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.

 

Professor Seedy’s Weekly Progress Report 5.14.2014

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Title Art Story Character Originality Format Grade
2000AD #1881 + / + + + A-
Each well drawn and written six page exploitation is cheeky SciFi spliced with 20th century history tropes.
Abe Sapien #12 The Garden + + + + / A-
Hypnotizing southern gothic narrating us through the apcalyptic end times with an art style just as foreboding.
Action Comics #31 / + + + / B
Interesting duality between Superman and Doomsday and the morality of having blind faith in Superman.
After Life with Archie #05 + + + + + A
We’ve left our life in Riverdale and there’s none better to lead us away than Francavilla & Sacasa
All New Ghost Rider #03 + / D-
Beautiful action can’t rescue the bogged down pacing from the superfluous and pointless word balloons.
All New Ultimates #02 + + + + B
Despite half the book being an action scene, Ultimates proves we can still have intrigue and character development.
All New X Men #27 + + + / / B
Although we’re attacking the base again with excessive double page spreads, it still feels fresh and captivating.
Amelia Cole & The Enemy Unleashed / / / + / C
Slap & paste plot made it difficult to follow Amelia and her comrades.
Americas Army FCBD + F
Half the comic is a debriefing the other half was a reused issue while both lacked action.
Archer Coe & 1000 Natural Shocks 10 & 11 + + + + / A-
The pacing was smooth and each plot reveal and character development enhanced the mystery
Archie 655 + + + + + A
Suspending belief is rewarded with a fun romp through 50’s culture and Sci-Fi with some dashes of modern irony
Ash & the Army of Darkness 07 + / / / C-
Plot adds some to Ash’s past but it felt just as much of a throw away as this issue.
Astro City 12 + + + + + A
Wow, this was an excellent reminder of why we love stories about villains.
Atomic Robo & Friends FCBD + / + + / B
A quirky and fun Sunday Comic Strip style story
Avengers 29 + + + + / A-
A gripping Illuminati story which divides the pious Captain and the amoral Iron Man
Avengers Undercover 04 + + + + A-
Repercussions from killing Arcade is used to unveil human natures and individual identities.
Batgirl 31 / / / / / C-
Creepy action from rag doll wasn’t able to overshadow the awful melodrama
Bloodshot & Hard Corps + + + / / B
Surprising twists turns the issue into a captivating techno thriller when Bloodshot goes rogue.
Captain America 20 + / + C-
There’s some novelty with the Dream within a Dream trope otherwise it severely lacked any development
Captain Marvel 03 + + + + B
Complex cast and a dynamic plot that wonderfully balanced human emotion with a cosmic adventure.
Clive Barker’s Next Testament 09 / + + + / B
God moves in psychopathic ways and ends up being challenged by his chosen heralds.
Constantine 14 + / / / / C
Great artwork but the story had some tonal inconsistencies
Deadly Hands of Kung Fu + / D-
Great Kung Fu action couldn kick the awfully unoriginal story and characters into shape.
Deadpool 28 + + / / + B
Because of some Pokemon drop outs and Deadpool’s extravagance, the honeymoon turns into a fun and hot pursuit
Deadpool vs Carnage 03 + + / + B-
Instead of just grinding out the death toll the creative splatter and humor keep it from being monotonous.
Deceivers 05 / / / D-
Because the pacing is too quick for the deceit to sink in, the protagonist seem to have precognition or omniscience
Uncle Scrooge & Donald Duck FCBD + + + + + A
A great FCBD double whammy which has smart and memorable laughs
Epic 0 / / F
another bored and cliché millennial using superheroics as a form of escapism
Fables 140 + / / + / B-
Plenty of metafictional humor and irony to keep flipping the pages
Les Miserables Fall of Fantine + / + / + B
Magna art style compliments Fantines emotional tragedy
Federal Bureau of Physics 10 + + + + + A
Great character development which twists around reality warping machines and spooks
Gravel combat Magician 04 + / D-
Bloody awful english stereotype offensively gets in the way of his own story.
Green Lantern Corps 31 + / / / + B-
The pacing from the breakout and riot let’s the desperation and gravity slip through its fingers
Grimm Fairy Tales Annual 2014 / / + / / C
The story and artwork were bland and lacked any fantastical elements that make this series shine.
Robyn Hood Vol 3.4 / / + + / B-
Rich with needed character development from introspection and plot twists
The Dark One + + + / B-
A god and mortal romance which twists various Fairy tales and religious mythology together.
Hellboy In Hell 06 + + + + + A
Art & writing create a world full of myths, characters, and humor which prompt to be reread multiple times
Iron Man 25 + + + / + A-
A well pace and excellent beat down which put the fear back into Malekithe
Jack Kraken / + / + / B-
Action cop with squid arms shoots ghosts and zebra people. Why not?
JailBait / / / D-
A counterproductive finale and sexist artwork finish off a story about sex trafficing.
Judge Dredd + / + C-
Campy but creative fight sequences emerge while fighting the dark judges
Justice League United 01 + / + + + A-
An alien super baby with three tentacle nipples & other unexpected surprises from this cheeky group
Krampus 05 + / + + / B
This tale has been wrapped up with a nice little bow on top. Hope to see them next fall.
Minimum Wage 05 + + + + + A
Our favorite everyday man is getting back in the saddle while facing ultra relatable insecurities & awkward situations.
Miss Fury 11 + + + + + A
A self contained time stepping and mind bending adventure of what makes Miss Fury tick
New Avengers 18 + + + + + A
Illuminati weight the moral consequences of saving their own universe by destroying other universes and fighting superheros.
Nightcrawler 02 / + / / C-
Go exploring in Kurt & Amanda’s past before tripping in some major plot holes.
Quantum & Woody 10 + + + + + A
Another clever adventure of Woody bumbling and sucker punching his way through dating, robbing, and being an awful brother.
Secret Avengers 03 + + + + + A
Ales Kot finally delivers a twisted and fun brain hemorrhage which Kot is know for.
United States of Murder Inc + / / + + B
What if the mafia won alt history with just enough character development and plot to hook us in.
Superboy 31 + + + / / B
This is an electrifying and witty fun ride.

Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) Review

Captain_America618-618x400Directors:

Anthony RussoJoe Russo

Writers:

Christopher Markus (screenplay), Stephen McFeely(screenplay)

During the early years of Marvel, the global threat focused on weaponizing radiation testing and atomic bombs. Marvel summed up this fear with their rampaging Hulk. However, that fear has been diminished while a new fear focusing on surveillance and terrorism has grown. The writers of Winter Soldier understood this shift thus they modernized Marvel’s threats to match the current global state. Because over arching surveillance diminishes people’s privacy and freedom, it made sense why this was Captain America’s story. After all, the First Avenger only fights for his beliefs in freedom and justice.

Previously, Marvel bumped against this ideology during the Iron Man series. Stark Industries earned its fortune by manufacturing state of the art military grade weapons. After the invention of the Mach IV, Iron Patriot, and War Machines suits. The moral dilemma develops which question whether or not any government body should have access to this technology. Captain America: Winter Soldier answers the question through a domino effect. Through backdoors, governments are providing known terrorist organizations with military technology. The terrorist use this technology to create terror and chaos. This prompts other governments to use and develop more surveillance technology as a form of counter terrorism. The transparency this surveillance creates not only provides a suspect list but also diminishes privacy and freedom for everyone else. This becomes even more apparent when the suspect list is turned into a kill list for military drones. This is the antagonism of Winter Soldier.

Although most comic book movies have a clearly defined villain, it actually makes more sense for Winter Soldier to take this approach. Yes, there is the Winter Soldier, but as one can see he is merely one cog in the machine. Writers often make a mistake of throwing a more powerful doppelganger at their protagonist. This direct approach will often create forgettable antagonist. Instead, it’s better to have an antagonist who directly challenges the ideology the hero represents. This more dynamic threat is no longer a simple can the hero survive. Not only was every action scene beautifully choreographed, but also each fight usually ended with a hero limping or crawling away. They weren’t just trying to defeat their opponent but also trying to escape with their lives. Furthermore, because this is a story that revolves around deception, the protagonists never knew who the enemy was until it was too late. This dynamic will create tension because it now makes one wonder how much will be affected when the day is over and the dust settles. By the time the credits roll, it’s clear everything in the Captain’s world changes.

In addition, the production was highly detailed and orchestrated. For example, the sniper shots were brilliant pieces of cinema. First the tension would be primed with the gunshot followed by the cold industrial Winter Soldier theme. This would be followed by confusing POV camera angles which never clearly focus on where the sniper was shooting from. This combined with each shot always hitting the highest priority person created a well executed scene which accurately represents the Winter Soldier and his level of threat.

The actors all delivered top performances both physically and emotionally. There are quite a few instances where their actions and physical endurance was indeed super soldier like. It’s surprising they weren’t huffing and puffing after every twenty seconds just on the one take which made it to film. It’s hard to imagine them keeping this pace up all day. Then, these actors were also able to project the full emotional spectrum. For instance, Scarlett Johansson could make the audience laugh to breaking their hearts within one short scene.

Finally, not only was Marvel able to follow up Dark Knight but also they were able to push beyond and set the new standard for comic book movies. Although they both touched upon similar themes, the amount of depth and quality in Winter Soldier made Dark Knight seem much more shallow and less daring. From top to bottom, Marvel was able to create a super hero world which carried resonance with its beautiful set production, top notch acting, and mature storytelling. Thank you Marvel for finally making a movie for us comic book lovers.