by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker (Writers), Matteo Lolli (Artist), James Campbell (Colorist)

The Story: It seems that Dr. Strange has gone insane, making people happy whether they want to or not thanks to his spells. Thankfully, the Thunderbolts are here to kill the mood…

The Review: There always comes a time when a reader has to weight down on what’s more important as far as personal experiences go. Does consistency holds a bit more value than pure entertainment? It may seem like a silly question, yet with so many retcons or with some concepts being handled in hazardous ways, it can be somewhat problematic if someone knows he should enjoy something, yet cannot for things that may seem minor at best.

In a way, this annual feels a lot like that for me. The premise is absurdly fun, with some very entertaining scenes and choices put down by the creative team, yet they do so in a lot of ways without any regard to previous stories or to the detriment of previously established elements. Is the story worth the disregard to continuity or is the lack of consistency with previous books something that hold this annual back?

This issue simply cannot be reprimanded for lack of trying, though, as both Acker and Blacker inserts quite a lot in terms of ideas, both old and news. With scenes like Venom and Punisher going to Asgard, Elektra and Deadpool going to visit Bloodstone Manor as they want to collect magical artifacts, there is plenty of opportunity for shenanigans that wouldn’t always be connected with those characters in the first place.

The newer additions are also rather intriguing to say the least, with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s own magic department being introduced, W.A.N.D. (Wizardry Alchemy Necromancy Department if you must know). With this being presented in the story, not only does Acker and Blacker contributes fairly well to the Marvel universe, but they also allow for some massive opportunities for development. With some concepts being actually interesting, this makes this issue infinitely more fascinating as a result.

Still, an area where both writers seem to excel is the humor, with the nature of those killers that are part of the Thunderbolts team being used fairly well in order to bring ludicrous action and a certain clash of presentation and ideology. The magical aspect of the tale, as well as the dialogue, is hyperbolized very much, making the very nature of those characters come off as hilarious as they gear up in magic items and as they battle such things as frost giants and killer fairies. It’s definitely a very fun issue, to say the least.

Where it might lose some readers is in how it actually loosen up with the whole cannon. People who are generally nitpicky about plot details or characterization shall probably have a field trip with this one, such as the fact that W.A.N.D. somehow possess Ghost Rider’s bike, the fact that the rest of the team somehow knew that Venom is in a sort-of relationship with Valkyrie, the fact that the armor Red Leader is wearing does not look like the armor it refers to in the slightest. There are numerous little details like this in the story which can lose some people.

What can actually win some people over, though, is the art of Matteo Lolli. It’s a bit cartoonish, yet there is a real energy to it that suits this fast-paced and action-filled story really well. Bringing just enough details to the backgrounds, sceneries and details, Lolli is able to present a rich canvas for his characters to interact in, pushing the alien and bizarre feeling of magic to the forefront with seeming ease. The action is nice, the panel flow is great and the diversity of visuals is splendid, with monsters, eldritch entities, frost giants and many other elements brought forth seamlessly in the tale. Where Lolli loses some points is with facial expressions, though, with his characters either being blank or simply too exaggerated with their emotions. With all the qualities on display, it is a small price to pay for a visually very satisfying issue however.

The colorization of James Campbell is also rather good, with a huge diversity on display. Showing a really wide range of colors, Campbell cooperates very well with the script of fantasy and magic, showing the more bizarre and violent side of magic without going overboard. It is a bit uneven at times, though, with moments of sheer brilliance smothered down by some panels and pages that are just competent, with either too much diversity or not enough of a focus on specific elements. There are a lot of instances where a lower number of colors proves to be a right choice in setting up contrasts and setting a certain mood, but Campbell does not do it often enough to make it count as an extraordinary issue in terms of colorization. It’s still highly competent though.

The Conclusion: There may be some liberties taken with continuity and several elements, but the sheer fun, creativity and madness on display in both the script and art makes this annual a very entertaining book nonetheless. Recommended.

Grade: B+

Hugo Robberts Larivière