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An interview with
Fabian Nicieza & Kurt Busiek

Conducted by Randy "Moonstonelover" Burtis
January, 2004

My thanks to Fabian & Kurt for taking the time out of their very busy schedules to do this. A tip of the hat also to Comicboards poster BobMM who gave me some of the questions to ask. For clarity FA: is Fabian's answer. KA: is Kurt's answer.


The Limited Series

  • Q: What in your opinion is the best issue of Thunderbolts that each other did?
  • FA: It's hard to top Kurt's issue #1 just because of how perfectly it was all set-up and executed, but the issue where Hawkeye showed up and kicked their butts comes in pretty close.
  • KA: Single best? I really enjoyed the LIFE SENTENCES special that Charles Adlard drew -- very nice stuff in there for Abe and Melissa.

  • Q: What nonThunderbolt related work by the each other do you think is his best work?
  • FA: Marvels. Astro City. Avengers. JLAvengers. I liked a lot of the work he did on Untold Tales of Spider-Man. Heck, I even enjoyed Ninjak!
    I'm also really looking forward to his Superman project with Stuart Immonen. I like a lot of what Kurt does and have the gaping hole in my wallet to prove it.
  • KA: I'm partial to NEW WARRIORS #1-25, though BLACKBURNE COVENANT is real good, too.

  • Q: What is a future project you would love to work on with the each other?
  • FA: I think after we're done with this project, Kurt won't want to do anything else with me! I make him work so hard to make the book good, he never has time for the "sipping daquiris by the pool" that most co-writers anticipate.
  • KA: Ordinarily, I'm in favor of writers writing solo -- this just seemed
    to be a special case. So if it was a future project, I'd prefer it be a multi-book project where me and Fabes and others could create a buch of books that work well together and then each do our own stories within that structure. That'd be fun.

  • Q: Scenario-you are doing the Avengers/Thunderbolts mini and you have one idea for a character or plot point. The other writer has a different one. Tom Brevoort says, "You two work it out...". Who wins?
  • FA: Kurt tends to win because he's usually right. And even when he's not, he nags me enough so I just give up the fight. My kids are older than his, so I'm generally punch-drunk and far less inclined to put up a fight...
  • KA: Me! I have more Eisner Awards, and can batter Fabes senseless with them!

  • Q: What do you think it would take to see a regular Thunderbolt series a reality again?
  • FA: The Limited Series selling well and a spin for a new TBolts book that justifies publishing it.

  • KA: Good sales and reader response on this project, maybe.

  • Q: How far along are you on the mini?
  • FA: Not as far along as we should be, but we're working on it.
  • KA: The whole thing's outlined, and Fabes is polishing #3 and roughing out #4. I'm drinking pina coladas and shouting "Attaway!" every time he finishes a page.

  • Q:What has been the most interesting or rewarding thing in working with each other on this project so far?
  • FA: Just how he can help me wrap my brain around a scene to make it work better. It can be the same scene I wrote, but a nip here, a tuck there, and it's ten times stronger. He would have been a great line editor if he'd ever been given a chance.
  • KA: Having written the book for so long (longer than me!), Fabes has a different take on the characters, evolving them in his own direction. So in figuring out what they do, we find interesting intersections where my conception pops up again in the context of his take, or vice versa. It makes them more nuanced, richer as characters.

  • Q: What has been the hardest thing about working together on this project so far?
  • FA: Time. Co-writing eats more time out of the schedule, combined with the fact he's on West Coast time and I'm on real time, it makes it a bit harder to coordinate our time.
  • KA: He builds a story differently from how I do -- so it's not as easy for
    me to translate a story from his outline or script. We go back and forth on scene structure a lot, but with good results, I think.

  • Q: How did you choose the particular Avengers who will appear in this series?
  • FA: There are so many possible choices now, that I kinda went to my "ideal line-up," made up mostly from the characters involved during my favorite run of the book between #137 and #162. Purely emotional fan-boy stuff from me. And though we couldn't get the Beast in there, I'm still trying to figure out a way to squeeze in a cameo! ;-)
  • KA: If I'm remembering correctly, Fabian rattled of a list of Avengers he wanted to use, and Tom Brevoort and I said, "Yeah, sounds good." They're all classics, with a nice range of personalities and attitudes toward the 'Bolts -- so they'll make a very recognizable and dynamic ensemble.

