Noto To the Rescue! (Mostly)
Maybe it's not been totally Steve Dillon's fault the art's been so weak, maybe it's the inker and/or colorist, because honestly Phil Noto's art just doesn't look as compelling and engaging as it usually does. At least things don't look bad the entire issue, but the dull tone and flow are mostly carried over from Dillon's run as artist. It's really a shame, Noto normally does excellent work. It's not 'bad,' just not what I know he can do.
This issue manages to play out far more interestingly than the other issues, and ironically it's because of how little focus there is on the actual plot. This issue is about what happens when you put Rulk, Electra, Deadpool, The Punisher, and Venom in a submarine together. I don't include Leader in that count because honestly all he does in this issue is think about stuff and end up as everyone else's bitch/whipping boy. Actually I almost forgot to mention Venom because he does next to nothing beyond be there when they fight against Rulk, there's no character development or interaction for Venom here. Nor Mercy, who's not even there. Seriously, did Rulk bring her along intentionally or not? What's the deal with her? Her 'presence' in this series is just so damn confusing.
Speaking of appearances, what's with Marvel's insistence on whoring out the Uncanny Avengers? Seriously, looking through the next few months' solicits, just about every remotely relevant series has an issue with 'an appearance by the Uncanny Avengers!' This issue has one that really just feels forced. Captain America was being called and informed about what little the government knew about the events that occurred on Kata Jaya, and he just HAPPENED to be fighting as a member of the Uncanny Avengers at the time. This probably wouldn't have bothered me as much had I not been bombarded with solicits mentioning their various upcoming appearances all across the Marvel Universe.
The meat of this issue lies in the tension being built among Rulk and the rest, and the one-sided tension between Deadpool and Punisher. Again, Way's rendition of The Punisher is completely terrible, but the way Deadpool plays off it is extremely entertaining, and weirdly deep. It reminds me most of the great Deadpool we got in Remender's Uncanny X-Force, a nice balance between offbeat wild card comedian and strangely deep professional murderer. The situation with Rulk is confusing due to the patchwork timeline in this issue. Electra tells Punisher that Rulk knows what they're after..... the day after he tells them all what they're after? Can someone explain that to me, or explain where I went wrong? But it clearly has that scene 'this morning' and the scene where he tells them 'last night.' That 'last night' scene was incredible in and of itself though, one of those rare times where not seeing the action actually ends up being more effective than actually seeing the action.
In Conclusion: 3/5
Dammit Thunderbolts, Phil Noto saved you from the chopping block, BUT ONLY JUST BARELY. Part of it was the improved storytelling overall, but it might have been just the character focus of this issue that REALLY did the trick. I'm a little underwhelmed by the final reveal, maybe I'm missing something in the significance, and I have no idea who the villain still is now that Madman's been taken out. But I'll keep this on my pull list probationally for now. This issue's passable.