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THE COMMENTARY TRACK: “Aftersmash” #1 with Greg Pak

by  in Comic News Comment
THE COMMENTARY TRACK: “Aftersmash” #1 with Greg Pak
“World War Hulk: Aftersmash” one-shot on sale now

Welcome to The Commentary Track. This is a new regular feature here at CBR in which we invite comics creators to stop by and talk about their most recent work, often in spoiler-filled detail. It’s an opportunity to go behind the scenes and into the minds of your favorite creators and flip through their comics with them. It’s just like a DVD commentary — but without all the awkward pauses.

We begin with writer Greg Pak, who has been in the driver’s seat of Marvel Comics’ “The Incredible Hulk” for a couple of years, now, spending a year on another world with “Planet Hulk” and recently bringing the green giant home with the New York City (and sales)-busting “World War Hulk.”

A series of miniseries and new directions in existing ongoing series are coming in the wake of “WWH,” and it all starts with this week’s release of “Aftersmash” #1, a one-shot to set the stage for the return of Damage Control, the ascension of Hercules to Hulk fill-in, and more that Pak will reveal in this commentary.

Please note that all page numbers below refer to the story page, not counting ads.

WARNING — MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! Really, we’re giving it all away here, folks. You’ve been warned.

Page 1

CBR: Could you talk a little about sound effects? How do you use them? Where do they come from? How does one get one’s own name used as a sound effect?

GREG PAK: As a filmmaker, I’ve always found that the right sound effects can be absolutely critical in nailing the emotional, visceral, or even expository point of a scene. Sometimes sound effects can have an almost subliminal impact, such as in my feature film “Robot Stories,” where the sounds of a hard drive spinning up and down helped indicate the emotional state of one of the robot heroes. At other times — such as in “World War Hulk” — the sound effects want to be big and bold and bones-haking. With the first page of “Aftersmash,” we continue the tradition with a giant screamer across the top of the page.

Sometimes I’ll write out the sound effects in the script. Other times, Assistant Editor Nate Cosby comes up with the exact phrasing. The “KRAAAKKKOOOOOM!” here is all me. But the “THRAKKABATHROOM” from “World War Hulk” #1 is all Nate. (As is the “GRRGPAK” from “World War Hulk” #5, in case you were wondering. I’m not quite so self-aggrandizing just yet that I’d type up a variation of my name as a sound effect in one of my own books.)

Also worth noting here and on the next couple of pages is the use of “Voice of Legend” captions that we employed throughout “Planet Hulk” and “World War Hulk.” They’re rendered on a kind of parchment-like backdrop and are intended to have the feel of an ancient story told by an old sage of Planet Sakaar. The captions have allowed us to give a fun, mythic vibe to the stories – and hook us up with a convenient device for conveying bits of exposition and thematic hints in a less-than-clunky and maybe even eerily evocative way.

Page 2

We see quick portraits of the main characters for the issue here. How did youchoose these characters, specifically, and how did you pull them together into one cohesive story?

Around the time I was finishing the script for “World War Hulk” #4, editor Mark Paniccia called me with the great news that several “World War Hulk” spin-off books had been approved. I’d been gunning to continue with the Warbound and the Renegades, so I was all over the “Warbound” miniseries and the “Incredible Hercules” books. But Mark had also gotten the green light for books with Damage Control and Misty Knight, which was an unexpected thrill. Other writers are tackling those two books, but Mark asked me to help set up all of the series by writing the “Aftersmash” one-shot, which would also serve as a kind of coda for “World War Hulk.” Foolhardy embracer of danger that I am, I said “you betcha!”

The biggest challenge of “Aftersmash” was to figure out how to feature so many different characters and not have the book devolve into just a series of unconnected vignettes. As always, the solution turned on nailing down the theme or premise behind our story — then the different moments with the different characters could be structured to develop that premise, scene by scene, and the book as a whole would have its own arc and integrity.

Here on page #2, we set up our theme with a question — giving a hint of what brought these characters to the conflict and asking who they are now in the wake of “World War Hulk.” The question gets answered in the last couple of pages of the book — in a way that I hope is satisfying and maybe even a little surprising for all of us who have seen so much conflict and so many mixed motivations throughout “World War Hulk.”

What the heck am I talking about, you ask? Okay, I’ll spoil it. The idea is that these characters — who have started off on different sides and who each made enormous mistakes during the course of “World War Hulk” — all fight their way towards finding themselves during the course of “Aftersmash.” In the end, each of them makes the hardest choice possible. And that choice is to do the right thing, the selfless thing. In short, to be heroes.

It’s an optimistic kind of ending — a kind of light at the end of the tragic tunnel that was “Planet Hulk” and “World War Hulk.” In a big symbolic way, it’s almost as if the Hulk had to fall so spectacularly in order for all of these other heroes to learn the lesson of rage, to learn how to live their lives a different way.

