Or – “Because Salieri Demanded It, And I Don’t Want To Wind Up Like Mozart…


The Marvel Universe is a huge tapestry with hundreds of superhumans that we never see anymore, characters who seem to have just dropped off the face of the Earth, usually after quitting a team book or losing their “next big thing” status. For all it’s faults, at least Civil War tried to reflect that, with the likes of Prodigy, Typeface, and Thunderclap getting involved in the conflic (if only briefly), showing that the events affect EVERYONE, even those who are no longer active. Last issue’s capture (and crippling) of Jack Flag seems to indicate that Thunderbolts is about to become the Marvel Universe’s version of Superboy-Prime, come to cut away the chaff that the crops can grow. If only it weren’t so very vicious about it…

thunder1.jpgThe Thunderbolts originally gestated as a scam by Baron Helmut Zemo, to act as a cover for illegal activities. When the members of the team found that they enjoyed being heroes, it became an ongoing attempt at redemption, with members coming and going as the tides and their fortunes changed. This original Thunderbolts team dissolved in the wake of Civil War, but only after being authorized by Iron Man to act as superhuman police, hunting down rogue superheroes and bolstering their ranks with supervillains. Zemo was betrayed by Songbird, his lover and field leader, and was thrown through the timestream, and suddenly, with Iron Man’s assistance, the Thunderbolts have been rebuilt from within, populated with psychos, space-cases, and full-blown wackaloons, and led by Norman Osborn, a man who probably drowned kittens for fun BEFORE he lost his mind, and now is so far beyond nuts that he can’t even see it with binoculars.

The first words of this issue are, to my knowledge, the truest things ever said by known lying bastard Norman Osborn: “Well, I’d characterize THAT as disastrous.” He refers, of course, to last issues brutal dismantling of Jack Flag and the public viewing thereof. Not so, replies Moonstone, in fact the public mess was EXACTLY what the Thunderbolts needed: proof that unregistered vigilantes are dangerous. And if someone as minor as Jack Flag took that much effort, then the public will support the Thunderbolts in their efforts to catch the big threats.

No, they won’t, replies Songbird. Norman is openly derisive of the opinion of the former leader, but allows her to speak. The team isn’t a team at all, sez ‘Bird, but a group of nutbars, and Moonstone doesn’t lead, she commands. Her tactics were all wrong, and the use of the members’ powers questionable. Moonstone uses her characteristic bitchiness to goad Songbird, and Melissa takes the bait. “I put my heart and soul into this team. I hate this job, but I’m doing it so that I can have my life back and because maybe, just maybe, it might make this country a little safer. And I will not see my team killed ON TELEVISION because YOU don’t know what you’re doing!” Moonstone smiles, since, in her mind, making Songbird blow her top counts as a win…


“I will be shouting some more…” Heh. That’s the Warren Ellis we remember. The team scatters, and Norman meets with Dr Chen Lu, the Radioactive Man. He has a complaint about the dumb-looking containment suit. Norman explains that it’s all about perception, that middle America will thinks they’re safer if he’s contained, and that the average American would be disturbed by the sight of a giant radioactive Chinese man beating up white american super-heroes. “I believe that is why my government enjoys about the situation,” replies Chen with a smile. Also, Norman replies, focus groups found Chen’s previous costumes “bordering on the obscene.”


And once again, I find that Ellis’ writing can even warm me up to the most heinous creatures on the planet with it’s wit and charm. That worries me, greatly. Radioactive Man has one final concern: Songbird should lead. Norman turns his thoughts against himself, forcing him to admit that Melissa is troubled, and almost getting him to admit that Norman’s position is correct. This is the mark of a TRULY evil man, one who should work in television advertising or perhaps state government. Meanwhile, the Thunderbolts marketing machine churns ever forward, with the debut of “Stan Lee Presents: Who Wants To Be A Thunderbolt?”


