When the Red Hulk brought together Venom, the Punisher, Elektra, Deadpool, Mercy, and the Read Leader to form the latest incarnation of Marvel Comics’ “Thunderbolts” team he sought to create a super powered strike team that would show the enemies of freedom and justice no mercy. In doing so, however, he also created a highly volatile concoction that could explode at a moment’s notice.
The instability of the new “Thunderbolts” became readily apparent in the series first’ two arcs as the team members bonded and clashed in dangerous ways while destroying their first two targets: the dictatorial regime of a gamma-powered island nation and a high tech terrorist cell. In “Thunderbolts” #11, writer Daniel Way concluded the series’ second arc and his run on the title with a story that left the team fractured and wrestling with problems, personal demons and attractions. CBR News spoke with incoming writer Charles Soule about that status quo and his plans for it when he begins his run on “Thunderbolts” with issue #12.
CBR News: Charles, your predecessor, Daniel Way, left the Thunderbolts in some interesting places for you. It looks like the team was separated in issue #11 with Venom, Red Hulk and Deadpool in one place, Punisher and Elektra in another, and Red Leader and perhaps Mercy in yet another. Is that correct? And is the team still separated in issue #12? How much story time passes between issue the end of #11 and beginning of #12?
Charles Soule: Some story time, but not a ton. #12 (and #13, actually) are both designed to wrap up a few threads from Daniel’s run before we move on to the new big adventure that starts with #14. The team is back together in #12 and #13, but we don’t see all of them together in a single scene until #14. I liked that, though — it let me focus in on one or two characters and explore them in more depth, which is something that’s not always easy to do when the whole team’s hanging out together.
How would you describe the overall dynamic of the Thunderbolts going into issue #12? What binds these very strong, opinionated personalities together into an effective fighting force? Why haven’t they gone their separate ways?
That question is a big part of my run — almost the central question. The answer comes early in #14, though, so you won’t have to wait too long. I actually don’t think the team always is a particularly effective fighting force. They don’t necessarily trust each other all that much, and that mistrust occasionally explodes out into active dislike. (And sometimes we get the opposite, as we’ve seen with Punisher and Elektra getting together.)
How much attention has the team attracted going into issue #12? They’re on the CIA’s radar, but have the Thunderbolts’ activities caught the eye of any other intelligence, law enforcement or super powered agencies?
That’s an interesting question. My feeling is that they’re still operating pretty far under the radar at this point, although certainly that’s something that can change. In particular, there’s a sequence in the upcoming “Infinity” arc (issues #14-18) involving Mercy, Red Leader and Red Hulk that might just blow the lid off the whole thing.
Let’s move from the larger team into dynamics between specific characters and their current states of mind. You mentioned the Punisher and Elektra earlier. How would you describe what’s going on between them? Is it a romantic relationship? Given the emotional traumas these characters have endured over the years are they even capable of having romantic attachments?
I don’t see it as romantic. I see it as two incredibly damaged people who can relate to each other in a way that’s unique in their experience. They see each other as having similar interests. They don’t necessarily sit around and compare and contrast their respective psychoses, but they do understand each other. Sometimes that affinity gets expressed physically. And if you’re noting that I’m using really clinical terms to describe their “relationship,” that’s because I think it’s pretty far from anything we might see on the CW. On the other hand, I think they’re an awesome couple, and I’m having a blast with them.
In issue #11 Venom was ready to turn on the Red Hulk, but it appeared that Deadpool talked him out of it. Why do you think that is? How do Flash and Wade view each other? And has Flash set aside his concerns about Mercy? Or is he still troubled by what he saw her do on Kata Jaya in the first arc of “Thunderbolts?”
