By: Jeff Parker (story), Gabriel Hernandez Walta & Kev Walker (art), Frank Martin Jr. (colors)

The Story: The Thunderbolts find a future not worth fighting for.

The Review: Lately, I’ve started to notice that this title is getting to be one of the harder ones to review week after week.  On the one hand, Parker always manages to deliver a technically solid issue with plenty of stuff going on, and he never writes anything that’s outright bad.  On the other hand, he doesn’t write anything all that remarkable either.  Sometimes I’ll read an entire issue of Dark Avengers (formerly Thunderbolts) and enjoy it, but forget all about it afterwards.

Maybe it has something to do with the cast of mostly C-listers, but I tend not to think so.  After all, Secret Six was composed entirely on nobodies, yet I followed their adventures with total devotion every month, while I sort of just breeze through this series.  No, I think what’s really missing from the book is a total dearth of character arcs.  To date, I still haven’t gotten a sense of change or growth from any of the Thunderbolts.  They proceed through all their adventures with a lot of enthusiasm, but they don’t come out of them any different than they started.

Also, you might have started to notice that for all the diversity the team brings to the table, they don’t really assert as much personality as you might expect—and they have a working relationship so stable that it’s almost dull.  Focusing the lens even closer, you realize they don’t even interact all that much, except to remark on the plot or deliver some necessary exposition.  They’ve gotten so comfortable in their pre-defined roles (Centurius, Satana, and Ghost as the intellectual leaders, Troll and Hyde as the amusing tanks, and Moonstone and Boomerang as the centered support), they rarely break out in a way that surprises or delights you.

The real problem with this series is that the plot tends to dominate and overshadow any chance for the characters to shine as individuals.  When the story is interesting, you don’t care too much, but when it turns into a by-the-numbers sort of tale, your attention begins to wonder.  Sadly, this mission into Sharzhad has devolved into just that.  The moment Mach-V discovers a F.A.C.T.-owned antigrav facility with a “big dynamo” inside, you immediately realize the significance of having Wender (who has the ability to transfer vast amounts of energy) in the country.  And if those aren’t enough hints for you, how about when the F.A.C.T. trio note the importance of getting Wender “into the palace” as soon as possible?  Talk about predictable.

That doesn’t mean things will just all fall properly into place, however.  Sultan Magus shows quite definitively that he’s not a man to be trifled with.  Not even having Skaar unleashed upon him causes so much as a flinch, and then he displays his mystic cred by turning the tables on both Cage and the son of Hulk in the span of a couple pages.  Not bad for a recently introduced villain; I’ve certainly seen plenty of less impressive debuts.

Walta comes from the same sketchy school as Walker, but unlike Walker, his figures are even more simple and rudimentary, lacking almost any kind of depth at all.  He doesn’t have much range either; his fallback facial expression seems to be bug eyes and open-square mouth, whether he’s depicting fear, impatience, entrancement, trauma, or getting a sword thrown into your chest.  Walker does his usual pleasing work, and thankfully covers the bulk of the issue.  The only downside is he makes the Thunderbolts look more superior to the Dark Avengers than ever.

Conclusion: I can’t deny the issue has its appeal, but that doesn’t change the total lack of attachment I feel at the end of it.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Did the Sultan Magus seriously say the source of all his knowledge and power is an Aladdin reference?