“Blood Will Tell”
Writer: Kurt Busiek And Fabian Nicieza
Artists: Tom Grummett (p), Gary Erskine (i)
With the upcoming revival of their own ongoing series in November, the Thunderbolts wrap-up their miniseries in AVENGERS VS. THUNDERBOLTS #6 by Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza, and Tom Grummett. Characters are shuffled into surprising situations, and a sumptuous story begins to simmer by issue’s end. Yet, although great excitement builds for the ongoing title, this issue—one with immense dramatic appeal—suffers substantially. Focus prematurely switches away from the miniseries. The result is mixed: a diluted conclusion, but a promising beginning.
This entire miniseries has centered around one crucial theme—trust. Can the Avengers trust former criminals to save their world? Can the Thunderbolts trust the Avengers to support their endeavors? Now, all these questions are answered, yet with a surprisingly lighter impact than expected. Perhaps this is because the story becomes a little too convoluted—circular, in fact. For example, caught in the middle of both teams is Hawkeye, longtime Avenger and former Thunderbolt leader; and he holds the heaviest dramatic weight because of his position. So when it’s finally time for Hawkeye to make his choice—decide who to trust—suspense peaks. At last, he makes his choice, and it feels like the absolutely, positively correct move. Triumphant, even! Yet, in an attempt to make Hawkeye’s choice even more complicated, the creative team pushes the character to make the decision again. This time, however, the build-up is far weaker and the drama less intense. In fact, the situation is out-right annoying as Hawkeye’s second choice—which is hardly a choice since only one option now remains—is forced upon him by the Avengers’ shortsightedness.
And this leads to the next problem; the Avengers stubbornly cling to preconceived answers and, as a result, unnecessarily escalate trouble. Particularly, bothersome is Captain America, whose blatant inability to see beyond the Thunderbolts’ surface ends up jeopardizing a character’s future and hurting a fellow Avenger. Eventually, the captain does acknowledge that perhaps everything isn’t as black-and-white as he at first thought. However, this realization arrives too late and is entirely inadequate in improving the Avengers’ appearance as they end the story perfectly happy and little altered, while Hawkeye and the Thunderbolts are significantly less fortunate. In short, half the characters here are rudely unsympathetic but victorious, while the other half is penalized in a story that feels too muddled for their tragedy to be worthwhile.
Furthermore, the pacing is off as some Thunderbolts are too swiftly swept aside while others are rapidly arranged for the ongoing. And besides a couple of comical quips by the Fixer and a sweet exchange between Songbird and Hawkeye, the dialogue lacks the spice that usually flavors Thunderbolt issues. Perhaps this is because the characters are facing a dire predicament and talk is simply utilitarian. But coupled with Captain America’s stiff narrative, the dialogue is uninspiring.
However, the issue does captivate throughout. And, there are great character moments—Hawkeye’s first choice, Songbird’s surprising rejection of a long-desired proposal, the launch of the New Thunderbolts. But the best characterization comes unexpectedly from the first Baron Zemo back in 1489, as the cruelty that courses through the Zemo bloodline first surfaces. This scene is superbly executed.
The art is also to be commended for its traditional, high-superhero style. The issue is crisp and vibrant, a visual treat. And even with such a large cast and with all the activity that occurs, there’s very little confusion. The only place where this slips is, unfortunately, a crucial panel. Moonstone finally declares her love for Hawkeye in her characteristic cryptic manner; sadly, the art is similarly cryptic, as, upon further inspection, it’s actually unclear whether Moonstone addresses Hawkeye or Zemo. And after Thunderbolts fans have waited years for Moonstone to finally admit her feelings for Hawkeye, it’s a little difficult to forgive this panel, especially since such a confession would have heightened the tragic conclusion for both Hawkeye and Moonstone. Still, perhaps this mistake was intentional, and perhaps this unclear message of love will factor into Zemo’s reestablished delusion of grandeur. Who knows?
And that is exactly the charm of THE THUNDERBOLTS, and exactly the reason why the announcement of their new series has filled the comic community with anticipation. Readers never know what to expect when reading about these characters. And although this miniseries concludes, feeling more like a trailer for the upcoming series than the conclusion of a self-contained story-arc, the creative team does deliver intriguing predicaments and superb characterizations of the Thunderbolts and Hawkeye. So, it’s with an admirable degree of success that this miniseries ends and an ongoing begins.
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