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Thunderbolts #1: A Childlike Evil

Thunderbolts #1 (review)
(Marvel Comics, July 2016)
Writer: Jim Zub

In William Gibson’s groundbreaking science fiction novel “Neuromancer” (Ace, 1984), a psychopathic character, the charming and perverted Peter Riviera, is described as being a product of the radioactive ruins of Bonn, one of a group of feral children who engaged in cannibalism to survive. The equally significant science fixtion novel by Robert Harris, “Fatherland” (Hutchinson, 1992), concerned with a parallel universe where Nazi Germany won the war in Europe, sees the cunning betrayal of the lead character to the SS, leading to certain torture and death, by his young son. And Grant Morrison’s graphic novel “Kid Eternity” (Vertigo Comics, 1991) describes a screeching bridge as constructed of the souls of “bad babies”.

Children stripped of innocence and imbued with sinister or brutal behaviour is a devastating technique when used with surprise. A study of the literary pedigree of this plot device would be an interesting exercise. It would be an easy slip by a writer to be crass with this tactic: to use in a text a child as a catalyst for violence or evil requires the writer to avoid creating something which resembles an nasty possessed doll in a kitsch horror movie.

“Thunderbolts” #1 is a revival of a series created by American comic book writer Kurt Busiek in 1997. The premise, an enormous and clever surprise when first unveiled, is that the characters forming a group of superheroes are actually a group of villains masquerading as heroes. In that regard the title was perhaps a sophisticated version of DC Comics’ 1970s title, “Secret Society of Supervillains.”

This most recent incarnation of the “Thunderbolts” title, written by Jim Zub, has the group led by the Winter Soldier, a character starring in a lacklustre title which we have previously reviewed. The villains forming the balance of the team are part of the original Thunderbolts line-up, coerced into assisting the Winter Soldier, the team’s mission to seek out global peril. An additional team member, Kobik, is a cosmic entity, naive but godlike in her powers, taking the form of a very young girl. Kobik is keen to please her new colleagues, using her infinite ability to reshape matter to refurbish their dank hideout into a fun, stylish headquarters with warm showers, game devices, and a refrigerator stocked with beer. The Winter Soldier seeks to protect and shield Kobik in a brotherly way.

The team travel by air to confront an eerie cluster of egg-like organic structures. There is a mutiny. One of the characters, Moonstone, challenges the Winter Soldier. There is a passing and thoughtless comment from the Winter Soldier, to the effect of playing a game to find the source of Moonstone’s powers. And this causes the child-like Kobik to giddily reach into Moonstone’s chest and bloodily pull out the gem which gives Moonstone her abilities. Kobik is clearly oblivious to human anatomy, and the fact that this injury must be fatal.

It is a gruesome final page to this issue. It is also a clever ambush of the unsuspecting reader and in that regard is well-executed. But it will only work once. Whether Mr Zub can maintain this element of surprise going forward remains to be seen.