The book that everyone seems to love to hate, Thunderbolts by Daniel Way and Steve Dillon. Kevin Cushing started off favorably towards the book, but by the end of Issue Four could not take it any longer. I didn’t hate it… as much.
THUNDERBOLTS #1-6: No Quarter
Writer: Daniel Way
Artist: Steve Dillon
Colorist: Guru eFX
Letterer: Joe Sabino
Cover: Julian Tedesco
Editors: Jordan White & Nick Lowe
Editor-In-Chief: Axel Alonso
Our team is lead by Red Hulk (Thunderbolt Ross) and consists of Venom (Flash Thompson), Elektra (Elektra Natchios), The Punisher (Frank Castle), and Deadpool (Wade Wilson).
Story so far: The team’s first mission is the assassination of Jalak Awa, a dictator in the small country of Kata Jaya. Years ago, the son of the current leader of Kata Jaya was approached by the American government to replace his father, who would suffer an ‘untimely death’. Once Jalak became the head of country with the aid of the American government he assembled a massive Particle Accelerator; the pilot that brought these parts to Kata Jaya was a young man by the name of Ross. Jalak Awa had everyone involved in the project killed, except for Ross who was unaware of his participation in this for years until learning of what was going on just before the series starts.
The Thunderbolts split up into two teams: Venom and Punisher team up with the local rebels to raid a prison for soldiers while Elektra and Deadpool become Awa’s hostages (though they ‘kill’ Deadpool and leave him for dead). Complications arise, when Ross doesn’t share all the details with his teammates, mainly the fact that he has a memory-less Samuel Sterns (The Leader) in his possession for an unknown reason. When Punisher, Venom, and Deadpool discover this, Punisher kills Sterns and they collectively tell Ross to go screw himself. Ross leaves with Sterns’ body while the other three decide to rescue Elektra.
At Awa’s base, they discover that Samuel Sterns brother, Philip Sterns (Madman) is working with Awa on a secret project. Deadpool and Punisher team up to take down Madman, Punisher blasting him unconscious with a landmine strapped to his chest. Venom infiltrates the building to rescue Elektra, but Elektra is fine and General Awa shares the location of a secret lab with her before he kills himself. Venom runs off to find the lab and discovers a host of humans linked up to the internet for data storage. Elektra joins with the Punisher, who is severely wounded and then they slept together while Deadpool watches on, upset that Frank is sleeping with his new crush.
Ross revives Sterns with the remnants of the old Particle Acclerator, though he temporarily loses his memory as a result. Sterns and Ross are joined by Mercy and she brings the Thunderbolts back together. Ross explains that Sterns mind has been stored digitally in the internet and that Madman was trying to access the secret of Gamma Radiation by downloading all of his brother’s thoughts into human beings by linking them directly to the internet. However, Sterns had made a code and that was why Ross was trying to restore his memory, so they could get the code. Madman attacks the Thunderbolts, while Sterns finally remembers the code. He shares it with his brother, who tries to access the memory, but is unable to handle all the data being pumped into his mind and dies when his head explodes.
Character Design: One of the first non-superhero comics I ever read was Preacher and that book elevated Steve Dillon to a near-untouchable position in the comic industry for me. And while I don’t think Dillon’s strength is Superheroes, this work is definitely serviceable. He’s at his best when his characters are on killing sprees, but his characters are drawn with good emotion throughout; even Venom whose face is covered most of the time.
That being said, the new designs for these characters are pretty awful. The armor on both Frank and Venom look stiff at all times on the interior of these comics and Venom’s tendrils look laughably weak. The justification for Frank’s new armor is Gamma protection (through wearing Gamma radiation on his chest, what?) and Venom does it just so he fits the red/black motif of everyone else. So yeah, not a fan of these costumes. Oh and the Leader is Red now for no damn reason.
Colors: Artistically, the coloring is probably my biggest complaint about this series. Over on Hawkeye, Matt Hollingsworth is masterfully weaving purple into so much of Clint Barton’s world. There is no such subtly found here in making the tone of this book red and it’s down right annoying at times. 2/3s of the page have a red hue and often they don’t even make sense (we’re in the Leader’s past where it seems Red is now a favorite color of his, not… I dunno, Green?) or are for some stupid reason like, “It’s a red storage container.” Just, no class in the handling of the coloring at all. Also, the book is largely a dull palate of colors, though every now then it would get more vibrant, especially when Deadpool was on page.
