Or – “Living Proof That You Shouldn’t Throw Everything On The Dryer…”


Here at Stately Spoilers Manor East, I have a few rules of thumb that serve me well. Always buy just enough gas to get by, because by Friday, the Kwik Shop on 45th street will have dropped their price 10 cents. Writing is best done while watching ‘Scrubs’ on DVR. Don’t argue with the little girl when she wants to eat at ‘Pirate Hat Store.’ And when I get home in the dead of night, I tend to drop my stuff in the kitchen. This seemingly aimless tangent is a roundabout way of explaining how the bag containing this issue got shuffled in with insurance papers, some sort of flyer for a Big and Tall Men’s Store and a wooden Chrismas sleigh that my wife inherited from a favorite Grandma. But, I believe that there’s no such thing as being TOO late, only irresponsible and kinda stupid. So, I got that going for me…

TBolts1.jpgPreviously, on Penance – Relentless: Nothing. This is the first issue, hello? However, much of note took place in OTHER books, which might be of help in enjoying this particular story, so we’ll touch on that. When the New Warriors signed a contract to be on a reality TV show, it was a bad idea, both in terms of the characters and the concept of the comic in which those events happened, and it served to destroy whatever credibility the name New Warriors might have had (both in their universe and ours.) Soon after, they team encountered a minor nest of super-villains, and Nitro killed most of the team, as well as a large chunk of a city. The only (currently known) survivor was the boy formerly known as Speedball, whose powers were radically changed, responding to pain. With a bullet in his spine and a bend in his brain, Speedy joined Norman Osborn’s new Thunderbolts, and Normie has been trying get him killed ever since. As the only VOLUNTEER member of the team, the man now known as Penance has more freedom than his villainous partners, even being allowed to enter the city without chains (though with an armed undercover escort fifteen men strong…) He’s even managed to spark the imagination of a pretty young waitress who thinks she’s found her soulmate.


While his irritated chaperones look on, Robbie Baldwin sits each day, writing numbers in a notebook in true ‘Rain Man’ fashionwhile murmuring to himself. When Lucy asks him what’s so important in his spiral book of crazy, Penance replies “It’s just some stuff. Just numbers…” Lucy again thinks that they have a deep spiritual connection, while Robbie seems to completely ignore her existence, closing his book and exiting, while we once again find that every newscaster in the Marvel Universe is a telepath with perfect timing.


I’ll say this, at least the guy who looks like Stan Marsh’s dad has figured out that the children of Stamford weren’t the only innocents killed by Nitro’s blast. I’ll tell you something else… I’m worried for Lucy. The only thing worse for her than Robbie not knowing she’s alive would be Robbie knowing she’s alive, especially if he’s really crazy and not just putting on a show for Stormin’ Norman. The various members of the Thunderbolts security crew grouse and complain about having to watch Penance drink his coffee every day, and even Norman Osborn has just about had enough of the former Warrior. When Robbie’s doctor tells him there are positive signs of recoveray, Norman replies with his usual burning disdain for all that is not Green Gobin. “The boy is mentally unbalanced. He’s delusional and paranoid. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and he’s developed obsessive-compulsive tendencies involving random numbers. Which of those attributed to you consider to be positive, Doctor Ableton?” The doctor replies that Robbie is working through his guilt, rebuilding himself after the trauma, dealing with the fact that he blames himself for the deaths…


I wonder what the people of the Marvel U would think if they knew their tax dollars were being used to keep a twenty year old near-psychopath shaved and pierced so that he can be more emo. The doctor explains that he’s showing positive signs, sleeping in a bed rather than on a cold stone floor, and even showing new interests (though the fact that these interests are in the works of the Marquis de Sade concerns me.) “He’s in a lot of pain, Director Osborn. He seems to want to understand it now.” When asked about the numbers, the doctor can’t answer, and Robbie WON’T. Norman once again uses his lack of tact to get straight to the point. “You’re a liability. If I were a free man, I would kill you within an instant. I may still do that.” Robbie dispassionately ignores the threat. “You’re smart. You figure it out.” Heh. I like that.


