The Pull List Comic Reviews: ‘Thunderbolts’, ‘War of Kings: Ascension’ and “Blackest Night: Tales from the Corps’

After a hectic week at Comic-Con, I return home for… more comics. It was a lighter week in Pulls which is a good thing after the Con ravaged most of our bank accounts. It was a Marvel and DC heavy week, with the notable exception being Bad Kids Go to Hell #2, which was reviewed yesterday in advance. But for now, on to the rest of this week with the Pull of the Week.

1248836443_cvrPull of the Week:

Thunderbolts #134 – Marvel – $2.99

Score: 8.0

Something has been missing in the Thunderbolts since the “Dark Reign” started. As great a job as Andy Diggle has done with the series and the new team, it just felt like not all the pieces were where they should be. This issue is the first to feel like those pieces are coming back on the table as former Thunderbolts make their return to the series. Thunderbolts #134 joins former criminals and T-Bolts Fixer and Mach IV as they work on creating an updated M.A.C.H. suit when they are visited by Songbird who comes to them looking for help as she knows she is the target of Norman Osborn’s Thunderbolts team.

Meanwhile, the further mistrust of the Thunderbolts is shown between a confrontation between the Headsman and Mr. X, possibly two of the most lackluster character names in Marvel. The theme of a team of lunatics who can’t trust each other for various reasons becomes increasingly evident in this issue. To further it, the big secret revealed at the end of the last issue is explored further that the leader of Norman’s team, the Black Widow II, is actually working for Nick Fury, though his intentions of having a mole within the Thunderbolts hasn’t been revealed yet. Widow reports to her team that they are off to hunt down a Thunderbolt which inevitably leads to the team placing an attack on Songbird before a somewhat shocking reveal at the end of the issue.

What works so well in this issue is the return of characters that are actually likable. People like Songbird, there is something about the hot girl with the pink hair who has a bad girl past that make her an attractive character. The return appearances from Fixer and Mach IV add to that feel good emotion from the book as they were the people associated with Songbird at her height when she was the leader of the Thunderbolts. It looks like Diggle’s entire run could be seen as a redemption of Songbird. She has been beaten after being under Norman’s leadership when she was teamed with the likes of Venom and Bullseye and then further dragged across the gravel by almost being killed by her former teammates.

Now, she looks like she is ready to fight back against a team that no reader wants to see win. They have all proven themselves to be different levels of despicable and insane. Unless she loses… in which case by killing the beloved Songbird, these Thunderbolts begin cementing themselves as a team for people to truly hate, which would be a positive for a villain team but not really the best idea to keep a reader purchasing books showcasing that team. But, even though we can kind of assume we know where the book is likely to go, the path there is the most exciting part and it makes a creative twist at the end even stronger when the story takes an unexpected turn.

Andy Diggle has shown his strength in the series through his great dialogue. Mr.X’s confrontation with Headsman is a great example. He has taken an unknown like Mr. X and in a single issue, turned him in to a condescending blowhard that the reader will be begging to see receive his comeuppance sooner than later. Miguel Seplveda’s artwork is a good fit for the series. His work especially shines on pages featuring songbird and other feminine figures and the motion he projects in the fight between Headsman and Mr. X. This issue has pushed Thunderbolts back up in to the anticipated releases for the coming months as it will be great to see the fate of Songbird, this incarnation of the T-Bolts and how Mach IV, Fixer and various other former Thunderbolts come in to play.

895608-yhst_23599503122488_2065_256685307_superBlackest Night: Tales from the Corps #3 – DC – $3.99

Score: 5.5

I understand that with the current state of the economy that prices go up on books. But what I don’t agree with is charging more for certain books that provide less original content in the place of “bonus content”, much like Blackest Night: Tales from the Corps #3 does. The format of this mini-anthology series has been, at least in the first two issues, taking three stories, each featuring a member of different Lantern Corps to help explain the personalities behind the some of the unknown characters created for Blackest Night.

This issue changes that format as it instead features two established characters of the Green Lantern Corps, Kilowag and Sinestro’s daughter, Arisia. The third part of the book is a Director’s Commentary of Blackest Night #0, which was originally released on Free Comic Book Day, featuring the original pencils from Ivan Reis with commentary from writer Geoff Johns and Assistant Editor Adam Schlagman.

