Chris' Comics Corner
Special Note! Reviews of all 14 of the DC New 52 titles released thus far are coming next week on Monday!!! Keep an eye out for that!

Thunderbolts #163
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artist: Kev Walker

In the midst of New 52s, Ultimate Universe Relaunches, Mutant Schisms, FEAR Itself, and the return of a spunky vampire slayer, it would be very easy for a book like Thunderbolts to get lost in the shuffle. I mean it's not like Jeff Parker and Kev Walker are house names (yet). The word "Avengers" doesn't appear anywhere near the title of this book, despite its origins in that franchise. And speaking of the two most recognizable characters in this book, one of them was just co-opted to serve as an antagonist in Fear Itself! Yes, it would be very easy overlook a book like that given everything else going on in comics these days, but that would be a crime worse than any committed by the incarcerated protagonists of this book.

Since it's very beginning, the only constant in Thunderbolts has been that if focuses on a group of villains, and that the status quo is subject to rapid and unexpected changes at the drop of a hat. Current scribe Jeff Parker proves he knows this better than anyone with the start of this new story arc, which sees a large portion of the team, currenty made up largely of incarcerated felons released on a probationary status to carry out government missions under the watchful eyes of established heroes, escape from their jailers. More surprisingly is that due to an unforeseen hitch in their escape plan, they end up further beyond the reach of the authorities than they had ever hoped for, accidentally teleporting themselves to the Swiss Alps, during World War II. Yep, the Thunderbolts have gone back in time and they're fighting Natzis alongside Captain America and the invaders. And if that isn't enough to peak your interest, Satanna (the daughter of Satan) is growing a new Man-Thing in the basement of their headquarters, and Luke Cage, Songbird, and Mach V are scrambling to figure out how to track down and recapture the escapees. Still doesn't sound like fun? Well in that case I am very sorry for you and the dreary dark life you lead.

Jeff Parker is balancing a huge cast and a lot of different elements. The way this book so easily walks the line between science fiction and sorcery is a testament to Parker's skill as a writer. And he never forgets the emotional core that makes this series great: "Are these characters capable of redemption, do they want redemption, are those who have seemingly achieved it ever truly beyond backsliding?" Month in and month out Parker delivers one of the most exciting, fun, and unpredictable books on the stands in Thunderbolts. The fact that it is a small profile book, and that many of his characters are relatively unknown allows him to take chances and pursue story avenues that would often be closed off to other writers. I know "fun" is kind of a dirty word when it comes to comics as it is often misinterpreted as meaning "unimportant in the grand scheme of continuity" but there is no other way to describe this book other than Parker's unbridled enthusiasm for all of the most wild and imaginative elements of this genre just oozes off of every page.

And let's not forget Kev Walker. His gritty and simplistic style has become intoxicating to me. I simply can't get enough of his character work. And the fact that he has been paired with a writer like Parker who just cuts loose on the story telling front means there is no limit to what I will get to see Parker draw next. And that's the way I like it. Every time I visit the comics sites online, I dread the announcement that Parker has been reassigned to a higher profile book. He definitely deserves the attention, he is a super star on the verge. But he and Parker have created a thing of beauty with Thunderbolts and I for one look forward to enjoying every single last issue of their partnership that has made Thunderbolts one of my favorite books at Marvel, and undoubtedly THE hidden gem of the publisher.

Grade: A-
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