Thunderbolts #164

Story by
Art by
Kev Walker, Terry Pallot
Colors by
Fabio D'Auria
Letters by
Joe Caramagna
Cover by
Marvel Comics

Finding themselves trapped in the past, the crew of escapee Thunderbolts (including Fixer and Moonstone) comes face-to-face with The Invaders as they attempt to rescue the captured Human Torch from none other than the original Baron Zemo.

After a few months of slow build-up, the story of Fixer and his B-Team of "Underbolts" has finally come to the boil, and the pay-off -- as you would expect of Parker -- is a satisfying one. For better or worse, "Thunderbolts" has been rather grim in tone since Warren Ellis took it over some years ago, so it's good to see Parker taking the team in a slightly more whimsical direction, one exemplified by ideas like Moonstone and Satana's 1940s-inspired costume and Hyde's particular brand of Victorian brutishness, none of which could really have existed as part of the Warren Ellis/Andy Diggle era. This is, after all, the Marvel Universe, and there's only so far psychopathic realism can take you.

Since the team is dealing with time travel, Parker keeps the stakes high through the use of the original Baron Zemo. After all, his son created the team, so there's good reason for the team members to worry that their presence in the past might cause ripples which prevent that. Although The Invaders steal a little focus, Parker still finds time for the book's subplots to tick along nicely. It's not clear what's happening to the Man-Thing, but it is intriguing trying to guess.

The most interesting gear change for the book is that the cast has almost entirely changed from the previous storyline. The fluid focus of "Thunderbolts" has always been one of the book's hallmarks, and while we can be sure we'll see Songbird, MACH V et al. again, there's nothing wrong with spending a little time away from them, especially if the growth is organic.

There are things that seem a little off about Parker's characterization, however. Although largely made up of unrepentant villains (at least in this instance), the book's cast show little inclination towards villainy. Arguably, it's because Parker is writing them as well aware of the dire situation they're in, but at the same time there's none of the powerplay or self-interest that you might expect.

And while we're on the subject of the book's flaws: it's been over year since Gunna/Troll's first appearance and we're no closer to finding out what she's doing in the cast, let alone understanding her as a character. Surely, the time has come to either give her the spotlight so we can understand her, or wrap her storyline up?

Despite such complaints, "Thunderbolts" remains a very high quality team book with fantastic art, enjoyable writing and a wide variety of characters. Universe-spanning in the best way, and highly recommended.

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