Thunderbolts: Faith in Monsters (Review)

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Writer: Warren Ellis

Warren Ellis once wrote a haunting Thunderbolt’s story arc called Faith in Monsters. This story tied directly into the Marvel’s Civil War era. Marvel’s United States had been rocked by the Superhuman registration act. This law required all vigilantes to “unmask” themselves and register their identities with the government. Because this paralleled with similar laws of Nazi Germany, a schism formed between Captain America and Iron Man which lead to Captain America’s assassination by Bucky Barnes. During this time, Norman “Green Goblin” Osborn has been given the chance by Tony Stark to form a new team of Thunderbolts. They are given the task of enforcing the mutant registration act. This is the context Warren Ellis’ new incarnation of Thunderbolts takes place. The Thunderbolts are a team unlike other Marvel Teams because its ranks only include B-list villains. Ellis version is no different. This team is comprised of Venom, Songbird, Penance, Moonstone, Radioactive Man, Swordman, and Bullseye while having Green Goblin as its director. However, unlike other incarnations of this team or other antihero mashups, Warren Ellis’ team is brutal and uncompromising. Warren Ellis style of writing often incorporates real world psychological profiles for his characters, and that style adds an extra element of horror to this story arc. Each member has their own unique sociopathic identity which are all revealed over the course of interviews with each member of the team. Bullseye achieves a rush of euphoric emotions whenever he kills no matter who it is or the reason why he does it. This creates a perverse and godlike affinity which is also void of any sense of morality. Then there’s the Swordsman who crafted a fetish by wrapping the hilt of his sword with his dead sister’s flesh. With this incestuous tinged belief that this bond grants him power, the sword is used to slay his victims. Moonstone is a psychologist who is a master of manipulation and had made several of her patients commit suicide for her own sadistic enjoyment. The masochist Penance wears a suit similar to an iron maiden and believes his power stems from the pain he inflicts upon himself. Venom’s description of his relationship with his symbiotic alien sounds similar to a burnt out junkie describing their need for angel dust, complete with the homicidal rampages balanced with feelings of inadequacies and paranoia. Then there’s Songbird who would be simple B-list superhero if it wasn’t for her attraction towards genocidal psychopaths like Baron Zemo. What’s interesting is how Ellis is able to pull the reader into the morbid and oppressive world of these killers. These are all psychological profiles pulled from real life serial killers, which have been featured on countless news programs. What is worse is Norman Osborn is the puppetmaster of these sociopaths. It’s a what if tale about someone like Hemler having control over an elite military unit comprised of people like Ted Bundy, Albert Fish, and Charles Manson. So why does the U.S. Government allow such a situation to happen in the first place? It’s the old fallacy of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. After all, who would know how to challenge the Masks better than the villains? As the story progresses Ellis uses his FIX news broadcast to make satirical comments about the governments morally questionable decisions and how its laws affect the citizens it claims to protect. One section highlights how S.H.I.E.L.D. renamed Superheroes as Unregistered Combatants. This is similar to the real world example of the C.I.A. arbitrary use of Freedom Fighters versus Terrorists. This sounds like a hard pill to swallow for millions of Americans who have been saved countless times over the years by people like Captain America and Spider Man. However, Ellis rips a page from Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop, and he employs the use of news sensationalism and marketing as weapons against the Superhero community. For example, interspersed among the news segments are toy commercials promoting the Thunderbolts. This along with the government’s bias spin in their public statements assures the public that these unregistered combatants are a threat to American citizens. Now, it’s quite natural for the readers to feel the dissonance between themselves and the oppressive and villainous regime. In order to make this story connect, Warren Ellis also employs C-list superheroes such as American Eagle, Jack Flag, Steel Spider and ShadoWoman. These are the if you blink you may miss them heroes of Marvel’s continuity. Why use these heroes instead of the VIPs we’re all use to? While Captain America and company carry an aura of fame, C list heroes are everyday nobodies from Main Street. This allows us to see how the moral weight of such laws like the Registration Act would burden everyday people. American Eagle is a retired hero who is lured into stopping his community forming a lynch mob, ShadoWoman is a heartbroken metahuman simply trying to find a source of income, and Steel Spider is a lonely but disturbed individual with an answering machine full of messages from worried loved ones and obsessive bill collectors. Not only does each one have relatable personalities, but also each one is morally challenged with doing what is right versus breaking the law. For example, Jack Flag and his wife Lucy are a lower class couple struggling to survive in their urban neighborhood. Jack and Lucy witness a gang harassing a female victim, and we’re lead to believe this isn’t the first time they’ve witnessed this gang commit such atrocities on women. If someone was to call the cops, they wouldn’t reach this part of the ghetto in time, even if they did bother to show up. Although Jack Flag’s glory days are long gone, Jack Flag isn’t going to stand idly by in fear of the consequences and watch another innocent become victimized. After all, everyone probably is or knows someone who has reached out or intervened in a situation in hopes of stopping a violent escalation. Therefore, Jack is no different than any of the readers, and this is when Ellis finally humanizes the story. Before Ellis could reveal the first heroic moment of the series, the readers had to understand that the consequence is being hunted down by government sanctioned sociopaths. Jack Flag is no different. After witnessing a well paced and beautifully illustrated stand off between Jack Flag and the Thunderbolts, Jack Flag is left paralyzed and sent to a Guantanamo Bay for masks. Although this is a traumatizing moment, Ellis goes on to sprinkle some dashes of hope on top of the bleak nihilism. Remember no matter how much the readers want to cheer for the underdog superhero, the chilling fact remains this is a Thunderbolts series. By incorporating different writing styles and capitalizing on the medium, Warren Ellis crafted an ageless political commentary.

