Geeks, Nerds, and my mother rejoice! For today, that wacky guy behind the great Menial Series videos feels like writing about something that has been on my mind, and you had best believe he is going to write! Now that I am up-to-date with the newest Venom comic, I decided to go back and read through the Deadpool canon. No spoilers, please, but as of right now he is about to fight Tiamat to ensure that he becomes the Mithras. With things really heating up back in 1998, and my thirst to see Flash Thompson live his life with the Venom symbiote, I decided to peek my nose into the reboot of the Thunderbolts comics, and decided to bring you all with me! Some major spoilers ahead! If you are feeling particularly masochistic and feel to dive into the story, I’d suggest doing so before reading on.
The series starts off with ‘Enlisted’ where we find Frank “The Punisher” Castle tied to a pole and being recruited by The Red Hulk himself Thaddeus Ross. General Ross gives Frank Castle the option of working for him on a fairly undefined job, or be left chained up, unarmed, and at the mercy of a mob of merc’s who would love nothing more than to put a cartridge through the crown of Castle. The formula for the rest of the comic is that each end of a thought begins a new discussion. From The Punisher, to Flash Thompson and the Venom symbiote on a mission hunting unidentified brownskins in Somalia, back to Castle to build continuity, to Deadpool hunting a street gang of mimes in France, Back to Castle, to Elektra deceiving the pants off an Afghani Shiek, back to Castle.
All in all, I actually like that the writers did this. The Punisher has a military background, but Flash Thompson is a much better choice for defining the significance of General Ross. The Punisher is a monster in that he commits manslaughter upon the heroes that we know and love, but Ross is quite literally a monster. Connecting Deadpool, whose back story condensates self loathing over the monstrosity Weapon X turned Wade Wilson into. Castle, being tied against his will and suffering an apparent head injury, may not be in the best mindset to listen to a job proposition. Elektra, fresh from a job well done, would be perfect for getting her next contract. Blasting through a field of baddies with a behemoth of red and black behind you? They saved the best for last when Frank Castle agrees to to job with rounds flying.
By the end of the first comic, I was on board. Those out their who have spoken to me before on the subject already know that Deadpool and Venom are two of my favorite heroes (well, antiheroes) in existence. I was never a fan of how they left the reader out of the setting on, well, everything; however, I understand that they are establishing who is who. A complex intro to each would have taken away from the “one conversation, several people” illusion. I was legitimately excited to see where they were taking things.
Jump to the next comic in the series: Weaponized. Just as a quick step to the side before jumping into the deep end, let me explain something. I had been reading Venom: Circle of Four literally just prior to starting the second Thunderbolts comic. Venom and Red Hulk have an intense history, and showing me see a well drawn cover with Ross strangling Thompson beginning to rage out. I was legitimately excited to see what was going to happen. Without describing every panel in the comic, we start in the time of ‘now’ on Kata Jaya where we see the gang liberating a group of locals from the foot soldiers working under the rule of power hungry dictators. Using their own weapons against them, Punisher and Venom discover that the soldiers have gotten their hands on gamma-powered firepower. Nothing says dangerous terrorist organization than firearms that shoot this universes
equivalent to nuclear FMJ’s. Immediately jump to ‘two weeks from now’ where we learn that The Punisher had upgraded his armor to withstand just that sort of assault. How fortunate! I really wish I could find another reason for the time jump (albeit two weeks) other than that. The group spends the rest of the time bickering at each other. Punisher Insults Red Hulk, The Merc with a Mouth tries getting under the Soldier with the Symbiote’s xenoskin, and Elektra… well, she is just hanging out in the background! Somewhere exists a book where the rules of essential underdog team creation are written, and Deus Ex’ing Frank Castle a pair of nuclear deterring underoo’s is just as good of a time as any to show the team’s dysfunction I suppose. Without warning we are thrown back into the time of now, where Deadpool and Elektra give us one of my personal favorite Deadpool moments to date before Elektra is captured.
