Writer: John Arcudi
Artist: Francisco Ruiz Velasco
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with Axum coming to the realization that he's in a serious fight, but he's also quick to realized that the Armadillo's attacks are driven purely by rage, and that he lacks any real finesse when it comes to fighting. To this end we see Axum is able to dodge the Armadillo's wild attacks, while landing several well placed blows that eventually leave the savage creature unconscious on the canvas. Having won the fight and walking away with a fistful of cash we see Axum is quick to convince himself that this was a one time only gig, and he uses the money to mend some fences with his ex-wife, which in turn allows him to start spending time with his young son. However, even with his rent paid four months in advance, and his child support payments caught up, Axum finds himself growing a little disillusioned with his life, as he feels he's being underpaid at his construction job, and a condescending speech from his boss about taking responsibility for his actions doesn't exactly sit all that well. In the end though the fame & easy money that comes with the fighting circuit that draws Axum back into the ring, and he's quick to prove himself a fan favorite with a sting of victories. However, as the issue ends we see the other shoe is about to drop on an unsuspecting Axum.
The news of this book's impending cancellation came out earlier this week, and truth be told it's hardly unexpected as the new direction didn't exactly send the book racing up the sales chart, and while I enjoy the new direction, many Thunderbolts readers likely used the change as a opportunity to dump the title sight unseen, as all they needed to hear was that the book wouldn't revolve around the characters who had been this book's central focus for the previous seventy-five issues. As it stands I'm going to look upon this book as a six issue miniseries about an underground fighting circuit, and for pure entertainment one could certainly do worse. Now the big fight that opens the book follows an established formula, as does Axum meteoritic rise to the top of the fighting game, but the upside to following an preset pattern is that John Arcudi should be able to pull off a major shock should he deviate from where we expect him to go, and since this book is populated with characters that he can kill off without needing permission, I fully expect Axum won't survive his encounter with the world champion. There's also a nice side element of danger as we've seen what happened to Armadillo when he fell out of favor with the gentlemen who run this underground fighting circuit.
The book isn't exactly a surprise filled affair, as one can pretty much tell which direction the fight is heading once Axum dodges that first punch, and watching his slow decent into the fighting game was hardly unexpected, as we wouldn't have much of a story if he made the smart choice. Still, even with the book's plot-by-numbers formula, John Arcudi has managed to develop Axum in a fairly likeable character who is deserving of a better fate, and as such when he starts falling out of favor, I'll be rather emotionally invested in the material, as I fully expect he won't live to see the end of this arc. I also like the fact that while he does make his way down the slippery slope, Axum doesn't come across as a complete dope, as he has doubts about becoming part of this fighting circuit, and when Lydia moves his way he makes it known that he doesn't trust her. The book also takes the time to establish that basically Axum is a good man, as he has made an effort to keep his nose clean after getting out of jail, and he wants to be a father to his kid. I also like how his mother is able to recognize that Axum is moving down a dangerous road, and she expresses her concerns in her own less than effective manner. In fact the one thing this issue didn't really accomplish is offer up a solid reason why Axum decided to reenter the fighting game.
The art continues to impress with its visually exciting action, as the fight that opens the book has a nice sense of energy to it, with the speed of the blows that are just missing the dodging Axum being nicely contrasted by the bone crushing impact of the blows that Axum is landing. The art also does some nice work showing us that Axum's blows are having an effect on the Armadillo, as one can almost see the look of fear etched on his face before Axum delivers that final blow. The art also does some nice work on the smaller details, from the goofy smile on Axum’s face as his ex-wife lets him in to see his boy, to the almost comical visual of him taking a bath in a tub that is about two sizes too small. The construction sight where Axum is working also looks like a real construction sight, though we do get a little miscue in that Axum is shown without a helmet while he's working, and this is a rather glaring mistake, even if Axum does possess a degree of invulnerability. The art does manages to convey Axum's rapid rise to the top pretty nicely though, as we see his success in the ring is coupled with the shots of his enjoying the wealth that comes with this success. My only real quibble with the art is that Lydia's face on the final page looks downright hideous, which makes it difficult to buy the idea Axum has fallen under her spell, so to speak.
An issue that doesn't take many chances, and I can't say that I was surprised by any of the steps that this book took, as it's pretty obvious where the book is heading next. Still, while it is rather predictable, it's also a well executed bit of writing, as Axum is a likable enough character, and by the end of the issue I was concerned about what's going to happen to him next, as right now he feels a bit like the guy in a war movie who takes out the photo of his wife & kid waiting for him back home. I want to see the character succeed, and John Arcudi deserves full marks for making this character into someone you can get behind, and cheer for when he's busting heads in the ring. The book also doesn't shy away from the fact that his fate was entirely in his hands, and that he had the opportunity to simply walk away. In fact my one quibble with this issue is that it never really fully establishes why Axum decided to return to the ring.
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