Have you ever had a relationship that started off a bit rocky? You liked the other person but you just weren’t sure if they could keep you interested. Then, out of the blue, they become this perfect deity who fulfills every dream you’ve ever had. The two of you are passionately in love and you don’t know how you could have lived so long without each other… But then you start seeing some weird habits: they force you to go to places you don’t like; their sense of humor is flat and vapid; and their love of Dave Mathews Band is bewildering. Suddenly you’re wondering if there’s a receipt for the last three months you wasted. That feeling is probably the best approximation to Marvel’s newest run on “Thunderbolts”.
My love for “Thunderbolts” has fluctuated vastly over the years. I remember falling in love with the concept when Fabian Nicieza started writing and my all time favorite comic arcs were those helmed by Warren Ellis when he took over for “Thunderbolts”. After that, everything kind of muddled in mediocrity. When Marvel announced this newest run, my heart soared. Oh yay! This newest incarnation would be helmed by one of my favorite writers ever, Daniel Way, the genius responsible for bringing Deadpool back into relevancy! Oh boo. He’s now trying to bring Red Hulk, Punisher, and Electra into relevancy. Oh goody! Deadpool will be there to help with assistance from new Venom, Flash Thompson. Oh %&#$, Steve Dillon is doing the art.
Yes, when the book kicked off it had Dillon in charge of the visual direction of the book. So all of the action scenes looked like they were standing in front of cardboard cutouts of explosions. It’s like every panel was another photo they all took to a kitchy tourist trap. And all of their faces were the exact same; Electra, who I’m pretty sure is a woman, could put a skull t-shirt on and be a dead ringer for Frank Castle. I’m pretty sure this is a compliment to neither. The art situation looked desperate but the book was still written by Daniel Way. I remember being so angry with Marvel because I was still going to buy this book despite how they had shot the book in the knees and left it to drag itself through a desert. But Daniel Way carried this book; the story was mostly coherent and the characters rang true. It’s hard to make Red Hulk compelling because—well mostly because he’s an awful, contrived character. And yet Daniel had succeeded and I wanted this team to, not only stay together but achieve success. Then Marvel dropped the biggest bomb: Phil Noto would take over the art.
I’m pretty sure I screamed. There certainly was bouts of girlish giggles and dancing, I may have danced. Phil Noto is one of the artists who could draw a freeze frame from C-SPAN and I would buy it. This man draws on the level of Alex Ross, high praise but rightly deserved. So now my book was complete… oh, except I had no idea what was going on. It’s issue number nine now, well into the second arc of the book, and I have read every issue. I couldn’t tell you what’s been happening even if you threatened me with another Punisher/Electra sex scene. Everything became so convoluted; it’s not even that the book is full to the brim with official sounding mumbo-jumbo. It’s as if someone were doing a book report but pulled out all the vowels and now I have to piece together this puzzle.
There was a sequence in “Invincible” where a villain, Angstrom Levi, discovered he could jump between dimensions; he assembled all his alternate dimension selves; attempted to combine all their intellect into his own; screwed up; and became a genius monster. All of this was completely clear. At no point while I was reading this book did I have to reference previous happenings in previous issues. With “Thunderbolts” I feel like I need notes in the margin from Daniel Way telling me how this all connects. I’m looking at this gorgeous art, touching the page inappropriately, but the words are bouncing off me like ping pong balls.
If you think I’m done buying “Thunderbolts” you are going to be disappointed. I’m still dropping money into this book and hating myself for doing it. Can you blame me? The art… I mean… Just look at it.