by Charles Soule (Writer), Carlo Barberi (Artist), Israel Silva, James Campbell, Thomas Mason (Colorists)

The Story: The team tries to find a way out of hell as the Punisher tags along with Elektra for a job.

The Review: It must be hard, yet ecstatic to be Charles Soule right now. While his workload keeps on getting bigger, his general popularity is on the rise as well, with a creator-owned comic as well as several DC and Marvel titles under his belt. Getting a lot of appreciation from many fans, there seems to be little that the writer cannot do, tackling supernatural, humor, cosmic and many other subgenres rather well. Not all of his titles are equal in terms of quality, but 2013 was a year which made him a well-known quantity as far as many were concerned.

One title which did get better, yet not as much as other titles under his reins, was Thunderbolts, the team of killers with popular characters like Deadpool, Punisher and Red Hulk. While the title did get a lot more focus and got a much needed amount of levity and humor despite its rather grim concept, it never went as well as the handle Soule has on titles like Swamp Thing or Red Lanterns. However, any writer can improve with each issue, even if it is by just a little bit.

This issue, as far as it goes, is an enhancement over the previous one, decidedly going for stark contrasts in term of ideas, going for delightful black humor and a certain amount of nonchalance through what could very well be a horrific story. Much of the comedy here pass in the way the characters interact, with the sense of normalcy of Ghost Rider, through the jokes of Deadpool to the constant curiosity of Venom.

The way this unseemly team bickers and try to adapt to such a harsh environment makes for a rather amusing tale, with Soule earning points for his characterization of Johnny Blaze, a man who has resigned to his fate a long time ago, one who decided not to give a crap anymore and not take more than he needs to. The rest of the team is also certainly entertaining as well, with many traits that are well used, such as the tough attitude of Red Hulk or the always planning Red Leader. Much of every character here, from Mephisto to the team in hell are simply fun to read, with their inability to actually work as a team being one of the better aspect of this book.

The use of the larger events of the Marvel universe is also rather good too, as fans of obscure continuity should definitely be pleased. The pact that Red Hulk made with Mephisto, who the actual ruler of hell is and what Johnny Blaze has been up to is something that is definitely pleasing for fans of the Marvel universe at large.

Some parts of the book which aren’t as good, though, are those focusing on Elektra and Punisher, with those having a decidedly different tone that does concord with the mix between craziness and absurdity set in hell. While the characterization is sound, with the relationship between the two characters and their motivation for staying in the team being actually explored, there is a certain lack of humor or development that makes those scenes as effective as the rest. While it does makes for a sharp contrast that makes the scenes with those two decidedly different, it seems that Soule does not go far enough in his statement and with his take on who those characters are in a team full of colorful and violent powered beings. It’s not entirely bad, but it does feel like a bit of a missed opportunity.

Despite this, the art does make up for a it a little bit, with Carlo Barberi being a bit better here, playing in a rougher environment that is better suited to his style and to the characters he portrays on paper. The poses, expressions and little details Barberi adds to the whole when it comes to conveying the right tone and emotions are rather well-made, with a special attention given to the size, demeanour and special traits of every single one of them. The bulkiness of Red Hulk, the flames of Ghost Rider, the small mustache of Red Leader and much of everything is done just right, making so the characters look very good on paper. Where it falters a bit, though, is in how generic the backgrounds look, with a few pillars of rock thrown here and there to simulate hell. While they do make the minimal effort of putting the proper context, the scenery is borderline lazy in terms of details, which does not help cement the story or add anything much beside a minimum of precision in a few spots.

The actual hell is better represented with the colorization, with Israel Silva, Thomas Mason and James Campbell playing accordingly with a very high amount of warm colors to simulate heat and danger. Setting the design behind the costumes of the team and the terrain as a contrast, the warm red, orange and all their variations and shades never overwhelm the rest of the story and the important elements. There’s a fine balance here that this team of colorists is able to juggle with that is rather impressive. With the Punisher and Elektra scenes, the colorists go for a very different approach, bombarding the pages with the opposite, playing with colder colors to make the warmer ones the oddity, playing smartly with the color composition that is the norm in this issue, pushing forth the balance even further in a smart way.

The Conclusion: It isn’t the most even of issues in terms of developments and entertainment, yet the dialogue, the characters and some of the basic ideas behind this issue, combined with the mostly successful art and colorization makes this more of a hit than a miss. Not the best, but certainly fun nonetheless.

Grade: B-

Hugo Robberts Larivière