A lot of fans of "Thunderbolts" were a little worried when the shift to "Dark Avengers" with issue #175 was first announced. We're three issues into the new "Dark Avengers" now and what we've actually got are two sister books co-existing side-by-side.
For readers who came on board with the promise of the "Dark Avengers" title, writer Jeff Parker serves up a story set in the modern day with the new Dark Avengers heading into a relatively new North African country named Sharzhad. It's probably the weaker of the two halves, but that's in part because we're still getting to know the new team. We're getting some snippets of their personalities, though, and when we see Sharzhad's ruler Sultan Magnus, it's an impressive moment. With Luke Cage still around for now, though, there's a central point of familiarity offered up to the reader and it's a good lynch pin to keep people on board.
For those who were into "Thunderbolts," their story against Doctor Doom also rages on. For being primarily one huge fight scene, it's actually rather gripping. I appreciated that some of the less-physical members are clearly in way over their heads here, and the different methods that the team attacks Doctor Doom -- especially Satana's multiple tricks up her sleeve -- makes "Dark Avengers" #177 feel quite inventive. It's a clever little story that keeps the tension ratcheted up from one page to the next.
What impresses me is that neither half feels like the other undercuts it. The two stories don't intersect (yet, at any rate) but co-exist in harmony. That's not an easy task to pull off and I appreciate Parker's ability to construct the issue such that people reading one half of the book will still enjoy the other.
Kev Walker and Declan Shalvey share art duties, which is apt since Shalvey was the regular fill-in artist for Walker on "Thunderbolts." Both artists are good, with Shalvey's art feeling a little (deliberately) rougher and more ragged with the Dark Avengers characters, while Walker's art is somewhat crisper over in the Thunderbolts realm. The best part of the book, visually, has got to be Walker drawing the scenes with Man-Thing and Ghost. The flocks of butterflies, the gentle glow of Man-Thing's eye, the way he settles back into the environment -- I'd read 32 pages of nothing but Man-Thing wandering around, it looks so great.
"Dark Avengers" #177 may have a new title and half of a new cast, but it's very much to Parker, Walker, and Shalvey's credit that it's welcoming to everyone, new or old. It's been a relief to find the title shift not an off-putting moment for the book. This "Thunderbolts" fan is happy with the end result, and plans on sticking around no matter what the comic is renamed.