By: Jeff Parker (story), Declan Shalvey (art), Frank Martin Jr. (colors)

The Story: I can’t believe it’s not the Avengers!

The Review: Title changes do absolutely nothing for me, good or bad, unless they come with creative changes—or unless the new title is just plain heinous. Dark Avengers may strike you as no less silly than Justice League Dark, but it’s no more silly either (and actually, it’s quite a bit less).  And since we have the exact same creative team as when the series was still Thunderbolts, what do I care if they change their name to Dark Avengers or The Kinda Evil, Kinda Not Squad?

Yes, that last one is a joke, but it does get to the essence of the team, no?  Only originally, it referred to the general, moral character of the members.  With the exception of Luke Cage, Songbird, and Mach-V (the fully reformed), the rest of the T-bolts all come with a funky mix of criminal tendencies and heroic aspirations.  This issue introduces a new set of ‘Bolts—and they are still called as such, so you have to question the point of renaming the book at all—and it turns out most of them are just plain villains.

Frankly, my first instinct is to roll my eyes at evil doppelganger plotlines.  Inevitably, they all devolve into showdowns between the respective lookalikes, and the originals almost invariably win.  The doppelgangers here already had that beatdown, so we can set that tired formula away.  But that doesn’t change the inherent goofiness of seeing these obviously disturbed individuals attempting halfassedly to resemble their heroic counterparts, only to reveal themselves as clearly weak-sauce versions.  I mean, you can’t imagine Luke being able to take on the real Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Thor at the same time, right?

Not being the biggest Marvel buff in the world, I had little familiarity with any of the newbloods (with the exception of Ragnarok, the Thor robot from Civil War), but you can glean enough from the story—and a healthy dose of Wikipedia—to guess where Luke’s rage comes from at seeing them.  And so far, they newbies are just a little too fresh and unremarkable to care too much about them.  It doesn’t help that the bulk of their dialogue is oddly lame (making you wonder if Paul Levitz was ghostwriter on this issue): “This is what we could have done to you if Osborne let us cut loose.”  “Yes! Osborn held us back! We could have triumphed!”  “We aren’t just ‘Dark’ Avengers.  We are a force…of devast—”  Just to let you know, Ai Apaec gets cut off on that last corny line when Luke thankfully bashes him in the face.  With a boulder.  Bliss.

Considering these rookies have already gotten beaten down once by the Avengers, and nearly lose again to just Luke, Songbird, and Mach-V, you can only see F.A.C.T.’s choice of new members as horribly flawed if they want a team to take on “the most powerful opposition.”  Not to mention these folks are even less trustworthy and reliable than the old gang, forcing F.A.C.T. to use a Suicide Squad-esque shutdown mechanism as a control measure.  I can’t imagine this particular roster will be long for the world, especially once the time-traveling ‘Bolts return.

With each story arc, I get a little more impressed with how Shalvey’s agile lines can adapt to pretty much any genre and look credible.  So far, he’s done a thoroughly fantastical fantasy arc, plenty of sci-fi ridiculousness, and now he dips his hand into thriller and pulls it off very well.  Without exaggerating body language or facial expression, he conveys a clear sense of intrigue and suspicion simply through setting: shadowed conversations in dark, tight, enclosed spaces.

Conclusion: With an eye-roll, you accept the rather pointless name change, though you’ll be more reluctant to accept the team additions as potential long-term members of the cast.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I’m assuming, given F.A.C.T.’s calculating arrogance, that they’ll be brutally murdered by their own “employees” at some point in the near future, yes?

– If there’s one thing to hope for from all this nonsense, maybe pretending to be his brother will remind Barney Barton when they used to be on the same side.