Matt Tuck is a great GoCollect writer. He recently wrote an article about cold comics. One of those comics mentioned was Incredible Hulk #449 and the first appearance of the Thunderbolts. Matt still has hope in the book but believes it suffered fallout because of the fans’ high expectations that crashed with the D23 fallout. I am worried there is more to play here.
Learn from the Past
Studio executives have to recognize why an existing comic book property is successful. Shang-Chi’s family trained him to be a living weapon. His whole heroic career was to overcome his evil upbringing. Dr. Strange was a man of science who realized it failed him at a time when he needed it the most, forcing him to find another source for his faith. Both of their movies highlighted these comic book themes.
Comic book movies have to find and utilize these important themes or the movies will fail. As a result, both of their keys saw price increases because of the success of the movies.
Fantastic Four (2015) had a very talented cast. Their skills were never in doubt. Sadly, the film was doomed from the start – the writers failed them. The Fantastic Four is a comic about a family of people that are heroes. Ben Grimm may not be related by blood or marriage, but he is truly a family member in that group. The element of family was not really the focus of this FF film. Instead, that version of the team told the tale of four individuals thrown together as a team that had superpowers.
As a result, the team lacked the intra-personal family dynamic that most moviegoers could relate to when forced to work together. The film hardly moved the needle for FF key books because it was such a failure.
The Thunderbolts cast announced at D23 is a who’s who of heavy actors. Sebastian Stan has made Bucky more impressive and compelling than I dare dream Marvel Comics could ever make him in their books. Florence Pugh’s portrayal of Yelena Belova as a tragic yet heroic character with a subtle touch of innocence was loved by fans. Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost was more a victim than a villain. The same could be said of Olga Kurylenko’s Taskmaster. David Harbour and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are two thespians who bring it with every role they portray on the screen.
This film is not lacking in the acting department, but comic book collectors and investors are still worried. That is because even this great group of actors may not be enough to rescue this film from itself. A less than successful film will not produce the returns investors would want.
Who’s Batting Clean-Up?
None of the characters selected are heavy hitters in their cinematic presence. Thor, Incredible Hulk, Guardians of the Galaxy, Loki, and Wandavision all had grand-scale battles involving Marvel’s biggest characters. These types of scenes require either a major investment in special effects or grand scenery. Related comic book keys rose in value because of the reception the films received.
The Thunderbolt characters selected are more street-based heroes where minimum special effects may be needed. None are godlike or possess fantastic powers. Fans expect more, though, than a re-hash of the same type of cinematography Agents of SHIELD or the Netflix series did on a budget with these types of characters.
A New World Order
Costs were not spared to improve quality in the past. Recently, we have seen a downturn in the special effects and top-tier characters used ala She-Hulk. That show’s head writer and creator has mentioned how the series changed from its initial conception. More scenes with Jennifer Walters were used rather than She-Hulk. Plot points changed.
The current state of the economy has changed and so too has the business of making comic book shows and films. The problem is that fans do not understand the business side of the equation. Disney stock is now selling lower than it has in the past. The MCU raised the bar for fans’ expectations and when those expectations are not met, the comic book keys of those characters suffer. Fans will not forgive a poor product because of budget constraints anymore.
Double Secret Identifies
Incredible Hulk #449 had one of the greatest intros in comic book history. The Thunderbolts were introduced much like any other super team in comic history. The unique aspect was when the team was revealed in their own series to be a group of existing super villains “pretending” to be heroes. Each version of the group dealt with the theme of what it truly means to be a hero and the path to redemption.
Instead of viewers going on a journey where a mystery exists to the character’s origins, fans will instead be re-introduced to existing MCU characters. This was the safe choice. The MCU had a vast history of truly evil characters to draw from that could have been presented as heroes with backstories to flesh out their evil nature.
Instead, The MCU Thunderbolts will go more in-depth with these existing characters. The problem is that those villains may not have been the best characters to utilize. Furthermore, these characters will not move the dial in the comic book markets more than when they originally appeared in their films.