  • Q: Hasn't the Thunderbolts story been told?
  • FA: Apparently not. ;-) But the serious answer is, very few stories of characters that are developed with sequential release in mind are ever completely "told." You could end one phase of a character's "life," but that could and should simply open up a new or different phase. Sometimes, that phase is worth telling, "Lex Luthor becomes President." Or it might not. "Lex Luthor gets a job at a 7-Eleven." Perhaps the story of SOME of the current characters in the Thunderbolts might be reaching a logical conclusion to their original premise. Perhaps not.
  • KA: Um, what's "told" about it that isn't also "told" about, say, JLA or Batman or X-Men or Spider-Man? They've all explored their subjects for much longer and are still doing so.

  • Q: What is it about the concept that makes it worth reviving?
  • FA: Dumb people trying to do smart things, bad people trying to be good, unrepentant bastards trying to repent -- I mean what part of the concept ISN'T worth reviving?
  • KA: The T-Bolts, to my mind, is worth reviving because it's still unpredictable and still has plenty of places to go. It's been described as a series about redemption, but it's not as simple as that. Some of them are redeemed, some are still trying, some don't particularly want to be redeemed and some are unredeemable. It's also a series about manipulation, and about self-interest -- which aren't your usual superhero subjects. The team and the characters could still jump in any direction. Back when I was writing T-Bolts, in the second year or so, I loved having Moonstone on the team because she was so selfish, so manipulative -- it was like having Loki on the Avengers. Except, of course, that Loki wouldn't join the Avengers and the Avengers wouldn't have him if he wanted to join.

    That, to my mind, is the great strength of the T-Bolts -- you can have Moonstone on the team and it makes perfect sense. Hell, you can have Zemo on the team. And that sort of thing opens up the possibilities in a way no other series can duplicate. Is the T-Bolts' story "told"? Heck, no -- if it continued beyond this mini I know what the next stage of it could be, and it's a whole new beginning, with a different dynamic, a different "heart." It wouldn't be "told" until it stopped being open to changes like that.

  • Q: The Thunderbolts concept seems to be deeply rooted in Marvel continuity. Is there some essence that can be made accessible to new readers, or casual readers? Or, if lightning should strike, to a movie audience?
  • FA: Good craft should take care of that problem. I don't think there's anything about the current status quo of each team that isn't clearly and neatly summarized by the end of the first issue.
  • KA: I don't know about a movie audience -- the concept of super-villains trying to act as heroes is a bit complicated to get across in the first act of a movie, so I think it works better when readers are already familiar with superhero ideas. But we heard from plenty of new readers over the series' run. To a new reader, Songbird is no more "rooted" in continuity that Spider-Man -- maybe less so.

    So I'd just say as long as the stories are interesting and the stuff new readers need to know is explained in an accessible manner, then it'll work just fine for new readers. Too many people are scared of any reference to history -- but to a new reader, it's all new anyway. they don't know which bits are new, which are references to something the other readers already know and which are obscure. They just react to it as a story. If it's a good story, well told, no problem.

  • Q: Okay for the next questions I want you to let your mind wander and talk about what you see in the following characters and how it relates to the Avengers Versus Thunderbolt mini.
  • Captain America-

  • FA: Is this a word association game? One word? If so... Honor
  • KA: He believes in protecting freedom so that the citizenry can make their own decisions.
  • Hawkeye-

  • FA: Style.
  • KA: He believes in redemption. Everyone can turn their life around -- after all, he did.
  • Baron Zemo-

  • FA: Potential.
  • KA: He believes in the aristocracy -- that there are people better suited
    to lead, to make decisions. The best of them have named beginning with
    Z. And ending with EMO. And four letters long.
  • Moonstone-

