Sunday, March 20, 2005


Thunderbolts: How to lose

Thunderbolts vol 1 issues 76-81 (April-September, 2003)
Writer: John Arcudi
Penciller: Francisco Ruiz Velasco

Hot off the sort of success of completely changing everything about X-Force by giving the title to Peter Milligan and Mike Allred, Marvel does it again, completely revamping Thunderbolts into a series that has nothing to do with what happened in the first 75 issues. However, this time it fails horribly and the series is cancelled after one storyline (six issues).

But what a storyline! Arcudi turned a comic about ex-super-villains becoming superheroes into a comic about ex-super villains trying to get on with their lives. Daniel Axum was a super-villain called “The Battler.” He fought Spider-Man, and lost (getting horribly scarred in the process), then spent three years in jail. Now he’s out of jail, living with his mom and working at a construction site. He doesn’t like his job that much; in fact he seems to hate it and wishes he had another, better paying job. The only reason he continues to go is because his parole instructions say he has to have a job. He also isn’t allowed to drink, something his parole officer makes sure he sticks with. Meanwhile his girlfriend has broken up with him, and he can only see their son on weekends.

Then Axum is offered a chance to make some money again, and perhaps regain some of his self respect. It seems that there’s an underground super powered fighting league. And they pay big bucks to the fighters. The guy in charge of the league thinks Axum could be his next star and so offers him a position. The comic tracks Axum as he enters the league, as he wins and as he wonders if it’s the best thing for him to do. Later he’s offered an opportunity to get revenge on Spider-Man and return to his life of crime. By this point I found myself rooting for Axum and hoping that he wouldn’t take the first step down the slippery slope, but would instead try to turn his life around.

Could this comic have worked outside the Marvel universe? Possibly, but I think that being in the Marvel universe added something to it. While I have no idea if The Battler (or several other characters) has ever fought Spider-Man before, or even appeared in a Marvel comic before, it doesn’t really matter. Having Spider-Man as the person that put Axum away does sort of matter though. Partially, I think, because if you’ve read Spider-Man comics you know that Peter Parker has gone through loads of bad stuff. He’s had money problems, and in the early days even used his powers in what was basically an earlier version of this fighting league (when he participated in the wrestling match). You can sort of maybe draw parallels between Axum and Parker. I think the famousness of Spider-Man also plays a part, because we know that Axum is just one of many super-villains that Spider-Man has fought in his day.

While the comic does end after only six issues all the plot points are pretty much tied up. I think the final issue could have been written differently if the series hadn’t been cancelled then, but the six issues work as complete story, and perhaps works better because it is only six issues long.

The art by Velasco is generally really good, though I’m not sure how much of this came down to the very nice colouring job that was done on the comic. No, that’s not giving Velasco enough credit for his art, it’s solid, his character designs are good and he was the person who coloured most of the issues. The muted pastels used for much of the series make it look different from a lot of other comics out there, and they make it look really good. The last issue, for some reason, doesn’t have as nice a colouring job. I wonder why…

So if this comic’s so good why did it fail? Well one of the reasons is because it was completely mismarketed. I’d sort of compare it to Fight Club, which had ads that made it seem like some stupid Brad Pitt movie. In this case the series was tagged as “Marvel Comics for Real Men” and the covers of each of the issues looks more like a Maxim cover then a comic book. There’s a scantily clad babe (who usually doesn’t even appear in the comic) and taglines for nonexistent articles such as “How to meet girls – and NOT get your teeth kicked in,” while at the top of each issue there’s a list of things that will be included in the issue, namely “Bling-bling, Booty, Boxing, Bars.” The thing is all of this is used in a fairly ironical sense, but you can’t really pick up on that until you read the comic. But the people who would have enjoyed the comic for what it was probably didn’t pick it up in the first place, while the people that picked it up did so for the wrong reasons. If I’d bought a comic based on it looking like Maxim or something and claiming to be “for real men,” I probably would have stopped buying it.

Based on the advertising I completely ignored the comic when it first came out. Okay, I thought the cover to issue 80 was really nice, but I still wasn’t going to buy the comic. However I heard good things about the series, and when I found it in a dollar bin I figured I’d pick it up. I suggest you do the same.

These issues were also collected in a volume called Thunderbolts: How to Lose.


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