Or – “Leonard Samson Is My New Hero…”


Since Warren Ellis took over the Thunderbolts several months ago, we have watched, month after month, as the only really honorable team members have been sidelined, and petty viciousness has ruled the day. Norman Osborn has ruled with a Prozac-fueled iron fist, Moonstone has manipulated everyone in the most blatant manner possible, Venom bit off a superhero’s limb, and with the notable exception of American Eagle, we haven’t really seen a much in the way of truly heroic moments. With Robbie Baldwin popping his cork, Normie has been forced to call in assistance, and Doc Samson is about to change the nature of the Thunderbolts dramatically by his very presence…

TBolts1.jpgPreviously, on Thunderbolts: The idea was sound, maybe even noble… Take a group of super-villains, reform them, make them do the government’s dirty work in order to reform themselves. Of course, when you turn the whole thing over to an amoral #$&@ known for chasing a teenage boy around the skies of New York on a flying broomstick, knocking up Gwen Stacy and corrupting his own son to share his particular brand of insanity, you pretty much get what you pay for. The new Thunderbolts run the gamut from crazy to evil to bug#$&@ crazy to powerless and back, but none are having nearly the problems that Robbie (Penance) Baldwin has. Last issue, Robbie had a Norman-fueled flip-out that destroyed a huge chunk of cellblock, and left him buried face-first in concrete thanks to the efforts of Moonstone. Everyone in Thunderbolts Mountain is living on the razor’s edge, but it seems like everyone’s psychoses are reaching critical mass at the same time… Enter the man who analyzes the supers, Doctor Leonard Samson.


And right there, I smile. Doc is unwilling to deal with any of Norman’s power-plays, cutting straight through the layers of subterfuge, inveiglement and bull$#!+ to the root of the issue. With his big production number undermined, Norman steps out of the shadows, hand extended, ready to slap Doc on the back. “Doc Samson! Welcome to Thunderbolts Mountain. I’m Norman Osborn.” Doc rears back, and punches the living hell out of Norm, knocking him back to the wall, then pinning him down. “I know EXACTLY who you are! You think I don’t get to see the files? ALL of the files? You’re the GREEN GOBLIN!” He punctuates this with a gamma-powered fist, hammering Norman into the concrete floor as he rants. “I’m sick of how you took something that’s supposed to be GOOD and turned it into a nightmare–” Suddenly, we pull back out of Doc’s head, as he calmly takes Norman’s hand and shakes it. The whole beating was a fantasy, but it’s not really the kind of fantasy that I expect from a man as principled as the Doc. Moonstone steps forward to greet him, and the icy hatred between them is as obvious as it is understandable…


And once again, I LOVE Doc Samson. In five seconds of conversation, he managed to turn Moonstone’s greatest weapon (her skill at reading and manipulating people) against her, making it clear that even Karla Sofen has her betters. Suddenly, we’re inside her mind, and I can’t tell if it’s a fantasy or a memory, but she’s in her old helmeted yellow suit, blasting him (in his Jay Garrick muscle-shirt costume) screaming “DAMN YOU, DOC SAMSON!” I think something wicked this way comes, folks, ’cause everybody is inches from snapping… They lead Doc into the interview room, where he sees the badly beaten Robbie, chained and under armed guard. Len’s rage nearly escapes, and another hallucination occurs, as he Hulk’s out and knocks Moonstone’s head off her shoulders, with a roar of “DOC SAMSON SMASH CRIMINAL!!!!” Something is not right, here. Doc keeps his cool again, and takes control, ordering Moonstone and the guards out. She starts to protest, but Len replies that it’s not a request.


Doc shuts the door, walks over, sits down and starts talking. “Hello, Robbie. I’m Len Samson. I think we’ve met, once or twice?” He remembers how they met, when Rob was still Speedball, remembering how Robbie kept laughing, even in the face of the disaster that brought the heroes together. “You said to me, ‘Doc, I try to find the fun in everything. Otherwise, why even bother?’ ” He remembers when he heard about the Warriors TV show, trying to drag Penance out of his own head.


