Waiting for the Trade – Captain America

Waiting for the Trade

Captain America: No
Escape

written by Ed
Brubaker, illustrated by Jackson Guice & Mitch Breitweiser

collects Captain America
606-610

 

Why I Bought This: Baron
Zemo is the villain who killed Bucky. If you are going to bring Bucky back from
the dead then sooner or later this is the natural story to tell, and of course
I wanted to read it.

 

The Plot: Baron
Zemo (son of the original) learns Bucky is back from the dead, and he’s not
happy about it.

(spoiler below)

 
Chapter 1 – It begins with a chance meeting between Zemo and
the Ghost—an Iron Man villain who is a master of uncovering secrets; and does
he have a doozy to share with Zemo about the new Captain America. Meanwhile
Cap (Bucky) and Falcon are fighting the Wrecking Crew. Falcon’s narration tells
us Bucky has been erratic since their last mission wherein Bucky had to shoot
and presumably kill the 1950s’ Cap (who had joined the Watchdogs and become a
terrorist but was still wearing the Cap costume); and indeed we see
confirmation of the narration as Bucky’s recklessness allows the Wrecking Crew
to escape. Sam talks to Steve as he thinks only Steve can get Bucky to talk
about what’s bothering him. Meanwhile Bucky is having nightmares about killing
the 50s’ Cap. Meanwhile Zemo is recruiting old Nazi super villains that used to
work for his father. Steve, Sam and Bucky are having drinks at a bar where Cap
and Sam give Bucky advice. They leave and Bucky is drunk even though he only
had two beers. Sam offers to get Bucky’s motorcycle for him so he won’t have to
drive. When Sam puts the key in the ignition it explodes. Zemo & Fixer
watch from the roof, where Zemo reveals the bomb was not meant to kill Sam,
just injure him enough to screw with Bucky’s head. We then see a flashback from
two days earlier where Zemo breaks into a prison to meet with Sinn and get all
the information she has on Bucky. 

Chapter 2 – Falcon is rushed to the ER where Bucky is
punching walls in his rage at Falcon taking a bomb that was seemingly meant for
him. Just then Iron Hand Hauptman (the Nazi villain Zemo recruited last issue)
attacks Bucky at the Hospital, and with Bucky still being drugged/drunk lays a
beating on him. Bucky briefly turns the tide because his cyborg arm is stronger
than the villain’s iron hand but then reinforcements arrive in the form of a
platoon of Nazis wearing full-on WWII uniforms. Bucky brutally beats the foot
soldiers into oblivion until Steve arrives to stop him, at which point we see
Bucky was hallucinating and he just beat up the local cops. Hauptman also
escaped during the confusion. Medical tests show Bucky wasn’t just drugged, he
was injected with a nanotech virus that can release additional drugs into him
as needed. The Avengers use an EMP to kill the nanos. Steve and Black Widow
brainstorm with Bucky on who could be behind this. Meanwhile the news is
running with the story of Cap brutalizing cops, and asking questions about who
this is new Cap is and who he is accountable to. Bucky is about to rush out and
confront the media when Natasha stops him by noting that is what the mystery
villain obviously wants him to do. They backtrack for clues and decide to look
into the female bartender to see if she drugged him. While they investigate,
Steve calls to say Sam is out of critical condition, adding to the heroes
deducing that everything happening is meant to enrage and distract Bucky since
otherwise a bomb should have killed Sam at that range. Natasha heads up to the
apartment of the waitress and the door explodes. This time as Bucky rushes in
to help he is met with a laser blast followed the debut of a new, female
Beetle. Meanwhile in the cliffhanger Zemo meets with an ex-KGB agent and
purchases film of the Winter Soldier.

Chapter 3 – Beetle has a brief fight with Bucky and Widow
but in her own words this is her first day as a super villain so despite the
superior firepower she’s easily outmatched. She realizes this and tries to fly
away but Bucky catches her in midair and KOs
her. They take her to the Raft prison, where Fixer works as a Thunderbolt. When
the heroes go to question her in costume she calls Cap “Bucky” and he loses his
temper again. She unnerves him more by reciting his real name and history until
Widow steps in. Beetle reveals she isn’t working for herself but little else to
Widow. Zemo contacts Fixer on a secure line and he’s okay with Beetle talking
to the heroes since she doesn’t know enough to upset his plans, and besides
he’s already set the next step in motion. Widow offers Beetle a plea bargain
but Beetle laughs in her face. Afterwards Bucky notes they got the information
they needed; they just learned that whoever is targeting him is after him
because he is Bucky and not because he is Captain America. They work through the list
of villains who know Bucky’s secret identity before Natasha hits on Zemo. Just
then a horde of reporters rushes Bucky on the street in his civilian identity questioning
him on 1-being Captain America,
2-Being Cap’s original WWII partner and 3-being the soviet assassin Winter
Soldier. Furthermore Zemo leaked to the media Winter Soldier’s training films
he acquired last chapter leaving little doubt to the public that the current
Captain America
is a former Soviet traitor.

