Or – “Final Proof That We’re Not Supposed To Be Supporting The Protagonists.”

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Thunderbolts is one of those titles that I’m always torn about. I’ve gone from hating the art to finding it appropriately unpleasant, from being irritated at the story to thinking I get it to being lost again. The only thing I can say for certain: it evokes a response. Even if that response is a gut-level, lizard-brain hatred for most of the membership (and yes, that includes Venom) it’s getting me talking and thinking every issue. These are some of Marvel’s most horrible villains, doing things that no one should be allowed to get away with, and their comeuppance is well and truly overdue. American Eagle, Steel Spider, and Nocturne are an unlikely trio in any case, but despite their flaws and personal issues, they are heroes to a man, and for the first time the ‘Bolts have a challenge on their hands.

TBolt1.jpgPreviously, on Thunderbolts: Norman Osborn, obsessed with arachnids, has sent his Thunderbolts team to Phoenix, Arizona to neutralize the “threat” of unlicensed metahuman, The Steel Spider (once known as the Amazing Spider-Kid.) Through a complex series of coincidences, they end up facing not only S.S, but former Secret Defender Nocturne (who once wore Jessica Drew’s costume and called herself Shadowoman) and one of Marvel’s most obscure, the American Eagle. In a “Hell, yeah!” moment long in the coming, Eagle’s involvement leads to a T-Bolt @$$kicking, taking out the Thunderbolts field leader with a crossbow to the arm, tossing the Swordsman several blocks, even dropping Venom with a combination of Darkforce and spider-tasers. With only four ‘Bolts standing, American Eagle is prepared to give them a fair fight for the first time in their careers… Songbird, having taken field command, starts this issue by trying to calm the situation, but Venom is… Venom is just a sick bastid. “I want to bite their heads off and shove my tongue down their neck holes.” When asked why, the disgusting creature responds, “so I can lick out their hearts.” I had forgotten just how much I hate Venom… The trio of heroes stands their ground, as Eagle tries to put together a strategy…

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Heh. I so want an American Eagle mini-series. Nocturne looks like she was drawn by Greg Land for one panel there, doesn’t she? She covers them all in darkforce, and the heroes prepare to take advantage of the distraction. Amazingly, Songbird decides that this is her moment to act, using her unique sound powers to contact the only team member she can trust.

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Dr. Chen Lu, the Radioactive Man, fires into the darkness, zapping teammate and target alike, leaving Venom and Penance lying. “I seem to have overestimated the size of my radiation burst.” Heh. The radiation, unfortunately, has also shorted out the weaponry of the Steel Spider, and Venom quickly presses his advantage. A few blocks away, Bullseye and his handler team disembark, preparing to play their support (read: assassination) role in the proceedings. Suddenly, another subsonic pulse reaches Bullseye’s ears… “I’ve disabled your nanochain. Run. Run NOW. You’re free.” Songbird’s good intentions go horribly awry, as she can’t fathom what a monster Ben Poindexter has become…

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Steel Spider barely manages to stay alive against Venom and Radioactive Man, while Nocturne and American Eagle debate about running. “Let them have their big fight,” says Eagle. “It’ll give me a chance to work out what to do next. You should go.” She isn’t sure, and they have a cute moment where they both tell the other to get away, but Songbird swoops in. “Stay calm. We’ll fix this!” Once again, she is unable to understand exactly WHAT the government has teamed her with, as Venom reveals his true monstrous nature…

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Hey, look! Glowing eyes! I wonder if something about Mac Gargan’s already superhuman nature is interacting with the symbiote creature to provide the extra illumination, or if it’s just a cool effect Either way, Deodato draws a butt-ugly Venom. As horrible as the crippling of Jack Flag was, as angry as it made me, it is nothing compared to the anger I feel at what happens to Steel Spider.

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Nocturne quickly smashes Songbird face-first into the pavement, screaming “That’s what you call FIXING it?” She and American Eagle get the hell out of Dodge, as Radioactive Man tries to help, cauterizing the wound with a radiation burst. Because that’s healthy. While Venom chews up and SWALLOWS the arm (spitting out his steel gauntlet) Radioactive Man checks on the status of Robbie Baldwin, the thing now known as Penance. He finds him, but realizes that while he isn’t badly injured, he’s not alright…