Nope, that’s really all that happens. I wish I was kidding. Another jump takes us to Thompson and Ross arguing again. The team is beginning to grow suspicious of General Ross’ motives when it happens. Oh man, guys, my heart started pumping here. It’s about to hit the fan as the violence their past has held before ignites right in the middle of a rebel camp! Ross wraps his hands around Thompson and holds him mid air. The symbiote begins to wrap itself around Ross’ neck. Frank is in the back waiting to see who he needs to unload a clip into. It’s about to go down, guys! I reach for the next page, begin moving, excited to see what’s next. PAUSE FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT. Ross puts Venom down and they go back to bickering. My brow dropped with such force that it scratched the tip of my nose. As far as Flash and Frank are concerned, this is the end of the comic. The reader, however, gets one more extra look into what the future has to hold as an unconscious Samuel Sterns lay attached to life-monitoring equipment and video surveillance.
I’m not going to lie to you guys, mostly because I am assuming that my one reader will be my mother, but I had no idea who this man was or why he was important. At this time getting off a train and sitting down at the bar in Union Station, Chicago, I shot a quick text to my comic-guru buddy to get informed. What I got back was “Sam Sterns is The Leader. He has super-intelligence, and teamed up with Red Hulk to try taking out Bruce Banner.” Now I have never been a big Hulk fan, so I was (and admittedly still) not exactly sure of what to expect in terms of this guy. He just kind of seems like your standard “massive intelligence super villain.” Frankly, I was a little bummed out over the less-than-climactic ending to care much more in finding out what his deal was. You don’t tell a man that he’s about to receive a delicious, rare-cooked 24oz porterhouse and give him some tofu-soy alternative. It’s just not right, man.
The next in the set, Unconventional Warfare, begins with another rather flashy cover to it. The Leader looks into the readers eyes looking like Sinestro without the Mr. Courier mustache. Flip the page and we see that Deadpool doesn’t much care for all the secrets, so the Merc with a Mouth does a little bit of snooping. Deadpool discovers the unconscious body being kept alive and warns Ross that Punisher will put a round in the immobile enemies head if he finds out that he’s keeping the villain alive. Speaking of the Punisher, on other parts of the island we meet him and Venom teaching the locals how to fight back against the oppressing ways of their dictator. The guerrilla soldiers now working with Venom go to siege a base. After a short exchange of fire the base is raided for resources and the panel jumps back to Deadpool and Ross. Using Marvel Magic Plot-onium, Ross intends to bring the mad genius back to consciousness with enough gamma running through him to maintain super-intelligence, but not enough for him to recall that he is in fact a mad genius. Meanwhile we learn that Elektra is not alone in her containment cell. Standing in a giant shadow, we learn that a man by the name of Phillip Sterns or the moniker ‘Madman’ is against our protagonists. With his brother now standing, the comic end with Deadpool’s prophecy becoming a reality.
Okay… Fool me once comic, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I was really interested to see just what sinestro could do, and they just end up whacking him at the end of it all like he was some sort of red shirt! The spoiler for the next issue shows us Madman posing like the Colossus knocking back the gang, but I know better now. Following this trend, I predict that the group of same-faced antiheroes will go in to save Elektra, kill some unimportant mercenaries on the way, and then have a tea party with the man before revealing something else that would be kickass. Honestly, I’m not sure if I am still down for following it anymore. Venom is what drew me into the story in the first place, and I just don’t believe that it is the same Flash Thompson that I have grown to love and connect with. The Punisher seems forced and is uncomfortable to imagine, but for the most part just sits in the background and pulls the trigger to end the comic book later (though to be fair, I imagine this will change next issue). Elektra is just hanging out, General Ross is too calm, and what about Mercy? She showed up a few times in the beginning, but hasn’t even been talked about yet! Now, it is entirely possible that I am wrong in assuming she would be with the group, but why bother showing her at all if she wasn’t going to make an appearance? I really wanted to enjoy this comic, I really did. And honestly, I think one of it’s core malfunctions is that nothing ever happens! I wasn’t joking when I referenced the strip’s ‘same-face’ problem earlier. I could understand reusing characters that are just in the background, but even the protagonists share the same chiseled jaw, rigged eyebrows, and blocky teeth with, well, everyone! Backgrounds are dull, nothing stands out, and nothing happens. The squad has a hissy-fit with itself and some major detail is revealed. What happens next? The detail is eliminated and another hissy-fit breaks out. You got one more try, Thunderbolts. You have a lot of potential, and maybe except for the fact that Frank Castle wouldn’t be cool with doing this, it isn’t all that hard to mess this up.