Sunday, March 04, 2007

THUNDERBOLTS #111 Marvel Comics, 2007

Relevant Content Week rolls on like a redneck trucker with a look at Marvel's revamped Thunderbolts series, now with 100% more Warren Ellis.
Before we begin, I'd like to just throw out that I am listening to the Canadian power trio Rush as I write this. The song "Tom Sawyer," at this very moment. Like many emotionally adolescent men my age, I find it comforting to keep one foot in the Eighties at all time. I'll be playing with my G.I. Joes and listening to "Red Barchetta" shortly. Sad.
Anyway! Ha ha! Despite my pathological nostalgia and chronic Peter Pan Syndrome, I still consume pop media in the here and now, and that's what Relevant Content Week is all about.
Thunderbolts was my absolute favorite Marvel title when it first debuted back in the Nineties during the Heroes Reborn era (otherwise known as Marvel Goes Image!). I'm saving my post about Kurt Busiek and Mark Badgley's brilliant Thunderbolts for the upcoming High Concept Week, but in twenty words or less, the comic is about a team of super-villains who pretend to be super-heroes.
This new incarnation of Thunderbolts from writer Warren Ellis and artist Mike Deodato takes that core idea and runs with it in a depraved new direction. This Thunderbolts is about a government-sponsored group of "reformed" supervillains who hunt down renegade superhumans who haven't complied with the Superhuman Registration Act introduced in Marvel's Civil War crossover. The protagonists of the series are supervillains and killers who have been transformed into heroes through marketing and media spin. Each Thunderbolt has been chosen for their lethal skills and their "toyetic" appeal - how well their powers and appearance can be translated into toys. It's a wry, amoral comic book that looks at the power of marketing and media manipulation in an increasingly cynical and violent world -- with lots of explosions and shit.
Of course, I love it.
You may recall me bitching previously about how fucked up and out-of-character it was for guys like Tony Stark and Reed Richards to sanction a team of pscyhotics to help hunt down renegade superheroes. How that was something a supervillain would do? I still think that, but I've moved on now. Let the healing begin; I'm ready to embrace the concept of Thunderbolts and just enjoy it.
Because really, the book is basically a Marvel version of Suicide Squad, isn't it? And I loves me the Suicide Squad, as I will explain in excruciating and obsessive detail during the upcoming SUICIDE SQUAD WEEK! How could I not enjoy the same basic concept applied to the Marvel Universe?
The main difference between Thunderbolts and Suicide Squad is that the Thunderbolts team is unashamedly public and operating with the blessing of Tony Stark, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., while the Suicide Squad was a covert team that skulked around trying not to draw the attention of the Justice League. As a matter of fact, Batman tried to bust them because he can't be tolerating a bunch of villains running around. Therein lies the difference between the two fictional universes, n'est-ce pas?
Thunderbolts #111 deals with the hunt for an unregistered D-list hero named Jack Flag, a protege of Captain America. The public members of the team - Songbird, Moonstone, Radioactive Man, Penance (aka Dark Speedball), Venom, and The Swordsman - confront their prey in a parking lot in Cleveland, Ohio.
Here they are strutting in telegenic slow-mo towards the camera as guitars wail:

I am a total sucker for shit like that, the bad-ass Slow-Mo March.
Like the scene in Tombstone where Kurt and Co are striding up the street towards the O.K. Corral, with an inexplicable burning building in the background. Or the end credits of Buckaroo Banzai. Or - don't laugh - the scene at the beginning of John Carpenter's Vampires when James Woods and his vampire hunters all strike a bad-ass pose before marching side-by-side towards a house of undead. That shot made Dr. Pepper come out of my nose when I saw it - such is the power of the Slow-Mo March.
Right. After their theatrical arrival, field leader Moonstone orders the newly re-designed Radioactive Man to ignite the gas tanks in the parking lot to get Jack Flag off-balance. In the press conference later they'll accuse Jack Flag of mining the parking lot. Shit blows up real good, and then Swordsman and Venom get to play. Jack Flag has apparently learned a thing or two from Cap, because he sorta takes them out and makes good his escape.
Or does he?
The Thunderbolts have an ace in the hole, the lethal Daredevil villain known as Bullseye. All the media spin and marketing in the world can't make Bullseye a consumer-friendly brand, so the team keeps him hidden and secure from the public until they need him to get all stabby. I'm not going to spoil the ending, but let's just say Jack Flag gets a Reverse Eleketra Treatment from Bullseye.
The other behind-the-scenes character in Thunderbolts is Norman Osborne, a brilliant businessman and inventor whose hobbies - dressing up as the Green Goblin and killing people - could best be described as "eccentric." Osborne is the director of the group, but his organizational acumen seems tempered somewhat by an unhealthy obsession with Spider-Man that bleeds into his professional life at inopportune times...
I bet Osborne has Spider-Man panic attacks all the time:
Perky barista: "I have a triple tall soy mocha for Norman?"
Osborne: "What did you say? Did you say Spider-Man?"
Perky barista: "Umm, no sir."
Osborne: "Because it sounded like you said, 'WATCH OUT BEHIND YOU IT'S SPIDER-MAN, NORMAN!' "
Perky barista: "N-no sir..."
Osborne: "Oh. Okay. Is that my mocha?"
Perky barista: "Yes sir."
Osborne: "Soy?"
Perky barista: "Yes sir."
Osborne: "OK, thanks."
Ellis brings his usual smart-ass dialogue and penchant for "wide-screen" carnage to Thunderbolts. I like that kind of stuff, but as they say, your mileage may vary. The guy knows how to construct a plot, and I always feel like Ellis's tough guy theatrics serves a greater function in his stories - it's not just empty macho bullshit.
Mike Deodato delivers in the art category. As the years go by his stuff reminds me more and more of Neal Adams' art, although sometimes his characters look too photo-referenced. Deodato's Norman Osborne is basically Tommy Lee Jones with corn rows. Deodato has done some great design work on Thunderbolts, particularly with Radioactive Man, who finally looks cool.
Deodato did what he could with Jack Flag, whose original character design is unfortunate. It's not all Deodato's fault -- he didn't have a lot to work with -but basically Jack Flag looks like a Yankee Doodle version of Grifter from WildC.A.T.S..
This storyline will probably read better in trade format, but I'm intrigued enough to actually check it out in floppy format, which is high praise indeed. Ellis and Deodato have managed to pull off something I didn't think possible: create something interesting from Civil War.

