Catching Up With… Thunderbolts!

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Thunderbolts #20-22
W: Charles Soule
A: Carlo Baberi & Israel Silva

My overwhelming “to read” pile was tackled last night – I caught up with Indestructible Hulk and Thunderbolts.  I will review the Indestructible Hulk when they finish this Inhumanity story line – but for now – I have time to review the Thunderbolts for you!  If you follow my blog then you know I have been enjoying this series – it’s not amazingly well written – but it’s a fun, enjoyable ride.  It’s most outstanding feat is that it is able to make some of the worst Marvel creations, like Red Hulk and Deadpool, and some of the more bland characters, like Flash Thompson Venom, and make them not just tolerable but actually entertaining!  I started reading this book for the lost Hulk rouges gallery that has been popping up in this series, ie; Madman, Leader and Mercy – and continued to read it because it readily amused me.  The most admirable thing about this team is that is seemed like an organic creation stemming from the terrible “Code Red” arc from when Red had his own title.  I say this mainly because we’re in a day and age when it seems Marvel isn’t interested in telling compelling stories that actually follow any kind of continuity and they seem to feel the only numbered milestone for any of their books to reach is #1 as they continue to reboot and renumber.

This writers who tackle this series seem to know how to make Thunderbolts work – even if it’s not a chart topper – it is a fun read.  I think this sort of allows for them to just dip back into Marvel history and pull some classic villains out who can whale on the members of this “non-team”.  These characters grouping together remind me very much of classic Defenders stuff – where the members not only don’t like each other – they don’t care to keep working together past their agreed upon promise to do one thing for each member.  I’ve also been impressed with the seamless integration into the forced Marvel events that have littered the stands.  The Infinity side story was well done and didn’t feeling like a waste of time.  It pushed the story forward as well as dealt with the major event happening in the MU.  So, while I have been voraciously reading each issue I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of Ghost Rider coming riding into the fray.

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I like Ghost Rider, don’t get me wrong, but each of these character’s personalities bounce of each other so well thus far, to add in a new character could be disastrous.  Like, Chrissy being added to Growing Pains disastrous.  We start off catching up with Johnny Blaze trying to pick up the pieces of his life after his failed movie career by doing Evil Knievel type stunts.  Of course, he isn’t successful so why not go with Red Hulk and his crimson cronies to do some sketchy voodoo to rid the Earth of Mercy.  As things always do though – the plan does not go off without a hitch and it lands everyone – sans Punisher and Elektra – into Hell.  They run into Mephisto who, since being booted off the throne of Hell, is not as intimidating.  Enlisting the help of the Thunderbolts (with Leader drawing up the particulars) he asks that they boot the current resident out of the chair so that he may once again reside as the #1 in Hell.  Turns out though – the guy on the throne is Strong Man.  Yeah… THAT Strong Man.

Here is where I was thrown for a but of a loop in this series – with how much the writers have been faithful to bringing back the Hulk foes of yesteryear I was sure they were gearing up for a re-match with Ross and the Abomination.  I was truly disappointed that Guido was the man on the throne and not Emil.  This was a wasted opportunity to have the creature responsible for the death of Ross’ daughter confront his killer on a bigger, massive scale.  We all know Blonsky is in Hell – thanks to Pak’s Incredible Hulk #618 (tie in with the Chaos War) – so it would have made the most sense to have him there.  But not a word.  This was the biggest misstep I think this series has taken.  Otherwise it’s been a blast.

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I won’t say much more – the finale of this arc is a bit predictable but still worth the read – and when Ghost Rider decides to stay and join the group, and to fit in turn his flaming head red, I did laugh out loud.  Overall, if you’re still not reading this series that’s a darn shame – because you’re missing out on the Red Hulk actually utilized in a decent way.

As it is, I have to accept that the Leader will continue to be red – but one of the major issues with the Red Hulk in general is that he was not fleshed out as a character before he hit the printed page and ignored the basic rule that has been standing since the Hulk’s inception – which is that the Hulk was an anomaly – one that hadn’t been able to be reproduced… ever!  All of a sudden Sterns figured it out and turned EVERYONE into a Hulk – but we were told in the earliest stages (with the creation of the Leader, mind you) that gamma rays affect everyone differently.  Let’s even say that the Leader did unlock the key to making a Hulk – and realized how to make a more powerful Hulk by combining the power cosmic with the gamma rays – so why didn’t Sterns get those powers?  I am talking the unexplained “absorbing” power and more that Red showed off in the beginning – but has seemed to lose for no reason – since.  These are the things I have to over look, major plot holes from the beginning that were never explained, insulting additions contributed by Loeb that were never really corrected, while reading this series.  And I am able to because it’s so good.

Grade: B+

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