For weeks, Marvel has been beating the drums about the upcoming changes coming to their universe with the "Heroic Age". We've seen a classic line-up and classic title return with Avengers and rumors rumbling about the composition of the Secret Avengers, but the Heroic Age is shining its light on all corners of the Marvel U. Marvel's most maligned group of "heroes" gets a real hero as Luke Cage joins the title and takes charge.
Beginning in May's Thunderbolts #144, the former hero-for-hire Luke Cage becomes leader, coach and counselor for a group of villains who are attempting to shed their vile roots. More than just a halfway house for supervillians, it's a team looking to redeem itself – whether they like it or not.
In recent years, Thunderbolts has been a black ops kill squad under the thumb of Norman Osborn, but in this new post-Osborn era the Avengers are attempting to put a positive spin on a heroic team made out of villains. Writing these recent issues and continuing it on into the new Heroic Age era is Jeff Parker, who will be joined by artist Kev Walker. Newsarama spoke with Parker as well as series editor Bill Rosemann about this dramatic turn for Marvel's most malicious team in an exclusive interview.
Newsarama: Hey guys, what can you tell us about this status quo change for Thunderbolts?
Bill Rosemann: See, there’s this little thing called Siege, and it’s going to change quite a few characters and books here in the House of Ideas. And if there’s anything that I’ve learned here, it’s: When Appropriate To The Story, Take Advantage Of Gigantic Popular Events To Impact And Bring Attention To Your Books!
Nrama: [laughs] Okay, Bill…
Rosemann: In all seriousness, this is the natural progression of the Norman Osborn era of Thunderbolts. How long could his black-ops hit squad function? When thrown together on a team, how long would psycho killers play nice with each other? We’ve been building to their inevitable implosion for months now…and here is where the Thunderbolts rise from the ashes and once again poke and prod at the theme of “redemption”.
Nrama: And the T-Bolts are rising from the ashes in some new digs… but not the kind of place I'd choose to live in. Jeff, what can you tell us about it?
Jeff Parker: First, it's back to being an above-ground operation, based at The Raft supermax facility. Even former Thunderbolts are coming on as staff to help get the stain of Norman Osborn off the team and push again the idea of reform. All the most powerful criminals are now being contained at The Raft, an Alcatraz for the super community. At the east end of the prison is Thunderbolts tower, which all of the incarcerated can see from the courtyard, projecting up like a beacon, a constant reminder. You're down there, you could be up here. And up here means closer to the world out of these walls where you'll be expected to use your abilities to help for a change.
Nrama: These kind of super villains have often been portrayed as simply plot devices for escapes – my last real recollection of the Raft is in the opening pages of New Avengers. With this as the new setting, will you be able to get beyond that?
Parker: Yes. We'll see more of super-prison life. The new system keeps the Raft very controlled, but there are still a lot of intrigues going on. It's a big ensemble book now that will be following a lot of different characters and stories.
Nrama: Speaking of different characters, let's speak first to their new leader – Luke Cage. I know he's not back in prison, but Cage is an ideal person to lead up these criminal rehabilitation-cum-team program – his origin was him in prison where he traded parole for taking part in an experimental procedure which gave him his powers. But for you and Marvel, why Luke Cage to not only be apart of this – but to lead it?
Rosemann: Despite what his fantasies might reveal, Brian Michael Bendis does not corner the market on Luke Cage love. Throughout his history, Luke has displayed the intelligence, heart and willpower needed to lead. And, as you so acutely noted the connection between this program and his own origin, Luke knows a thing or two about justice, hard choices and second chances.
Parker: If you were wondering how Thunderbolts would shift into The Heroic Age, the answer is that they're going to have a very real hero around supervising- the Power Man himself, Luke Cage. But there's a lot of pressure on this latest incarnation of the Thunderbolts program to succeed, a lot of people want it dissolved.
Luke is walking, breathing, hitting proof that you can reform and be better than your circumstances shaped you. And he's tough enough to deal with the worst of these mega-prisoners. If they think they're going to pull some trick Luke hasn't seen and trashed a hundred times before, they're sadly mistaken.
Nrama: Cage is tough – impenetrable skin and all – but from the line-up Marvel has just announced for Thunderbolts, can he keep them all in check? You've got Juggernaut, Crossbones, Ghost, Moonstones and *gulp* Man-Thing. In the team books you’ve done you’ve brewed up some eclectic team-ups, but this might take the cake. How’d you end up with the team we have here?
Parker That... would take too long to explain. Let's just say it was a high-stakes Marvel editorial poker game, and Bill Rosemann and I were wearing Dr. Doom masks.
