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Thunderbolts: Widowmaker

Review

Thunderbolts: Widowmaker

First there was Civil War, and then there was Secret Invasion, and in the fallout from these universe-shattering events, we have Dark Reign. Captain America has been replaced, Iron Man’s brain has been partially erased, and Norman Osborn (an ostensibly reformed villain) has taken over S.H.I.E.L.D., the Marvel Universe’s version of a superpowered C.I.A. He’s assembled a team of dangerous criminals (and questionable heroes) to carry out his complicated agenda. That should bring you up to speed.

Or maybe not. It’s infinitely more complex than that, and it takes a few hours on Wikipedia to really sort it all out. The central plot of Widowmaker concerns Songbird, once an ally of Norman Osborn, who launches an attack on Orborn in an effort to halt his own repeated attacks on her, but it branches out in so many directions that everything is tangential to everything else. If you’re a fan of double-crosses, triple-crosses, and the fabled quadruple-cross, Widowmaker is completely pleasing. If you can’t follow the labyrinthine plot, there are some pretty great characters (Ghost), and some fairly ridiculous ones (a man whose specialty is chopping off heads, called Headsman—real name: Cleavon Twain) to make sure that reading remains very fun. Unless you’re a hardcore comic fan, most of these guys will be unknown to you, as many have been culled from relative obscurity.

If the DC Universe has two iconic bad guys, you’ll find them in The Joker and Lex Luthor. Marvel’s equivalent of the chaotic madman villain has always been the Green Goblin, so it’s very interesting to watch Norman Osborn transform (perhaps inexplicably) from a Joker-type character to a strategic, merciless, Lex Luthor-type. How a man goes from throwing pumpkin-shaped bombs at a teenager to positioning himself as the primary criminal mastermind of Earth is one of those strange devices that Warren Ellis orchestrates years in advance, and might not make complete sense, but it embraces the strange logic that comic books need to embrace in order to remain enjoyable. Comic characters live and die with such regularity that life and death have lost meaning, so writers have turned to creating drastic personality shifts to effect actual change within their stories.Widowmaker might require a deeper suspension of disbelief than its comic book peers, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a pleasant read.

This, and a whole lot of convenient deus ex machina, comprises the whole ofWidowmaker. While the Songbird plot never seems to definitively resolve, and additional story threads are cast in every possible direction, it’s a reminder that these modern comic stories employ prolonged arcs that span multiple books, and even span multiple years. This is the definition of a nerdy soap opera. This particular collection is a view of small events that fall between major plot points, which are nonetheless essential to the greater picture. The blatant, too-obvious visual of Norman Osborn pushing over a row of dominoes drives this fact home.

Marvel, as a mainstream comic publisher, is fairly restrained when it comes to death and violence, but these are relatively normal elements from this dark era of the Marvel Universe. Maintain hope, however: The Marvel Universe is poised for a heroic renaissance. It’ll be nice to read about heroes being heroes again.

Reviewed by Collin David on May 5, 2010

Thunderbolts: Widowmaker
by Andy Diggle, Rick Remender, and Roberto De La Torre

  • Publication Date: May 5, 2010
  • Genres: Graphic Novel
  • Paperback: 136 pages
  • Publisher: Marvel
  • ISBN-10: 0785140913
  • ISBN-13: 9780785140917