  • FA: Insecurity.
  • KA: She believes that the person who pulls the strings is the person who feathers her nest best. Clearly, she believes in mixing metaphors.
  • Vantage-

  • FA: Skepticism.
  • KA: She believes the law needs a helping hand, but the law matters, and it's good for megalomaniacs to have someone standing behind them with a loaded gun, in case they go too far.
  • Atlas-

  • FA: Loyalty.
  • KA: He believes in puppies and bratwurst and in good leadership, if only he can find some. And in Dallas.
  • Mach 3 -

  • FA: Resolve
  • KA: He used to believe he was one of life's losers, and the only way to make a mark was to bite back. Now he's not sure what he believes, except that there are a whole lot more possibilities and a whole lot you have to be willing to pay for a shot at them. But it's probably worth it.
  • Songbird-

  • FA: Confidence
  • KA: She believes that if you do the right thing long enough, you really ought to get the chance to relax and have a pleasant life. Maybe even a white picket fence and a kid or two. How long is long enough to redeem yourself?
  • Fixer-

  • FA: Arrogance
  • KA: He believes in challeges. Technical challenges most. They're what make life fun. Plus, you know, money and sex, but overcoming challenges is the best.
  • Blackheath-

  • FA: Distrust
  • KA: Eat Earth! Dig Deep! Drink Water! Spit back pesticides on humanity!
  • The new member that is going to join-

  • FA: Nice try.
  • KA: He or she has deep beliefs of his or her own.
  • Vision-

  • FA: Repression.
  • KA: He believes in the 'sweet spot,' voting every election, soft core pornography, chocolate chip cookies, opening your presents on Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve, and he believes in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last seven days.

    No, wait, that's someone else.

    He believes there's an answer to everything, but that the best answers aren't technical. He does believe in the small of a woman's back, though.
  • Scarlet Witch-

  • FA: Repression looking for expression.
  • KA: She believes in heart. Good hearts, bad hearts -- and that expecting a badhearted person to develop a good one usually only happens on Christmas specials.
  • Iron Man-

  • FA: Restrained
  • KA: He believes there are people better suited to leading, too, to making decisions for others. But he spells the name differently -- five letters! -- and he thinks that making decisions that are in the best interest of large groups of people often serves them better than letting them make those decisions themselves. But he thinks it's that "best interest" that should matter most.

  • Q:Who do you think is the others favorite Avenger?
  • FA: Hawkeye.
  • KA: Braniac 5!

    No, wait. I'm gonna guess Cap.

  • Q:Who do you think is the others favorite Thunderbolt?
  • FA: Mach 1.
  • KA: Zemo!

  • Q: Sum up what you see is the core issue this mini plugs into.
  • FA: I think the core issue of this series is trust. Can you trust someone bad to do something good? Can you trust yourself to make a fair choice?
  • KA: I think the core issues are -- where do you draw the lines? Who can you trust? Do the ends justify the means? Are some people unredeemable? Do they deserve a chance anyway? And how far can you go before you can't tell the difference between you and the enemy?

  • Q: Who had the say on getting Barry Kitson in as the artist? How has it been working with him?
  • FA: I think that was Tom's move. I've enjoyed it a lot. He is very enthusiastic about the characters and very involved in helping to develop them visually.
  • KA: As I recall, it was Tom's decision. But Barry's a good guy and a terrific artist, and has done some great new costume designs for the book. He's giving it a strong, distinctive look.

  • Q: When the series is all said and done what do you want the readers to take from it?
  • FA: That there are never any easy answers when you're dealing with big picture issues. That good guys can makes mistakes. And bad guys can try to do right... but is trying in and of itself always enough?

  • KA: Six issues of action, character drama, and fun, in a way they couldn't get in any other book. This ain't the JLA, it ain't the Authority, it ain't the FF, it ain't the X-Men -- it's two very distinctive teams with a lot of issues and history between them. And that's what makes it so engaging to bring them together.

  • Discuss this interview at:
    Avengers Message Board OR
    Thunderbolts Message Board