And there it is. There is the statement that nobody at Marvel has wanted to make for over two years, and it’s the one statement that should have been said from the beginning. “It could have happened to anyone.” Tony Stark thinks that he’s too SMART for that to happen, and wants everyone to follow his lead. Steve Rogers thought he was too principled for that to happen, and wanted to make the heroes better to avoid it. But the fact is, ANY of the heroes could have had a disaster. Remember the Avengers battle to save New York from Graviton? The X-Men fighting the Adversary in Dallas? The Fantastic Four battling Galactus in the skies over New York? The Hulk duking it out with the Abomination? Any of those situations, any of a THOUSAND situations over the years could have gone sour and made a Stamford. The Warriors weren’t the cause of the explosion, they were merely a catalyst… Robbie remembers who Doc is, and asks if he’s there to fight, and Doc asks why Robbie WANTS him to fight. “Wrong question. Do you want me to HURT you?” Doc sets a knife on the table, explaining that it’s ceramic, and he walked right through security with it.


While Len cuts (you should excuse the expression) to the heart of the issue, Songbird and her remaining team members return from the field, with yet another unregistered superhero just waiting to be taken into custody. Even Osborn, a full-blown wackaloon, realizes that it’s a pattern that needs examining, a disturbing sort of recurring situation. Doc suddenly turns the heat up on Robbie, telling him that Moonstone has Robbie’s number, and they’re going to make him a weapon. “You’re going to end up as their human dog. And you won’t CARE, because you’ll get your pathetic little fix out of it.” Doc calls him a pathetic little pain-junkie, practically urging him to set off his ridiculous powers. “I’m the only person you can’t hurt,” explains Doc, but Penance isn’t so sure. Doc essentially dares him to try, and Penance stabs himself suddenly, his powers bursting out and destroying the entire room, his blue energies annihilating everything in the room but himself and Samson…


I don’t know if Robbie would, but I think it’s well overdue. People have been treating Penance like a leper, and it’s only added to his emo B.S. For Len to try and connect with the real person inside the stupid suit may just turn the tide, or it may be a glass of water on an inferno. Meanwhile, Mindwave (taken into custody last issue) is brought onto the ‘Bolts new superhuman gulag, joining Caprice, Mirage and an unnamed costume. Remember last issue when I tried to figure out the significance of Caprice and Mindwave, finding the only link to be Scourge? Mirage is ALSO one of Scourge’s victims, killed in Captain America #319… This is all starting to add up, and I’m not liking the answers. Worst of all? All four of the incarcerates are telepaths…


And suddenly, we see why Doc and Moonstone have had the fantasies that they’ve had, due to a bit of psionic manipulation brining their thoughts to the fore. So, let’s do the math: Scourge killed villains. The Thunderbolts are comprised entirely of supposedly reformed villains. Four people using these aliases, all tying to Scourge, are within Thunderbolts Mountain with the mission of “making them all die.” Do the math on THAT one, faithful Spoilerites. While the crazies get crazier, the only sane people in the complex (Radioactive Man and Songbird) discuss their situation, with R-Man pointing out that all the other members have huge, obvious mental problems, even the seemingly normal Swordsman. “Every time you think he’s trying to become a better man,” she asks, and R.M. responds “He does something to remind you of his genetic stock?” Heh. Songbird replies, “I was gonna say ‘makes a sword handle out of his dead sister’s skin and rubs it all the time, but yeah.” Double Heh… She asks if they’re the only sane people in the place, but his answer isn’t what she expects.


“Learn Chinese. Prove me wrong.” That’s awesome. Meanwhile, Norman returns to his office to think, to plan, and to self-medicate, asking his secretary where his pills are. When she gives him a snotty response, Norman snaps back “You know, you’re being paid out of about eight illegal slush funds. You could at least make a pretense of earning it.”


I wonder if that’s yet another hallucination? In either case, this was a really good issue, with both writer Warren Ellis and artist Mike Deodato in fine form. I like the way Doc Samson’s portrayal evokes both his forebear Doc Savage and Superman himself, as well as the subtle way that he brings out Robbie Baldwin from the forcefield of Penance and the fear and discomfort that he evokes in Moonstone. Much as with American Eagle, he’s a minor character that we rarely see who really steals the show here. Even the excesses of Deodato’s art are at a minimum here, working the story to its best advantage without the distracting ‘stunt-casting’ and cheesecake issues I’ve whined about in the past. Thunderbolts #117 keeps the streak going, scoring 4 out of 5 stars and reminding me why I love Warren Ellis’ work so much.


