The secret of the Red Hulk is out. Though, as co-creators Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness roll into the monstrous character’s origin in June 23’s “Hulk” #23, the team behind the last few years of Marvel Comics’ Hulk tales have plenty more story to tell.
After the mysterious villain’s identity was revealed as General Thunderbolt Ross last month, issue #23 invites a who’s who of guest artists from the Hulk’s past to help craft the tale of how one of Bruce Banner’s greatest adversary’s became the thing he hated most in life including Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema, Dale Keown, Tim Sale, Ian Churchill, Adam Kubert, John Romita, Jr., Leinil Yu and Mike Deodato. But leading the charge on the comic as always is regular “Hulk” artist McGuinness, who makes his first appearance on CBR’s regular feature THE GREEN ZONE to explain his part in the long-running story. Below, the superstar artist explains that he was originally reluctant to draw a crimson version of the Marvel icon, how Jack Kirby influenced his Huked-Out Heroes designs and why no one needs to worry about General Ross’ mustache.
CBR News: Well, Ed, we’re nearing the home stretch of “World War Hulks” and this has been one of those rare events where both you and Paul Pelletier have been able to carry the majority of the action in your monthly books.
Ed McGuinness: Yeah. It’s actually been pretty cool. Paul destroys me as far as speed. [Laughs] I think I paced him on one issue and was so proud of myself. I just can’t do it as fast!
Well, you’ve had a lot going on in your side of the equation with Red Hulk, and every time I’ve talked to Jeph Loeb, Greg Pak and Jeff Parker, the discussion has floated around the tight security they had to employ to keep the character’s identity a secret. But you haven’t had to deal with that at all really, have you?
No, not really. I don’t talk to anybody anyways. I’m just in my basement in Maine. [Laughs]
You and Jeph put all the pieces for Ross and Red Hulk out there right at the beginning, but has your focus since then just been developing the character as a visual and letting Loeb worry about all the mystery making?
Honestly, when the concept of the Red Hulk was first pitched to me, I had wanted to draw the Hulk forever. So when they said “Red Hulk” to me, I was like, “What?!?” But we looked at it as a really cool thing. It’s been a lot of fun developing the character and the way he looks. Even his haircut! The Red Hulk has more of a crewcut, military-style thing. It’s still messy, but there are subtle differences like that. And I know that Ross has a mustache, but you know what? The Red Hulk doesn’t have eyebrows either, so nobody can complain that there’s no mustache. [Laughs] But little things have made this character.
With Red Hulk, A-Bomb and all the other characters, it’s apparent that a big part of this has been expanding out the Hulk supporting cast so there were a lot more big powerful characters smashing things in the book.
It’s one of those things where you look at the Hulk’s rogue list, and it was almost like Superman’s at a point where you go, “Is there anybody really cool for him to fight?” Red Hulk almost becomes Green’s Bizarro in a weird way. And the Abomination is one of my favorite characters ever, and so many of my favorite things have been done with him, but he was a great way to pick up and show the ferocity of this new Hulk. When we were just talking about moving onto the Hulk, there was a possibility we were going to do an Ultimate Hulk book, and I had this idea: “Why can’t we make Rick Jones the Abomination?” Jeph thought that was a cool idea, so we took it and brought it to the Marvel Universe. So he’s not the Abomination, he’s A-Bomb. It was fun designing him, and it’s been a fun ride as far as coming up with different things to expand the Hulk’s rogue list. One of the things I really wanted to play with at the beginning was taking Samson from a C or B-level player to an A-player. And I think we did that a little bit, too.
There are so many working pieces to the event between the Leader and the Intelligencia…
Oh yeah. It got huge!
Did you want to draw any part of it specifically, or did you just know you’d stick with the Red Hulk plotline?
Actually, I was so flattered. They brought me out to one of the writer’s summits. I was like, “Are you serious?” but I came to New York and we sat down and hashed it out for a day. I got to pick out some of the stuff I wanted to do. I let them know that I definitely wanted to do the Red Hulk side of the story with Jeph, and Greg went with the Skaar side. And we got to say, “If you’re getting those guys, then I want the Wizard and the Frightful Four,” or whoever. It was a lot of fun. I’m just glad we got to use the Cosmic Hulk. It’s such a goofy idea from the old Eternals stuff, and we were actually able to use it.
