Often times, it seems like the tie-in issues to any major event book are an exercise in seeing how much you can do without actually doing anything, since they're not always allowed to move the plot along. In Thunderbolts #159, the aftermath of their run-in with Fear Itself has given these often-less-than-fine folks a hell of a lot to do. So much so that we've got a double-sized issue with four separate stories to tell.
The main story is still Jeff Parker's, as he takes the catastrophic destruction of Thunderbolts HQ, aka The Raft, in stride as he goes about the business of focusing on his brand new B-team, nicknamed the "Underbolts" – namely Centurius, Mr. Hyde, Boomerang and Shocker – as they prove themselves capable Thunderbolts while also introducing a skullduggerous secret plan amongst the four of them that will no doubt unfold at the worst possible time for the A-team.
It seems Centurius has found a way to disable the nanites that are keeping them in line, but knows that if they tried to escape now, they'd be dogged until they were recaptured. This way, they fool their handlers into thinking they're compliant, and bide their time until the right moment. This is a great setup, since even though Shocker's on board with trying to break out, we've seen earlier that he was the most eager to be a member of the Thunderbolts, and he's likely the guy to be most seduced by that feeling of being seen as a hero and thus likely to fall into conflict with these other Underbolts when they decide their time is right. Giving an underused guy like the Shocker this much plot meat to chew on makes me a happy camper indeed. I trust Parker to go somewhere awesome with this, even if Declan Shalvey's visuals aren't going to blow anyone away.
The second story is from Joe Caramagna, focusing on Moonstone's misadventures in the women's ward, which has been cut off and buried in the attack from the possessed Juggernaut. When she heads in to move them to safety, instead she gets her powers canceled and her face smacked around by prisoners trying to force her to lead them to the Man-Thing, so's they can all zap out of dodge. The story's kinda cool and gritty, served decently enough by Valentine de Landro's dark and muddy art. You've gotta love it when somebody uses an old 70s villain like Poundcakes and turns her into a heavy threat with a good head on her shoulders. Oh, and don't call her Poundcakes anymore. Her name is Marian.
Part 3 is The Ghost and Mr. Walker, from Jen Van Meter, giving us a pretty badass profile of Warden John Walker and how he's still an unstoppable hardass even without the use of his legs and having a hook for an arm. While Eric Canete's art is somewhat unpleasant, Van Meter's impressively detailed examination of the inner workings of what a guy like Walker would have to be concerned with during a disaster, as well as her portrayal of Ghost's opinion of Walker shifting as he watches the man at work and notably not as the obnoxious bully he'd taken him to be makes for a tale worth its salt.
Frank Tieri's Crossbones story is the only place this issue really falters. For one, I could have sworn that Crossbones is somehow out and being a Nazi freely in Fear Itself somewhere, but it's possible his associations with Sin have just made that connection in my mind. Secondly, Matthew Southworth's rendering of the guy, who's supposed to a huge and burly, as a scrawny, wiry thing makes me feel like I'm looking at art that was supposed to go to a different story. Thirdly, Man Mountain Marko has a cousin named Man Mountain Mario, who looks like he could put on a plumber outfit and pass as a mushroom stomper. No thanks, Mr. Tieri.
Overall, though, there's a lot crackin' over here in Thunderbolts, and we can only hope the hammer nonsense wraps up soon and these creators can get back to their real stories.
CRAVE RATING: 8.1/10