Let's all be thankful that Jeff Parker is who he is. He may have thought he was safe from crazy event malarkey while writing Thunderbolts, which generally focuses around second-rate bad guys that most other people aren't interested in for their books. But the extr-hammer-ganza called Fear Itself has bulled right through his stories, not only taking away his one A-lister in Juggernaut and destroying their headquarters, but even the Man-Thing is getting yoinked out from under him to be used as a threat against Howard the Duck in Fear Itself: Fearsome Four – and that's not even mentioning what he has to deal with over in his Red Hulk series, where his main character got pasted weeks ago "never to return." However, Parker is Parker, and he always finds a way to salvage some coolness from even the biggest messes.
The upside is that Thunderbolts has been one of the tie-in issues (along with Spider-Man) that actually drives home how chaotic and intense the events of Fear Itself are supposed to be, since the main book seems to mostly be the Avengers sitting around going "wow, this sucks, doesn't it?" Last issue was a mad scramble to contain the escapees from the demolition of The Raft, thanks to Kuurth: Breaker of Stone – or the unstoppable engine of destruction formerly known as the Juggernaut. In #160, the A-team is now tasked with trying to get Kuurthy Kuurth-Kuurth out of their old teammate Cain Marko, which we know is doomed to fail because this is a tie-in book that is not allowed to move the main plot forward. What's interesting is that journey towards failure.
I tend to give Declan Shalvey some flak because there's something indescribably off-putting about his general style of drawing people – to me, at least. It works in some cases, it's awesome in spots, but there's a a general bleakness to the look of his characters sometimes that doesn't really draw one in, but it's certainly not painful enough to drive anybody away, either. Your mileage may vary, of course, because art is very subjective (unless you're Rob Liefeld). However, in #160, Shalvey shows off a lot more skill with stylization when Satana bonds the team to Ghost and they sink inside Juggy's soul to try and weed Kuurth out. It's a drastically different look of abstraction and metaphor that speaks very highly of his legitimate talent and gives me a greater appreciation for how he goes about his work.
Parker's also adept at using the editorial mandates placed on him for some compelling character work. We learn that Marko could have resisted Kuurth's possession with the help of Cytorrak, but chose not to, which will have to shake out in curious ways once the dust settles. Also, in what could have been a throwaway joke from a few issues back about Satana inscribing the Worldsong into the Man-Thing is now suddenly opening a huge doorway of potential development of the former Ted Sallis, as that little tattoo-fest was the start of elevating "the Vagornus Koth," as she calls him, to some higher state of being. What the hell that means, I can't wait to find out.
There's also the bubbling subplot about the Underbolts – Shocker, Boomerang, Centurius and Mr. Hyde – biding their time for the perfect opportunity to escape. Shocker was initially jazzed about the opportunity to reform with the T-Bolts, but now he seems completely on board with the plan to actually bolt at the first opportunity, while Centurius urges them to be patient. With Kuurth apparently nuking the entire A-team, the B-squad is probably going to be pressed into service quickly. Will they scatter as soon as they can, or will the massive threat of Fear Itself be enough to get them to act for the common good? And is the little goon Troll smarter than she seems? The Underbolts seem to talk fairly openly about their plan while she's within earshot, and it's possible that Centurius haughtily believes she can't comprehend them due to her feral upbringing, but there's a chance to fur-bearing girl will have to keep that squad in line.
There's something about groups of sorta bad guys trying to be sort of good that's just appealing – evidenced by the fact that Thunderbolts, Secret Six and Avengers Academy are often in my pull file, and I've just binged through John Ostrander's original Suicide Squad run. The intrigue of never knowing who to trust keeps things taut and involving, and with Parker being Parker, you generally have no cause to worry it'll change for the worse, no matter what the House of Ideas higher-ups throw his way.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING: 8.8/10