Pages 3 and 4

Here we have three different scenes running in separate rows along a double-page spread. I’ve used this particular trick before in “X-Men: Phoenix – Endsong” and in my “Battlestar Galactica” run and no doubt I’ll use it again — it’s a great way to move the action along quickly while drawing parallels between moments that different characters are experiencing. Another bonus of running these scenes as a single two-page spread is that it lets us get all of our exposition out of the way quickly and set all of our characters in motion at the same time, which is great for both pacing and drama.

Tom Foster gives a mostly expositional speech across the top of this spread. How difficult is it to bring up the back-story for a new reader without killing the momentum of the story? How do you do it effectively?

Exposition is always a bear. The trick, I think, is to move the characters and plot forward while the exposition is delivered so that readers have a kind of carrot pulling them through the scene. With this double page spread, I tried to hit each of our three main characters with a major turning point. So while we’re getting our background info, we’re following Tom on the rooftop with that mysterious vial, Misty with the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent being called to service, and Elloe facing the judgment of her Warbound allies. That helps us rock through the exposition and gives us three good reasons to turn the page and find out what happens next.

Regarding this perhaps surprising choice of main characters, it’s worth noting that the heroes who came to the forefront were by necessity the ones who had the most unfinished business at the end of “World War Hulk.” Misty Knight had seen her whole team fall apart. Tom Foster saw the means for his revenge against Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic disappear. And Elloe Kaifi learned that the war she’d given her life to was based on lies.

Elloe was a particularly interesting character for me to tackle in “Aftersmash.” Of all of the Hulk’s Warbound allies, Elloe was the character I’d been able to explore the least. Mark and I had talked through multiple story beats with Elloe which we never quite found the place for in “Planet Hulk” and “World War Hulk” — now was a great time to begin to reveal some of the depth to the character that we’d only been able to hint at before.

And Elloe and Warbound fans take note — the development continues in the pages of “Warbound” #1, hitting comic book stores December 19!

Page 6

Here we see Amadeus Cho. Can you talk about his creation and what your inspiration for him was?

Back in 2005, Mark sent me a list of names of old Marvel characters from the Timely days and asked if I’d be interested in picking a character to re-imagine for the “Amazing Fantasy” #15 anthology book. I saw the name Mastermind Excello and knew it had to be the title bestowed by the Excello Soap Company on the winner of its Brain Game internet competition. And of course the person who won that title had to be Amadeus Cho, a teen genius whose family would then be blown up by the nefarious agents who were using the competition as a recruitment tool to find big brains to help them destroy the world as we know it.

At the time I created Amadeus, I happened to be at a point when I was hungry to write a smart, young, cocky, talky character, someone whose dialogue I could just run with and have some fun. I was also intrigued by the idea of a character whose almost ridiculous degree of confidence and competence concealed an aching sadness and vulnerability. Finally, I was psyched about having the chance to introduce a brand new Asian-American character to the Marvel Universe who had no connection to martial arts. And I was in the middle of my obsession with wolves and coyotes. All those things came together with Amadeus and his coyote pup.

But it’s been a kind of revelation during the course of the “Incredible Hulk” tie ins to “World War Hulk” to see Amadeus’s chemistry develop with Hercules. The two become pretty nifty foils for each other — one’s all brains, the other’s all brawn, and they get each other into a ridiculous amount of trouble. Fred Van Lente and I are having a huge amount of fun writing these characters for the “Incredible Hercules” storyline that begins with “Incredible Hulk” #112, hitting comic book stores December 19 (place your orders now, True Believers!).

But it’s worth noting that while they have some nice moments in the book, I made a conscious decision not to make Herc and Amadeus the main characters of this “Aftersmash” one-shot. First, they’d already had a pretty good build up in the pages of “Incredible Hulk.” More importantly, “Aftersmash” required certain kinds of emotional story beats which Tom and Misty and Elloe could provide much better.

A technical note: The last couple of panels on this page give a good example of the kinds of tweaks that happen during the lettering phase. In the original script, these panels had no captions or dialogue. But when the art came in, it became pretty clear that almost no one would immediately understand that that’s Tom Foster and the Avengers Mansion there. So I wrote the additional captions and dialogue to clarify things a bit. Sometimes these are the hardest lines in the whole book to write — figuring out ways to make expository lines not seem expository at all. In this case, instead of having Tom namecheck himself by saying something forced and dumb like “Easy does it, Tom Foster!” I worked out a call back to the newscaster’s lines from page 3. So we’d understand who Tom was because he was referring to those lines, but by referring to those lines, he’d be taking that moment to the next level. Suddenly it’s not just clunky exposition any longer; it’s an added bit of character building and drama, which is always welcome.

Page 8

I really love Iron Man’s Extremis powers. Just saying. Tons of fun writing a character who can control machines with his mind.

Page 9

I have to ask this: Is this a call back to the classic, awful story of Hercules towing Manhattan back into place, but backwards?

Heh. I have to admit, I don’t know that story. Although I should just nod sagely and accept credit for a subtle shout-out to past continuity.

