When your primary foe is one of the strongest beings in the Marvel Universe, you need to be incredibly powerful, though not necessarily in a way measured by physical strength. For example, the Hulk’s longtime foe the Leader has demonstrated time and time again that his gamma-powered intellect is more than a match for the misunderstood hero’s strength. In fact, the villain’s wealth of knowledge is so vast, not all of it is able to fir in his enlarged cranium.
The starring characters of Marvel’s “Thunderbolts” series — Red Hulk, Punisher, Elektra, Deadpool, Venom and Mercy — made this discovery at the end of the series first arc, and they weren’t alone. In issue #7, series writer Daniel Way and artist Phil Noto kicked off the second arc, setting the team hot on the heels of a mysterious mastermind who has absconded with some of the deadly knowledge that the Leader stored remotely.
When that arc comes to a close with July’s issue #11, Charles Soule (“27,” “Swamp Thing”) will take over the book’s writing duties for two issues designed to spotlight the team’s members. We spoke with Way, Soule, and “Thunderbolts” editor Jordan D. White about their plans for the series.
CBR News: Dan and Jordan, some changes are coming to “Thunderbolts” this July with Charles Soule taking over as writer for a few issues. Is this just a temporary change, or is Dan leaving the book? And what does this mean for the long form story Dan began setting up in the early issues of the book? Will it be finished by issue #11?
Daniel Way: Issue #11 will be — for the foreseeable future, at least — my final issue of the series. As often happens in this business, another project that I’d been shepherding along for several years finally lined up and, knowing that a second opportunity may never come along, I made the tough decision to step away from “Thunderbolts” in order to pursue it. It wasn’t easy, but it had to be done. Thankfully, Jordan has facilitated the transition incredibly well and I couldn’t have been happier when he landed Charles for the fill-ins. This “Thunderbolts” series and the themes it set out to explore were always meant to play against a global tapestry, and Charles, with his background, experience and blatantly obvious talent, is one of the few writers out there who can not only keep that going but take it to the next level. Frankly, I hope he sticks around.
In any case, while Jordan is free to pass along any or all of the proposed developments he and I have discussed for the future of the series, it’s ultimately up the next writer to do as he or she sees fit — I’d never presume otherwise. I felt the same way when I handed “Ghost Rider” off to Jason Aaron who, while he did keep some of the elements I’d introduced, basically did his own thing. And that turned out pretty well!
Jordan D. White: Dan has done a great job on the series so far, and I think he’s set up the characters, the team and the entire direction of the series in such a great way that there are lots of great directions the series can take from here. Of course I will miss having him on the book and working with him, but I’m also pumped to see what happens when the baton gets passed. We’re going to reveal the new ongoing creative team with issue 14, but for now, I am really glad to have Charles coming aboard for two issues. He’s written some really terrific books at other comic companies, and it’s good to have him joining the Marvel family.
Charles, how does it feel to be on your first Marvel book? What made “Thunderbolts” a compelling assignment for you?
Charles Soule: Well, obviously it feels pretty fantastic. Marvel has an amazing library of characters, and it’s hard not to get excited about taking a few of them out for a spin. “Thunderbolts” in particular is fun for a few reasons: First, it’s a team book, so I get to play with a bunch of toys at once. Second, Punisher and Elektra! They’re both stone-cold killers, but each arrived at that point along a different path, and the way they approach their “callings” is almost in total opposition to each other. Elektra’s an assassin, Frank’s on a crusade. There are plenty of cool Thunderbolts right now (Deadpool and Friendly Leader are also pretty great), but it was the chance to write Punisher and Elektra that perked me up right away.
Before we get to what Charles has planned, let’s talk about some recent developments in the book and Dan’s final issues. The revelations at the end of the first arc about the Leader’s brain and all the knowledge it held suggest that Samuel Sterns is going to be a big part of “Thunderbolts.” Dan, what made you want to explore the character in such a big way?
Way: Basically, my fascination with the character stems from a question I asked myself about him early on: If Leader is no longer an evil genius, is he also no longer evil? Immediately, before I had an answer for the first question, a second occurred to me: “What would happen if he were to get the genius part back?”