42 comments:

LurkerWithout said...

Well its good to know that in addition to the constant stabbing of himself, Robbie is making up for the Stamford thing by hunting people down and brutally attacking them. And then lying about what happened to cover for his pyschotic team-mates...

Marvel makes me tired. And cranky. But mostly tired...

The Nairobi Trio said...

Careful how many WEEK!s you promise. You're dealing with comics nerds, after all -- they do not forget or forgive easily. I'm still awaiting the long-overdue Squirrel Girl Week, by the way.

The Thing said...

Didn't Moonstone seem to be written wildly out of character?

I could never see Dr. Sofen making some crack about how she (parphrased) "has to hurry back for some marathon sex with a dockhand."

For a woman of such a cool and collected demeanor, that line just chafed.

Doc Robo said...

Why did they have to redesign Radioactive Man? Was it because the goggles did nothing?

Brian said...

It's a good slo-mo march forward if you pan across it from right to left...until you get to Moonstone. What the hell is up with her dislocated hip in that shot??

Beyond that nitpick, lurkerwithout already said everything I feel.

Ron said...

Brian, I disagree. Moony is just using what the good Lord gave her, makin' tht money, dollar dollar bills y'all!

Sorry, I don't know what came over me. But surely you must admit that when one has "it" one must work "it".

-the new Moonstone Fan Club president

Mark_Question said...

The Moonstone I've come to know and love wy back in the Avengers is unrelentingly evil and just loves to fuck with people's minds, simply because she can. That's the Moonstone I got here, so this rapidly turned into one of my shameful, guilty pleasure.

West said...

Speedball's gone bad? That's too bad.
Hopefully, it's a trick.

I'll be looking for the tpb.

Jeff Rients said...

A friend handed this issue to me and #110 as well, I think. They were well written and well drawn, but I was completely repulsed by them. The new Marvel Universe is an ugly, ugly world and I am no longer interested in whatever new periodicals they are producing. If anyone needs me I'll be over at the quarter bins searching for back issues of Marvel Two-In-One.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to give Marvel a break on this one - this is a comic book about a team of bad guys. They're not supposed to be good or act nice. It's not like this is a startling new direction for Power Pack or anything - they're villains! Besides, like Dave said, DC beat Marvel to the punch with the concept years ago. I don't see the problem.

The Saddest Captain said...

W...what is that lady saying about Scarlet Spider?

Oh, please tell me Ben reilly is back. That'd make me laugh my face off.

Adam said...

I dunno man, if they manage to pimp up characters the way they did D-List Jack Flagg, this series should have some legs on it. All of those crappy guys floating around Frontline didn't do anything cool, mostly just stood around filling the background. This comic seems to remember that everybody is someones favorite character, and even if they end up horribley beaten, they deserve a fitting send of. Kudos.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I was kind of rooting for Jack Flag, too. He held his own for a little while.

-DoD

bruce said...

That Osbourne soy latte bit is classic Dave! Good stuff!

Murray said...

Wow. This must be the most clear-cut case of being 180 degrees away from a Dave Long Box post I've experienced. I don't agree with a single word you wrote. How unsettling.

Okay, 179 degrees. Slo-Mo marches are potent. You forgot to mention the one in "Monsters, Inc."

Vincent Dacak said...

Slo-Mo Marches, kick-ass explosions, huge rippling symbiote muscles, this book had it all!

