C2E2: Pak's Final Hulk Story Exposes the "Heart of the Monster"

In 2006, Marvel Comics' "Incredible Hulk" kicked off a brand new story arc titled "Planet Hulk," an epic tale which found the jade juggernaut stranded on a savage alien world called Sakaar. The sprawling saga saw the Hulk move from enslaved gladiator to freedom fighter to finally becoming king of the planet. The story was penned by a relatively new writer named Greg Pak, and it was just the first chapter of a highly acclaimed run on the character that continues to this day.

Over the course of Pak's time with the character, Bruce Banner and his angry alter ego have fought super villains, super heroes, demons, gods and even other Hulks. During the course of these confrontations, something surprising started to happen -- Banner and the Hulk developed their own family, on composed of both biological and surrogate members including Skaar, a teenage barbarian the Hulk fathered during his time on Sakaar; Banner's cousin Jennifer Walters AKA She-Hulk; Korg, an alien being of living stone who fought alongside the Hulk on Sakaar; Banner and the Hulk's long time friend Rick Jones who can now transform into a super strong, scaly-skinned monster called A-Bomb; and Banner's recently resurrected wife Betty Ross, who has the ability to transform into the savage and super strong Red She-Hulk. This group has become such a prominent force in Banner and the Hulk's life that the long running series has been renamed "The Incredible Hulks" to appropriately reflect the importance of the cast.

One out think being surrounded by people you care about would be good for Banner and the Hulk, but caring can lead to frustration, especially when all your attempts to help them seem to end in failure. So what happens when that frustration gets to be too much? How will a being notorious for his destructive temper handle the potential loss of his family? This summer, Pak and artist Paul Pelletier will answer those questions and more when they kick of "Heart of the Monster," a story arc announced yesterday at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo. CBR News spoke with Pak about the storyline, which will begin in June and brings his five-year run with the Jade Giant to a close.

CBR News: Let's start with the big question, Greg -- what made you want to end your Hulk run and why is now the right time to do it?

Greg Pak: I've been telling Hulk or Hulk related stories for about five years now. At a certain point, I just realized that this big cycle of stories I've been telling are kind of coming to a wrap. I've been hinting for a while that these last few story arcs have all been building up, with each one progressively raising the stakes. This massive theme of anger and family is reaching its climax. Genuine endings in serial comics can be kind of a rare thing, so a real end felt right for the character and these stories.

Now that we know you're bringing things to an end, it casts a new light on your current "Incredible Hulks" arc, "Planet Savage," which features a number of elements from the Hulk's time on Sakaar. It seems with this story, you and artist Dale Eaglesham are tying up some of the loose threads from "Planet Hulk."

Yes, and the final chapter of the story will bring several characters' stories to a surprising conclusion. So you definitely don't want to miss "Incredible Hulks" #625, the last issue of "Planet Savage," which I believes come out the Wednesday after C2E2.

"The Incredible Hulks" #625 is also the last issue of the series with the plural title, with issue #626 the book once again called "The Incredible Hulk." What can you tell us about the title change?

I don't want to spoil anything by saying too much, but throughout this whole thing, the Hulk has been the central figure. As "The Incredible Hulks," the title has almost been an ensemble piece with a lot of characters in this whole Hulk family, but the Hulk's emotional story has really been the spine

The title change is an indication that the focus of our series is honing in even more on the emotional story of the Hulk. That story does relate to his family so you will continue to see some of these characters. The title change will also make sense given the climax of issue #625, which I don't want to spoil. Once you've read that though you'll get a better sense of why we've just gone back to the title of "Incredible Hulk."

With April's "The Incredible Hulk" #626, you kick off a new arc that appears to be a relationship story done as a spy story.

Yes. Starting with issue #626 we're doing a story line I've been hungry to do for months now, almost years. It's "The Spy Who Smashed Me" or "Mr. and Mrs. Hulk," depending on which generation of spy movies you want to riff on. It's Bruce Banner AKA the Hulk and Betty Ross AKA Red She Hulk in an insane super spy adventure in Rome. Tom Grummett is doing the pencils and he's having so much fun with this story. It's such a blast whenever pages come in.

This story is really giving me a chance to explore that Bruce and Betty and Hulk and Red She Hulk relationship. It's interesting because we've got multiple characters there with multiple relationships. This storyline will also feature a classic Hulk villain. He might even be the Hulk's oldest surviving villain, and he's going to play surprising new role in this. That kicks off in #626 and runs through issue #629

Speaking of relationships, we've seen Banner and the Hulk's evolve quite a bit over the course of the past few months. What can you tell us about that dynamic going into "Heart of the Monster?"

