The old saying "It takes a thief to catch a thief" may be cliche, but there is some truth to it, especially in the Marvel Universe, and Norman Osborn is cunning enough to understand this. Osborn's problems don't come from thieves, though; they stem from the number of heroes who are opposing his "Dark Reign" over the Marvel Universe. So in September's double-sized "Thunderbolts" #136, by the guest creative team of Rick Remender and artist Mahmud S. Asrar, Osborn decides the best way to kill heroes is by manipulating other heroes. CBR News spoke with Remender and editor Bill Rosemann about the issue and the unlucky heroes that Osborn wants to turn into assassins: Power Man & Iron Fist.
Writer Andy Diggle and new artist Miguel Sepulveda are the monthly creative team on "Thunderbolts," but both they and Rosemann enjoy it when the occasional guests come in and take their characters out for a spin. "I've been a fan of both Rick and Mahmud from their early issues of their creator-owned titles, Rick's 'Fear Agent' and Mahmud's 'Dynamo 5,' and I always look for opportunities to either invite new voices to Marvel, or work with creators that are already here, but I haven't yet had the chance to collaborate with," Rosemann told CBR News. "I worked with Rick on our Hood short story in the 'Dark Reign: Cabal' one-shot, and with Mahmud both on 'Nova Annual' #1 and in recent issues of 'War Machine.' This issue was another chance to offer them the opportunity to do their thing at the House of Ideas, this time united into an unstoppable awesome machine. Rick writes great 'Die Hard' situations--Mahmud draws amazing heroic action scenes. Mix them together and KA-BLAMMO!"
Rick Remender was a huge Marvel Comics fan growing up, and is especially fond of Power Man and Iron Fist, so he jumped at the chance to pen an issue of "Thunderbolts" featuring the characters. "Bill contacted me and asked if I would like to do something for 'Thunderbolts,' and we got to talking. He really liked the idea I had about how Norman Osborn would deal with another objective on his list that he hasn't yet tackled," the writer said. "The idea was to amplify the Thunderbolts, which currently serve as his team of top secret assassins. The Thunderbolts are a crack squad of underestimated and vicious bad-asses, but Osborn has got a lot of people speaking out against him throughout the world and a lot of heroes challenging his rule. He's got this shiny PR image as the savior of humanity, so it would be very difficult for him to kill many of those people publicly.
"So instead, what he starts in my issue of 'Thunderbolts' is a program to coerce and subjugate heroes to his will, so they'll be under his thumb," Remender continued. "He's got a couple of methods in mind for how to do this. Utilizing his current Thunderbolts, his first targets for this new scheme become Danny Rand, AKA Iron Fist and Luke Cage, AKA Power Man."
Osborn targets Cage and Rand because they have a history of working together and their unique abilities lend themselves to stealth and "wetworks" style operations. "You've got major brawn in Luke, who's a super bad-ass and you've got the sly, conniving, assassin capabilities of Danny Rand, kung-fu master. For what Osborn wants to accomplish, they may not be top of the list targets, like Wolverine, but they are big targets," Remender stated. "So they're a natural fit for this new program Osborn wants to start. Plus, Norman has other reasons for wanting Danny Rand taken off the board. This works at a couple of levels."
Power Man and Iron Fist may seem like ideal candidates to Osborn for his new assassin initiative, but the two are heroes, and headstrong ones at that, especially Luke Cage, which means Osborn is going to need to a very compelling argument to acquire their services. The former Green Goblin can be very persuasive, though. "Osborn plans on exploiting their concern for each other and their loved ones," Remender explained. "Our greatest strength is also our greatest frailty in that, if someone were to target us by going after a friend or a loved one, it's the most terrifying thing anyone can imagine."
For Remender, it was the longevity and complexity of Cage and Rand's friendship that made them especially interesting characters for the situation he's setting up in "Thunderbolts." "I think ultimately, one of the undercurrents in this story is the power of a long lasting friendship. When you get a lot of history with a close friend, be it good, bad, or back and forth and they become like a brother to you, that foundation never falls apart. It's always there," Remender remarked. "So for these two, a big part of the book is how the foundation of their friendship comes into play when they're in a situation like the one Norman Osborn puts them in, and I really enjoyed writing that. It gets to the humanity and core of their relationship and also deals with some current continuity, like Misty Knight and some other things. Hopefully, beyond all the high octane action stuff that we have planned, this story will give a glimpse into the heart of these characters when it comes to one another.
