In 1997, writer Kurt Busiek and artist Mark Bagley shocked comic readers everywhere with the final page of "Thunderbolts" #1, revealing that the Marvel Universe's newest team of heroes was actually a group of some of its vilest villains in disguise. There's a fine line, however, between being a hero and pretending to be one, and eventually the original T-Bolts made the decision to redeem themselves and become actual heroes.
Years later, in the aftermath of the superhero Civil War, Norman Osborn was placed in charge of the United States government's Thunderbolts program. Under Osborn's control, the members of the Thunderbolts reverted to their roots, once more becoming a team of villains pretending to be heroes. This iteration of the Thunderbolts' primary purpose was to hunt down fugitive heroes who opposed the federal government's Superhuman Registration Act. Later, under Osborn's Dark Reign, the Thunderbolts legacy was corrupted even further as the former Green Goblin turned the group into his own clandestine team of assassins.
This May, Osborn's Dark Reign over the Marvel Universe comes to an end and a new Heroic Age begins. "Thunderbolts" #144, by writer Jeff Parker and new artist Kev Walker, marks the beginning of the Heroic Age for the T-Bolts. CBR News spoke with Parker about his plans for the book.
CBR News: Jeff, perhaps the biggest news is that Luke Cage is now a member of the Thunderbolts. What can you tell me about the role he plays in the series, and in your mind what made Luke the right person for this role?
Jeff Parker: Luke is the linchpin that holds it all together. After what Norman Osborn did with the Thunderbolts program, most people don't want it to ever exist in any form at all. But some influential people understand the value of a program that tries to give these powerful agents a more noble purpose. So the next time an Osborn rises to prominence, maybe he won't have so many big guns at his disposal.
Cover by Marko Djurdjevic
To justify keeping Thunderbolts going, a very trusted figure had to accept the role as the mentor/leader, and had Luke not taken it, it would have been shut down completely. He's perfect. He understands how you can take a wrong path, and how you can better yourself. And he's tough enough to deal with the hardest criminal.
Is there anything you can say about how the Thunderbolts program will work in the Heroic Age? Is it a program that you can volunteer for, is it something that you get assigned to, or is it both?
It is based in The Raft, now the only and most closely watched incarceration facility for extra-normal beings. The only possible way out, besides serving out your sentence, is proving yourself in the Thunderbolts. You can volunteer for it, but a committee has to select you. We'll get more into that in the book.
In addition to Luke Cage, the initial line up of Thunderbolts has been revealed to include Juggernaut, Crossbones, Ghost, Moonstone, and Man-Thing. Is there anything you can say about these characters motivations for being on the Thunderbolts?
I think everyone's prime motivation is: I do not want to rot in this cell. I would rather have Luke Cage screaming at me as I run into the probability of certain death than rot in this cell. Except for the Man-Thing, of course - no one can ever tell what he's thinking. And no one asked him anyway.
How would you describe the initial dynamic between these characters? Is there anybody Luke can trust on this team?
That's what Luke would like to know! Moonstone is in and out of the program. She shows promise and then, bam - she lets you down. Ghost also seems promising, but then there's quirks, like him trying to kill Iron Man. Juggernaut, some people think he's a hero too.
Is Thunderbolts a book with a fixed cast or will we see certain cast members leave the book and new ones introduced on a regular basis?
It will rotate, and even when we're focusing on a core group, there's always the likelihood of another prisoner being brought in for a certain mission that his or her powers fit with well.
What can you tell us about the plot and themes of the first Heroic Age arc of Thunderbolts? Where does it take place? What kinds of threats will you throw at the team?
At first, they have to spend some time on the aftermath of the "Dark Reign". While H.A.M.M.E.R. was in power, there was no S.H.I.E.L.D. in place to handle the things they would have around the world, and some hotspots have become a furnace.
Is there anything you can tell us about the supporting cast of "Thunderbolts?" Do you have any plans for Luke Cage's friends and family or the original T-Bolts like Songbird, Techno, or Mach V?
You'll see some of those original 'Bolts lending their expertise to the program and weighing in on the team creation process. They'll be part of the extended cast. And you will see Luke's family; they're a big part of his life that he is trying to balance here.
What do you feel your new artistic collaborator Kev Walker brings to this book?
Kev brings the experience and skill to get all of the elements this new order requires. And he can get across the menace of the prisoners and the threats the team face. I'm excited to be working with him, carving out this new age of the book.
What can you tell us about the overall tone of the "Thunderbolts" stories in the Heroic Age?
It will incorporate the various tones that each era of the Thunderbolts have had- it's a big sweeping ensemble book, and there's room for all of that, from the hopeful goal of redemption to the depths that the darkest characters embody. And when you get comfortable with one, expect it to shift!