Monday, March 26, 2007

Faith In Monsters Part 2 (Marvel comics)
Thunderbolts #111 When: April 2007
Why: Warren Ellis How: Mike Deodato Jr.

The story so far...
Under the direction of Norman Osborn, the Thunderbolts have been completely overhauled in the wake of the Civil War. Incorporating existing members of the super-team and former criminals recruited to hunt rogue heroes, the new team is a volatile and untested mess.

Placing Moonstone in the position of leader, Osborn sends the team out on their first mission: Defeat and detain the rogue protégé of Captain America; Jack Flag.

With the press watching will this soft-target be the undoing of a team of reformed and manipulated villains. Or will they unravel live on the air?

Previous Form:
The Thunderbolts [#14]: Moonstone and Songbird were defeated by the Hulk as part of the classic Thunderbolts.
Venom (#63): Venom has a lethal victory over the Space Phantom.
Bullseye (#77): Bullseye has a victory against Daredevil, for two defeats.
Radioactive Man (#110): Radioactive Man was among the team assembled to take down the Anti-Registration Avengers.
Swordsman, Penance: Neither of these characters have been featured previously on the site.
Jack Flag: Jack Flag has not yet been featured on the site.

Tale of the tape...
Totally NOT Grifter, yo!Strength: Moonstone 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Radioactive Man 5 (Professor)
Speed: Speedball/Penance 5 (Super Speed)
Stamina: Moonstone 6 (Generator)
Agility: Speedball/Penance 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Jack Flag 4 (Trained Fighter)
Energy Powers: Radioactive Man 6 (Mass Destruction)

So, as we continue Marvel Ultimate Alliance Mondays, this is supposed to be the Radioactive Man representitive entry. Confession time: Radioactive Man is a pretty insignificant cog in this entry, but I'm not a huge fan of the character, so it's about as good as it gets.

As a character in this situation Radioactive Man is probably more of a second-tier performer, but he brings a great deal to the team. Strength, intelligence and radioactive power being his trifecta of terror.

There seems to have been some confusion about the origins of the Jack Flag character. He's only been on the job since the early nineties, and initially brought very little to the game as an admirer of Captain America.
His skills developed with intensive training and clearly he picked up some points from the Captain himself. It's difficult to tell to what degree it has been retained, but he also gained super human strength after a tussle with Mr. Hyde.

It seems Flag has maybe been scaled down a little from that level, bringing him back to more of a 'roid raging 4 on our stat tape.

Guys like Venom, Radioactive Man and Moonstone all excede his strength level, and Moonstone, Venom and even Songbird have the skills to potentially outmaneuver the earth-bound Flag.

The key to victory for Flag would have to be using the inexperience of some of the characters, and exploiting the lack of preperation they've had as a team. Certainly the volatile nature of many of the characters only stirs the chemicals of dissent and distrust. That said, it's a big ask!

The Math: The Thunderbolts
The Pick: The Thunderbolts

What went down...
The Thunderbolts catch up with Jack Flag in Ohio, where he's been breaking up various criminal activities in defiance of the superhero registration act. Delivering justice without a paycheque or equipment and health benefits... Actually, why wouldn't a two-bit schmuck like Flag be signing up?!

Riding to the DANGER ZONE! DANANANANA!In a scene that would send a film soundtrack platinum, the team struts in unison from their space age plane vehicle. If it were a Mattel the individual credits would go in an order along the lines of; sweet ass Songbird, marvellous Moonstone, radical Radioactive Man, peripherally challenged Penance, voulptuous Venom and the swinging Swordsman!

So, anyway, Moonstone goes about fullfilling her roll as new 'team leader' by orchestrating from the sidelines. With Jack Flag standing tall in the middle of a parking lot, Moonstone orders Radioactive Man to blow the gas tanks, making it appear to the on-looking press as though Flag had rigged the explosions himself.

The explosions put Flag on the back foot, as Moonstone sends in Swordsman and Venom to do the work of soldiers. Unfortunately she doesn't count on the strength and determination of the flag-clad hero, who shatters Swordsman's sword as it hovers above him.

Flag rolls back, booting the airborne sword end into Venom's chest, whilst using the follow throw to knock Swordsman for six.

Though the sword tip doesn't do any permanent damage to the symbiote-clad Mac Gargan, it does send him into a berzerker rage. As Flag stomps on Swordsman's helmet, Venom doubles in size and becomes a veiny mess... Hello!

Venom doubles in size and swells with veins... Kinky!Flag feels the sting of Venom's taloned fingertips, and finds himself in the grip of a creature that's pretty intent on eating his head. A prospect that would produce a win for the Thunderbolts, to be sure, but probably isn't the kind of press you want on the six O'clock news.

Moonstone plays moderator, calling for the activation of an implant that subdues Venom with an electrical charge. They'll pass it off as a hand-held weapon concealed in Jack Flag's gloves later. Oh, they're sly!

Songbird heads to the sky, but the smoke cover caused by the exploded cars proves to make her influence moot. Flag, freed of Venom's grip, goes about taking possession of something that may or may not be a misproportioned wheel mag.

