Open Mike Night: Thunderbolts: Justice, Like Lightning & Amelia Cole and the Hidden War #1

Thunderbolts: Justice, Like Lightning

Written by: Kurt Busiek & Peter David

Art by: Sal Buscema & Dick Giordano

Penciled by: Mark Bagley, Tom Grummett, Ron Randall, Gene Colon, Darick Robertson, George Perez, Chris Marrinan, Mike Deodato Jr.

Inked by: Vince Russell, Al Milgrom, Will Blyberg , Scott Koblish, Jim Sanders , Tom Palmer , Bruce Patterson, Karl Kesel, Andew Pepoy, Tom Wegrzyn

Colored by: Joe Rosas, Tom Smith, Glynis Oliver

Lettered by: Comicraft’s Dave Lanphear/OG, RF/Comicraft/KF

Published by: Marvel

Maillaro: Wow…let’s not review annuals anymore. They make the credit section of these columns into a disaster! Try to give people credit for their work.

I am glad you suggested going back to reviewing the first few T-Bolts appearances! It has been a long time since I have read the Justice, Like Lighting Trade. For the purposes of this review, we are covering Hulk 449, Spider-Man Team-Up 7, Thunderbolts 1-5, and Thunderbolts Annual ’97. The trade actually also contains a T-Bolts story from the Tales of the Marvel Universe one-shot, but it wasn’t released digital, so I didn’t get to reread it before doing this review.

I don’t want to talk too much about the Hulk issue. It was an okay comic, but you can tell it wasn’t really intended originally as a Thunderbolts story. They were kind of shoehorned in here with their first appearance, and the story feels very incomplete. The only thing I really liked about this issue were the hints about Meteorite’s real identity. Otherwise, it is just a standard late Peter David Hulk issue.

Weaver: That Tales of the Marvel Universe story also appears in a later “Giant” issue of Thunderbolts. It’s pretty unremarkable.

As for Hulk, my thought is that Busiek, being the continuity master that he is, wanted the Thunderbolts to appear in Hulk specifically because Hulk used to be a big test-market comic in the 70’s. That’s where they tested various X-Men (notably Wolverine, but also Havok and Polaris) prior to the X-Men relaunch to see what people thought of them, and that’s also where they tested the concept of a popular non-comics writer scripting a comic. As for the Meteorite parts of that issue, it’s interesting to contrast it to how Citizen V tells MACH-1 in the Spider-Man Team-Up issue to check his ego at the door when it comes to fighting Spidey. He’s much more tolerant of Meteorite, which is a thread that continues throughout the run.

Maillaro: Yeah, I noticed that with MACH-1 in the Spider-Man Team-Up issue. While I do agree that Zemo tends to give Meteorite a lot more leeway, at the same time, I also think that a lot of it was also tied in to who the characters being targeted are. Hulk is generally thought of a threat by most people in the Marvel universe. While Spidey definitely has his detractors, I tend to think most people look at Spidey in a positive fashion. Spidey being accused of a crime that is later revealed to have been someone else is very much the norm in the Marvel universe.

That said, I definitely enjoyed the Spider-Man Team-Up issue a lot more than the Hulk issue. It definitely shows that the Thunderbolts do have some potential for actually growing outside of their roles as “bad guys pretending to be good guys.” There is definitely some foreshadowing here on where the Thunderbolts series would be heading in the not too distant future.

Weaver: There’s some interesting foreshadowing in it that we don’t even quite see…for instance, the whole plot of the Enclave was creating the Biomodem which ends up being the plot of Thunderbolts #11-12, when Zemo seems almost ready to take over the world. And MACH-1 resisting it here definitely plays into how that plan resolves, with Iron Man being the lone hero still in his right mind.

I remember reading an interview with Busiek a long time ago where how Heroes Reborn ending quickly played into his plans on the title, and he said, essentially, that he was ready to work the title whether or not Heroes Reborn continued, and that he went into it knowing he might have to adjust for that. I think that if the major heroes had remained exiled this would be a far different book, and yet he set up the resolution from the very beginning.

Maillaro: Busiek is probably the smartest writer in comics. He has tons of creative ideas (Astro City, Arrowsmith, and Shockrockets comes to mind), and can always pull decades of continuity together in such a beautiful way. One day we really have to tackle Avengers Forever, which to me is basically Busiek’s Thesis statement on the Marvel universe….probably even more than Marvels.

Another great moment of foreshadowing is early in issue 1 of Thunderbolts where the Masters of Evil are mentioned in such a prominent way. This took a lot of balls especially since many of the Thunderbolts members actually show up in that panel. Moonstone in particular looks so much like Meteorite that knowing how the issue ends, when I read it again I feel foolish for not seeing it coming.

