"Everybody's big and imposing," explained write Jeff Parker of how his latest artistic collaborator Kev Walker is presenting the cast of Marvel's "Thunderbolts" in the wake of May's Heroic Age makeover for the villain-turned-hero team.
However, unlike many other titles getting a facelift next month, the Thunderbolts have a harder road ahead of them to become publicly accepted heroes – even under the supervision of Avenger Luke Cage. "Everybody feels like 'I had a run of bad luck and fell in with the wrong people,"' the writer said. "That's a big part of the program: to try and get them with the right people so they can start making better decisions. They don't have to work for Norman Osborn all the time. They can get out and be inspired by what Luke's doing. It's not a completely optimistic program, and they know there's a high failure rate with this thing. They just kind of feel, 'Well, we're going to get some jobs that need to be done done.'
"This is essentially a prisoner work program but instead of going out there and busting rocks, they're busting heads."
And the cast that Parker and Walker have drafted out of The Raft maximum security prison present a wide range of characters ready to either shape up or have a showdown with the leadership. Below, BOTH the writer and artist take CBR on a first look tour of his major players accompanied by exclusive design sketches. From new players like Juggernaut and Crossbones to classic T-Bolts including the Fixer and Songbird, the team promised that the series will take the tough way to redemption starting with May's issue #144.
Though the hero for hire known as Luke Cage is already as hard as they come in the power department, Walker had to armor him up a bit with a new uniform and gauntlets, taking the "everyman" hero from Harlem into a more superheroic direction than he's had to occupy in recent "New Avengers" stories.
Jeff Parker: "He has some gear on that's specific for his job because he has to wrangle these criminals, and some of this allows him to move through the force field at the Raft prison and things like that. In the first issue, you'll start to see why he's wearing that. But also. we wanted him to have a uniform. We didn't want his costume to be 'He's the black guy.' [Laughs] We wanted to harken back with the belt and the arm bands a bit to his early days, but it's still not and out-and-out superhero costume like some people wear. It's still reserved, and a lot of the time he's still got his leather jacket on over it. But it's Luke Cage, so that jacket will get destroyed in almost every fight."
Kev Walker: "Okay, I've got to be honest here, hold my hand up and say that before doing this I had no idea who most of theses characters were, and what they were all about. I knew of Luke Cage, but had never read anything with him, not since some avengers comics back when I was a kid. I was led completely by what Jeff Parker wanted to see for Luke, all I did was mess about with the proportions. He sent me a design idea and I just messed with it till I felt happy with it. I think my Luke is a bit bulkier than other people have drawn him, and out of this group he is the one true reformed character, as such his face ought to show that, he is the good guy, a diamond in the rough, so to speak."
Loaded to the hilt with guns and gear, the artist's design for classic Captain America villain Crossbones shouldn't let readers think this psychopath will be an entirely loose cannon, especially with Cage around to keep a watchful eye.
Parker: "Crossbones, as you'll see, is the most controversial pick. You'll get a sense in #144 that you don't get to clearly see who's in on the decision-making process. It's a board composed of feds and people who supervise the prison. Later, Cage gets more input as to who he can draft from The Raft. He'll be able to pull in people for a mission her or there. But Cage wasn't too happy about Crossbones getting put on the team at all.
"He'll have specialized weapons. They're not going ot give him straight bullets. He'll have stuff that's slightly less lethal but still very forceful. And Kev cranks it up to ten on everyone. He can't help himself!"
Walker: "Well this guy is just a walking weapon shop, it's probably take him a good twenty minutes to completely disarm him, perhaps there's stuff hidden in his clothing that he's even forgotten about, I don't know. But I feel like he should have something for every occasion. And the face mask? Well i've simplified my style somewhat from the Imperial Guard mini, much more graphic noir. So it lends itself to being able to distort things that, when drawn realistically, wouldn't distort, like showing expression through the shapes of the eye-holes in his mask. But it just goes to show how much of a bubble I live in, I didn't even know Captain America had been shot, let alone Crossbones had done it. Still It's an interesting image to play with. This guy is almost the Marvel equivalent of Lee Harvey Oswald, since Captain America is like superhero royalty."
Cain Marko stands even more monstrous than ever under Walker's pen, revealing that all the heroic moves the mystic-powered bruiser took over recent years with Excalibur have stuck enough to keep him from being dangerous when the Thunderbolts need him to be.
