Review: Thunderbolts #9 – Daniel Way and Phil Noto

thunderbolts9Thunderbolts is far from being the shining jewel in the crown of the Marvel Now Universe. At its best it is a fun read peppered with an ample amount of violence, intrigue and witty jabs dealt out between team mates. I started reading it for several reasons – the first was because I loved the previous incarnation of the book when Thunderbolts was a team of villains led by Norman Osborn during his days as head of the Dark Avengers. The second reason was the current team’s diverse albeit volatile line-up featuring the likes of Deadpool, Punisher, Venom, Elektra, Red Leader, Red Hulk and the very mysterious Mercy. The final was that the very awesome Steve Dillon was going to be handling the artwork. I have always liked Daniel Way as well, so the fact that he was going to be writing the book didn’t hurt.

Now having said all of that, I have not been completely won over by the effort thus far. The opening story arc was fair, pretty straight forward but with hints at a flimsy sub-plot of a love triangle between Deadpool, Elektra and Punisher. This has been lingering on the periphery of the main story for months now with no resolution in sight. This brings me to my next point. Daniel Way is no stranger to writing Deadpool – in fact he has written some of the best Deadpool stories to date, so why does it seem like he has no idea how to use him here? If it is a question of Deadpool working well as part of a team, I would point out Rick Remender’s very fine job of doing just that in his turn on X-Force.

So now the question is, if after working the bugs out of the team and changing from one excellent artist to another, in this case bringing on Phil Noto, is Thunderbolts headed in the right direction? Let’s take a look at issue number nine.

The story is mostly maneuvering and behind the scenes scheming, and is heavy on intrigue. The most memorable action sequence is one in which Red Hulk single-handedly dismantles an entire unit of enemy agents all wearing Crimson Dynamo armor. Deadpool spends most of his time in this issue languishing on the floor healing from a gunshot wound to the head he received last issue. It’s not until Red Leader finds him that we see him awake and on his feet again in time to witness Red Hulk and Venom save the team from suicide bombers in Crimson Dynamo armor. The damage sustained from this sends Flash Thompson to the hospital where he has a rather bizarre sports-themed nightmare in which the Venom symbiote is a football. This all leads up to a big final page reveal that ties one of the team to a cryptic character from the recent past.

One thing Thunderbolts does not lack is potential. The creative team is top-notch, as are the characters on the team. I think this book will hit its stride, but right now it is struggling under the weight of its own high expectations. It’s not a bad book but it’s just not as good as it should be given all the advantages it has going for it. Even the artistic change was one that worked – Steve Dillon is great but Phil Noto has a style that is better suited to this title giving the book a visual direction that more readily lends itself to action sequences.

As for the writing, Daniel Way needs to play to his strengths, put Deadpool to better use and downplay the moral drama. I’m not sure this is a title that benefits from a love triangle. He needs to work on the team dynamic here and get us to care about how these characters interact, form some friendships among the various team mates. Let us see the human side of these guys. Way is capable of writing some fantastic dialogue and I would love to see that here.

All things considered Thunderbolts is by no means a throw-away. It’s just been slow to build up any momentum and as I have said the bar is set pretty high for this creative team but I believe they will deliver. I’m going to stick around for the long ride – the talent is there, the material is there and it’s just a matter of time before all these elements align themselves and we are talking about who has been cast in the Thunderbolts movie (I assume Joss Whedon will be directing). Hey, if the comic has a dream sequence why shouldn’t the review!

So until next week, as always, see you at the comic book store.

Review: Thunderbolts # 1 – Daniel Way & Steve Dillon

thunderbolts1Okay, stop me if you have heard this one.

A retired military general recruits a rag tag band of heroes to do what normal people can’t – to kill threats instead of  merely subdue them. They work above the law to bring down their targets any way they can. No, they’re not the A-Team. It’s Marvel NOW!’s new Thunderbolts, courtesy of writer Daniel Way and artist Steve Dillon – and it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.

Thunderbolts #1 sees General Thaddeus Ross, A.K.A Red Hulk, recruit an elite team of killers: Deadpool, Venom, Elektra and the Punisher, to take down threats in ways that the other heroes wont condone. That’s it. There aren’t any other events that occur in this issue; no real motivations, no hint at what is to come – it’s just plain boring, and doesn’t do well to set up the series to come.

The character “interviews” – Ross finding the recruits as they are on their own jobs – set up the meat of this issue, and while the dialogue is good at times, what they have to say isn’t all that interesting. Having Deadpool fight a gang of mimes is suitably Deadpool-y, and the Punisher gets some good time, being suitably brooding and angry, but everything else is just there.

Steve Dillon’s art really doesn’t sell the issue either. I don’t mind Dillon usually, but he isn’t working at his strengths this time. The faces look like someone hit them with a frying pan, and in one panel, Ross looks exactly like the Punisher just with grey hair and a beard. I’m a bit upset that Dillon chose to forget Marco Checchetto’s badass Punisher design, and instead went with a more classic approach akin to his previous run on the Punisher, but that’s a minor quibble, especially in comparison to his rendition of Red Hulk. It looks like an abomination, and not in the right way.

Thunderbolts comes out of the gate very poorly. It’s clichéd, boring and not very good looking . Needless to say, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the series, and unless the next issue sets up some interesting plot threads, it’s not going to be getting too excited.