Saturday, August 22, 2009

Blogathon 28: Thunderbolts: Caged Angels

[Discussed in this post: Thunderbolts #116-121.]

Caged Angels is comic book brilliance. After showing how the team and concept was flawed in the first arc, Ellis continues by making things go worse as the team slowly rots from within thanks to four telepaths in their custody. It's not like the team needs a lot of prodding to tear itself apart, but it's done with total precision and expertise here.

The inclusion of Leonard Samson to talk and evaluate Robbie Baldwin is a great example of Ellis being able to shift gears and write the exact opposite of what you expect from him: a kind, compassionate, caring person. Len Samson is the best psychiatrist you've ever seen, because he guinely cares and want to get Robbie better. He also has daydreams about killing Norman Osborn and Moonstone, which is a plus.

The best part of this arc is Ellis's Norman Osborn which hereby set the new standard for Norman Osborn that all writers will be measured up against. Not the smartest move when the new Marvel status quo is to revolve around Osborn -- and no one has written him as well as Ellis does in this arc. It hasn't even been close. The monologue that Osborn delivers in issue 120 is a thing of beauty. I'm not sure Ellis has writen a better chunk of speech from a single character ever. And, trust me, there's part of me that doesn't like saying that a piece of work-for-hire stuff by Ellis may be better than his creator-owned work, but that Osborn speech is so damn good. Bendis should have it typed up, printed out and taped above his desk so that every time he writes Osborn, it's there, challenging him to do better -- and he should hate that speech for it's hateful, disappointed look when he fails.

I am actually convinced that Warren Ellis is the best writer in mainstream superhero comics. He is the Professional Writer unconcerned with who or what the characters are and who loves them -- because he sure doesn't. He's not affected by such lowly emotions when writing: all he cares about is writing a quality story. That's it. And he does it every time. The only other writers in mainstream superhero comics that seem to have that same indifference/lack of love for superheroes are Garth Ennis and Brian Azzarello and neither can work the genre like Ellis (partly because neither wants to work it like Ellis does). Ellis's lack of emotional attachment to characters is why he is better. Seriously. A childhood fondness for characters will ultimately bias every other writer in the business. Look at Bendis's Avengers: his favourite characters get better positions. Not so with Ellis: he just uses what's available, finds the interesting elements, and goes running. There's nothing wrong with the bias other writers have really, it just means that they'll always be a step behind Ellis. He can be objective about what he's doing, they can't. I don't want you to think that means Ellis will be better in every case, just in a broad, general sense. (The only writer I'd accept as a legitimate argument for being a better writer in mainstream superhero comics right now is Morrison -- and strangely, it's partly because he's Ellis's opposite number -- for all of Ellis's indifference/lack of love for superhero characters, that's what fuels Morrison so completely that it leads to quality consistently.)

Ellis's Thunderbolts is one big reason why Dark Avengers can't really get going: it can't match up. Putting Mike Deodato on that book wasn't the best idea since it further invites comparison.

Ah, I'm rambling. One final thought: the first arc built up Bullseye as an unstoppable killing machine and ended with him getting beaten nearly to death. This arc, anytime Bullseye is mentioned, he's dismissed as useless, and it ends with him killing those responsible for the problems at Thunderbolts Mountain. A nice little bit of symmetry.

In 30 minutes, The Invincible Iron Man: The Five Nightmares.

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]