[MARVEL NOW] Thunderbolts: No Quarter

Daniel Way’s new Thunderbolts run is “Colorful and expressive”, according to Comic Book Resources. Remember this quote, I’ll come back to it later.

One of the many, many lacklustre series that Marvel had before their beautiful new relaunch was an ongoing for a character you may have heard of called Deadpool. Written by Daniel Way, the series started off great with the titular anti-hero living up to his nickname “the Merc with a Mouth”. There were jokes, there were meta-jokes, and there were pancakes. Soooooo many pancakes.

Then, as time went on, the series stagnated. The jokes became old. The self-aware humour became stale. The comedy aspect got hyper-violent and incredibly goofy, all to the detriment of one of Marvel’s most beloved antagonist protagonists. The series came to be colloquially identified online as “Way-pool”, after its author’s surname, distinguished almost entirely from every other incarnation of the character by being stupid, irreverent and, in some cases, blatantly offensive. If there are any female readers who’ve managed to get through Way’s latter Deadpool books without feeling your feminism tracts start to ignite, please send me an email because I’m pretty sure you have iron constitution.

So the relaunch comes, and Daniel Way is given the new Thunderbolts book to write. For those not in the know, the Thunderbolts were a team of anti-heroes and outright villains who went around doing odd-jobs like killing baddies and squabbling with each other. I’m not hugely familiar with the team pre-NOW, but I’m willing to bet they never had Deadpool along before this point. If they did, I’m pretty sure Way would’ve been out on his ass for suggesting him as part of the new team.

Trying my best to keep an open mind, I dove into Thunderbolts: No Quarter with as little expectation as possible. After all, it was Daniel Way (a writer I can’t stand) doing a team of anti-heroes and supervillains (a story that is far better executed in books like Uncanny X-Force) with his version of Deadpool (who, as we’ve established, is kind of bordering on dad-joke levels of humourlessness) in addition to Red Hulk, Elektra, Venom and the Punisher. That concoction of foul demon seed and whale sperm couldn’t possibly be as bad as all that, right?

Oh, optimism. You are a bitch.

Let’s be blunt – there is no story here. Seriously. The half-assed aspect of “anti-heroes kick ass together” is so paper-thin that half the anti-heroes don’t show up for most of the book, and the ones that do have achingly awkward dialogue that makes them seem as lively and likely to get along as six swordfish in a bucket. Apart from that, there’s some plot about finding a guy who was a former Hulk villain and trying to get him to do something with a computer that isn’t entirely (or even partially) explained until literally five pages before the end. Oh, and the Punisher and Elektra are apparently f**king, and Deadpool has a crush on the latter.

The casualness and unexpected nature with which I dispensed that last tidbit should tell you a lot about the curveballs the story likes to throw at you from absolute thin air. Character motivations, internal plot twists and changes in nature seem to come out of the goddamn ether with absolutely zero expectation, but in the worst way possible. Since when has Deadpool had the hots for Elektra? Why the hell is Venom housebroken enough to work with a team without laying them low to his flying black symbiote spaghetti monster? And just where the hell does General Ross’ moustache go when he turns into Red Hulk? Is the ‘stache retreating into his body what gives him his arms as thick as a pair of copulating dolphins?

This review has seemed a bit muddled and all over the place, right? Well, so’s the damn book. The plot jumps around in medias res for absolutely no bloody reason, and it’s hard to stay invested in protagonists who are about as stable in characterisation and execution as Patrick Bateman suffering from Alzheimer’s. Adding to that the lack of a plot, an incredibly ridiculous midpoint monologue from Deadpool that makes Ctrl+Alt+Del‘s walls of text seem conservative and an ending that is just so pointless it doesn’t even bear giving a spoiler warning for – it concludes with the team having to get into a submarine to go find something, meaning lots and lots of that whole “six degrees of separation” wackiness that only someone as mind-bogglingly untalented as Daniel Way could come up with as a comedic device.

What’d I say at the beginning, that Way’s run is “Colorful and expressive”? I’ll give you the first part – there is certainly a shedload of colour on display, and all of it used to ill effect. Red seems to be the predominant palette, including an incredibly stupid new crimson skull to replace the usually-white one on the Punisher’s chest, and the skin tones of all the non-masked, non-Asian characters seem to switch between Latino and Edward Cullen at the drop of a hat. Steve Dillon doesn’t do a particularly memorable job on art duties here, giving us something serviceable but unremarkable.

The second part of that accolade, “expressive”, gets shot in the kneecaps through some entirely superfluous dialogue throughout. It doesn’t quite reach Tony Daniel levels of awfulness, but on the whole it’s just bland, flat and incredibly two-dimensional. The depth of every character (particularly and most heinously Venom) is about as shallow as a broken teacup, and dialogue is so standard they’d do a better job emoting through interpretive dance. The only real stand-out in this area for me is Deadpool, but, again, for entirely the wrong reasons.

You see, there’s a reason I didn’t like the latter parts of Daniel Way’s Deadpool run – the comedy, besides being flatter than a West German orchestra, got way too American. It started to remind me of really bad sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory and Mike and Molly, where the humour comes from slapstick, angst and plain dialogue. While I enjoy an unsophisticated laugh like everyone else, it doesn’t really work when the players talk to make themselves laugh in order to make you laugh.

Well, Daniel Way is nothing if not consistent – his Deadpool here is as annoying, slapsticky and underdeveloped as it was in his core run. All that wonderful depth and black comedy brought to him in Uncanny X-Force seems to have been conveniently left out, replaced with some truly facepalm-worthy plot about Deapdool wanting to bone Elektra but getting all pouty because the Punisher got there first. It only goes downhill from there.

At the end of the day, No Quarter is an entirely forgettable, entirely superfluous and entirely ridiculous entry into the Marvel NOW canon that should be grateful it’s not currently lying in the sewage outlet pipe beside my apartment block.

STORY: 1/5
ARTWORK: 2.5/5
DIALOGUE: 1/5

OVERALL: 4.5/15

BEST QUOTE: “Who gives a #$&% where pineapples grow?” – Deadpool

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