(CBR) During his time as an Avenger, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross AKA the Red Hulk saw first hand how a group of powerful heroes could change the Marvel Universe. After leaving the group he decided to put together his own team to protect the Marvel Universe from threats too big for one person to face on their own. The Red Hulk’s team, the latest incarnation of the Thunderbolts, would not be a team of heroes. They would act as a strike team of super powered and highly trained operatives capable of eliminating threats with military precision.
After helping Ross complete a mission with ties to his past, the new Thunderbolts — Elektra, the Punisher, Deadpool, Venom, the Red Leader and Mercy — headed to New York to help the Punisher eliminate a highly elusive mob family where they became embroiled in the chaos of Marvel’s “Infinity” event. In the aftermath the “Thunderbolts” have hit the road in search of new targets, but they also have to deal with Mercy’s out of control, homicidal nature and the growing treachery of the Red Leader.
Some of those elements will come to a head in “No Mercy,” a new arc that kicks off in January’s “Thunderbolts” #20.NOW by writer Charles Soule and new artist Carlo Barberi, which finds the team and its newest member, Johnny Blaze AKA Ghost Rider, facing off against Mercy. We spoke with Soule about the arc, the introduction of Ghost Rider and some of the book’s recent developments
CBR News: Charles, let’s open by chatting a little bit about “Thunderbolts” #19, which revolved around the Red Leader, whom you really seem to enjoy writing. To me he seems almost like a Doctor Smith-style character from “Lost in Space” in that he’s a useful member of the group, but he’s also cowardly and incredibly dangerous. Is that a fair comparison? And do the other Thunderbolts understand how dangerous Samuel Sterns actually is?
Charles Soule: I would say that’s a fair comparison, yes. He’s the weaselly guy that no one really likes, but they tolerate because he comes in handy sometimes. The other T-bolts have no conception of what they’re living with — not really — and I think that’s just familiarity. Leader’s been around for a while at this point, and he often seems to be doing moderately helpful things that don’t immediately result in the death of the team. He’s also a master manipulator and actor, as we’ve seen in #19. He’s taken every opportunity to make sure the rest of the team doesn’t realize how much of a threat he actually is. The others are used to being the top dogs in any physical confrontation, so much so that they just aren’t thinking about the Leader as a danger. He’s making himself easy to ignore, and that’s what the other ‘Bolts are doing.
Which they will eventually come to regret.
Part of the reason, the Leader held out in attacking the Thunderbolts in issue #19 was that he was afraid of the wrath of Mercy, who I understand will be a big presence in the next arc. How would you describe her relationship with the team going into issue #20.NOW? Does Ross view her as something completely out of control that he has to put down, or is he looking for a way to rein her in so he can use her later?
At this point, Ross sees Mercy as a mad dog that he unwittingly let off the leash. She needs to be put back in the box — the problem is that he has absolutely no idea how he might accomplish such a thing. Mercy is more or less all-powerful — or at least so powerful that even the combined skills of the Thunderbolts probably wouldn’t faze her at all. That’s the reason Ross was interested in her in the first place, but it’s backfired on him almost completely.
Mercy, for her part, finds the team fascinating because of how much death seems to constantly surround them. She sees dark things in their future, and she wants to be there when they happen. Mercy’s not going anywhere unless she’s made to go, but again — no idea how to actually get that done.
Issue #20.NOW sees Johnny Blaze join the team. What do you feel he adds to the group and the larger dynamic of the Thunderbolts? Which characters do you enjoy playing him off of? And is Johnny still the Ghost Rider when he comes into the book, or has the Spirit of Vengeance moved over to Robbie Reyes, the star of Marvel’s upcoming “All-New Ghost Rider” series?
For one thing, Blaze brings a supernatural element that I think the book can have some fun with. He also has very distinct powers — Elektra doesn’t have a Penance Stare, for instance. So far, I’ve been having fun with a sort of buddy relationship that’s emerging with Flash Thompson, but there are a bunch of ways to go. It’s always neat to bring new blood into an established team — mixes up the dynamic in interesting ways. Oh, and he’s absolutely the Ghost Rider. While I think you could do a book about a guy who was exclusively a motorcycle stunt rider, I think it’s a little more Marvel-y to give him the sweet powers, too.
“No Mercy,” kicks off in issue #20.NOW. How new reader-friendly is that issue? The solicits and Blaze’s presence suggest it will be a tale with horrific and supernatural leanings. What else can you tell us about the arc?
It’s extremely new reader-friendly. That’s part of the idea — the Ghost Rider appearance and the All-New Marvel NOW! branding will get new readers to check it out, and so it would be a huge missed opportunity to not give them the background they need. That said, if you dig what happens in #20, you’ve got 19 whole issues to catch up on — Daniel Way on #1-11, and then I jumped on board with #12. You’re also right that we get some supernatural bits here — that’s why Blaze gets involved in the first place. The ‘Bolts have a problem that needs some magical assistance, and Johnny is — somewhat — happy to oblige. Does it work out as planned? Hell no. Comics!
