After telling Hulk stories at Marvel Comics for five and a half years, writer Greg Pak thought he was done with the character. But a phone call from editor Mark Paniccia changed all that with the words "Amadeus Cho Hulk," and the "Totally Awesome Hulk" was born.
This December, Pak and artist Frank Cho are putting Bruce Banner on the back burner and letting Amadeus Cho, the teen super genius Pak co-created a decade ago, embrace the Hulk identity. Where Banner saw a Burden, Cho sees something amazing and the opportunity to have a great time while being a massively powerful hero.
At New York Comic Con, Pak sat down with CBR TV's Jonah Weiland to discuss the "Totally Awesome" era during All-New, All-Different Marvel, why Cho seems to resonate fans, what lured him back after all these years and what superstar artist Frank Cho brings to the table. Pak, a recent basketball convert, also talks Jeremy Lin's ascent in the NBA and draws parallels between sports stories and the super hero stories he writes in comics.
In the first part of the conversation, Pak offers up some reasons why the idea of Amadeus Cho as Hulk seems to be resonating with so many readers and explains why he's returning to the Hulk after delivering a satisfying ending to his stories featuring Bruce Banner and various Hulk characters. He also says how long he sticks around is completely in the hands of fans.
On why Pak thinks Amadeus Cho as the "Totally Awesome Hulk" is really resonating with fans:
Greg Pak: Amadeus Cho is a character that I co-created with Takeshi Miyazawa about ten years ago. He's a super genius kid who is the Hulk's number one fan. This is a kid who has zero impulse control, identifies a lot with the Hulk, he talks to much, he's a lot of fun, he's got a lot to learn. We introduced him years ago and he actually won a little Marvel fan poll they did among a bunch of other new characters. Back then he was tapping into something. Not to pat myself on the back too much, but he's a fun character. We ended up teaming him up with Hercules and Fred Van Lente and I co-wrote those stories for about four and a half years. It was this crazy kid and the most incorrigible god in the Marvel Universe driving everybody crazy. I think this character quietly built up a kind of readership.
It was awesome, I met my first Amadeus Cho Hulk cosplayer yesterday. A guy came, he was wearing -- the homage cover -- so Amadeus is in a lab coat like Bruce Banner was in a lab coat on the very first issue, and then he had the big, green Hulk hands. It was awesome! But I'm thrilled to hear that because the hope is everybody will buy the book and I'll be able to write it for a long, long time.
On why this project finally brought him back to the Hulk:
I had this chance to do five and a half years of Hulk stories at Marvel and it was amazing. Some of those were writing the "Hulk" book proper, some of those were writing books like "Skaar: Son of Hulk," where we introduced a crazy, half-alien barbarian son of the Hulk, all kinds of stuff; we did an "Incredible Hulks" book which was this whole Hulk family. They gave me this incredibly broad canvas and we were able to tell this huge story about, basically, anger and family. And we were able to cap it. We were able to really finish it, you know, which can be a rare thing in comics to be able to tell a story that actually comes to an end and where all those themes we're working with all that time really came together. I always had more Hulk stories in my head, but I also felt like we kind of put a bow on it and I was so grateful for that opportunity.
So I hadn't been bugging my editor at Marvel pitching more Hulk stories. I was kind of content to let that be. Eventually I definitely hoped I would do some more, but then I got a call out of the blue and they said -- Mark Paniccia, one of my very favorite people on the planet, who edited all those Hulk stories, called me up and he basically said, "Amadeus Cho Hulk." And I was like, "Yes, please."
In the second part of the conversation, Pak spills the secrets of where the term "Totally Awesome" came from and how Amadeus Cho has his sights set on becoming the best Hulk ever. He also showers artist Frank Cho with praise, explaining how he's navigated drawing an Asian character while avoiding caricatu re and the many things he does with action and emotion that really make the series excel. As for Bruce Banner fans, Pak says this is a series that won't ignore them, as he loves the character just as much as they do.
On where the "Totally Awesome" moniker came from: Mark came up with it. I think we were -- Frank Cho is drawing the book, and so he would send in art and I'd be like, "Totally awesome!" because it is, it's incredible. But I think Mark just thought that fit the vibe of the character. When he first said, "This is the title," I was like, "Wait a minute. Wait a minute. That might be a bridge too far. Maybe we just call it 'Incredible Hulk' or something." But then it's totally the right move, you know what I mean? This is the book, you know what I mean? The character has so much ridiculous confidence and hubris, you know what I mean, and just putting that right in the title we're gonna lean right into that.
The reason I was so excited about [the book] is, one, it's a character I created back in the day and it was just thrilling to see the idea that he was gonna take this big stage. But just story-wise, Amadeus is a different Hulk. He is convinced that he's gonna be the best Hulk there ever was. He loves being the Hulk, and that just, that idea, that's a totally different dynamic from Banner. For Banner, the Hulk was a curse, and it's a tragedy, you know? So having a chance to kind of play with all these same themes but in a very different way, that's a reason to come back. You can dig your teeth into a story like that.
On how Frank Cho got the right look for Amadeus Cho on the series:
Sometimes it can be a challenge for artists and cartoonists to draw Asian people because you don't want to lean into anything that could become a stereotype, and cartooning tends to exaggerate features, and we've all seen horribly racist caricatures of Asian people. We're not gonna go there, you know what I mean? Frank is Korean-American, right? And he was like, "Oh yeah, I got photo reference right here!" and he just looked in the mirror. [Laughter] He said that he was actually looking at his own face when he was drawing Amadeus.
On what's up with Bruce Banner during all of this:
I wrote Banner stories for five and a half years, I love that character. So if you are a Banner fan, have no fear, Banner is in good hands and we are gonna tell a big Banner story. What happened to Banner and how Amadeus became the Hulk and what exactly happened to Banner is a mystery that will be explored and revealed bit by bit as the story goes on. One of the other things that hooked me about this story was also it opens up whole new story possibilities for Banner, and I won't say too much more about that for fear of spoilers but that's definitely part of our story.
The conversation wraps up with Pak and Weiland talking basketball, centering on Pak's affinity for Jeremy Lin, now playing for the Charlotte Hornets, and what his first game played in China would mean for him and the NBA. He also shares what he finds to be common themes across both sports and comic book stories, which has helped him become an even bigger fan.
On what Jeremy Lin means to him and how his story mirrors the kind of stories Pak tells in comics:
I'm a basketball fan, which I never was before, but it was because Jeremy Lin opened this door. Yeah, I mean it's tribal, absolutely, you know what I mean? You see this guy who looks like you and he's doing things that -- he's on the national stage. He was the most important sports figure in the world for that period of time. It sounds ridiculous, but he's our Jackie Robinson. You know what I mean? It's that significant, I think, for whatever subset of Asian-Americans who care about this. [Laughs] It's that important to me. ... Just on the subway, people would be talking about it. Just strangers would talk about it, you know what I mean? It is that kind of a thing where it's just a game, but it is that -- it's one of those moments where that game brings the city together in a funny way. It was amazing.
I think I realized that what is compelling about sports is not just the game, it is the drama. It's the same things that are compelling about what I do, the work I do, which is storytelling. It's storytelling, you know? And the whole drama of him, of these characters struggling -- I'm talking about characters now -- his ascent and them him struggling to find his place among these other teams, and just all the personal dynamics that are involved there. That story, it's amazing. And it's also seeing people rise to that and deal with their differing levels of fortune, those are hero stories, which is just what I do in super hero comics. It's fun stuff.