Fun Fact #1: The Venom symbiote is the only member of this new team who has been on a previous Thunderbolts team. Venom (Mac Gargan) was part of the post-Civil War revamp of the title that also included the likes of Bullseye and Norman Osborn himself. I’m assuming you’ve read it, though, since it’s an incredibly brilliant run of comics. If you haven’t, run out right now and buy Thunderbolts: Faith in Monsters and Thunderbolts: Caged Angels, then come back and tip the Crawl Space’s paypal account in gratitude for turning your life around.
Fun Fact #2: There have been quite a few iterations of the Thunderbolts prior to this. They started out as the Masters of Evil in disguise, and that team evolved into former villains trying to get redemption. There was a much-maligned “fight club” era of the book (which would seem to be echoed by the upcoming Avengers Arena title) that didn’t last long before returning to the classic version. Then there was the aforementioned post-Civil War revamp that saw hardcore villains mixed with a few previous Thunderbolts working for the government to round up unregistered superheroes. That, being run by Norman Osborn, transitioned into Norman’s black ops team (with mostly little-known villains) during the Dark Reign. Most recently Luke Cage was leading folks like Juggernaut and Man-Thing, back to the concept of getting redemption. This newest iteration seems to be a totally new incarnation of a team named Thunderbolts, inspired more by the X-Franchise’s X-Force titles.
Fun Fact #3: Daniel Way has worked on Venom before in the 18-issue Venom Tsunami series, but the less said about that the better. I believe that whole affair was wiped from continuity when the Tsunami line died anyway.
Writer: Daniel Way
Artist: Steve Dillon
Colors: Guru EFX
Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino
Cover: Julian Totino Tedesco
Editor: Jordan D. White
Baby Variant: Skottie Young
Red Hulk Variant: Billy Tan
Hastings Variant: Mike Deodato, Jr.
MY THOUGHTS: As you can see from the fairly light plot summary there, this first issue is very much just the expected set-up to pull the team together. All we see is General Ross going to each of these folks in turn, spending most of the issue’s time on the Punisher, and recruiting them.
And yet – I liked it! Sure, this might not have been an incredibly dense read, but frankly it’s kind of refreshing to get the team together in less than 6 issues. And what we got was pretty solid. General Ross tailors his argument to each person he’s talking to. With the Punisher, he sets up a situation where Frank is about to be overrun by a really, REALLY large crowd of mobsters and points out that while he wants to take them all out, he doesn’t have the firepower by himself. Frank grudgingly replies, “I do now,” and we get a final page of Punisher and Red Hulk giving the mobsters more than they can handle.
As I said, Punisher got most of the issue. For the other recruits we only got two pages apiece. For Venom, it seems a simple matter of the General calling Flash “soldier,” and Flash seeming pretty primed to follow this guy who he calls a “legend.” In Deadpool’s case, Ross points out that Wade volunteered to become what he is – and the General is looking for volunteers. When he goes to see Elektra, we just see her make a kill and then say, “You spoke of an offer?”
Obviously the Punisher gets the strongest material here just by virtue of the fact that he gets 6 times the pages of any other recruit, but I felt satisfied on the whole with what went on here. The only part that confused me was seeing a pink-haired female character attacking the Hulk in flashback, then seeing her in a sort of tank behind General Ross in flashback, and then she was unexpectedly on the page that showed the new members of the Thunderbolts. She was never named and never spoke (nor was spoken to), so I really had no idea what was going on there. According to the wonderful world wide web, this was a character named Mercy who first appeared in Peter David’s Hulk run in 1987, and hasn’t appeared since 1997, still in Peter David’s Hulk run (appearing in only a total of 5 issues in her whole career). Considering the obscurity of this character, I really felt like her introduction could have been handled a lot better. As I said, zero information is given about her in the issue, and as it stands I couldn’t even really tell you definitively if she is a team member or a villain they’re going to face. So in a solid set-up issue, this was the one clunky piece that stopped the momentum for a bit.
The art both inside and out of this issue is really solid, as well. I dig all the covers, but man – these Skottie Young baby variants are quickly becoming favorites of mine. If you haven’t already, click on that variant at the top right of this review page to make it larger and just revel in the awesomeness of it. Every detail, especially Elektra saying, “Boys are so stupid,” just makes me smile. And Steve Dillon’s interior art, for me, seems like a career high point. I admit I haven’t been his biggest fan in the past, thinking that often all his character faces just seemed too sour and similar. But in this issue he captures every character really well, including Elektra, who was the one I was most worried about considering the usual sour, similar faces. Dillon’s work in the past has often been accused of being rather static, as well, and it’s definitely something I can see, too, but here he handles both action and talking heads quite well.
All in all, this issue is a quick read and it’s not going to deliver you any surprises if you know even the barest bit about the concept of the book, but it’s a very competently done set-up issue that looks to hopefully be getting us to the meat quite quickly for next issue and it’s enjoyable even in its quickness. With solid set-up behind us and solid art on board for the long haul, it seems there’s every reason in the world to hope this will be a worthwhile new book to add to my pull list.
GRADE: 4 webs out of 5. Solid writing and art. It just loses one web for the confusing and clunky intro of Mercy.