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Sunday Slugfest - The New Thunderbolts #6

Posted: Sunday, March 13, 2005
By: Keith Dallas

“City of Heroes?”

Writers: Fabian Nicieza, Kurt Busiek
Artists: Tom Grummett (p), Gary Erskine (i), Chris Sot mayor (colors)

Publisher: Marvel Comics





Average Rating:

Kelvin Green:
Shawn Hill:
Ray Tate:
Olivia Woodward:






Kelvin Green

So, if Genis is calling himself “Photon” now, what name does Photon go by? I mean really, he already nicked “Captain Marvel” off her, and now he’s going for her backup name? I expect he’ll have named himself Genis Rambeau by the end of the year. She needs to get Nelson and Murdock to draw up some copyright papers...

It’s somewhat telling that this little nugget is what grabbed my attention when reading this comic. Despite the fact that it features an invasion of Manhattan by thousands of Hydra soldiers, New Thunderbolts #6 is just not very exciting stuff. Strucker’s plan seems awfully complicated, and more than a little stupid; fund the Thunderbolts in order to have them publicly fail when he attacks, making him look better to his peers in Hydra... while it basically fits in with what’s going on in Wolverine right now (as long as you assume that this all happens before the events in that comic), it’s still a bit odd. The idea is that the Thunderbolts come together better than he imagined, and as such upset his plans, but it’s hardly convincing, and damages Strucker’s credibility as a villain.

In order to show us this idea of the Thunderbolts emerging as unlikely heroes, we get a script that reaches for a sense of heroism, but falls rather flat. All this “heroes have to do their best because that’s what heroes do” comes across as cheesy posturing at best, and even descends into unintentional comedy at times (“He can outrun a bullet, but how do you run away from...yourself?”). Worse, this seems to replace any actual characterisation (except Joystick who comes across quite well, if a little single-minded, and Atlas, who seems to be going mental, but it’s better than nothing), so we’re left with lots of desperate existential worrying, but few actual personalities to engage with. All that said, the characters do mostly impress with their powers and abilities this issue, and if viewed as merely a lengthy action scene, the comic is much more successful. Even so, it’s not nearly impressive or fast moving enough, as Nicieza pauses far too often to insert these moments of clunky introspection, when he’d be much better off just pulling out all stops and going for a big widescreen action-fest. Yet again, the erratic pacing of the series gets in the way here; if the earlier issues in this arc had been more balanced towards developing the characters, this final issue could have been dedicated to a big explosive climax.

The art seems very different this issue, with a less detailed and more cartoony look. I don’t like it any more or less than the art in previous issues, but it’s certainly a jarring change, and I had to keep checking to make sure that it was the same art team. Things are a bit more familiar in the final few pages, but the difference is distracting.

I want to like this comic, I really do. It’s good honest back-to-basics superheroics, sticking (a very welcome) two fingers up at the likes of “Avengers Disassembled” and Identity Crisis, but it fails to capture the energy and excitement that are inherent in the superhero genre. It’s certainly not a bad comic, but considering what’s going on, it just seems like this should be a more impressive and exciting reading experience. Instead it’s competent but underwhelming.




Shawn Hill

Plot: The first arc of the new series concludes, and it is action-packed and fully consistent with the usual themes of this title. As the greyed-out number on the cover indicates, this is also issue #87 of the previous iteration, quite an achievement for a stunt-based series conceived in the wake of Marvel’s last big high-concept upheaval (Onslaught/Heroes Reborn).

Comments: Fluidity is the watch-word on this title. Busiek introduced the
concept not of redemption, but of bad guys making a decision to do what’s right, and Nicieza continued that tradition when he took over the reigns, though he worked in a more baroque soap opera fashion where some characters were always sliding up the scale of accountability and bravery while others were sliding down.

This arc has continued to plumb those grey areas, with events such as the Beetle secretly accepting funding from Baron Strucker (even though he planned to do good with it), Mimi risking further injury because she knows she’s needed on the team, Atlas beating up his rival Genis only to see him return in a new form at a crucial moment, and Warbird pitching in for the greater good despite her doubts.