Chapter 4 – Sam checks himself out of the hospital after
seeing the news reports, and he and Steve head off to find Bucky. Meanwhile
Widow talks Bucky into going into hiding until she can decode Zemo’s next move,
but as Bucky is packing up his belongings at his apartment he finds a note from
Zemo challenging him to a fight “where he was born.” That Zemo would come into
his house is the last straw and Bucky heads out to meet him, no longer caring
if it is a trap. Steve, Sam and Natasha find the note to try and figure out
where Zemo wants to meet Bucky. Zemo sends Iron Hand to slow them down, who
bazookas Bucky’s apartment as an opening salvo. Bucky arrives at Camp LeHigh
(where he was trained to be Cap’s partner) and finds Zemo waiting for him;
though Zemo says this is not the location he meant in his note. We cut back and
forth between the two fights. Zemo uses tech to keep Bucky on the defensive,
while it takes all three heroes to eventually overcome Iron Hand; and that
fight only ends when Steve accidentally breaks his foe’s titular hand thinking
it was a cyborg hand and not an iron glove. Bucky’s fighting skill takes Zemo
down but Zemo is playing possum and uses tech to shut down Bucky’s cyborg arm.
The fight doesn’t last long after that as Zemo shoots Bucky with a laser gun
for the KO. Bucky wakes up on a plane with Zemo revealing he is taking him to his
father’s castle where Bucky originally died.

Chapter 5 – Cap (Steve) figures out where Zemo is taking
Bucky. Cut to Bucky waking up on the island, dressed in his original costume
just outside of Zemo’s castle. Zemo has thugs dressed as Nazi’s for Bucky to
fight before he enters the fray himself wielding Cap’s shield. Zemo claims he
isn’t doing this for his father, but because Bucky does not deserve redemption.
Bucky wins the fight and is about to decapitate Zemo before thinking better of
it. Zemo says Bucky is still a killer and not a hero like Steve then hits a
button activating a trap in his castle to KO Bucky. When Bucky wakes up he is
of course tied to a replica WWII airplane with a bomb on a timer. Zemo launches
the plane, and while Bucky can’t see the timer he knows it will blow up in the
same spot as last time allowing him to estimate how much time he has to escape.
Bucky escapes as the plane explodes in midair. When he swims to shore the Cap
costume and shield are waiting for him but Zemo is gone. An hour later the
other heroes arrive to take Bucky home, who despite all Zemo put him though
realizes Zemo is right about one thing—he will need to earn his redemption.

 

Critical Thoughts:
I liked this comic book a lot, which I suppose is par for the course at this
point on the Brubaker Cap trades. In
general I find Zemo to be a very interesting villain. Historically he is Cap’s
#2 foe thanks to both the killing of Bucky and the legendary Avengers Under Siege story. While still
a Nazi, Zemo is in many ways a much more interesting character than the Red
Skull. I enjoy a good Cap vs. Skull story but generally Skull’s goals are
always the same, whereas Zemo has a lot more nuance to him thanks to years of
appearing in the Thunderbolts and his
schemes tend to be more elaborate than the Skull’s. This book is a perfect
example of that as Zemo’s scheme unfolds across every chapter showing him
outmaneuver and manipulate the heroes time and again. I also like how Zemo’s
resources and allies pay heed to both his father’s continuity in WWII and his
own with the Thunderbolts. It’s a credit to the writing that this book ends in
the most obvious comic book way possible (Zemo ties Bucky to a death trap that
recreates an iconic prior story) and yet the journey to get to that point still
feels deliciously complex.

That also brings us to Zemo’s motivation. I think the
dialogue in the finale hits just the right note of harkening back to the themes
explored with Zemo in Thunderbolts—a
book at its core about redemption, and in Zemo’s case his duality with being
raised that he was “born better” while witnessing his teammates embrace that
chance for redemption in a way he never does. This is the rare story allowing a
character to pivot back to his roots (in this case as an arch villain) without
feeling like a retread. It’s always tricky when a redeemed villain backslides.
I personally still hate what happened with Sandman in the Spidey titles. In this case however I think it fits. I mean on a
surface level Zemo is a Nazi so I don’t think many readers ever bought into his
redemption anyway. Beyond that even in Thunderbolts
he never fully became a hero at any time; even when he comes closest to
that role (circa issue 100) he still kills a true hero in Photon
(Legacy/Captain Marvel v3.0) albeit for the greater cosmic good. Bucky’s
resurrection is the perfect catalyst to make Zemo backtrack given his
longstanding daddy issues. Brubaker’s writing fleshes out the details of what
should be obvious, and even so he lets Zemo depart ambiguously by leaving the
Cap identity behind for Bucky to reclaim.