Since I’m handing the book off to another writer, I think that’s really all I can say on the subject. But I’d be shocked, frankly, if Leader didn’t play a large part in the future of this team of Thunderbolts.
So let’s talk a little bit about the Leader’s current state. He seems eager to please the other members of the Thunderbolts and make connections with them. So he’s not his old arrogant self, and the more he concentrates on things, the more his nose bleeds. This suggests to me that something is wrong with his brain and that Ross dosing him with gamma radiation did not completely undo the damage the Punisher’s shot to the head in the series first arc had wrought —
Way: Think about it: He’s been kidnapped, operated upon, murdered, reborn and now has a gamma-irradiated brain that’s seemingly taken on a life of its own. Taking all of that into consideration, is the onset of Stockholm Syndrome really all that surprising, especially with this group of Thunderbolts as his captors? I mean, seriously — what’s he gonna do?
As far as the nosebleeds, it was revealed in the first arc that Leader’s brain, like the bodies of Hulk and Red Hulk, exhibits rapid physiological deformation when stimulated; in other words, it reacts aggressively when challenged. When “challenged” by complex thought, Leader’s brain produces a flurry of brain cells, the pressure inside his skull skyrockets — and his nose bleeds. A new development, but, as you mentioned, understandable when you consider both the haphazard and incredibly risky way Leader’s “powers” were re-introduced to him by Red Hulk and the fact Punisher had blown apart a considerable portion of his head.
In issue #7, we learn that some of the Leader’s knowledge of gamma radiation was used to create a gamma-powered battery, and on the final page, we saw that the battery was being used to power a legion of Crimson Dynamo suits. How much more dangerous are these suits with that power source?
Way: The shortest and best way to answer that question is with another question: How much more dangerous did gamma radiation make Bruce Banner?
Those suits and their mysterious boss appear to be the antagonists for this second arc of “Thunderbolts,” but the solicits suggest that when the Thunderbolts aren’t battling outside forces, they’ll be battling each other.
Way: It’s a war on all fronts. External developments of the present aside, there were things that happened on Kata Jaya that have fractured basically all relations within the team — and I’m not just talking about the Punisher/Elektra/Deadpool “love triangle.” Mercy, whom no one but Red Hulk (and, possibly, Leader) knows is a member of the team, slaughtered a group of innocent freedom fighters right in front of Venom. That’s not something he’s gonna let slide. Thematically, this arc explores the thin line between “crusader” and “terrorist.”
“Red Menace,” the second arc, comes to a close in issue #11, and then Dan hands things off to Charles. Charles, what’s it like picking up this book? What’s your initial goal with your debut issue?
Soule: One good thing here is that I was already reading “Thunderbolts” — it’s a great title. That bit you referenced earlier — the “shot to the head” moment (and Deadpool’s reaction to it) — was an absolute favorite of mine. I do believe I laughed out loud. So, I was already familiar with the cool stuff Dan’s been doing. One neat thing about the assignment is that I got to read everything in advance, so I know where “Red Menace” is going (and you’re going to like it).
There are a few threads to pursue when “Red Menace” ends, and my particular goal in my first issue will be to follow one of them to its end. I don’t want to say to much about it, but it’s a perfect opportunity for a done-in-one issue where a character gets to do what he (or she) does best. Mostly, I want to tell a fun story that’s true to the groundwork Dan’s already laid down and the characters as he’s developed them. I want to make a good comic, in other words.
The solicit info I receive suggests that your “Thunderbolts” issues will spotlight various members of the team, starting with the Punisher. Which aspects of his character are you especially interested in exploring?
Soule: So much for my attempts at mystery in my last answer! You’re right — my issues will delve a little deeper into individual members of the team, and the first one’s focused on Punisher. I love Frank. I think he’s one of the most deeply developed characters in the Marvel U, especially after what Garth Ennis and Jason Aaron have done with him. First of all, he’s old. He’s not one of these young characters still getting used to having their powers. Whether your personal version of Frank Castle is a Vietnam veteran or not, he’s clearly meant to have been on his crusade against crime for a long time — decades. Doing something for that long, especially vigilante murder (not to put too fine a point on it) means your initial reason for starting along that path has become almost irrelevant. Frank doesn’t kill criminals for revenge — he does it because he has to. He’s got what I see as a classic case of OCD, except, instead of washing his hands over and over again, he has to find bad guys to murder.
