So, we're four issues deep and I can proudly say that my fears have been totally assuaged! Except for the one where this crudely thrown together team and its rather obscurely placed opening arc will be an enormous flop.
Thus far, I've been willing to accept a slow-burn approach to the latest, greatest incarnation of T-bolts. Issue #1? Solid. The next two...meh, not so much. But, hey, I was willing to keep the faith. I was prepared to wait and see where things landed before dipping my quill in the red ink I reserve for disdainful vitriol. I am finding myself becoming more and more impatient though.
Ah, but why savage this issue right out of the gates? There's a redeeming quality or two smuggled into these here pages.
I genuinely enjoyed the Cliffnotes version of the rise and fall of General Awa, the quasi-pseudo-bad guy. He's a despot who can hold his own with many of Marvel's mightiest fictional fascists. The attention Daniel Way devotes to his origin, starting out as a puppet leader for the US, smacks eerily of America's sordid dealings in the global theater during the fever pitch of the Cold War. And in a book about super-dudes and super-dudettes taking on their villainous counterparts, it's refreshing to see a flesh-and-blood norm be regarded as a legitimate menace. I mean, sure, he's basically living under the thumb of Mad Man. But, y'know, he's still ideologically a menace. Sort of.
There's a bit of actual action in this book. Good (albeit, brief) action at that. Deadpool and Punisher take on Mad Man, and though the fun only last a few panels, it plays to both of their strengths. Frank proves that best way to compensate for being outmatched is to fight dirty. Deadpool proves that best way to go up against an unstoppable force is to employ diplomacy. Sounds odd, but trust me, it's a one-two punch of hilarity and awesome.
And there we go. That's the good. Everything else could have basically been tacked onto the recap page and saved me some reading time.
I don't want to nitpick every single detail in this issue that bothered me (I mean, I actually do, but let's face it: there are people who get paid to do that). Briefly, the three most major missteps of the issue are the pacing, the art, and the characterization. Remember how I mentioned being impressed that Way developed this rogue state leader so thoroughly? That was true. However, well I never said I was a fan of how long it took him to do it. Between that and supplying us with the Leader's whereabouts prior to the Thunderbolts hijacking his brain for intel, readers are treated to an eight page break from the narrative. Not eight pages total, spread throughout the book for strategic pauses. Eight uninterrupted pages of semi-interesting,but mostly unnecessary filler. I could tolerate even that if the art made up for the lack of relevant storytelling. These Thunderbolts are drawn like they're frozen in a permanent state of disgusted condescension. What happened to Dillon's Preacher days, where characters conveyed emotions beyond "bitter-sneer?" Also, any art portraying a character more than five feet away from the "camera" has either been rushed or is Dillon's tongue-in-cheek protest to being on this book. I've read the issue three times and still can't tell whether the art is just sloppy or if Steve Dillon really doesn't like his job.
The most disappointing let-down of all, though, was the treatment of these characters. For three issues now, Elektra has done little more than get captured as of yet. Ross's plans have been derailed easier than a train playing chicken with Superman. The Punisher unreservedly mows down one villain on sight, but doesn't seem to mind jet-setting with two paid killers. Venom is basically fed lines without much personality, merely to be given something to say. And Deadpool...well, okay. Deadpool is still Deadpool. But I don't give Way credit for that, given that he only recently came off a major run on The Merc-with-a-Mouth's monthly title. If Daniel Way couldn't write Wade Wilson, the book would be in far more trouble than it's already in. The main point is this: what's the point of even having these characters appear in the same book and on the same team if they're treated as little other than Marvel's money magnets? Part of the appeal, initially, was anticipating how each of these character's would bounce off of each other. Watching unlikely dynamics emerge within the ranks and seeing the team slowly but surely gel into a cohesive unit! That's why I bought the book in the first place.
Oh well. Too late to get my money back now. Or is it...? I'm giving the new Thunderbolts till the end of this arc. If I'm still underwhelmed, I'm borrowing my neighbor's DeLorean and going back to last November to pull the plug on this entire irksome affair, McFly-style.