By Jeff Parker (writer), Miguel Sepulveda (artist), Frank Martin (colorist)

The Story: Asgard lies in ruins as Norman Osborn’s own empire falls to pieces around him. With the assembled might of Marvel’s heroes poised to emerge victorious, Osborn’s team of covert operatives must decide whether to go down fighting or betray their boss for a greater good.

The Good: This version of the Thunderbolts comes to a satisfying conclusion while paving the way for what I genuinely hope will be a weirder and more interesting team roster. As soon as I’d read that the likes of Crossbones, Juggernaut, and the god damned Man-Thing would join the new Thunderbolts, well, this current team became a lot less interesting. But at least they went out on a high note, attempting a Dirty Dozen kind of mission to steal the Spear of Odin with the kind of reckless bravado that only a band of villains with nothing to lose can successfully pull off. I like that kind of attitude, especially when Parker complicates things by making Paladin, Ant-Man, and Ghost realize they do have something to lose and that maybe some ideals are worth fighting for after all. There’s a tense and frenzied atmosphere in this issue, a desperate sense that these villains know the battle is lost and that all they can do now is scurry about and claw at each other like drowning rats as they fight for survival. Parker did an admirable job pacing this issue and choreographing every fight for maximum impact, and when smoke clears and the dust settles from those battles, and we’re left with those great splash pages of Cage and Jessica looking out over The Raft, damn it all if it didn’t make me excited for the Heroic Age to arrive!

The Not So Good: I’ve never been a fan of Sepulveda on this book. Which isn’t to say I’m not a fan of his art, because I am, and I think he does great work, but this was absolutely the wrong comic to put him on. Sepulveda has what I can only describe as a soft style of art, with flowing linework and a lack of inks that require Martin to color largely over the original pencils. It’s not a bad way of style, and we’ve seen this work to great success on comics like Conan but it’s not nearly aggressive and mean enough for a comic like Thunderbolts. I still say Robert De La Torre had the best post Ellis/Deodato style for this comic; it was scratchy, dark, and downright mean. Speulveda’s art looks gentle by comparison, which might explain why I’ve never felt like this version of the team was ever a threat to be taken seriously…and that’s not how I ever want to feel about this team.

Conclusion: Parker and Sepulveda did the best they could with what they were given, but I never felt like they were capable of making the “Dark Reign” version of Thunderbolts as mean a book as it should have been. But with this issue they proved that they could hold their own and I suppose that’s enough. Now that this whole fiasco is behind us, I’m more excited to see what next month’s roster will bring. If you didn’t buy this issue, I can’t say I’d blame you.

Grade: C

-Tony Rakittke