Or – “Sometimes Hating The Protagonists Is The Most Fun Ever…”


I admit it. I vacillate back and forth on my opinion of some titles every month, like a slightly more out-of-shape version of the Zodiac Man. “Yes! No! Yes! NO! Crapcakes!” Thunderbolts is a special case, though, as I was a fan of the original title, loved Speedball before he was a headcase, think that the awesomeness of Warren Ellis can actually bend spoons from across the Atlantic, and even have a soft spot for Moonstone, bless the arid, sand-blasted Machiavellian waste that serves for her soul. I have scores of reasons to dig this title, and many times when if fails to engage me, it’s less a case of not being good as it is a feeling that the book should be that much better. But, as if by magic, every time I raise a new complaint, it seems that Ellis and company have planted it there for me to whine about, and it becomes the center of a new storyline…

Previously, on Thunderbolts: Some really unpleasant people benefitted from the fallout TBolts1.jpgof the superhero Civil War, including Karla Sofen (Moonstone) who should be locked away somewhere, Mac Gargan (Venom) who should be thrown down a deep, dark hole and his symbiote rendered into it’s component atoms, and Norman Osborn, the worst offender in Marvel’s ongoing “We don’t care HOW good the story was years ago, it’s all about having the best toys in our sandbox all at once” slapfight. In the old days at Marvel, a great villain would get in his licks, then fight a noble hero and either get turned to stone or impaled on his own weapons, leaving the hero to wonder whether he was any better than the villain. And we LIKED it that way!! Rotten kids! Today at Marvel, a great villain will probably get his own book. After a series of missions whose descriptor can only be termed “catastrophic,” Normie and his T-Bolts have regrouped, with one member in a coma, one in solitary confinement, and a third with a limb nearly ripped off. Given the situation, the spin control is turning so quickly you can’t even SEE it…


Heh. Much as I hate to admit it, Stormin’ Norman seems to have The Sentry pretty much pegged… Osborn is angry both that Captain Marvel has returned and that no one will TELL him how Captain Marvel returned. “There he was, years after he died of cancer, running the Negative Zone prison into the ground before abruptly disappearing. You’d think you could still count on things like cancer.” That is an awful yet beautiful line, there. With the problems mounting in the N-Zone, political pressure is being put on the former Green Goblin to turn Thunderbolts Mountain into a holding facility in it’s stead. Apparently, the media blitz has worked TOO well, and the Thunderbolts are seen as a group of trustworthy freedom fighters against a world full of costumed lunatics. Worst of all, Penance has raised the attention of the Commission on Superhuman Activity, and they’re sending a specialist: Doctor Leonard Samson, psychologist to the stars (as long as they’re big and green.) Moonstone shows an uncharacteristic bit of vulnerability as she admits how much she HATES Doc Samson, presumably because he can see right through her manipulations and tricks. “He’s no worry, Moonstone,” replies Osborn. “I mean, honestly, what has he ever achieved? I think perhaps he taught the Hulk to count once.” Heh…


A sudden call comes through, telling them that Penance is being released back into the general population of the holding areas, and Moonstone suddenly gets a worried look. “How many other people do we have interned at cell level, Norman?” Osborn tells her, and she advises that they both head down to the internment cells, presumably to watch something that might aid in keeping Doc away from Penance. As Robbie Baldwin walks down the row, a voice can be heard from one of the cells, taunting him. “C’mon, Baldwin! Give us a smile. A smile and a wave from the guy that proved that killing kids gets you a nice government gig.” The idiot in question calls himself Hellrazor, which tips off my radar to something that I’ll get to later…


Hellrazor’s cell is ripped open with the same sort of abandon my three-year-old gets at birthday parties, and Hellrazor bounces off the back wall before Penance enters and punches the living crap out of him, repeatedly hammering his face into the stone floor, leaving a truly terrifying pool of blood around Hellrazor’s ruined face. Half a dozen guards arrive in full superhuman riot gear, but Penance takes all out with a single blast of kinetic energy. The, suddenly (and pay attention, because no one has ever said this sentence before) Moonstone steps in and heroically saves the day…