From its inception "Thunderbolts" has been a series featuring villains. Rosemann feels that adding less nefarious characters like Luke Cage and Danny Rand into the mix changes the dynamic, but stays thematically true to what the series is about. "Thunderbolts has always explored the notion of 'Redemption,'" Rosemann remarked. "Can villains become heroes? Can a hero do something that most would consider villainous? This story will carry on that tradition, as we'll see just how far the bond between two heroes can be stretched."
Power Man and Iron Fist may find themselves reluctantly brought into the ranks of the Thunderbolts, but that doesn't mean the focus of the series is going to change from a team series to a buddy book. "'Thunderbolts' will continue to be an ensemble title," Rosemann explained. "But any time you introduce characters as strong as Luke Cage and Iron Fist to the mix -especially when they are reunited as their classic tag-team - you know that's going to demand attention and shake things up!"
Readers also shouldn't assume that just because Luke Cage and Danny Rand are being press-ganged into Osborn's Thunderbolts program that the former Green Goblin wants them to play nice with the rest of the T-Bolts. In fact, Power Man and Iron Fist's first targets as assassins might just be their new teammates! "Osborn is conniving and manipulative, and what he's doing will be revealed in the book," Remender hinted. "Obviously, once they discover what he's doing, the Thunderbolts make plans of their own. Everybody is doing things through subterfuge, but with big smiles on their face when dealing with one another. How that plays off goes back and forth and is part of the crux of the story."
Remender is taking his cues on how to portray the Thunderbolts directly from the way Diggle has presented things in the series. "The way the stage has been set in the series between Norman and the team is that, some of his calculations and manipulations of them have come to light. Ghost clued in some of his team members on some of the things Osborn was up to, and that leads to a lot of great tension," Remender stated. "So this is just another case where Norman uses the team. They're tools to him. Everything is a tool to him. With megalomaniacal types like Osborn, it's all just a game and exercise in ladder climbing and seeing how far he can push things. So given that this entire band of characters are privy to the fact that that's the role they're playing with Osborn, when they see Luke Cage and Danny Rand show up they start to suspect that something is up. And they start to believe that if their boss acquires any more powerful characters, that they might find themselves on the chopping block."
"Thunderbolts" #136 takes place in several different locales, but the bulk of the story unfolds inside the confines of the Thunderbolts' headquarters, the former high security prison known as The Cube. "Without giving too much away there's an action sequence that takes place within The Cube, which I can't wait for people to see," Remender said.
Remender is very pleased with the way his collaborator Mahmud S. Asrar tackled the action scenes in his story. "I think Bill tapped him specifically for his ability to capture action sequences and mood. In the second half of the book, things get a little dark and we needed somebody who could capture both. We wanted something that had a dark feel but also maintained a mainstream superhero sensibility while keeping the action fluid and moving" the writer remarked. "I'm a fan of getting into a nice beated out action sequence, as anybody who's read 'Fear Agent' or my recent work on 'Punisher' can see, and that's definitely going to come into play. When Bill and I spoke about artists, he was Bill's first choice, and looking over his stuff, I agreed."
Remender and Rosemann obviously couldn't reveal whether or not Osborn's plan for Power Man and Iron Fist is successful and whether or not the duo's involvement in "Thunderbolts" would continue past issue #136. However things go down, though, the events of issue will resonate throughout the Marvel Universe, especially in books like "New Avengers" [where Luke Cage appears] and Danny Rand's solo series, "The Immortal iron Fist." "Tom Brevoort and Warren Simons, the respective editors of 'New Avengers' and 'Iron Fist,' are being consulted throughout the entire creative process, so we'll continue to show how events in one Marvel title can have ripple effects in others," Rosemann said. "As for whether fans of those titles will want to check this out--c'mon, how can you not be intrigued by the cover by Francesco Mattina?"