Interview: Jeff Parker on HULK and THUNDERBOLTS

It's called the Heroic Age, but these days two of the most compelling Marvel comics spotlight some of the company's vilest villains. That's thanks to writer Jeff Parker, whose ongoing Thunderbolts and Hulk series both deal with rotten people forced to make good on past sins. It sounds like heavy stuff, but as I learned in this interview, it's also about having fun while behaving very, very badly. I once said on Twitter that each new issue of Thunderbolts feels like getting a call from the police with the news that they've just found your stolen bike and that the thief is going to jail for life. That continues to be the case. As for Hulk? It's like the thief's bunk mate is a lifer named Gator with a collection of sharpened toothbrushes. 

Peppered throughout are preview pages from the super-sized Thunderbolts #150 as well as Hulk #27, both out this week.  

Paul Montgomery: With Hulk and Thunderbolts, you're now den mother to some of the most despicable people in the Marvel U. In writing these characters, do you find your role is more about reveling in their bad attitudes or offering them some redemption? 
Jeff Parker: It's about doing whatever is most entertaining while staying true to the spirit of the character, I think.  I do strongly believe that you don't have to like a character to enjoy reading about them. It certainly helps that I work with massive powerhouse talents like Gabriel Hardman and Kev Walker. Besides creating vivid scenes, both are very good directors in making the characters act. The cast of both books breathes, and has subtlety and real emotions you can relate to. 
PM: Let's focus in on Thunderbolts. How did this current lineup come about? Is building a roster of reluctant anti-heroes any different than developing an Avengers team? 
JP: There was a lot of wheeling and dealing, and when the dust settled, this was the team. I think you have a lot more freedom to bring in characters that are going to be fun to watch, with a villain book like this. You don't have to worry as much about "why would The Avengers pick THAT guy?"  Also in our stories, the main engine for team selection is the mysterious Federal Advisory Committee for Thunderbolts, so FACT doesn't have to echo what say, leader Luke Cage would have picked. 
PM: One of my favorite subplots involves this odd relationship between Moonstone and Man-Thing. It's maybe the closest thing to a budding romance the team has. Was this always part of the plan or did it comes out in the writing process? 
JP: The latter- some of the best stuff happens when actually writing the moments. I never thought anything about she and Man-Thing having a connection originally, but once I got into I couldn't help remembering how Man-Thing always gravitated towards pretty girls in his old book. 
PM: While all of these characters are petty thugs in their own right, Crossbones has been particularly naughty lately, using a temporary power boost to murder a policeman in cold blood. Can we expect any repercussions from this? 
JP: Yes! You'll see more on that in our big 150th issue. We all got carried away enjoying watching Crossbones kick ass, and then we're reminded- oh yeah. This guy is a horrible human being.
PM: Ghost. Unrelentingly creepy or just misunderstood? I could actually see this guy being on a regular superhero team. Sort of. 
JP: He's both. That's the line we try to walk constantly, to show that these prisoners aren't either/or, they have elements you love and despise. You'll immediately be getting more on Ghost though in issue 151, as the title is GHOST STORY. 
PM: Songbird is probably the most complicated person on this team, a constant. She's basically defined in her role on this team in its many incarnations. What do you see this woman doing if she were ever to gain freedom from the program? 
JP: Coming right back to it. I think she's really the soul of Thunderbolts, in many ways. And she has a need to make it work that isn't easy to explain. 
PM: Any hints at adventures or threats to come for the T'bolts? 
JP: This week they're going to a pretty odd place that reveals some things about the team and guests while they're there. And then they're going up against BIG threats with a really heavy duty new member! We'll see how the dynamic of the team holds with that shake up. 
PM: Let's shift over to Hulk. It looks like Big Red's joy ride has reached its end and now it's time to pay. Was this comeuppance part of the pitch going in?
JP: Yes. Even when you're dealing with fantasy-sci fi characters and situations- especially when you are, rather- you have to make the consequences of their acts behave in a way readers understand intuitively. And Red Hulk came in used his incredible power to steamroller over everybody at the beginning. You just don't get away scott free after doing that. But having Red eat some pavement gets him to a place that I find really interesting. Now you see how the man underneath, Ross, deals with taking his licks. That's the real measure of character.
PM: Your first two issues feature Steve Rogers and a surprising dynamic between the Super Soldier and General Ross. It probably shouldn't have been such a surprise given their military backgrounds. Can you talk a bit about this relationship? 
JP: I think Steve understands him in a way no one else can. To him, General Ross is going through what lots of career soldiers when they leave the service, a bit adrift and in a very chaotic place far from the regimented world they were used to. He sympathizes with Ross, but he's also pragmatic- you don't let someone as powerful as Red Hulk bump around with no purpose or direction, that's just asking for trouble. Of course, you could see it as being stripped of rank, but I think Ross is happy to find some order to the world again, and that's the kind of thing Captain America provides to lots of powerful people. 
PM: Bruce Banner seems to be enjoying this. Maybe a bit too much. Is this his wildest dreams come true? What's your take on Banner and the Hulk right now?
Bruce isn't on the run anymore. As Greg Pak showed really well, Bruce has started standing his ground and asserting himself– he's just as formidable in human form as he is green.  He's no longer in denial about being The Hulk, he's coming to terms with it. And with that, he's come to terms with people like Ross, who by this point he realizes, he's never going to shake the old bastard. Ross is essentially a part of his family and has been for most of his adult life. Bruce doesn't want to hang out with him, but he's not going to avoid dealing with him either. But yeah, I don't think Bruce is so mature that he doesn't appreciate Ross seeing what it was like to be Hulk all those years. When you're the biggest and the baddest, everyone is gunning for you, and there's no rest, no chance of a normal life. 
PM: What's next for Hulks of all temperaments and colors? 
JP: Pretty much across the board Smashing. Yep. 
PM: 😛
Thunderbolts #150, written by Parker and drawn by Kev Walker and Hulk #27, by Parker and Gabriel Hardman, are both on sale this very week. 


  1. I might have to get this hulk stuff in trade. the art is gorgeous and i’m loving parker on thunderbolts. seriously the best the series has been in awhile

  2. Jeff Parker. God.

  3. Jeff Parker has definitely become one of my favorite writers, personally I don’t care anything Hulk related and I never was interested to read Thunderbolts. I picked up the first issues of both these books mostly because of their artists and Parker hooked me on them. The man must be magical to make me reading a book of characters I don’t usually care for.

  4. Two of the best marvel series right now, no ifs ands or butts

  5. Jeff Parker is doing great work in both.  Can’t wait for this week’s issues!

  6. Nice interview Paul!

    I think Thunderbolts is my favorite book coming out right now. I came to this realization when I caught myself reading it in the parking lot in front of my LCS.

    I hope Jeff Parker and Kev Walker stay on this book for the foreseeable future!