As for the heroes, by this point Bru had been writing these
characters for five years so it should not be a surprise that all of them read
true. Basically if you like Bru’s prior interpretations of Steve, Bucky, Falcon
and Widow then this is more of the same. If you like his style of espionage
flavored super-heroics this delivers on that front, although not to the degree
of his earliest work on the title. I liked Bru’s take on these characters before,
and that has not changed.

One last bonus kudo is this marks the first appearance of
the female Beetle. She’s interesting enough here for a secondary villain making
her debut. The scene where she taunts Bucky in prison is a good one. But of
course the real treat is for those of us reading Superior Foes of Spider-man where she is one of
the lead characters. In the second trade of that series you get to see these
same events from a different perspective, some of which is hysterically funny
and yet the writing of both series is such that the askew view in that title
does not diminish the dramatic tension of this trade.

 

Grade: A. This
book delivered exactly what the premise promised—letting us see what happens
when the villain who killed Bucky decades ago suddenly learns Bucky is alive—in
a satisfying way.

 

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Thunderbolts

Waiting for the Trade

New Thunderbolts (vol
1): One Step Forward

written by Kurt Busiek
& Fabian Nicieza, art by Tom Grummett

collects New
Thunderbolts #1-6

 

Why I Bought This: I
generally enjoy the Thunderbolts and
this book features a team line-up I particularly enjoyed in another trade I
read so I figured I’d grab the start of that era.
 

The Plot: Mach IV
(Beetle) starts up a new team of Thunderbolts and they try to fill the void
left by the disbanding of the Avengers (in “Avengers: Disassembled”).

(spoilers below)

 

Chapter 1 – Beetle is released from prison and promises to
start a new T-Bolts team. Two months later he approaches Songbird about
rejoining; as she is semi-retired from heroics and going to college since the prior
version of this team disbanded.  Also the
romantic relationship between these two is on the rocks since then. Abe claims
he met some white collar inmates during his prison stay and got them to agree
to finance the new team. Songbird checks out the new headquarters where Atlas
is working as mechanic since losing his powers in the last series. He also
mentions that he and Dallas broke up since that series ended. They also mourn
Hawkeye’s death in “Avengers’ Disassembled.” We meet a new recruit: Blizzard
v2.0 (an Iron Man villain whose costume gives him powers similar to Ice Man.)
The chit chat is interrupted by an emergency alert when Fathom Five attack NYC.
They are apparently a bunch of Namor villains—the only one I recognize is their
leader Llyron, who is Namor’s illegitimate son via Llyra and who usurped the
Atlantean throne in the 90s in perhaps the best Namor story I’ve ever read.
Anyway they fight with Blizzard feeling a bit overwhelmed when he has to take
on a sea monster. Captain Marvel v3.0 (a.k.a. Legacy, the original’s son) arrives
to lend a hand (and hit on Songbird). Legacy wins the fight but when he refuses
to follow orders Atlas becomes enraged causing his powers to return. He then
pummels Legacy and throws him into the ocean unseen by his teammates. Atlas
claims the escaping Atlanteans KO’d and kidnapped Legacy while withholding that
his powers are back. In the cliffhanger we learn Abe’s financial backer is
Baron Strucker (founder of Hydra).

Chapter 2 – We join a battle between the T-Bolts and the
Wrecking Crew in progress. The T-Bolts are doing fine when Speed Demon arrives
and finishes off Wrecker for them. He then asks to join, having worked with
Beetle in the Sinister Syndicate. We learn a little about the dynamic between
Beetle and Strucker. We see that Purple Man has the Thunderbolts under
surveillance and that he saw Atlas kill Legacy. Cut to the UN where Namor is
disavowing the actions of Fathom Five. The T-Bolts arrive and demand Namor help
them track down the villains. Before that can proceed they are interrupted by
an attack by the Great Game (obscure post-Clone Saga Scarlet Spider villains
who treat life like a videogame). Namor, the T-Bolts and Mr. Fantastic unite to
fight the villains and win with relative ease; however, the villains’ (unseen) boss
activates the self destructs in the armors of the unconscious Gamers. With time
running out Joystick (the only Gamer still awake as she was captured in one of
Snowbird’s sonic constructs) agrees to help Reed deactivate the bombs if the
T-Bolts will take her in. Even with her help the bomb explodes. 

