Or – “Radioactive Man, Radioactive Man, Doing The Things An Active Radio Can…”


When Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato took over Thunderbolts last year, I had my reservations.  After all, most of the original cast was going to be gone, replaced with characters who seemed chosen for their popularity, and Mike’s art has done little to nothing for me since his Wonder Woman stint (during which Wizard tried to force him down my throat as the ‘Best Thing Ever.’)  Now, don’t get me wrong, the series started off strong, with amazing interplay between the characters, some entertaining Norman Osborn bastardry, and muted cheesecakeyness in the art.  But then the shipping delays began, and then we started seeing the one-shot filler issues by other teams (of varying quality) and I was wavering on dropping the series entirely.  Then, this issue came out, and made my decision for me…  Wanna know which side I fell on?  Click ‘er and weep.

Tbolts1.jpgPreviously, on Thunderbolts:  After the Civil War, the world is full of unauthorized and unregistered heroes.  The government knew that they couldn’t round them up without assistance, and using the same kind of logic that put the SHRA into place to begin with, decided to fight fire with fire.  Who has more experience battling the heroes, goes the thought process, than the villains?  Of course, this is the same reasoning that led to kudzu being used to offset erosion and the years of trying to fight back the incursion of the kudzu itself, but…  Why argue with the government?  The Thunderbolts first mission led to the crippling of Jack Flag, their second to the maiming of the Steel Spider, and things haven’t really gotten any better since then, with Penance invading Latveria, Moonstone very nearly losing a hand, and the something sinister and vaguely telepathic going on at Cheyenne Mountain… 

Of course, this issue seems to come before the latest couple of issues of Thunderbolts, beginning with the team in action against a group of unregistered superhumans who take their names from Chinese mythology.  The fight could go either way, until one of the villains combusts from within, and falls to the pavement in a heap of  bones and goop.  Once they’re all in custody, Thunderbolts chairman Norman Osborn interviews one of the mutates, who explains that they were mutated by a strange man who sounds somewhat familiar.  “Where his head should be, there was… a box.  And on his chest, a face.  A horrible, horrible face…”  Arnim Zola.  (I love Zola, by the way, one of Kirby’s wildest concepts.)  Norman assures her to her face that he’ll help, that his scientists will “fix [her] right up,” and immediately after leaving the room advises that they’re all going to die.  Nice attitude…  jerk.  But of course, when you throw the mother of your children off a bridge to prove a point, there’s a chance you’re not really swayed by anything resembling human emotion.

Norman gathers the ‘Bolts and advises that they have gleaned the three locations where Zola is most likely to be hiding out: one in Nigeria, one in Germany, and one, ominously, in China.  Radioactive Man (a Chinese national) is angered to find that Stormin’ Norman hasn’t cleared the mission with any of the countries being invaded, and Osborn finally cuts loose.  He tells Radioactive Man in no uncertain terms that China has sent him to America not as a show of solidarity, but to keep his dangerous radiations off Chinese soil.  Radioactive Man refuses to believe that he’s such an obvious pawn, and Norman offers to call his embassy and verify.  This whole sequence makes me feel dirty, as it’s Osborn at his sleazy best.  As the big green dude exists, Normie checks to verify that his other agents are on board with his highly illegal plan, and the Swordsman, a German, has no problem invading HIS home turf…

Radioactive Man leaves Thunderbolts Mountain and heads for his embassy, meeting with China’s OTHER major superhero, The Collective Man.  (I also love Collective Man, with his weird powers and esoteric nature…)  C-Man tells R-Man that Norman is, essentially, telling the truth, and the knowledge seems to really trouble the big green galoot.  The team sets off to find Zola, first rummaging through his German lab, and barely missing being blown to smithereens.  Heading for China, they end up fighting hundreds of Zola’s mutated creatures, while Arnim tries to escape.  Swordsman claims that he knows the way Zola thinks (the ex-Nazi worked with Swordsman’s father) and finds the headless horseman before the rest of his team.  Swordsman offers Zola a deal: freedom in return for cloning his dead sister.  He sliches off a section of his dead sister’s skin, currently wrapping the hilt of his sword (Ewww…) but before the deal is clinched, Radioactive Man arrives and zaps Zola.  Swordsman cons Radioactive Man into letting the villain escape, to protect his beloved homeland, and Swordsman grudgingly agrees…

The issue ends here, with everyone unhappy, and everyone’s loyalties in question.  Chen Lu (Radioactive Man) is one of the most likable characters in Thunderbolts each month, and the only one who seemed to have much in the way of morals.  (Even the likable Songbird tends to be a bit slippery in the “Right vs. Wrong” departments.)  The issue is well-done, with Christos Gage writing a troubling tale, and Jose Villarrubia illustrating in a manner that reminds me of Alex Maleev.  It’s not a bad issue, by any means, indeed it contains characters I very much enjoy.  But, above all else, this issue really cemented for me the truth of the matter:  I don’t like any of the Thunderbolts enough to pay 3 bucks a month to read their adventures.  Yes, I’ve said that before, especially in my hatred of Venom (sorry, Spider-fans) and my disbelief that a felonious teenage girl killer like Osborn could be given full control over anything more key than a Stuckey’s in Cleveland, Ohio.  This issue was okay, though I might have liked to see it as an arc of the regular title, given some more time to flesh out the story and see the characters interact.   Thunderbolts:  Internation Incident is good enough to rate 2.5 out of 5 stars, but it’s spotlight on the fact that nobody here is anything less than a bastard-coated-bastard with creamy bastard filling has convinced me to drop Thunderbolts and see if there’s something less infuriating and roller-coastery to read.  Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’ll regret the decision, but right now, it feels like the right thing to do.


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. jman
    March 13, 2008 at 7:43 pm — Reply

    This really felt like a filler to me…great characterization, but the art was nothing special. I kinda prefer Ellis’s govt monsters on a not-tight-enough leash. The art kind of reminds me of carlos pacheco’s green lantern…but they really do need to stop with the filler stories and stay on a more consistent monthly schedule.

  2. The Ninja Charro
    March 14, 2008 at 4:37 pm — Reply

    who other countries imitate the USA superhero registration, uh?

  3. The Ninja Charro
    March 14, 2008 at 4:39 pm — Reply

    ” Agroup of unregistered superhumans who take their names from Chinese mythology”
    The Great Ten!

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