By Jeff Parker (writer), Declan Shalvey (artist), Frank Martin & Fabio D’Auria (colorists)

The Story: Luke Cage’s involvement in Shadowland is explained this month, even though the mini-series is almost over. But whatever. Oh, and the Thunderbolts fight some ninjas…bet you didn’t see that one coming, did ya?

Bitter Random Thoughts: What. The Hell. Was this!? As long as I’ve been reviewing Parker’s run on Thunderbolts I have absolutely adored this book and been a huge admirer of what he and the art team have been achieving. And then I read this issue, and now I feel like I’ve been sucker-punched and slightly betrayed. Was this month’s issue a victim of poor editorial oversight? Of being shoehorned into a storyline it had no logical right participating in? Of being just plain ugly?

Well, yeah.

I have found that the times I’m hardest on this book are when it’s being dragged into stupid fucking crossovers. It happened with Avengers Academy and it’s happened again here with Shadowland. In both instances, this comic was far better than the storylines it was being forced to participate in, but the inclusion of the Thunderbolts in Daredevil’s fall from grace seems especially unnecessary. Cage’s crew haven’t been mentioned in Shadowland once before now, and now all of a sudden they’re lurking in the sewers fighting and being spanked by cannon fodder ninjas!? Sorry, but I’m not buying it. This team is more powerful than that, and the fact that they got their asses handed to them by the fucking Hand is sad and illogical and deeply Wrong. It also reeks of editorial mismanagement, of Parker being told how this story had to go down to fit with Marvel’s larger vision. Which they’re entitled to do, I suppose, seeing as how these are their toys, but God help me why does their vision suck so bad?

These editorial shenanigans extend to the hiring of Declan Shalvey as this month’s artist. On any other book I don’t think I’d have a problem with Shalvey’s pencils but here his pages are almost a disservice to the fine work Walker has started on the comic. Hell, I didn’t even know they were talking about Gunna (Troll…whatever) in the opening pages until they mentioned her by name. Small character moments like the nefarious bit of teamwork between Crossbones and Juggernaut during their meal time, or the way Moonstone didn’t seem to especially mind watching Fixer be impaled by a ninja sword, are glimpses into the otherwise wonderful writing Parker normally maintains on this book, but they seem painfully insignificant in a book that was otherwise forced to participate in Shadowland without providing any convincing context or motivation for the Thunderbolts to do so.

If I’ve come off as being overly bitter and harsh on the book, it’s only because Parker and Walker have proven themselves to be more than capable of delivering great entertainment, which makes a filler issue like this that much more painful to endure. I didn’t care for the art, thought the plot was nonexistent, and resent having one of my favorite teams get their asses handed to them in one a mediocre storyline like Shadowland. Not only do you not need this issue, but I’ll go on record now and say you probably shouldn’t bother with next month’s issue, either.

Grade: D

-Tony Rakittke