“Thunderbolts” right now is a two-pronged title. The main team is still bouncing through time somewhere in the past, while in the present day the staff tries to figure out where their wayward criminals have gone, and how to get them back. Unfortunately, it’s the present day half of “Thunderbolts” which isn’t half as exciting as the time-traveling part, and that’s what is being served up in “Thunderbolts” #168.
Fortunately the present day material isn’t bad, it’s just not having the same punch as the other storyline. Luke Cage dominates this issue as he tracks down escaped criminals from the prison known as the Raft, while Songbird works with members of the Federal Advisory Committee to Thunderbolts and gives them a piece of her mind on their meddling. It’s the latter that provides most of the entertainment this go-round; she points out how their decisions were what destabilized the team above anything else, and it’s fun to see Songbird (always a favorite from the original team) get to not just speak her mind but be right as well.
Luke Cage’s part of the issue? Well, it’s hard to pull off an extended hallucination story, and that’s what we get. The lead-up to that scene is OK, but his rounding up B-grade villains isn’t as exciting as it might sound, and feels almost like a bit of stalling on some level. And once Cage goes up against Mr. Fear, well, I understand that we’re seeing Cage’s fears come to life, but it’s just not that compelling a story. Cage isn’t the reason that I read “Thunderbolts” and I’m fairly certain that I’m not the only one who feels that way.
Matthew Southworth’s art is a lot of fun, though. Cage in a cowboy hat is worth a few chuckles, and Songbird has a wonderfully narrow-eyed look that she gives the members of F.A.C.T. as they show up. I’m not used to Southworth drawing superheroes, but they’re not bad. More importantly, Jeff Parker gives Southworth some nicely creepy moments in Cage’s hallucination (especially the appearance of Ghost) that suits Southworth’s style perfectly. The characters all look quite lifelike, and those winter scenes might even make you shiver a bit.
“Thunderbolts” #168 feels like a bit of set-up for later stories, but right now it’s not as much fun as what we’ve been getting with the other half of the cast. Fortunately, I suspect their spotlight is just right back around the corner. Not the best issue to jump in on, although Southworth fans will definitely want to take a look. Still, even a below-average issue of “Thunderbolts” these days isn’t a bad comic, and I’ll definitely be back for future issues.