I started picking up this book because I so loved the previous Thunderbolts comic. By keeping the same title, Marvel has played upon the goodwill that they previously built up to get me to give this one a chance. But, for good or ill, this is not the Thunderbolts that you remember. Has Marvel leveraged the Thunderbolts brand to introduce me to a new book that I’ll enjoy, or have they trod its good name into the mud, forever tainting the happy memories I associated with it?
Previously in Thunderbolts: General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, who became the Red Hulk a couple of years ago, decided to create a team of edgy heroes to proactively fight the fights that are too dirty or political for all those other teams to handle. He called that team
X-Force Force Works Secret Avengers the Thunderbolts, assembling a rag-tag team of loners who are willing to kill to get the job done: the Punisher, Elektra, Venom, and Deadpool. Their first mission is to overthrow the evil dictator of Kata Jaya, a small country in southeast Asia with no reason to exist other than for super soldiers to fight over it.
FOOL ME ONCE
As I implied above, this is another in the long line of attempts at “gritty”, “realistic” storytelling within the main Marvel 616 continuity. This usually boils down to: “Well, what if we had a whole team of Wolverines?” and sure enough, that’s the case here. It’s hard to have conversations when everyone is the strong, silent-type. The exception is Deadpool, for whom Way has written quite a lot recently and thus has a decent handle on his character.
But Deadpool is one funny guy bouncing jokes off of mannequins. The rest of them are angry. Just angry, but not about anything. The Punisher trains the local rebels to show off how bad-ass he is, not because he cares about them or has a stake in the conflict. Venom fights because he is a soldier, which can be admirable in real-life but is boring in fiction. I don’t even know who Elektra is anymore (wasn’t she a dead Skrull?) and this book does nothing to help me out with that.
As a whole, the team is rudderless. Supposedly they are all there to fight the fights that otherwise wouldn’t be fought, but they were each basically doing that individually before. They don’t need a team. Red Hulk isn’t a charismatic enough leader to inspire the team to work together, neither is the bad guy so bad nor the stakes so earth-shattering that the heroes are really forced to reconcile their differences.
An impressive bad guy could have salvaged the story, but all the fighting in the issue is against easily-dispatched cannon fodder. It will take more than a platoon of unwilling conscripts to make me believe that Venom or the Punisher are in danger. There was the dramatic reveal of a supervillain in this issue, but, although I won’t spoil it, if the reveal doesn’t leave you scratching your head, asking “Who?”, then mister, you’re a more thorough fan of the Hulk than I. Looking up the character in Wikipedia, I still don’t see why I should be excited to see the team fighting him. Now I love to see under-used and unappreciated characters brought back and reinvented, but you don’t do that with a sudden reveal. You do it by showing them do something. Posturing looks cool, but doesn’t give me a reason to care about what’s happening.
FOOL ME TWICE
Most famous for his run drawing Preacher, Steve Dillon’s art is divisive. You’ll like it or you won’t and I don’t know if there’s anything I can do to change your mind. It’s not a matter of skill, though. Dillon has got his craft down and draws things just the way he wants to, but the way he wants to is a heavy outline style that relies on coloring instead of inking for shading, texture and shadow. To me it looks like a coloring book. The greatest, most hyper-violent coloring book ever, but still.
One other thing–the secondary character designs. We’re told that Kata Jaya is in Southeast Asia, but looking at the people who live there, I would never know. From the look of them, the rebel army members could be Asian, or Native American, or Hispanic or even Germans with tans. And when the truckload of local conscripts shows up it is somehow a multicultural group of guys you’d see in a beer commercial. I’m not asking for stereotypical racial caricatures, but if you want to set the story in an “exotic” culture, the people are part of what make that culture unique.
THE BOTTOM LINE: WON’T BE FOOLED AGAIN…
I give Thunderbolts #1 one star—the lowest grade I will give a book that I don’t think is trying to make me feel bad about the comics medium.There are a couple glimpses of character moments and hints at deeper plots, but we’re three issues in and I can’t justify keeping this on my pull list. Thunderbolts #3 earns 1 out of 5 stars.
DID YOU READ THIS ISSUE? RATE IT!