn’t pick up the main mini but all of those titles still worked.
I still get Herc, Alpha Flight, Secret Avengers, X-Factor and Thunderbolts monthly from Marvel but I have no idea what Fear Itself is about. There are Nazi robots attacking Washington, ancient snake gods popping up and Juggernaut suddenly has a Thor hammer. While all that smacks of Matt Fraction wackiness, there is no easily defined premise or clear objective. Parker is trying his best but it almost feels like the poor souls at DC trying to write Final Crisis tie-ins without understanding what Morrison was up to. The break out at the Raft was a fun couple of issues but now that the crisis there is handled, we are moving on the Thunderbolts going after Juggernaut to keep him from trashing Chicago.
I have no idea if Juggernaut is playing a part in the main series, but this felt like one of those “between the panels” stories where we see that someone tried to stop him but he still made it to his destination anyway (and see this other comic for more details). But maybe I am wrong. Either way, I hope those reading Fear Itself enjoyed this issue because it rang false to me.
Recently, in an issue of Secret Six, Scandal Savage asks Bane, Catman and Deadshot to take care of her as they are the only men she has ever felt love for. That moment felt earned by the sheer horrors the cast of that series has been through. In Thunderbolts, Parker tries to pull off a similar scene with the Thunderbolts all gathering to group hug the Juggernaut but it just strikes a bad note. These characters have shown almost nothing but contempt for each other. Ghost is a raving paranoid, Moonstone is super manipulative, Songbird is like an angry teacher and Satana is still too new to matter. But they all care about Juggernaut, really? Sure Moonstone quips but it all seems out of character for the team. Perhaps these bonds have been forming slowly and a re-read is required but this issue just seemed to waste everyone’s time while the real story is being put on hold.
I like the indie quality of Duncan Shalvey’s art. It kind of defies easy comparison. It is rough, and sketchy but that suits the ragged, sometimes mystical world of the Thunderbolts. He also handles the mind of Juggernaut sequence with his own style (rather than the 1000th Steve Ditko rip-off that surely must have been a temptation).
I am still on board because I know Jeff Parker is aiming us towards high thrills (his last arc before the Heroic Age and the Hyperion storyline demonstrate how flat out fun he can write this title). I will just be super happy when this latest crossover is done so he can get back to it.