Weaver: How can I say no to Avengers Forever? It has TWO Henry Pyms.

I think I haven’t mentioned this much, but Thunderbolts is one of my favorite series ever because, first of all, I always used to read comics for the villains, and especially the Masters of Evil and Ultron. If I’m on the fence about an issue, a good villain will tip the scales. And in Thunderbolts, you got so many great villains just all in one place. Issue 1 has a mess of foreshadowing, the things we’ve already mentioned and also them reacting strangely to applause, also Black Widow showing up and seeming to already be sort of on to them. Jolt, of course, also, which is one of my other favorite parts of this trade: how Zemo rolls with getting stuck with an enthusiastic young hero. He can’t say no to her, but he also can’t reveal his secret, which brings us to one of my all time favorite annuals. Zemo’s narration in Thunderbolts Annual 97 compared with the art showing you what was really going on…genius.

Maillaro: The early issues of Thunderbolts also featured some great adversaries for the Thunderbolts in the Mad Thinkers and the “new Masters of Evil.” It was real fun to see the Thunderbolts playing off some villains that they considered to be beneath themselves.

That annual created a whole theory of comic writing for us, that we talk about all the time: dialogue-based continuity. Characters lie sometimes, and Zemo is the master of it. Thunderbolts Annual ’97 really was the perfect way to tie up the first few issues of Thunderbolts, showing how everything got to where it is now. I especially liked Moonstone and Songbird’s stories.

Weaver: Their reaction to being told that the Masters of Evil were on the loose was priceless. They were so pissed that someone took their name, Zemo especially. And yeah, Crimson Cowl’s crew is definitely scrubs compared to who Zemo has. The fact that those Masters are a longtime Thunderbolts adversary makes me chuckle, too.

While I love Meteorite’s harmonic convergence as much as the next guy, Beetle was one of my favorites simply because he did become such a joke for a while. It was nice to kind of play nature vs. nurture with MACH-1 throughout the series…well, with all of them. MACH-1 was a pretty terrible guy, including slinging drugs for a while…as a supervillain. But when he was put in the position of a hero, he arguably took to it better than any of the others.

I could go on and on. Writing…I’m giving it a 4.75, just docking it for that awkward Hulk issue.

Maillaro: Weird enough, MACH-1’s story in the annual was the one that least appealed to me. I don’t know why, but in the early issues of T-Bolts, it just never felt to me that Busiek quite knew what to do with MACH-1, other than the Spider-Man Team-Up issue. All of the other characters seem to have set roles and characterizations, but MACH-1 just felt “there” to me. Which is odd, because he probably is my favorite member of the team over the entire run. But reading these issues, I just felt no real hook to him.

You know what bugs me…in recent years, all of these characters just seem to have vanished. That is kind of shameful. Since Marvel NOW! I don’t think a single Thunderbolts character has showed up in any book I’ve read.

I am going to go 5/5 for the writing. I do agree the Hulk issue wasn’t great, but at the same time, it was the only one not by Busiek, so I don’t think it really is representative of the book or these characters, so I don’t think it’s right to judge the series based on it.

As for the art…I love that the annual had a team of like 8 different artists, one for each story, but the issue looks so consistent. Honestly, if I didn’t look at the credits before I read any comic, I don’t think I would have known this was not drawn by the same artists. I guess if you go through and look for them, you can find some style differences in some stories (Moonstone’s especially), but for an annual, this is some terrific art.

The other Tbolts main issues are all drawn by Bagley, who I love. This is definitely some of his best work. Amazing what he can do when he’s not drawing two books at the same time on rapid fire schedule (see our New Warriors review from a few weeks ago). The art on the Hulk issue was forgettable. I did like the art on Spider-Man Team-Up, though it wasn’t all that ground breaking either. But again, I don’t think it’s fair to judge Thunderbolts based on those outside books. Focusing just on the core series and Annual I will go 5/5 for the art too.

Weaver: HOLY CRAP YOU GAVE STRAIGHT 5. Admittedly, I only didn’t because I was marking down for an off issue, but I agree on that annual. So many times a book will try that and it ends up looking a mess, but it worked really well here. And, of course, Bagley. Definitely 5 worthy.

