By: Jeff Parker (story), Neil Edwards (pencils), Terry Pallot (inks), Chris Sotomayor (colors)

The Story: We solved all our energy problems and the world’s still ending anyway.  Figures.

The Review: I just caught wind of the upcoming, new Thunderbolts series, which will feature an entirely different cast and set of creators.  While I certainly understand the promise of putting a major badass in charge of some of the most recognizable Marvel antiheroes, I simply think the idea has been tried and tested in Uncanny X-Force.  Besides, I seriously doubt the replacements will be nearly as much fun as the current crew.

Maybe I should amend that last bit and say, “nearly as much fun as the current crew used to be.”  Once upon a time, I looked forward to this series each month because I could depend on it to provide a solid, entertaining read.  Ever since it got rebranded, the energy and personality of the series has steadily declined until it has now become this bloated, overdone mass of inert chaos.

This really has nothing to do with the change in title or even with the Dark Avengers themselves.  They all had enough unusual features to potentially become more complex, important characters than mere copycats.  I recall in particular a moment in #179, where Ragnarok gapes at the landscape of Sharzhad, seemingly lost in the “memory” of Asgard.  Had Parker chosen to put moments like this more in the forefront, he might have legitimized the newbies to some degree and given us a more interesting story.

Instead, the Dark Avengers get appropriately relegated to cannon fodder, mere distractions until the true Thunderbolts can arrive to save the day.  But that only highlights the inevitability that’s attached to nearly every part of this plot.  A common critique of the superhero genre is its lack of innovation, and issues like this one only give those critics more ammunition.  As far back as two issues ago, the average reader probably could’ve put the entire story together themselves.  You were never left in serious doubt that F.A.C.T.’s plan would fail, the unreliable T’bolts would arrive just in time to save the day and the world, and in between Boss Cage would see in them hope for the past and a new future.

Since we know all these things will eventually happen, the series just seems to drag its feet in getting there.  The sequence of the Thunderbolts breaking through the Mondo City walls offers a perfect example.  There’s absolutely no way Parker would allow the band to escape the future without letting Boss Cage get in a few kicks first, and there’s no way he would allow them to escape (given the personal stakes involved) unless they persuaded him to let them go.  So that final page of him charging into the fray, declaring they won’t “get any closer!” comes across as a farce, considering how loudly Parker has broadcast the way things must turn out.

It amazes me that this is the same Edwards who drew the once slick-looking Herc.  While you have moments where his semi photo-realistic style comes through, the rest of the issue looks like a hurried affair, as if he slapped on the outlines of what he wanted to draw, did some polishing, then lost interest and moved on to the next thing.  In the smaller panels, he looks like he lost interest completely.  As for Sotomayor, it looks like at one point, he himself got confused as to whether he was coloring Hank Pym or Warden Walker, as Walker wears blue for most the issue, then switches to the same red Pym’s wearing.

Conclusion: While it may seem like Parker is winding down to ready for the takeover of a whole new set of Thunderbolts, the truth is this series lost steam some time ago.

Grade: C

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – And so another supervillain with a bright future gets reduced to whininess and an inability to improvise in an emergency situation.  The least inspiring moment had to be Sultan Magus crying, “Why am I locked out?!” as he tries to access his extra source of power.