At the end of Peter David’s second X-Factor run, he explained that while he would be relaunching with some of the characters (Quicksilver/Polaris), others had already been claimed by other writers for various plots. One of those characters shows up here. Hint: He has no soul.
Thunderbolts #21: No Mercy Part 2
Writer: Charles Soule
Artist: Carlos Barberi
Colorists: Israel Silva & Thomas Mason & James Campbell
Cover Artists: Greg Land & Andres Mossa
Letterer: Joe Sabino
Editor: Jordan White
Editor-In-Chief: Axel Alonso
Our Team of Thunderbolts In Hell: Thunderbolt Ross (Red Hulk), Wade Wilson (Deadpool), Flash Thompson (Venom), Samuel Sterns (Red Leader), and Johnny Blaze (Ghost Rider).
Our Team of Thunderbolts on Earth: Frank Castle (The Punisher) and Elektra Natchios (Elektra).
Long Story Short: Half the team is in Hell, Mephisto summons Rulk to do some dirty work for him, The Leader sees an opportunity and hammers out a deal with the devil through a painstakingly thorough written document, Deadpool adds an unknown clause to the deal, and Mephisto agrees to abduct Mercy to Hell and free the team if they take out the current King of Hell: Guido of X-Force fame.
Back on Earth, Elektra brings The Punisher along on one of her private missions, but Mercy crashes the party, demanding to know where Ross and Sterns, her personal favorite source of misery has gone.
One Hell of a Contract: It’s hard to decide who the best character on the team is, because whenever Soule decides to let one of them take center stage, he writes them absolutely brilliantly, and he rotates through the cast at a quick enough pace that nobody gets the short-stick. This issue, Samuel Sterns takes the lead as he decides to make a literal deal with the devil and goes to great lengths to ensure that Mephisto doesn’t screw the team. The interaction between the two is solid gold and Ross being clueless in the background just adds to it. I feel Soule had a ton of fun writing this issue, being a lawyer by day and comic book writer by night, and I’m really excited to see what Deadpool’s addition to the deal is.
It’s also interesting to see a Hell run by someone who wants to do more good than bad and isn’t in it for his own selfish means. I’ve been waiting for the team to go against someone who wouldn’t fall under the classification of villain in any way and Soule actually seems to get meta this issue about that topic which I’ll get into in the next segment.
The scenes in Hell also illustrate why there are three colorists for this issue, because it is just jammed packed of color and shading. All of it is given a dull tone that contrasts it against the bright colors in the non-Hell scenes though. And while I feel like Barberi’s best work is in the Punisher/Elektra bits, he draws a humorous fight between Ross and his mustache. And to his credit, the talking head scenes work with some great expressions, which I imagine is hard to do when all your characters have deformed faces and most of them are concealed behind a mask, flame, or alien.
A Hell of a Lot of Money: As I stated in the first part, it’s hard to pick the best character on the team. However, it’s not hard to decide that Elektra continues to be the weak link on the team and even though Soule dedicates a lot of time to her this issue, I still don’t care for her. After Castle declines her offer of 48 hours of coitus, she decides to take him on a mission. The best part of their third of the book comes when they argue about the semantics of why they do what they do and Soule uses this to get meta. He uses Castle to explore whether or not Elektra kills innocents just because she’s told their criminals; this runs parallel to the team being roped into fighting the new lord of Hell, which is thematically similar to the conversation when it turns out that it’s Guido they’re going to fight.
Another interesting concept is thrown in at the end when Mercy finishes the mission for Elektra by killing everyone, so that she can use it as leverage to get information on Ross/Sterns. Did Mercy kill them to get in Elektra’s good books before confronting her, or did she just do it because she wanted to?
The art in this third of the book is by far the best, as Barberi gets to have fun and draw a mighty fine Elektra driving a mighty fine car. He also gets to draw Ross’ secret vehicle depot (which includes one of the X-Men’s Blackbirds and one of Hawkeye’s old hover-cycles) and a pretty explosion. These scenes jump off the page thanks to the vibrant colors and break up the faded looking Hell scenes nicely.
I Can’t Think of a Third Hell Title That Fits This Category: Rumor has it that Flash is going to be leaving the book after his mission, thanks to his new gig as Space Avenger with the Guardians of the Galaxy (guess being part of the Secret and then the Selfish Avengers wasn’t good enough for him.) The scene between him and Johnny Blaze doesn’t do much to discourage that theory because it reads like Flash passing the torch to the new guy, before he parts ways with the team. It’s nice a warm scene between the two, as Flash explains how the team functions and what the members are like while Blaze explains to him how awful his film career went (another meta bit from Soule.) Johnny Blaze does seems to be interested in the Thunderbolts Initiative and I hope he joins the team, just because he fits in well and him putting Ross in his place was a nice touch and seems to be becoming a tradition for the team. Little side-note: I really like that Flash does the classic Spider-Man sitting on the wall pose here.
Verdict: Although this was probably one of the least fun issues of Thunderbolts so far, it’s probably Soule’s strongest script yet. He introduces a lot of interesting concepts, gets meta, sneaks in some lawyer stuff from his day job, spends a nice amount of time with each character and still manages to sneak in something crazy fun like a mustache fight. Sadly, the art team doesn’t fair as well, thanks to the muted tones of the Hell scenes, but the art is by no means bad. I’m looking forward to the team’s fight against Guido next time and I hope Soule keeps us on our feet by continuing to be as a clever as he was here.
- Thematic ties between the two story lines
- Deadpool’s secret clause
- Mustache fight
- Heart-to-heart between Johnny and Flash
- Mephisto getting lawyered by Sterns
- Colors faded in Hell
- Elektra still a meh character