Chapter 3 – Songbird’s force field saved the heroes inside
the building but now it is collapsing. Atlas grows to hold it up, while
Blizzard and Speed Demon work on putting out a fire inside. Beetle, Spider-man
and Code Blue arrive and help civilians on the outside from falling debris.
Reed discovers the explosion had radiation in it. Things are getting dire as
Songbird is losing her voice, Atlas is growing taller than is safe and the
radiation is shorting out his ionic powers, Blizzard’s armor is leaking Freon
and Mach-IV’s armor is damaged by a chunk of building. Abe calls Strucker and
gets him to send Radioactive Man to the scene to drain the radiation. This
gives the heroes inside time to have Joystick and Reed clear a path to the
outside that everyone else can escape through. Damage Control stabilizes the
building and in the aftermath various Thunderbolts go the hospital having
earned the respect of the veteran heroes present. In the epilogue Strucker
begins to wonder if the T-Bolts could actually threaten his plans when he is
ambushed by a new Swordsman (v4.0 I think) who stabs Strucker through the
chest.

Chapter 4 – Wolverine has been brainwashed by Hydra, who are
apparently having a civil war. The faction controlling Wolvie have sent him to
Strucker’s HQ to kill the Baron. Strucker meanwhile removes the sword from his
chest. They then have a sword fight which Swordsman is winning but Strucker can
take the blows (as he obviously has some healing/immorality thing going on I
was unaware he possessed). Swordsman plans to decapitate Strucker figuring that
will get the job done but then Strucker reveals his blood contains a “death
spore” virus that could kill all of NYC if it was released into the air. Just
then Wolverine arrives. Meanwhile, the T-Bolts enjoy some downtime after last
issue. Speed Demon, Joystick & Blizzard want to go party but Abe nixes that
because they have outstanding warrants. Atlas visits Songbird in the hospital. Some
fishermen find a glowing pod with a man in it off the coast of NJ. Back to the action, Swordsman
engages Wolverine and uses an electric sword to stun him. Wolvie shakes it off
and reveals he doesn’t care if killing Strucker also kills NYC. We see Purple
Man is watching the fight. Strucker steps in and uses his cyborg hand to defeat
Wolvie. He then throws him off the building but Swordsman makes the save with a
web-line from his sword. Wolvie recovers and recognizes Swordsman’s scent (but
we are not told his identity). Whoever Swordsman is Wolverine ‘has never liked
him’ but the two part ways without further combat. We learn Swordsman works for
Purple Man. Back at T-Bolt HQ Speed Demon’s trio go to a strip club after Abe
is called to meet his parole officer, who happens to be Carol Danvers. He tries
to get her to clear the criminals on his team for membership when Fathom Five’s
sea serpent attacks the Brooklyn
Bridge.

Chapter 5 – Carol (Ms Marvel/Warbird) engages Fathom Five
while Abe calls his team to respond. He only gets in touch with Atlas and
Radioactive Man. Fathom Five defeat Warbird but Atlas arrives to fight the
monster. He’s doing okay until the other villains take out his legs. Abe
decides he has to help even without his armor but that goes poorly for him.
Fortunately Speed Demon arrives to make the save then in a funny bit races back
to the strip club before anyone sees he was there to help. Atlas is raging out
of control again and kills the Sea Monster. A package arrives for Abe but
before he can open it Llyron corners him. This time Radioactive Man arrives in
the nick of time to make the save. Abe dons his old Beetle armor and joins the
battle. Just as the Thunderbolts are mopping that crisis up Hydra makes an
attack on the city.   

Chapter 6 – Hydra has its own version of the Hellicarrier
and dozens of plane sized UFOs for the attack. Atlas takes the lead while
Radioactive Man wakes up Carol. Beetle radio’s Strucker, who reveals he only
funded the T-Bolts so there would be heroes to oppose him as he wants to
instill maximum terror when he destroys NYC and he felt it would be more
effective if a group superheroes failed to stop the attack for all the world to
see; with the Avengers disbanded he decided to create the Thunderbolts figuring
they would never be able to stop his plans. He further reveals he was the one
who set the Wrecking Crew and Great Game on them just so he could see them in
action to be prepared for this final battle while also increasing the public’s
faith in the T-Bolts by having them save the UN. We get a quick montage of
other heroes like the New Warriors, Power Pack, Spider-man and Captain America
joining the fight against the rank and file Hydra across the city; while the
Thunderbolts unite (including the three members from the strip club) to take on
the Hydra-carrier. Also during the montage the glowing pod from chapter 4
hatches and the occupant heads to the battle. Atlas and Joystick bring down the
Hydra-carrier so Strucker detonates a nuclear bomb. Radioactive Man absorbs it
but the effort KOs him. Strucker has 14 more
nukes set to detonate simultaneously. Speed Demon and Blizzard are dispatched
to freeze them all but only get to 13 of them before Blizzard’s suit runs out
of Freon. The last nuke detonates just as Legacy returns and he absorbs the
energy, then announces his new codename is Photon as the City unites behind the
Thunderbolts as their new heroes.

