From the team-up fun of “The Incredible Hercules” to the wild, action-packed “Skaar: Son of Hulk” to the contemplative “Magneto: Testament,” Greg Pak is writing a hugely diverse range of comics that have become surprise hits for fans and critics alike.

After completing the wildly successful “Planet Hulk” and “World War Hulk,” the Green Goliath’s ongoing series “The Incredible Hulk” morphed into “The Incredible Hercules,” a high-energy, action-comedy book featuring the likes of Herc, Amadeus Cho and Ares. Fans expected the word “Hulk” to return to the title within a year and sales to drop like a stone, but neither have happened and the book has become one of Marvel’s most consistent sellers.

Prepare yourself for all the dirt on the Hulk-Herc transition from Pak himself, who also talks with REFLETIONS about what it’s like to work with co-writer Fred Van Lente, how fan-favorite character Athena was supposed to be dead as a doornail by now, how the Skaar has changed since Pak first envisioned him -- including original plans to put Skaar in a mask!

And of course, there’s “War Machine.”

CBR: Looking back over the almost five years since your break into comics, what do you think you’ve learned the most as a writer? What are you still learning?

GREG PAK: In my first couple of years in comics, I was making the transition from screenwriting to comic book writing. The fundamentals of dramatic storytelling are the same for both media, but there are a slew of technical and structural differences that I needed to learn and internalize. I have a ton left to learn—every day I’m figuring out better ways to tell the stories I’m trying to tell. But I’ve gained a lot more confidence in how to structure a comic book script and make everything work panel-to-panel and page-to-page.

One result of that growing comfort might be that it’s a little rarer for me now to specify the arrangements of panels on a page. In my earliest scripts, I’d note “first row, left,” “first row, right,’ “wide panel filling the second row,” etc., for just about every panel in the script (which probably drove some of my artists nuts). I’ll still do that sometimes for particularly complicated pages. But more often, I’ll just note “nice big panel” or “small detail shot” to indicate emphases, if necessary. So I’ve learned that I don’t have to over-direct; if I’m doing my job and telling the story compellingly, the artists will get all the nuances and lay out the pages brilliantly.

In retrospect, how do you feel about the work you did on “Planet Hulk” and “World War Hulk?”

I’m pretty darn proud of those stories and can’t be happier with the fan reaction. “Planet Hulk” in particular holds a special place in my heart. At the time, it was the first ongoing series I’d nabbed and the biggest story I’d had a chance to tell. Editor Mark Paniccia and I would meet almost every week to talk through storylines and character arcs and would sometimes just sit and grin at each other because of the ridiculous amount of fun we were having creating this world and spinning this tale. Everyone on the creative team seemed to feel that it was a special book and went above and beyond to make every page as strong as possible.

And then the first issue came out—and sold out—and the book continued to gain numbers throughout the run. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the readers, retailers, and reviewers for all their support on the book.

Are you still Marvel-exclusive?

Yes, although I have a few outside, creator-owned projects that Marvel’s been awesome about giving me permission to pursue. First up is a story called “Rio Chino” for the “Outlaw Territory” Western anthology edited by Michael Woods that should be hitting stores fairly soon. Ian Kim’s doing the art for that. He’s a great illustrator—I think this might be his first published comics work.

And I’m contributing a story called “The Citizen” for the “Secret Identities” Asian American comic book anthology that’s coming out next year. Bernard Chang is drawing that story, and the pages look gorgeous.

Who is Hercules, and who does he want to become on his hero’s journey?

Hercules is a supremely powerful immortal with the heart of a regular dude. I’d say he’s already become exactly who he wants to become. The problem is that his status as a god may force responsibilities on him that he’s not particularly ready to handle.

Let’s talk Namora. What makes this oddball couple work, both for "The Incredible Herculues" and for its characters?

Namora plays a huge role in our current “Love and War” story arc that began with issue #121. She’s a princess of Atlantis and has the same mind-blowing strength and fiery temperament of her cousin Namor. She’s a great foil for Hercules partly because she tends to be fierce while he’s funny—they can spend a lot of time just bugging each other in amusing ways. But more importantly, she shares his warrior spirit and—how should we put this—his lust for life. In certain ways, Namora might be the most dangerous love interest Hercules has ever had—in the sense that she’s awesome enough that he might actually really fall for her.