I’ve also been told that when it came to creating the Hulked-Out Heroes for the event, they pretty much asked you who you wanted to draw all big and crazy.
It was kind of a give and take. They gave me a short list of people, and it was tentative, because it depends on where a lot of them are in their own books. But at the same time, if my design was cool [we’d go with it.] So, I think I did about six of them and Humberto [Ramos] did the rest. I’m not sure if we designed anything that wasn’t used, and I think we even added a few at the end that got designed on paper, but it was one of those things where, part of that process…I think Nate [Cosby] conveyed this to Humberto: “I don’t just want to see Thor green and ripped.”
Any of these guys, when they turn into a Hulked-Out Heroes, it changes them. They’re not just big and green. With the Wolverine design, I tried to play off what Jeph did in his “Wolverine” run with the wolf people and make him revert to that state. With Spider-Man, he’s probably green underneath his costume, but you never see it. I figure if anybody has a reason to be angry in the Marvel Universe, it’s him. So he becomes Venom: the big, angry Spider-Man. Thor just becomes the embodiment of thunder. He’s magic too, so it’s not like his costume has to rip off. He becomes someone else completely. And it’s fun getting into that thought process to try and tweak them and do something different.
Going back to things like “JLA Classified” even, it seems that playing with the designs on characters is something you’re really interested in.
Being a fan of Kirby is probably where all that stuff comes from. I just look at the simplicity of what he did, and it amazes me. You look at a character like Dr. Doom -Â if you just said that name, it’d bring up so many different ideas, yet you’ve got this guy wearing a suit of armor and a hood. But he’s one of my favorite designs ever! I’m intrigued by that stuff. What goes into making something, from a design standpoint, really impactful? A lot of times, I’ll start looking at it from the point of “Who is this guy and what is he?” Even when I was drawing Superman, I did little tweaks that harkened back to the core concept of the character. I pulled in a lot from the old Fleischer stuff, which I thought was really the core of the character. With Hulk, I went back and looked at a bunch of the Kirby stuff, and then who I thought really nailed the character was Dale Keown. With designing, you want to try and get that core out and go forward while trying to keep it simple, too, because you’ve got to draw these characters in a lot of panels.
Speaking of past Hulk artists, issue #23 seems to be saying, “How many classic artists can we fit into one issue?” Did you see how those pages developed over the course of production?
I’m still seeing it coming in now. I didn’t want to look at anybody’s stuff or be influenced by it. I just wanted to do what I do in the current context of the modern story. But seeing the stuff come in has been amazing. The Herb Trimpe page is insane. It’s just General Ross flying around in an airplane, but it’s the coolest thing! I just saw the Sal Buscema pages colored the other day. Unbelievable. The John Romita, Jr. stuff is retelling some of the “World War Hulk” stuff, and it’s great. So, being done on my end of things, it’s like, “No pressure.” [Laughs] I’m not going, “Oh crap, they did that!” That’s good for me because I can be my own worst critic, and I’m glad I didn’t see any of Dale’s stuff. I’d just want to stop drawing at that point.
It’s been a really wild ride since you and Jeph came on “Hulk” and it seems really different than what you expected from this gig at the start. Do you want to continue on with “Hulk” past this event if the opportunity is there?
Yeah. Absolutely. I definitely want to do a run with Green. [Laughs] It’s been amazing with some of these things. I got to knock out the Watcher, which made everybody crazy, and doing Red has been so different from what I expected coming on board. So a run with Green would be really cool.
Well, we’ll have to see if that’ll be possible when this is done. Loeb keeps saying, “We’re not sure if there will be a Hulk after this!”
[Laughs] He’ll do that! It’s great, because this has been just as rewarding as doing what I expected because I’ve come out of this with a character I really love. I care about what happens to this character once he’s out of my hands, and that’s pretty cool.