Last issue, Jeff Parker launched the new era of the Thunderbolts — a Heroic Age Thunderbolts — with a new team lineup and a new team leader. Luke Cage was brought in to coordinate the team of criminals and keep them on the straight and narrow, and Kev Walker was brought in as an artist to do his Kev Walker thing, which usually involves making people look like they are struggling on every page. He’s a good choice when you need an artist to show conflict between characters, because his characters seem to grimace and tighten up at every turn. Life seems like an unbearable challenge to them, but they somehow make it through.
But Walker’s art also has an exaggerated humor to it as well, when he’s at his best. A kind of “2000 AD” dark comedy edginess best exemplified by the “Judge Dredd” strip. So this “Thunderbolts” series now has a little of that flavor, combined with Jeff Parker’s all-American absurdist enthusiasm. And Man-Thing. As their version of a transport ship.
It all makes sense when you read the comic.
And that’s what’s so nice about issue #145. It follows an issue that established a strong premise — Luke Cage, resentfully leading a lethal team of criminals on black ops for Steve Rogers — and it maintains the same sensibility, but it also explains a lot of the bits that were curious a month ago. Like, why would Cage allow Moonstone on the team, knowing how she always manipulates everyone and gets her way? Or why a murderer like Crossbones would be allowed on the team? Or how he plans on controlling any of them — including Juggernaut and the Ghost? Or what happens when Zemo comes a’ knockin’ as he did last issue?
Well, it turns out that it wasn’t really Zemo, and the fake Zemo was all part of a test, not of loyalty, because Cage didn’t expect loyalty, but of the high-tech restraining devices. We learn in this issue that they’re all on a very short nanite leash, and their powers will be just about useless if Cage wants to neuter them at any time. The conflict explicit in this story is impressive, in old-fashioned “Thunderbolts” style, with the potential for shifting allegiances and betrayal in every scene.
And the issue ends with a battle with furry trolls. It’s delightful.
Jeff Parker has taken this series in a fun new direction without losing the viciousness at its core. It’s good, it’s weird, and it has just enough Man-Thing to go around.