By: Jeff Parker (writer), Valentine de Landro & Matthew Southworth (artists), Frank Martin & Fabio D’Auria (colorists), Albert Deschesne (letterer), Rachel Pinnelas (assistant editor) & Tom Brennan (editor)

The Story: Betrayal is in the air as the Thunderbolts battle aquatic mutants that are boiling out of Lake Michigan.

What’s Good: Jeff Parker has a really tight handle on how to pace these stories.  I say it month after month about both Thunderbolts and Hulk (Parker’s other Marvel ongoing), but he is able to cram a huge amount of story into a single-issue.  The way Parker does this with a team book like Thunderbolts is really impressive if you’ve ever watched a writer flounder with the X-Men.  Everyone gets some page time in a Parker book.  It might not be a LOT of time, but it seems he makes a conscious effort to give each central character a line or two of dialog that shows what they’re doing and how they’re feeling.

Also in typical Parker fashion, we’ve got two stories going on at once.  The main events of this issue involve the potential betrayal by the Underbolts.  This has been building for 5-6 issues and it makes perfect sense for a team of villains.  But the richness of this series is that not all the characters are equally despicable.  Some seem to actually LIKE the hero thing.  Some might be tempted to run away, but their moral compass won’t quite let them do it when their teammates and innocent civilians are in danger.  And some are just villains.  Seeing each character make their sometimes surprising choices is part of the fun and we’re left with a cliffhanger as to what a couple of characters chose to do.

While that was going on in the background, we also had some fun monster action as the team(s) tried to take down these monsters that are coming out of Lake Michigan to ravage Chicago.  The monsters are all icky, gross and menacing so there’s no reason for the team to hold back while they splatter these things.  Parker also makes great use of Man-Thing in dealing with the problem.

What’s Not As Good: Honestly, I was a little disappointed in the art.  I guess I’ve gotten too used to how Kev Walker and Declan Shalvey draw these characters because this issue wasn’t quite as clear.  As an example, on the first page there is an inset panel where I couldn’t figure out what character was show because the pink wash of her powers removed the coloring cues on her uniform.  Why not have that panel from behind where you can have the visual character AND also better illustrate what she is doing with her power (she’s throwing up a wall of sound).  There were a couple of moments like this where the art just isn’t quite right and it affected the storytelling.  And, Moonstone seemed a little overly buxom which isn’t ordinarily a problem, but Walker and Shalvey have been going out of their way for the last year to draw her as a more lithe and athletic looking woman (and not “generic D-cup superheroine”).  It is nit-picky to fixate on items like this, but they are the kinds of things that throw you off when you’re reading a comic, especially where there weren’t any panels that were equally stunning.  But, the art isn’t anything I’d call “bad”….it’s just not as good as what we’ve gotten used to on Thunderbolts.  9 out of 10 panels execute just fine and tell a vibrant story.

I’ve also got a little bone to pick with Marvel editorial.  During Fear Itself, is Man-Thing hanging out with the Thunderbolts in Chicago OR is Man-Thing being chased around NYC by Howard the Duck and She-Hulk (as depicted in Fear Itself: Fearsome Four, which is not very good, btw).  I know we shouldn’t get too hung up on continuity and where characters are, but I think it is different with events.  If you want Fearsome Four to be an official tie-in and also slap the Fear Itself banner on this issue of Thunderbolts (although this issue has almost nothing to do with Fear Itself), you’ve gotta have some editorial consistency.

Conclusion: Another rollicking fun story with lots of great action and story crammed into one issue.  The art isn’t bad, but does make me miss and appreciate the series’ regular artists.

Grade: B+

-Dean Stell

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