Amelia Cole and the Hidden World

Written by: Adam P. Knave & D.J. Kirkbride
Art by: Nick Brokenshire
Color Assist by: Ruiz Moreno
Lettered by: Rachel Deering
Published by: Monkeybrain
Cover Price: 99 cents

Weaver: I’m going to go ahead and let you introduce our next comic, since I don’t know a lot about it beyond reading it…

Maillaro: Amelia Cole and the Unknown World was one of my favorite series from last year. It was one of the first books to launch from Monkeybrain. It was about a girl who had the ability to travel between two worlds, one where science is the norm, one where magic is the norm.

In the first issue of volume 1, she ends up getting stranded in a third world where both science and magic exist side by side, though there are laws that govern that the two must be kept separate. Amelia insists on combining the two, which puts her in conflict with the city’s Protector…though by the end of the first series the Protector ends up disgraced, and the “power behind the Protector” ends up giving the job to Amelia.

This second series picks up a few weeks after the first one. Amelia is growing into her role as the Protector, while the former Protector has been basically banished to serve in the military. Oddly enough, the first mini series was all full size comics at 2 bucks a pop. Amelia Cole and the Hidden War’s first issue was 99 cents and half sized (which is normal for Monkeybrain books). Even at 16 pages, I thought this issue told a nice full story. Because of her role as Protector, Amelia’s “golem” ends up fighting a giant Corgi (my cousin Shannon would love this comic).

Weaver: I still can’t believe this was a half-length book. I gotta say, I immediately fell in love with this world and am curious for more. I love the design of this book. I love the characters in this book. I love the giant Corgi in this book.

I think it’s rare that a comic does this much right, but this was a nigh perfect issue. Liked the Joe Kubert tribute, too.

Maillaro: Yeah, this was a good week of books to read. After Courtney Crumrin, I kind of figured you would enjoy this book. It has a good sense of humor, a cool setting, and some real unique characters.

The biggest problem with this series is that it suffers from Monkeybrain’s “release issues whenever” policy. I often forget what happens from issue to issue by the time the next issue comes out. Amelia Cole is actually far better about this than some other Monkeybrain series. Wander is similar in tone, 2 issues since last July. October Girl, which had one of the best hooks ever, also has had only 2 issues since last July.

How can you expect to build up a reader base with this kind of release schedule?

Weaver: Even major comics fall apart with that sort of issue…and the even worse part is, when you release an issue of a comic like that, you better make sure it was worth the wait. I used to buy Midnight Nation as it came out, and that’s a fantastic comic that never ever came out even close to on time, but occasionally there would be a pseudo-filler issue, and nothing drove me more insane than that. I’ve waited a year, patiently, for a FILLER ISSUE? No.

Maybe Monkeybrain hopes that writing for trade is where they’ll make their money? That’s the only solution I can see.

Maillaro: I think the issue is that they are a book publishing company who decided to release comics. I sent them an email when they started asking “Where the series weekly, monthly, whatever?” Their response was basically, “We don’t hold creators to any set schedule. When an issue is done, it will be released.”

They did announce that three of their series will be getting print volumes this summer.

Unfortunately, the rest of their series have no where near enough issues to make trades out of.

Sorry, I really didn’t want to turn this review into a rant about Monkeybrain (though I knew it was going to happen once I got started). I really did want to talk about this cool book. I especially loved the opening, which I thought recapped the earlier series perfectly, and reminded me a little of a really good Batman comic. Amelia brooded on a rooftop watching out for crime and thinking about how she got here.

I also liked how her thoughts kept going to the old Protector and seeing the quick flashes of what he’s up to. The two stories played off each other perfectly. Seeing Amelia gaining stature in her new life while the Protector’s life continues to go to shit was pretty clever.

Weaver: I liked Amelia’s attitude a lot. Kind of half wonder, half sarcasm. The glimpses of the old protector were great, and obviously the fact that the two stories paralleled is going to be a plot point later in the series.

I’m not normally much of a steampunk fan, but I like the design on Lemmy a lot, especially to see Amelia bulk him up later with brick walls and such. It appears Lemmy is also a plot point for later, given the solicit, so I’m curious what’s happening there. I don’t have a lot to say about this book, but what I have to say is that it is an excellent comic for fans of: fantasy, steampunk, strong female leads, anime-type stories, and just plain good comics. I’m going to double 5 it, without hesitation.

Maillaro I would go 5 for writing, 4.5 for art. I am pretty sure I can’t give out 4 5’s in one column. It’s against our charter.

I assume we’re either taking next week off, Toothless Wonder?

Weaver: I dunno. It depends on how good the drugs are.

By which I mean, yes.

Maillaro: Feel better soon!

Final Scores

Maillaro – Story Weaver – Story Maillaro – Art Weaver – Art
Thunderbolts 5 4.75 5 5
Amelia Cole and the Hidden War #1 5 5 4.5 5

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