Where did you find your “Incredible Hercules” co-writer Fred Van Lente?

I’d been angling to pitch a Renegades ongoing featuring the heroes who were crazy enough to side with the Hulk during “World War Hulk.” But I had a pretty full plate and Mark and his assistant editor Nate Cosby thought the scheduling might benefit from my having a co-writer. Nate suggested Fred.

Fred and I hit it off and put together a Renegades pitch, which Marvel didn’t approve because they had a few too many team books already heading out the gate right around that time. But then the editors came back to us a couple of weeks later and asked if we’d like to do a buddy book with the two main Renegades, Amadeus Cho and Hercules. And we said, boy, would we!

Skaar: Son of Hulk

"Skaar: Son of Hulk" #4 on sale this week

Tell us about the process of collaborating with Van Lente to create an issue of “The Incredible Hercules.”

Fred and I will sit down in a hamburger joint somewhere in New York and talk through the next story arc. Then we’ll pitch it to our editors. Once it’s approved, one of us hammers out a page-by-page outline of the first issue and sends it to the other guy. The other guy edits, tweaks, sends it back. The first guy edits, tweaks, sends it back. And so on until we’re both happy. Then we send that to our editors. And when that’s approved, we split up the script and start writing. Sometimes we’ll split it right in half, with one of us writing the first eleven pages and the other guy writing the last eleven. Other times someone will take the beginning and end and the other guy will write the middle. Then we send each other our pages and edit and tweak each other’s stuff until we’re both happy.

From the beginning, the whole process was a ton of fun. With any given script, we’ve worked out the story together, so we know exactly what’s going to happen. But each of us works in nuances and gags and whatnot that the other guy didn’t expect. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve laughed out loud while reading Fred’s stuff. Sometimes we go over the top, and the other guy has to tone things down a bit. But it’s that fun back-and-forth that lets us take the risks in the first place.

Then the extra bonus is that we catch each other. With fresh eyes, each of us can see nuances in the other guy’s pages that we can help refine or bring out. It’s pretty awesome.

What has surprised you most about your time on the book?

From the beginning, the book felt special to me. But you never quite know how fans will react. So I’ve been thrilled by the reception fans have given the book throughout.

Who’s your favorite supporting character?

Ares is a ton of fun to write, of course. Anyone with that much suppressed anger has an excellent chance of either turning into the most terrifying person in the room—or making a total fool of himself. A blast to write either way.

But Athena’s probably my favorite supporting character. Here’s a fun, never before revealed factoid for you: Fred deserves huge kudos for pulling Athena on board and reimagining her as you see her today. But he wanted to kill her off around issue #117 or so. I convinced him she was too good to go and now she’s a critical part of the epic storyline that underlies the entire series. So thanks, Fred, and you’re welcome!

“Herc” was obviously born out of a crossover, and you recently wrapped your “Secret Invasion” arc on the title. How difficult was it to put the crossover into the book cohesively and still retain the feel of the book in the process?

Fred and I have a very clear plan for the big, overarching storylines of Hercules and Amadeus. It’s a giant emotional tale that we planned out months ago. So it was surprisingly easy to work in the “Secret Invasion” crossover—since we know our big themes and where we’re going with these characters, we can make all their adventures along the way fit into the big storyline.

Most observers were expecting the book to be “The Incredible Hulk” again by now, thinking sales would have taken a nosedive after a few months. Neither has happened, and the book is a huge critical and commercial success for Marvel. What about “Herc” clicks with the fans?

At the time we launched, Marvel didn’t have a buddy book on the shelves. So we’ve filled a kind of niche, playing with a fun dynamic in a way no other book was quite doing at the time. And Herc and Amadeus just have a certain chemistry. It’s fun to see these guys getting each other into trouble. Also, I give huge props to Fred for suggesting that we incorporate Herc’s mythological past into the series as much as possible. Those flashback scenes give the book a special resonance and help us deepen his character with every issue.

