SPOILER WARNING: This interview contains major spoilers for "Captain America: Steve Rogers" #2, on sale now.
At the end of the recent "Avengers: Standoff" crossover, Bucky Barnes (AKA the Winter Soldier) found himself the caretaker of a young girl named Kobik and in command of a new team of Thunderbolts made up of some of the group's classic members. Of course, Kobik is more than a precocious child -- she's an evolved sentient fragment of the reality altering artifact known as the Cosmic Cube, and Bucky and his teammates must protect her from the all the forces that would exploit her abilities including the international espionage agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D.
Unbeknownst to Bucky, his situation has a wider scope than he could have ever imagined. As such, writer Jim Zub and artist Jon Malin's "Thunderbolts" is tightly linked to "Captain America: Steve Rogers" series by Nick Spencer and Jesus Saiz, which just revealed that Kobik views the Red Skull as a sort of father figure. It was also revealed that at the Skull's request, Kobik used her reality altering powers to restore Steve Rogers' youth while altering history in such a way that the star-spangled Avenger has been an operative of the terrorist group Hydra all along.
So what do these revelations about Kobik and Bucky's mentor mean for "Thunderbolts?" How connected will the series be to the story being told in "Captain America: Steve Rogers?" And what's next for the new Thunderbolts? For the answers to those questions and more, CBR News spoke with Zub about his plans for the book, his take on Kobik's relationship with the Red Skull, Bucky's feelings about Kobik, and the established Marvel heroes the T-Bolts will run afoul of in the next few months.
CBR News: Let's start off chatting about the big reveal from "Steve Rogers: Captain America" #2 and how it connects to your book; the fact that Kobik has an almost father-daughter relationship with the Skull, and she used her power to rewrite history and make Steve a part of Hydra. Since Kobik (and her powers) are a major part of "Thunderbolts'" narrative, closely have you and Nick Spencer been working together?
Jim Zub: After keeping this a secret for quite a while, it feels a bit strange to finally have it out in the open. Yes, that's a pretty good summary of what's happened. As soon as I was approved as the writer for "Thunderbolts," Nick and I jumped on a conference call and he told me his plans for Steve Rogers and where things would be heading. It was big, bold, and kind of crazy -- the kind of dramatic superhero storyline that's destined to become classic or infamous, or both. I was excited to be in the mix, and I really appreciate that he and Tom trusted me with their big secret.
"Thunderbolts" absolutely works as its own team book, but it also carries a subplot from "Captain America" that gives greater depth to Kobik and supports Nick's story as it unfolds. Bucky and Kobik are an important part of the series, but I have the rest of the Thunderbolts cast as well, and I haven't forgotten about them. All in all, it's a fun rollercoaster ride of action and drama.
What's your sense of how having the Red Skull as a sort of father affected Kobik's personality? What do you see as her current core personality traits?
Mentally, she's a child, mostly innocent, with minimal concept of the ramifications of her actions. Like any kid at that age, she looks to the adults around her for structure and guidance, but in this case that's been twisted by the Red Skull, by her handlers at S.H.I.E.L.D., and even by the Thunderbolts. The power she carries within can't be ignored, and it drives people to use her, whether they intend to or not.
The revelation of Kobik's connection to the Red Skull begs a couple questions. Why hasn't she reconnected with the Skull in the aftermath of "Standoff?" Or has she been communicating with the Skull, and her team and us readers just aren't aware of it yet?
Those are very important questions that, unfortunately, I can't answer here. Suffice to say, there are answers to all of those and they will be revealed.
Now that we know Kobik is responsible for what happened to Steve Rogers, the fact that Bucky's phone call to his former partner in "Thunderbolts" #1 mysteriously ended seems awfully suspicious. Can you comment on that at all?
I don't know about you, but I have problems with cell reception all the time. We all do. I'm sure it's a complete coincidence. I was just reflecting on one of those little day-to-day problems in the modern world. [Coughs]
[Laughs] Speaking of Bucky, he seems very connected to and protective of Kobik. Why is that? Is he simply trying to protect his teammates and the world from a girl with dangerous powers, or is there more to their relationship?
