With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Artists: Fernando Blanco (#122-125), Roberto De La Torre (#126-129)
Issues: Thunderbolts (2006) #122-129
The biggest change in the Marvel status quo after Secret Invasion lie within Thunderbolts. I was eager to jump in with its tie-ins and see just how Norman Osborn (Green Goblin) would go from the leader of his own quirky villains-on-a-leash super team to leader of his own SHIELD-like government security force.
Osborn’s leadership cast a shadow over the entire Marvel universe in 2009, known as Dark Reign. First he had to manipulate events around the Secret Invasion in his favor, painting his team and technology as the main rescuers of the event. He used the Invasion to come out as a hero, and convince the American government that they needed to crack down on security – with Osborn in charge of course. The lead-up events in Thunderbolts are decently fun, but sadly feel the abrupt blow of multiple creative team shifts since the exemplary run of Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato.
The four issue Secret Invasion tie-ins present a much muddier, less detailed art style that immediately made me pine for Deodato’s phenomenal work in the previous collected volume. The story explains how the Thunderbolts crew escaped from the skrull-Captain Marvel attack on Thunderbolts Mountain – basically Norman Osborn just sits down and talks with the already confused and doubting alien.
Afterward the team packs up and goes to Washington D.C., where Osborn correctly presumes they can not only fight lots of skrulls, but do it while on camera and while protecting important monuments. At one point, Osborn actually stabs a skrull with the American Flag.
There’s the usual team tension that’s always threatening to divide them, especially since the insane events at the end of “Caged Angels.” Songbird and Radioactive Man are the few veteran Thunderbolts that predate Osborn’s takeover and really do want to redeem themselves. Moonstone and Swordsman are veterans but also still very manipulative and evil. Venom and Bullseye are completely evil and mostly insane, and present a constant problem for everyone else.
It’s a delicious team dynamic that makes the series fun, and this drama persists nicely during their war with the skrulls. Swordsman’s sister comes back mysteriously and everyone thinks she’s a skrull. Venom gets loose and looks like he’s going to kill a bunch of innocent people – then they turn out to be skrulls! And Songbird realizes that Norman has far grander plans than leader of the Thunderbolts.
In the main Secret Invasion story it’s revealed that Norman Osborn gets the final kill-shot on Skrull Queen Veranke, becoming the symbolic hero. Osborn quickly uses the spotlight to denounce Stark, the Avengers, and SHIELD. Eventually he sets up HAMMER, brings together a Cabal of supervillains, and creates a new team of Thunderbolts as his personal hit squad.
What does that mean for the old team? The aptly named “Burning Down the House” has Osborn and Moonstone pulling the switch to burn and dismantle the rest of the team. Songbird has been our primary protagonist since the beginning, and she’s an effective point of view for the dramatic events that explode around her.
Moonstone drugs Penance and has him locked up. Bullseye and Venom are both cut loose. Radioactive Man is deported back to China. Songbird is all alone and hunted, but she still gets the better of them by taking the Zeus plane and escaping in a fiery wreckage with a little help from Swordsman.
It’s a great way for a massive shift in story and roster, and the two-issue event leads into the next one, “Hammer Down,” starring Osborn negotiating for his new position with the President on Air Force One.
Here we really get to see what a brilliant mastermind Norman Osborn is, as he sets up an elaborate multi-pronged mid-air attack on the plane. Once again he paints himself as this grand patriotic hero, and cleverly has someone else wear the Green Goblin suit to further exonerate himself from the events of “Caged Angels.”
Roberto De La Torre’s artwork (which I recognized from his work on Iron Man: Director of SHIELD) is a lot darker and more shaded, a style I really enjoy. The action is explosive, and we’re introduced to the new Thunderbolts team of Headsman, Ant-Man, Ghost, Paladin, and Black Widow II in a pretty fun way.
Despite the fun events surrounding Norman Osborn’s rise and the former team’s complete dismantling, I’m not sure how on board I am with this suddenly all new crew of villains working for the government. I felt like the old team barely had enough time to get some real story and growth before the skrull-shit hit the fan, and now all these big changes may have completely changed what the Thunderbolts series is.
Or maybe I’m worrying for no reason, as the series would last for nearly fifty more issues, all the way into 2012! If anything the series has been able to successfully adapt to the craziness that is the constantly shifting Marvel Universe, and made Songbird one of my favorite heroines.