Starting in September, Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman will be the new regular creative team on Marvel's monthly "Hulk" title -Â a revelation that prompted the writer to voice what fans may have said at the news.
"What a secret!" laughed Parker when telling CBR about his plans for the book after its "announcement" Saturday afternoon at the Cup O' Joe panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego. As readers may recall, both Parker and his publisher have been teasing his arrival on the adjectiveless monthly comic for weeks. Started over two years ago by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness, "Hulk" will continue under its new management to tell the stories of General "Thunderbolt Ross -Â AKA the Red Hulk -Â in the wake of his scheming and double-crossing in the current "World War Hulks" crossover event.
"It steps off pretty naturally from what they did," Parker explained of following the Loeb/McGuinness team. "But now I'm looking and going 'Red Hulk can't just keep going around punching everybody else's villains. He needs his own stuff. If he's going to stick around, he needs to bring some elements to the table all by himself. And it's the same thing with A-Bomb. We're going a back-up with him, so I said 'If theses guys plan to be figures, then they've got to get their own rogue's galleries and things too.'"
As the panel revealed on Saturday, the fleshing out of Red Hulk's world and personality in the series starts in the opening "Scorched Earth" six-part arc in September's issue #25. "As you'll see in the story, it grows naturally out of what happened with M.O.D.O.K. and The Leader," the writer said of his anti-hero's quest to take down some of the doomsday plans left behind by his former Intelligencia collaborators.
"Ross finds himself at the mercy of an order all the sudden. He doesn't have the freedom to do what he likes, but at the same time, that's probably what he craves. His whole life is built on military order. Bruce Banner's going to try to exploit that while at the same time find something to channel into Ross because Bruce cares what Betty thinks. All the way through, they both care about whatever Betty thinks," Parker said of the structure that helps drive the story.
Redeeming himself from his past will also be a major theme of Ross' journey. "There's just a lot of payback coming for Red Hulk. From when he came out, Ross really abused the heck out of not only the Hulk power he had but the fact that he could suck away other people's power. No one's forgotten that. You're about to see a bunch of Marvel heavies come in, and everybody wants to come at him and settle some scores. Now we're going to see how tough Ross is in terms of purely being beaten up on. That's the kind of thing I think will help define his character. Of the many things he is, he's not a whiner. He's not a complainer. He can take it."
That point of view is one of the major components of Parker's take on the book. Namely: the Red Hulk isn't the green one. "He gives you a neat position to tell Hulk stories you couldn't have told in the past because they wouldn't work with Banner's character. Ross doesn't want to be left alone to randomly hit a deer in the woods or whatever. He's a different kind of Hulk," the writer explained, adding that even though he's different from his former son-in-law, he has to accept the dominant power of his longtime foe rather than fight against it.
"A little bit's going to change on him. The main thing is that no matter whether he's Ross or the Red Hulk -Â his war with the Hulk is over. Hulk beat him, and he knows when he's been beaten. He's not stupid. And he realizes, 'Whatever. I can try to launch this all up again, but it's going to end the same way.' Now he's got to move on to another phase in his life. He doesn't have the military anymore, but he does have the power of a Hulk. So the question is what's he going to do? What's this super powerful person's direction going to be?"
"I'm going to try and present him as a complex person and as somebody who you would recognize amongst your own family and friends. He's somebody who, [while] you might not agree with his warlike ways, you see where he's coming from. I don't want him to be a caricature. I want him to be a real person. I think he's been fleshed out pretty well."
Outside the psychological layers Parker wants to peel back from the character, the book will also play off of classic Hulk stories and its own sister title -Â "Incredible Hulks" by Greg Pak and company -Â in terms of tone. "I like the idea of the two Hulk books -Â mine and Greg's -Â still focusing on the main four characters that the book started out about," Parker said. "Greg's got Bruce and Betty. I've got Ross and Rick. It even breaks down by letter, strangely enough! The books have grown into a Hulk family sort of thing, which I think is fine, because the Hulk can support that. But we've got to keep an air of unpredictability, or it's not the Hulk. You should be slightly enthused that Hulk is there and slightly worried that he is at the same time. The Red Hulk gets you there.
"What I like is that Jeph and Ed left him really feeling the way the Hulk was in the '60s," the writer added about the "one monster against the world" feel of the franchise. "He's a general threatening menace, but certain elements could steer him - like Rick Jones. You wanted Rick Jones around if Hulk was going to be there. He was the only hope of getting the Hulk to stop pounding on you. The Hulk was an anti-hero. That's where [Loeb and McGuinness] left him, and it's a good place to be in. If you go back and read those '60s Hulks, it really does feel the same. It's kind of a modern version of it."
And, of course, Parker had all the praise in the world on his collaborative bond with Gabriel Hardman, who will be joining Parker again after the pair wrap the cult-favorite "Atlas" series. "He really frees me up to write whatever I want. He can really draw anything, and that's not hype. He can do it and has done it in all the movies he's worked on -Â the Spider-Man movies, 'Inception.' You can put down something really implausible that the reader has to go our on a ledge to meet you half way, and Gabe can completely make it convincing. That's why you get great returns on this story. He's a consummate storyteller. He's got a huge imagination. And at the same time, he kind of grounds everything in a kind of reality.
"I think that people who liked 'Atlas' will be surprised to find they also like 'Hulk,' because it's still me and him, and we're going to bring a lot of our same sensibilities to it. There'll be the same kind of possibilities. It'll be a little more into some science fiction, which 'Atlas' did half the time - particularly in this last story. There's also possibilities for horror, fantasy and everything we'll do in an 'Atlas' story if we want. It's missing a talking ape, I admit, but maybe the Red Ghost can help us out there eventually."