This is how you do an event crossover story. With their leader, Luke Cage, knee-deep in the Shadowland storyline, it’s only fitting that the Thunderbolts would eventually get involved. But, rather than drop the team in the middle of the story proper, Jeff Parker crafts an issue that’s one hundred percent accessible for those (like myself) who have not been following Shadowland. Don’t know why there’s a Japanese castle in the middle of Hell’s Kitchen? Doesn’t matter. The T-Bolts are there for one reason and only one reason. This issue shows one of the main reasons I like Cage: if something is the right thing to do, he’ll do it. There are people in danger and his Thunderbolts can help them, whether it’s a sanctioned operation or not. Also, as a fan of paranoid conspiracy theorists, I just can’t get enough of Ghost.
I absolutely love the direction that Jeff Parker has found for this title. This issue takes Luke Cage’s role as team leader in an unexpected direction, when he’s tempted to cut ethical corners that he maybe wouldn’t as an Avenger. I don’t have any doubt Luke will stay a good guy, but kudos to Parker for allowing him to have some moral complexity. There are also great scenes with the various team members, and, aside from a few pages where it’s hard to tell some characters apart, Declan Shalvey does a great job on art.
I’m not reading Shadowland, so this was my first experience with that story. As an example of how an issue can be folded into a crossover without losing the book’s core audience, this is stellar–I wasn’t confused at all, and the story managed to move the Thunderbolts plot and characterizations along while establishing itself in the Shadowland world. Fill-in artist Declan Shalvey did a fantastic job, putting his own spin on regular artist Kev Walker’s distinctive character designs, and I look forward to seeing where the plot may lead, as loose ends from the last arc slam head-on into the trials of this one.
T-Bolts has proven that it can survive a near constant parade of shifting tones and concepts throughout its lifespan, but Jeff Parker’s is my favorite so far. Each of the characters, with the possible exception of Crossbones, is somehow likable (I suspect some of them may even look forward to reforming, not that they’d ever admit it) and their interactions play for emotional response beyond simple laughter (though there’s plenty of that). I literally cannot wait for Troll to officially join the team. Parker crafts a tie-in to Shadowland that feels earned and not like a cheap coattail-riding exercise. Bonus points for newcomer Declan Shalvey’s pulp-infused art, which is perfect for a ninja fight in the bowels of Manhattan.