Dark Reign, for all its turgidity, is a cool name for a story. The Dark X-Men, Dark Avengers, Dark Defenders, Dark Great Lakes Avengers, Dark Sixpack, Dark Serpent Society, Dark Masters of Dark Evil – not cool names. However, Avengers are big shakin's these days, while Thunderbolts isn't a name that's infiltrated the cultural zeitgeist, despite being a pretty interesting book. So it's time for a little sales experiment. While the real Thunderbolts team is trapped in the timestream doing crazy wrong things, Thunderbolts #175 doubles as an all new Dark Avengers #1, bringing Norman Osborn's recent team of ignoble mirrors to Earth's Mightiest Heroes under Luke Cage's thrall, much to his chagrin.
Over in the pages of Brian Michael Bendis' Avengers and New Avengers, Osborn tried to take out the Avengers with this squad, until Skaar: Son of Hulk revealed he'd been playing them for suckers all along and was working with the good guys, foiling their plans. Now, however, with two months 616 time passed since the Tbolts vanished into the past (and just as Hank Pym's started figuring out a way to get them back), the higher-ups on the Thunderbolts Advisory Committee have decided to repopulate the vacant team with these Dark Avenger jerks that have been so recently captured. Who is on the list? Well, there's the cyborg clone of the God of Thunder from Civil War, formerly known (lamentably) as Clor, currently called Ragnarok, and who apparently still pretty much thinks he's Thor. There's also Hawkeye's dickhead brother Barney Barton, calling himself Trick Shot because Barney Barton is too funny a name not to change. Then there's the stupidly named Dark Spider-Man, who is apparently some South American chimera god named Ai Apec with six arms tooling around in a black Spider-Man suit. I'd ask what the hell this thing is doing here instead of being a god somewhere, but hey, Satana: Daughter of Satan is on the old team, so we'll roll with it. But seriously, The 90s called and wanted their 'Dark' prefix on everything back, and once that's done, I'll also send them this 'The (blank) called and wanted their (blank) back' joke, because the 90s also want that back.
Nobody would become a superguy and then just put Dark in front of somebody else's name. I'm also bothered by "Red She-Hulk" as a trade name, too, by the by. Ah, well, maybe it's like James Roberts keeps having his characters say in Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye – "all the good names are taken."
Anyway, there's one more ridiculous bit of ridiculous in the mix – some Scarlet Witch knock-off woman named June Covington, who is apparently kind of crazy, which explains why her code name is Toxie Doxie. None of this inspires me to want to go read all those Bendis issues.
However, Thunderbolts #175 has Jeff Parker at the helm, and we can have some faith that he's going to find a way to make these characters fun and interesting. He's off to a good start here. After we meet a big demony monster thing that the DAs will likely fight (man, even The D.A.s is a cooler name than Dark Avengers), we get Pym harnessing the Man-Thing's old haunt, aka the Nexus of Realities, to try and get a bead on the old team. Then Cage, Songbird and Mach-V throw down with the District Attorneys – er, The D.A.s for a bit (featuring a really cool Declan Shalvey-illustrated moment where Cage powers through Toxie's blasts to get a choke hold on her and Barn-Barn, only to be choked out by Clor at the same time) until they realize it was all a test. Since Cage just had to help take them down over in the Bendis books, he's not keen on this at all, so he brings in Skaar as insurance to keep them in line.
Iffy nomenclature or not, it's a volatile mix of questionable personalities – and that's what makes Thunderbolts comics so much fun to read. This one is no exception – especially with the tagline at the end saying "Next: DEATHDEATHDEATHDEATH." Something tells me 'Toxie Doxie's going to run out of moxie.