Writer: Charles Soule
Illustrator: Steve Dillon 12, Phil Noto 13
Cover: Julian Totino Tedesco
Colors: Guru FX
Letters: Joe Sabino
I like Charles Soule’s writing, but I haven’t read his DC work. When I heard at C2E2 he was taking over Thunderbolt’s based on the strength of a fill in issue, I decided it was time to go back to the Underbolts. I’d given up on the title when they switched from the loser team I loved (TROLL!!!) to the red killers. I liked the idea of Thunderbolt Ross as the Red Hulk hiring the anti-heroes of Marvel to clean up his mess, and I tried to stick it out, but I hated it. After buying 50 some issues of Thunderbolt’s and tons of team changes, I’d had enough. It would take an amazing effort to convert this jaded fan.
Issue 12 is all Punisher, in continuity with the current Thunderbolts, and one of the best portrayals of Frank Castle I’ve ever read. I dislike Frank. He’s never felt real, he’s always felt B-Movie cartoony to me, like Schwarzenegger. In Soule’s hands, he’s Arnold in the one role that works, the ferocious Terminator. Frank feels as bada$$ as Blade in the first Blade movie, walking into the belly of the beast’s layer to flush him out. The story is done in one but it feels twice as long as it’s page count – in a good way. The art by Dillon is clean and menacing. Frank’s scowls leap off the page. But it’s Soule’s thought balloons and single lines that make the scowls truly terrifying. “You’ve got to beat me every time if you want to stay alive. I only have to kill you once.”
Tonal change as we deal with General Ross and Flash Thompson/Venom in issue 13. Another done in one, in continuity, that sets the frame work for the series perfectly. We witness first hand one of Ross’s insane mistakes in his quest for power to kill the Hulk. Ross’s voice, like Frank’s is perfect. You can hear him chewing nails as he speaks. We witness Ross’s evolution over the flashbacks from fanatic to whom the end justifies the means, to grim practitioner cleaning up the mess he’s made of the world. Ross’s feels weary with his past, but not about to rest in dealing with it. Venom comes off as a bit whiny, but he’s been that way in this series. It’s not the same venom as in Secret Avengers, or his own title. Venom seems to be a tough voice to keep consistent across books. But Soule’s Ross? He oozes grit from his pores, and is a perfect portrayal.
Phil Noto draws an interesting Red Hulk. He feels mean and nasty without resorting to insane distortions of the figure. Noto is an understated artist, drawing clear and serene scenes so that when the action happens it’s more violent in contrast.
I don’t hate Ross like I do the Punisher, though he’s always felt as two dimensional as the Punisher. But in the stories I’ve read, Ross was limited to villain or supporting character, they didn’t try to make him the star. (No I didn’t read the Red Hulk run) Using Ross in those limited ways is effective, like J. Jonah Jameson with an army at his disposal. Being the lead in a story is a different matter, and was one reason I dropped the title. Punisher hasn’t been a supporting character in years. He has lead a ton of books and my sampling of them always left me uninterested. However, in Soule’s hands? I like both of these guys. Suddenly they are fascinating. They have complex depth bubbling beneath their hard edged surface. These are men that know they are going to die, but until then, will do what needs to be done so we can sleep at night. They are ok with this sacrifice. They walk bravely into damnation. They are the necessary monsters, and they are monsters. They are relentless, shrewd and will lie as often as they tell the truth. I know these traits have been there, but Soule was the first person to convince me. I’ll have to go back and read Rucka’s run now on Punisher.
Based on these two books, I’m a subscriber. To make me love characters I hate, after taking away characters I love (TROLL!!) is a talent that deserves standing up applause. It speaks volumes for editors Nick Lowe and Jordan White’s sensibilities that they gave him the book based on these fill ins. Marvel gets it. Excuse me while I go back order some Swamp Thing and catch up on more of Soule’s work.
Scott Bachmann, when not drinking Guinness, writes his own independent comics and novels at Scott Comics – www.scottcomics.com