At New York Comic Con we learned that Ghost Rider would be joining the Thunderbolts in February, but there’s still some miles between now and then – literally.
In December’s Thunderbolts #19, Charles Soule and guest artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta are taking the unlikely team of killers on the open road for – you guessed it – a road trip. After being left without a base after the events of the Infinity tie-in, Red Hulk (aka Thunderbolt Ross) and his “Code Red” team are packing up in the Punisher’s classic War Wagon and heading west. Sixteen hours, in a van, with Red Hulk, Venom, Elektra, Punisher and the others… and don’t forget Deadpool. Soule tells us this issue gets the team “closer to total destruction” than they’ve ever been before, and that’s saying a lot if you’ve been reading the series since last year’s first issue.
At New York Comic Con Soule told Newsarama that this issue as one of his favorite issues he’s ever written, so we caught up with him to find out more details about this road trip, which character takes center stage in this issue, and the future of the team.
Newsarama: Charles, in December you and the Thunderbolts are coming out the other side of Infinity and hitting the road it seems. What can you tell us about this road trip? And more importantly, how do you fit this gangly group all in one vehicle?
Charles Soule: The Infinity story takes place in New York City, and… for reasons that are yet to be disclosed in the story, the Thunderbolts no longer have a place to hang their hats (in Deadpool’s case, their gorgeously be-feathered hat), and so they have to go on the road. They actually drive to Michigan, which is where my family is from. That is a drive I have made many times, so I know what it’s like. We’re talking something like sixteen hours on the road. There’s some beautiful country, but you also have to drive through Pennsylvania lengthwise, and that is the state that never ends.
They actually drive there in the Punisher’s famous War Wagon, aka the Battle Van, that stubby little black vehicle filled with all sorts of death-dealing gear. As far as how they all fit, well, not easily. Fortunately, Deadpool and Red Leader are pretty skinny, and Red Hulk’s going to stay in his human persona – assuming he doesn’t get so annoyed at Deadpool that he hulks out. That wouldn’t be good for anyone.
Nrama: When we spoke in August you said this focuses a bit on Red Leader. What can you say about that, and how does Red Leader work as a co-pilot on a road trip?
Soule: The story is very much a Red Leader focus issue, just like I did issues focused on Punisher and Mercy a bit earlier in my run. We see events from his perspective, and we learn a great deal about where his mindset actually is. I’ve been laying down threads about Red Leader for a while in the series (as did Daniel Way before me), and this is where a lot of that pays off… while setting up some great new things for the future as well.
And man, is it fun to write a nasty, brilliant little megalomaniac like Samuel Sterns. Great stuff.
Nrama: Red Leader’s no longer much of a villain – slightly reformed, let’s say – so who are he and the Thunderbolts going up against in this issue? Bad road food? A flat tire?
Soule: The structure of this issue is pretty unique, and I don't want to spoil it, but some truly bad things go down. The Thunderbolts get closer to total destruction than I think we've seen them at any point in the series thus far.
Nrama: The Thunderbolts group was set up by Red Hulk / Thunderbolt Ross, but it seems like Punisher is really vying to take the lead here. Am I just seeing things?
Soule: He’s the lead during the Infinity story, because that’s how the team’s “rules” work. If your name comes out of the hat, then you get to call the mission, and it’s your show. Punisher’s calling the shots (literally – ha!) for this story, but he’ll take a step back once the arc’s over. This structure is a fun way to rotate different characters in and out of the spotlight. I have a great time with it.
Nrama: The previous arc had the Punisher able to do his bucket list mission with the team, but what about the others – will we be seeing Elektra’s request for the team? Or even crazier, Deadpool’s?
Soule: No doubt about it. I know what their missions are, and while there’s obviously some room for that to change, they’re all very different, very much in character, and will bring the team to some interesting new places. The amount of teeth grinding that happens when Frank Castle has to interact with Deadpool in any fashion is pretty intense – put Deadpool in charge and it becomes legendary.
Nrama: Last question, Charles -- what’s coming up for the Thunderbolts, long-term?
Soule: More missions coming out of that hat Deadpool loves so much! Payoff of plot threads that have been building for 15 issues and counting! Petty squabbles between members bookended by amazing action sandwiched between keenly observed character moments! You know, Thunderbolts!