With one of its main cast members tied up as one of The Worthy over in "Fear Itself," "Thunderbolts" has chosen to amp up its involvement in the crossover. This issue is a double-sized anthology, bursting with story pages, all of which detail the actions of its various cast members in the wake of the Raft's destruction after Juggernaut's hammer fell. No reprints, it's all-new material by a variety of creators. It's a nice surprise for "Thunderbolts" fans, since the series doesn't often get much attention from Marvel, it seems.
There's even a decent creative justification for it. By splitting the team into their own, almost entirely separate stories, the crisis is scaled up far more than it would have been in a single issue story. The fact that these stories are all going on at the same time really drives home the seriousness of the disaster.
The lead feature concerns the actions of the latest recruits to the program -- the Underbolts -- as they wonder whether they made the right decision in joining the team just as their best opportunity to escape has arrived. As well as helping us get to know these characters as individuals, there's a nice twist towards the end which sets up a future plot line. Long-term subplots and twist endings have always been a hallmark of the T-Bolts, so it's good that Parker is continuing the tradition here.
Other stories in the issue follow Moonstone, as she deals with being left powerless amidst her (understandably upset) former criminal associates, former Thunderbolt Crossbones, as he makes an escape attempt, and The Ghost and John Walker, who make for an unlikely pairing in quelling some unrest. It's tough to pick a favorite, but for the best reason: they're all as good as each other. With a strong grouping of artists and writers, many of whom are new to the Thunderbolts, it's a welcome mini-event, and one which most t-bolts fans will have no problem paying extra for.
Indeed, I'd argue the format itself is a success, though how it works for Marvel, financially, I can only speculate. Presumably, the idea is to make more money on the sales spike from crossover-completists. It seems unlikely that such readers will be put off by a price increase, although whether the stories are enough to keep them coming back in the future is debatable. Existing fans should enjoy them, but new readers might just feel a little lost. It'd also help if one of the stories -- any of them -- was truly brilliant. As it is, they range from decent to good but, without a centerpiece, the book as a whole looks a little duller than it should. Nothing here deserves scorn, but nor are they the sort of stories you encourage others to read.
Still, that's better than most anthologies, and it's hard to find too much fault with being given more material, more cheaply than if it had been two separate issues. This, if nothing else, is an experiment I'd like to see repeated, and that's all the encouragement I need to call it a success.