Writer Jeph Loeb arrived on the scene at Marvel Comics “Hulks Smash!” panel Sunday morning at the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo (or C2E2 for short) wearing a green polo shirt with a red brand on it -Â appropriate considering how the scribe has introduced a bit of red into the world of Marvel’s Green Goliath. And on the panel, word is dropping on everything involved with the Hulk including the upcoming “World War Hulks” event as Loeb was joined by his partner in smashing Greg Pak as well as artist Paul Pelletier, writers Fred Van Lente and Paul Tobin, editor Nate Cosby and marketing and sales manager Arune Singh.
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“Who wants to know who the Red Hulk and Red She-Hulk are?” Singh teased before showing a video where editor Mark Paniccia promised to reveal the identity of the former character before a mystery assailant from off camera started tossing him around his office. After a second, the attacker was revealed as Loeb, wearing one green and one read “Hulk Hands” and growling. “The actor who played me in that is a new, up-and-coming star. He had an offer to play Captain America, but opted out to play me instead,” joke the writer.
The panel began discussing May’s return to the main Hulk story thread with “World War Hulks.” “We’ll be returning after a station break,” said Loeb referring to Jeff Parker’s “Hulked Out Heroes.” Loeb promised that the story would pick up right where things left off at the end of “Fall of the Hulks” with the Hulked Out Heroes under the thrall of the Cathexis Ray, whose creation Loeb credited to Roy Thomas in his creation of Doc Samson. “We set out to tell a story that was different and bigger, if you possibly could, than what Greg and John Romita, Jr. did in ‘World War Hulk.'”
Pak added, “They said a story couldn’t be told bigger than ‘World War Hulk,’ and we’ve done it.” He promised payoff for stories dating back to “Planet Hulk.” The writer just came from working on a scene he’s been dying to write for over a year and a half for the “Incredible” series.
Pak promised titanic action from his artist Pelletier, who was at his right. “I had no idea what I was getting into on this. I’m just holding on for dear life,” joked Pelletier.
Pak called this new story the “most emotional story Bruce Banner’s ever had” and mentioned how they were drawing on ideas laid down by Stan Lee, Bill Mantlo and Peter David. Loeb added, that the May issue’s of the series are “Somewhat reflective of the Heroic Age but is mostly payoff for a ride you’ve been on since ‘Planet Hulk.'”
Loeb then reminded fans who weren’t around for Saturday’s Cup O’ Joe panel of the news that “Hulk” #23 -Â the origin of the Red Hulk -Â is a double-sized issue focusing not only on the origin of the Red Hulk but also on a wave of guest artists who will be working with Ed McGuinness on the book including Adam Kubert, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema for the first time on pencils and inks, Dale Keown, Tim Sale, Ian Churchill, Mike Deodato, Lenil Yu and John Romita, Jr. Keown’s art just came in yesterday, according to the writer.
The audience then got a look at some limited edition guitar picks released last night at Joe Quesada’s performance with Kirby Krackle featuring the Red Hulk’s face and a link to www.BannerKnows.com which will take fans to the video of Loeb smashing his own editor.
The rest of the assembled creators talked about their own projects next including Van Lente saying that the upcoming “Prince of Power” Heroic Age series focusing on Amadeus Cho took its high concept from the fact that Cho is “The kid who, according to the Greek gods, will be the greatest hero of the Heroic Age.” Tobin noted that his upcoming run on “Marvel Adventures Spider-Man” is “a relaunch, not a reboot…We try to make the all-ages books for you guys and also accessible to kids.”
Tobin then got his own announcement in the Hulk world with news that July will see a “World War Hulks: Wolverine Vs. Captain America” miniseries with both of its two issues shipping that month and focusing on, as you’d expect, a fight between the Hulked Out heroes in its title.
Question and answer started up with the first fan lined up wondering is the creators felt there was a “Definitive” version of the Hulk that should be focused on. Loeb explained that his two big Hulk projects -Â “Hulk” and “Hulk Gray” -Â came from ideas his artistic collaborators had on how the character should work in a specific circumstance. Pak said that “If you look at those very first issues of the Hulk, you had a gray Hulk, you had a green Hulk, you had a Hulk with Banner’s head,” which made the character very flexible. “When Banner is at different places in his life, his anger expresses itself in different ways and in different Hulks.” He said he love the gangsterish “Cagney Hulk” from very early in the series.
Pak added that when it came to shaping the personality of Bruce Banner after the man lost his ability to become the Green Hulk, Paniccia challenged him to to get “MacGuyver Banner” in place – a version that would utilize the character’s smarts. “I think that playing with different incarnations of Banner is just as fun as playing with the Hulk,” he said, noting that the set up of the Neil Gaiman-created “Marvel 1602” universe which he worked on and its idea of Banner as a villain changed how he viewed what could be done with the character long before he wrote “Planet Hulk.”
An audience member asked after the Origin of the Red Hulk, not in terms of the story but in terms of where the idea of the character came from a failed pitch he and Ed McGuinness brought to Marvel. “At the time, Ed had this idea to do a story called ‘Strongest One There Is’ where Hulk took on everyone in the Marvel Universe,” the writer explained. When it was pitched, the pair were told about “World War Hulk” already being in the works, leading them to start talking about the Red Hulk. “It was never intended to be a mystery,” he added. “If you go back to the very beginning with ‘Tales To Astonish,’ no one knew Banner was the Hulk.” That “who is the character?” melodrama was always a bit nonsensical, comparing Betty Ross and Glenn Talbot’s not knowing to the ’50s Superman TV show where Lois Lane came off as an idiot. So with Red Hulk, “We decided to pull back and say, ‘Here he is. He’s a force of nature.'” The book was intended to be the adventures of this character, but it wasn’t planned “but over time it became the thing driving it that everyone wanted to know.”
“Hopefully no one will read ‘Hulk’ #23 or its counterpart in Incredible and go, ‘I don’t get this. Who is this guy?'” the writer noted, saying that the events in the book had to matter to what fans expect out of a Hulk story.
Cosby also said that one of the joys of getting to the simultaneous reveals of Red Hulk and Red She-Hulk in “Hulk” and “Incredible” worked so well because they’re not stories in the same universe. “These stories live in the exact same moment” as each new issue of both titles ship in the same month.
A fan asking after how the counting was done to relaunch “Incredible Hulk” at issue #600 was jokingly told by Loeb, “We actually did the math, and it actually did work. I know everybody else did the math and it didn’t work, but in my math it did.” The panelists said that depending on what you count from the transition to “Incredible Hercules,” the books do work out to 600.
The question of life after the reveal of the Red Hulk came up in terms of fan reactions and what could be done with the character and story next. Loeb said it’s something he’s been thinking about, but he had faith fans would remain excited about the character because “after the war, there will be a brand new status quo on the Hulk books that will establish who is the Red Hulk, who is the Green Hulk if there is one and will set the stories for the next few years.” He added that the future of the franchise will use Marvel’s new plan where “The Heroic Age [functions] as a way of addressing new ideas, and that whole direction of the Marvel Universe will have an impact on where the books go.”
Towards the end, Loeb also explained how the creators have kept the secret of the Red Hulk’s identity a secret even from many at Marvel, resulting in them getting calls during the Disney deal whereby new members of the larger Marvel corporate family wanted to know…to which they replied “Why?” It seems as though after keeping this secret for so long, word will only come out in June.
That’s it for “Hulks Smash!” Keep checking CBR throughout next week for more news from C2E2!