[Laughs] Nice. Another supernatural element in this story is the demon lord Mephisto. What’s it like writing this character? What do you find most interesting about him? And do you have plans to further develop the “Descent” storyline from “Venom” that spun out of Flash and Ross’ adventures in Las Vegas during the “Circle of Four” crossover where they ran afoul of Mephisto?
I’ve always really enjoyed Mephisto as a character. I think the first time I ever encountered him was in “Secret Wars II” back in the day, and I thought his design was really compelling. Long limbs, that weird mane of hair — devilish, obviously, but also unique. When we see him here, he’s a bit down on his luck — this arc actually continues plot threads not just from “Circle of Four,” but also one of Peter David’s recent storylines in “X-Factor,” the “Hell On Earth War” arc which ran through issues #50-56.
One of the neat things about Marvel is that it’s such a closely tied-together universe, and it’s generally pretty easy (and encouraged) to pick up threads that other writers have left. I talked to Peter David at NYCC about what I was planning to do here, and he was pretty jazzed, which was nice. I’m a huge fan of Peter’s work, so it was cool to be able to do something to expand one of his story lines a bit.
We know that Ross, Mercy and Blaze will have significant roles to play in “No Mercy,” but what about the other Thunderbolts? Can you talk about how some of the other characters like Punisher and Elektra will react to such big threats like Mercy and Mephisto?
Punisher and Elektra are the two non-powered members of the team. While they’re both extremely skilled, they could have some serious trouble if they went up against a supernatural powerhouse like Mercy or Mephisto. We’ll explore that idea in the book. Drastic mismatches are always pretty fun to write (and hopefully to read!).
How important an element is setting in “No Mercy?” What are some of the locales where the story unfolds?
Very. We see a new base for the T-bolts, for one thing. Their submarine HQ was destroyed in the “Infinity” arc, so they need a new place to call home. We’ll see that established at the very beginning of 20. It’s a fun new spot called the Crucible — basically an abandoned military base that was tasked with collecting and researching outmoded or leftover tech from superhero battles and events. So there are tons of easter eggs hiding in the background of scenes — gear, outfits, vehicles, all sorts of fun things. There’s even a “Secret Wars II” reference, speaking of that. (Apparently that series was the most significant and influential thing I have ever read. Go Team Beyonder.)
New artist Carlo Barberi will bring that setting and all of the characters and action of “No Mercy” to life. What do you feel he brings to the book and this story in particular as an artist? Carlo brings a lot of energy to his action sequences, for one — the character designs are great too. Everyone looks like themselves, but they also have this cool compact energy about them. He also goes above and beyond. We don’t see a ton of the Crucible in Issue #20, but he went ahead and designed the whole thing anyway — that sort of thing’s just awesome. It means he can bring realism to his pages because, to him, the whole base exists, not just whatever room the characters happen to be in.
Carlo is a real departure from Jefte Paolo’s style in the “Infinity” arc, and I think it suits the “No Mercy” story very well indeed. It’s a bit darker — very intense — and he’s a great fit for that.
Finally, you inherited “Thunderbolts” from previous writer Daniel Way and then jumped right into the “Infinity” crossover. So it seems like now with “Infinity” wrapped you really have a chance to dig even deeper into your cast and run with them. How does that feel and what kinds of stories can we expect in “Thunderbolts” during 2014? With the eclectic nature of your cast it seems like the book could explore a variety of different genre types and tones. Is that true?
That’s right. For example, the next longer story after the “No Mercy” arc will be a sort of adventure story, riffing on an Indiana Jones-type feel. The book’s premise is built around each team member bringing an “impossible mission” to the rest of the group, and I know what each of those will be. I’ve consciously chosen each so that they’ll feel distinct from one another. It means the book can constantly reinvent itself, which is a nice challenge for me, and I think a fun experience for readers.
I hope people are really enjoying the way things are going — “T-bolts” is something of an eclectic mix. I’m trying to bring some humor to the book (not hard to do when Deadpool’s a member), and really keep the character dynamics spinning. Lots of really cool stuff to come, including some truly epic action. There’s a scene at the end of #22 that’s one of those things that you dream of writing when you’re a kid. Totally the sort of thing you doodle in your notebook one day when you’re bored in class. But now it’s REAL. IT WILL HAPPEN IN A PUBLISHED MARVEL COMIC. Y’all gonna love it!
“Thunderbolts” #20.NOW by Charles Soule and Carlo Barberi goes on sale January 15, 2014.