(Marvel Comics, 2014)
Written by Ben Acker & Ben Blacker
Pencils by Carlo Barberi
Inks by Carlos Cuevas
Color Artwork by Izrael Silva
Issue #27 is a changing of the guard for Thunderbolts as the writing team of Ben Acker and Ben Blacker take the reins from the prolific Charles Soule. Acker and Blacker, known for their Thrilling Adventure Hour show and various contributions to the Nerdist Writer’s Panel on The Nerdist podcast channel, particularly co-hosting the Comic Book editions with the legendary Len Wein, are not new to the Thunderbolts title; the duo penned the Annual last year to considerable fan and critical acclaim. Acker told Newsarama that he considers Thunderbolts” …first and foremost an action book…every disagreement has the highest stakes.” If that statement is indicative of what this writing team has planned for their run on Thunderbolts, it is safe to say that we are in for a departure from the character-driven narratives that came to define Charles Soule’s stint on the book. Soule very often down-played the stereotypical action tropes in favor of stories full of human drama. His style was quite different from Daniel Way who was at the helm when Thunderbolts made its Marvel Now debut; Way is known for his over-the-top and in-your-face action stories chock full of big violence and big guns and big body counts. This seems like a perfect match for a book like Thunderbolts, however Way’s run on the book was plagued by inconsistency. Despite a long and well-regarded run on Deadpool, Way never really seemed to get the team dynamic that was required to make Thunderbolts work; enter the much in demand, Charles Soule. Soule came on board and immediately actualized the book’s dormant potential; the characters came to life under his creative direction and the book became engrossing, engaging and entertaining. Now, due in large part to an impossibly demanding schedule of books spanning several publishers, Soule has come to the difficult decision to leave a book that is satisfying in every aspect; this is never easy for any creator and it is equally difficult for the fans who have come to appreciate and revere the work. So in this case Acker and Blacker, who have professed an affinity for these characters, calling them “dry tough guys, jerks who should be working solo forced to work together.”, have their work cut out for them but, boy what a great dilemma to be faced with.
This issue kicks off The Punisher vs. Thunderbolts story arc in which General Ross’ team of mismatched miscreants and mercenaries finds themselves in a dispute with Frank Castle more or less over operating procedures. Acker and Blacker spend a good bit of time acclimating themselves to the characters and sort of kicking the tires to get a feel for the team dynamic. Although, as I said earlier, the pair has worked with these characters previously, it is an entirely different scenario to take over as the writers of record than to craft a solid annual, so it stands to reason that they would want to explore the chemistry that exists between the various members of this diverse unit. Through some extremely sardonic humor and clever dialog the writers begin to re-introduce the team, the differences are subtle but the combined result is unmistakable and just scant pages into the narrative it is obvious that there is a new directive at work here; that is in no way meant to convey dissatisfaction, in fact though Soule did and was doing a bang up job on the book, Acker and Blacker seem to have picked up the mantle and are seamlessly soldiering on.
The internal forces that threaten to tear the team asunder are slowly exposed, creating a tense, pot boiler that culminates in The Punisher’s decision to leave the team on less than amicable terms. By the time Acker and Blacker have dialed the tension up to eleven the story quite literally explodes from the page. This is an exciting, action packed thrill ride which is exactly what the boys promised to deliver. The pace is brisk yet there is enough deferral in the tempo to allow the premise to simmer and build to a crescendo of chaos as uneasy alliances are pushed to the breaking point. The characterizations are interesting, while they are similar to those crafted by Soule, Acker and Blacker delve deeper in places and veer into heretofore uncharted areas in other cases creating a sense of newness while maintaining a continuity and cohesion stemming from the events in Soule’s run. This is an impressive introductory issue and a perfect spot for new readers to jump on. So if you haven’t been following one of the most original, unconventional team books in Marvel history now is your chance to strap yourself in and enjoy the runaway train ride that Acker and Blacker’s Thunderbolts promises to be. I have been reading this title since the first issue and stuck it out through all the early ups and downs, believe me when I tell you that there is nothing like this cast, the chemistry created amongst them and the no-holds-barred excitement that has come to define this series. This is what comic books are all about, unadulterated fun.
Visually, Carlo Barberi turns out some of his best work in this issue. His intricately detailed and highly stylized imagery works remarkably well with the frenetic action of the story. Barberi’s energetic interpretation and kinetic approach to anatomy lends an enhanced sense of movement to his page compositions; the images burst from panel to panel. The issue opens with one of the most gorgeous two page spreads I have seen in recent memory; the action is larger than life, so large in fact that The Avengers are all but dwarfed by the immensity of the battle. Israel Silva’s electrifying colors are the perfect coup de grace in this killer comic book. This is the real thing; a good old Kirby-influenced, shoot ‘em up, conspiracy fueled, city destroying romp. Nuff said. (4.5/5)
Shawn is an aspiring writer/ artist who has been reading, collecting and living comic books for over 30 years. He lives in Baltimore with his wife, their son, lots of cats, dogs and other various finned and furry friends.