The eternal battle between good and evil is one of the defining struggles of the Marvel Universe, but that doesn’t mean combatants can’t change sides. While some consciously choose the path of darkness, others have that choice made for them as in the case of Captain America’s World War II era partner Bucky Barnes. For decades Bucky served as the Winter Soldier, a brainwashed spy and assassin for the Soviet Union. Since Cap helped free him from their control, he’s tried to atone for his past and walk the heroic path once more.
Of course, some villains eventually discover it’s in their own self interest to act for the greater good. In the case of the Thunderbolts, a team of villains who start out just pretending to be heroes, they realized they actually enjoyed it. The T-bolts eventually committed themselves to redemption and became the heroes they were originally just masquerading as.
This May, writer Jim Zub and artist Jon Malin bring the Winter Soldier and several original T-bolts together for a new “Thunderbolts” ongoing series that launches in the aftermath of the “Avengers: Standoff” crossover event. CBR News spoke with Zub about his take on the team, its new and returning members, the types of adventures he has in store for the new team and how Winter Soldier’s leadership will affect the type of threats they confront.
CBR News: Over the years the Thunderbolts have been villains pretending to be heroes, former villains trying to reform and be heroes, government assassins, super powered criminals given heroic tasks by the U.S. government, and the personal wetworks team of Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. I know you’re wary of spoilers for the currently unfolding “Standoff,” but can you talk about your vision of the team and what themes you’ll use these characters to explore?
Jim Zub: The heart of Thunderbolts has always been some variation on “bad people doing good things for the wrong/right reasons” and that’s a really fun dynamic to explore. Our new team, which brings a lot of old favorites back while also blazing its own trail, is filled with interesting and flawed characters who have a lot of experience but still aren’t sure where they’re “supposed” to be, which I think anyone can relate to.
Let’s talk about your characters starting with with their new team leader, the Winter Soldier. To my knowledge Bucky Barnes had been part of teams in the past, but he’s never really been in a leadership position, correct?
You’re absolutely right that Bucky’s never been a leader and he’s never had to deal with anything even remotely like this. Even when he was Captain America he didn’t have to hold a group together the way he does here. Exploring his ability to handle this new responsibility is going to be fun.
The other new member of your team appears to be a ghostly child. Is this a character we’ll learn more about during the “Standoff” crossover that “Thunderbolts” spins out of? Or will we be meeting her for the first time in your book?
Yeah, I’ll have to gracefully duck out on this one because it’s tied into “Standoff.” She adds a whole other level to the team dynamic and I want to keep that under wraps for now.
Fair enough. Abner Jenkins (AKA Mach VII) and Karla Sofen (AKA Moonstone/Meteorite) are two members of the original Thunderbolts who, if I remember their histories right, appear to have very different ideas about good, evil and the shades in between. What’s your sense of these characters’ moral compasses when you pick up with them in “Thunderbolts” #1?
Those two have absolutely run the gamut in terms of being redemptive or villainous. Being back on the same team is not something either would have expected and the tension that generates is palpable right from the get-go.
Rounding out your cast are two other original T-Bolts, Fixer and Atlas. What do you enjoy most about writing these characters?
Atlas is a character with a such a long and varied history but, at his core, he’s looking for somewhere to belong. His natural tendency has been to gravitate to the Thunderbolts and, of anyone on the new team, his heart is really invested in trying to make this work.
As far as the Fixer goes, I’ll keep it brief because I don’t want to spoil anything. He’s always been a guy with mixed loyalties and complex machinations. He’s keeping his cards close to his chest.
What can you tell us about the initial dynamic and shape of the Thunderbolts when your series begins? Is this a team that’s fully formed by the first page of issue #1? And are the various members happy to be working together?
The first issue begins with the team already formed. I can’t go into how that takes place yet, but issue #1 will be a great place to get on board even if readers don’t check out “Standoff” (but, trust me, they really should read “Standoff” because it’s going to be great and has ramifications for a lot of future Marvel story lines).
Are they happy? Hmmm — well, let’s say right now they’re an effective fighting force but everyone is testing their limits to see how the team dynamic is going to shake out. Not everyone is happy with their current situation and that creates tension right from the start.
Over the years, artist Jon Malin has drawn a number of different high action super teams and heroes from the New Warriors to Cable & Deadpool to Youngblood. He seems like a pretty great fit for a book like “Thunderbolts.” What do you enjoy most about Jon’s style?
Jon’s really turning it up a notch on this book and I think readers are going to be impressed with what he’s bringing to the story. There’s an energy and action that harkens back to the early Image era, but he’s not sacrificing his storytelling to do it. It’s a nice balance of dynamic and dramatic.
What can you tell us about the types of stories you’re interested in telling in “Thunderbolts” and the tones they’ll feature?
Big action with high stakes, capers gone wrong, moral quandaries, loyalty versus legacy, and a healthy dose of betrayal.
Will your Thunderbolts have a specific mandate or specialize in a particular kind of threat?
The original Thunderbolts went toe-to-toe with the Avengers and held their own and, with so many founding members here, I’m definitely keeping that power level in mind. I’m excited to have them clash with high-powered heroes and villains alike as they carry out their new missions. Their first conflict is something, how can I put it — non-human, and that’ll create a lot of problems for them as the story moves forward.
In classic “Thunderbolts”-style, the exterior threats will be bad, but the internal strife will be just as problematic, if not more so. Bucky and company have their work cut out for them.
I’m stoked about digging into the Marvel Universe and playing with such a great ensemble cast. We’re building a multi-layered story with slowly bubbling subplots alongside tight action-packed missions and the occasional side story to keep readers on their toes. I can’t wait for readers to see what we have planned.
You’ve written both of Marvel’s “Figment” Disney Kingdoms series and you’ve done some work for their special projects division, but I believe this is your first mainstream Marvel Universe work, correct?
Yeah, this is my first “continuity-based” Marvel superhero project and I’m excited about engaging a new audience while also bringing readers of my previous titles on board “Thunderbolts.”
Considering your body of work, what else would you recommend for readers who want to discover more about you ahead of “Thunderbolts?”
If people want to check out some of my other comic work, I’d recommend “Wayward,” my ongoing supernatural series set in Japan published by Image; “D&D: Legends of Baldur’s Gate” or “Pathfinder,” both adventurous sword & sorcery series I did for IDW and Dynamite; or “Skullkickers,” my breakthrough action-comedy title at Image that started this whole comic writing ball rolling for me back in 2010. In fact, old issues of “Skullkickers” are serializing online for free at http://comic.skullkickers.com so it’s easier than ever to sample my work.
“Thunderbolts” #1 storms comics shops May 4 from Marvel Comics.