It’s been a just less than a year since Luke Cage took over as team leader of the Jeff Parker-written Thunderbolts at the dawn of the “Heroic Age,” and a little more than six months since his writing stint on Hulk began with issue #25.
With new issues of both in stores today — Thunderbolts #156 (preview here) and Hulk #32 (preview here) — Newsarama caught up via email with the writer, who’s also busy with his twice weekly webcomic Bucko, illustrated by Erika Moen.
Read on for more on Parker’s on Red Hulk’s expanded role in the Marvel Universe, his process of picking the squad of "Underbolts," how both books will relate to Fear Itself, and some serious MODOK talk.
Newsarama: Jeff, it's been just about a year of the current status quo of Thunderbolts with Luke Cage as leader. What are your reflections on how the past 12 issues have gone? The run has gotten a warm reception from both fans relatively new to the series and hardcore T-Bolts devotees, who can be a tricky crowd to win over. How closely do you follow that type of reaction?
Jeff Parker: I perceive most of it from people sending me reviews and meeting readers at comics shows. I do feel like the creative team and the readership are in sync with what is wanted from the book, and it's a great feeling. I love hearing people cheering the characters on!
Nrama: Starting with this week's #156, we meet the Thunderbolts B-team. What was your process in selecting the members? Seems like a really fun opportunity to pick and choose some lesser-known Marvel characters that may be personal favorites. And might there also be new characters part of the "Underbolts" mix?
Parker: I actually did take quite a bit of suggestion from the Thunderbolts poll we did recently on Marvel.com, and the write-in candidates. Not the fake ones where the same guy wrote in his pick 50 times, that was pretty easy to weed out.
Some characters got plenty of votes, I wrote them in, and then had to take them back out because they were needed in other upcoming story lines in other books. But I'm very happy with the mix we ended up with by the end. Strong characters, strong voices.
Nrama: On the new subject of new members: It looks like Satana will be sticking around for a while and having a definite impact. What inspired you to add her to the book?
Parker: I wrote her in The Hood miniseries I did a while back [Dark Reign: The Hood], and she made perfect sense for adding a magical character — she's always on the fence of good and evil, which is perfect for Thunderbolts. She does some serious show-stealing, but with her you'll be able to see how magic is handled pretty quickly — it's not ever an easy way out of danger, it often doesn't even help.Nrama: The book's tying in with Fear Itself as of June. In an event like this, there are the tie-ins that run very close to the main story, and ones that show more of the ripple effects. Given that it's been confirmed that Juggernaut is part of the Serpent's Worthy, is it on the right track to assume this is one of the closer ones?
Parker: Yes, it's the very last person who needed even more destructive power! After that happens in Fear Itself, our story lines follows soon and then you'll be able to how that essentially turns Thunderbolts to pure chaos. And I know it sounds like a cliché, but it really does change the way our book works in a major way. Just when everyone got comfortable with our status quo, too.
Nrama: Turning to Hulk, since you've been writing the book the Red Hulk's role in the Marvel Universe at large has expanded due to his prominent role in the Avengers Infinity Gauntlet story, plus, he's front and center with the rest of the team(s) in Fear Itself #1. What has that added exposure meant for you as the writer of the solo title? And does it affect your approach to the book at all?
Parker: I'm happy people are discovering Red and coming over to see what he does when not Avenging, and Fear Itself is really the first time where we get a chance to connect to The Avengers — we've so far been immersed in our own stories with the creation of Zero/One and Black Fog and General Fortean.
Nrama: This week's issue, #32, continues the conflict between Red Hulk and General Fortean. I know giving the Red Hulk his own villains was a priority for you since the onset of your run; creatively, how rewarding is it being able to add new players to the Marvel Universe?
Parker: It's not something I take lightly — to bring in a character and have them really fit into the universe is the goal. We're taking an opportunity to do some things you don't see all the time, as with Zero/One. Instead of bringing in a fully formed threat, I wanted to show the gradual creation of one, how somebody goes from normal person to a world menace. Gabriel Hardman and I have built her team of Jacob, her original assistant who was horribly burned back in the first Scorched Earth story, Irfan who ran an electronics shop in Hyderabad, and all of these re-animated Omnisapient workers. All ordinary people brought by circumstances to be something the world needs to worry about! And of course they create Black Fog, the killer who will hunt our Hulk.
Nrama: On the horizon is the two-part "Planet Red Hulk" story — other than the obvious allusion in the title, is there more of a connection to Greg Pak's classic story? And how much of a boon is it to have Planet Hulk artist Carlo Pagulayan on art?
Parker: There's a big connection, but it won't be clear until part two. Red's instinct is as usual, to blame Banner for this. Who else could send him away to a warrior world like the original Hulk went to? It won't require you to know the particulars of that story, though.
Carlo is on artist steroids in this, I think the idea of getting back into this setting fired him up. Every time new pages came in, Mark Paniccia, Jacob Thomas and I were reattaching our jaws.
Nrama: Hulk is also tying in to Fear Itself — given the rather considerable threat of the Serpent's forces, are we going to see a more truly heroic Red Hulk step up during Fear Itself?
Parker: Yes — I can't say much here without spoiling, sorry!
Nrama: MODOK is coming back to the book soon. That's a character that's definitely gained a cult favorite status over the years (and seemingly especially recently) for being kind of inherently ridiculous, but does that make it a challenge to present him as a credible villain? Or is that all part of the fun?
Parker: We'll see how readers like the re-created MODOK, I'm very happy with him. In his new incarnation, he doesn't hang back in his lair and scream all the time, he gets out in the middle of things and has more facets to his personality. He also has lots of cool modular gear that he gets into so he can move around differently depending on the situation. Please, please, make new MODOK toys based on this, is what I'm saying. But I think readers will enjoy the new in-your-face Mental Organism.
Nrama: OK, one last thing, and I'm sure it's a question you get a lot: With new members joining the Thunderbolts, and lots of different folks coming in and out of Hulk, do you have any plans to revisit the Agents of Atlas characters in either of your books in any capacity?
Parker: Not really, because I've got big enough casts as it is at the moment. But they're in the Fear Itself: The Home Front right now!Visit Newsarama on FACEBOOK and TWITTER and tell us what you think! More with Jeff Parker on Thunderbolts and Hulk: <li> SDCC 2010 Exclusive: Parker on What's Next For Red HULK <li> LUKE CAGE & THE THUNDERBOLTS Cast Their Shadow on SHADOWLAND <li> Luke Cage Powers Into THUNDERBOLTS as Heroic Age Leader