I wanted to play with that a little bit. His target in the story is someone with a lot of finesse and subterfuge, and seeing that type of approach go up against the brute force that is the Punisher seemed like it would be neat to see. â€¨
In issue #13, you put the focus on Mercy, one of the team’s more mysterious members. Will we see things from her perspective in this issue? And if so, what’s it like writing things from her perspective? Is Mercy as simple and direct as her stated motivations of helping people die? Or do you think she’s driven by something more complex?
Soule: Mercy is very interesting. There’s a lot of room to move with her, because very little is written in stone. Her origin, power levels, motivations — all open to debate. In fact, we don’t even know how Red Hulk has managed to get her on the Thunderbolts in the first place. Mercy is a nuclear bomb-level threat. She doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to do. That being the case, why is she working for/with Red Hulk at all? What does being on the Thunderbolts provide her that she couldn’t get for herself? Answering some of those questions is exactly what I plan to do with my second issue. I won’t give you everything, though. Mercy definitely seems like one of those characters that would be diminished if we knew all there was to know about her backstory. She should be Vader, not Anakin.
Will you get a chance to focus on any other team members?
Soule: That’s still a bit up in the air at the moment, but I’ve always loved Deadpool (in no small part thanks to Dan’s killer run on the main “DP” title). He’s more than just comic relief — although he’s very good at being comic relief. I see him a bit like a really fantastic bass player in a city with a big music scene. He gets to play shows with bands all over town, but he rarely gets to be the frontman. I’m pushing this metaphor past its breaking point, but let me just say that I think the second-stringers are always a little more interesting than the guy at the front of the stage.
The current version of the Leader is truly fascinating as well — eventually, he’s going to have to come to terms with what he was versus what he is — and that should make for one hell of a story.
Will your issues feature an arc in the traditional sense? Or are they more interconnected one-offs?
Soule: They’re one-offs that directly call back to plot elements from the first two arcs of the title. They’re designed so that you don’t have to know anything that’s happened previously in “Thunderbolts” to understand what’s going on, but you might get a bit more out of the stories if you have. You can do a lot with twenty pages, and I’m trying to pack as much into each issue as I can. Books ain’t cheap these days, you know?
What kind of antagonists are you interested in pitting the Thunderbolts against?
Soule: Ultimately, the Thunderbolts biggest enemies are themselves. These are all people who have a habit of getting in their own way due to their particular obsessions or trauma. That’s why it’s so fun to throw them against each other and see the sparks fly. To use a Star Trek analogy (since I already used up my Star Wars allowance), the Mirror Universe version of the T-bolts would be a group of well-adjusted, happy guys and gals who just want to do their jobs and do them well. Hmm, now that I mention it, having them tangle with a team like that could be a blast.
Who will be handling art for your issues?
Soule: You know, I’m still busy scripting away, but Marvel has such an amazing stable of artists that I have no doubt whoever brings the pictures to my issues is going to make them sing. As with any comic story, it’s the pencillers, inkers, colorists and letterers who really make it all work. If anything, we writers just get in the way.
White: Actually we’re very happy that our original artist for the series, Steve Dillon, will be back to draw the Punisher issue. Steve did a great job setting the tone on the series, and the Punisher is a character he is so closely associated with, it seemed like a no-brainer to give him this issue.
We’ve talked about the current and immediate future of “Thunderbolts,” so let’s close by looking further down the line. Jordan, Dan and Charles — can you offer up any hints or teases as to what awaits the team at the end of summer and perhaps the beginning of fall?
Soule: Thrills, chills, spills and (at least in the Punisher issue) kills!
White: Surprises, betrayals, new members–there’s going to be a lot to look forward to.
Way: I’ve read Charles’ first script, and you won’t be disappointed.
For my part, I’d like to simply thank everyone for picking up the book, and I encourage you to keep reading — I know I will!