by Charles Soule (Writer), Jefte Palo (Artist), Guru eFX (Colorist)

The Story: The Punisher and his team fight the mob in their bunker, Red Hulk tries to fight the invaders and Deadpool finally gets his pizza.

The Review: I rather like Charles Soule right now. Discovering him as he took over Swamp Thing at DC, he has been in some more books in the previous months and now seems to be doing some work for Marvel as well, with this title as well as She-Hulk coming in February. With a knack for taking over books and giving them either a new direction or focusing on the stronger elements of the core concept, Soule is rapidly becoming a writer on the rise in terms of visibility.

Thunderbolts is one of the book that has received a bit of his skill, to good effect as the mix of rather dark humor to the sensibilities of hard killers makes for a rather enjoyable book. Tying in to Infinity, Soule tries to incorporate those stone-cold killers to the larger Marvel universe, yet does he succeed in making them interesting and his tale good enough for readers to care?

He starts with the right footing as the first thing he seems to be doing well is creating a nice balance between plot and humor, advancing the story without putting too much emphasis on the horror of what the characters are doing. The pacing in itself in terms of development is good, with each scene getting to the point and delivering something worthwhile for readers, like how outgunned the mob is against Venom, Punisher and Elektra or when Deadpool finally get the pizza slice he wanted in the first place. There is enough going on in this issue that it doesn’t feel decompressed in the slightest, giving a central conflict with many smaller problems on the side for the characters to resolve in the issue. In terms of storytelling, it’s good.

What’s also good are the characters as their interactions with each other is one of the more entertaining aspects of this issue. Soule understands that they are characters who are much more used to working alone than in a team, as the friction and the headstrong attitudes of some create some interesting conflicts of personality on some key moments. These kind of interactions are what make a lot of the humor work in some cases, with the characterization of these broken persons coming to the forefront when dealing with relatively normal situations. It’s this kind of sharp contrast that make the characters and the humor work together to create a pretty neat effect most of the time.

What’s also neat is the action, with moments dedicated to Red Hulk and the Punisher team as they receive their time to shine. The action is straight to the point and most of the time brutal, yet in a way that feel true to the characters. Red Hulk is strong and controlled, Venom goes berserk, Elektra is precise and Frank Castle is both angry yet focused (meanwhile, Deadpool eats pizza). It plays right into the balance of story and humor, which is also a very nice thing that speaks for Charles Soule talent in general.

The downfall of this issue, though, is the art once again. However, Jefte Palo shows some improvement in this issue as the expressions in the various character’s face are much clearer and better-looking in general, the panel flow is still nice and the action is still good-looking. Where he doesn’t exactly improve is in the generally lifeless backgrounds devoid of anything else besides the titular team and the aliens, showing a bizarrely empty Manhattan. The anatomy is pretty strange as well, with some of the characters possessing enormous heads or rather deformed traits. It’s part of the style of Jefte Palo, to be sure, yet it doesn’t look very good on the pages nonetheless. His art in this issue isn’t quite as bad as the previous one, yet it is still not good-looking by any standard.

The colorization of Guru eFX is neat and shows improvement here as well, yet it is still a bit too elementary to be qualified as good. There is a bit more diversity in here as the effects from Mercy’s energy and the terrigen mist add some more colors to the mix, but beside that there is still some kind of fixation on the duller colors like grey, beige and brown in some scenes without much contrast to make it worth. The scenes in the city with Red Hulk and Red Leader works much better in terms of colors, but the rest isn’t particularly nice or experimental enough to be anything more than competent.

The Conclusion: The mix of dark humor, neat characterization and interactions along with a good bit of action makes this book a nice reading experience, despite the quality of the art team. It’s an improvement over last month in some respects, but it’ still not the hit it could very well be with the right creative team.

Grade: B-

Hugo Robberts Larivière