 

Critical Thoughts:
I love this book. This is everything I want a comic book to be. I particularly
enjoy the peripherals and how it’s written but let’s talk about the core of the
book first.

The team itself is a really good collection of characters.
Beetle has never been written better as he steps into the leadership role here.
Songbird and Atlas are mainstays of the T-Bolts and remain as interesting as
ever, particularly the new subplot of Atlas’s powers increasing while making him
more irrational. I really like the character of Legacy and have since his first
appearance (plus I’ve been working my way through his original series by Peter
David and it’s a lot of fun too) so he’s a welcome addition to the team; which
is something I would say of all the new members. Speed Demon, Joystick and
Blizzard all bring a new dynamic to the team, needed as the original version
had become a little too run of the mill near the end. This returns some of the
tension of who really wants to reform and who doesn’t. Ditto Radioactive Man,
as I think this was the first time the idea that he is a hero in China and only considered a villain in the U.S.
was introduced. Right off the bat this is a book that has clear voice of who
and what it is about.

Aside from that I love the way it uses the larger Marvel
Universe to enhance the story it tells. I like that we see all these other
heroes and not just big names like Spidey and Wolverine who help sell books,
but quick throw-away panels of Power Pack or Code Blue just to show that the
Marvel Universe is filled with heroes who would respond to a major catastrophe.
I like the villains they chose and more to the point how they were presented.
Marvel has hundreds of villains, we don’t need to see the same 30 or so as the
only major threats and everyone else defeated as an off-panel joke. Namor and
Scarlet Spider don’t have books anymore fine, but their villains can still show
up to cause trouble once in awhile. I’d add the T-Bolts having trouble against
these minor characters proved very effective to show the new team still
learning how to work together. I like the continuity shout outs from the 80s
like Namor hating Atlas because of what he did to Hercules in the Masters of
Evil or Speed Demon and Beetle acknowledging they were on short-lived team
together. I like the subplots involving future threats–something that is often
lost in this writing for the trade era—Purple Man is in the background spying
and making plans in this trade and we don’t know what they are yet; and I’m
okay with that. Comics used to do this all the time setting up future threats
for a page or two while the hero dealt with the current crisis of the month.
It’s nice to see some good old-fashioned comic book stories in a new millennium
book.

A quick note the art: it was very good all around in both
action scenes and panel layouts. Everything flows really well. There’s a lot of
tension in the UN building collapsing chapter and in the final battle Hydra
thanks to the art. The visuals of Atlas and the scale of his expanding powers
were also conveyed quite impressively . 
So kudos to Tom Grummett.

 

Grade A. I loved
this and I have every intention of tracking down all the other trades from this
title.

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 
Avengers/Thunderbolts
vol. 2: Best Intentions

By Kurt Busiek, Fabian
Nicieza and illustrated by Barry Kitson and Tom Grummett.

Collects
Avengers/Thunderbolts #1-6

 
Why I Bought This: Having
finished Busiek’s legendary Avengers
run I discovered this existed and it was like having a bonus Christmas since it
meant more Busiek Avengers. (And I
enjoy the Thunderbolts too on
occasion).

 
The Plot – The
Thunderbolts begin taking a proactive stance on international crime under Zemo’s
leadership and announce they have a plan to save the world. However based on
his past with Zemo, Captain America
does not trust them.

(spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – Zemo & Moonstone force some fictional nation
to capitulate to their demands to shut down their reactor program and then take
their results very public. Hawkeye used to lead the Thunderbolts and feels
proud of them but Cap has the opposite reaction given their tactics and Zemo’s
leadership. We see some of the heroic rank and file Thunderbolts like Songbird,
Atlas and Vantage also have doubts about Zemo but Songbird agues it is better
to have him where they can keep an eye on him then letting him go about
unsupervised. Their conversation is overheard by Plant Man. Also
Moonstone has undergone a power upgrade lately which is making her act weird
and distant. She is however working with Zemo, Fixer and Plant Man on a
mysterious plan entitled Project Liberator. The air force of the fake country
attacks T-Bolt HQ but Moonstone dispatches them in a single panel and then in
retaliation Zemo leaks various personal scandals about that nation’s leaders to
the press. Meanwhile Cap visits the former Thunderbolt Beetle/Mach One in
prison to see if he knows what Zemo is up to. Jenkins does and tells Cap, the
Avengers are going to have to stop the Thunderbolts.