 

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What if DC Presents the Inevitable Return of Wolverine?

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In September 2014, comicbook readers are going to see The Death of Wolverine which follows the current Wolverine series Three Months to Die. Charles Soule will be spearheading The Death of Wolverine arc which will conclude with the Legacy of Logan. Previously, Fatal Attractions ripped adamantium from his bones, Battle of the Atom recently took away Logan’s healing factor, and Jason Aaron at one point turned Wolverine into a Marvelized Dante and sent Wolverine to Hell and Heaven. However, we’ve yet to experience Wolverine being killed off in such a way that merit a macabre six month long marketing campaign. After all, why not? What else are writers supposed to do with an invulnerable super soldier other than hack up the aforementioned plot devices? We’ve already created doppelgangers in the form of Daken, his son, and Sabertooth, his sometimes relative, just to have Wolverine kill them again and again.

So why should we care? As comicbook readers should know, ever since Superman came back to life no hero has ever stayed dead. Unless you’re a civilian or a love interest, it has become an unspoken rule that heroes will come back again and again no matter how many times we confirm the dead body. Currently, we’re looking at it taking three months for Logan to begin dying, another month before we declare him dead, then another two months of talking about Logan being dead before Logan will most likely come back from the dead.

Or, will he? There are some conspirators out there who think this is the start of canceling the X titles altogether. This is stemmed from the announcement that Marvel is currently making plans to cancel the Fantastic Four series in September. One of the possible rumors behind the cancellation is to snub the licensing agreement between Fox and Marvel. By the way, Fox is the same studio who is responsible for the X Men franchise. In addition, rumors from undisclosed sources say writers and artists are no longer allowed to make new characters for the X titles. The reason being that it will give Fox more creative properties to potentially work with in future movie installments. Despite Brian Michael Bendis dispelling these rumors with reason and logic, he doesn’t completely address all the issues. In fact, in a recent interview Bendis contributes the success of Marvel to the Ultimate Marvel titles and Sony’s Spider Man Trilogy. However, Fox’s X Men also coincided with this time frame. It is unclear what naïve deal Marvel made with Fox while going through bankruptcy, but give credit where credit is due.

What if DC Presents the Death of Wolverine: Legacy of Logan? For those of you who are out of the loop Charles Soule in recent years had done a phenomenal run on Swamp Thing and Superman/Wonder Woman and the best parts of Forever Evil’s Villain Month were usually penned by Charles Soule. Now, it isn’t unusual for us to see creators consistently bounce back and forth between the big two. However, each issue of Legacy of Logan has a different creative team which consists of Charles Soule, Ray Fawkes, James Tynion IV, Kyle Higgins,Marguerite Bennett, and Tim Seely. This may seem odd because this is the same creative team who is currently behind DC’s major crossover events, Batman Eternal and DC’s Future’s End. Currently, Marvel is backing this event with a great deal of marketing. In fact, Marvel crossovers are mainly done by their in house writers and staff. Doesn’t it seem hypocritical to pull properties because they don’t want to support their competitors; meanwhile, they’re hiring the competitors talent pool? Now, the reason I find this simply amazing isn’t because I believe that Charles Soule is a not-so-secret double agent who is currently administrating a coup against the Marvel HQ in the name of DC. Hail Hydra … err I mean rather, What If this is setting us up for another DC/Marvel crossover which will be used to bring Logan & Co. back from the dead? Previously, when creative teams jump back and forth between the big two it wasn’t long before we’d see this exact team up. Although I’ve grown tired of the industry killing off popular characters in order to make a quick buck like they were some gun for hire, I have to admit every team up needs some sort of motivational factor and maybe this is as good as any. 

Is this Marvel event the beginnings to a Big 2 Crossover Event, is this another blow to Fox, or is it simply a gimmick? Only time will tell.