I know that I have a bit of bias to me, everyone does. My goal is to try my hardest to slim it down, neutralize it for the sake of impartiality. Nobody wants to hear reviews from the guy who keeps saying, “Time travel stories are shit.” So when I saw that “Thunderbolts” a book whose creative team had made a very decent book, had switched to a new creative team I saw my chance to practice my objective judgment. Daniel Way had written a thrilling espionage thriller that completely understood what it was doing, even if we as the reader did not always follow. Phil Noto had drawn some of the most beautiful faces ever, his action scenes were crisp and I can honestly say I have never been attracted to Elektra until drawn by Noto’s hand. But who’s to say the next creative team won’t be just as good—or perhaps even better? Perhaps the next direction they take the book in is something nobody could have predicted.
First panel in, we’re in Hollywood at a swanky party that looks like it was thrown at the height of cocaine in the 80s and Frank Castle is strutting through, leather jacket with sunglasses. He has an internal monologue that has the phrase, and here I am directly quoting the book:
“I’m Frank Castle. And I’m not here to party.”
What? I didn’t know you could actually get lines like that printed. Figuratively, I thought the book would go out to be printed and the presses would choke and sputter as they coughed up the ink which was supposed to make the page. Did this line go past any editors at Marvel? Like any? Clearly not because that’s not the only line of internal monologue—because 80% of the issue was Punisher’s internal monologue—that made me laugh with the heartiness of Volstagg.
“It might have been if she hadn’t hesitated. But she did, and that was enough.”
“If he had a rifle, I might be worried, but he doesn’t. He was tossed from an exploding car moving at eighty miles per hour.”
“I only have to kill him once.”
That last one could double for a Steven Seagal movie title in the eighties. Is that what Punisher has been reduced to? An antihero from bad VHS tapes or reruns on TNT? Maybe now that Marvel has the movie rights back to Punisher they can cast Michael Biehn, make him a grizzled vet, give him a talking van called Chip, or a rad bike with skulls and chrome all over it. Because that’s what this is, not only do none of the Thunderbolts show up—save for a cameo by Elektra which I have more to say later—making this just a Punisher book, but it’s the worst interpretation of Frank Castle that I have ever read, and I’ve read both “Daredevil Vs. Punisher” by David Lapham and Punisher’s cameo appearance in Joss Whedon’s run on “Runaways”.
It’s not just the writing that reeks of the 80s, it’s the whole aesthetic. There’s a post coital scene between Frank and Elektra. It’s done in the dark so always the two of them are half covered in shadow; they don’t look at each other instead sitting back to back, angrily they speak at each other as if the betrayal is so much they can’t even bare the sight of each other. That’s not even the worst, there is a two spread page where there is a montage of events down the center and the border is Frank Castle facing away from a man he is hunting down. It’s as if they made the movie poster for this awful movie, the tag line already as plain as day, “I only have to kill him once.”
When it comes down to comparing the issue, it’s not really fair. Invincible is an amazing book which finds an appropriate level of for the internal exposition and the design for the book is never laughable. Comparing it against this issue of “Thunderbolts” is like asking an Olympian to run against a one legged diabetic. Unless this issue was meant to be an ironic joke on the “seriousness” of 80’s comic book antiheroes, which if so it was very poor execution, then it’s just a laughably bad comic book. For example, “Axe Cop” embodies that area of funny clichés in comics and it’s written by a six year old. “Super Dinosaur” also has that kitschy, comic feel but it comes off more as charming than as a joke.