Thunderbolts: The Road Trip
Writer: Charles Soule
Artist: Gabriel Walta
Colorist: Guru eFX
Letterer: Joe Sabino
Cover Artist: Julian Tedesco
Editors: Jordan White
Editor-In-Chief: Axel Alonso
Our Thunderbolts: Samuel Sterns (The Leader), Thunderbolt Ross (Red Hulk), Flash Thompson (Venom), Mercy, Frank Castle (The Punisher), Elektra Natchios (Elektra), Wade Wilson (Deadpool).
Every Team Needs A Leader: The Leader theorizes how to kill his teammates on a road trip in the Punisher’s War Van and reveals that he’s been manipulating everything since Charles Soule took over the title.
The Secrets: The Leader reveals that he manipulated Sterns into letting him choose the first mission by removing his name from the hat and he reveals that he choose the Punisher for a reason. That reason being The Punisher is systematic, he would choose to go on a rampage and that would distract Mercy long enough for him to kill her. He didn’t take into account Thanos’ Invasion or Supergiant destroying one of his brains (the one currently in him.)
So… Sterns is kind of a conniving devil this issue. A brilliant one though, we learn a lot about why he’s still on the team which is very similar to the reason the Punisher remains; the team is made up of monsters who need to be dealt with, more so than any villain they’re going to come across. We also learn that Sterns has basically horcruxed his brain into several smaller brains spread out through several different dimensions, such as the internet, his own body, Earth’s satellites and who knows what else. Another interesting point is that whichever source he links up to, he takes into his own body and it serves as a battery, it slowly decharges and the decharging can be sped up through interference, much like what Supergiant did to him. I’m constantly enjoying these little additions to The Leader’s powers and I’m curious to see if Soule has anymore gems hidden in his mind.
The General: The first person Sterns goes to eliminate is Thunderbolt Ross. He releases Gamma rays, which screw with Ross’ immune system. Being a soldier, he has learned to sit quietly through pain and would pass out before asking the others for help. Another great look at how messed up the dynamic of this team of Lone Wolves is, that Ross would rather pass out before asking for help.
The Symbiote: Samuel Sterns borrows a lighter from Ross, before knocking him out. Then he throws the lighter on the dead Wade, whose sitting atop the fuel. He then accidentally knocks Ross into the fire, feeding it so it grows large enough to frighten the symbiote off Flash. He then fends the symbiote off with a magnesium flare, a new weakness for symbiotes. He then kills the crippled Flash with any number of Frank’s weapons. The most interesting fact in this segment is the revelation of the new weakness for symbiotes; Magnesium. Though Sterns does mention he could be wrong on that fact later on in the issue.
The Ninja and The Machine: Sterns reveals that he planned this down to the exact moment with his super brain, so that Frank crashes the van as the fire distracts him. Frank and Elektra survive, but when they go back in to save the others, Sterns throws a stack of grenades in from the outside after timing them perfectly to go off within the van. Easily the weakest segement of the story, Frank and Elektra go down generically, though it is interesting to note that they would go back to save their teammates, considering they see one another as monsters.
The Nightmare: Mercy has seen into the mind of Samuel Sterns and knows that he plans to kill his team… Once their deaths notify her of his plan, she kills him in every scenario, putting down the last of the monsters. After this Stern reveals that he has done nothing, too afraid of the unknowns to risk it. We also learn this brain is rapidly deteriorating, even after his recharge in New York. Still, Sterns remains hopeful that he will get a recharge and his time to kill this team will come; he is after all, their secret Leader. A lot of nice little character moments for Sterns here, like his fear of Mercy (not because of her power, but because she knows who he really is), his insecurities, and his hopes and motivations.
The Artist and his Team: Another weird artist joins the Thunderbolts crew, in the form of Gabriel Walta. His might be the best use of weird art on the series yet, as he over-exaggerates key components of each character, much in the way Sterns sees them. Ross is really old and really military, Flash’s limbs seem absurdly stunted, Deadpool looks like a moron, Frank looks overly beefy and soldier like, Elektra seems over sexualized, and Mercy seems terrifying. I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but it works great for the issue.
Another cool artistic detail was the red framing of memories; they were given almost a neon hue around the panels. Hats off to Guru for making it really easy to tell what parts were flashback and which were present day, without making it really annoying.
The Verdict: This was probably the darkest issue since the Punisher’s stand alone (Soule’s first issue), but it’s a fascinating look at Sterns and the team dynamic. Now alerted to Sterns’ manipulations in the group, it’ll be interesting to watch his interactions with others going forth, since I already thought he was playing on their pity already, which turned out to be just another level to his overall grand scheme. Next up on the Thunderbolts: No Mercy and Johnny Blaze!
- Insight on Samuel Sterns
- Nice look at the current team dynamics coming out of Infinity
- Interesting use of exaggerations in the art
- Some of the deaths are unoriginal
- Magnesium; is it a weakness for symbiotes or not?
B+ Above Superior