Recalling the advice of his now deceased mentor, Captain America, he whips the cylindrical shrapnel into the air, ricocheting it off a street sign and lamp post, to strike Songbird directly in the throat. The jolt to her vocals quells her sound-based energy powers, and brings her into a heavy descent atop one of the surviving stationary vehicles.

Moonstone denies Radioactive Man opportunity to step in, instead seeing the opportunity to showcase the newest face on the team - Penance. Formerly Speedball, the massochistic turn he's taken, donning an iron maidenesque outfit, allows him to turn his kinetic powers outward.

With blood trickling from his suit, Penance brims with energy and hurls it into the lot. It stirs already twisted metal into the air, but ultimately finds it's target.

Though he's struck in the back, Flag is able to not only survive the onslaught, but turn it to his advantage as he attempts to make an escape down an alley.

The police cut off his backdoor, and he proves unwilling to fight the drones of the law. Perhaps a misguided mark of respect for the men in uniform and their distance from the 'Civil War', or perhaps the true sign of a hero.

Either way he switches strategy, kicking his way into the lower levels of one of the surrounding buildings. A chance to create a distraction and find his way to his goals. Unfortunately, there was one contingent he didn't count on.
There was one last trump the team didn't display in front of the cameras and the action figure buying children, and that was the scariest one of them all. The one scarier than the alien costume that eats brains, or the bulky Chinese guy who glows green.

WASSUUUUUPPPPPPP~!!!Flag feels it before he knows what's happened -- a sai burying deep into his spinal column. The sting of the man called Bullseye, lurking in the shadows to clean up the mess before it spilled completely out of control.
He never misses his target. Flag's cauda equina is the victim, and he will never walk again. All in a day's work for the might Thunderbolts.

The hammer...
Well, with the assist going to the rest of the team, Bullseye scores the victory for the Thunderbolts. Go team!

Y'know, there's a certain level of excitement that occurs when a person says "Warren Ellis" and "Thunderbolts" in the same sentence. Especially when that prospect is said to entail a complete overhaul of the B-list team. Which is a fact that only becomes even more exciting when names like Green Goblin, Venom and Bullseye are getting thrown around!

Unfortunately, the imagination tends to run a little wild with those ingredients, and what actually rests in one's hands is of a flavour more pedestrian, perhaps.
Actually, that accurately describes the tone of the book, as Ellis panders to the 'real world' repercussions of a world where the superheroes have been dubbed outlaws.

There are a handfull of criticisms coming the way of this, and none is more sound than the theory that Bullseye and Mac Gargan could be sold to the public as the good guys. Bullseye, a character we featured just recently, wherein he was dubbed number four on America's Most Wanted list, a hero? [Daredevil #49]

Fair enough, he seems to be lurking shackled to the shadows with armed guards, but Venom is among the public face of the team. His raging "kill!" screaming outburst is dismissed by Moonstone as she fronts the press after the assault, as she assures them Venom is quite incapable of killing, despite a long history of being a known killer and menace in public. Something that dates back even to the days of Eddie Brock [a 'lethal protector'], should there be illusions about who is wearing the symbiote.
Of course, Gargan is the Venom that only a couple of years ago tore buildings down in the streets of New York in an effort to gain the advantage over Spider-man.

I digress, there are some issues to be taken with the details.
What was perhaps most disappointing to me was the subdued nature of the book, and the shadowy psuedo-realistic artwork by Deodato Jr, someone who seems to be being pushed in this sort of street realism capacity; presumably for his photo referenced pencil work.

I think what I hoped for was something a little less covert, exhibiting the unbridled enthusiasm of a Nextwave, or something akin to it. Not necessarily so over-the-top or tongue-in-cheek, but more vibrant, and action packed, and free flowing.

Remove those expectations and there is a good read to be found here.
Some of the conventions and tools are a little obvious, but the first three issues approach facets of the concept with purpose. The first issue reveals the new team, the second issue puts them into action and exposes some problems, and the third issue explains and faces some of the changes, including superficial qualities like Radioactive Man's new suit, or the dramatic changes.

Love it or hate it, it's a decent read, and though seemingly slow paced, as an opening arc it seems to be taking very sure steps forward. Things should hopefully pick up by the second, as team dynamics begin to settle, motivations become clearer, and problems escalate outside of the parade of Z-list heroes.

One can't help but anticipate the in-house problems that will arise with guys like Bullseye on the team. A character who couldn't possibly remain on the team for much longer than a few years, guaranteed.

As for Jack Flag, it's a shame they crippled him. He actually seemed to have come out the end of a revamp looking like a strong prospect for a hero in the post-Captain America world. Maybe that's a little too Death of Superman for some, but I think it might have been nice.

Norman Osborn is looking better than he has in a while too. Hilarious ending!
Songbird apparently got herself a character too, which helps. Albeit, she stole it from Dr. Cameron from TV's House MD, but fair enough...

The Fight: 4.5 The Issue: 5.5

NEXT WEEK: Fin Fang Foom!

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