Chapter 2 – The Avengers are losing a fight with Cobalt Man
(primarily because if they hurt him he may go nuclear) when the Thunderbolts
arrive to save the day as Fixer drains the excess radiation off of him. They
then teleport away taking Cobalt Man with them. Hawkeye is suspicious that Iron
Man couldn’t invent the same device Fixer did, and his suspicions prove true when
he learns the Iron Man armor in the battle was run on remote control and Tony is
in the Cobalt Man armor and now working with the Thunderbolts undercover.

Chapter 3 – The Thunderbolts raid the Wizard’s home but not
to arrest him just to get some parts for the machine in their big plan. Hawkeye
is conflicted but decides to keep quiet on Stark infiltrating the T-Bolts.
Meanwhile the T-Bolts take over some old satellites. Moonstone is suspicious of
Cobalt Man and talks to the real Cobalt Man’s family to see if he contacted
them since coming back from the dead. Vision based on info Stark if feeding him
realizes the T-Bolts plan to drain all superhuman energy off Earth and Vision
finds a hidden protocol in the T-Bolts computer code that will store and
channel the power, which even Hawkeye concedes feels like Zemo is up to his old
tricks. The T-Bolts are ready to activate their machine when Tony intervenes,
but not to stop them permanently but because they are using stolen Stark
software and Tony realizes the outdated version will fry the satellites when
used in conjunction with the other tech. This confuses Moonstone who was sure
he was an imposter and yet now he just salvaged the plan. The Avengers are enroot
as Zemo fires up the device and it has bad effects on the Pyms, Vision and
Wanda.

Chapter 4 – Reed (of the FF) tells us the T-Bolts are
draining all nuclear, microwave, gamma and tachyon energy sources as well
including the nuclear armaments of all nations. We learn the Thunderbolts
themselves are inoculated from this power drain and their device is safely
storing the drained power. The Avengers quinjet from last issue is falling from
the sky but Songbird and Atlas catch them. Zemo is about hack into television
and address the world when Cap barges in and tells him he is under arrest.
Songbird uses a sound wall to stop Cap and Zemo from fighting. Cap tells Zemo
he can’t impose peace on the world and indeed we see various governments
mobilizing their militaries. Zemo decides to turn the stored energy over to the
Avengers to prove his motives are sincere but there is no energy in the machine
to the bafflement of both sides leading to the obligatory fight scene. Fixer
and Stark (as Cobalt Man) investigate the machine in the midst of the battle
and discover a hidden Kree code in the programming that redirects the stolen
energy thus it is not Zemo but Moonstone with the hidden agenda. Once revealed
she has a seizure but then rises up more powerful than ever. She says she only
put that code there in case Zemo tried to double cross the world but when Cap’s
shield hit the machine during the melee it caused it to activate on its own.
Now however the power being fed into her is making her go all paranoid and when
she unmasks Stark that pushes her further over the edge especially since she
assumes Hawkeye—who besides being a former team leader of the T-Bolts was
Moonstone’s ex-lover—went along with the plan to spy on the T-Bolts. And then
she uses the stolen energy to unleash a massive explosion.

Chapter 5 – The short recap is everyone fights Moonstone for
the entire issue, but if you want the play by play read on. When the smoke
clears we see only the Avengers are down. Vantage and Hawkeye try to talk her
down, while Zemo’s talk may or may not be helping. Moonstone decides she will
teleport everyone into another dimension but Plant Man stops her by literally
rooting the room to the spot. Moonstone pummels him severely for that which
forces Songbird to try and take her on. Songbird is about to win when Zemo
tackles her. Moonstone is pissed so the Avengers regroup and attack her to no
avail. Vantage joins in the assault and Moonstone breaks most of her bones in
response. This causes Atlas to grow to maximum size and he too seems like he is
about to win this fight until Hawkeye interferes with a Pym Particle arrow to
forcibly shrink him. Tony switches to his Iron Man armor as Karla decides she
wants to kill Zemo. Cap makes the save and then when Moonstone tries to kill
Cap, Zemo reciprocates although since he does not have a shield he ends up
burned and disfigured for his trouble. And then former Thunderbolt Jolt arrives
(a teen hero in the team’s early days, and the only member who was never a
villain) who Moonstone feels motherly towards. This gives Moonstone pause but
as Jolt assesses the situation she power up some gizmo Tony and Fixer built and
this rips the stolen energy out of Moonstone. Of course she still has her own
double power level. The gizmo can drain that from her too but they way her powers
work may end up lobotomizing her. Hawkeye weighs the consequences and fires an
arrow as we hit the cliffhanger.