Rosemann: Let us not forget the all-watching eye of Executive Editor Tom Brevoort (now with 40% more VP power!) who hurled many a lightning bolt into that mighty brainstorm. As for the actual process, first you start with an email…then follow that up with about 200 back-and-forth replies after that…and presto, new era!
Oh…and Thunderbolt fans will be happy to know we haven’t thrown the baby out with the bathwater. As you mentioned Chris, Ghost and Moonstone will be back in the game…plus a few more nail filers we’re keeping hidden in our cake.
Nrama: But Bill, this eclectic line-up really takes that cake you talk about. from a logistical standpoint, how'd you get these people – who come from all corners of the Marvel U such as the X books, Captain America's books and others – into one place?
Rosemann: Will Ghost and Man-Thing challenge Groot and Rocket Raccoon for Best Couple of 2010? I love teams that bounce unique and eclectic personalities and visuals off each other, so when I saw Man-Thing captured by H.A.M.M.E.R. in a recent issue of Dark Avengers I saw the opportunity to funnel him right into this crazy crew. As for the rest, you can credit the writers invited to the last Marvel Editorial Retreat who were swell enough to give us access to Juggernaut and Crossbones. Oh, and that Jeff Parker guy had a few ideas as well. So blame them when you start writing your Crossbones/Luke Cage slash fiction!
Nrama: Moving on… In recent memory, the Thunderbolts have emerged in Norman Osborn's Dark Reign era as a black op hits squad – Norman's own hatchet squad. How can you turn that around, given the reputation they've built up inside the Marvel U?
Parker: No one wants to see the next "Norman Osborn" rise to power with the chance to draft a lot of heavy hitting criminals into an army again. Thunderbolts as a program is a work in progress to figure out how to stem that tide, get these people becoming contributors rather than time bombs.
The chance for and goal of redemption is back on the table. Some of these prisoners aren't going to see the outside world for a loooong time, and their only chance is to be accepted as a Thunderbolt. Because it's dangerous and very possibly lethal, a good stint in the Thunderbolts can take some serious time off your sentence. For some of these perps though, there's no possibility of parole ever, but a brief mission with the team is a way to at least spend SOME time out of The Raft. And Luke of course isn't stupid, he knows that they hope to either escape on mission or connect with people on the outside.
They can be the team fit perfect to the mission at hand- there's more opportunity for revolving in members briefly and a whole prison full of powerful people to draw upon. This also represents a view of taking these criminals more serious- S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers, many want to get a better idea of what creates super threats like these people, and how can that be limited in the future? There will be more interaction with the prison and the outside world in general.
Rosemann: For them, it's a shot at hope. A chance to change. A time to realize one’s potential. From the very first story arc all through to the Dark Reign days, Thunderbolts as a series has explored the idea of redemption. Who wants it? Who deserves it? When is it too late? What does one need to do to achieve it? Rather than just keep throwing villains into jail until they escape, what if we actually try to rehabilitate those that seek it? Luke Cage is offering the super-incarcerated the opportunity to walk that path. But who is chosen for the program – and who decides to honestly embrace it -- remains to be seen.
Nrama Speaking of the book and the team's history, Thunderbolts has been one of the most metamorphic books in Marvel’s line, each time going in an unconventional direction that people talking – and reading. Why do you think that is?
Rosemann: The Thunderbolts concept is so elastic and compelling—and often involving twisted villains—creators seem to push the envelope when they jump onboard. And when you start off a first issue with a shock-ending that brilliant, it sets the bar so high, it brings out the best in those that dare to top it.
Parker: I feel if you could really explain it, it might make some of the magic leak out. But my guess is that because these generally aren't the Marvel characters you'll find on pajamas and toothbrushes, that creators working on the book feel freed up in a way that lets them really run wild in interesting directions.
And with Kev Walker drawing this, we are going to be hauling ass this Summer!
Rosemann: If you enjoyed the intensity, emotion and grit that Kev unleashed in Marvel Zombies 3 and 4 as well as Realm of Kings: Imperial Guard (not to mention his 2000 AD and Warhammer work), you know he’s just the guy to capture all the chaos and creepiness that a team featuring the likes of Ghost and Man-Thing will deliver.
Nrama Before we go, I wanted to ask you this Jeff – as this book transitions in both motus operandi and line-up, you and Bill are sending off the previous iteration in these last few issues but also building on what had come before. How are you balancing it all?
Parker: We were following the arc begun by Ellis and then Diggle, taking it to its end, which could only be chaotic. And pretty harsh as you'll see in the last of the Siege. episodes. Now I can indulge my own particular weirdness!