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

The Story: Thunderbolts versus the Dark Avengers = Michael Jackson versus Justin Bieber.

The Review: Much as we claim to prefer surprises and spontaneity in our lives, I’m guessing that in reality, we’d hate it if the real world was that unpredictable.  The random weekend trip or birthday party at work aside, I think most of us would be perfectly content if more things went the way we expect them to.  The one place where we will never enjoy predictability is in our fiction.  Lord forgive the story where you can guess what’ll happen next, without much effort.

Unfortunately, Dark Avengers doesn’t have a prayer left. Last month, probably like most of you, I saw Boss Cage’s turnaround coming from a mile away, and once that happened, I knew the Thunderbolts coming back to the present day to kick their replacements’ butts and save the world from a semi-hypothetical dystopian future was guaranteed.  It’s one of those situations where I’m actually a little sad to be proven correct (and believe me, I love being right).

There are some bright spots amidst the unremarkable, however, not the least of which is the much deserved comeuppance of the Dark Avengers.  With no clear indication that they had any possibility of heroic redemption whatsoever, you’re more than happy to see them get schooled by their appropriate T-bolt counterparts.  All this gets done in such good time (about a page per Dark Avenger, except for Ai Apaec, who barely gets one panel), it pretty much reduces this quartet to laughingstock status for quite some time to come.

We also get a nice reminder that the T-bolts have a lot of heart for a motley gang of former criminals.  The reunion of Songbird and Troll is heartwarming, given how often Gunna mentioned Jessica’s name during her time-traveling adventures.  Parker doesn’t write the scene in a very straightforward way, though; you have a few moments where it looks like Gunna’s about to reject Jess’ welcome, and there’s no clear indication why.  Very strange.

Equally as bizarre is the sudden arrival of Cain Marko, whose presence hadn’t even been established up until the moment he just shows up to the party.  Then you have this awkward moment where he admits he has no power to do anything helpful anyway.  Thank his lucky stars the T-bolts come up and, with the power of magic, deus ex machina his problem away.  Really, it just seems like an excuse for Parker to have one big T-bolts send-off with all his favorite characters before he gets shooed away by the rebooted Thunderbolts coming down the pike.

Of all the things that happen in this issue, however, the one I protest the most is injecting the real Avengers into the mix.  Basically, they swoop in and save NYC from major destruction, leaving this vague “epoch cataclysm” for the Thunderbolts to deal with.  In theory, the cataclysm is the bigger threat to the planet, but at the end of the day, that’s all it is: a theory.  Kudos to the T-bolts for getting the job done; considering what needed to be done, only the T-bolts’ unflinching cost-benefit analysis, mostly unhampered by morals, could do it.

Another issue rushing toward its inglorious end, another bout of Edwards’ fill-in work, which lands quite a few steps below his normal standard of art.  It all looks a bit sloppy, and could perhaps benefit from a stronger ink, but Pallot doesn’t really provide it.  Sotomayor’s muddy colors don’t help either, as they cause Edwards’ lines to disappear into the background at times.  Still, Edwards has too much skill to ever produce anything downright ugly, and there are some panels that look clean, detailed, and fully fleshed (see Doxie getting magically thrashed by Satana).  At least the series can go out without artistically limping away.

Conclusion: A title concluding against its will never looks pretty, and although Parker tries to be as graceful about it as he can, it’s obvious he’s not quite as in control of his story as he’d like to be.  I have no intention of seeing this cancellation play out to the end.  Dropped.

Grade: C

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – So much for the Sultan Magus.  If the Middle East was looking for its personal Doctor Doom, they’ll have to look elsewhere—at least beyond the bloody and bruised pulp of a dictator lying amidst the ruins of his own palace.