Thunderbolts #157

This has been the superhero book that feels equal parts Saturday morning cartoon, late Saturday night cartoon, and indie bootleg cartoon. This issue continues on where Satana joining, and betraying the team, left off. The team are storming a German castle and things just aren't as they appear. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Beta Team are still getting off the ground hopefully without disastrous results.

The continual weaving of the two plots works well for this title. It's the sort of thing I'd like to see more of. It makes it all feel like old Claremont "X-Men." You get the feeling you are in the middle of something epic unfolding and there's only going to be plenty more of it.

"Thunderbolts" feels like it should try to build something large with this sprawling and duelling cast, but instead seems mired in being the tie-in book. It makes sense for the team to be thrown into every event as the government should always send their expendables into the fray, but from a narrative stand point there needs to be continuity of plot and progression of character. Jeff Parker won't always have control over the former but hopefully the latter can be worked upon.

The strength of this issue is in its ability to make the whole landscape of the Thunderbolts roll out but this also affects the conclusion as it doesn't feel like it ends. The locale shifts, some people step in and out, and then we pause at a good moment for a cliffhanger. Comics obviously are a continual medium, but you want each issue to stand on its own, to some degree. The first threat is too easily evaded; Before we really soak in the gravity of Juggernaut's situation, we are thrust into an Iraqi graveyard. Parker is perhaps moving too fast.

Kev Walker and Declan Shalvey handle art duties and the split work surprisingly well. The styles are different, no doubt about it, but they mainly handle a different roster. Walker's lines are much simpler compared to Shalvey's grungier lines. Parker's great thoughts are brought to the page with grandeur and the characters always feel like they're in real motion. I'd be happy to see this pair timeshare within issues more.

"Thunderbolts" continues to be a book that aims to delight. Parker uses a flowing dialogue trick to join disparate scenes together in a way that's always meaningful. He also ensures each issue is packed with a few innovative ideas that are obviously thought out. Now he just needs to capitalize on them. "Fear Itself" looming on the horizon doesn't have my hopes up, but Parker made his "Shadowland" tie-in issues the best thing about that event so you can't write this title off. And you probably shouldn't ever try.

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