Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by: Jonny Botsch
Conventional storytelling on TV has evolved from single episode stories in the eighties to more complex season-long, and in some cases series enduring plots, that employ deeper characters and rich relationships that you see in almost any show you tune into nowadays. The medium of comics has evolved in a similar fashion. Where once you could tell an entire story in twenty-two pages, now one story takes six issues and over six months to tell. This evolution has much to do with its audience being more mature than the twelve year-olds who comics were created for in the forties and fifties, and now are comfortable in the collected graphic novel format. The problem is that stories take forever to tell and people are less likely to pick up single issues anymore because they might be in the middle of a plot or the ending might be half a year away.
You might also consider that people actually have to write these stories as well. Think how easy it must be to write two stories a year and to break each into six chapters. Sure you get more pacing and more complexity, but you're not having to construct twelve stories a year, each with a beginning, middle and end that enthrall readers. That's why you rarely see monthly comics that successfully tell a complete story in twenty-two pages…but they are out there if you look hard enough. Warren Ellis' Fell or his recent run on Secret Avengers are both excellent examples, as is Paul Dini's pre-New 52 Detective Comics. Even Image's current Prophet run has been largely concept based science fiction that works on an issue by issue basis.
Which brings us to Thunderbolts Annual for the year. Slightly longer than twenty-two pages to be sure, but this single issue might possibly be the best story yet in the series. Basically, Doctor Strange goes nuts and the red team has to suit up with magical artifacts to take him down. What makes the story so great? Be it cameos by S.H.I.E.L.D.'s magic division W.A.N.D. or Valkyrie and Elsa Bloodstone, use of Johnny Blaze's Hellfire Shotgun or the horde's of Cthulu monsters and Frost Giants, all contribute to a funny and jam-packed issue of magical mayhem. Not every writer is a Paul Dini or Warren Ellis but every publisher needs workhorses that churn out books…and rarely gets their due. Palmiotti and Gray have been working for decades without as much credit as they deserve and now the writing team of Acker and Blacker have been popping up from time to time. So, with all credit due them, pick up this book and see what you think.