I see Flash as the guy who feels most out of his depth. He doesn’t see himself as a killer, despite hosting the Venom symbiote (that said, there’s a long history of symbiote hosts not realizing how bad they really are — hello Lethal Protector). He’s surrounded himself with these… killers, for lack of a better word, and the more he learns, the worse it gets. Issue #13 will directly address Flash’s concerns about Mercy — that’s an all-Mercy issue, basically. (As an aside, that’s an interesting name for that character, because the more I write her, the more merciless she seems.)
Let’s talk a little bit more about Mercy and her interest in Samuel Sterns, the Red Leader. At the end of “Thunderbolts” #11 we saw a page that looked like she was pushing Sterns back onto the villainous path he once walked. How much will we learn about Mercy and her agenda in issue #13 when she steps into the spotlight? And how does the Red leader currently view himself?
We’ll learn quite a bit, although it stays a bit vague for a little while yet. I see Mercy as something of an addict — she’s addicted to death, and she gravitates towards people who can bring her closer to her next “fix.” Where Samuel Sterns goes, death tends to follow, so she finds him to be a particularly interesting individual.
As far as the Red Leader himself, he’s coming back to a sense of understanding about who he was, and who he might be in the future. I don’t see him as bad or good, but I do see him as self-interested — which isn’t that different from anyone else on the team, really. He has things he wants, and he’ll use every bit of intellect he’s got in that huge red noggin to get them.
Last but not least we have the Red Hulk, General Ross. We haven’t heard you mention him much so far. What do you find most interesting about Ross? Which elements of his personality are you interested in exploring in “Thunderbolts?”
First, I like writing him as a military guy. He’s very regimented, and he likes to have a plan. He’s aware of that old adage that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, but he still likes to have a sense of what he’s going to do before the battle starts.
I also think of him as a guy with a past. Ross is old, at least by the standards of many Marvel U characters. He’s seen and done a lot of terrible things, and he’s allowed his pursuit of a monster to literally turn him into one. Ross has tons of baggage, but he’s trying to do his best to set some of it down. He sees the Thunderbolts as the best chance at redemption he’s likely to get — no one else is going to fix his past mistakes, but maybe he has an outside shot with this band of misfits he’s assembled.
Moving on from the characters, let’s start to wrap things up by chatting about the artists who will bring them to life. We know Steve Dillon is handling the Punisher spotlight in #12, but who’s drawing the Mercy spotlight in #13 and your “Infinity” tie-in arc that starts in #14? What do they bring to these particular stories?
Steve Dillon is on #12, and that was a dream come true — he’s drawn some of the most incredible Punisher stories I’ve ever read, not to mention “Preacher.” That series had a profound effect on young Charles back in the day. His work on #12 is as strong as anything I’ve seen him do.
Phil Noto handles #13, and again, stunning. There are some really large-scale sequences in that book set up in the Himalayas, and he did some panels of Red Hulk climbing snow-covered peaks that are 100% frameable.
Finally, my man Jefte Paolo is handling the five issues of the “Infinity” arc. He has a slightly more minimalist style than the other fellows, but the storytelling is as clear as I could want, and he’s got a great sense of humor in his work that I really like. It’s absolutely influenced the tone of the scripts — as soon as I realized he could draw “funny,” it opened up a bunch of cool story beats. (But don’t worry, it’s still plenty badass.)
With you joining the series with “Thunderbolts” #12, it almost functions as the start of a new “season” for the team. If you were to put together a “This season on ‘Thunderbolts'”-style clip reel to tease your plans for the book what kind of images would we see in it?
Deadpool making a wish. Red Hulk in a massive aerial battle over the East River. Red Leader doing some seriously shady business. Mercy’s backstory. Elektra luring some boys into a van. Venom begging to get the symbiote back. The Punisher at a party in Hollywood.
I’m really enjoying writing the title. The characters are some of my favorites in the entire Marvel U, and this setup lets me put them in some awesome situations. I feel like I’ve been working on issues for a while without readers having a chance to actually see any of it, so I’m really looking forward to the book hitting shelves.
“Thunderbolts” #12 by Charles Soule and Steve Dillon is on sale July 3.