Parker Walks the Line Between Heroism and Villainy in "Thunderbolts"

The Marvel Universe may be a place of costumed heroes and villains, but the line between these ideological opposites is not as clear as many would like to believe. The best example of this is the team known as the Thunderbolts, a group originally founded by Baron Helmut Zemo with the purpose of duping the world into believing that a group of villains were actually heroes. Ultimately, Zemo's ruse worked too well and many of the original T-Bolts came to actually believe in the heroic ideals they started out by aping, eventually redeeming themselves in the eyes of the public, the government and even the Avengers. As the years went on, even the T-Bolts founder became less concerned with ruling the world and more concerned with saving it, albeit with his own ruthless style.

Recently, the U.S. government activated the latest version of the Thunderbolts, placing Luke Cage and several of the original T-Bolts in charge of a new squad of super-powered criminals they believed could be redeemed. The results have been mixed at best. Several members quickly washed out of the program, and in "Thunderbolts" #162, original T-Bolts member, Fixer, absconded into the past with several of his teammates by turning the group's headquarters, Thunderbolts Tower, into a time machine.

What does all of this mean for the Thunderbolts remaining in the present? And where and when have Fixer and his allies escaped to? For the answers to these questions and more, we spoke with "Thunderbolts" writer Jeff Parker, who recently kicked off his second year as writer of the series.

CBR News: Jeff, As you enter your second year as writer of "Thunderbolts," it seems like you're having more fun than ever. What are some of the elements that keep this series so intriguing for you?

Jeff Parker: I feel like we've gotten the tone of the book exactly where it needs to be to let us do almost anything we want, and now we can essentially run with the ball and show off. I can tell readers are responding to that, the people I meet at comics shows get so into it, it makes me crazy happy.

We've just shaken up the cast pretty hard, bringing in some new criminals and putting focus back on some of the original Thunderbolts. Doing this book as a big ensemble piece makes it fun for me. I like that we can visit a lot of the cast. Largely, that's because the artists are so good at nailing the acting on each character. In just one panel, an original player like Moonstone can remind you of everything you hate or love about her, and a new addition like Troll can pull you in with her excitement for adventure.

And still, I love the fact that no one is expected to be noble. So when someone finally is, that really has a big impact.

In issue #162, a lot of big things happened, but the biggest probably was Fixer and some of the Thunderbolts taking T-Bolts tower and vanishing. Going forward, what does this mean for the book? Will it be a series that follows both Fixer's rogue team and Songbird's government affiliated branch of the Thunderbolts?

Yes, we'll be following both, but mostly Fixer's team, which now has the potential to mess with Marvel history. But let's also not forget how mad Luke is at them stealing the whole tower for their escape. He was there watching that thing get built!

Let's talk a little bit about Fixer and his faction. Can you comment at all on why he's decided to break with the rest of the team like this? What exactly is motivating him?

I'll be surprised if a lot of people don't relate to Fixer with their job -- he's been expected to fulfill a role and has been passed over for promotion. He used to be a full-on criminal, having wild adventures. Would no one think he might like to see some action except as the last resort? He's had enough of "fix the force field" and "wait here until we get back." If you'd been reading "Captain America" you'd have seen he was still working with old boss Baron Zemo, too, but really there were plenty of signs in our book that he felt dumped on and was frustrated about it.

How would you describe the dynamic between Fixer and his team going into issue #163? Fixer's teammates appear to be the Thunderbolts who have more villainous leanings. Can the members of this group trust each other?

The direness of the situation forces them to have to work together. If everyone doesn't pull their weight, they may never get back home. Even when they can trust each other, though, they still can't account for the unpredictable natures of half the team.

It looks like we'll learn more about where Fixer and his team disappeared to starting in issue #163. What is the initial story line with Fixer's team about? The solicits and covers seem to indicate that this is a World War II-era story.

Yes, the Bolts meet The Invaders and fight the forces of the original Baron Zemo! Helpful Moonstone steps up immediately with a cover story for the team.

Also in September, we have the special "Thunderbolts" #163.1. What will new readers get from this issue, and what does this issue have for regular readers? Does this kick off a story line for Songbird's team of Thunderbolts?

This focuses on the good guys (and Ghost, whatever you consider him) left here in our time, trying to figure how to find their people who have vanished from the face of the Earth. They're so determined that they follow a lead from Dr. Strange into one of Satana's notoriously dangerous lairs around the globe. It also sneaks in an overview of the series from the beginning.

So far he's only made a couple of brief appearances during your run, but everything seems to be moving towards a character that was part of this series at the very beginning: Baron Helmut Zemo. How important is Zemo in upcoming issues and, in your opinion, is Helmut a hero, villain or something in-between?

Zemo is a hero and a villain, a perfect example of the dichotomy that "Thunderbolts" is all about. This book always examines the notion that heroes and villains aren't really that far apart; they're people who act in extraordinary ways and the result of their actions determines that title more than what they believe inside. Every day, we see people who clearly think themselves a force for good, yet they contribute nothing much, and there are plenty who actually help the world and still consider themselves selfish.

Your regular collaborators on this book are artists Kev Walker and Declan Shalvey, and in the coming months, you're going to be keeping both of them busy. What can readers expect from these guys?

Kev had to jump away for a bit to help with "Secret Avengers," but he returns in full force. He clearly has a good time with the out of the usual time period and may have drawn the scariest Red Skull I've ever seen! Dec also will be showing off with his moody interpretation of Victorian England. Yes, I caused the Brit to draw Austria and the Irish to draw London -- I know I'll pay for that one. It all looks gorgeous. I'm ridiculously lucky to work with these massive talents. And please don't forget color artist Frank Martin! That guy astounds me every month. I can't figure out how he pulls off a lot of the stuff he does.

Finally, how far along do you have the series planned out? Can you hint or tease what's coming up in "Thunderbolts" as we move towards fall and the end of the year?

It's building to something transformative and big that will likely affect the greater Marvel Universe soon. Since events have affected "Thunderbolts" so profoundly recently -- destroying their home base, taking away the Juggernaut -- it's only fair! Plus, we may pull an extremely crazy stunt for early next year, so be watching for that!

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