The central players in this “new” title are fittingly the newest members. Radioactive Man proves he possesses the potential for nobility in a world of changed political fortunes and allegiances. Speed Demon pretends a detachment he doesn’t show in his actions, as heroism seems to be calling to him. The others push Blizzard to his limits, and even the frivolous adrenalin junkie Joystick is finally beginning to show some nuanced levels as she performs a crucial military action against the armies of Hydra. I thought I’d miss Karla (a.k.a. Moonstone, the star of the Avengers/Thunderbolts mini that served as the bridge between v.1 and v.2 of Thunderbolts) more than I do, but perhaps Nicieza has said all he could with that character. The one constant in this title is change, so though we’ve set a few players on a righteous path by the final page, we’ve still got the need for new funding, various ongoing ruses, Atlas’s deteriorating sanity and Mimi’s unresolved health issues to keep things interesting. This is a solid title that rises above the average by consistent quality work from month to month.




Ray Tate

The New Thunderbolts is exactly how a super-team book is supposed to read. It moves fast. It creates threat. You don’t know who will live and who will die. Because of the medium, clever plans are complimented by artistic displays of brute force and unusual abilities. Best of all this is fun.

When last we left the T-Bolts, Hydra made its first move to take over the country--and tomorrow the world, Pinky? Nicieza gives an even deeper motivation for Baron Strucker’s latest foray into lunacy, and he also explains Strucker’s rationale for funding the Thunderbolts. Surprisingly, given the mindset, it all makes sense. Not used to that.

Beetle (Mach IV) commands the Thunderbolts well, and his experience as a villain subtly comes into play. Villains are always expecting the double-cross, and Abe didn’t like a lamb go into financial partnership with Strucker. He always knew Strucker was up to something, and he obviously had planned for the eventual stab in the back. This makes the T-Bolts victory assured, but it’s no easy victory. Beetle also adapts quickly to new ploys Strucker throws at him. Villains always keep something hidden from their partners.

Each member of the team contributes, and while Nicieza and artist Tom Grummett focus on individual merits, they never lose sight of the big picture or the sense that a team of heroes fights against the odds and not just any group of super-heroes. They further reinforce this feeling with cameo appearances by a contingent of scattered super-heroes. Spidey and Cap help out the NYPD against the Hydra minions--who look like Hydra minions, thank you very much. Fringe character the Swordsman also joins the fray, but the focus is on the team of the Thunderbolts. Only Ms. Marvel who has an honest connection to the T-bolts coordinates with them.

Apart from the excitement and breathtaking action, Nicieza, without slowing the pace, fills the book with character moments. A very important instant of characterization occurs within the Hydra ship as the oddball actions of one T-bolt gain plausibility through Nicieza’s narration of the character's history. Another character is surprised by his own heroism. Another is shocked to hear applause from people against whom he once warred.

While writing a slam-bang conclusion, Fabian Nicieza with co-plotter Kurt Busiek and the thrilling composition of Tom Grummett sets up the long standing storylines that will run through future issues. Photon (nee Captain Marvel) returns, and he will no doubt cause friction between Mach IV and Songbird. The placement of one character in the group will likely affect how he is treated by the team in upcoming stories. The skill of all involved impel you to look forward to these new tales of The Thunderbolts.




Olivia Woodward

Synopsis: Hydra attacks New York City! With a thousand Hydra agents and one hundred skimmer jets against only three Thunderbolts, the situation is looking dire. But heroism isn’t about playing safe bets. Heroism is about doing the right thing, regardless of the odds. In the final issue of a six-part story arc, “City of Heroes?” the Thunderbolts shows their true colors, their potential for true heroism, even in the face of total annihilation.

Secrets are revealed. Tough decisions are made. And from the flames of destruction, a team of Heroes is truly born anew. It’s a traditionalist superhero slugfest that’ll please any fan of high action and adventure.

Critique:

"So close to your heart's desire…to matter…to make a difference…so close…"

This story is an analysis of the superheroic team. Though comprised of individuals, a team must transcend individuality. It must be greater than the sum of its parts. A team is in itself an entity. The encompassing unit has an identity distinct from its components. Moreover, the components are capable of surpassing their individual limitations by cooperative participation within the unit to which they are joined. In other words, the hero is made greater through involvement in a team of superheroes; he or she becomes participants in superior actions. This issue uses plot delineation, characterization, and thematic resonance to convey the premise.

