Now that Norman Osborn has become the U.S. Government's premier superhuman law enforcement official, he's a major public figure; a household name, and his every move is newsworthy. But there are certain dirty deeds that Norman needs done that nobody know about. In our latest installment of THE OSBORN SUPREMACY, CBR's look at Marvel Comics' ongoing Dark Reign saga, we spoke with "Thunderbolts" writer Andy Diggle about Osborn's covert action team and previewed exclusive artwork by his collaborator, artist Roberto De la Torre.
Like Marvel Comic readers, Norman Osborn is also embracing change. His new Thunderbolts team won't be similar to the last incarnation of the group, which he lead during Secret Invasion. That Thunderbolts team was sponsored by the U.S. Government's Commission on Superhuman Activities. "Norman viewed the CSA-backed Thunderbolts gig as a stepping stone," Andy Diggle told CBR News. "He clearly doesn't have any genuine commitment to the rehabilitation of offenders, but he knows it's in his own interest to play along in the eyes of the public. Results are all that matters to Norman; what goes on behind the scenes can be ugly as hell, just as long as he keeps a lid on it and gets results.
"Now that the CSA-backed Thunderbolts have served their purpose, Norman has officially disbanded the team. At least, that's what the public are supposed to think. Secretly he's assembled a whole new Thunderbolts team that answers only to himself; an off-the-books murder squad, there to do the jobs that are too dirty for H.A.M.M.E.R. [the successor to S.H.I.E.L.D.] or the Avengers."
In putting together his new covert Thunderbolts team, Osborn selected candidates with a very particular set of skills. "I like to think of it as the 'Evil Mission: Impossible.' So Norman selected agents with stealth, infiltration and assassination skills rather than overt flying-and-fighting type powers," Diggle explained. "Ghost, for example, may not seem like a formidable fighter, but his intangibility makes him impervious to attack, his invisibility makes him impossible to detect, and his tech skills allow him to crack any vault or database on Earth. That's a useful guy to have on your team -- assuming you can actually control him."
Eric O'Grady's shrinking powers may make him an asset for infiltration missions, but his penchant for cowardice and duplicity make Ant-Man a seemingly unusual choice for Osborn's new Thunderbolts team. "I'll let you in on a secret; Norman doesn't know that Eric O'Grady secretly re-wrote his own S.H.I.E.L.D. file to make himself sound more formidable and competent than he actually is," Diggle revealed. "Eric likes the idea of the fame, fortune and, frankly, women that he thinks comes with being a superhero; he just doesn't want to have to do anything heroic. So Norman is probably overestimating Eric's ruthlessness, courage and competence. Only time will tell just how badly out of his depth Eric really is...."
Given the messy and clandestine nature of their work, Osborn can't accompany his new Thunderbolts on missions. As such, he needs a dangerous and highly capable leader to tack charge of the team in the field. "Yelena Belova, the 'evil' Black Widow II, is the new field leader," Diggle confirmed. "She's one of the most lethal agents ever to come through Russia's Red Room training facility -- the same outfit that trained Natasha Romanova -- and she was believed dead until she turned up working with Blade's Vanguard vigilante team. She's a warrior without a war; Norman has given her one."
Osborn's previous Thunderbolts team often lost battles or failed missions because of their inability to work together. The new Thunderbolts are therefore going to have to get their act together very quickly or suffer the consequences. "Now that he no longer has to pay lip-service to the CSA, Norman's leadership style is becoming even more ruthless," Diggle remarked. "He's not going to tolerate any kind of failure or insubordination in the ranks; so Thunderbolts who mess up will be kicked off the team -- and into an unmarked grave -- and replaced with someone even more ruthless. So there is no status quo; anything can happen here. Any one of these characters can be killed and replaced, so any friction among the team members is more likely to be directed at Norman than at each other."
The new Thunderbolts are tasked with carrying out Norman Osborn's will, which means they're going wherever and eliminating whoever has the misfortune of upsetting their boss. The team's target for their first mission in "Thunderbolts" #128 has angered Osborn by assuming his old Green Goblin identity. "Now that he's been appointed the Director of H.A.M.M.E.R., the last thing Norman wants is for someone to dredge up his villainous past and shame him in front of the new President," Diggle stated. "So any threat to his power-base will be dealt with ruthlessly."
It's still unclear how the Thunderbolts will fare against the newest Green Goblin, but one thing is for certain: they're bound to find the Goblin a lot less annoying than their next target, the ever loquacious, Deadpool. Osborn sends his team after the Merc With a Mouth in a storyline titled "Magnum Opus," a crossover that begins in March and spans "Deadpool" #8-9 and "Thunderbolts" #130-131.
"Norman intercepted some secret Skrull data that Deadpool retrieved for Nick Fury (in 'Deadpool' #3), so Deadpool figures Norman owes him big time," Diggle explained. "Norman, meanwhile, doesn't like loose ends -- especially loose ends that know his dirty secrets. Deadpool just wants to get paid, but Norman wants Deadpool dead -- and he sends the Thunderbolts to do the job. Easier said than done..."
Now that Norman Osborn has achieved his Dark Reign and has a new team of Thunderbolts to do his wetwork, Diggle is finding the experience of writing the character to be very freeing. "Warren Ellis did a great job writing Norman as the 'caged tiger', chafing against the restraints the CSA put on him," the writer said, referencing Ellis' run on the "Thunderbolts" title. "Now, Dark Reign has opened the cage, and Norman is free to run wild. And that, my friend, is one scary proposition. Scary, but fun!"
"Thunderbolts" #128 is in stores January 21 from Marvel Comics.