With the return of the Hulk back in "Incredible Hulks" #611, he and Banner kind of simultaneously came to separate but complimentary conclusions about their relationships with family. Both the Hulk and Banner have been committed to protecting this new family that they've managed to acquire. Ever since then, the Hulk and Banner have been heroically sacrificing themselves issue after issue in order to protect their family. They've been perhaps united on that goal, but there's definitely been conflict between the two of them along the way over what tactics to take. We caught a glimpse of that in #624, where Hulk lets Banner take over so they can escape a sticky situation, but then Banner and the Hulk are sniping each other as they transform

We will continue to explore that. I think with "Heart of the Monster" in particular, the big questions are whose heart are we talking about? And what monster are we talking about? Traditionally, we've thought of the Hulk as a monster, right? Everybody in the Marvel Universe from the beginning thought that. In a lot of ways, "Planet Hulk" was about the Hulk going from monster to hero. In "World War Hulk," the follow-up to "Planet Hulk," we kind of saw that monster return and that dynamic is still here.

We complicated things in particular during the time where Banner was temporarily cured of the Hulk. In the "Son of Hulk" storyline we began in #601, we hinted that Banner may be the real monster. Maybe Banner turns into the Hulk because you really don't want to see what happens when Banner gets angry. With his big brain, Banner could be far more dangerous than the Hulk. These are things we've been hinting at or playing with, and we're going to pay off a lot of that in "Heart of the Monster." We're going to delve deep into who the Hulk and Banner really are. So get ready! You don't want to miss a single issue because there will be shocking revelations galore!

In terms of plot and theme, what can you tell us about "Heart of the Monster?"

I don't want to spoil too much about how we get here and what happens, but for quite some time now, I've been thinking about wishes and how they play out in fables, myths and stories. The interesting thing about them is, there always seems to be an unintended consequence. You can't really get something for nothing. You make a wish, and you may get what you wish for, but there's always some surprise that causes that thing to get turned around. I've also been thinking a lot of about the Hulk, and we love the Hulk because he smashes and cuts loose in a way that we can't. There's an enormous amount of vicarious pleasure in watching the Hulk lose it, because every day, we feel like losing it ourselves. And the Hulk is constantly faced with these situations where it seems entirely justified for him to lose his mind and smash things. At the same time, great Hulk writers have always known that even if you're totally justified, there's a price to be paid for wrath.

I thought that was interesting and those two concepts, wishes and wrath, started to roll around in my head. During the course of this story, everybody is going to get exactly what they wished for and all hell is going to break loose as a result. There's a mind-blowing, Marvelicious concept at the heart of the story that should be a lot of fun. At the same time, it goes straight to the emotional core of our central characters. It's a big, crazy, blowout. It's a Hulk story that let's us play through a lot of the themes we've been playing with since page one of "Planet Hulk."

So, "Heart of the Monster" is a story that is simultaneously intimate and epic.

Exactly. That's what I've had fun doing and that's how we're set to close out my run. The difference here is we're going to reveal some things that we haven't revealed before, and we're going to answers some questions that have been dangling all along and find out just what is the Heart of the Monster.

I think it is worth noting that there certainly are a number of Hulk family characters that will play a role in this story, including both She-Hulks -- Jen Walters and Betty Ross -- A-Bomb and Amadeus Cho. Then there's also a surprising femme fatale from the Hulk's past. I think it's funny that for a guy who's called a monster, this character has had a shocking number of paramours over the years. By the end of this story, I think I will have written almost all of them.

That covers the supporting cast. What can you tell us about the antagonists of "Heart of the Monster?"

A while back on Twitter I was joking around, asking people what Hulk villains they would like to see come back, because I've been thinking about that a lot. The covers that are being released in conjunction with this announcement definitely reveal quite a bit in terms of who we're about to see. We've got some classic villains from a number of different eras of the Hulk's extensive villain-smashing career, including some I've just been dying to write for some time. They include Wendigo and, yes, the Bi-Beast, who is a personal favorite of Paul Pelletier's. Paul drew one of the last appearances of the Bi-Beast, back when the character tangled with the Hulk and She-Hulk. That was pretty early in his career, but those classic, crazy characters are so much fun and they're going to play a big role in this storyline

Perhaps even more dangerous is Armageddon, the alien warlord whose son the Hulk dispatched twice, back in the day. The character is a classic and amazing Peter David creation. So we're going to have a lot of fun bringing him back as well.

We've also got Umar, Dormammu's sister from the Dark Dimension, who had an infamous encounter with the Hulk in Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis' "Defenders" miniseries from a few years back. So it will be interesting to see what happens when Umar and the Hulk meet again.

The classic, Triple F, Fin Fang Foom, will also be appearing. Yes, right here in mainstream Marvel continuity, Fin Fang Foom will take on the Hulk. It's going to be great.

