Thunderbolts #111

by

Or – “Ohhh OHH! Thunderbolts ARE GO!”

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That is one uuuugly Venom. He actually looks like Sludge from the late, lamented Ultraverse, doesn’t he? This issue really amps up the volume on the violence, and gives us our first actual glance of the Thunderbolts in action, and I gotta tell you… Somebody in the government owes somebody in the private sector a HUUUUGE apology. I’m talkin’ huge. We do get to see the “Big Guns” concept in action on a villain scale, and it’s a bad scene, on a par with taking the brown acid. It’s your trip, man, but… y’know, why mess up your karma, right? Butts are kicked, wills broken, and medications improperly administered, and, oh, yes… Norman Osborn is crazy as a football bat…

thunder1.jpgIf you’ll recall last time, somebody in the Marvel Universe thought it would be a good idea to rehabilitate villains Amanda Waller-style, by sending them out to fight the battles that heroes can’t (or more properly, the battles that heroes would have never gotten involved in to begin with). Returning ‘Bolts Swordsman (son of Baron Strucker), Radioactive Man, Songbird, and Moonstone have been teamed up with Venom (!), Bullseye (!!!), mystery man Penance, and the whole mess is headed up by a man whose most heroic act was throwing his teenage lover off a bridge piling and laughing. They’ve been tasked with killing and maiming innocents gathering up the last remaining unregistered superheroes, and generally reclaiming the demagoguery and fascism inherent in a name like “The Thunderbolts.”

Today’s victim du jour: Jack Flag, former understudy to Captain America who had the unmitigated gall to save a woman from being robbed and killed for sport. This act has earned him an apparent “kill on sight” order. But before we start getting into that, we have a flashback to Melissa Gold (Songbird)’s interview for the new ‘Bolts. Mel indicates that she was given assurances that the team structure would not change, and that she would remain in charge. “Well, they lied to you,” says Norman Osborn. “I have final approval of team structure and EVERYTHING ELSE.” He then starts his patented mindgames, pointing out that Songbird sold Zemo out to SHIELD, but then betrayed SHIELD by buying Zemo’s mindgames…

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Translation: You’re not in prison because you’re hot. So don’t do anything to make me question how much trouble you’re worth. Normie is a cold mofo, isn’t he? Flashforward to the here and now, as Jack Flag makes his stand in the middle of a parking lot, a questionable tactical decision, at best. The Thunderbolts giant battlewagon starts with the general jackbooted thug threats. “Jack Flag, you will submit to arrest under the Superhuman Registration Act!” Jackie’s response?

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And then we do the slow walk towards the camera trick, which is interesting, though somewhat muted by the fact that it’s a frozen still frame. Some artists can convey motion in a single dynamic drawing. This is not one of those panels… Deodato’s anatomy is somewhat suspect here, especially the positioning of Venom’s arms and head to his chest, and it’s sad to see both women afflicted with such crippling scoliosis of the spine. Hopefully, someday we’ll have a cure. Moonstone, aka Karla “Doctor Swivelhips” Sofen (the new field leader) takes stock of the situation, and decides the best thing to do is for Radioactive Man to bombard the cars with radiation and cause them to explode, crippling Jack so she can get back home and have sex with one of the Thunderbolts mountain dock workers. No, I’m not making that up. Once he’s softened up by the ‘splosions, she orders Swordsman and Venom to go in, and, quote, “break his arms and legs and get him into the T-Wagon.” Thankfully, Jack is tougher than that, blocking Swordsman’s attack and throwing the broken blade through Venom’s chest, causing the alien porn face seen way up top. Unfortunately, the symbiote can keep Mac upright through much worse, and now they’re BOTH peeved.

