Those of us who were dismayed at the notion that the Dark Avengers would be replacing our favorite temporally-tossed malcontents needn't have worried, as after one issue of the Thunderbolts rebranding, we jump right back to the team that's been entertainingly dysfunctional for so long as they try to find their way back to their own time – and we finally get some answers. And the Man-Thing says "what up?" No, I'm not kidding.
Ever since Fear Itself, the misbegotten team of pseudo-reformed criminals – Centurius, Fixer, Satana, Boomerang, Moonstone, Mr. Hyde and their adorable little savage mascot-girl Troll, and later to be joined by Ghost – have been inadvertantly shooting back and forth through the time stream when all they were trying to do was escape the clutches of Luke Cage and the Thunderbolts rehabilitation program. When last we left them, Fixer had to sacrifice his future to preserve the timestream, leaving Centurius the only science genius with no one "checking his math," so to speak. Things have not gotten better.
We open Thunderbolts #176 with an homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the TBolts massive time-traveling headquarters arrives at the Dawn of Man like a mysterious monolith, driving the local ape-men wild. Troll feels right at home, and as usual, somebody's got to corral the restless wanderers like her. Without Fixer, they're turning on each other once again, with Moonstone accusing Satana of pulling shenanigans to mess up their attempts to get back to the proper time, and Hyde and Troll rallying to the defense of the daughter of Satan. Until it turns out that there's some other time traveler that's landed in their same spot, being attacked by sharks, and they save him from certain doom as well, although it's a mystery as to who he is.
Traveling back even farther, to the dawn of all life, including appearances by the Celestials and the Watcher, to whom Hyde amusingly blurts "What are you lookin' at, y' bleedin' baby man?!" At the exact moment in time where life could actually exist on planet Earth, the T-Bolts finally learn their answer – it was all the Man-Thing. Many issues ago, Satana inscribed the Worldsong into the "Vogurnus Koth," as Satana referred to it, and after the Giant-Size Man-Thing went ape-dookie in Fear Itself, it entered a regenerative state, and apparently needed to use its dimensional-travel malarkey to head back to the beginning of everything in order to emerge whole once more – and on its next evolutionary level, where it can actually speak – not only simple verbalization, but in the "universal language." That means everybody hears him in their own way. And Boomerang hears him say "What up?" As well as "Y'all tha snitches that got me my riches." At least that disturbs Boomer as much as it disturbs the reader. Talking Man-Thing is cool, and this little trick makes him a tad easier to fit into whatever story someone wants to write with him – which may be a while, since the TBolts leave him at the dawn of time to be the eternal plant-thing he is.
Of course, that leaves the swerve of the mysterious other time-traveler. When he first appeared, I noted they were obscuring his face, and he looked a little armory. I crossed my fingers and hoped that somehow, this was Doom 2099. Yes, I'm a sucker for 2099 stuff, and Doom does garb himself in a red cape, much like he did during the Warren Ellis run on that title. Turns out I was half-right. It is indeed Dr. Doom (always cool), but he's back in time from an old Mark Millar/Bryan Hitch issue of Fantastic Four from 2009, which makes us cheer writer Jeff Parker and his respect for fun continuity. However, the fact that he's threatening to abandon the T-Bolts in the far-flung future before returning home – and the fact that the T-Bolts attack the crap out of Doom and there's a big ka-boom – might just mean we'll get a 2099 taste after all. Which would be awesome.
While it may have seemed like this time-travel arc has stretched out a bit too long, getting these answers from Parker at long last is still pretty cool, and the book remains entertaining, and my mind was still reeling at Talking Man-Thing when the introduction of Motherscractchin' Doom not only jerks us in a new and unexpected direction, but actually seems to unite the squabbling Thunderbolts as an legitimate team – at least for the moment, in the face of "the king of the super villains." We're also welcoming back Kev Walker's art, and the Doom reveal is pretty damn impressive with his crudely make-shift mask and all – and his Man-Thing is really long and dangly… oh god, I mean the vines on his face! Also, his Troll remains cuddly. I tend to forget she's around until she does something animalistically cute.
While I'll continue to hope Parker takes over The Incredible Hulk when Jason Aaron leaves, as well as being thankful that a lot of Hulk supporting characters are now rolling with his Red Hulk, I've got my fingers crossed that he may bust out some 2099 action that actually pays attention to the original 2099 comics. Until now, Marvel has liked the notion of 2099 here and there without really paying heed to the actual books. That recent teenage Miguel O'Hara thing just wasn't right. It probably WON'T be, but even if it isn't, chances are it'll still be pretty fun.