Speaking of big successes, let’s talk “Skaar: Son of Hulk.” Sales are on fire for the first few issues—were you expecting such a breakaway success for the book?

I sure didn’t expect three printings of the first issue. So that’s been awesome. I give a huge amount of credit to Marvel Editor in Chief Joe Quesada, who plugged the book at every opportunity—thanks a ton, Joe! From the day I pitched “Skaar” to Joe, he said he thought the book could do well—as he put it, a crazy barbarian sci-fi story had a chance to “scratch an itch” for Marvel fans who haven’t seen this kind of tale for a while.

As far as I can tell, early issues of the book have outsold most of the “Planet Hulk” single-issue numbers, which is pretty tremendous for a sequel starring a brand new character. So, again, thanks to everyone who’s reading the book!

How much has the character evolved from your first idea of him back when you created him in “World War Hulk?”

From the beginning, I knew that Skaar would be born in fire and raised by monsters before heading out into a savage world where society and government have been swept away by cataclysm and war. That’s all stayed the same—as have the big themes of exploring what heroism means in a world gone mad. But there are some elements of Skaar’s look and personality that have evolved. Originally, I envisioned the adult Skaar roaming the deserts wearing a metal faceplate. Joe pretty reasonably pointed out that we might be able to identify with the character more if we could see his face. At one point, I’d also toyed with the idea of Skaar as a more spiritual, mystic figure—someone who is consciously on a sort of dreamquest. But as we developed the book, I realized the richer dynamic would be for the people around Skaar to be pushing him on that dreamquest—while the savage Son of Hulk himself might have totally different motivations for doing what he does.

Why was Ron Garney the right guy for art duties?

I was wowed by Ron’s work on “Incredible Hulk” back in the day and thought that his recent “Wolverine” run was absolutely gorgeous, so when his name come up as a possible artist for “Skaar,” I was thrilled. Ron has a great feel for wild, savage action, which has been perfect for the book.

How do you feel about fan reaction to the first few issues?

The first three issues have been almost non-stop action, so it’s been a kick seeing new and old fans react to all the mayhem. As we move into the next few issues, the action continues apace, but we’re revealing more and more about Skaar, Old Sam, Omaka, the Old Power, and the big secrets of Prophet Rock, and it’s pretty cool to see fans getting excited as we delve deeper into these characters. And it’s particularly fun to see readers picking up on revelations to mysteries that we set up back during “Planet Hulk.”

What else is coming up in “Skaar?”

The Silver Savage returns! The Silver Surfer’s appearance on Planet Sakaar was one of the big surprises of the “Planet Hulk” run. Now the Silver Savage resurfaces in “Skaar” #7. Dontcha dare miss it, True Believers!

In the meantime, we’re in for massive repercussions and revelations in issues #4, #5, and #6. We’ll learn the origin of Old Sam, find out just what’s up with that Shadow Boy in the backup stories, and take several massive steps towards understanding Skaar’s true nature and character.

Let’s talk your upcoming series, “War Machine,” which begins in December. What can you tell us?

If you’ve ever opened a newspaper and been shocked to the core by atrocities being committed across the globe that no power on Earth seems willing to stop, “War Machine” just might be the book for you. We’ll explore what happens when dictators and despots around the world, accustomed to literally getting away with murder, discover that Jim Rhodes has taken it upon his giant, rocket-launcher-armed shoulders to deal with them.

When you say global, how big will this book get?

Huge. We’re on three different continents in the first two issues alone. And there’s a giant emotional story as well. I’ll just say that Rhodey’s first mission is intensely personal.

Tell us about the art team.

Leonardo Manco is delivering incredible pencils and inks and Jay David Ramos is burning down the house with his colors. When I saw Leo’s work on the “Deathlok” book from a few years back, I knew he’d eat this book alive. He totally gets that combination of machinery and man, of hardware and heart.

But hey, why take my word for it? Check out the free preview of the eight-page “War Machine” intro story at Marvel.com!

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