Thunderbolts # 117
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Mike Deodato, Jr.
Warren Ellis is my favorite writer. He’s certainly prone to an overuse of certain themes, particularly with a fascination with the proliferation of new ways to procure information, but regardless of his tics, he has a phenomenal sense of plot structure, irony, and characterization, making even the most unsympathetic characters very interesting. The Thunderbolts, in this incarnation, are villains who are brought together by Norman Osborn to capture unregistered heroes. Naturally, this group is wildly messed up and just as naturally, fit Ellis perfectly.
This issue is mostly Dr. Sampson talking to Penance (the former Speedball). Ellis, as always, does a lot of very good research into cutters and their specific issues, and then presents them about Penance in a way to make the character interesting. The character is a terrible idea that was created almost out of thin air without any proper build or motivation, but Ellis is very good and actually manages to make the character interesting, if not sympathetic. Meanwhile, some captured heroes have a plot of their own hatching and the two remaining members of the old Thunderbolts mourn their team’s disgusting state. That scene doesn’t work. These characters are far too calm and matter of fact about the madness around them. There is no ring of truth in the dialogue of such horrors so calmly. This is too new to be treated entirely as matter of fact.
The art uses a lot of black, which is thematically appropriate since these are indeed dark times. There’s not a lot of detail, but since it’s reasonably easy to tell what’s going on, and the darkness covers a lot, that’s a fine stylistic choice.
Dr. Sampson is an interesting addition and his dealings with Penance add a layer of credibility to the book. The premise here is a bit flimsy as there is no reason for Iron Man to allow this team to exist, but since it does, Ellis is making the most of a strange situation, delving into the psychosis of Penance. Most of the team is MIA this issue, but hopefully future issues have a similar tone between action where Dr. Sampson is able to analyze characters in a similar manner. This is a tried and true plot device of getting into a character’s head, but still effective when done, as here, in an interesting and in depth manner.