I did not like the first issue of Daniel Way and Steve Dillon’s Thunderbolts. I felt it was trying too hard to be the “edgy” title everyone expected it to be, while in reality coming across flat and underdeveloped. That being said, I enjoyed Thunderbolts #2 a great deal more—the team’s motives (which are really just General “Thunderbolt” Ross’ motives) are more fleshed out, each of these antiheroes gets some character development, and a status quo is set for the series going forward. If Daniel Way had condensed the first two issues of Thunderbolts into one, it would have been the cohesive, strong beginning this series needed. Releasing these first two chapters one week apart was smart on Marvel’s part, and it helped make sense of the direction the series is headed.
Thunderbolts #2 offers some succinct exposition as to the mission statement of Ross’ new team of mercenaries and assassins. Without a national allegiance, which allows them to act outside any political machine, Ross’ squad will infiltrate and dismantle unethical regimes/dictatorships across the globe through sheer force, “as lightning strikes the Earth.” It’s a premise that, at first, seems a bit odd. But when critically analyzed, it becomes evident that this is an idea that has a lot of promise. For quite some time now, Marvel’s many incarnations of the Avengers and the X-Men have had to buckle, in one form or another, to political pressure or popular opinion. Not Ross’ team. This team of Thunderbolts has no agenda beyond doing what is right by any means necessary. And that is what ties all these characters together.
By themselves, each of Ross’ recruits find their own way to make their mark, as it were. Ross himself was a member of the Avengers for a while, but it seems that being in the public eye was a sort-of muzzle for Ross, as he had to temper himself when the situation called for it. Here, Red Hulk is able to unleash any and all devastation he so chooses. The same goes for Deadpool, who was victim to the ethical quandaries that divided X-Force on a regular basis. Eugene “Flash” Thompson is a military man through and through, but he’s been hardened and jaded by his time in Iraq and his relationship with the Venom symbiote, giving him a perspective in line with Ross’. Elektra and the Punisher are the two wild cards that have no reason to be there, but they also understand that at the core, Ross’ mission is to punish the wicked and the evil who would harm innocent lives for their own personal gain…so why not?
The team’s first mission involves the tiny island of Kata Jaya and it’s heinous dictator experimenting with gamma-powered weapons on his own people. Daniel Way makes it a point to convey that Ross decides to take down the Kata Jayan government through a chance meeting, not a connection at a secret organization, not a shadow assignment from Nick Fury, not a for-hire job by the island’s rebellion. He even goes so far as to wring Venom’s neck for calling him “Sir”. Ross seems disillusioned with how evil goes unpunished so often, so he’s taking it upon himself to right the wrongs the rest of the world fails to correct. For Ross, there’s no other way—force is the only thing evil men understand, so force is what will meet them.
The only real problem with the series at this point is Elektra. She’s a fine addition to the team, but she seems severely out of character for the very small amount of panel time she’s afforded. Facing down a legion of soldiers armed with gamma weapons, Deadpool grabs Elektra and dives into the ocean in full retreat mode and she doesn’t protest at all. The Elektra I’ve come to know would have sliced off Wade’s arm before letting him grab her like that, there would have been a lot of sophisticated insults, and her brash attitude would get them in more trouble than they had been previously. I’m holding out hope that Way will give Elektra more of a personality because at this point, she’s got nothing going for her in this series.
Thunderbolts #2 more than makes up for a lackluster first showing. Daniel Way shows that he’s got a real vision for this series, and it’s an intriguing one that’s got a lot of potential. And that’s before considering how this team will interact with the rest of the Marvel universe. How secret is this operation? Does anyone else in the superhero community know Ross has put this team together? What happens when they cross paths with the Avengers or the FF? These are the kind of interesting possibilities that come with Thunderbolts and it will be exciting to see how they play out.