Spencer: It’s rough to start picking up a new comic in the middle of a storyline. If I can’t buy a book starting with issue one, I try to wait for a new storyline to begin, and I’m far from the only person with this strategy. Charles Soule wisely takes advantage of this in his and Paco Diaz’s Thunderbolts 24; while much of the issue is devoted to establishing the new storyline to come, there’s enough focus on the characters and team dynamic to make this the perfect first issue for any Thunderbolts-newbie. If you aren’t already picking this book up, now’s the time to give it a try!
It’s General Ross’s turn to pick a mission, and he’s taken the team to the Honduras to confront a man named Cordoba. A while back a team of Ross’s best men had hired Cordoba as a guide and promptly disappeared; Ross wants Cordoba to help him find his men, but there’s more to it: turns out Ross’s men were after a relic of unknown supernatural origin. After vanishing, one of Ross’s men appeared to him on a plane, apparently possessed by some force; the force tells Ross to come find him and then wipes the plane out of existence. Before the Thunderbolts can decipher the map it left behind, though, they’re confronted by a woman from Ross’s past with decidedly…mixed feelings about the General.
In the past I’ve complained about some of the “All-New Marvel NOW!” #1’s not being appropriate hopping-on points, but this is the first time I’ve felt like an issue that wasn’t advertised as one should have been. Part of why this issue makes such an effective introduction to the Thunderbolts is because it basically starts with a clean slate, eschewing all previous subplots in favor of simply setting-up a new story arc. The issue excels at this — it feels like every element the rest of the arc could possibly touch upon has already been established in this issue, which makes me excited about how the upcoming issues will be paced — but Soule also keeps all this set-up from getting too boring by focusing on the characters. We may not necessarily learn anything new about most of the cast, but taking the time to establish their various personalities not only adds a little levity to the proceedings, but serves as an excellent introduction to any readers picking up Thunderbolts for the first time.
There’s actually two different scenes that, in tandem, serve to define the main cast. The first comes early in the issue when Cordoba analyzes the Thunderbolts; not only does this show that Cordoba is surprisingly competent and insightful — if thoroughly and completely outmatched — but given how accurate his assessments are, it also gives us some quick, one sentence summations of the Thunderbolts: Ghost Rider isn’t as normal as he appears, Punisher stinks of death, and Red Leader is a mastermind not to be underestimated.
The second half of the issue — which takes place on a boat as the Thunderbolts sail towards their destination — gives the characters a chance to instead define themselves by their own actions. Red Leader’s childlike petulance (he could get sunburned!) is a striking contrast to the above image, but Punisher — who may not like the tactical disadvantage a river brings, but certainly seems unfazed by it — only reaffirms his affinity for death. That said, it’s Elektra of all people who steals this scene.
Elektra has had so little to do throughout this run that maybe I’m just excited to see her step up, but it all befits her position as a ninja. Elektra stays quiet, unnoticed, purposely blending into the background until she has something important to say, but when she does, she’s unstoppable; she impressively handles Ross here, cutting through all his crap and forcing him to be honest. Even her humor is ninja-like; unlike Deadpool’s wackiness or Leader’s over-the-top megalomania, her jokes are quick, incisive, sarcastic quips.
Still, it’s Ross himself who gets the lion’s share of development. Last issue left Ross strangely sad due to the revelation that Flash Thompson thinks he’s the worst of the Thunderbolts, and this issue opens with Ross declaring himself and Cordoba the worst men in Estrella. Later on, Ross tries to frame his decision to track down this force as a noble mission, but Elektra quickly calls him out as trying to cover up his own screw-up. There’s truth in both interpretations, but things aren’t that simple, and there’s no resolution yet; like the rest of the issue, the question of Ross’s morality is set-up for the rest of the storyline, but it’s a juicy set-up I can’t wait to explore further.
The art of Paco Diaz is strangely contradictory to me. I’m not a huge fan of how buff and veiny Diaz’s characters are, but it certainly fits a book filled with nineties-esque mercenaries and anti-heroes. Sometimes his characters are wonderfully expressive — look at Helen’s face in the final panel of the first image I posted, or Deadpool’s expression as he watches them kiss — but sometimes his characters are stiff and their expressions lifeless, like Ross and the rest of the team in that same image. Israel Silva’s bright palate of colors is gorgeous to look at, but again, feels contradictory, almost too bright for this grittier, anti-heroic book.
I think the problem here may just be that Soule and Diaz never really strike any outstanding tone with this issue. One of Thunderbolts’ greatest assets has always been the way it can explore so many different tones and genres with the same cast of characters, but this issue feels like “standard Thunderbolts,” even though that hasn’t actually been a thing until right now. The issue’s greatest strength — its accessibility — is also what causes it to fall short of the sublime status this title is so often capable of.
Shelby, you’re no Thunderbolts newbie; did the accessible tone of this issue leave you feeling unfulfilled, or are you excited about the story this issue’s setting up?
Shelby: I actually think this title’s accessibility is one of its strengths. This issue is a really good example, what with the quick roll call by Cordoba in the bar, but the whole design of the plot basically establishes a jumping on point at every new mission the team takes on. There’s some reference to previous missions on occasion, but the book as a whole under Soule has been a series of one-off arcs; it’s helpful to know why the team is where they are at the beginning of each arc, but by no means necessary.
Spencer, I agree with you that Elektra has been the most under-utilized member of the team. Her relationship with Frank has been interesting to see, but I think we’ve learned more about Frank than we have her because of it. Again, though, this is in line with their characters; while Frank Castle is not what I would call “boisterous,” he also doesn’t hide who he is or how he operates. Eketra’s modus operandi is stealth and shadows. Soule is leaving the book after issue 26, and I hope we’ll see more of Elektra in his hands as he finishes this arc.
Another reason I think we haven’t really seen Elektra shine is because we haven’t seen the team take on any of her missions. Each mission arc works as a way to establish that character in the context of this book’s universe. Frank’s approach to his mission in NY introduced him as the ruthless, brutal, and concise vengeance vigilante we all know and love. It was his story, and the rest of the team fit in around him. It’s another reason why this plot structure makes for such good jumping on points.
Even with all that, Deadpool is still my shining star of this story. I just started reading his own title under Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan, and I love it, but there’s something about Soule’s take on the character that leaps off the page for me. He’s absurd without being overly buffoonish, child-like without being overly childish. Soule writes him as so sincere, it’s kind of adorable. And the humor is spot-on. Every issue features at least one literal laugh out loud Deadpool moment; this issue it was his concern over panty lines.
Come on, man, every girl knows the secret to no panty lines is to wear a thong. Ask Elektra, she’ll tell you.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?