Marvel's signature team of villains trying to do good, the Thunderbolts, are back with a new series next Wednesday - and with sidekick-turned-assassin-turned-hero the Winter Soldier in charge.
Spinning out of the recent crossover event Avengers Standoff!, the "All-New, All-Different Marvel"-era Thunderbolts have a new mission but with the same goals - and many of the same members - as Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley's original line-up. But with Bucky Barnes and a living Cosmic Cube named Kobik as part of the team, they have even more to handle
Newsarama talked with series writer Jim Zub about the new series he's doing with artists Jon Malin and Matt Yackey, and how he's looking to honor the the books roots while not resting on nostalgia to tell a new story.
Newsarama: Jim, what is this new iteration of the Thunderbolts about?
Jim Zub: The new Thunderbolts tap into the core ideas that were there at the beginning when the team was first created – redemption, heroism, and hard choices – but I’m pushing it into new areas with both heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe gunning to get our gang of outlaws.
Nrama: So what are the Thunderbolts up against in the outset?
Zub: After the events of Avengers Standoff!, Bucky has taken Kobik under his protection and the rest of the original team has fallen in with the two of them as a way to regroup and redeem themselves for the crimes that got them put into Pleasant Hill in the first place. Bucky has seen firsthand that S.H.I.E.L.D. can’t be trusted with the power of the Cosmic Cube and he’s determined to keep her (and the rest of the Marvel Universe) safe while continuing to protect Earth from threats he discovered following in Nick Fury’s footsteps as the ‘Man On The Wall’. Doing that puts the team into conflict with heroes and villains aplenty.
Nrama: How is it different from the three major incarnations of the team in the past?
Zub: Having the Winter Soldier lead the Thunderbolts gives them a new and more focused purpose defending the Earth from threats that other teams don’t know about and wouldn’t be willing to kill in order to stop. Bucky wants this crew to be black ops, but the strong personalities of the team, their mixed loyalties, and the responsibility of protecting Kobik is going to make everything more difficult than he could imagine.
Nrama: And on the flipside, how is it the same -- including, but not only the returning characters?
Zub: The majority of the team – Moonstone, The Fixer, Atlas, and MACH-X – are all founding members of the Thunderbolts and those core ideas about heroism in the face of villainy that have worked so well in the past are still very much at the center of our story. It’s a new team with a new mission but it’s also the continuing story of these fan-favorite characters.
Nrama: The new series comes barreling out of Avengers Standoff!, and right before Civil War II. How much will Thunderbolts be involved in Civil War II?
Zub: For the most part the Thunderbolts are on their own. I’m using the first few issues to deliver the new team dynamic, build tension, and show their new mission.
Tom Brevoort and Alanna (my editors on Thunderbolts) didn’t pressure me to bring Thunderbolts into Civil War II but we tie into the broader events in a really cool way because I realized there was synergy with the story Brian and co. are telling. Bucky has deep regrets about past actions and, given the chance to change a dark possible future, he’s spurred into action. It’s going to be intense.
Nrama: Are Ok, so focusing inward … are there any interactions you've particularly been enjoying, whether it be between fellow teammates or a villain or other character brought into the series thus far?
Zub: The team dynamic is an absolute blast. They’re incredibly capable in terms of power level, but dysfunctional in terms of personalities. They’ve all done villainous things in the past (and some quite recently) and, when push comes to shove, many of them default to greed or vengeance. Add in the temptation of a Cosmic Cube with the mind and morals of a 4-year-old and it’s a powder keg primed to explode.
Nrama: Are there any other elements of Thunderbolts lore you hope to rope into the series at some point, and could share with readers now?
Zub: I read through every issue of Thunderbolts and Dark Avengers with a notepad close at hand to make sure I understood where the team has come from and the core themes that have defined them, but I’m trying not to mire things in past continuity so much that new readers will feel lost. Everything has happened and I won’t contradict that but it’s also about creating a strong jumping on point and moving the ball forward. I have so much respect for writers like Mark Waid who give readers everything they need in the story while acknowledging the rich history that’s come before. If I can manage that balancing act I’ll be really, really happy.
Nrama: Jim, you've done series and one-shots before at Marvel, but Thunderbolts is the first series you're launching yourself in Marvel's superhero verse (Dreamfinder and Figment aren't Avengers... yet?!). What is that like for you?
Zub: It’s true. I've had a blast working on the Disney Kingdoms projects and writing some Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors cartoon tie-in comics, but this is my first Marvel Universe project and that feels wonderfully surreal. Working with Tom Brevoort, who edited comics I read growing up, and getting to be in the sandbox playing with the big toys, it’s a thrill and an honor.
It’s easy to just want to retread my favorite story elements of the past but, what I think makes the Marvel Universe such a special place and so beloved to fans around the world, is that need to keep moving forward building new drama and conflict, adding to the legacy of these great characters. I’d love to leave a mark on the Thunderbolts that’s fondly remembered down the road and the best way for me to do that is to create new drama and tell stories that excite me as a reader.
I think people are going to be impressed with what the art team is bringing to the page. Jon Malin and Matt Yackey are both busting out the best art of their careers so far. I can really tell Jon’s using this opportunity to show people what he’s capable of. He delivers on the facial expressions and tension in dramatic sequences and then really opens up both barrels when the action kicks into gear. Right from the start he wanted to design new costumes and make sure there was just as strong a visual ‘stamp’ on the series as we have going for the story.
Nrama: Big picture, for readers that are hard core Thunderbolts fans or someone coming in new to the franchise: why should they check out this book?
Zub: Thunderbolts is an action-packed morally gray series about heroes doing villainous things and villains striving to be heroes. It’s dramatic and gut-wrenching ride with a side of sass and a healthy dose of people getting punched in the face. Join us.