Kilowag’s portion of the book was easily the better of the two new stories. In it, Kilowag looks back at what made him the Lantern he is today from the way he was treated as a recruit. As Kilowag looks at the aftermath of the Sciencell riot including the loss of so many new recruits, he remembers Lantern Emery, his trainer who would ultimately lead him to become the Lantern he is today. Unfortunately, Chris Samnee’s cartoonish art severely takes away from the gravity of the story as his work looks like it should be featured in Tiny Titans or Marvel Adventures rather than a deep and dark series that has to do with Blackest Night.

Arisia’s story takes the other turn as the artwork is what carries her portion of the book. The story examines her relationship with her father, which at this point the reader knows isn’t her real father after Sinestro’s revelation in Green Lantern Corps a few months ago. Mike Mayhew’s pages look fantastic as she hopes to continue in her bloodline’s footsteps until the day she ultimately is granted her ring. The portion of the book is also very short and does little to further her character other than giving a little nod to informed readers about why she didn’t receive her “father’s” ring upon his death.

The Director’s Commentary can somewhat be seen as a cop out in terms of content. In a book already costing $3.99, what we are getting is a reprint of the black and white pencils variant of Blackest Night #0 with 40 additional text blurbs as commentary. While interesting, these feel like they could have been provided as a digital comic on DC’s website, not something the reader should be charged for. Had they been added in addition to a third Lantern Corps tale in the issue, there would be no complaints but the fact that it is reprinted material with “bonus features” is a letdown.

Of the miniseries, #3 is the weakest issue. While none stood out as superb masterworks, there were some good character building pieces spread throughout the books. This issue however is carried solely by the Kilowag character piece that is still even stilted by the artwork in it. As the other Blackest Night tie-ins begin their release next month, they hopefully won’t suffer from the same lack of strong content that this anthology series dealt with.

previewpicWar of Kings: Ascension #4 – Marvel – $3.99

Score: 7.0

War of Kings: Ascension comes to a conclusion much stronger than how it started. After the underwhelming response to War of Kings: Darkhawk issues 1 and 2, this series had a stigma attached to it that this and recent issues was able to break past. Razor, the raptor inhabiting Chris Powell’s Darkhawk suit, was seen as the assassin of Lilandra by the Starjammers and Gladiator. Literally moments after Lilandra’s death was Chris able to overcome Razor and resume control over his armor and body. As a result, the Starjammers and Gladiator targeted him as the killer of the woman who could have brought the Shi’ar / Inhumans war to an end making him probably the most wanted man in the galaxy. The remainder of the issue takes Chris on his journey to take down Talon, the Raptor who visited him on earth, lied about his powers and tricked him in to surrendering his body to Razor.

This story did a good job of re-imagining Darkhawk. Created in the nineties along with characters like Sleepwalker, he had fallen in to obscurity only to be recently examined in books like Marvel Team-Up or The Loners. His origin had done little to help build him as a strong character and his anger being his main vice came across as fairly generic. Now, with the retcon on the crystal and his connection to the newly surfaced entity of the Fraternity of Raptors, Darkhawk now has a purpose in Marvel’s ever expanding cosmic universe. The combined team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have been able to bring a golden touch to most of the characters they have brought in to their War of Kings saga. None of the tie-ins have felt forced and have all ended with satisfactory resolutions for the characters in them.

Wellington Alves also did a great job in the book with some superb pencils. The fight scenes look great and action packed. His take on Talon is great as a blue hued Raptor also looks great as it has for the rest of the series. Combined with the proper coloring, Talon has come across as a great villain in disguise as he comes across more menacing through his actions and powers instead of having a stereotypically evil look.

Thus far, the War of Kings has been a success, both in its main title as well as the tie-ins. Ultimately it will all come down to the final issues as events such as the “Civil War”, ‘”House of M” and “Secret Invasion” have shown. It also suffers from the stigma that crossovers often have that they are just marketing schemes. But readers need to remember that these companies exist to make money to stay in business. If you don’t like the book or where it’s going, stop reading it. Just because you start a series, doesn’t mean you have to finish it, like Jeph Loeb’s run on Hulk for instance which was removed from the Pull List months ago. But from the looks of things, Abnett and Lanning have done their homework and the War of Kings can be looked at fondly as the quality Marvel event of 2009 it always had the potential to be.

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