“Faith in Monsters” – Number 110
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Mike Deodato, Jr.
Published Marvel Comics
Price $2.99

The idea of using a group of super-villains to do good is a long standing one, DC’s Suicide Squad springs to mind. When they were first introduced to the Marvel Universe, the Thunderbolts had the interesting premise of villains pretending to be heroes and then eventually working to become heroes. Because of the scenarios spinning out of Marvel’s Civil War event, a new group of villains have been brought in to protect the public by tracking down and apprehending unregistered superheroes. There is a track record of the rehabilitative element to the work paying off, which has led to much of the original team turning over a new leaf. But, let’s face it, this go around, you’re asking super-villains to track down their enemies and not be punished for it (in fact, to be pardoned and then rewarded).

Under Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Planetary, The Authority), a mix of Marvel’s most popular villains, mixed with a couple of B-listers, are put on the same team (ala, the villains answer to The New Avengers): Venom, Moonstone, Bullseye, Songbird, the Radioactive Man, Penance and Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin) – clearly one of the most outlandish, potential combustible line-ups ever. The insane, spree-killing duo of Venom and Bullseye alone do that. Add the fact that it takes strong, manipulative personalities to hold the team of villains together (Norman Osborn as the head, the liason with the government, and Moonstone in the field) and you have a list of bad ideas waiting to explode at any moment.

Whereas I get the sense that Garth Ennis (The Boys) does things strictly to shock, I get the opposite sense from Ellis – like he is taking shocking things and forcing you to accept them. Maybe it’s simply that Ellis has a lighter touch with more macabre ideas. Here you have a collection of serial killers sanctioned by the government.

Coming out of the cynicism of Civil War, the book has a cloud about it. That might stem from the fact that there is a sense that nothing done under Ellis’ year long run will matter. In essence, it is a mini-series within the series that will be forgotten in a year (do I need to re-hash the track record of these sort of things? Okay, one word for you: Onslaught). Not that there aren’t moments to enjoy. The Bullseye scenes are terrific. Ellis is masterful at making both Bullseye and Norman Osborn scary, each having an “I’ll kill you if you give me the chance” vibe dripping from every line of dialogue.
“None of us should be arrogant or stubborn when American heroes offer us redemption.” –Norman Osborn

A friend of mine had an objection to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off show Angel: he couldn’t get past the idea of using evil to vanquish evil. He had particular problems with the idea of using evil to do good. Granted, I argued that he missed the entire point of the show, but I can only imagine that he would have fits with Thunderbolts. The biggest thing that gets over looked when pointing out the sins of others is that people usually miss the fact that we’re all in the same boat. None of us are perfect. None of us live up to our potential of who we were meant to be. In that regard, we are all broken vessels, flawed, with feet of clay. What sets us apart isn’t how less we sin, how less villainous we are; what can lead to us being “heroic”, is our search for redemption.

As we examine our lives, where we’ve been, how far we are from where we should be, we may find ourselves asking if we can ever do enough good to balance the scales for all the evil, all the mistakes, you’ve done in your past? The past shapes who we are, but it doesn’t define who we can be. We are more than just sinners. We are first Eikons of God, created to relate to God, to relate to others, and to govern the world as Eikons. There is all the difference in the world in depicting humans as simply sinners and seeing sinfulness as the condition and behavior of a cracked Eikon.

As such, the good news of our situation isn’t just that there is a pardon and (eternal) reward for us. That is only part of the message, only part of the journey that begins with being repentant and turning our backs on our old ways of living. The rest of the message becomes about seeking wholeness, being restored in all the dimensions of humanity, being fully human. However, it doesn’t stop there: being the beneficiaries of grace, a grace represented in the pardon, should move us to outward expression. Doing good, being blessings to the world.

Paired with fan favorite artist, Mike Deodato, Jr., and his hyper-realistic art style, Warren Ellis delivers a book sure to please. If it doesn’t quite hit on all notes, well, that might be the price of playing in a toybox of such established characters. The original Thunderbolts team was about voluntary redemption, villains trying to reform and live a better way. This team is mercenary; redemption, if you can call it that, as a means to an end. What saves this book is Warren Ellis. Like Grant Morrison, he’s an original thinker, wringing new ideas and perspectives from tired concepts. Plus he’s a skilled writer, bringing his usual wit and satirical edge to the book (come on, the ads for the Thunderbolts action figures?). In his hands, Thunderbolts is a ride you can sit back and enjoy.

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