Parker: "Juggernaut's not easy to control because if he doesn't want to go someplace, he's pretty much not going to go there. And he's still pretty tough without his headpiece on, although he'd knock himself out without it."
Walker: "I love the character of Juggernaut. But I've had to tone him down, I drew him way too big in my layouts, so big he had to almost squat down to look Luke Cage in the eye. Personally I have this idea in my head that he doesn't just draw on an infinite supply of kinetic energy, I get the impression he has the compulsion to charge at stuff even in his sleep, that the compulsion is so great he'll ram stuff even when he's not armoured, so I've covered his face in scars (they're not visible in the sketch)."
Perhaps the one character that won't get beefed up on the page, there's still plenty for the more recent T-Bolt member Ghost to do when the series turns over a new leaf this May.
Parker: "Ghost, of course, won't be bulked up. He's always the subversive infiltrator in everything. Nobody expects Ghost to come out and nail somebody across the chin. That's just not what he does. He's worse because he actually goes around and does insidious things and is sitting around constantly scheming. Though he's great if you need somebody to help hack into a system. But he smells bad."
Walker: "The way I look at it, he's like the thing that hides in the closet or under the bed. He's a villain, someone still waiting for his moment to truly come into his own. He wouldn't look out of place in a Tim Burton movie, and as well as being able to phase through things, I think the outfit actually makes him more skeletal than he does without it."
THE FIXER & MACH V
Part and parcel of Parker's plan for the Thunderbolts was to incorporate some of the classic members from back in Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley's run back into the series post-Dark Reign, though not all of the players will get along well with their more deranged replacements, including The Fixer and a redesigned Mach V.
Parker: "People like him and Mach V will always be constantly changing because it's like a computer. It gets a little outdated. So they'll always be improving on their looks a little bit."
Walker: "[The Fixer's] unique power is his intellect and creative skill. The machinery is what makes him imposing, the figure underneath wouldn't be muscular, he doesn't have time to work out, he's busy building stuff.
"[With Mach V] I wanted to strip all the humanity out of this guy. I think he's actually given himself over to being the machine, he's obsessed by it. This is his fifth iteration after all. By losing any of the humanoid shapes, making him more robotic, he's acknowledging the fact that actually it's probably the machine that's in control. Maybe he's schitzophrenic with the 'machine' personality dominating. By making him heavier, it means that Mach V is clearly the 'bomber' support of the group, the heavy artillery.
SONGBIRD & MOONSTONE
Don't forget that the original ladies from the reformed renegades that made up the first Thunderbolts team are never far from the center of the title, especially now that Walker has brought a little punk rock attitude to Songbird and Moonstone.
Parker: "It's funny. You see a little bit right off the back where Songbird thinks, 'Why are they bringing Moonstone in? They already tried with her, and it didn't work out.' Luke tries to explain why they still thing it's worth doing with Moonstone. Everybody tends to think that they're special, and say 'It worked for me, but I don't know that everybody will respond to the system.' Even though Songbird changed, she felt she was never that bad to begin with.
"And Moonstone was an Avenger the other day! Her status goes way up and down pretty fast. She's usually thinking, 'I've been a Thunderbolt before. Blah Blah Blah.' But it's not that anyone will care. And who knows what Man-Thing is thinking!"
Walker: "I was just really conscious of making Moonstone and Songbird different, perhaps even opposites. Moonstone is flighty and excitable, fiery even, self confident, perhaps even arrogant. When I looked at the existing designs for these two women, it was hard to tell them apart, the hair was the same, the suit was almost the same, the way the walked was almost the same. These two women are like fire and ice, light and dark. Moonstone is the Light, so I guess Songbird is the Dark.
"I just had the feeling that [Songbird] was more menacing, more brooding. I read the TPB where she had the big run in with Bullseye, and they seemed pretty evenly matched. That struck a chord, as if she's the female version Bullseye. Moonstone might stab you in the back, but Songbird would twist the blade. The haircut reflects that. Perhaps she's in some kind of character shift, heading towards some kind of break down? I don't know. But I wanted her to look as if she inhabited a darker space than she used to."
The new direction for "Thunderbolts" begins with May's issue #144.