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THE GREEN ZONE: A Gamma Goodbye

by  in Comic News Comment
THE GREEN ZONE: A Gamma Goodbye

Potential SPOILER WARNINGS are in effect for the end of Marvel’s “World War Hulks” event!

The final GREEN ZONE goes out with a bang

Nine months ago, a cabal of the maddest minds in the Marvel Universe joined forces to find the faults in the foundation of the life of the Incredible Hulk, and the secret machinations of the men known as the Intelligencia kicked off the back-to-back events known as “Fall of the Hulks” and “World War Hulks.”

To celebrate, CBR News launched THE GREEN ZONE - a regular interview feature that focused on the biggest names, wildest events and rage-powered revelations and resurrections of the series. This week, the war ended after a run full of fantastic growth for the Hulk franchise and a few key losses culminated in the Green Hulk Vs. Red Hulk showdown that was “Hulk” #24.

Today, the writing trio of Jeph Loeb, Greg Pak and Jeff Parker team up one last time for an in depth look at the end of the event and where it leaves the now expansive cast of gamma giants in the Marvel Universe. From Bruce Banner and General Ross’ long-contentious relationship to the final fate of the Red Hulk and from the emotional family issues that helped define the event to the war science that drove its biggest action sequences, the pair delivered a final GREEN ZONE worthy of the phrase “going out with a bang” – and a gamma-powered one at that.

CBR News: Gentlemen, here we are at the end of a long journey and a suitably epic storyline for the Hulk and company. Before we break down some of the specifics, I thought I’d ask how things look from the perspective of just finishing. How did “World War Hulks” feel to each of you at the end?

Jeff Parker: Do you guys want me to go first even though you did all the work? [Laughter] I just want to say that Loeb left me in a great place. You get a supreme beat down. The war between Banner and Ross is settled, which we make of note of in “Hulk” #25. Ross is not going to try that again. He knows what’s happened and that it’ll keep happening. But it’s great! What I like, Jeph, is that you managed to finish it all and leave me a lot of room to maneuver. So I’m going to make you a pie. Name the kind, and I’m making it. I’m really good at that.

Jeph Loeb: As long as it’s a red pie! [Laughter] For me, the end was, in the truest sense of the word, bittersweet. It was a wonderful run. Ed and I set out with a very simple mission, and that was to introduce the Red Hulk into the Marvel Universe. It was a brand new character, one that had not been explored before, with different powers, a different origin and a different attitude than the Green Hulk. To have spent the last three years working on that character, going through what our game plan was and achieving that game plan was extremely satisfying. The biggest thing of all is that Brian Michael Bendis is having him join the Avengers. There’s really no greater compliment they can pay you in the Marvel Universe when you introduce a new character than that he gets to go on the A-Team. And written by Brian on top of it! Between the two things, it’s all kinds of awesome.

I’m super excited that the handoff is going to Parker. There really wasn’t any conversation on that. Mr. Panic [editor Mark Paniccia] said, “Where do you think we go next?” and I said, “The guy that spent more time writing the character than anyone that’s not me is Parker. If he’s interested, and we can get him, let’s go there.” I was super happy to hear he was interested.

That’s all the good. The sad is that you spend three years of your life working as closely as we all did - and it wasn’t just Ed. In addition to the other talented artist and production people, I would talk to Panic and Nate Cosby two or three times a week about what was going on, not just in our book but in the whole Hulk family of books. I’m going to miss that part, but I’m also jazzed about what Greg and Jeff are now going to do without me meddling around.

Parker: You know, Jeph, we could release a book of just the e-mails between us and that would be just about as exciting. We had some bloody stuff going on there. [Laughter]

Loeb: We had a good time. Once we became what we refer to as the “Hulk Pack” about a year ago, with the three of us and McGuinness and Fred [Van Lente] for a while and Harrison Wlcox coming in, we started to coordinate what the rest of the series was going to be, and that’s when it really got fun because we weren’t just out telling our separate stories. We had to really make it all tie together.

Parker: And it’s no mean feat to get a character going in the Marvel Universe these days. That is phenomenally harder than it used to be, and you did it.

