by Andy Diggle (writer), Miguel Sepulveda (art), Frank Martin (colors), and Albert Deschesne (letters)

The Story: Mr. X and Headsman butt heads and the Thunderbolts hunt down Songbird, but not before she makes contact with a couple of old friends.

What’s Good: After not being present last month, I’m glad to see Mr. X establish a place for himself on the team. Not only is he a powerhouse, but his sophisticated sadism and arrogance is a good fit, shown here in how it bounces off the “rough around the edges” Headsman. X is as much fun to read as he was a couple of months ago.

Meanwhile, seeing Songbird meet up with a couple of teammates serves as something of a nostalgia trip.  Diggle shows an admirable display of logic in having one former teammate balk at helping Songbird: they earned their clean slates, why would they give that up to help her? Still, it’s a nice, warm moment that also serves to make the new Thunderbolts look pretty ugly in comparison.

The real star this month, however, is Miguel Sepulveda.  Last issue, I believe I said that Sepulveda was doing his best Roberto de la Torre impersonation. This month, he truly comes into his own, bringing his own, unique “painted” Gene Colan-esque style to the book– well, in a dark, gritty, and digital Colan anyway. Either way, it looks great and Songbird’s powers are rendered gorgeously in bright contrast to the darkness of the rest of the book, much like her place in the current storyarc. While it’s clear that Sepulveda is using photo references here and there, it’s not at all static or overbearing.

What’s Not So Good: Unfortunately, this issue hedges on its shocking twist ending which is just flat-out ludicrous. It’s a twist that has been suggested on various message boards but has been continually dismissed for being groan-worthy and flat-out stupid. Well, logic be damned, Diggle actually goes for it.  Who cares if certain things will never add up? It’s “shock for shock’s sake.” And “genetic camouflage?”  Seriously?

I’m also feeling increasingly bad for Headsman. First, Deadpool makes a fool out of him for an entire crossover and now it’s Mr. X’s turn. As if that wasn’t enough, Ant-Man then basically goes on to point out how much of a fool he’s been for Diggle’s entire run… and it’s true. After the Deadpool crossover, Diggle’s team of unknowns has needed legitimacy; since continuing to undermine a guy who should be one of its more menacing members just isn’t a good idea.

I also have to point out that, while it’s not necessarily fair to the book itself, it’s hard not to read this without thinking about Diggle’s impending departure. This month once again feels like a writer establishing his characters and settling in for a long run. In reality, he’s setting up what’ll probably be his team’s final conflict, which means that this is about as good as it’s gonna get.

Conclusion: A book that’s a beginning that feels like an end. A fun read with fantastic art, great action, and solid character moments but a terrible ending.

Grade: C+

-Alex Evans