The Heart of the Thunderbolts
Already Hashed Out?
The aforementioned characters announced for the movie really do not resemble supervillains. The problem is that these villains had readers feel bad for them in prior MCU projects. Each character was more tragic than villain.
Only Wyatt Russell’s US Agent truly came close to being an evil supervillain, and even Wyatt’s nuanced portrayal of the character made the audience somewhat sympathetic to the character. Investors moved in on these books and then quickly moved out. There may not be much left on the bone for their keys, and it could get even worst if the film flops.
What Makes them Special?
Fantastic Four had the family element at its core. The Thunderbolts had redemption. Team members were forced to evaluate what they truly wanted to become with their time on the team. Some stayed evil while others found forgiveness.
Every incarnation of the team had the theme of redemption at its heart. That element is what made the Thunderbolts comic unique from any superhero team ever presented before, and that is what comic book fans fear will be missing in the movie.
Redemption…such a simple concept
A Common Theme
Everyone reading this article wishes they could redeem themselves from a previous bad decision. Our society truly appreciates second chances and people making good on them. Thunderbolts took that concept and made it the very soul of their stories. Some characters rose up to the challenge and redeemed themselves while others took the easy road and returned to their bad ways. The world always wants to hear the story of second chances and the comics never failed to deliver.
Comic book fans expected the MCU to introduce that type of team. They could have even retconned them into the existing MCU. Characters like mercenary Erik Josten’s Atlas could have been Hank Pym’s first choice to infiltrate his company. His powers were gained by unknowingly being exposed to Pym particles that infused his body. He then used those powers to excel as a criminal.
Dr. Karla Sofen could have been a psychiatrist who programmed Bucky to be the Winter Soldier or one of the SHIELD shrinks that treated him during the Disney+ series. Later, she gained her power from a meteorite and used all her notes to attack him.
Zemo could have re-appeared and put together this team to rival the Avengers to further destroy their legacy by using The Thunderbolts’ secret identities.
Each of these characters could have masqueraded as heroes only for some to find the path to the light. That is why Incredible Hulk #449 and other key Thunderbolt issues started to peak. Fans wanted the Thunderbolts. Investors and collectors flocked to Thunderbolt keys, and there were many. Most were truly undervalued. A successful MCU film would make these books worth the risk…but…
Calling the MCU Hero…. Hey Kevin Feige!!!
Our society needs a good comeback story now more than ever. The MCU does not need another Avengers team. The Thunderbolts comics told the story of how people behaved when confronted with chances to change their lives for the better. Each member looked into the mirror as if it was an abyss to see what stared back at them. Many saw the light and realized only one good decision could put them on that path. Fans could relate to their plight.
Fans want that story. Kevin Feige has created a tapestry in the MCU of very compelling stories. Comic fans now fear that the MCU is falling into old familiar story plots with existing characters. This can hurt the comic book keys for those characters. What made the MCU unique was intense storytelling with well-fleshed-out characters. The Thunderbolts were a unique team because of the redemption component.
Citizen V, Meteorite, Atlas, Mach I, Songbird and others were truly evil and not tragic characters like the MCU’s Ghost, Taskmaster, or Yelena Belova. If the MCU fails, so too could the value of many comic book tie-ins. That is something investors may not have had to contemplate until now.
Thunderbolts Needs Kevin!!!
If you are reading this, Kevin, please do not let go of what made the MCU great. The MCU took marginal characters like Rocket, Groot, Ant-Man, Quicksilver, and more and made us care about their exploits. The Thunderbolts in the comics started out with a mystery and ended with redemption. I ask you please do not waste the gifted talents of your actors in an action-based story that could have been written for the Avengers.
The Avengers was a team of heroes thrown together to save humanity. The Thunderbolts are a team of individuals thrown together to save themselves. Do not lose the very theme of redemption that made the Thunderbolts unique. Remember, a wise man once said….
“We try to keep audiences coming back in greater numbers by doing the unexpected and not simply following a pattern or a mold or a formula.”