Finally, for those who demanded it, Norman Osborn and Nick Fury begin to deal with one another directly after their first meeting was alluded to in “Secret Warriors” #7. With Osborn in charge of HAMMER, the reworked, rebuilt SHIELD, a confrontation between the two was inevitable and should make for a great story as Andy Diggle and Miguel Sepulveda suggest in “Thunderbolts” #135 where only a taste is given.
After last issue’s revelation that the original Black Widow, Natasha Romanova, has assumed the identity of the second Black Widow, Yelena Belova, acting as a double-agent for Fury in Osborn’s Thunderbolts squad, she and Songbird are on the run from the rest of the team. The issue starts off strong with Songbird and Natasha fighting the Thunderbolts’ Mr. X as Natasha is outmatched in hand-to-hand combat, which is rare. The fight is well thought out and shows off how dangerous Mr. X can be, while giving Songbird a chance to shine.
Throughout the issue, Diggle keeps things moving by playing up the uncertainty of the loyalties of everyone. The plot is complex and intricate, wheels within wheels always at play. Whose side are the Thunderbolts really on? Diggle has us guessing each character’s motivation and loyalty throughout the issue, right up until the final page. By the end of the issue, the amount of secrecy and double-crosses is higher than one would expect and shows that maybe the former Green Goblin can play on Nick Fury’s level. Of course, that’s what many have thought before and that creates an interesting tension when the two come face to face. Can Norman Osborn really compete with Nick Fury? That’s the big question and one that will have huge ramifications on his role as director of HAMMER.
Artist Miguel Sepulveda’s style is clear, crisp, and very good at conveying information. In any other book, he would fit in perfectly, and he handles the initial fight with Mr. X well, but on a book that uses secrecy, espionage, and the excessive violence that’s sometimes necessary with those elements, his art is a bit too bright. This story calls for something more gritty and dark, art that lives in the shadows with these characters. Sepulveda doesn’t do anything wrong and his work is strong, it’s simply that it doesn’t match the tone of Diggle’s writing.
While strong, for the most part, Diggle’s writing does get too cute in the second half of the issue as he indulges in revelations of plots and motivations in a way that comes off a bit like Bond villain revelations. It makes sense, in some ways, for Osborn and others to act this way, but it’s also groan-inducing and reads like Diggle is patting himself on the back for coming up with such clever schemes. It’s a subtle line to walk and Diggle falls on the wrong side only barely.
Fights, chases, secrets, double-crosses, and one hell of a final page, “Thunderbolts” #135 is a fun, exhilarating read. Andy Diggle keeps you guessing throughout and it seems a new twist is always just a page-turn away.