As you said, for "Heart of the Monster" you're collaborating once again with artist Paul Pelletier. You and Paul have worked together on several Hulk stories now. What is it about Paul's work that makes him such a good fit for this character?

Looking back over my five years of writing Hulk books, I've worked with so many great artists, beginning with Carlo Pagulayan and Aaron Lopresti. Those guys knocked "Planet Hulk" out of the park. Then of course, John Romita Jr. on "World War Hulk" and Gary Frank on the "Hulk" tie-in stories to that event. Then everybody from Ariel Olivetti to Ron Garney and Ron Lim, who I worked with on the Skaar title, and Dale Eaglesham who did "Planet Savage," who now I'm going to be working on "Alpha Flight" with. All of these artists have been tremendous.

Paul really earned his stripes with the "Fall of the Hulks" and "World War Hulks" stuff. He really delivered page after page of amazing action. My apologies to him for cramming so many characters into those stories. It was mind blowing, but he was able to make it all work so well.

Paul is also a great "actor." Artists are the actors in comics. They are the ones who sell these emotional moments. If they overact, or can't act, it all falls apart. Paul is that great combination in that he totally loves to deliver the Mighty Marvel smash-up like nobody's business, but at the same time he understands and can deliver all of those tiny emotional moments. He knows when somebody standing there silently means a lot. He also knows the power of a small gesture, like a hand on a shoulder. When we hit those big emotional moments, he can put feeling in characters' faces.

There's a point in #621 where Banner has gone to Hercules, thinking Herc is still the All-Father ,and he's asking Herc to find a way to pay back the Hulks for all that they've done and fix them; fix all these terrible problems that the different Hulks have. The way Paul renders Banner's face is just heart-breaking. I saw a reviewer say that scene was the most moved he's ever been by a single page of comics. I think Paul can really deliver that sensitivity.

Hulk stories are all about emotion and they're about both huge and tiny emotional moments. So it's been a huge pleasure to have Paul on board. To be finishing up this storyline with him is just amazing

Your Hulk run may be coming to an end, but your time at Marvel Comics is far from over. You're currently working on "Silver Surfer," "Herc," "Alpha Flight" and I imagine you've got some secret projects that you're developing as well.

Yes, indeed. One of the things I love about Marvel is that there's a huge variety of characters. As a result, there's a huge variety of stories. There was one point where I was working on "War Machine," "Magneto Testament" and "Incredible Hercules" all at the same time. So in the same week, I was turning in all these different scripts. One was this rollicking sexcapade in the land of the Dark Elves, another was this crazy high-tech, action, war story and the third one was this insanely, emotionally complex and disturbing Holocaust story. That's such a huge range of stories to be able to tell and that's the kind of thing that keeps me hungry, excited, and challenged as a writer. And a little scared, which is a good thing to be sometimes. It means you're working on something that might push you in a new direction. I've been very happy with the variety and challenge that my opportunities at Marvel have provided me.

Any final thoughts you would like to share about "Heart of the Monster" or your five year run with the Hulk and his related characters?

I want to thank every single person who's worked on these books with me and the people who have bought these books and talked about them. The fan response from day one with "Planet Hulk" was beyond anything I ever expected or imagined, and I'm incredibly grateful for all those fans who've been following along with these stories.

I'm also hugely grateful to Joe Quesada and all the editors I've worked with at Marvel for putting me on this book in the first place. Axel Alonso was one of the people I was talking with at the very beginning when they were looking for somebody for the Hulk. Hulk editor Mark Paniccia has really been my partner in crime on all of these stories. I remember when we were planning out "Planet Hulk," it was the two of us in a room at Marvel cackling over all the stuff we were coming up with. That storyline was a tremendous experience in so many good ways Not only was it a great opportunity, it was a chance to see something special come together. It really felt like we were doing something new with "Planet Hulk" and it was so appreciated. I also have to tip my hat to Tom Brevoort. Tom was reviewing my scripts at the beginning. I was still very new to Marvel at the time, "Incredible Hulk" was my first ongoing book and Tom always had great notes for me. I learned a lot from him as well. So, thank you very much guys.

Also, a huge thank you to every one of my artists. I've named a bunch of them, and there are more that deserve that kind of recognition. They've brought these stories to life. It's always an amazing thing when you write something and you get this page back that a penciler has poured their heart into. I think the Hulk is a character a lot of artists dive into for the same reason we like to read stories about him; the catharsis in seeing him cut loose. At the same time, the price he pays for that is really moving. It's something I think we all can relate too.

So I guess the biggest thanks of all should go to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for creating this character back in the day, and setting things up for all of us to play with. Then I also want to thank folks like Bill Mantlo and Peter David for building on that legend and mythos. Without all those guys, I wouldn't have had this opportunity. It's been a blast building on this character that they established.

Marvel's Avengers: Iron Man #1

More in Comics