(Examiner is going through various updates, and thus a different publishing tool must be used. Forgive the appearance of this compared to previous articles.)
Book Of The Week – THUNDERBOLTS #147 (Marvel Comics)
A comic so cool, IGN “can’t recommend it enough” (it is quoted on the cover)! Writer Jeff Parker continues on his hot streak with this franchise title, delivering on ending the story begun in the last issue, telling another complete tale in this issue, and having a crossover with AVENGERS ACADEMY (see below). Such an exercise could come off as a mess, but instead Parker’s sense of narrative flow keep it all together. While the issue shares continuity with the better selling title, the “guest” characters only show up in one panel, and instead this issue rightly focuses on it’s own cast. While in theory, that is Luke Cage, Juggernaut, Ghost, Moonstone, Crossbones, and Man-Thing, it also involves veteran Thunderbolts like Songbird and Fixer, warden (and former U.S. Agent) John Walker, and even a new character from last issue, Gunna the troll girl (or “Troll” as she is called).
Continuing from the last issue (reviewed on July 21st), the Thunderbolts wrap up their previous mission, which was to see what happened to two teams of SHIELD and U.N. soldiers who were investigating a cave that supposedly was full of mutating Terrigen crystals. Finding them all dead or hopelessly mutated, the Thunderbolts find themselves fighting for their lives and relying on their most unstable members (Crossbones, Ghost, and Man-Thing) to save the day. The thrills don’t stop there, though. When the Avengers Academy drop by for a “scared straight” visit for the students, the Raft prison suffers a power failure, resulting in a riot among super villain convicts. This results in quite a few memorable moments, so many that they line up one after the other. John Walker proves that a super soldier in a wheelchair is still a super-soldier. Juggernaut proves he’s not quite a brainless thug after all. And Luke Cage has a long overdue reunion with his wife’s worst nemesis, Purple Man. These scenes aren’t even counting the moments of excellence with Man-Thing and Crossbones earlier in the issue.
Kev Walker, the new regular artist, provides his usual kinetic flair to the action and managing to make all of the characters look distinct or monstrous, when applicable. Combined with Frank Martin’s colors, the artwork is distinctive to the title while capturing all the scenes well, from murky caves with monsters to dark prison brawls with super villains. A four page sequence detailing three battles playing out in different locations at the same time is depicted very well, with some subtle bits with Juggernaut breaking up the action.
The issue is narrated by John Walker, and Jeff Parker continues to do wonders to redeem his character. For too long he was often written as either a poor man’s Captain America, or a satire of right-wing conservatives. While Parker hardly forgets Walker’s political stripe, or his aggressive demeanor, he doesn’t depict either as bad things or Walker as less than a good man. Some who were critical of Walker losing two limbs during the SIEGE tie in for this title wondered if Walker would ever see “active duty” again; this issue easily will put to rest any jokes about “a one legged man in a butt kicking contest”.
The only downside is the issue does modestly kill some of the conclusion to the cliffhanger in AVENGERS ACADEMY #3, although a seasoned fan would hardly be surprised. This is another excellent issue in what is becoming an excellent franchise run for Jeff Parker on Thunderbolts. If one hasn’t read the series in a while, or ever, his run is a good one to start on.
Honorable Mentions (Marvel):
Avengers Academy #3 – Three issues in, and three good issues accomplished, with more to come. In theory this series is a spiritual sequel to both AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE (which was also written by series writer Christos Gage) and MIGHTY AVENGERS (which was written by Dan Slott as well as Gage), but in practice it also is a means to create and introduce several new characters, while developing those already introduced (last reviewed July 14th). This issue focuses on the origin of Hazmat, the radioactive girl whose very saliva is toxic. While her origin has quite a few similarities to Rogue’s (complete with the “boyfriend in a coma from a kiss” bit), things pick up quite a bit from here. The first of the new students who could not be confused for a mutant, Hazmat projects a hostile demeanor in order to vent her anger at Norman Osborn for manipulating her as well as her situation in life – to be forever cut off from human contact. In this issue, she starts to bond a bit with Mettle, who is also trapped in a form against his will. After training sessions with Iron Fist and Valkyrie, the Academy staff decide to have their recruits visit the Raft super prison and the Thunderbolts program – a “field trip” that Striker considers akin to “scared straight”. Naturally, things go wrong when the power goes out during the trip, but is it an attack by an outsider, an accident or more? Despite the fact that the issue’s P.O.V. is on Hazmat, Gage is wise enough to also use interaction to flesh out the other characters (both young and old, from Reptil to Speedball) as well as follow along on subplots from prior issues. The cliffhanger ending has three students with axes to grind against Norman Osborn attempt to resolve things, and perhaps one of the funniest scenes with the Juggernaut in quite some time. Mike McKone (penciler), Andrew Hennessy (inks) and Jeromy Cox (colors) all unite as usual to deliver on the series’ trademark solid art. While it is technically the fourth Avengers title, it is never one to dismiss or discount. This issue (and the next) tie into THUNDERBOLTS (see above), but either works on its own, while both can be appreciated if read back to back.
Shadowland: Power Man #1 – This is the second mini series to spawn out of the SHADOWLAND event series, after last week’s SHADOWLAND: BLOOD ON THE STREETS. However, it is more than simply yet another tie in mini. It is essentially the start of a new Power Man and Iron Fist series, which will pick up after this series completes. The writer on hand for this task is Fred Van Lente, who is quickly proving himself to be one of the most consistently reliable writers in Marvel’s bullpen, having past work such as IRON MAN: LEGACY, HEROIC AGE: PRINCE OF POWER and INCREDIBLE HERCULES to his credit. A frequent collaborator with Greg Pak, this is one of his first major projects in which he is operating solo. This issue (and perhaps the next) take place between SHADOWLAND #1 and #2 and introduces the reader to a new character, Victor H. Alvarez. He has taken on the costumed identity of Power Man, and acting as a modern day “hero for hire”, only while the original Luke Cage used print ads and word of mouth, this 21st century usurper utilizes the Internet (Craig’s List in particular). Empowered by chi energy and personal tragedy, Victor utilizes his powers to smack down bad guys as well as earn cash for his struggling family. Unfortunately, his secret life causes his mother to mistakenly assume he is up to no good. Highlights include a cameo by low level street villain, Cottonmouth. Some Hand ninja working for Daredevil (who is expanding his “empire” of ninja fear beyond Hell’s Kitchen) assume that Iron Fist is involved, which gets him and Luke Cage (the original Power Man) onto Victor’s trail. Does this misunderstanding end in a fist fight? Is it a comic book? At any rate, the art is by Mahmud Asrar, co-creator of Image’s DYNAMO 5 as well as an artist on AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE and NOVA lately. He is backed up excellently by Scott Hanna’s inks and Bruno Hang’s colors. This first issue has a lot of action as well as character interaction between Victor and his family, as well as Rand and his “family”, Cage and Shang Chi. The dialogue is fast paced and entertaining, and there is quite a bit of action to start things off (a three way duel between Power Man, ninja, and street punks). Fans of IMMORTAL IRON FIST who have awaited some similar material for a year now should be satisfied by what promises to become another exceptional Fred Van Lente franchise run.
Also Decent Reads: Batman Beyond #3 (DC Comics), Age Of Heroes #4, Atlas #4 & Secret Avengers #4 (Marvel Comics)
Images from Midtown Comics @ www.midtowncomics.com