"Thunderbolts" is a series I have substantial affection for, having picked up every issue since the first. Still, there's an old joke that goes something along the lines of, "I've had this broom for 12 years, and in that time it's only needed 3 new handles and 5 new brushes." And in case it wasn't obvious, in this metaphor, Thunderbolts is the broom. With "Dark Avengers" doing "Villains masquerading as Heroes" and no members of the book's original cast left, you have to wonder -- am I still reading the same book as I was back when I picked issue #1 off the shelves?
To his credit, incoming writer Jeff Parker throws himself straight into the concept as it currently stands, following Diggle's lead of fleshing out the cast of D-list villains. This time the focus is on Mister X, the Wolverine villain and martial-arts genius, as he is manipulated into leaving The Cube by Ghost, resulting in an intra-team fight. Again.
It's a problem with the current crop of Thunderbolts that, as they are, they seem to do nothing but squabble with one another in anticipation of the day "Dark Reign" finally ends, when the tension will finally boil over. Until that actually happens, it's hard to get invested in the concept -- and, indeed, the cover of the Thunderbolts being Osborn's "black-ops" force would be a better one if they actually succeeded in doing any of that kind of work -- which, given that they're facing Parker's pet characters next, seems unlikely to happen any time soon.
Regrettably, the one thing that gives me most pause is actually that reveal, which sets up the rest of the arc. As someone who was never interested in Agents of Atlas, it rubs me the wrong way to see them bring brought in as guest stars so soon after the writer has arrived on the book. We know, for better or worse, that Parker can write Agents of Atlas. Couldn't he try writing the Thunderbolts a bit before pulling in his other team?
Miguel Sepulveda remains on art, which helps keep the look of the series consistent with Diggle's run, but his work seems rushed and murky in this issue, with some very generic locations on show. Sepulveda seems to be struggling to stay interested in what he's being asked to draw, but it's hard to blame him when I'm having trouble staying interested in reading it.
Overall, as much as I want to like "Thunderbolts," there's a definite sense that the momentum left by Ellis and Deodato's run on the series has definitely expired. Parker is as competent a choice as any to keep the book coasting along, but we're past the point where that's enough -- the series badly needs to be re-energized. Whether the current team is capable of turning around the book's growing sense of malaise is a far less certain prospect.