Fuck 'em, I liked it.
I guess preceding "'em" refers to the collective Internet comics community. Since Marvel announced the repackaging of the Thunderbolts brand as part of their NOW! rollout I've seen a whole bunch of comic compatriots spitting preemptive loogies on the new project before seeing a page, panel or balloon.
Yeah, yeah that comes with any debut — there are always haters. Hell, I'm a hater, a notorious bastard among bastards who'll trash something just because I don't like it and lots of other people do. I still feel bad for those walking out of the theater with me after Ferngully 3D — whoops, my bad, Avatar.
Lots of people shat all over Thunderbolts before reading it because Daniel Way and Steve Dillon are divisive creators*. Not in the cool way Alan Moore or Frank Miller are, but in the way where one group thinks their art is terrible and the other generally enjoys them. (There are rumors of mysterious third group that love Way and/or Dillon but I'm not here to discuss speculation.)
I'm in the group that likes both creators. In fact, I first started appreciating their work simultaneously. The Bullseye: Greatest Hits miniseries from 2005 is a personal favorite of mine, a vicious little comic that spawned another decent mini, Punisher vs. Bullseye. Both creators have made a name for themselves by helming books that push the limit on violence and brutality, and it makes them perfect for a team of killers assembled by General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross, now more commonly known in the Marvel Universe as the Red Hulk.
The entirety of the comic involves Ross, in old man form, tracking down various anti-heroes across the planet and recruiting them into his merry band. Way spends a majority of the time with Punisherand it's entirely appropriate for the purposes of the first issue. Frank is the hardest sell, not only in the story but for fans who say his modus operandi is noticeably different from the rest of the crew. Surprisingly, Punisher's philosophy on crime appears to be a blueprint for the team's. Ross even admits a high level of admiration for how Frank Castle does things.
So, blam, shut it, naysayers. I feel like Frank Castle's role here is already justified, Red Hulk is simply giving Frank an opportunity to what he does on the streets on the superpowered level. Oh, and Ross kind of blackmails him too.
The rest of the intros are so brief we don't even see the character agree to join nor the whole group convene at any point. However, we're given just enough to surmise the results. Deadpool joins because he likes mayhem, Venom is on board because he's a solider following a famous general and Elektra will tag along because she's sneaky as hell and in it for something. There is also a brief appearance by another female character, a woman in pink throwing down with the Hulk in a flashback. Apparently, this character is Mercy. She seems cool. Welcome to the herd!
The personalities on this squad are huge, and we'll see if Way can wield them. I've read a bunch of Dan Way in my comics journey (I'm currently writing a review of his sixty-plus Deadpool run for a future Full Run column. Wish me luck.), and I'm completely aware of his strengths and flaws. Figures like Deadpool, Venom and Elektra fall right into his wheelhouse. Way can write a pretty good sadistic yarn and has excelled with seedy, amoral type characters in the majority of his Marvel work.
Now the weaknesses: Way has demonstrated a glaring want for long-term storytelling, and occasionally his writing suffers from logic flaws or mischaracterizations that haunt otherwise good work. It's often great ideas and awesome interaction overwhelmed by sloppy plotting and missed opportunities.
Also, dude has a habit of using non-linear storytelling… like, all the time. Nearly everything I've read from him features a flashback, or something similar, like in the case of Thunderbolts #1 smaller scenes cut around a long continuous one.
Generally, Steve Dillon is a lot less maligned because he's been behind some of comics most valued works like Preacher, Judge Dredd and the MAX brand of Punisher. Like his collaborator Dillon he also excels in areas of great violence and gore so Thunderbolts is not outside his comfort zone in the slightest. Some complain that Dillon's work is almost undistinguishable from one project to the next particularly in the area of facial structure and expression, but I know personally I've come to really like the aesthetic of his open yet thorough style. It's comforting, as if it says: "Keep reading this comic, you'll be grossed out."
I haven't talked too much about this comic though, huh? There's a good reason for that — not much happens. A bulk of this issue is about recruitment and stage-setting, to the point where it's hard to gather what exactly the "mission statement" is. Aside from the brief glimpse of Mercy, Way plants zero seeds for the upcoming plot points. I've enjoyed almost all of the Marvel NOW! stuff, but nearly every #1 has read more like a #0.
Thunderbolts requires a specific appetite. The stylings of Way and Dillon create an atmosphere that taunts the haters who come at. Look at this panel:
I'm going to say that Way's script had a footnote like — "Draw Elektra's boobs huge. Like huge. Who cares if she's a ninja? Let's sell comix!!!"
I'm coming off facetious, but I'm dead serious. I liked this comic because it had mindless violence (so mindless that the characters barely notice their desecration) and bold, unwavering figures bound to clash. It's a tad baroque, and I'm needing some of that in an era of increasingly realistic superheroes
Anyone who buys Thunderbolts should understand what they are getting. Big names and big action. The flaw of the first issue is that it features a shit ton of preamble but no real reason for the reader to come back. Compare this to Avengers #1 which basically lays out the entire next year for you in the prologue. All that's set up here is a tone and a cast. We'll have to wait for plot and theme.
*Others are pissed because Songbird has no comics home. Injustice. I will not make apology for that.
Jamil Scalese is just like you — an avid comics reader and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, devotee of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation. Check out his original, ongoing webcomic And Then There Were Zombies and follow his subpar tweeting at @jamilscalese.