With "Thunderbolts" #169, Jeff Parker constructs an elaborate, entertaining story that spans ages and weaves together far-flung legends. The best part is that the whole story can be enjoyed in and of itself. No crossovers. No extenuating back-story. It's just two paragraphs on the recap page and you're ready to enjoy.
Never read "Thunderbolts"? Start now. Parker wraps the story around the reader and fills each character with a unique voice as the story progresses. Masterfully, Parker includes bits and pieces from across the Marvel Universe -- past and present -- and beyond to make the story more tangible, adding depth to the yarn he's weaving. In this case, the bits and pieces include the Black Knight, the bearer of the Ebony Blade, as well as his brothers-in-arms, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Yes, all that in a comic that features seven offbeat villains and former villains. With a list of ingredients like that, Parker is able to fill this comic with action, adventure, drama, humor, mysticism and suspense. And it all works.
Perfectly matched to Parker's narrative concoction is the artwork of Kev Walker. Assisted on inks by Terry Pallot, Walker draws everything from medieval interpretations of Fixer's armaments to horses, rabbits and trees. Walker shows depth in ability and power in execution throughout this issue. His characters show their own specific emotional ranges and body types. Satana is a very different female form from Moonstone and the two are quite removed from the physique of Gunna. The same holds true with the male characters. Walker manages to make distinctions between the Knights of the Round Table while preserving the nobility of King Arthur.
Frank Martin, Jr. is given much to color here, and he capably fills it all in. He takes things a bit off plan, however, by inserting a great deal of orange throughout this issue. That increases the tension of the story or, more appropriately stated, it increases as the story's tension does. With Walker, Pallot and Martin on the visuals, this title is superbly suited to its story. It all comes together to one of the best reads of the week.
Any comic that can throw in an appearance by the medieval Black Knight has my interest, but to throw a line of dialog into the Knight's mouth that recalls the hilarity of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (one line!) earns my money and my strongest recommendation. You've seen or heard it elsewhere, my comrades in reviewing have said it, and I've said it: read this book. This is the one book that you didn't know you were missing, and shouldn't be.