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Poor Robbie… This is one of the tragedies that I can’t blame on Iron Man, much as I’d like to. American Eagle reaches his cycle, but Bullseye lies in wait, and throws a blade with killing force… and American Eagle CATCHES it. “I’ve read all about you, Bullseye. Killing regular people. Fighting unpowered operators like Daredevil…” Eagle stands his ground as Bullseye comes out into the light. “Pick your targets carefully, don’t you? Like some schoolyard jerk, looking for little kids to kick around. You spineless little bag of CRAP… You might do okay with those New York City boys. But you and me are in Phoenix, Arizona. So, you take a swing at a real American, and see what happens.” Wow. I so love American Eagle right now. He offers Bulls’ the first shot, and the man in black goes for the kill, only to take a knee to the gut and two hard slaps to the face. “What happened to the first shot?” mumbles Bullseye through a mouthful of his own bloody teeth. “I lied,” replies The Eagle. Oh, hell, yeah. Just as Bullseye goes for his weapon, the Thunderbolts handlers decide to reign him in (Swordsman awoke in time to see that he was free) firing the nanochain paralysis weapon at the moment that Eagle attacks.

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And that was Bullseye’s neck. Nocturne, late for her job interview, crashes through the window just as the men who wanted to hire her had given up. “I really thought she’s take the intervew,” one says. “I don’t think we can wait for her any longer…”

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We come away from the battle with one hero maimed, one forced to flee, and a third having stood his tenuous ground, but four Thunderbolts badly injured, Penance near the brink of insanity, and Venom a more disgusting than the half-digested things you’d find in the gut of an Arrakis sandworm. I have to call that a draw. Back at Thunderbolts mountain, Norman checks with his medicos about the status of his people. Bullseye is barely alive, and lucky to be so, he is told…. Though they can fix his neck, and possibly reverse the paralysis, there’s been trauma to what we laughingly call Bullseye’s brain.

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Y’know what? I may be a callous monster. as bad as Bullseye himself, but I say: Good. Good riddance to bad rubbish. The fact that ANY government, much less one that claims to be protecting innocents, would have hired a monster like this is uncomprehensible to me. And that, I think, is the mark of good writing. We’ve been shown how awful the members of the Thunderbolts are, watching Bullseye paralyze an innocent man, and this is his comeuppance. And yet, I feel bad for feeling good about it, like somehow I’m as bad as he was… It’s a neat trick, and one that I’m very impressed with Ellis for pulling off.

This book has at least three huge markout moments, a moment where I felt so terrible for Penance that I could barely keep reading, and heroism from Radioactive Man, Songbird, and the rogue trio. I only hope that somehow, Venom gets the cosmic justice that has come to strike Bullseye… Mike Deodato’s art is much less photo-referency and self-aware, having settling into a subtle state with heavy blacks and dynamism… All in all, this is an excellent issue, rating 4 stars out of 5 and very much impressing me.

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

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.

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17 Comments

  1. Brent F.
    June 27, 2007 at 2:17 pm — Reply

    I must say, after this issue I whole heartedly agree with you… American Eagle needs his own series.

  2. Kienan
    June 27, 2007 at 3:12 pm — Reply

    Lets hope the symbiote devours Gargan and spits him out in a gooey pile of loser. I am so sick of him, and I want to see him die in slow motion.

  3. quelonio
    June 27, 2007 at 3:20 pm — Reply

    Great review!

    Robbie Baldwin, the engine works, but nobody is driving.

  4. June 27, 2007 at 4:10 pm — Reply

    Wow. That is…man, that is Amazing. Behold the wonder of Ellis.

    And, on a side note, not only was our cover not misdirecting, we also got no Moonstone at all. Hurrahs! I’ll be picking up the Trade.

    Next Month: “Desperate Measures” Special, with the Team behind ‘Frontline’ sending the T-Bolts t’ward Americop Country.

  5. Brent F.
    June 27, 2007 at 4:51 pm — Reply

    American Eagle’s series should just simply be titled, “Marvel’s Sh!tkicker!”

  6. June 27, 2007 at 6:01 pm — Reply

    There is something wrong when American Eagle is the most badass character in the Marvel U. That being said, he is a total badass!

  7. Mark I.
    June 27, 2007 at 6:34 pm — Reply

    “Robbie Baldwin, the engine works, but nobody is driving.”

    Heh, remember Scotty J., from BOOGIE NIGHTS?

    “I’m a ****ing idiot! ****ing idiot, ****ing idiot, ****ING IDIOT!!!”

  8. Karen
    June 27, 2007 at 6:44 pm — Reply

    Nocturne ur ass!!!

