February 22's Thunderbolts welcomes back creators Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley to reintroduce a long-lost member named Jolt, and "jolt" is an apt word for what series writer Jim Zub is teasing for what's next.
The Thunderbolts title launched out of the "Assault on Pleasant Hill" storyline in which a Cosmic Cube revitalized Steve Rogers to return to his guise as Captain America - a return which came with a revamp of Rogers to be a decades-old sleeper agent for Hydra. With his long-time ally Bucky Barnes leading this new iteration of the Thunderbolts, it makes Thunderbolts the likely ground zero for this revelation to occur.
Those two things - plus the long-awaited return of Baron Zemo - spurred Newsarama to reach out to Jim Zub to catch up on his series with artist John Malin, his thoughts on these events, and attempt to pull a few spoilers out of him.
Newsarama: Jim, you've been working under the onus of Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley since day one on your Thunderbolts run - what's it like to now be working with them on this 20th anniversary issue?
Jim Zub: It’s a thrill and an honor. The foundation Kurt and Mark built with Thunderbolts continues to fuel great storytelling and I’m so happy to be a small part of the series’ long and enjoyable history.
Kurt and I chatted a couple times on the phone and I had the chance to hang out with him in Portland at Rose City Comic Con in the Fall just as this anniversary plan was coming together, so it’s been a really solid collaboration.
Nrama: Have you read the finished Busiek/Bagley story yet? If so, what's your take on it?
Zub: I have read it and it turned out wonderfully. Kurt really wanted to reintroduce Jolt and we came up with an ideal way to bring her back into the fold in a manner that enhanced the “Return of the Masters” storyline in a big way. As it was all getting plotted out I realized that, rather than just making Jolt’s return a back-up piece, it worked even better as a prologue to the big story to come, so that’s how issue #10 opens – with Busiek and Bagley kicking off our big anniversary.
Nrama: Will you be pulling some elements of their story into future Thunderbolts storylines?
Zub: Absolutely. It’s not a side story or background event, it’s the opening gunshot that ignites “Return of the Masters” and echoes of it will reverberate for some time.
Nrama: In your story, the big surprise is Baron Zemo coming back into the mix. What took so long?
Zub: Well, Zemo’s been a bit preoccupied since “Assault on Pleasant Hill.” Readers thought he was gone, then they thought he was dead... Zemo has big plans and I needed to make sure all the dominoes were in place before we started the chain reaction. Once we knew the anniversary was coming up I made sure I got everything lined up. The timing was too good not to.
Nrama: Thunderbolts is working under the shadow of the Captain America/Kobik/Red Skull storyline, this“Secret Empire” thing Marvel is teasing, and #10 seems to be kicking that into high gear here. For those reading the almost Breaking Bad heel turn of Steve Rogers in that book, what is Thunderbolts doing in relation to that?
Zub: It’s hard for me to say a lot about Captain America material without tipping our hand. Kobik, the childlike manifestation of the Cosmic Cube, is obviously an important part of Hydra’s plan and Cap’s current reality. That said, the book is called “Thunderbolts” so that’s where my priority is. Bucky and Kobik are a big part of the book, but the legacy of the Thunderbolts and the other team members are just as important. Everyone’s going to be affected by Zemo’s plans and the bigger picture Hydra stuff, but it’s focused through the team and I wanted to make sure it could stand on its own as a satisfying story, not just an addendum to what Nick Spencer’s doing in the Cap books.
Nrama: But you have a character that is probably #1 on the list people want to know what they think about Rogers' adoption of the Hydra banner. How much does Bucky know?
Zub: Clearly at this point Bucky doesn’t know enough because if he did he’d do everything in his power to make things right. The underlying tension, that readers know exactly what’s happened to Steve and that Kobik was responsible, but Bucky doesn’t know - that’s visceral stuff right there. Gut-wrenching, emotional betrayal. If Bucky ever finds out, well… keep reading.
Nrama: I know you're reluctant to touch on spoilers of any kind, but what can you say about what's coming up in #10, #11, and beyond?
Zub: Thunderbolts #10 is our big anniversary blowout. We don’t waste any time. Action and emotion are coming at you right from the start and it’s relentless. The ending of issue #10 is big and I hope readers really appreciate what it all means as they anticipate issue #11 to see where it all goes. Issue #12 is the crushing payoff and, by the time it’s done, the Thunderbolts will be changed in all kinds of ways.
This Thunderbolts anniversary event is a chance to look back and appreciate how far we’ve come, but the best way to honor the series’ legacy is to keep moving forward, taking risks building new engaging stories. If we do our job, “Return of the Masters” will be a memorable milestone.