Writer: Daniel Way
Art: Steve Dillon
Colors: Guru EFX
Letters: Joe Sabino
Thunderbolts has a problem. It’s not the concept that’s flawed, the concept is awesome and remains the same as it ever was in all it’s incarnations: a superhero team composed of reformed (or not so reformed) villains. It’s not the lineup, which is certainly intriguing; even the most jaded Marvel fan is sure to be intrigued by The Punisher, Elektra, Deadpool, Venom, and Mercy being gathered by The Red Hulk. It’s not even the fact that everyone is color coordinated in black and red on the cover, except for Mercy, who is purple, so she isn’t cool enough for the cover.
The problem is writer Daniel Way’s pacing.
Our story begins with Frank Castle, the ever lovin’ Punisher, tied to a beam in a warehouse surrounded by corpses that we assume are Frank’s trademark art and craft. It is immediately revealed that General “Thunderbolt” Ross is talking to the man, old soldier to old soldier. He wants to recruit Frank for a personal project. Over the course of their conversation, we jump across times and locations to show that General Ross has had this same conversation, perhaps skewed to each member of his audience, with US Army super soldier Corporal Flash Thompson, the assassin Elektra, and the mercenary Deadpool. While General Ross laments his relationship with the Hulk, it becomes apparent that he also has a controlling stake in Mercy, an older Hulk character who went around killing people who were already suffering.
To be continued.
As I said, the problem is Way’s pacing. There’s a good third or half issue’s worth of material here, expanded into one. Having read Way’s run on Ghost Rider, Wolverine: Origins, Deadpool, Hit-Monkey, and other various works, I feel like Way stretched his story out too thin. The dialogue is great, the character development has a lot of potential if what we’ve glimpsed of Ross is a taste of things to come. I’m not worried about the character development or story potential at all; even with the two page spreads each other member gets, Way gets to the core of why Ross wants them and why they would listen to him.
However, the issue closes out without addressing the reason he’s bringing them together, aside from a generic comment about cutting out the infection, which is clearly a line tailored to sell Frank on it. Thunderbolts has the cast, the story potential, the art, and the writer to be something familiar yet refreshing to readers, if only Way’s pacing really allowed for a final, meaty hook. The way the book ends is not much of a hook, and more the way 80’s television shows used to end with the whole cast laughing and a freeze frame, all problems resolved until next time. Except with a lot more blood.
Steve Dillon handles the art, and it’s standard Steve Dillon. The man is a master of expression and body language, and his grounded, clean lines lend the book an anchor of realism that helps make every character and action scene seem less like a comic book cliché, and more like it’s happening here and now. He’s able to somehow make every panel stark and deadpan, selling the black humour Way excels at: I point you to the Elektra and Deadpool recruitment scenes.
The colors by Guru EFX suit Dillon’s line work and Way’s tone perfectly, with the palette perfectly balancing dirty grit and the bright, popping colors needed in a world of superpowers. There’s a lot of detail on the characters and backgrounds, although at times large surfaces can look a little too flat and computer colored, as if a step was missed along the way. As that’s certainly a style choice, I can’t really knock it, but it did stick out on the sidewalks and metal walls to the point of distraction.
Overall, this wasn’t the best first issue, but it does what it needs to. I was disappointed by the ending hook, as there isn’t much of one, and when it comes down to it not much actually happened. The main attraction of this book is going to be how the team interacts with each other as they all come from different backgrounds and motives while still having killing in common. I closed the issue and after mentally high-fiving Way for including Mercy, I fantasized how she, Elektra, Deadpool, Venom, and The Punisher would feel about each other. If Daniel Way can pull off their development and conflicts, then this could be solid title on the shelves and one of the cooler presentations of the Thunderbolts since the origina- Oh.
I get it. General “Thunderbolt” Ross has a team of professionals. Thunderbolts. Thunderbolt’s.