Heroic and villainous legacies are often become intertwined in the Marvel Universe, the poster child of which are the Thunderbolts, who began their existence as a team of villains pretending to heroes. Working on the side of angels became addictive, however, and before long, many of those villains were actively working to redeem themselves as heroes. Since then, the team has gone through several different iterations, but the concept of redemption remains at the core of the team, no matter who makes up the roster. The most recent group finds themselves involved in a program sponsored by the U.S. government that allows convicted super criminals a shot at making good by going on super heroic missions.
Another recent example of the often-blurred line between heroism and villainy are Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers teams. During his Dark Reign over the Marvel Universe, Osborn fielded the first incarnation of this team, the ranks of which were composed of villains impersonating prominent Avengers members. They were Osborn’s violent enforcers, but they also occasionally battled the schemes of other villains. That team disbanded when Osborn’s Reign ended but the psychotic villain eventually put together a new iteration of the group, which was quickly shut down and imprisoned by the real Avengers.
This June, these two teams merge into one when “Thunderbolts” is retitled “Dark Avengers” with issue #175. Longtime fans need not worry, however — the title change is only indicative of an expansion in the book’s cast and status quo, not of an overhaul leading to a completely new direction. In fact, the book’s current creative team of writer Jeff Parker and artists Declan Shalvey and Kev Walker will remain intact. We spoke with Parker and Shalvey about their plans for the series in #175 and beyond.
CBR News: There is one more issue of “Thunderbolts” before the title morphs into “Dark Avengers” with June’s #175. What can you tell us about the issue that remains? Part of the current story deals with a faction of Thunderbolts led by Fixer, one of the team’s founding members, who’ve become lost in time. In our last talk, Jeff, you implied that this issue isn’t the end of the story of Fixer’s faction, that it’s just the end to the latest chapter in that story. Is that correct?
Jeff Parker: Yes, and the end — sort of — of Fixer. But I think we give him a pretty fine sendoff. I wanted the death of a longtime cast member to be a pretty big deal and have impact and to happen in a way we hadn’t seen a death before.
Declan Shalvey: This last issue of that chapter is definitely my favorite issue that Jeff and I have done together to date. The T-bolts destroyed the universe — and I get to draw it! What I enjoyed more, though, was the payoff to everything Jeff has been building up to with Fixer since my very first issue about a year and a half ago. It feels good to start something, build it up and then finally finish a character arc. After all the crazy superhero action of #172, this issue is all about emotions, and that’s very challenging, but satisfying to draw. Going back to the ’90s and playing with the original T-Bolts has been a crazy experience for me. I have literally gotten the chance to play with characters I read about when I was a kid. I felt we’ve managed to add more dramatic weight to the book with this current arc.
We do, then, move onto the next chapter, which is when the latest team of Dark Avengers are brought into the mix. There’s two different stories being told in this next arc, and Jeff, Kev, Frank [colorist Frank Martin] and I are weaving them through one another.
How will you balance the continuing story of the time-lost T-Bolts with the present day story of the Dark Avengers and their team leader, Luke Cage?
Parker: As you’ll see, it’s all part of the same story. That may not make sense until a couple of issues in, but it will be clear we’re not trashing one team in favor of another — though Dec and I welcome the new readers coming over for the Dark and Avengery aspects! To actually answer your question — [there will be] an equal balance.
Shalvey: The Dark Avengers part of the story is being told at the same time as Kev’s ‘Time-Bolts’ story, so we pretty much split each issue in half.
Jeff, last time you revealed the Dark Avengers are brought together because of a situation in Sharzhad, a Middle Eastern country created by you and Patrick Zircher in your “Hulk of Arabia” arc in “Hulk.” What’s it like returning to Sharzhad and its champion Sultan Magus? Which aspects of the setting and its chief character are you interested in exploring this time?
Parker: The neat thing about Sharzhad is that it really seems to have its own rules and, like Mordor, you can’t simply walk into it. Sultan Magus is a very powerful figure who doesn’t want you there.
