The general public of the Marvel Universe believes the Thunderbolts, chief enforcers of the Superhuman Registration Act, to be heroes. Sure, their ranks are composed of some of the vilest villains around, but they’ve all reformed. Right?
The Thunderbolts’ masters in the U.S. Commission on Superhuman activities know the truth. The Thunderbolts aren’t heroes. They’re monsters, but they’re very useful monsters. That’s why they keep them on such a tight leash. So what happens when someone comes along and offers one of these monsters a way to cut their leash? And what happens when things get so bad that you’re left with no choice but to unleash your monsters?
Writer Christos Gage will explore these questions and more in two separate Thunderbolts projects. In the May one-shot “Thunderbolts: Reason in Madness,” Gage turns the spotlight on T-bolts members Venom and Norman Osborn. Then in July, with “Thunderbolts” #122, Gage takes over the title from outgoing writer Warren Ellis for a four-part arc that ties into “Secret Invasion” and pits them against the Skrulls attacking Earth.
“Reason in Madness” isn’t the first time Gage has tackled the Thunderbolts. His first Thunderbolts one-shot “Breaking Point,” was released in November 2007, and his second, “International Incident,” hit stores in February. “I've always loved writing villains and flawed characters, you can get away with more, and there are so many directions in which you can take them,” Gage told CBR News. “Some of the Thunderbolts, like Songbird, are actively trying to find redemption, but the past has a way of dragging you back just when you think you've escaped. Others are in it for the money, while still others are completely insane. Some are sympathetic; some are nuts, and some you love to hate. Put simply, it's fun to write them--the wrong kind of fun that you feel guilty about afterward, but go right back to doing as soon as you have the chance.”
When writer Paul Jenkins chose to focus on just two characters in the first Thunderbolts one-shot, “Desperate Measures”, he started a tradition that continues with Gage’s “Reason in Madness.” “What it allows me to do as a writer is put the focus on two characters rather than the whole team, which, in a done-in-one issue, allows me to create a substantial story about those two people rather than trying to give everyone screen time and ending up not really being able to get in depth with any of them,” Gage explained.
The stars of “Reason in Madness,” Thunderbolts director Norman Osborn and team member Venom, are both mentally unhinged -- hence the title-- but they also share a common history as Spider-Man foes. “That history will come into play in our story,” Gage said. “Without mentioning any names, Venom is approached by some old partners in crime who make him the proverbial offer he can't refuse--in exchange for betraying Norman. One way or another, you know this can't end well. You'll see Norman Osborn really cut loose--and we'll illustrate quite clearly why he's the man in charge.”
Drawing Gage’s tale of betrayal and insanity is artist Ben Oliver, who worked with the writer on the “International Incident” one-shot. “I really liked what he did there, especially on Arnim Zola's monsters, so I gave him another monster to draw in the opening of this issue--an obscure New Warriors villain called Biohazard,” Gage remarked. “I also think Ben conveys 'crazy’ well, which is very important for a story like this!”
“Reason in Madness” and Gage’s other one-shots are helping to relieve some of the pressure the writer feels from taking over “Thunderbolts” from superstar writer Warren Ellis, whose run on the book ends with June’s issue #121. “Having written those makes me feel like I have a handle on the characters, so there's a certain comfort level,” Gage stated. “Of course, Warren is the ultimate tough act to follow, but I can only do my best and hope people like it. I feel the same pressure on everything I do--I want to deliver the best work I can and give the readers their money's worth.”
In Ellis’ current “Caged Angels” arc, the Thunderbolts are attacking each other and on the verge of implosion, but when Gage’s run begins, the team is still together. “Well, the team is together physically, but mentally and emotionally it might be a very different story,” Gage warned. “In 'Caged Angels,’ they are all being mentally manipulated by telepaths. When we pick things up, they'll still be feeling the effects of that. More, I can't say.”
Gage’s Thunderbolts #122 sees the team going toe-to-toe with Captain Marvel. This battle was set up in the pages of “Secret Invasion” #1, where Captain Marvel smashed his way into Thunderbolts Mountain, the team’s headquarters. Gage couldn’t revel how much story time passes between the two issues without spoiling upcoming issues of “Secret Invasion.” “I can tell you that, by the end of 'T-Bolts’ #122, we will be current with the main 'Secret Invasion’ book,” he confirmed. “And as far as I know, the T-Bolts/Captain Marvel battle is not being covered anywhere else. You'll only see it in Thunderbolts--a substantially expanded version of the fight in 'Secret Invasion,’ actually!”
Readers might be wondering why Captain Marvel is picking a fight with the Thunderbolts in the first place. In the “Captain Marvel” #5, it was revealed the seemingly resurrected Captain Marvel was actually a Skrull agent who had bonded his DNA with that of the real Captain Marvel. Despite his nature as a Skrull agent, it appeared he wanted to honor the original Captain Marvel’s legacy by fighting against the Skrulls attacking Earth. “Is Captain Marvel acting as an agent of the Skrulls, or is he attacking a team of individuals he knows to be villains, in spite of their legal status?” Gage remarked. Captain Skrull-Marvel’s motives will be explored in “Secret Invasion: Who Do You Trust,” in a Brian Reed-penned story that bridges the gap between “Secret Invasion” and the “Captain Marvel” miniseries.
“This is a 'Secret Invasion’ story, so there will be much fighting of Skrulls,” Gage explained. “I can't reveal a lot about the plot except that the Thunderbolts are called upon to move past their mandate of bringing in unregistered superhumans and actually defend the Earth. But if these guys are our last hope, we might be better off with the Skrulls.”
Warren Ellis’s “Thunderbolts” stories featured very dark tones and Gage’s arc will be just as dark, but in a different way. “This is war. And you know what they say--war is hell!” said the writer. “You could argue that the T-Bolts have an advantage over, say, the Avengers when it comes to fighting the Skrulls, because they're villains--they've never held back to begin with, so they should have no problem cutting loose.
“And the 'Who Do You Trust’ psychological warfare doesn't affect them, because they don't trust each other anyway. But the greatest enemy could be within; as that distrust might boil over in combat--it would be easy for one team member to kill another one in a 'not-so-friendly fire’ incident.
“Of course, while this is in many ways a war story, we will still manage to find time for the twisted psychological machinations that have become a hallmark of this team. There's a scene with Swordsman in the first issue that, while quiet, I think is one of the creepier moments we've had yet.”
Artist Fernando Blanco will bring Gage’s “Thunderbolts” arc to life. “Thus far I've only seen his layouts, but I was very impressed with them,” Gage said. “He has an excellent grasp of the characters and is able to convey a lot through their body language. The shots of Venom are especially impressive! He is one scary dude, and Fernando knows it, and he really brings that to life.”
Gage has had a fantastic time writing the Thunderbolts and hopes readers enjoy his issues but couldn’t reveal if he would be staying on the book past his four-issue “Secret Invasion” arc. “After that, it's a mystery,” he said. “Will the Thunderbolts even exist after Secret Invasion?”
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