Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Waiting for the Trade - Thunderbolts


Waiting for the Trade

New Thunderbolts (vol 1): One Step Forward
written by Kurt Busiek & Fabian Nicieza, art by Tom Grummett
collects New Thunderbolts #1-6
 

Why I Bought This: I generally enjoy the Thunderbolts and this book features a team line-up I particularly enjoyed in another trade I read so I figured I’d grab the start of that era.
 

The Plot: Mach IV (Beetle) starts up a new team of Thunderbolts and they try to fill the void left by the disbanding of the Avengers (in “Avengers: Disassembled”).

(spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – Beetle is released from prison and promises to start a new T-Bolts team. Two months later he approaches Songbird about rejoining; as she is semi-retired from heroics and going to college since the prior version of this team disbanded.  Also the romantic relationship between these two is on the rocks since then. Abe claims he met some white collar inmates during his prison stay and got them to agree to finance the new team. Songbird checks out the new headquarters where Atlas is working as mechanic since losing his powers in the last series. He also mentions that he and Dallas broke up since that series ended. They also mourn Hawkeye’s death in “Avengers’ Disassembled.” We meet a new recruit: Blizzard v2.0 (an Iron Man villain whose costume gives him powers similar to Ice Man.) The chit chat is interrupted by an emergency alert when Fathom Five attack NYC. They are apparently a bunch of Namor villains—the only one I recognize is their leader Llyron, who is Namor’s illegitimate son via Llyra and who usurped the Atlantean throne in the 90s in perhaps the best Namor story I’ve ever read. Anyway they fight with Blizzard feeling a bit overwhelmed when he has to take on a sea monster. Captain Marvel v3.0 (a.k.a. Legacy, the original’s son) arrives to lend a hand (and hit on Songbird). Legacy wins the fight but when he refuses to follow orders Atlas becomes enraged causing his powers to return. He then pummels Legacy and throws him into the ocean unseen by his teammates. Atlas claims the escaping Atlanteans KO’d and kidnapped Legacy while withholding that his powers are back. In the cliffhanger we learn Abe’s financial backer is Baron Strucker (founder of Hydra).

Chapter 2 – We join a battle between the T-Bolts and the Wrecking Crew in progress. The T-Bolts are doing fine when Speed Demon arrives and finishes off Wrecker for them. He then asks to join, having worked with Beetle in the Sinister Syndicate. We learn a little about the dynamic between Beetle and Strucker. We see that Purple Man has the Thunderbolts under surveillance and that he saw Atlas kill Legacy. Cut to the UN where Namor is disavowing the actions of Fathom Five. The T-Bolts arrive and demand Namor help them track down the villains. Before that can proceed they are interrupted by an attack by the Great Game (obscure post-Clone Saga Scarlet Spider villains who treat life like a videogame). Namor, the T-Bolts and Mr. Fantastic unite to fight the villains and win with relative ease; however, the villains’ (unseen) boss activates the self destructs in the armors of the unconscious Gamers. With time running out Joystick (the only Gamer still awake as she was captured in one of Snowbird’s sonic constructs) agrees to help Reed deactivate the bombs if the T-Bolts will take her in. Even with her help the bomb explodes. 

Chapter 3 – Songbird’s force field saved the heroes inside the building but now it is collapsing. Atlas grows to hold it up, while Blizzard and Speed Demon work on putting out a fire inside. Beetle, Spider-man and Code Blue arrive and help civilians on the outside from falling debris. Reed discovers the explosion had radiation in it. Things are getting dire as Songbird is losing her voice, Atlas is growing taller than is safe and the radiation is shorting out his ionic powers, Blizzard’s armor is leaking Freon and Mach-IV’s armor is damaged by a chunk of building. Abe calls Strucker and gets him to send Radioactive Man to the scene to drain the radiation. This gives the heroes inside time to have Joystick and Reed clear a path to the outside that everyone else can escape through. Damage Control stabilizes the building and in the aftermath various Thunderbolts go the hospital having earned the respect of the veteran heroes present. In the epilogue Strucker begins to wonder if the T-Bolts could actually threaten his plans when he is ambushed by a new Swordsman (v4.0 I think) who stabs Strucker through the chest.

Chapter 4 – Wolverine has been brainwashed by Hydra, who are apparently having a civil war. The faction controlling Wolvie have sent him to Strucker’s HQ to kill the Baron. Strucker meanwhile removes the sword from his chest. They then have a sword fight which Swordsman is winning but Strucker can take the blows (as he obviously has some healing/immorality thing going on I was unaware he possessed). Swordsman plans to decapitate Strucker figuring that will get the job done but then Strucker reveals his blood contains a “death spore” virus that could kill all of NYC if it was released into the air. Just then Wolverine arrives. Meanwhile, the T-Bolts enjoy some downtime after last issue. Speed Demon, Joystick & Blizzard want to go party but Abe nixes that because they have outstanding warrants. Atlas visits Songbird in the hospital. Some fishermen find a glowing pod with a man in it off the coast of NJ. Back to the action, Swordsman engages Wolverine and uses an electric sword to stun him. Wolvie shakes it off and reveals he doesn’t care if killing Strucker also kills NYC. We see Purple Man is watching the fight. Strucker steps in and uses his cyborg hand to defeat Wolvie. He then throws him off the building but Swordsman makes the save with a web-line from his sword. Wolvie recovers and recognizes Swordsman’s scent (but we are not told his identity). Whoever Swordsman is Wolverine ‘has never liked him’ but the two part ways without further combat. We learn Swordsman works for Purple Man. Back at T-Bolt HQ Speed Demon’s trio go to a strip club after Abe is called to meet his parole officer, who happens to be Carol Danvers. He tries to get her to clear the criminals on his team for membership when Fathom Five’s sea serpent attacks the Brooklyn Bridge.