Part is me is happy to see some of Speedball’s sense of humor showing itself, however perversely, but more of me is afraid of that quiet smile and the gibbering horrors that may lurk beneath. A Thunderbolts mission arises soon after, and once again we see the point of view of the security staff, who get an explanation of how to handle the ‘Bolts. When one of them explains that he’s done this before, he gets a harsh reality check. “Not like these, you haven’t. Two weeks ago, Venom persuaded one of our eight-year vets to stab himself in the eye with a canteen fork.” Yeeeowtch. We also find that in case of a crash, the Thunderbolts don’t HAVE escape pods, as they’re considered expendable. Mmm… and Director Stark wonders why they have a public relations problem? En route to the target, Moonstone breaks down the mission for her team…


Penance? He’s doing your job, Moony m’love. Robbie blows open the doors of the hold, smashing his way in and using his kinetic powers to bounce the characters inside off the walls. Norman hits the panic button, advising Moonstone to get in there and stop their prodigal even if it means killing him. For his part, Penance seems to have an agenda all his own…


Wait… what does Doctor Doom have that that Penance might want? It can’t be Nitro, he’s in Atlantean custody, isn’t he? Penance lets the last survivor head home to deliver his message, while Moonstone arrives to dress him down. “How do you know he doesn’t have the launch codes?” she screams, and Penance hands her the disk. She tries to convey what he did wrong, but Penance isn’t interested in her authority. The next day, Robbie returns to his coffee shop, while his babysitters complain that he should be in jail. When Robbie leaves the diner, he walks to a hardware store, picking up a can of paint while his confused support staff watch. Robbie passes a schoolyard, and hallucinates in a very Sarah Connor manner that the children playing there are burning like Stamford did. He mutters to himself, and dives down an alleyway before his handlers can follow…


What’s in the briefcase, Penance? We cut to a short time later, as more support staff arrives to check on their missing charge, only to find a disturbing scene and no sign of Penance…


That can’t be good… and I still can’t figure out what the numbers are all about. It’s a mystery, but in a good way. Paul Jenkins is the person seemingly responsible for the Penance character, and I’m glad to see that Robbie’s varying portrayals of crazy starting to coalesce into one character, and I’m very interesing in seeing what he wants from Doom. The art (by Paul Gulacy, an old favorite of mine) is pretty awesome, even giving the faceless and creepy overlapping armor of the Penance costume more character than usual. As first issues go, it’s a pretty good one, asking a lot of questions while establishing our setting and characters strongly. As with many miniseries lately, what happens from here could easily change my mind, but looking at this issue as a standalone, it’s well-done, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars. With Thunderbolts on a not-exactly monthly schedule right now, it’s nice to see Marvel filling in the gaps with this series and the one-shots, rather than starting a new arc and forcing us to wait for a conclusion.



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. Nice to know one can just go into coffee shops and act like a weirdo and get hot waitresses falling in mad love with yas.

    In a book filled with super-powers, government agencies, and Speedball calling out Doctor Doom, it’s funny that this is the least believable element to me. Guess I been kicked in da butt by love!

  2. Small town waitresses falling in love with a dark stranger who stands out from all of the cowboys and truck drivers is nothing to new.

  3. Is that Paul Gulacy’s art? If so then I have to go buy it.

    No…it is a Civil War tie-in.

    …but it is Paul Gulacy!

    brain short circuiting…

  4. This issue was good but at the same time completely out of whack with everything currently going on in Thunderbolts. Bullseye is still up and walking around for the mission. Last time I checked, he was paralyzed again. If it took place earlier in the books timeline, how is Bleedball in his own room with all these new piercings and the number fixation but does not have those later in the series? Add in the current storyline by Ellis with him Hulking out and it’s even more confusing.

    There are numerous incongruieties in this issue and it through me for a loop reading it as I tried to piece together when this all takes place. I like the numbers thing and the interactions with Norman, but can’t reconcile the events of the issue with what I know of the current Thunderbolts book.

    Hopefully the next issue will clear up some of these oddities and help me get into the book more.

    Kirk Warren
    The Weekly Crisis

  5. Are you sure they showed Bullseye? I didn’t see him when I read the issue.

    He seems to appear in one longshot. There IS a character with a black suit and white boots, but there’s no identification. I’d probably chalk it up to either a writer/artist working without foreknowledge of the plot in the main book, or the story taking place at some point in the future when Bullseye is rehabbed. Either way, it’s not a huge point for me… your mileage may vary.

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