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The safeguards apparently work well enough, and big V is out of the picture. Moonstone is irked that her quickie methods don’t work, and orders Songbird into the air to cripple Jack. I am really disgusted with Moonstone in particular, and the government in general for allowing these tactics to be used. Fortunately, the smoke from the ill-advised blast zone is blocking her line of vision. Jack scoops up a hubcap from one of the burning wrecks, and shows why he was in line to replace Stevie Rog’ as Captain America…

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Melissa is punked out hard here, and drops to the ground, and Moonstone shows again her complete lack of tactical knowledge, by deciding that it’s time for Penance to step up and go Super Saiyan on the situation. Because lord knows overkill has worked so far, right? The former Speedball is all torn with guilt, but twists about a bit, so that his self-torturing costume (and probably the bullet in his spine) can cause him more pain and trigger his undefined powers. What, the hair shirt was in the wash? In any case, we see that Robbie Baldwin, always more powerful than he thought, has moved into a whole new league, possibly a completely different sport.

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Good lord… In five minutes, these ham-fisted jerks have done more damage than nearly 100 superhumans rioting in the streets did in Civil War #7. Jack Flag, by some miracle, staggers away into an alley, trying to escape, thinking only of finding his girl, Lucy. That’s when Thunderbolts goes from bad to worse, and makes me wonder if the whole point of this series is big dumb blow ‘em up, as the Double Secret Thunderbolt makes his presence known.

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That’s just horrifying. Once again, we see the “Frank Miller wrote me, some I’m way cool” plotting in action. Between him, Elektra, and Kingpin, we can’t go a month of Marvel comics without somebody referencing that era. It was 25 years ago, folks, let’s get on with our lives… So, after watching our ostensible protagonists blow him up (TWICE), failing to even attempt to safely apprehend him, then crippling him, we’re apparently supposed to be satisfied. Moonstone blatantly lies to the press, claiming that Jack had superhuman endurance that allowed him to keep moving after he should have fallen, even claiming that the electrical field that disabled Venom was a hidden weapon of Flag’s. Swordsman, for his part, siezes the moment to beat on a downed, paralyzed, half-dead enemy. I hate these people. Hate ‘em, hate ‘em, hate ‘em. This operation is such a snafu that even The Green Goblin knows it’s a bughunt, ordering that Moonstone be brought to him as soon as the team returns, then asking his aide de camp to brief him on their next set of potential murder victims.

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Ooh, Tommy Lee Osborn is having some stability problems. It should be interesting if the New New Thunderbolts end up hunting the New New Avengers, if only to see if Norman freaks out and puts on his chainmail and Goblin Glider again. But how, you ask, does a man as off-kilter as Norman get a government liason job, especially given that he makes Charles Manson look like Charles In Charge? Why, the miracle of modern science, of course. Translated for the common folk like you and me: He’s drugged to the gills and slightly beyond.

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That’s probably not good… A series of thoughts went through my head during the reading of this issue: Why is everything orange? How do the women stay upright? Doesn’t Venom have a tail now? Are we supposed to take anything away from these events, other than “Might makes right?” And most of all, how can anyone justify this experiment as anything in the vaguest realm of defensible? Hell, Victor Von Doom has more restraint and moral compass than this. These people nearly killed a man, just because they could, or more properly, because Moonstone said they could. No amount of celebrity caricature or pretty drawings can overcome the gaping logic holes and general lack of plot.

If you believe that heroes should be allowed to kill ala every book Marvel put out 15 years ago, you might like this issue. If you love Venom, Bullseye, or viciousness in general, you certainly could enjoy it. If Mike Deodato’s 1991-era-Image-book-scratchy-noodly art appeals to you, there’s a good chance you could walk away from Thunderbolts #111 and call it a winner. As for me, I tend to give untested new series six issues to get rolling. We’re two notches into this particular bedpost, and I tell you, if this is the status quo for Thunderbolts, then six issues will probably be it. It’s generally poorly written, combining barely-plotted Steven-Seagal-movie set pieces with inconsistent art, hinging on the premise that, while it’s fun to watch villains kill at random, it should be doubly fun to see them do it as federal agents and pass it off as social commentary. Basically, it’s a 1.5 star book containing a series of interesting notions and bombastic action shots, with a thin veneer of psychology to take the curse off it. In a word: whatever. The cover is pretty, though.

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