Jeff Parker is one of those writers who has earned my complete trust, since he created history's greatest bad guy team in the Intelligencia and saved the Red Hulk from his miserable beginnings. It took me a while to come around to giving his Thunderbolts a shot, but now that I have, I'm very glad I did. However, in this issue, Juggernaut says "whatevs." Of all the characters in this book to use annoying and unnecessary internet slang, the burly old meathead should not have been the one, Mr. Parker.
The man is allowed a few minor slips, of course, because the rest of the book is solid, he's found a way to actually put the ever-lovin' Man-Thing on a team and it's a perfect place for Luke Cage to be. Apologies to Brian Michael Bendis and Tom Brevoort, but Cage, Iron Fist, Spider-Man, Wolverine, the Thing and Dr. Strange doesn't feel at all like an Avengers team to me. It just feels like a random grab-bag collection of superheroes. Now playing a hard-ass, no-bullshit team captain for a group of convicts looking to reform just like he did? That makes a hell of a lot more sense for the former Power Man.
Thunderbolts #156 is a decent jumping on point, as not only is it the beginning of a new mission (featuring their freaky new occult specialist Satana), but it's also kicking off that tried and true team-book tradition of "picking new members" that always gets people excited. This time, though, it's for a back-up T-Bolt squad to be fronted by Songbird (much to the chagrin of the Fixer). This new lineup has definitely piqued my interest for a few reasons. For one, they've pushed the Shocker as a strong candidate, and he's one of my favorite bad guys. If he sticks around, I stick around. Also, the possibility of Boomerang stepping up to the plate is also a good sign, because he's right there next to Shocker in the cool department. Then there's Centurius, an old Nick Fury villain I'd never heard of who nonetheless came through as an interesting super-genius able to see through the charade of the cattle-call. How these guys will interact with the surly third-person-speaking feral girl raised by trolls will be something to see.
Then, of course, there's Mr. Hyde… a rather risky choice of powerhouse for the team. There's a sad little moment where the tiny Dr. Calvin Zabo sits down for his interview, delighted that they're interested in his scientific work only to be a little crestfallen that all they want is his burly alter ego. It's unclear if it's artistic license from Kev Walker or a legit plot point, but the bestial man looks to be larger than usual – enough that he can palm Songbird's torso. All of it leads to a lot of anticipation for future stories – will the B-team get their own book, or will we switch back and forth between teams for each adventure? Can't wait to find out!
Of course, they could just bounce back and forth between stories like they do in this issue, as the recruitment drive is interspersed with the actual T-Bolts adventure, in which Satana is having far too much fun messing with the heads of her new teammates. Last issue, we saw that all her reluctance to take part in the Thunderbolts evaporated at the mere mention of the Man-Thing, and we first see her here having a gay old time just giving the swamp walker a bunch of funky tattoos. Then, she proceeds to fondle the rest of the team in her lascivious ways until Cage reins her in. Moonstone's huffy response to this woman-handling seems a long way from the creepy stuff in Dark Reign, where she was schtupping her way through the Dark Avengers on camera to tweak Norman Osborn, but Karla Sofen has often bounced back and forth between good and bad.
Parker wastes no time in dropping our pseudo-heroes into a mystical hellscape, though, as they approach the mysteriously reappearing Gothenvald Castle that vanished in 1911 after being invaded by an armed alliance. Screaming Furies, spectral regiments and shadowy werewolf figures abound instantly, and we're left with no idea whether or not the capricious Daughter of Satan is actually going to do her 'magic-handling' job or leave them all to be completely screwed over.
Walker's art is kind of hit and miss, but when it hits, it hits pretty well. Parker's work here is pretty densely packed with ideas, so I'll forgive him the 'whatevs' incident. There's a lot going on in Thunderbolts, and it's chock full of possibilities for the future. As far as subtle things go, developments with the Fixer could be pretty significant. We've already seen him doing some hush-hush work for Baron Zemo over in Captain America to defame Bucky Barnes and get him thrown into a Russian prison, and he was one of the few original Thunderbolts who didn't get swept up into the heroism thing. He's always seemed to be strictly a for-hire guy before, but now he's seeming to be put out by not being included in the main group's missions, or being passed over to lead the B-team for Songbird. Since he's apparently full-on committed to the hero side now, he might be prickly about the respect shown for his talents, which means it may be high time for a little backsliding.
Whatever it is, I'm on board to find out. Especially if we get some regular Shocker action.
Minds out of the gutter, kids.