Change is part of reality in the Marvel Universe. Some of its crazier denizens, such as Thunderbolts members Norman Osborn and Venom, may have psychoses that let them construct their own realities, but eventually they too have to embrace change. Said changes for the "Thunderbolts" begin this November when writer Andy Diggle ("Green Arrow: Year One") and artist Roberto De La Torre ("Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.") take over as the book's new creative team. CBR News spoke with Diggle and Editor Bill Rosemann for some hints about what's in store for the Marvel U's team of villainous heroes.
In the wake of "Civil War," the Commission on Superhuman activities co-opted the Thunderbolts program as a way of controlling and "reforming" super-villains. The Thunderbolts serves as the Commission's enforcers while a public relations blitz has made sure the public embraces the villains as heroes. "Thunderbolts" #122 hit stores this week and began a three-part storyline which ties into "Secret Invasion" and pits the team against the Skrull invaders attacking Earth.
Thunderbolts #125-126, Andy Diggle's first issues as writer deal with the fall out that comes the team's way at the end of "Secret Invasion" and their battle with the Skrulls. "The story opens with the Thunderbolts dealing with the immediate aftermath of the Skrull invasion, although things take a sudden and violent turn for the unexpected before the end of the first issue," Diggle told CBR News. "I'm having to kind of walk on eggshells so I don't give anything away about the end of 'Secret Invasion'. Bendis has saved some pretty great twists for that final issue."
The fallout from "Secret Invasion" results in some of the big changes readers will see in "Thunderbolts." "You'll see new team members. New mission priorities. And some well-loved characters will be sticking around--although not in the way you'd expect," Diggle hinted.
The Thunderbolts new mission priorities and mandate will send them all over the United States and possibly the world. "There's nowhere on the globe you can hide from the reach of the Thunderbolts!" Bill Rosemann remarked.
Diggle could only hint at the adversaries the Thunderbolts will confront on their new missions. "The enemies of the Thunderbolts are the enemies of whoever is controlling the Thunderbolts," the writer remarked. "The Thunderbolts are his weapon. Cryptic enough for ya?"
Currently, the man who controls the Thunderbolts is Spider-Man's old adversary Norman Osborn, who Diggle describes as a "functioning psychotic." "To quote the movie 'Speed,' he's 'crazy, not stupid.' He's clearly fiercely intelligent and a natural born leader, with the ego and competitive drive to succeed against all odds. He also just happens to be crazy as a shithouse rat," Diggle explained. "I think the secret to understanding Norman is that he doesn't realize he's the villain. He thinks he's the hero. He truly believes that he deserves public adulation, and it bugs the hell out of him that so-called 'superheroes' are getting it instead of him. Deep down, Norman Osborn just wants to be worshipped and adored. That and, y'know, Peter Parker's head on a spike."
Diggle finds the way Osborn and the other Thunderbolts walk the razor's edge of good and evil to be one of the appealing things about the title. "What attracts me to 'Thunderbolts' is the underlying moral ambiguity of the core concept, i.e. 'villains masquerading as heroes.' Superhero comics have traditionally been built along very simple moral boundaries, with clearly-defined heroes and villains battling it out. But in 'Thunderbolts,' the heroes ARE villains. Nothing is clear cut," Diggle stated. "They could go either way, and you never really know which way they might jump if push comes to shove. Their whole world is one big moral gray area--and that's where the stuff of drama lies."
"The Thunderbolts role in the Marvel Universe is to remind us how thin the line between hero and villain can be and that it's never too late for redemption-- or for sticking a knife in somebody's back." Rosemann added.
Before "Secret Invasion," the Thunderbolts served a pretty dark function in the Marvel Universe; they hunted down fugitive heroes who wouldn't sign the U.S. government's Superhuman Registration Act. Expect the duties the team gets tasked with after "Secret Invasion" to be even darker. "Let's just say that people in very high places (not to mention Andy Diggle) have big plans for our squad--plans that involve lots of pain." Rosemann stated.
Diggle added, "These guys do the dirty work."
Diggle is interested in telling smart stories of edgy action in "Thunderbolts." These stories will be structured in small arcs which feed into a bigger picture style story. "It makes for a satisfying monthly read, and lets you tie into the wider Marvel Universe without getting all tangled up in knots," the writer explained.
Tone wise, Diggle's "Thunderbolts" stories will be similar to the dark, violent, and black humored tales writer Warren Ellis told during his stint on the book. "You know what (Executive Editor) Tom Brevoort says, 'If it's not broke, don't break it!' Rosemann remarked. And usually he says that while pointing his enchanted crowbar at me. I'm not kidding - he has one behind his desk! So get those late pages in, creators!"
Diggle got the "Thunderbolts" assignment after approaching Marvel about doing some work for them. "Tom Brevoort whispered to me that Andy might be interested in joining the crazy crew over at Marvel, and asked me if I thought he'd be a good fit for grabbing the steering wheel of the Thunderbolts Express," Rosemann said. "Having been a fan of Andy's work on 'Losers' and 'Green Arrow: Year One,' I emailed Andy faster than Venom eats brains. Andy is known for his midnight dark humor, whip-smart dialogue, jaw-dropping cliffhangers, and bone-rattling action. Just seeing his list of proposed new T-Bolts members had us cackling with mad glee - and his first script gave me paper cuts because it was so sharp."
The previously mentioned moral ambiguity and the elements of dark humor made the "Thunderbolts" assignment an irresistible one for Diggle. "Plus I've been yearning to write an action book again," the writer stated. "I always had a blast writing those crazy, elaborate action set pieces in 'The Losers' and 'Green Arrow: Year One,' and it's a chance to have that kind of fun again. With Norman Osborn! What's not to love?"
In 2005, Diggle penned a one-shot Punisher Christmas Special but "Thunderbolts" is the writer's first ongoing series for Marvel. "I have to admit, I'm absolutely thrilled to be on the Marvel team, playing with these iconic characters and developing my own little corner of the shared story universe. It's been great to be allowed to peek behind the curtain and see what's planned for post-'Secret Invasion,'" Diggle said. It's clear and coherent and it makes sense, and as a writer, that's exactly what you want to build on."
Rosemann had worked with Diggle's new "Thunderbolts" collaborator Roberto De La Torre before on "Ms. Marvel" and knew the artist's style would be an excellent fit on the book. "And all the Iron Man readers can tell you how great he is at delivering realistic, military-flavored visuals, which placed him at the very top of our wish list," Rosemann said. "When Roberto draws someone getting punched in the nose, your own eyes water."
Diggle is very excited to have De La Torre bringing his "Thunderbolts" scripts to life. "There's a real tricky balancing act an artist has to pull off in superhero comics; the characters must live and breathe and emote well enough to convince you these are genuine human beings-- yet you also need to be able to pull off spectacular, larger-than- life action and impressive futuristic environments. It's tough to bring those elements together convincingly, and Roberto's 'Iron Man' work proves he can do it with style. Plenty of artist can do either gritty or spectacular, but Roberto can do both."
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