I came to Thunderbolts for Warren Ellis’ run just after the Civil War event turned the Marvel Universe into a sort of fascist state. With the series' focus on propaganda, militarization of homelands and the fact the cast of Thunderbolts were all bad people to some very extreme degrees, Thunderbolts was becoming a place in the Marvel Universe with a distinctive voice and implications. While the events of Civil War did set up for extensive commentary on the world around us, a very good argument to the direction of both Marvel and the outside came from the desk of Ellis. The original Thunderbolts team, consisting of characters like Moonstone, Venom (both Dark Avengers), and Songbird (who is now involved in Secret Warriors); have now come to the forefront of Marvel Comics, leaving a new set of Thunderbolts to enter under the direction of Andy Diggle, who struggled through the series with its forced cast changes and multiple crossovers. But Diggle has left, not doing a poor job either considering the circumstances. Now, another team has entered the fray with a one-shot story dealing largely with many superhero conventions while not fully using them to capability.
In terms of quality, the buck stops here!
The strength of Thunderbolts has lied in the fact the cast of superheroes on the team are not superheroes, but supervillains. It turns the good guy idea around, having bad guys doing good things which, with a bit of media control, creates a group of evil people running around performing heroic deeds while still being evil people whenever the chance presents itself. But instead of a story about taking advantage of this unique position, creative team Rick Remender (Fear Agent, Punisher) and Mahmud A. Asrar (Dynamo 5) are simply showing a classic superhero story from the perspective of the superhero. The story is very familiar because it has been written without change for a long time now, being all but dried up. And it is chocked full of convention and worn out ideas, from the brain-washed hero fighting his oldest friend (which is very suddenly overcome, might I add) to the supervillain in a swiveling chair. And so it continues, predictable, unnecessary and ultimately forgettable. The convention in this issue poses a stark contrast to Brian Michael Bendis’ use of noir convention in this week’s Spider-Woman #2, which uses the typical elements of film noir without much subversion while remaining wholly entertaining and feeling unique. Remender, however, seems incapable of this. After a solid couple of years, I fear Thunderbolts may be completely falling off track.
Mahmud A. Asrar’s art is similar to the story in some respect. It is very good and very standard. I didn’t find anything in this issue which made me feel either way. The panels do their job, the story is clearly told without any major hang-ups, and so on. He can handle everything Remender has given him without any problems and his action sequences are very well put together, particularly when looking at Iron Fist's martial arts hi-jinks. But the cover, Francesco Mattina, is incredible, well, except that none of what the cover says is in the story. Iron Fist joins very briefly and Power Man doesn’t join at all, and neither look like killer zombie, Spawn-inspired demons as they do on the cover. But it is a very cool cover despite these somewhat important technicalities.
4/10 Throw-away story, art that doesn’t leave an impression, the quality of this issue stops at the cover.