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

The Story: Invasion of the Dark Avengers!  The Future of the Thunderbolts!

The Review: You have to wonder why, of all the titles Marvel puts out, Dark Avengers now gets a twice monthly release.  It may be a solid series, but it’s not as if there was a huge demographic of readers demanding a double dose of it.  More likely than not, this schedule will keep on so long as the team itself continues to be split in two, requiring two issues to give a month’s worth of sufficient coverage to their exploits.

And while I don’t have any problem with that as a rule, it does feel a bit irritating having to divide your attention between two completely separate plotlines that have seemingly nothing to do with each other.  You really come away from the issue feeling like you’re reading two different titles in one—namely, a respectable Thunderbolts adventure and a just-slightly-north-of-dull Dark Avengers mission.

It’s not as if the D.A.’s mission itself is dull.  Actually, their incursion into an enemy country so as to confront a despotic supervillain with both magical and alien resources is a pretty sweet gig.  It’s the Avengers themselves who bore me.  Trickshot, Doxie, Ragnarok, and Ai Apaec are relentlessly self-serving and cocky, so they haven’t exactly wormed their way into my heart.  While they’re not so callous as to leave each other hanging in a pinch, we get a lot of evidence showing they can’t be trusted, which means they’re not long for this title, which means you don’t really care what happens to them.

Meanwhile, the Thunderbolts keep finding themselves in even weirder and less predictable situations.  Picking up the stranded Doctor Doom and then having to fight him off in his home turf would take the cake, but having to escape a future dystopia full of folks who wield random combinations of former superhero/supervillain powers and weapons (Boss Cage gets not only Ghost Rider’s bike, but also Spider-Man’s webs and Iron Man’s repulsor rays)?  Good times.

And those times are made all the better by the T-bolts’ always lively mixture of personalities.  Take, for instance, their various reactions to Doom’s betrayal.

Centurius: “If it takes a dozen lifetimes, I am going to kill Victor van Doom.”

Hyde: “I’ll chew his foreign head off!”

Boomer: “I’ll talk a lot about evening the score, and then get distracted by stuff and never get around to it.”

If Parker somehow manages to connect the two plots together, it will be quite a feat indeed.  So far, you don’t have many hints that anything the Dark Avengers do has any effect on the Thunderbolts trapped in the future.  If you strong-arm me into offering some kind of theory, though, I’d say there’s the possibility of some kind of relationship between the army of synthesized chimeras the Sultan Magus sends against the D.A. and the humanoid mash-ups the Thunderbolts encounter in the supposed future.

At any moderate distance, Walker and Shalvey’s figures have the same pencil-thin features and composition, giving the whole issue a very consistent look.  It’s only when you zoom in that the differences between the two artists show themselves.  Walker still has this unusual quality where his characters take on a photo-realistic look on close-ups, which doesn’t exactly clash with his normally sketchy figures, but it is very noticeable.  Looks good, though.

Conclusion: Given my druthers, I’d prefer a pure Thunderbolts story, without any Dark Avengers stuff shoehorned in, but call that brand loyalty.  As is, we still get a very fine issue on a very fine series.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Skaar is the obvious realization that the only thing more awesome than the Hulk is the Hulk with a giant sword.