Plotting: The plot of this thing was a mess… It jumped back and forth through time constantly and I am sorry but you can’t use “Then” and “Now” as your time periods when you’re moving through multiple location and time periods. Even more annoying is “Soon”; Soon in comparison to when, Then? Now? If Venom and Punisher attacking Madman “Soon” than why is Venom’s mission, at the same time, in the “Now”?
Another big problem was the pace of this thing. It never reached Bendis bad, but it moved very slowly and everything was resolved in a way that the build up didn’t earn. We wait four issues to have the bad guy kill himself. The big bad of the arc isn’t introduced properly until 4/6th of the story has passed and dispatched with ease. Punisher kills Sterns only to have Ross bring him back next issue, making that pointless. Memory loss in one issue is forgotten the next, the list goes on and on.
And honestly, they really stretched it thin to connect Ross’ involvement with the Particle Accelerator to the Internet Hive-Mind story. It felt like two separate stories in which neither really got a good conclusion too. I cut out pretty much all of the rebellion stuff in my summary (including the racist dialogue) because that stuff was pointless and went nowhere; they all get killed by Mercy.
Characters: I liked Way’s Deadpool run, it was fun. His Deadpool is definitely the strongest character in Thunderbolts, especially when he’s interacting with his teammates (though Way wrote him a ridiculous monologue in the fifth issue). Every time he had a scene with just one character, he had the line of the issue whether it was making fun of Venom in Issue 2 or threatening The Punisher in Issue #6 (You may kill me first, but I guarantee I’ll kill you last). And the biggest laugh I got from the series thus far was when he rubbed it in Ross’ face that he called the fact Punisher would kill Sterns. Also, his crush on Elektra is fun for now and I am curious to see it play out.
Venom was… polarizing. He was definitely meant to be the conscience of the group, but he would go from “Oh the Humanity” one scene to just slaughtering people left and right the next. Still, he was probably the second best character in this arc, just because of his military history and how he reacted to Ross and their mission.
Ross and Elektra didn’t get a whole lot of characterization beyond Secretive and Horny respectively. Frank fared a little better, with his scenes with the rebellion, but he seemed at odds with the recent portrayal of him in Rucka’s Punisher run. Here he didn’t care if good people died or not, he was just a one note soldier who would do what it took to cut the infection out. Over in Rucka’s book, he refused to let Alves-Cole take the fall for his actions, even though it meant giving himself up; which also brings up the point of what he’s doing here when he’s supposed to be imprisoned.
I liked the flashbacks with Samuel Sterns and Philip Sterns, you can clearly tell Philip is playing his brother for a fool, but it seemed like Samuel cared for his brother… right up to the point he blew his head up. Still, Sterns felt like the characterization of the audience, because he spent as much time being lost and confused as the reader does. And Madman was a suitable, if generic and forgettable villain.
The weirdest character by far is Mercy… Who the Hell is she? We see her briefly in a flashback with the Hulk in Issue One and Ross locks her up, but then she randomly shows up and becomes an exposition device for the last couple issues. They don’t explain her worth a damn and I was honestly disturbed when it looked she was getting off when Stern killed Madman.
Quick Points: I love the covers to these issues, Elektra literally heals Frank through Sex (Barry White would be so proud), there is not a single creatively drawn panel in six issues of this comic, again WHO THE BLOODY HELL IS MERCY?, Venom’s costume changes little things like the eye pieces all the time, and this series has Deadpool kill a terrorist group of mimes.
Review: I didn’t hate this story, but I have no real desire to ever read it again. Looking forward to Phil Noto taking over art duties next issue and let’s hope the time jumps stop.
- Deadpool had some great lines
- I liked the Sterns family dynamic
- Dillon + Killing Sprees= Good
- Colors were dull and we get the damn point, Thunderbolts is all about the RED
- Who the Hell is Mercy?
- Poor Costume Design
- Felt like two stories and neither got a good resolution
- “Then” “Now” “Soon” “Later” “Whenever”