Thunderbolts #32 (Final Issue) and a look back at the series.
W: Acker and Blacker
In 2008 things were going well for the Hulk. He had just come off of one of the most well received and highly publicized runs in recent history that led to one of the more highly anticipated event (but ultimately disappointing) event comics of the past decade. With Hercules taking over his title and the ending of World War Hulk leaving the fate of the Hulk uncertain it was a cliffhanger that every fanboy was taking about. What came next was hyped around the web like nothing I had seen before regarding the Hulk – there was a new Hulk in town! And he was RED! The buzz surrounding this book was huge – and the sales didn’t disappoint as it sold through the roof! Even as long time Hulk fans and comic reviewers alike questioned the book’s substance the sales stayed steady (with help mainly from multiple covers to every issue) and people all over talked about how they loved the Red Hulk!
A good portion of fans of the real Hulk didn’t share the same sentiments – and it seemed that quite a few “die-hard” Red Hulk fans didn’t even read the actual book – it didn’t stop the Red Hulk from traversing all over the Marvel U. He was working with the Avengers, he even replaced the real Hulk in the event comics of the year (which I guess I should be thankful for) and his book sales seemingly couldn’t be stopped. Until they were…
By issue #24, when they stopped teasing about revealing his identity and finally showed us who he was, the readership had plummeted. No one cared anymore. The message boards were filled with reactions like “That’s still going on?” and “Is anyone really surprised?” It seemed as though the days of the Red Hulk’s soaring popularity were over. Loeb left the book – along with the real star of the book, McGuinness – and a new writer was brought on to keep his exploits going. Jeff Parker was suddenly writing the Hulk and you know what? It was good. I mean, really, really good! He made one of the most one-dimensional, least thought out, stylized characters of the Marvel U actually a joy to read! You wouldn’t know that by the sales though – they continued to dwindle. It always amazes me that people complain about the state of comics but don’t bother checking out titles that people rave over – unless they rebooted the book and they can get in on the ground floor at #1. Jeff Parker’s Red Hulk was great. But alas, the Red She-Hulk took over the title – a character I had absolutely NO interest in – and the book died a slow, quiet death.
But that was not all for the ill-christened “Rulk”, no, straight from the pages of the Red Hulk came a team that no one asked for! A team brought together for no other real reason than they all matched. Yeah – it’s important for a team not to clash when they are fighting crime! But you know what? It wasn’t terrible. Sure, people complained about the art style of Dillon being a little too bland for their tastes – they are entitled to their opinion of course, but I disagreed. I enjoy his style. People didn’t see too excited over the stories – but they didn’t complain about them either. To me, Thunderbolts should have been every real Hulk fan’s wet dream! Way brought back classic Hulk villains like Mercy and Madman – at the same time as dragging his now dullard brother Sam Sterns. Sure, I would have enjoyed seeing the Leader stay his true emerald color – but remember what I said about this whole team having to match and all…
The stories were good. Fun! They had some witty dialogue, they even made Deadpool, a character I loathe, an enjoyable part of the book! This was a testament to Way and what he was bringing to the table with the new “non-team” of Marvel. That title was always used for the Defenders – a group of heroes who were, far and away, loners – but worked together in times of crisis to bring down some big bads. This term could certainly apply to the Thunderbolts – while not all of them thought of as heroes – they were a group of loners who came together to take on the cases no one else could and try to do some good.
The book really hit its stride though at issue #12 when Soule took over the writing duties! He started to explore each of the teammates trust in others. Showing just where their weaknesses are in becoming a cohesive, cooperative team. Even better was Red decided to let every member choose to do the next mission – whatever they thought needed to be done the team would work to fixing it. Things didn’t even slow down with having to tie into the event of the year Infinity. Tying into an event can be disastrous for the flow of a story – but Soule handles things perfectly for this cast of misfits. So well that you worry where they could possibly go next. Well, sure enough the questioned is answered with the Ghost Rider coming into the fray to take down Mercy, who had inadvertently joined the team. Even then, the team wasn’t all flowers and ass-kicking – Venom suddenly decided to test the other members to see who could destroy him. All this time the Red Leader was both a help and a secret plotter on how to take every last member down. Week after week it was exciting, hilarious and action-packed! The Soule decided it was time to leave the title. Things went downhill fast.
His last outing with the crimson group had them trekking through the jungle going after a powerful force that was too much for anyone to handle. The entire arc started off a little wonky and only disintegrated from there with the Leader using the locals as a way to off the team – of course that didn’t work – and the Red Hulk being too secretive and sketchy about his past with the power they were seeking… it all seemed too rushed and certainly wasn’t the best swan song to put out after an enjoyable year or so of great stories. That said, new writers, Ben Acker and Blacker took over with a volatile group ready to destroy each other. Basically that’s what happened too. The Punisher wanted out – Red Hulk chose to let him leave the only way he saw fit – by trying to kill him – and it was all out war from there.
They say it was the Punisher vs Thunderbolts when in fact it was actually Sterns vs the rest of the team. The Red Leader finally put his re-acquired big brain to work in taking out the rest of the team with the Punisher as a distraction. The final issue shows us the Leader’s hard work has paid off. His deal with Mephisto has granted him everything he could ask for – including a front row seat to his brother’s unending torture in hell. There is one thing Sterns can’t seem to figure out though… matters of the heart. His lust blinds him to the fact that there is a traitor in his midst – and when the Thunderbolts come to collect – he is taken down by the one person he had been trying to impress.
Sort of fitting end to Sterns – who is taken to hell and I’m sure that’s not the last we’ll see of him (who knows, maybe he’ll come back his proper color too!). The book, in its hey-day, was one of the first I ripped into reading it with anticipation for what was to come. It ended with a thud – and it was Soule leaving that put the nail in the coffin, I think. Sure the book was never a big seller – but it was decent enough. If you were one of the ones who never picked up an issue, go out and take a look at this series… at least 1-23. Those who gave up on this book too early – it’s a shame – take another gander at the issues you missed. It’s so worth it! As for the later issues – they aren’t bad – they have their merits worth reading with an inkling of opportunities to grab its height of greatness back. Acker and Blacker did their best, I’m sure, but Soule was able to write Deadpool without making him a ridiculous, annoying twat – which is not easy to do – but he also made the other characters brooding and funny while at the same time a team you wanted to root for. Grade for final issue: C Grade for the series: B-