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Thunderbolts #76 By Matt Martin
Marvel Comics – John Arcudi (w); Francisco Ruiz Velasco (a)
Here’s the basic fact of this book, the way I see it: Thunderbolts is the new X-Force.
Now, the real question is, what the hell do I mean by that?
I’m not implying that Thunderbolts has been transformed into a work of pop culture satire like Milligan and Allred’s relaunch of X-Force was. Instead, I would suggest that much like the relaunched X-Force had little or nothing in common with the previous version, this new direction for Thunderbolts shares no common ground with its first seventy-five issues. The title is the only similarity between the two.
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Marvel spent a lot of time hyping up the new direction as “Fight Club with superpowers,” but I’m not sure that that’s an entirely accurate description. A better one, in my opinion, would have been comparing the book to Snatch. The use of desperation as a driving force behind the plot is common between both stories, as well as the seedy underworld scene of bare-knuckle boxing, though without any of the light-hearted, caper-esque feel of that movie.
Daniel Axum, a one-time villain known at The Battler, has been released back into the world after a stay in the penitentiary. Living with his mother, he does his best to assimilate himself back into the everyday world, though the world’s fixation on superheroes does little to help him forget his past misdeeds. As well, his mother’s desire to be helpful manifests through her tendency to save newspaper clippings that recorded his defeat by Spider-Man, thinking that reminding him of how bad things were will help him realize that he’s better off having left his old life behind. It is a ploy that, predictably, falls on its face.
Meanwhile, across town, Rey Trueno and his partner, Coach Cady, run an underground fight scene that is populated solely by those of the metahuman variety. Cady devotes most of his time to the training and management of one fighter, a Killer Croc-like fellow called The Armadillo, named so because of his hunched posture and body-covering leathern armor. While the ‘Dillo, as he is called, is still winning, it is clear that the fight has gone out of him, so to speak. The results of his last fight of the issue, one with a bestial character known only as the Monster, are never clearly revealed, though the end does not bode well for Armadillo as the Monster is quicker than he and feeds on the anger of his opponents.
Back in Axum’s neck of the woods, it becomes harder and harder to escape his past. Working construction through some pulled favors, his foreman will not allow him to live down his reputation for abnormal strength. Why bring in a crane and crew to haul out a bulldozer that’s fallen down a ravine when Axum can simply pull it out himself? And what matter if it’s Axum’s lunch break? He’s only on the site as a favor anyway and he needs the job to maintain his parole, so he can stand a little extra work. These are the lines of thought that harass Axum day after day while on the job.
It is obvious from page one that Axum will be, in some way, involved in Trueno’s fights (I mean, why have him in the book if he’s not going to fight at some point?). So the conclusion shouldn’t come as a shock, but Arcudi manages to pull a surprise out in the final page in regards to the manner in which Cady does his recruiting. Clearly, there’s more to the Coach that would seem to meet the eye.
In the end, Thunderbolts isn’t a bad read. In my opinion, it’s not terribly original, since its influences in film are pretty overt. But Arcudi does do a good job conveying the sense of frustration that going straight representing for these washed-up crooks. The concept itself is something of a change of pace from the typical Marvel book. While it’s still not answering my biggest complaint about their product (that every single thing they publish deals with superheroes in some way), it is at least a different take on the men-in-spandex concept and that’s to be applauded.
Amusingly, what will more than likely keep me reading over the next couple of months will be the letter page, where undoubtedly a legion Thunderbolts fans will crawl out of the woodwork to criticize both the characters for not being the “real” Thunderbolts and the art for being “too cartoony” as they did when X-Force relaunched. And while I find their personal outrage over the relaunch amusing in a sad sort of way, I do agree with them that canceling the book and restarting with a new first issue and new name would have made just as much sense, if not more, since this book has zero ties to the “original” Thunderbolts series.