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. Chris
    October 25, 2007 at 12:52 pm — Reply

    “I wonder if that’s yet another hallucination?”

    Well, we know who control his pills…

  2. October 25, 2007 at 1:12 pm — Reply

    Consider the name of this Arc.

    Then consider who was last hiring Scourge to kill people.

    You SEE…

    Also, I’m hoping that Norman ‘Goblins Out’ at some point, only for it to be revealed he was udner one of the Four Telepath’s control and get let off the hook.

  3. October 25, 2007 at 2:00 pm — Reply

    I hope that Goblin mask is a halluciantion because the thought of someone wearing a mask with rubber teeth for forty years is really disturbing.

  4. Mark I.
    October 25, 2007 at 2:31 pm — Reply

    I don’t think they’re rubber teeth. I think it’s a dental appliance worked into the mask to make the illusion of the Goblin face more seamless.

    Doc Samson should get his own book in the She-Hulk vein. Light comedy, occasional intergalactic disaster, and different heroes and villains coming in for the Tony Soprano treatment every issue.

    Issue #1: M.O.D.O.K.

  5. October 25, 2007 at 2:46 pm — Reply

    Plus, I think the mask must be a hallucination…why else that crazy, downwards-spiralling style for the panels?

  6. jman
    October 25, 2007 at 4:33 pm — Reply

    This is why I dig Thunderbolts: The very first arc was good because the readers were the only ones who knew the team’s dirty little secret. Now that the secret is out, they don’t have to PRETEND to be heroic anymore. This team of “heroes” is being lead by a nano-chained, pill-popping, bypolar psychopath.

    The semi-refomed T-bolts are few(Songbird, who has always wanted to go straight but seems to screw up somewhere. And Radioactive Man, who’s intelligence and great ego are comical for someone who’s a walking cancer factory). The rest of the team are violent sociopaths or manipulators here for there own purposes. Dysfunctional superheroes at their finest!! I guess Iron Hitler wanted to keep his wildest dogs on a tight leash…

  7. Tobias Drake
    October 25, 2007 at 4:57 pm — Reply

    “There is the statement that nobody at Marvel has wanted to make for over two years, and it’s the one statement that should have been said from the beginning. “It could have happened to anyone.””

    Actually, during Civil War: Casualties of War, when Steve Rogers and Tony Stark had their verbal showdown over the Registration Act, Tony DID make the point that it could have happened to any of them, and even used a personal example of his alcoholism to support that point.

  8. Karim Flint
    October 26, 2007 at 6:38 am — Reply

    Is it just me or this book the best thing to come out of the Civil War. I love to hate this team! Every time they go out on a mission I keep on hoping one of them is gonna get an American Eagle style beat down. That’s the great thing about a team of super-villains, casualties don’t upset you (much).

    I’m sure I read somewhere that Doc Samson’s strength increases and decreases according to the length of his hair. Surely with his new crew cut he shouldn’t be so resilient. When the new powers of ‘the artist formerly known as Speedball’ first manifested in Frontline he knocked out/temporarily blinded She Hulk. They should have been scrapping Old Len off the wall!

  9. October 26, 2007 at 7:52 am — Reply

    I’m sure I read somewhere that Doc Samson’s strength increases and decreases according to the length of his hair. Surely with his new crew cut he shouldn’t be so resilient. When the new powers of ‘the artist formerly known as Speedball’ first manifested in Frontline he knocked out/temporarily blinded She Hulk. They should have been scrapping Old Len off the wall!

    Unless ‘Len’ is a Skrullw ho didn’t do his Homework…

  10. October 26, 2007 at 2:16 pm — Reply

    Wikipedia saysthat Len Samson’s power is not tied to the length of his hair anymore, but it does not say when this happened or where this was stated. Can anyone elaborate, or is Wikipedia just wrong?

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