And Dave, if you haven't already checked out Punisher War Journal #4, I suggest that you do. There are more than enough "classic" villains stuffed in that book to please the nostalgic fanboy that lives inside you.

David Campbell said...

Murray, nooo! Say it ain't so! Well, at least we agree on the Slow-Mo March thing.

John said...

As a long-time T-Bolts fan and major hater of the current Marvel U, I was soooooo fired up to hate this with the heat of a thousand suns.

I liked it. Damn it.

What brought me fully over to it was the use of Jack Flagg, one of Gru's goofier concepts - crippling injury aside, Ellis treated the character with more respect than I anticipated - Jack wasn't humilated in a too cool for school manner and was shown to be both moral and competent.

Solario said...

Just a quick reply to some of the people who didn't like it because it was too dark or grim: You guys do know, that Ellis is playing the Thunderbolts is basically one big joke, right?

It's basically a continuation of Nextwave, but grimier and less surface insanity.

Eric Poulton said...

Just as a small point, I think it was actually the cover artist Marko Djurdjevic, rather than Deodato, who redesigned Jack Flag.

He shows some process shots and talks a bit about it here: http://www.conceptart.org/forums/showthread.php?t=79743

David Campbell said...

Hey, Poulten what are you doing wasting time over here? Shouldn't you be making more Steampunk Star Wars stuff for us? ;)

sw said...

SUICIDE SQUAD WEEK! I just plotzed in my chair.

sw said...

And the Slo-Mo march in Mystery Men! Don't forget that!

Excuse me while I clean this up.....

Stephen said...

My take on "relevant content week":

F*@% Yeah!!!!!

...Now I'm breathelssly, and I mean breathlessly, waiting for High Concept Week. That better not have been a joke, or I'm sending somebody after somebody.

pappy said...

The ending march in "The Wild Bunch", while not slo-mo, is incredibly awesome as well.

Anonymous said...

So, batshit crazy Osbourne running the T-bolts (who now include Venom), Aunt May getting shot after a 2 page diatribe back in one of the first CW's about how if May or MJ get hurt Parker will hold Tony responsible, Spidey on the run as an unregistered Hero and rocking the black non-symbiote suit. (Oh and per comments, a possible return of Ben Reily that is sure to end with him beaten down at the hands of the T-bolts)

Hmmm.. yeah I can't see this ending with some kind of violent showdown involving Spiderman (honestly in my fanboyiest imagination we get an agry Peter rebonding with the symbiote to take a bunch of people, then going angsty about it all set to coincide with Spiderman 3's release, but that's just me.)

cdumdung (confirmation word)

Justin Cognito said...

I do like Thunderbolts, especially in contrast to the rest of Civil War. Mainly because it seems like Ellis is actually using the comic to say that, yes, there is something horribly fucked up about this post-CW America. Especially since he's giving interviews where he's saying, "Could they have made Speedball look any more ridiculous?"

I've gotta say, as grim as it may be, it definitely beats the bloviations from high-up about how we were supposed to root for Tony.

Gabriel Villa said...

Dave,

How about a Relevant Content Month? Or perhaps a Year? I wouldn´t mind that.
And the big question is: If I never read Thunderbolts, and never read any marvel comics with more than 100 editions, what should I do? There is any TPB to begin with? I´m just a big ellis fan, you know.

another guy named justin said...

What my fellow Justin said above is why I'm liking this. Tom Brevoort is on Newsarama hemming and hawing going "Well, pro-registration has some valid points" and "Collateral damage is to be expected in any war," and Ellis says "Stark gave the Green Goblin access to the Department of Defense's budget. DEBATE OVER."

Juggernaut said...

How could you forget the slow-mo walking scene from Reservoir Dogs? It's just THE classic slow-mo scene from one of the best movies of all time.

Kristin said...

I once had a boyfriend who revered the work of Messrs. Lee, Lifeson, and Peart. He lives with his parents now.

ghostman said...

The Thing said...
Didn't Moonstone seem to be written wildly out of character?

I could never see Dr. Sofen making some crack about how she (paraphrased) "has to hurry back for some marathon sex with a dockhand."


Well, it does make a career as a longshoreman sound a lot more appealing.

Eric Meyer said...

While I loaded up and read your post, I was listening to Rush's "R30"-- and I live in Cleveland, Ohio. I know! Spooky!

Now, if only I read comic books, we'd have a trifecta.

Anthony Strand said...

I haven't even read the rest of the post, but man - Rush's "Moving Pictures"? You can't be that for sheer Airwolfitude.

Anthony Strand said...

Sorry, that should have said "You can't *beat* that."

Justin Garrett Blum said...

John Carpenter's Vampires may in fact be the most manly film ever captured on celluloid.

Anonymous said...

Didn't the x-men do something like this with Freedom force back in the early 80's?

Freudian Slip said...

Really good effort here. Keep looking forward to your new posts!
Matt

Jim said...

was his name revealed as jack harrison in this issue?

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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Peter said...

Of course, the writer is completely fair.
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