Any interview in which I can ask a question that prompts Jeff Parker to damn me is a good interview in my estimation (read on to find the “damn” moment, it’s a fun-loving damn). We initially conducted this interview before last week’s announced demise of Wildstorm, but I gave him a chance to adjust his response when discussing the likelihood of a second Mysterius miniseries. I’m sad to see Parker’s series Atlas come to an end this week with the release of Atlas 5. It’s not often that a writer gets to end a series on his own terms, and yet that’s what happened for Parker with Atlas. While the Atlas series takes its final lap, last week marked the start of Parker and artist Gabriel Hardman on the Hulk monthly (and I loved their first issue ). While this interview does not cover all of Parker’s Marvel work, we definitely work in a discussion of his Thunderbolts work.
Tim O’Shea: You ended the ATLAS series on your own terms. When you wrote the final scene of the last issue was it upsetting, or was it fine, as you realize you can always find ways to work aspects of these characters into future Marvel books?
Jeff Parker: No, I was actually pretty happy as I wrote it, because I felt this was one of the most “Atlasy” of all the stories. It did its own thing and was exciting and defied expectations, which is what that book should do. I can probably have them pop up in other things, but I really prefer them in their own corner of the Marvel Universe.
O’Shea: In Thunderbolts, you really threw me by naming former US Agent/John Walker as the warden and making him (gasp, for once) an interesting character. Did you seek him out for the Thunderbolts cast, or was he part of the deal when you took the assignment?
Parker: It looked like he wasn’t ‘needed’ anywhere else at the end of Dark Reign, it just made a lot of sense to me. I asked if I could A: maim him horribly and B: make him the warden. I like the idea that he was ready to get back to work after such a catastrophic personal event (losing almost half his body, for those who don’t read it). Even though really, it was probably way to soon. But he certainly asserted himself during the prison blackout, didn’t he?
O’Shea: At Baltimore Comic-Con, you acknowledged you were going to be changing the cast up a bit in a few issues. I’m not gonna try to beg who will be joining, but I am curious if other than Luke will there be other constants to the cast?
Parker: Yes, but I can’t say and rob the surprise factor, you know that! Damn Tim.
O’Shea: What is the backbone to the Thunderbolts to you, what is it that made you want to write a series that has been through many incarnations over the years?
Parker: I’ve been getting into writing unlikable characters lately. Characters who you don’t identify with -or DO you?- but still want to watch do what they do. Bill Rosemann kind of primed me for it by asking me to do The Hood mini before that, and I really enjoyed it.
O’Shea: The Raft is a fairly large writer’s playground, but you’ve made it an even larger landscape by incorporating Pym space management technology? What’s been the most fun you’ve had to date playing with the Pym technology?
Parker: The most fun comes up in 150, when Ghost figures out how to screw with it! It’s a double-sized issue too.
O’Shea: I’m still having a hard time grasping how Thunderbolt Ross went from trying to end the threat of the Hulk because he’s a monster, to becoming a monster himself. What is your take on how things came to this point and how does it shape how you write the character?
Parker: I see as standing too close to the flame and getting burned. Eventually he became the thing he hated, and now he’s starting to see what it was like on that side of the coin. There’s no way around the idea that part of what fueled Ross’ Ahab-like obsession with Hulk was that it was power he couldn’t have. And now he does- so what does he do from this point on?
O’Shea: Judging by this preview, Hulk artist Gabriel Hardman likes drawing monsters. Will you give him a chance to draw more monsters, or are you going to capitalize on Hartman’s other artistic affinities in the series?
Parker: In the first arc, Gabriel will give you monsters beyond your wildest dreams! We start getting into the subtle stuff Hardman can do in the next arc, the first is very much pure confrontation.
O’Shea: As Iron Man and Red Hulk meet, does Stark know who Red Hulk actually is, or is that a character dynamic you don’t have time or space (plot-wise) to capitalize upon?
Parker: No. The only one outside the main Hulk players, your Bruces and Betties and Ricks and such, who knows Red Hulk is Ross is Steve Rogers. And he’s keeping it to himself, he doesn’t want to see Ross pursued for court martial any more than Ross does. Ross had his funeral with honors, his Army-Airforce career is over, and now he has to find new purpose. It’s really the crossroads that many military lifers find themselves at upon retirement.
O’Shea: What kind of supporting cast do you plan to nurture in Hulk?
Parker: At first, a very small and familiar one. Bruce Banner is almost the entire supporting cast! We expand in the next storyline though.
O’Shea: I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much the word of mouth on the Mysterius TPB seems to grow (I read and enjoyed the series when it first came out). Latest example? Evan Dorkin: “Really enjoyed Mysterius The Unfathomable by Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler … It reminded me a great deal of Steve Gerber’s work, and I mean that as a compliment — fun genre stuff with pulp overtones, social satire, well-delineated oddball characters, solid plotting, and — holy shit — an actual story.” First off, Dorkin’s not the type of fellow who throws out compliments very often, so how gratifying was that? Secondly, what are the odds there’ll be another Mysterius mini?
Parker: That was very gratifying for exactly the reason you say- Evan is a tough audience. And I’m a fan of his, so I really appreciated that.
Boy, that [odds for another Mysterius mini] could go anywhere now! [Because of the demise of the series publisher, Wildstorm] Tom and I are certainly ready to go, we know the next story. Pray to whatever Seussian Demon you think will work.