  9. Maximus Rift
    June 27, 2007 at 7:38 pm — Reply

    This was a great issue. I am so marking out for Am Eagle who got the best roll in this issue. As for the casualties:

    Penance: I don’t think there’s any way to recover old Speedball at this point. He’s on his way to become a tragic villain right now and it’s probably for the best.

    Steel Spider: Ouch. Maybe he can get himself a bionic arm like Winter Soldier at somewhere down the road. If they decide to keep using him, that is.

    Bullseye: I agree that he got a big plate of karma, but I don’t think he’ll stay paralyzed. Mute, maybe. But not paralyzed.

  10. Kienan
    June 28, 2007 at 9:15 am — Reply

    A mute bullseye could be a vast improvement.

  11. Brent F.
    June 28, 2007 at 10:52 am — Reply

    A permanently dead Bullseye would have been a better improvement on the Marvel Universe as a whole.

  12. June 28, 2007 at 11:17 am — Reply

    Preching to the choir, here… But he was written by Frank Miller, and everyone written by Frank Miller is immortal under the current Marvel editorial regime. Even Foggy came back from the dead…

  13. Mark I.
    June 28, 2007 at 12:49 pm — Reply

    You read my mind, Mr. P. I was going to post something similar but I couldn’t get the wording correct.

    Seriously, Miller’s Daredevil stories were great, possibly the best superhero work he’s ever done (“Born Again” is a skosh better than “DKR,” in my opinion.) But even though he’s not on the book anymore, Marvel still puts the characters on a pedestal. Bullseye is actually given more “street cred” than Daredevil in the current Marvel continuity and Daredevil–essentially Marvel’s “Nightwing,” with an extra dash of rotten luck thrown in–routinely whups Bullseye’s ass. The biggest things Bullseye has ever done in Marvel is kill Karen Page and Elektra…a love interest and a ninja love interest. Whoopee. Oh, and he took out Jack Flag. Tough guyyyyy. I’d still take Squirrel Girl in a fair fight.

    Don’t get me started on Elektra. Elektra was killed–not beaten, KILLED–by the guy who CAN’T BEAT DAREDEVIL, and gets Kurt Cobained into the deadliest badass chick in Marvel history. Hahn?

    So we have Elektra and Bullseye still boring the crap out of me because Marvel has to squeeze every last ounce of Frank Miller’s influence out of them. What Marvel doesn’t realize is that in large doses, these characters are tiresome unless Miller himself is writing for them (and these days, who knows how the bitter 21st century Miller would write a book about the Goddamn Daredevil.) Ooh, a chick ninja and an assassin who never misses…except when he misses.

    And yet somehow, DC has managed to make Deadshot and Cassandra Cain (essentially the same template as Bullseye and Elektra) somewhat interesting, so maybe Marvel can still do something with these two.

    I gotta say, maybe Ellis was trying to make an (unsubtle) point about how “dangerous” Bullseye’s character really is in a universe full of guys and gals who routinely swing buses at each other and can disintegrate buildings with energy shooting from their fingertips It’d be funny to see him do something like Green Lantern vs. the Joker. (“A squirting flower full of acid? Napalm cream pie? You’re not insane, you’re retarded!” *drops 500-pound green safe on Joker’s head*)

  14. Fredy
    June 28, 2007 at 2:21 pm — Reply

    WOW, the thunderbolts is becoming one of my favorite books so far. i agree that the thunderbolts did get their comuppance (for the most part). the only ones who could be consisdered “good and sane” are songbird, R.man and swordsman. another great review but what happened to SHE-HULK’s review? i missed last issue lol

  15. June 28, 2007 at 3:28 pm — Reply

    She-Hulk is on the way, as is Sinestro Corps, Iron Fist, Legion and a special surprise…

  16. June 28, 2007 at 3:36 pm — Reply

    Seriously, Miller’s Daredevil stories were great, possibly the best superhero work he’s ever done (”Born Again” is a skosh better than “DKR,” in my opinion.) But even though he’s not on the book anymore, Marvel still puts the characters on a pedestal.

    Well, it’s a case of “what sells.” Marvel doesn’t want to damage their properties, and hundreds of people still worship that Miller run. Same reason Venom is still around, even though he’s a creatively bankrupt character with limited story potential… he sells books.

    For all Quesada’s mockery of DC being owned by a corporate juggernaut, Marvel is just as beholden to keeping their properties in the public eye, and permanently killing Bullseye would mean they can’t use him to bolster Daredevil sales if they ever slip.

  17. June 28, 2007 at 5:11 pm — Reply

    Ooh, Sinestro!

    OOH, Surprise!

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