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Pak & Cho Have Fun, Break Stereotypes with "Totally Awesome Hulk"

I've been a comic book fan for nearly my entire life, and an Asian-American for exactly my entire life. It's always been difficult to find meaningful, non-stereotypical representation for Asian-Americans in nearly all facets of pop culture, but in mainstream superhero comics especially -- beyond Jubilee and Cassandra Cain (who have only been around since 1989 and 1999, respectively), the ranks get a bit thin.

So to allow myself a moment as a comics fan in addition to being an objective journalist, I felt palpable delight in the announcement this past summer that Greg Pak and Frank Cho would team for "Totally Awesome Hulk," a new series launching as part of Marvel's All-New, All-Different lineup featuring a character new to the role of Hulk. Though it wasn't made official until a couple of months later, it was fairly clear from the beginning that this Hulk would be Amadeus Cho, a traditionally non-powered yet super-smart supporting character created by Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa a decade ago, and long connected with the adventures of both the Hulk and Hercules.

Just like that, Marvel had a Korean-American Hulk written by a Korean-American writer, illustrated by a Korean-American artist and featuring an Asian-American as the lead character, who would be doing his superhero-ing through brute strength rather than martial arts. Though there's still a lot of work to do to improve representation across the board in mainstream comics, it felt like a solid win -- especially given other developments, like Marvel's "Silk" series which also stars an Asian-American character.

In advance of today's release of "Totally Awesome Hulk" #1, I spoke to both Pak and Cho about the series, the importance of placing Amadeus Cho in the Hulk spotlight, their long-term plans, new villain Lady Hellbender, and the inherent fun of a Hulk who actually likes being a Hulk.

CBR News: Greg, Frank you've been working on this book for a few months, and you're working together for the first time. It's clear this is a book you're personally excited about, and you both have past experience with this character, certainly -- how much fun has it been working together, and developing as a writer/artist team on this series?

Greg Pak: It's been awesome.

Totally awesome?

Pak: Yes, it has been totally awesome!

Frank's one of those artists I've wanted to work with for years. I remember back when I started at Marvel, I always admired his stuff -- I remember when he came on board "Mighty Avengers" back in the day. I loved his combination of really gorgeous, clean lines and amazing action, and above all else, just amazing character stuff. He's just tremendous with character, both drama and humor. That's exactly the kind of artist I love to work with. I've always been hungry to work with Frank, and it all came together with this. From the get-go, I think we were sort of on the same page -- we had the same sense of what the book should be. It's just been a total blast.

Frank Cho: The same thing -- I've always loved Greg's stuff, especially with "Planet Hulk." Here's the funny part: I was never a big Hulk fan until Greg came along. I read "Hulk" as a kid, but it was never my top book to read. I enjoyed Sal Buscema's run back in the '80s, and I've always liked when Hulk fought big monsters and stuff like that, but for whatever reason, the Hulk was never on the top of my pile of stuff to read until Greg came along with "Planet Hulk" and "World War Hulk." It's one of those things I kind of avoided, and then all of these people just talking about it -- and then I finally read it and I was absolutely blown away by it, the imagination, the storyline and the whole nine yards.

I've wanted to work with Greg since then. We talked about it, way back in Chicago -- I think we went out to dinner one time.

Pak: Yeah, a million years ago.

Cho: We're sitting around just talking about how it'd be great to work together, and then Marvel came along, Greg came back to the Hulk, and everything just kind of clicked. It's one of the big dream projects for me, working with Greg.

To be very transparent, as an Asian-American comics fan, I'm personally excited about this book. We've seen so few Asian main characters in American superhero comics, and even fewer that aren't a martial arts-type character -- not that a lot of those characters aren't super-cool, but it's neat to see something different. This book feels very different in that regard, putting a character like Amadeus Cho in as high profile of a role as the Hulk, one of the biggest Marvel icons. For both of you, what does this mean to have an Asian-American main character in a book like this?

Pak: It's huge for me. It's something I've always cared about deeply. I've worked in film and in comics, getting different faces up on the big screen, and on the page. Back in the day, when I created Amadeus Cho -- here's a little confession -- when I came up with the idea for the character, I actually thought, "Wow, maybe I should do this as a creator-owned thing," but I wanted to get an Asian-American character into the Marvel Universe. There definitely are some, but I just felt like there was a real chance here to build up this young Asian-American character -- specifically Asian-American. There are a lot of Asian characters, which is great, but to do a specifically Asian-American character whose superhero origin story and power set aren't directly tied to ethnic heritage or racial origin.

I just love the idea of being able to bring a character like that into the Marvel Universe. Readers really responded, and we're incredibly grateful. It's because so many people supported that character that he ended up playing that huge role as a supporting character in "Hulk," and co-starring in the "Incredible Hercules" series for four-and-a-half years. Huge thanks to everybody at Marvel, and especially my co-writer, Fred Van Lente, on that "Hercules" series, and all the artists, and all the readers who have supported this character over the years. It's because of you guys that the character is able to do what he's doing now. You guys are awesome.

Cho: I can't say enough good things about Greg. Greg really is the guy at the forefront of this whole Asian-American thing in comics. I really didn't think too much about it until I read Amadeus Cho in "Hulk." It really did kind of question the whole industry -- you have all these great characters, and you really do start to realize there aren't any important Asian characters in the Marvel Universe, and in comics in general. So when Greg did that, it really did open my mind to it. That's why I used Amadeus Cho for "Savage Wolverine." I can't say enough good things about Greg.

Pak: You flatter me. And I like it! So thank you. [Laughs]

There have been huge numbers of writers and editors who have been enormously supportive over the years. This wouldn't have happened without folks like Mark Paniccia and Nate Cosby and Axel [Alonso]. Axel's been incredibly excited by and supportive of this whole idea -- he's a huge driving force in this whole thing, and it's been tremendous.