Damage Control has seen a lot more action lately then they’ve seen
in the previous ten years. Were you a big fan of the original
mini-series? How has Damage Control changed? What’s your intent with
them here?

Dwayne McDuffie, the original creator of Damage Control, is writing the new “Damage Control” miniseries, and from reading his first script, I can tell he’s having a ton of fun. The appeal of “Damage Control” was always this incorporation of non-powered, working class folks into the heart of the Marvel Universe. The matter-of-fact way in which these heroes would deal with the mind-blowing aftereffects of fantastical superhero battles felt funny and real all at the same time. I think Dwayne’s carrying on that fine tradition with the new book, and the art by Salva Espin is simply gorgeous.

Page 12

Way back when I was starting my first outline of “World War Hulk,” I had this crazy notion that Bill Foster, the original Black Goliath, would end up siding with our Green Goliath. Shortly thereafter, I learned that Bill was picking up a toe-tag in the pages of “Civil War.” But in the back of my head, something kept ticking, and eventually I pitched the idea of introducing a new character named Tom Foster as one of the supporting players in the “Incredible Hulk” tie-in issues to “World War Hulk.”

Assistant Editor Nate Cosby informed me that Reginald Hudlin had had a similar brainstorm for “Black Panther.” So the offices coordinated a bit and a mysterious nephew of Bill Foster appeared in “Black Panther,” then showed up later in “Incredible Hulk” #107 as one of the humans crazy enough to take the Hulk’s side during World War Hulk.

Tom played a major role in “World War Hulk” #4 as one of the humans who testified about the crimes of Illuminati. My nefarious plan was always to have him take his uncle’s mantle. And while I was brainstorming the “Aftersmash” one-shot with Mark and Executive Editor Tom Brevoort, I had this image of a giant splash page of Tom as the new Goliath helping rebuild Manhattan. I said, “I know the last page of the book,” and things went from there. Now we’re bouncing the character over to Dwayne for a star turn in “Damage Control” — I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Page 20-22

The Voice of Legend returns as our heroes face their major crisis points in their respective stories. The images alone draw parallels between our characters and indicate that their stories are thematically linked, but the Voice of Legend makes the links clearer and more seamless. We’re still not giving it all away just yet, though — the captions end with a question rather than a statement. Again, a subtle way of tweaking us to keep turning those pages to see what happens next.

Page 25

I worked with [artist] Rafa Sandoval for the first time on the “What If: Planet Hulk” one shot a few months ago and I’m working with him again on the backup stories for the “Warbound” miniseries, which look simply phenomenal — dontcha dare miss “Warbound” #1, hitting your comic book shop on December 19! Rafa gets better and better with every single page I see from him — he’s definitely a penciller to watch.

Sometimes I get charmed by really tiny details in an artist’s work. In Rafa’s case, the image that I keep coming back to is the Death’s Head Guard preparing to throw the bomb on page 25. I can’t tell you quite why, but there’s something really fun and dynamic about that image for me — it’s positively Goldenesque, to cite one of my favorite comic book artists of all time.

Page 28

This is one of my favorite moments in the whole book. There’s something about Korg and Ben Grimm — those guys would totally be friends under different circumstances. And this is their moment to bond — literally — while saving the city. Someday I’d love to do a Korg/Thing miniseries. Hey, Mark, are you reading this?

Page 32 and 33

From the beginning, we knew the book would end with the Goliath splash page. But at some point during the writing of the script, I flipped the order of the images and ended the book with a page of three panels showing the Warbound, Amadeus and Herc, and Misty and her new robot pal. When it came time to tweak the dialogue at the balloon stage, I looked at the pages, wondered what the heck I’d been thinking, and flipped the pages back. Tom’s the heart and soul of the book; we had to end with him.

That’s, incidentally, one of the great things about comics — when you work with understanding and cooperative editors, you can get several chances during the course of production to fix mistakes and make the book everything it can be. And sometimes a simple thing like changing the order of a few pages can make or break a story.

It’s also worth noting that while I always knew that there would be Voice of Legend captions on these last couple of pages, I didn’t decide on the actual lines until we hit the ballooning stage. Now ninety nine percent of the time, I try to nail the dialogue at the script stage. But every once in a while, the right lines don’t materialize until the art comes in. In this case, I decided to go right ahead and spell out our premise in these last few panels. That can be risky — you don’t want to overexplain something your readers have already grasped. But the trio of images on page #32 really wanted those “hated”/”hunted”/”haunted” captions to create that sense of a wrap up and give a subtle indication of the direction of the spin off books featuring those various characters.

Rafa’s great splash of Tom Foster on page #33 somehow earned that final “you were heroes” caption.

Our thanks to Greg Pak for being our first participant in this new CBR feature.

If you have any suggested titles or creators you’d like to see in The Commentary Track, drop us a line.

If you’re a creator with a book due out soon that you’d like to stop by to talk about in detail, let us know.

We’re busy behind the scenes lining up books for the weeks ahead, but there’s always room for more!

Now discuss this story in CBR’s World War Hulk forum.

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