…sort of. I’m not sure if propelling a teenage boy face first into a concrete wall counts as heroism, but in this company, I’m not sure I can split hairs. Norman quickly puts the assault rifle to Robbie’s head, but incredibly, Sofen stops him. “Norman… he’s YOUR ‘crying Hulk.’ ” If there’s one thing Dr. Karla Sofen knows, it’s how to use damaged personalities to her own ends, and she explains to Osborn quickly what an asset he has on his hands. “Put the right stressors on [Penance] and he can, in fact, do Hulk-level damage. YOU put the right stressors on him. YOU control him. YOUR Hulk.” She assures Osborn that whatever good Len Samson can do, she can undo, and Norman hesitates for a moment before putting the gun down and upping the security on Robbie’s cell. After we reveal that the new season of “Who Wants To Be A Thunderbolt?” is called “Who Wants To Be Captain America?” (poor taste, indeed) we see the remaining members of the ‘Bolts in action under Songbird’s control, and it’s a world of difference, indeed.


My Geek-sense is tingling… I tried and tried to remember why I knew the name Caprice, and finally, I went to my fall-back repository of knowledge that even I didn’t know: The Marvel Universe Appendix online, and suddenly I got a chill. Remember Hellrazor? If you clicked the link, you know that Hellrazor was lamer than lame, but moreover, you know that he was killed by Scourge years ago in Captain America #319. Now, click on the entry for Caprice. It’s okay… I’ll wait. Notice anything? Like, say, the fact that a woman named Caprice used to BE a Scourge? Maybe it’s coincidence, maybe not, but it’s a little hard for me to believe that she’d just up and turn herself over. Songbird has it pegged: this is a little too easy, and she’d better be ready for the whole thing to be a setup. Once back on the Thunderjet, Venom has a small crisis of conscience…


Methinks, Horatio, thou dost protest too much. While Mac deals with his new rep as the befanged face of justice, a small police station in Las Vegas gets a mysterious visitor… and now I KNOW something is up. The man in black walks right up to the desk, and announces himself. “Ah. Yes. Hello… I’m using the name Mindwave. No hyphen. There used to be a Mind-hyphen-wave, but he’s dead. I’m just using the name. Not sure it’s a very good name yet. But Still… yes. Mindwave.” I’m not sure if it’s the ‘biker from space’ attire or the David Hyde Pierce enunciation that does it, but something about Mind-no-hyphen-wave makes the hairs on the back of my neck reach for the sky…


The officer goes for his sidearm, only to find it disassembled in mid-air before him. “I’m a telekine,” explains Mindwave (no hyphen) “I move things with the power of my mind. Would you like to see what else I can do?” The entire station bursts wide open, as bolts of mental energy shatter the walls and floor. Dozens of policemen swarm and I’m suddenly reminded of the mission where Tommy Vercetti had to wear a police uniform and sneak into Vice City P.D’s station house. Mindwave (no hyphen, mind you) levels the walls, splits a staircase in two, and throws the poor officers around like tenpins, and for his encore, he splits the hail of incoming bullets in two. Showoff. One final wave of power flings everyone off their feet, and then, incredibly…


…he GIVES UP! It’s almost as if he WANTED to be taken into custody, but moreover, he wanted it to look like he put up a good fight in so doing. Wanna know why that’s interesting? From the Marvel Universe appendix entry on Mind-hyphen-Wave: “Mind-Wave was among the criminals at the ‘Bar With No Name’ and was shot dead by Scourge.” That, my friends, clinches it. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice and I’ll hit you with my car. Something is afoot in the M.U. and it’s got something to do with the Scourge of the Underworld, the man who killed super-villains by the dozen. But what, you ask, could any Scourge want with the Thunderbolts, a team consisting entirely of ex-super-villains? That one doesn’t take a Rhodes scholar to figure out. But could there be an even larger target here? The Negative Zone prison? Or even Thunderbolts mountain itself? And, the key question in all of this: will anyone put together what I have and see this stealth attack coming?

