Comics

"Like Lightning Hits the Earth…": Thunderbolts #2

Thunderbolts #1 was a lackluster showing that disappointed on a number of levels. But "Weaponized", the new series' second installment exorcises all of these ghosts…


Thunderbolts #2

Publisher: Marvel
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Daniel Way, Steve Dillon
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2013-02
Amazon

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.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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