And Jeff Parker surprises me again. Which is surprising in itself – after years of stylishly stalwart service writing such Marvel titles as Agents of ATLAS and Thunderbolts, constantly delivering original spins on old tropes, I should expect the unexpected.
Like here. The cover tells us that Thunderbolts has become Dark Avengers, with Norman Osborn’s knock-off no-goodniks kicking the regular guys out of their own book. Open the comic, though, and it’s another story. Regulars Luke Cage, Songbird and Mach V are still around, kicking the collective arse of Trick Shot, Dark Spider-Man, Ragnarok and Toxie Doxie. The newcomers, it turns out, are the latest captured supervillains drafted into the Thunderbolts Programme – if they help the authorities with a mission, they’ll get considerations. If they go off-mission, nanites blow their brains out.
Luke and co are distinctly unthrilled, what with this bunch being among the Avengers’ most vicious enemies, but FACT – the government wallahs who oversee the Thunderbolts – inform them that their services are no longer needed. Our heroes, though, have other ideas. When the Dark Avengers reach Africa to rescue a spy next issue they’ll be under a field leader of Luke’s choosing – Skaar, Son of Hulk!
Whom I know nothing about. I’ve avoided Hulk spin-offs other than She-Hulk. And I didn’t bother reading about these Dark Avengers. All I know is that Thor clone Ragnarok looks the business in the Asgardian’s original costume, and Toxie Doxie is the best female character name since Hero Hotline’s Microwaveabelle. Given Parker’s talent for economically sketching in personality, I’ve no doubt the new recruits will have become favourites by the time the missing Thunderbolts return from the time stream.
Because they’ve not been forgotten, with a scene in which Hank Pym makes progress towards finding Troll, Mr Hyde, Moonstone and the rest, while Luke Cage has fun with alligators. Whether one or more of the returnees will stay with the Thunderbolts I can’t guess – certainly the Dark Avengers are treated here as a one-off team rather than the Thunderbolts Evermore – but at least they’ll be available to play.
As well as Parker, we get to keep artist Declan Shalvey, further emphasising that this book is still the Thunderbolts. Shalvey’s linework here seems less assertive than usual, but it’s still good, and the colours of Frank Martin Jr help keep disappointment at bay.
All in all, the creative team manages the neat trick of producing a book that, while a relaunch, is the same comic which fans have been enjoying for years. The character mix is different, but changing ranks have long been a Thunderbolts trademark. So while the Dark Avengers have the prime logo spot for now, have no doubt – the Thunderbolts will be back.