The plot is structured in a concatenation of escalating threat, requiring each Thunderbolt to step up to the challenge in his or her own unique manner. From the swarm of skimmer jets that Atlas swats away like pesky flies to the inferno of destruction into which the Radioactive Man plunges, each hero faces a challenge for which he or she is uniquely suited. Though none are without flaws, they must do their part in order that the team may succeed, even at risk of great self-sacrifice.

Structurally, this issue has 23 pages of story, averaging 4.7 panels per page. That’s a fairly high average for a Marvel comic book. Moreover, Grummett’s compositions are complex, richly utilizing point-of-view to conflate a sequence into a single panel, whereas a lazier artist would dedicate half a page to convey the same amount of visual narration. For instance, when Abe begins to lay out his plan to Warbird, the panel comes from his point-of-view through the Beetle goggles, giving the reader both a shot of her reaction and a hint of the upcoming threat in the “Heads-Up-Display.” Likewise, when Joystick is sent break into the Hydra Armageddon Carrier, Grummett uses the traditional tools of motion lines, figural reiteration, and three-point perspective to manage the sense of time and space within a single panel.

Panel structure is important in that it establishes the narrative pace. Furthermore, the dramatic weight of the story is created through the choice of who receives the “spot light” by being featured in a panel. The two primary protagonists, Mach IV and Speed Demon, receive the greatest amount of spotlight, being featured in approximately 30 panels each, a bit under 30 percent of the total issue. The other five Thunderbolts average a bit over half the “spotlight” time, approximately 17 panels each. This is in accordance with their narrative priority; Mach IV is the group's leader and the premise of the story relies on the character being able to serve as the director of the disparate individuals that comprise the team, while Speed Demon represents the group’s inclination towards selfishness and the conflict of the story is directly correlated to the group being able to overcome the urge towards self-gratification, even to the point of self-sacrifice.

Appraisal:

"The Thunderbolts have proclaimed to one and all that this is a city of heroes!"

The premise that underlies this title is one of redemption. It is the struggle of the individual to overcome their ethical limitations, achieving the glory of heroism when they have been redeemed. It is the Nietzschean concept of the “Will to Power,” the transfiguration of the “common man” through self-perfection into the “super man.” But this self-perfection must be guided by ethical fortitude if it would be Heroism. That’s the conflict underlying this issue.

The virtues of heroism are placed in contrast to the flaws of the individual hero. Blizzard must transcend his lack of self-confidence if he would attain valor. Speed Demon must forgo his self-centered priorities if he wishes to become loyal. Joystick must resist the thrills of reckless action, so that she may become dutiful. Atlas has to control his anger if he wishes to gain composure. The Radioactive Man must overcome his prejudice if he would truly become honorable.

Through the transcendence of vice and the cultivation of virtue, the individual attains the greatness of Heroism. They obtain glory. This is the subtext of the premise. Glory is presented to the reader as the aspiration of the villain, Strucker. He is symbolic of the Nietzschean ideal gone awry; he has achieved his “Will to Power” without obtaining the moral compass of a categorical imperative. He hasn’t become a “super man.” He’s a monster, against which the true “super men” must contend. And in thwarting the evils of this monster, the heroes overcome the frailties of individuality to become a greater whole. They achieve glory.

And that’s the whole point of Hero stories! Through the elucidation of the road to glory, the narrative is an inspiration to the reader. That’s why myths and legends about heroes have been a part of human experience throughout our history. The modern “superhero” comic is merely another manifestation of our interest in this narrative type. Too many writers of supposedly “superhero” titles don’t seem to understand that they are part of a timeless tradition that explores the meaning of heroism. Instead, they write pedestrian stories in search of “realism.” Their protagonists are talking heads that can’t even frame a thought in coherent dialogue. Their stories are so decompressed that thematic coherence is a pointless endeavor; it’s too shallow to explore.

This title unabashedly embraces the high dramatics of Heroism. The plotting, characterization, and artwork all come together to deliver the theme with compelling intensity. The mood is glorious, especially with the visceral coloring from Chris Sotomayor. His colors are evocative of Great Drama. One can almost hear the Wagnerian music playing in the background. "Immer lichter wie er leuchtet, sternumstrahlet hoch sich hebt?"

In short, this issue is a glorious celebration of heroism. The heroes are flawed, but they overcome their limitations through the cooperative pursuit of heroic virtues. I highly recommend this title.



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