Chapter 6 – Hawkeye’s arrow destroys the gizmo and he asks
everyone to let him talk to Karla without interference. Vision attacks anyway
and Hawkeye takes him down revealing he has an arrow for every member of both
teams. Wanda tries her powers and they interact weirdly with Moonstone causing
a dimensional rift that threatens to destroy the world. Fixer has a device that
could disrupt her intangibility power and with everything getting worse this
time Hawkeye uses it on her causing her to phase but not her stones and Vision
phases and grabs them out of her. The stress takes down Vision and Zemo capitalizes
to steal the stones. He curses Cap and Hawkeye for how this turned out and
teleports away. Hawkeye checks on Karla and she is lobotomized. In the epilogue
the Thunderbolts disband and we see where they end up (Songbird even refuses
Avengers membership). Then Jenkins gets released from prison and decides he is
going to start a new Thunderbolts team. And in the end we see Zemo plotting
with his new power.
Critical Thoughts: It’s
nowhere near the level of Busiek’s Avengers
run but it is still a perfectly enjoyable comic book on its own merits. As
always Busiek’s characterizations for both these teams is strong and if you
like fight scenes the last chapters are basically one extended fight (and for
once Wanda doesn’t just waive her hands and solve everything either).

Hawkeye is the real star of this book as he has to choose
between his loyalty to both teams and Busiek rights his motivations leading up
the climax really well. Hawkeye is one of my favorite Avengers and this is a
strong outing for him. The Hawkeye has an arrow specially designed to take out
each teammate feels a bit too much like Batman but I can’t say completely out
of character. In the West Coast Avengers it
was shown he does carry arrows specifically for longtime recurring foes like
Ultron so it’s not a total stretch he could have them for his teammates
particularly in this situation when he knew he was likely to choose a side and
fight one of the teams eventually.

The Thunderbolts also really shine hear with the differences
between those who have completely reformed and those who can never be fully
trusted. In many ways this is more of a Thunderbolts story than an Avengers
one, which is fine because you can do more with their characters than the core
Avengers who generally have their status quo at this point. I think the trade
is very successful in generating interest in the T-Bolts, as after reading this
book I purchased the New Thunderbolts trade
that the epilogue sets up.

That is not to say the Avengers get the short shrift. The
Cap-Zemo dynamic feels spot on and it leads to a rare Cap admits his judgment
may be compromised and considering what Zemo put Cap through in “Under Seige” it
is perfectly acceptable that Cap would be unwilling to give Zemo the benefit of
the doubt. I also liked Iron Man’s doubts once he is undercover with the
Thunderbolts on whether or not to let them proceed with their plan to remake
the world, as we would see in Civil War
Tony is the rare hero who believes it is okay for superheroes to institute
large scale social changes, so some ways this is a precursor to Tony’s
“futurist” persona that has become his dominant character trait for the past
decade.
Grade B

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers vs. Thunderbolts

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 

Shadowland:
Thunderbolts

By Jeff Parker, Kev Walker and Declan Shalvey
Collects Thunderbolts
148-151

 

Why I Bought This:
It was in the discount bin of my favorite local comic shop and has a hell of an
intriguing cover of the Avengers big three taking on Juggernaut, Crossbones and
Ghost. Those first two villains can usually both be counted on for a good
story, and even though he hasn’t been used since the 80’s Ghost was presented
as a serious threat back in the day during Michelene’s Iron Man run. Throw in The
Avengers
have always been my favorite title and sometimes you just buy a
book because the cover looks like it promises a fun fight.

 

The Plot: The
Thunderbolts, now a group of inmates working towards parole by taking
government missions under the supervision of Luke Cage, are sent into the
Shadowland. Then in the main event for issue 150 three of the most unrepentant
members of the team: Crossbones, Juggernaut and Ghost escape and have a throw
down with the Avengers big three.

 

Chapter 1 – A cop friend of Luke Cage’s has gone missing due
to whatever the hell is happening in the Shadowland
crossover (haven’t read it and it’s not high on my list to bother with but the
short version seems to be Daredevil gets possessed by a literal demon, become
leader of the Hand ninjas and then builds a castle in Hell’s Kitchen.) Cage
calls in the Thunderbolts to rescue a cop friend who was last seen in the sewers
under the Shadowland castle, while he deals with the main Shadowland story. Apparently this is the first time the crooks have
been given a mission without Cage accompanying them. Cage has Songbird and
Fixer of the original reformed Thunderbolts put in charge of supervising the
criminals, who include: Crossbones, Moonstone, Juggernaut, Ghost and Man-Thing.
The Thunderbolts get attacked by scores of ninjas. For the most part the
criminals aren’t in much danger as Juggernaut’s invulnerable and Moonstone and
Ghost can both go intangible. While they can hurt Crossbones, he is skilled and
viscous enough to kill anyone who comes near him. Man-Thing is also okay since
swords can’t hurt swamp muck and anyone he touches catches on fire. The wardens
on the other hand aren’t nearly so lucky with Fixer getting stabbed from behind
and then Songbird falling to superior numbers while Moonstone looks on without
helping.

