Today, Patrick and Shelby are discussing Thunderbolts 26, originally released May 28th, 2014.
Patrick: Every time you meet an enemy of the Hulk, you gotta ask yourself: this guy’s not really a bad guy, right? Thaddeus Ross — in his platonic, Hulk-huntin’ phase — is a totally rational individual. Who wouldn’t want to find a way to stomp out the big green guy? Oh sure, he’s more or less learned to control himself now, but Ross’ goal is fundamentally noble. That’s part of the reason the anti-hero label never stuck to him all that well in Thunderbolts. He’s not like the rest of these guys – they’re all amoral killers only looking out for their own selfish ends. But should that make them any more expendable than anyone else? With his final issue on Thunderbolts, Charles Soule reinforces that Ross’ view of his teammates, past and present, is precisely what makes him worthy of their company. But like most of the darker revelations in this series, its tinged with eventual sweetness, and we’re allowed to love these monsters all the same.
Let’s do a quick headcount before we get started: Venom is in space with the Guardians of the Galaxy (on sale now!), Ghost Rider was dismembered by a river monster, and Punisher and Elektra were smashed garbage-compacter-style. That leaves us with Helen and Ross inside the temple and Deadpool and Red Leader outside (4). Any threat that Corboda posed to the team is quickly dispatched by Deadpool, which frees our temple-outersiders to head in. Leader leverages one of the temple traps to melt Deadpool in hot-hot lava (3). Meanwhile, Ross and Helen have reached the treasure of the temple: it’s the stone head and blood of some kind of deity. Helen reveals that she’s actually a “deviant,” a kind of immortal demon thing, and she’s been searching for this power for hundreds of years. Ross hulks out, and it’s just about time to fight when Helen is vaporized by a godly Mancuso (2). Aided by the distraction, Red Leader takes a couple gulps of god-blood, which kicks his brain into over-drive for a few seconds before it explodes (1).
Let’s just take a second to admire artist Paco Dias Luque’s work here. The look of joy on Leader’s face in the first panel is hilarious juxtaposed with that rapidly growing head. Even if we couldn’t immediately see his head exploding in the next panel, we know exactly what’s going to happen. And yet, the next panel is every bit as upsetting as the moment two issues previous when Ghost Rider was torn limb from limb. I also really like the detail that the second panel is outlined in red, but I’m a little curious as to why Leader’s fingers are poking through the left edge of that panel. The red accent is so nice, it’s too bad that it looks like there’s a teeny tiny mistake there. It doesn’t take away from the moment, but it sure does give an asshole like me the opportunity to point out a goof. Hey everyone: check out the goof!
Anyway, this just leaves Red Hulk and a godly creature that used to be his soldier. Mansuco offers the following choice: either Ross can die and that will be the end of it, or Ross can take it all back and get some kind of cosmic do-over. The downside to the later is that Ross is unclear if he could ever be killed otherwise.
It’s sort of a bummer that Ross’ decision can’t really carry any weight – there are other books featuring all those cast members that died, so there’s dramatic irony in the fact that the readers already know Ross’ decision before he actually makes it. Also, I’m not totally convinced that Soule properly makes the argument that Ross fears his own immortality. In fact, if he knows anything about the treasure they’re chasing after right now, it seems like immortality is even something that he’s courting. However, the idea that Ross has grown to love the Thunderbolts to the point where he’d sacrifice himself for their safety is incredibly touching.
Saying goodbye to a cast of characters by gleefully (and gruesomely) killing them off, and then taking it all back is exactly the right tone for this series. Soule has done one of these issues before: right after he was freed from the constraints of Infinity, issue 19 depicted Red Leader’s fantasy as he systematically eliminated everyone else on the team. This is almost the same trick, played out over three issues instead of one. It’s a little less potent due to the time between releases, but at least the deaths are that much more horrifying. I love Deadpool, but there’s no mistaking the giddy joy I get at seeing him submerged in lava (especially with that charming Rambo headgear he’s still wearing).
We didn’t have a proper discussion about the previous issue — it came out around C2E2 and we didn’t even have time to do a round-up — but I do remember that Shelby badly wanted to talk about the last issue with me. I assume that was because of Elektra and Punisher? Shelby, how’d you feel as the death toll climbed higher and higher? Also, did the Ctrl + Z work for you or did it feel too convenient to you? Also, with Soule departing the series, is there any reason you’d stick around to see what happens next?
Shelby: The quick un-do worked perfectly well for me. We (like Deadpool) are not dumb; we know how comic book deaths work, and with all these characters in different books there’s no way they would actually die here. But, we (like Deadpool) are also dumb enough to appreciate the impact of each death as it happens, which is why I was so keen to discuss last month’s issue. That, and the fact that Elektra and Frank had a real moment together before they were smashed to jam, and it was surprisingly touching.
Patrick’s email to me to let me know he was finished with his lead read simply, “Last time with Soule’s version of these characters. Cry cry cry,” and I have to agree with him. I have loved his gritty and charming take on this team, Deadpool especially, and this issue does not disappoint. I loved Deadpool’s exchange with Red Leader before he got melted.
“People assume I’m dumb because I’m fun.”
We’ve gotten comments here in the past criticizing us for giving comics too much credit, for looking too deeply for meaning instead of just enjoying them for the fun fluffy form of media they are. Heck, I’ve been frustrated with it in the past; sometimes I just want to read a book and have a good time and not look into it any further. But here Soule hits on one of our guiding principles here at Retcon Punch; fun is not inherently dumb, things can be both fun AND smart. And there’s no character better to deliver this message than Deadpool. I have not read much Deadpool in the past, but what I’ve seen here and in the main Deadpool title perfectly embodies that smart and fun ideal. I’m sure there have been more slapstick-y renditions of Deadpool in the past, and I’m pretty sure I would not enjoy them as much as I do this. Of course, in true Deadpool fashion, as soon as he delivers this message that really speaks to me on a personal level, he goes on about the age-old saying, “Assume something, and Deadpool will stab you.”
So, what’s next for this title? The writing is going to the Bens Acker and Blacker, of the Thrilling Adventure Hour, a live production in the style of an olde-timey radio program. I’ve never listened to any of their stuff, but I know people who RAVE about it, and I love the concept, so I’m definitely sticking around to see where they take this team next. They’ve got big shoes to fill, and I’m going to be especially critical of their take on Deadpool, but I’ve got a sneaking suspicion this title is going to be in good hands. We’ll miss Soule on this book trememdously, but I’m glad he got to go out with a bang. His run on this book started with a cow that had been turned into a monster, and concluded with the grisly death of every member of the team: it’s a perfect ending.
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?