Sunday, 17 November 2013

Thunderbolts, Volume 1: No Quarter Review (Daniel Way, Steve Dillon)

General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross aka the Red Hulk decides to do something about the world’s dictators and forms a group designed to take them down: Venom, Deadpool, Elektra, the Punisher and himself. But as they set out on their inaugural mission to take down a military dictator in the fictional Asian island country of Kata Jaya, is there more to this scheme than simply bloody justice - and how does the Leader fit into it?

Team books that are made up of people who didn’t start out together as that team, are inherently tough sells. You buy the X-Men because they were conceived as a team with certain members like Wolverine becoming more popular over time and getting their own spinoff titles. But this version of Thunderbolts is made up of individuals like Punisher and Deadpool both of whom have highly popular titles of their own, so cramming them together with a seemingly random assortment of characters as diverse as Venom, Elektra and Red Hulk is going to be difficult to reason. Daniel Way knows this and doesn’t waste too long on the whys and wherefores and just gets the group together and moves on to the story. This is why I didn’t mind the short shrift we get, because the focus isn’t on getting the team together, it’s on the team’s interactions and the story, both of which are great. Some team books like the New 52 JLA not only have weak origins but even weaker stories which is why they’re so bad - Thunderbolts also has a flimsy foundation but a rattling good story with plenty of inventive scenes to make up for this.

The story is fairly straightforward - the main team get into shenanigans on the island with some characters getting captured, others getting shot, and so on, while Ross works his complicated sub-plots involving gamma experiments and the Leader and his brother. I would be lying if I said I knew what was going on most of the time but there’s enough imaginative action going on to compensate for any confusion plus it doesn’t hinder reading or enjoying the book any. In the same vein, despite this being a Volume 1 in a relaunch, this isn’t the best place for new readers to start as Way doesn’t spend any time on the characters’ backstories - you either know who these guys are or you don’t. I got a lot out of this because I know most of these characters pretty well, but I don’t know who Mercy is nor did I realise Deadpool and Elektra were dating until she cheats on him with Frank (I’m still not sure to be honest - Deadpool flits with Elektra earlier in the book but he flirts with every woman in the Marvel U, so were they dating or, like so much with Deadpool, was it all in his head?).

A big part of why I liked this book so much was Steve Motherfucking Dillon (that is his Christian name by the way). This guy is the definitive Punisher artist, for me. Check out his work with Garth Ennis on their Marvel Knights maxi-series, Welcome Back, Frank, and the Ma Gnucci stories years later, or his work with Jason Aaron on the final Punisher MAX issues - no wonder out of all of them, besides Ross, Frank has the most scenes. Some people don’t like Dillon’s art, that’s fine, I don’t understand it and they’re wrong, but fair enough - I think any comic is immeasurably improved when Steve Dillon climbs on board and, with Way as his frequent collaborator and co-creator of Daken, Wolverine’s son, the two do a great job on this first book.

Overly complex plot aside, Way gets all of the character voices right, especially Deadpool’s who gets some great scenes (while sporting a moustache pencilled on his mask), the characters interact nicely, and we get to see lots of bloody violence from this crazy group of people. This scene sums up the book and your reaction to it will determine whether you’ll like this comic or not: Frank Castle goes up against the villain who’s a mad man called Madman and is Hulk-ish big. He knows Madman’s going to try to crush him, a seemingly ordinary human, so he puts his gamma chest armour to good use by strapping a landmine - a LANDMINE! - to his chest, Madman bear-hugs him, and BOOM! Frank of course walks away with only some broken ribs while Madman is defeated. Elektra asks him how long until he passes out and Frank answers “Long enough” - and then they have sex! That is beyond alpha male, that is some next level shit. If this outrageous and obviously comedic scene doesn't make you at least smile, if not outright laugh like me, then you’re taking it too seriously and you’re not going to like this book. This book is trashy and silly and knows it, so just enjoy it for that.

I can see why some people might not like this iteration of the group, and the story definitely has some flaws, but I found I could overlook whatever minor complaints I had with the book. Also, I never cared about the Thunderbolts before and Way and Dillon have made me care about them now. No Quarter is an over-the-top bombastic and really fun comic that kept me entertained the whole time. It’s dirty, messy mayhem - the team and the story - that’s totally enjoyable. 

Thunderbolts - Volume 1: No Quarter

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