In the aftermath of Juggernaut’s advance on Chicago, the beaten and battered Thunderbolts must regroup and face a new threat as the serpent’s forces cause global panic.
So far, “Thunderbolts” has had one of the strongest “Fear Itself” tie-ins. This issue continues that high level of quality to a large extent, and even though the bulk of the Fear Itself material is over, there’s definitely a lot going on, with a variety of subplots and a particular focus on the core team from back in the book’s early days.
Indeed, the return of a certain character – codenamed Iron Cross – is something that Thunderbolts fans have been waiting to happen for literally years’ worth of stories, and it’s good to see it done in an understated fashion that suggests this subplot will run and run. It’s long-overdue, as is the focus Parker has placed on Fixer of late, and the old “Thunderbolts” fan in me can’t help but appreciate it.
However, on a wider plotting scale, it’s a little odd to see the Juggernaut/Fear Itself story dropped completely. I understand that the character has been prominent in “Uncanny X-Men” recently, but this doesn’t seem to resolve his appearance in both books in any direct way, it simply switches rails mid-way through the issue. As much as I like the plots Parker has on the go, they do seem to have intruded upon the book’s existing stories, rather than succeeded them. Even The Underbolts seem all but forgotten, for example.
Artist Declan Shalvey is really making his presence on the book felt as well. Although there’s a similarity to Kev Walker’s redesign of the team (and the book’s look in general), Shalvey manages to make his style work in a way that builds on Walker’s, rather than imitates it. There’s a lot of detail in his art, and an excellent sense of both page design and the individual motion of characters.
With its deft character work, brilliant artwork and lots of strong, story-centric action, Thunderbolts is currently delivering to its audience on every level. Whether it can translate that quality into wider appeal remains to be seen, however. Casual readers drawn in by the Fear Itself logo might find themselves lost among the dense plotting and rapid-fire dialogue exchanges.
Still, if Thunderbolts can deliver this well for its core fans every issue (and recently, it has done exactly that) then maybe it’ll pick up readers through word of mouth alone. It’s a cliché to say it, but despite being a mid-level performer, "Thunderbolts" is quickly proving itself one of Marvel’s best titles. Perhaps not always perfect, but it's consistently enjoyable and, most importantly, providing a read unlike anything else in the line right now.