I admit it, this issue was a strong one, and even the backstabbing from Karla and Norman was highly entertaining. Mike Deodato’s women still seem to have certain spinal problems, but the panel with Caprice in it was so striking, and the costume so well designed that I kind of want to see more of her. Warren Ellis has gotten the preliminaries out of the way, and has rocketed off on the kind of tangent that I’d truly expect to see a team made of personalities a distrustful (and untrustworthy) as the Thunderbolts to go on. Marvel seems to be setting Penance up for something big, and I hope it’s something big and interesting rather than just another five-issues of “hey, would you buy this thing monthly?” I know that the big summer miniseries season is almost over, but the big four are killing my budget this year. With a healthy dose of mystery, some plot machinations so subtle I almost missed them, and a few pieces of truly awesome dialogue, Thunderbolts #116 ranks a well-deserved 4 out of 5 stars.


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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  1. UltraMatt
    August 26, 2007 at 11:56 am — Reply

    looks like it’s hunting season for villains! you’re quite right, it’s fun to hate these protagonists. I’m starting to wonder how far down the insanity barrel Robbie will be heading to though…

  2. Baal
    August 26, 2007 at 12:52 pm — Reply

    Please stop making Thunderbolts sound interesting. I only bought the first Ellis issue (and hated it) but you’re making me want to pick it up again. Wasn’t changing my mind about Checkmate enough?

  3. Brother129
    August 26, 2007 at 1:30 pm — Reply

    The recesses of your comic knowledge never cease to amaze me. I have no cmplaints about Thunderbolts right now. It’s like one of my guilty pleaure books where I can’t believe I’m getting in on the mind set of psychopaths and constantly rooting for the protagonists to get beat up. I hope Mindwave and Caprice kick their aspirins and take out the Negative Zone prison to boot…

  4. Ben
    August 26, 2007 at 3:39 pm — Reply

    Hey Matt, I’ve been a frequent visitor for a while now, and I just wanted to say thanks for continuing with the Thunderbolts reviews. These issues are, for my money, one of the most interesting things going in the M-U right now…and one of the main reasons I keep coming back here.

    That dialog between Venom and Songbird was fantastic. This was the first time I’ve seen the symbiote on someone besides Brock and actually enjoyed the character.

    A tortured/naive Mac w/out green eyes is a good Venom in my book.

  5. Happenstance
    August 26, 2007 at 3:59 pm — Reply

    Well, as long as Turner D. Century doesn’t show up…


  6. ryansmith
    August 26, 2007 at 4:50 pm — Reply

    maybe im dumb, but its not completely clear to me. i thought the old scourges dressed up like villians then PUM-Smack, but this mindwave(no hyphen) seems to have the powers of the dead mindwave, which i didnt think the scourges had.

    the dead ringer, an old cap foe, could do something like that i think.

    can somebody clarify?

  7. Mark I.
    August 27, 2007 at 10:29 am — Reply

    So do you think Gargan’s seperation of self from suit is going to figure into the return of Eddie Brock? Either way, he seems to be having some man/monster issues. I’m a sucker for that kind of story, from Hyde to Hulk.

  8. Tater Nuts
    August 28, 2007 at 12:20 pm — Reply

    First off, I want to say I’ve been reading Major Spoilers for a while now and I love this site. The reviewers have a ton of comic knowledge that totally makes me geek out.

    Second, I too thought of the Scourge all this issue and geeked out when I got a jist of what’s coming. If this is true, a little sad though since I was planning on using the Scourge in a story. :-/

    Ah well. I trust Mr. Ellis.

  9. August 31, 2007 at 2:45 am — Reply

    Actually, I have always rooted for the antagonists, ever since I was a child watching Disney films Psychologically, Jafar just seemed far more interesting than Aladdin..

  10. Chris
    September 4, 2007 at 5:30 pm — Reply

    Unfortunately it looks like the Thunderbolts will loose steam. #117 will not be out until October and in November there’s another one-shot that I won’t read since geography means I’m subscriptions only. Reading your reviews the last one seemed seems like a fill-in and no doubt this one will be too. So in short only one issue of story progression in 3 months :(

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