Saturday, August 30, 2008

Thunderbolts #123 Review

Writers: Christos N. Gage
Penciller: Fernando Blanco

Marvel's most disfunctional superhero team finally gets involved in the Secret Invasion by attacking the Skrulls in Washington. In doing so, they provide us with one of the most fun superhero comics to be written in recent years, and Gage shows us that he has complete understanding of the Thunderbolts franchise after only two issues. At the end of Secret Invasion #1, Captain Marvel attacked Thunderbolts Mountain, but instead of killing the Thunderbolts, Norman Osborn uses a little pop psychology to undermine his confidence. From the Captain Marvel comic, we know that te Skrull Captain Marvel's encoding didn't quite work, and he really believed he is Captain Marvel. Delivering a great line, "I know something about not being sure if you're really pink...or green", Osborn persuades him to instead attack his own Skrull allies.

One of the nice thing about Gage's run, as opposed to Ellis's run, is that Gage seems to be having a lot of fun with the idea of supervillains in charge, whereas Ellis's run sometimes came across as cynical and even a little mean spirited. Here, the characters are gleefully sociopathic, working together partly because they have to and partly because it's fun. Almost every character is completely off their rocker, but Gage has the remarkable ability to make is seem as though the team and even the effectiveness of the team make perfect sense. Osborn comes across as an incredibly effective leader, even (or especially) of madmen, whose broken psychology makes them easier to manipulate than ordinary people with complex desires. Pulling out an automatic rife, he declares "We're at war", and they head into battle.

The battle is, quite simply, hilarious. Penance of course inflicts pain on himself in order to destroy a Skrull ship. Osborne decides to ram one of the Skrull ships, which may not be the tactically most sound decision, but is certainly the most fun. Venom is dropped into a sea of Skrulls, and of course enjoys eating as many of them as he possibly can, but may end up eating some civilians as well. Bullseye acts like he's a little kid in an arcade game, and is happy for the chance to have an "unsupervised field trip" in which he can murder as many Skrulls (and even some of Osborn's troops) as possible. Everyone is utterly convinced that Swordsman's sister is a Skrull, but they let it pass because they are useful in the fight. Radioactive Man nearly explodes. Moonstone decides to betray humanity in exchange for power. Finally, Osborne sees a bunch of Spider Clones, and the maniacal Green Goblin laugh returns as he prepares to lose his mind again, which seems to happen on a regular basis.

While Grant Morisson is exploring the depths of evil and its meaning in Final Crisis, Gage here is examining the other side. He is making evil fun. Somehow, though, he manages to avoid the mean-spirited satire of books like Preacher or even Ellis's run, and instead manages to turn the chaotic nature of sociopaths into the premise for a truly manic glee. The madness of the Thunderbolts has been fully unleashed, and seeing each character rampaging about, doing more damage to the Skrulls than anyone else gives the same sense of fun that one has when destroying sandcastles or knocking over blocks. Somehow, this book isn't mean-spirited. Gage loves writing this book, and it comes across on every page.

I also want to compliment Blanco's art. He has a lot of fun drawing alien technology and high-tech backgrounds, and there is plenty of opportunity to do that here. He provides a real sense of the layout inside Osborne's ship, for example, and it comes across as a real place. The characters are well drawn, and the cackly look on Bullseye's face is classic. I have two little quibbles, though. Is Moonstone supposed to look completely naked from behind? I know her suit is white, but there is more than one scene where I had to do a bit of a double-take because the lighting makes it look like she's wearing no clothing. Also, Blanco seems a little uncomfortable with architecture, and even though they are fighting in a city, there are few buildings. In the large spreadpage, you'll notice that he carefully puts any buildings behind alien ships, while the most visible part of the ground is a field.

This is one of the best Thunderbolts comics in years. I can't remember enjoying one as much since the origin story of Radioactive Man a few years ago. Gage is having an absolute blast writing the characters and I am having just as much fun reading about them.

A-

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