Chapter 2 –Songbird is safe in her force field but she’s
also pinned down and can’t move. The ninjas manage to cut Man-Thing into pieces
so Moonstone joins the fight. Songbird lets out a sonic scream to clear the
Ninjas off her force-bubble while Juggernaut and Crossbones become even more
lethal so that whatever ninjas are left retreat. Songbird uses her force field
to carry Fixer to the nearest hospital and now the criminals are completely
unsupervised. Juggernaut plows through walls until he finds ninja-central and
then just wades right into an army of them. The Hand has a dragon on their side
but Moonstone alone takes it out pretty easily. Ghost uses his intangibility to
slip away so he can find and free the Hand prisoners including Cage’s cop
friend. Crossbones is out of ammo but then in desperation he manifests some
sort of fire breath/heat vision. (It was mentioned last chapter he was exposed
to the Inhuman’s Terrigen Mist on a prior mission not in this trade and then
kept that secret to himself.) When Crossbones is done with the Hand the
prisoners show up but since he is alone he kills Cage’s cop friend just cuz;
although he wasn’t actually alone Ghost secretly witnesses everything. When the
other Thunderbolts arrive Crossbones of course blames the cop’s death on the
Hand.

Chapter 3 – Cage is thinking about resigning from overseeing
the Thunderbolts program as he feels the criminals he has on his team will
never be reformed. Cap, Iron Man and Thor arrive to talk with Cage (and also
because a female Asgardian troll is in the prison and Thor wants to meet her.)
Thor offers her friendship but she bites him. Meanwhile Cap has some tense
words with Crossbones, who you may recall killed Cap in Brubaker’s run. Iron
Man and the Ghost also get reacquainted with some hostile threats. As the
heroes get briefed on a new mission, Ghost reveals he has discovered a way to
partially override the teleporter used by the Thunderbolts. When it’s go time
he does just that, transporting himself, Crossbones and Juggernaut to another
dimension. Cap, Thor, Iron Man and Cage follow and take in the scenery (a
talking frog, a lake with magic reflections, etc). We end up with a massive
fight scene that eventually splits into three individual fights along the old
rivalries of Cap vs. Crossbones, Iron Man vs. Ghost and Thor (& Cage) vs.
Juggernaut. Iron Man is able to talk Ghost into surrendering, then Tony joins
the fight against Juggernaut and uses a sonic weapon to stun him long enough to
get him to surrender (with a little help from the magic lake). The
Cap-Crossbones fight is excellent playing off their history and then when Cap
is winning Crossbones unveils his new superpowers to turn the tide for a bit. But
Cap finally lets out his rage for Crossbones killing him and just beats the
crap out of Crossbones. Cap then holds him under the lake but of course lets
him up before killing him. The heroes then use Man-Thing to teleport them home
and Cage agrees to continue supervising the program, although Crossbones is
kicked off the team once Ghost reveals what he did last chapter.

Chapter 4 – We get the origin of the Ghost. He was a
computer programmer. He invented a revolutionary software thing. His bosses
tried to kill him and keep it for themselves. They failed because of his
intangibility tech and then he killed them all and used his computer skills to
erase his real name from all databases.

 

Critical Thoughts: For
what I paid for it I enjoyed the hell out of this. Issue 150 (chapter 3) was
everything you’d want in an anniversary issue. Honestly this could have been a Captain America anniversary issue as
having Steve confront Crossbones for killing him was a pretty big dangling plot
thread from Bru’s run. Their fights have always been pretty good anyway, but
this one takes the cake as the best fight between these characters because it
is so personal and because Crossbones has a surprise power upgrade. So as Cap
fan this issue alone would be worth full cover price let alone $6-off and
everything else is just gravy.

However I was pleasantly surprised with the other two
stories. Yea I have no interest in reading the main Shadowland stuff but the Thunderbolts cast of villains is generally
interesting from top to bottom and the way they each take advantage of the
chaos feels right, so as a standalone story the first two chapters are still
engaging enough to be worth a read.

Ditto the Ghost origin story. Ghost was a major player once
upon a time and his origin to my knowledge was unrevealed up to now. Yea, we’re
not really breaking new ground here with the whole evil corporation double
cross theme, but within the confines of that genre the specifics of this story
are well told.

 

Grade A. I won’t
say this is an all-time classic but I still giving it an A because I honestly
can’t think of a single criticism I have of the stories told here. True, not
every story in it is world changing but they all do what they set out to do
well. And it’s not like it is a total throwaway set of issues: the
Cap-Crossbones fight feels like it has some weight to it, as a major Cap fan it
played out note-perfect to me; and to the extent the Ghost matters we now have
his origin. So all in all I’d recommend picking this one up.