Thunderbolts #126 REVIEW

While Peter Parker’s own book putzed around the creative kiddie table, his villains suddenly ascended into major player status and have never looked more interesting. Have the likes of Norman Osborn and MacVenom transcended their niche as spider-foils to become independently A-List characters? This is where we start to find out…

Leave a comment or I’ll give Bullseye a box of toothpicks and your home address.

“Burning Down the House” Part 1
WRITER: Andy Diggle
ARTIST: Roberto de la Torre
COLORIST: Frank Martin
LETTERER: Albert Deschesne

While Swordsman vows to exact vengeance on Norman Osborne in Colorado, the big man himself stands before the Committee on Superhuman Activities in D.C., making a blatant power grab by blaming the Skrull invasion on incompetence and collaboration from within the establishment in front of an adoring media. Osborn announces he can no longer conscientiously serve the C.S.A. He officially disbands the Thunderbolts and charges forth to meet with the President.

Moonstone invites Robbie Baldwin into her office under the pretense of therapy, screws with his mind a little, and feeds him some water poisoned with anesthetic and tranquilizer. She pledges to see Robbie locked in a mental institution for life as revenge for his blasting her through several walls. Next, she visits Venom’s quarters and tells Gargan that Radioactive Man and Songbird are next.

Radioactive Man, it turns out, must return to China as the embassy revoked his visa. He confesses romantic feelings for Songbird, who suddenly panics and forces him onto his helicopter. Her reaction may not be out of offense taken, however, because Bullseye stood in the shadows with a knife to her back the whole time. He tells her Osborn has big plans for the team that don’t include her, that her incriminating Green Goblin tapes have been accounted for, and that before he’s done, she’ll beg him to kill her.

As Spider-Man fans, we care about this issue because it chronicles one more step in Norman Osborn’s current path to total domination. Frankly, I love the direction Marvel’s taking the character, especially after his watered down portrayal in New Ways To Die Yawning. For all that fandom tends to complain about One More Day ruining the Osborn-Parker mutual-identity-knowing dynamic (I’m as guilty as anyone) one silver lining is that creators can better realize Norman’s potential outside of his relationship with Spider-Man. Logistically speaking, a secret-identity-knowing Norman couldn’t amass true power without making it very difficult for the writers to justify him not going after Peter Parker with overwhelming force from every angle and destroying the “normal guy with normal problems” feel on which Spidey thrives.

The current direction has freed Norman Osborn from those tethers, allowing him the Marvel Universe prominence he deserves. It also helps that writers like Andy Diggle, and Warren Ellis before him, find themselves unbound by the backwards-facing ideology governing Norman’s original home, Amazing Spider-Man. Diggle can cary these characters forward with a sense of maturity and audience respect without defiling every other page with a big blue caption box saying things like, “*Whoa, merry Marvelites, in case ya missed this cultural allusion, we mean the Senate Oversight Committee on Superhuman Activities as a parallel to the House Un-American Activities Committee, which we’re indirectly comparing to the Department of Homeland Security in a wacky attempt at social commentary only the House of Ideas can bring ya — Patronizin’ Steve!”

Now, I don’t want to reduce my Thunderbolts review into a platform from which to vent my remaining vitriol against my last few issues of ASM (which, by the way, were bloody terrible). I just mean to point out that a little distance from Spider-Man’s too-friendly neighborhood has proved healthy for these characters (in the same way lifeboats were healthy for the Titanic’s passengers).

The rest of the issue, besides the perfect political scenes with Norman, should interest fans of Warren Ellis’ run (which you must read if you haven’t already, if for nothing other than some essential Goblin moments). The title is on the verge of a major revamp, and this short arc seems built to tie off the remaining loose ends. I can’t say how much folks with no prior investment in people like Penance and Songbird would enjoy this issue, but those who’ve taken the ride this far should be pleased to know that the writing only falls slightly short of Ellis’ godly issues, and the art, while not matching Mike Deodato, completes the tone quite nicely.

One element that bothered me, however, was the sexual undertone to Bullseye’s backstabbing of Songbird. Let’s not turn blue spandex and knives into a fetish, okay?

“You’ve turned adolescent self-pity into a super power, for God’s sake. Quite frankly, if you really did hate yourself that much, you’d find yourself a bottle of sleeping pills and just finish the job, hmmm?”

Review Amazing Spider-Man over a while of continuous decline, and your rating scale necessarily skews a tad forgiving just to make sure there’s still a lower number left when the next worst comic you’ve ever read comes out, so while by my old standards this would be an easy 4.5 out of 5, I’m giving this a 3.5 for being merely a solid chapter in a series with an exceptional legacy.

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