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.
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."
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.