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Thunderbolts #1 Review

THUNDERBOLTS #1

By: Daniel Way (Writer), Steve Dillon (Artist), Guru eFX (Colorist), Joe Sabino (Letterer)

The Review: I’ve been quite a big fan of Thunderbolts since first picking it up during the Warren Ellis run, finding it to be one of the most consistently enjoyable titles on my pull list ever since. It had a rotating cast that kept things fresh, many of whom were C and D-list characters whose safety never really felt guaranteed (though I think only the Headsman actually snuffed it) and it made a habit of rehabilitating villains in a creative sense as much as a literal one. The series was rebranded as Dark Avengers a few months ago which conveniently left a space open for a relaunch of the Thunderbolts franchise; the group selected to carry on the mantle however are markedly different than what came before.

This issue is your standard ‘gather the team’ story. In this instance it’s General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (with that nickname I’m amazed it’s taken this long for Marvel to link him to the title) who wants to create a unit that basically performs the same role as the Punisher; killing bad guys outright rather than putting them in jail. As such, it makes sense that Ross would begin by enlisting the Punisher himself; he finds him in a tight spot, tied up in a warehouse with several hundred mafia goons queued up outside who are baying for blood. From there he approaches, well, all the other characters that you saw on the cover of the book – Venom (the Flash Thompson version), Elektra and Deadpool, with Ross’s own Red Hulk alter-ego making up the fifth and final member of the group. It really is as unremarkably paint-by-numbers as that.

One problem this issue encounters is that as a series opener there isn’t much indication of the overall tone the book’s looking to set. We can see that there’ll be violence aplenty because every character we’re introduced to is shown shooting or stabbing somebody through the head, though it doesn’t look like Way’s going to be using the blood-letting for laughs – Deadpool might be in the middle of carving up a bunch of French mimes when we meet him but dialogue-wise he’s all business, no zany quips in sight. Another problem is that even though Ross does most of the talking I’m still not fully aware of his motivation for setting up the team. He doesn’t seem to be doing it at the behest of Cap or the government (even though an official Black Ops Avengers-vibe would have made perfect sense) and why a military man like Ross would all of sudden decide to take on organized crime is a bit of a mystery. That’s assuming his target actually is organized crime – it’s implied from the discussions he has with the Punisher but I guess it’s another detail that’s still up in the air at this point.

The biggest issue I have is the appearance of a pink-haired female character who’s shown in flashbacks and who appears to be of intense personal significance to Ross (it’s also hinted that she may be considered as part of the team in the future). I have no idea who she is; she’s not identified by name and a quick scout through Google and Wikipedia still hasn’t yielded the necessary intel. She may be well known to long-term Hulk fans but her presence left me a little confused, though I’ve no doubt that her importance will be elaborated on in future issues. Of course, that presupposes that I’ll stick around to find out…

Steve Dillon is quite a catch for this title. His name carries a lot of weight and ‘star power’, and when your book features large amounts of the Punisher and graphic bloody violence you can’t do much better.  He’s certainly on fine form here, with the usual brilliant array of facial expressions and classic character designs, and though I sometimes find his action scenes feel a little static, the few that appear here are solid. However, here too there are problems. Dillon’s Punisher is ‘Dillon’s Punisher’ in that the character looks exactly the same as he did during Dillon’s classic run with Garth Ennis – the bearded, Solid-Snake-alike sexy-time Frank does not exist in this dojo. There’s no real problem with this as long as you’re not a continuity stickler, but reading this after Punisher War Zone #2 (also out this week) made Thunderbolts #1 feel a little behind the times. Conversely, when Dillon drew the Punisher in Jason Aaron’s recent Incredible Hulk series it featured the current Frank…but then, this leads me to my next problem with the art. This may be a totally personal thing, but I’m really not a big fan of the way Dillon draws the Hulk. It’s a style and body-type which I feel just doesn’t gel well together and can make the character look a little bit ludicrous when placed amongst regular-sized humans. It was one of the reasons that I dropped Incredible Hulk during the ‘Stay Angry’ storyline (well, that and the angry Dog-man) and while Rulk’s presence here is minimal he’s bound to play a large part in future issues. Different strokes for different folks though, and if you’re a big Steven Dillon fan I think you’ll be very happy with the look of the book.

Conclusion: The other day I was chatting with the staff at my local comic shop about how the big problem with Marvel NOW! is that we’re still waiting for one of the books to be bad enough to drop from our pull lists – that’s a great position to be in as a reader, but it’s pretty hard on your wallet. I may give Thunderbolts the benefit of the doubt for another issue, but at the minute this feels like it’ll be first to go.

For feeling a bit listless and uninspired, and for failing to establish a distinct sense of purpose or direction in its opening issue, Thunderbolts is hard to recommend. Full of characters who’ve mostly had their main books cancelled or who’ve been given the boot from their respective Avenger or X-teams, Thunderbolts has somehow managed to instantly feel like a dumping ground for troubled properties with none of the charm of the Baron Zemo, Norman Osborn or Luke Cage eras to counter the air of desperation. It’s early days, sure, but as far as first impressions go this #1 is a bad one.

Grade: C-

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6 Responses

  1. Reblogged this on Matt Sargeson's Blog.

  2. And just thing, Greg Rucka’s Punisher was canceled….for this.

    No wonder Rucka got pissed and left Marvel.

  3. The pink-haired character is Mercy, an old Hulk “villain”. I’m pretty sure this has been confirmed in interviews.

  4. This was some seriously weak tea. The only thing that would make me even consider a second look is if it turns out Pink Hair is Diamondback. As someone who loved Gruenwald’s run back in the day, I still have a soft spot, though I can’t imagine this book would do anything enjoyable with the character.

  5. So many things to comment on here in this review. You can save even more money, by not picking up this series in the first place, I would think. I’d make an educated guess at the character in pink you spoke of, however, I don’t really care. Sometimes it does indeed pay to not be a Marvel guy….

    • Maybe it’s because they didn’t toss continuity out the window only to give us a watered-down version of it instead, but I’ve been enjoying most of Marvel NOW over the awfulness that is New 52.

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