Mentally separating those two aspects of who Kobik is -- the young girl and the cosmic cube -- is very difficult. Bucky has been used as a weapon against his will. He knows exactly what that feels like, and doesn't wish that upon anyone, let alone a child. Bucky knows S.H.I.E.L.D. can't be trusted with her, and so he's taken it upon himself to keep her safe -- but the depth of that responsibility is far more than he could have imagined.
Kobik views the rest of the Thunderbolts as friends, but how do they view her going into issue #3? It seems like Fixer doesn't really like her all that much.
Kobik adds a delightful amount of tension to almost every scene she's in because the team really doesn't know how to deal with her. She's the "monkey's paw" on a cosmic scale, but she's also a little girl who wants to play and be part of the team. Fixer is one of the only ones who really comprehends how dangerous she is, and, understandably, that freaks him right out. He can barely contain that fight or flight reaction to her. Atlas is like a big brother, MACH-X isn't quite sure of what to make of her, and Moonstone -- well, you'll have to keep reading for that.
Issue #3 sees the Thunderbolts taking on Crystal and the "All-New Inhumans." What's it like bouncing these characters off of Bucky, Kobik and the rest of the team?
I know it's cliche, but the tension that naturally comes from team vs team scraps is a blast. The all-new Inhumans are young and inexperienced, but they've also been training to work together. The Thunderbolts are veterans, but they're also dealing with team tension that threaten to tear them apart, so it's a more than fair fight. Playing off of those two in conflict is a lot of fun.
So much of "Thunderbolts" relies on Jon Malin's depictions of your characters and the fantastic things they encounter, but the facial expressions, especially of characters like Kobik, are equally important. He seems to be having a lot of fun with both of those elements. How has it been working on this book with Jon? What have you enjoyed most about his art so far?
Jon's working his butt off on the series, and I think it really shows in the final pages. Big action is his forte, but I've been pleasantly surprised at how well he's dealt with some of the dramatic character moments as well. The "Thunderbolts" scripts are pretty dense in terms of dialogue, action and roller coaster plot, and he's juggling it all quite well.
In addition, colorist Matt Yackey, letterer Joe Sabino and editors Alanna Smith and Tom Brevoort all bring a lot to the table as well. It really is a team effort.
It appears these next few months will really establish The Thunderbolts' presence in the Marvel Universe -- after the Inhumans, the team will run into the Squadron Supreme, and then Spider-Man/Miles Morales. Do you have plans for them to get involved in "Civil War II?"
Yeah, the Thunderbolts are definitely creating friction right from the get-go, jamming up against other teams and characters in the Marvel Universe. At the start of issue #1, we established them as doing what needed to be done when they invaded a S.H.I.E.L.D. outpost and messed with their networks, and things just continue to cascade from there. The new Thunderbolts are a weird mixture of anarchists and black-ops agents, protecting people at any cost. That kind of dangerous and decisive activity inevitably puts them in conflict with other heroes.
The Squadron Supreme channels a similar approach of doing what needs to be done no matter what, so seeing those two teams go at it is a particular thrill. Nighthawk and his crew are ruthless when it comes to punishing those they consider a threat, and with the Thunderbolts in their crosshairs, it's about to get really ugly.
"Thunderbolts" #5, with Bucky chasing down Miles Morales, is a "Civil War II" tie-in, and it'll have big ramifications for the series going forward. I can't really say much more than that right now.
Working on "Thunderbolts" has been an enjoyable challenge. The series carries a lot of history, but it's also important to keep it fresh and accessible to new readers. It has connective tissue to a bunch of different titles and larger plotlines happening in the Marvel Universe, but it also needs to stand on its own as a viable continuing story from month to month. Balancing those elements has taught me a lot about collaborating with others, and I'm excited for people to see where it all goes from here.