That’s just awesome! Ellis’ grasp of the ways and means of propaganda are staggering, and the concept of this show is too evil not to love. But even as the public slowly warms to the thought of federal agents who were mass-murdering criminals two weeks ago, portions of the country are still torn on the Registration Act, on the actions of “hero” and “villain” alike, and the pundits still aren’t sold on the concept of the Thunderbolts.


After meeting with Radioactive Man, Norman heads to the locker room, to take a moment to assess MacDonald Gargan, once the Scorpion, now the new host of the Venom symbiote. Mac transforms back to himself, and it’s obvious that something bad is up with him, as he sits shivering and shell-shocked, seemingly paralyzed by the trauma of the change. Norman steps from the shadows, asking how he is…


Oh, good. Not only is he Venom an uncontrollable monster with no restraint, but the man inside is, essentially, an addict, jonesing for his symbiote “fix” even as he knows it’s destroying him. And doesn’t Norman look like Nixon in the second to last panel? I can’t decide whether Bullseye or Venom is going to melt down first, actually, as a check with Mr. Eye reveals him to be raving, waxing poetic about how killing makes him alive, makes him better, makes him a god, and how, just maybe, his willingness to kill makes him God’s only true friend. Norman listens for a few minutes, then informs the guards that Mr. Poindexter will stay in chains and will be skipping toilet breaks for the next 24 hours. That’s harsh, Normie. Very harsh. Meanwhile, across town, a woman named Jillian Woods awakens next to her nightstand, and also her one-night-stand.


Uh oh. I know that leather ensemble… Looks like Jillian is the artist formerly known as Sepulcre and Shadowoman, really only notable for stealing Jessica Drew’s Spider-Woman costume. I highly recommend that she consider some sort of spinal shield, probably adamantium, because I think there’s a Bullseye in her future. Unlike Jack Flag, though, Shadowoman actually has power, and quite a bit of it, in the form of Darkforce manipulation. Also possessing power is Jason Strongbow, a young man of Navajo descent, who used to call himself The American Eagle. Jason shares more than just costume colors with Jack Flag, though, as he also thinks the Registration Act isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on…


That’s the way to do it, Jason. It may be senseless and useless in the long run, but dangit, if the main characters can’t get it right, maybe a minor character will be able to at least show how unbalanced and ridiculous this whole legislation has been. And since we’re tripping down old-comic-character lane, it’s time to check in with someone nobody seems to care about, Ollie Osnick, once called ‘The Amazing Spider-Kid’, now the ever so dark and gritty Steel Spider (seen way up top in the first image). Steel Spider is also ready to shove the Reg Act into an orifice, taking out a gang of toughs, and leaving a message for the authorities. “You tell them the STEEL SPIDER’s still out here.” This word, of course, goes back up the chain of command until it strikes the Thunderbolts’ team leader, who has an… unusual reaction.


To paraphrase Pete Venkman, okay, Normie’s gone bye-bye. This may be the trigger that sends him into the field as Green Goblin again, and I kind of want to see that. I have to admit, this issue was more impressive than the last two, with the sub-plots starting to show. The pacing (as is the norm at Marvel) seems to be set for a trade paperback, and we’ve just finished Act I, the establishing of the characters, plot, and mise en scene. I don’t necessarily want to see American Eagle and Shadowoman get maimed, but it’s obvious that the canvas of the Marvel Universe is big enough to give plenty of targets for the ‘Bolts in the next few months.

This series is slowly growing on me, though I still have my problems with the narrative. The cruelty and violence were more muted this issue, but the fact that the few members of the team that aren’t completely unredeemable are being marginalized and/or manipulated into inaction still grates on me. The last panel seems to imply that Norman’s instability will make itself known sooner or later, and hopefully someone will have the sense at that point to replace him with someone more appropriate… I think Pol Pot is still out of a job. I’m still bugged by the art, but this month seemed a bit more subdued, as if Deodato were hitting a stride, balancing the photo-reference with his normal style. Overall, this issue was a big step forward from the last, but still rates in the middle of the pack, a 2.5 star showing. We’re getting a clearer idea of where the book is going, and perhaps when some of these jerks get what’s coming to them, the overall book will be more palatable.