Declan, as an artist, what do you find most interesting about the designs Patrick came up with for Sultan Magus and Sharzhad? What’s it like following up in his footsteps?
Shalvey: When I realized that this arc was set in Sharzhad, I was pleasantly surprised, as I read Jeff’s “Hulk” so was already familiar with the location and villain. Sharzhad is a pretty interesting visual, with its mix of old-style architecture incorporated into a designy, sci-fi look. All the desert stuff is really fun to draw, too. Sultan Magus looks pretty bad-ass, like a mix between Namor and Superman. Thanks to Patrick Zircher for doing all the legwork on creating that world! Saved me a lot of time, I can tell you.
What can you tell us about the situation in Sharzhad that the Dark Avengers are brought together to handle? What kind of obstacles and adversaries is the team up against?
Parker: Luke Cage is ready to take a break from his duties and has been given the perfect point to opt out — but chooses the opposite. He knows something wrong is going down and he does not like being manipulated.
If you read “Hulk of Arabia,” you’ll know, basically, what they’re up against, but Magus has now had more time to further assimilate the alien tech that powers his country, and is now more ready to deal with powerful opponents like the Dark Avengers.
Shalvey: They’re up against everything Sultan Magus has to throw at them (which is a lot of weird stuff), but there may be more to their agenda then just Magus.
In the Dark Avengers, you’ve got an interesting collection of characters with a villainous bent and one with a little more heroic one in the form of the Hulk’s son, Skaar. Jeff, having written Skaar before, what’s it like writing him in this situation? What do you feel he adds to the book and the team?
Parker: It does feel comfortable having one of the Hulk family in there. What he adds is a great big sword, Hulk power and, fortunately, an ally for Luke in a place where he doesn’t have any. I suspect he’s fun to draw, too.
Shalvey: Skaar is pretty cool to draw. He’s Conan Hulk; the ultimate super-barbarian! I find it interesting that a creature so massively huge still wields a sword. Much like Hyde was huge and still wore a Victorian suit and carried a cane, the visual is so insane. It’s quite entertaining to draw.
Initially, those types of character were so big, it was hard to imagine them interacting with smaller objects, but now I really like it. If I ever draw an arc of Hulk, I’m going to insist he carries an iPhone on him at all times. Imagine those huge Hulk fingers trying to operate a touch-screen!
And honestly, I didn’t previously know much about Skaar. I read the recent arc in “New Avengers” though, and found him pretty interesting. I like what happens to him in this arc; in some ways he seems to be a twisted reflection of his father, and with that in mind he became a much more interesting character to me, therefore more interesting to draw. I think you can tell when an artist doesn’t really like drawing a certain character, but I hope it comes across how much I’m interested in Skaar’s character by how I draw him.
Let’s move from your new present day cast to some of your longtime present day characters. Jeff, last time you mentioned Mach V will be an important character in “Dark Avengers,” but what about the other founding T-bolt member, Songbird? What kind of role will she play in this book?
Parker: Like Luke, they both know something is horribly wrong and the Thunderbolts are being used for a secret purpose. Both have been great about playing ball with the authorities, but now you’ll see what they can do when they don’t trust those people and can use their skills to get answers. Also contributing a bit will be Luke’s favorite genius to pull in on Bolts’ duties, Hank Pym, who got us Man-Thing.
Speaking of Man-Thing, you’ve been building towards a story with him for a while now, and you’ve hinted that he will return to the present day when “Thunderbolts” becomes “Dark Avengers.” What kind of role will Man-Thing play, and what will he look like after he’s done “developing?”
Parker: We’ve just started getting pages with Man-Thing’s return, and Kev Walker has pulled off another hat trick. Without really changing his appearance, Kev has found a new way to show how Man-Thing interacts with the world. It’s really cool. We’re tired of our swamp guy taking a back seat to DC’s! This is the year Man-Thing breaks out!