Cho: I can't say enough good things about Axel, too. Axel's just been absolutely supportive from the word go. He's just been the rock. Without Axel, a lot of this stuff wouldn't have happened.

Frank, what you just said about realizing there haven't been that many significant Asian characters in mainstream American comics -- would you say a book like this feels overdue?

Cho: Yeah. Asians are the silent majority. We don't complain or stand out or rock the boat. It really is long overdue to have important Asian characters in big books. It's long overdue.

How meaningful is it for both of you for this character to be the Hulk, specifically? In this genre, we see Asians as the smart guy -- and Amadeus certainly is that, as he'll tell you -- and Asians as the finesse, martial arts guy, but to see an Asian as the brute force, Hulk guy is surprising. How meaningful is that aspect?

Pak: I just think it's fun, and it's one of those things that lets you do something unexpected and maybe break a few stereotypes. Ultimately it comes down to character, right? This doesn't work just because it's an Asian dude. It works because it's Amadeus Cho, specifically. Amadeus, from the beginning, has been the world's No. 1 Hulk fan. This is a kid with zero self-control -- his heart's always exactly in the right place, but he's got so little impulse control. From the beginning, in his origin story -- the little 10-page origin story we did back in the day in "Amazing Fantasy" Vol. 2 #15 -- he had a close encounter with the Hulk, and he bonds with the Hulk in that very first issue. Over the years, he's self-styled himself as the Hulk's No. 1 fan, and has been deeply intertwined with Banner's life. He gets Banner, he loves Banner, he loves the Hulk, and it just makes sense that this is the next step for this character and for the Hulk. Without realizing it, we set this all up ten years ago. [Laughs]

In the end, everything depends on character, and if you have a story to tell, and if the characters fit that story. I think we've got that, and I hope folks will get that and enjoy it.

Cho: Greg captures the character very well. It's not just about an Asian character, it's just a character. It's a character-driven book. What's so great about the way Greg writes is, Amadeus is such a fun character. To me, I'm not really drawing a Hulk book -- it's almost like a Spider-Man book. There's a joy of being this young guy who just loves being a superhero. He's just going out and having fun, and making mistakes, and growing as a character. It's not your typical Hulk book. It's almost a coming-of-age type book.

Pak: Back when Mark Paniccia gave me the call and said, "Amadeus Cho Hulk, are you interested?" and I said, "Hell, yeah!" the thing that first hooked me was the thrill of Amadeus becoming the Hulk, these two characters that I've cared about so much over the years. To be able to write them both at the same time is amazing. But the more I thought about it, the more fun it is. It gives us this chance to do a very different kind of Hulk story, with a much younger character who has a completely different set of challenges for Banner. But at the same time, take those great Hulk themes of anger and responsibility and find a whole new way to get to them.

This is absolutely a Hulk story that plays with the themes that have made Hulk stories great for decades. But it's a whole new way of getting at it. I think that combo is what really excites me.

Cho: Also, there's a fun relationship between Amadeus and his sister, and there's lots of humor in it. It's just fun. I hope when people pick it up they can see the fun aspect of the book, because we're having a lot of fun.

That's definitely a big part of the hook, a Hulk that enjoys being the Hulk -- at least for now. I'm curious how long-term of a story you're planning on telling -- whenever there's a switch like this, there's a tendency for fans to think, "Obviously bruce Banner's coming back." But we've seen Marvel make choices with big characters that have stuck around for longer than fans would expect, such as Sam Wilson as Captain America, and Jane Foster and Thor. There's a lot of mystery to this book and a lot of story to be told -- are you both looking at this as something of a long-term project?

Pak: I can't say too much for fear of spoilers, but I've got a lot of story lined up. I'm working the way I love to work, which is having a big, juicy theme that I'm playing out over multiple stories over the course of many months. It's a kick in the pants, and we're going to run long and hard. So, please do buy it, and we'll see how long we go. [Laughs]

Cho: I'm on the first story arc, but I am still on board to keep providing the covers beyond that. And I'm also open to doing a future storyline. I'm in for the long haul if Greg and Marvel want me.

Pak: Absolutely.

Lady Hellbender shows up at the end of the issue; a new villain, and the first big villain we're seeing this Hulk encounter. What can you say about the creation of this character, and what makes her a good match for Amadeus?

Pak: I had this notion of a big, incredibly powerful queen, basically; a female warrior character from an alien planet. And then Frank had basically designed this character a while back -- I'll let him take over from here.

Cho: Lady Hellbender was a character that I designed and created for the "Battle of the Atom" storyline. For whatever reason, [Brian Michael] Bendis decided to go a different route. I had this fully-designed character with no place to go, then Greg came along and told me his idea for a villain, and it basically just put the peanut butter and chocolate together. [Laughs] We kind of tweaked it around -- I went in and redesigned it a little bit, because I wasn't really too happy with the facial features, because the original design kind of looked like one of the "Star Trek" characters with that thing on their nose. Then, it organically designed itself and fit perfectly into Greg's idea of the character.

Pak: It was one of those fun things where we had independently been thinking about similar stuff, and it came together really nicely.

The first issue is out today -- any final words for potential readers?

Pak: Sonia Oback is coloring, it looks amazing, and Cory Petit is doing the letters. The whole art team has just been knockout. Once again, a big thanks to everybody at Marvel who supported this and helped make it happen, and all y'all out there who have supported the character over the years and who are buying the book this week. It's a huge thrill, and I hope you dig.

Cho: Big thanks to Marvel and everyone involved. This is kind of a great birthday present for me, because "Totally Awesome Hulk" #1 launches on my birthday -- hopefully everyone will give me a great birthday present and buy this book. [Laughs]

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