About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.


  1. Awww Thanks! That’s Sweet of you. It’s only ’cause some of my faves are on the Team, like Norman without his costume and Venom.

    Well, some points I think I’d like to note:

    First. Norman is becoming a much better character for this series. He has wit, charm, intelligence – explaining to one of the World’s most powerful men how he has to cover his ‘Asian Features’ in a way that doesn’t make him angry is pretty cool – and he’s yet another ‘good, smart guy who loves his country’. Thankyou, Mr. Ellis.

    Second, ‘Who Wants To Be A Thunderbolt’? GENIUS. Stan the Man has never looked so good than when dressed in an Uncle Sam costume so as to relate how hyped the image of the ‘True American ‘ has become, except when he’s brodcastign to us in a modified version of the Original Spider-Slayer. I want to be on that show.

    Third, in that page where Osborn talks to Gargan, Mac sort of resembles Greg Feely, the hero of Grant Morrison’s “The Filth”, who was partially based on Morrison himself. He also actually looks like a real person, for once in his career.

    Fourth, “This is making the Skies safe for Flying Whitey.” Had Superman been there to hear that, his brain would probably have shut down, because he – and the rest of us – know that it’s 100% Truth.

    Fifth, Norman Osborn as Field Leader – taking over Moonstone, who seems to be enjoying her new role – would be amazing. Seeing The Green Goblin throw a dozen Pumpkin Bombs and Razor Bats around, scream with laughter, and then show you his Badge would make my year.

    Sixth…Aw! Little Olliie is all growed up! Thank heavens. Gone are the clunky metal pipe-cleaners and the ‘donuts-for-lunch’ Billy-Bunter frame, and we’re on to utter coolness. Scratch the ‘Who Wants To Be a Thunderbolt’ – I want to be Ollie. I hope he survives the series.

    Seventh, I’m really hoping that we get a little insight into Penance’s world soon…Lord knows that Kid is psyched, I’d like to see if he’s angsty or excited. Is it gonna be ‘My God…all those people…can it really be a Month ago?’ or ‘First day on the New Job! Back in Business, Baby! Ooch, shouldn’t pump my fist so hard…’

    And finally, I’m not surprised by Osborn suddenly starting to look like ol’ Dick. It’s a tradition for British Comic Book Writers to at some point insert Nixon into their work. He appears as himself in Alan Moor’es “Watchmen”, as a sort of anti-Spirit of Christmas Present in Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman: World’s End”, and in the aforementioned “The Filth” by Grant Morrison as a Submarine Captain relying on a ‘NixonSphere’ to stay alive. Having him temporarily possessing Osborn isn’t that big, comparatively.

    Thankyou for doing this, I really appreciate it. This is perhaps one of the best Satires on the Superhero Genre in ages, since…since Nextwave. Especially as, the same thing’s are happening – the Real World is coming and going at odd places, formerly obscure characters are gn lampooned at the expense of the Main Team – it’s just grittier. And that’s cool.

    Justice! Like Lightning.

  2. Matthew Peterson on

    Mmm… The comparison to Nextwave had not escaped me, and there are certainly parallels. I’m not against violence, even violence for it’s own sake, or just ’cause it’s funny. I think that my major concern with this book would have to be that this is GOVERNMENT SPONSORED. A bunch of killers, criminals, and malcontents given free reign by the powers that be to KILL people who have done nothing but save lives is troublesome.

  3. Yeah – don’t we have the army for that already?


    Actually, come to think of it, Osborn is really becoming the Marvel Universe’s Sideshow Bob, isn’t he? Evil, yet incredibly charming and intelligent to the outside world.

  4. Another thing – It’s good to see that Norman has finally warmed to Gargan’s wearing of the suit. I think his original response was ‘You Deliberately disobeyed me…’ or something.

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