Chapter 5 – Carol (Ms Marvel/Warbird) engages Fathom Five while Abe calls his team to respond. He only gets in touch with Atlas and Radioactive Man. Fathom Five defeat Warbird but Atlas arrives to fight the monster. He’s doing okay until the other villains take out his legs. Abe decides he has to help even without his armor but that goes poorly for him. Fortunately Speed Demon arrives to make the save then in a funny bit races back to the strip club before anyone sees he was there to help. Atlas is raging out of control again and kills the Sea Monster. A package arrives for Abe but before he can open it Llyron corners him. This time Radioactive Man arrives in the nick of time to make the save. Abe dons his old Beetle armor and joins the battle. Just as the Thunderbolts are mopping that crisis up Hydra makes an attack on the city.   

Chapter 6 – Hydra has its own version of the Hellicarrier and dozens of plane sized UFOs for the attack. Atlas takes the lead while Radioactive Man wakes up Carol. Beetle radio’s Strucker, who reveals he only funded the T-Bolts so there would be heroes to oppose him as he wants to instill maximum terror when he destroys NYC and he felt it would be more effective if a group superheroes failed to stop the attack for all the world to see; with the Avengers disbanded he decided to create the Thunderbolts figuring they would never be able to stop his plans. He further reveals he was the one who set the Wrecking Crew and Great Game on them just so he could see them in action to be prepared for this final battle while also increasing the public’s faith in the T-Bolts by having them save the UN. We get a quick montage of other heroes like the New Warriors, Power Pack, Spider-man and Captain America joining the fight against the rank and file Hydra across the city; while the Thunderbolts unite (including the three members from the strip club) to take on the Hydra-carrier. Also during the montage the glowing pod from chapter 4 hatches and the occupant heads to the battle. Atlas and Joystick bring down the Hydra-carrier so Strucker detonates a nuclear bomb. Radioactive Man absorbs it but the effort KOs him. Strucker has 14 more nukes set to detonate simultaneously. Speed Demon and Blizzard are dispatched to freeze them all but only get to 13 of them before Blizzard’s suit runs out of Freon. The last nuke detonates just as Legacy returns and he absorbs the energy, then announces his new codename is Photon as the City unites behind the Thunderbolts as their new heroes.
 

Critical Thoughts: I love this book. This is everything I want a comic book to be. I particularly enjoy the peripherals and how it’s written but let’s talk about the core of the book first.

The team itself is a really good collection of characters. Beetle has never been written better as he steps into the leadership role here. Songbird and Atlas are mainstays of the T-Bolts and remain as interesting as ever, particularly the new subplot of Atlas’s powers increasing while making him more irrational. I really like the character of Legacy and have since his first appearance (plus I’ve been working my way through his original series by Peter David and it’s a lot of fun too) so he’s a welcome addition to the team; which is something I would say of all the new members. Speed Demon, Joystick and Blizzard all bring a new dynamic to the team, needed as the original version had become a little too run of the mill near the end. This returns some of the tension of who really wants to reform and who doesn’t. Ditto Radioactive Man, as I think this was the first time the idea that he is a hero in China and only considered a villain in the U.S. was introduced. Right off the bat this is a book that has clear voice of who and what it is about.

Aside from that I love the way it uses the larger Marvel Universe to enhance the story it tells. I like that we see all these other heroes and not just big names like Spidey and Wolverine who help sell books, but quick throw-away panels of Power Pack or Code Blue just to show that the Marvel Universe is filled with heroes who would respond to a major catastrophe. I like the villains they chose and more to the point how they were presented. Marvel has hundreds of villains, we don’t need to see the same 30 or so as the only major threats and everyone else defeated as an off-panel joke. Namor and Scarlet Spider don’t have books anymore fine, but their villains can still show up to cause trouble once in awhile. I’d add the T-Bolts having trouble against these minor characters proved very effective to show the new team still learning how to work together. I like the continuity shout outs from the 80s like Namor hating Atlas because of what he did to Hercules in the Masters of Evil or Speed Demon and Beetle acknowledging they were on short-lived team together. I like the subplots involving future threats--something that is often lost in this writing for the trade era—Purple Man is in the background spying and making plans in this trade and we don’t know what they are yet; and I’m okay with that. Comics used to do this all the time setting up future threats for a page or two while the hero dealt with the current crisis of the month. It’s nice to see some good old-fashioned comic book stories in a new millennium book.

A quick note the art: it was very good all around in both action scenes and panel layouts. Everything flows really well. There’s a lot of tension in the UN building collapsing chapter and in the final battle Hydra thanks to the art. The visuals of Atlas and the scale of his expanding powers were also conveyed quite impressively .  So kudos to Tom Grummett.
 

Grade A. I loved this and I have every intention of tracking down all the other trades from this title.

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