With the Thunderbolts falling apart as fast as they can be stitched back together, Jeff Parker uses this issue to shore up the team, first by introducing last issue’s new recruit, Satana, to the rest of the team and second - perhaps more interestingly – by beginning a subplot that sees the creation of a “Thunderbolts” B-Team, led by Songbird.
It’s rare to see a writer tackling subplots in a way that isn’t overshadowed by their obvious need to come to fruition before the end of a trade, but Parker’s approach is far more geared towards a monthly format, and great fun because of it. Who knows how long it’ll be until Fixer’s annoyed glances come to anything more? The mere fact that such scenes can be delivered with subtlety is one of the more encouraging things about “Thunderbolts” as a series. Ever since the beginning, the book has been at its best when subsisting on a mix of inter-character tension and cliffhanger endings. Parker weaves such elements in fantastically.
As much praise must fall at Kev Walker’s feet. He was always good, but his recent issues have shown him becoming fully entrenched in the Thunderbolts’ world and characters. His artwork is now routinely phenomenal, full of character and technique. His panels are memorable and engaging, and his pages flow fantastically. The first instance of Satana meeting her team-members, for example, makes for fun reading. That's not just because of Parker’s comedic timing, but because of how perfectly Walker has executed it.
If there’s anything about the book that’s failing to work, it’s that the roster can’t seem to stick for more than two issues in a row. Whether that’s accident or design isn’t clear, but between a new secondary team and the probably exit of Juggernaut during “Fear Itself,” it’s hard to remember who the core cast is. Moonstone, Juggernaut, Songbird, MACH V, Fixer, Ghost, and Cage strike me as the recurring team members, but who can tell? Parker handles a sprawling cast slightly better than Fraction did on “Uncanny X-Men,” but a tighter core would be welcome at this point. We rarely see the same characters interact twice.
Even so, when the worst thing you can say about a book is that there’s too much going on, it’s hard to call it much of a criticism. “Thunderbolts” has always been one of my favorite titles, but under Parker and Walker it has the kind of energy not seen since Ellis took the title over. It’s currently got a vastly different tone from that era, of course, but there’s still an “anything can happen” vibe. Highly recommended.