Loeb: I’d like to think so. But coming from a guys who’s had the success you’ve had with “Agents of Atlas,” that’s high praise. Thanks! You had a much harder job considering you were dealing with characters that no one would have ever thought of [Parker Laughs] and that you brought them into the Marvel Universe and made them super cool, that’s amazing. But for us, it wasn’t just being able to bring Red into the group. It was having A-Bomb, now, and Skaar as part of the clan, and Red She-Hulk and Jen being back and Lyra. Now we’ve got this Hulk family which didn’t exist three years ago. That’s an accomplishment we can all feel good about. Again, it was all part of the game plan to see whether or not the Hulk could grow out of being a singular character in a singular book and actually support the number of titles it’s now working with and get the kind of look it’s now getting. That part is awesome.

Greg Pak: For me, “Hulk” #611 is something where I’ve been aching to write that script for two years now. In some form or another, I knew we were going to hit that moment, and it was an incredible feeling when we were finally able to get there. And then, Paul [Pelletier] coming in with his pencils and Danny Miki on inks and Frank D’Armata on colors - that art team was just insane. It’s extremely gratifying in comics to be able to carry a storyline through all the way to the end. It’s just a great thing when these long term threads can pay off and when it’s able to come together with a creative team this strong that gets it so completely. It’s a little slice of comics heaven. I’m still kind of basking in all the good vibes from folks in the Twitter-verse.

Parker: Oh yeah, man. They are polishing you up on Twitter.

Pak:This whole Hulk/Skaar showdown was something clearly in the makings since the end of “World War Hulk” and the birth of Skaar. It’s been incredible working with Mr. Loeb and Mr. Parker and Mr. Paniccia and all the Hulk cabal who have gotten that. They saw how this was the end game and knew that, on the “Incredible” side, “World War Hulks” was all leading towards this. That’s been a great experience, and I’m extremely happy with how things were able to wrap up. Plus, Jeph’s introduction of Red She-Hulk and the revelations surrounding her have been incredible. It’s incredible material for me to work with, both in #611 and moving forward into the new “Incredible Hulks” book where this team of a family really steps into the forefront. Those are amazing elements. So meaty and emotional and likely to inspire smashing that it’s great.

Parker: Now, wait a minute, Pak. You say there’s going to be “smashing” in this book? [Laughter]

Pak: I figure we’ll toss a little bit in here or there.

In a meta-sense, there was so much of that growth going on in the past year over “Fall of the Hulks” and “World War Hulks.” You had the expansion of the Hulk cast on the heroes side, the successful launch of a second ongoing title and several support books and more. Then on the page, there was the reinvention and rededication of some of the biggest villains, the building of the Hulk as a more vital force in the Marvel U and most importantly, the arcs of Banner and Ross as the lead characters. Each man came into the event with a specific set of problems and ideas which were dealt with, and for Bruce, it was looking at all his layers: romantic, internal anger issues, father issues with his dad and his self-conception as a father. Was there one thread that pulls you to Banner more than the others?

Pak: At a certain point, I realized that here I was telling stories about a guy who says he just wants to be left alone. But from “Planet Hulk” on, all he’s done is form these ties with other people - from the Warbound to Caiera to Skaar and Betty and the rest of the Incredible Hulks. Step by step, even though he’s kicking and screaming and making noise about it the whole way, he’s putting himself into the lives of others. He needs this family around him for whatever reason. When that big theme clarified itself in my head, all of these threads started to make sense. Whichever character we were concentrated on at any given time, be it the Warbound or Skaar or Betty or Rick Jones, they were all family one way or the other. And all of those threads feed each other and come together.

This is a theme I’ve been working on since I came onto the title, and now with the end of “World War Hulks,” it’s almost like the end of the second act of how this theme plays out. Now we’re entering the third act of the theme, and all of these different threads can come together. We’re entering the endgame, and it’s a pretty sweet place to be. With all of these stories from here on out, every issue is going to have pretty intense levels of character development. It’s all been set up with the gifts Jeph Loeb and the rest of the team provided in setting up these characters. Now I can run with that and look at the different incarnations and explore them in relation to each other. We’ll see what that means in this climactic series of episodes in the life of Bruce Banner.

The other side of the character, besides “being left alone,” has always been anger, and I can’t help but think that no one makes you angrier than your family…

Pak: [Laughs] And nobody can redeem you like your family! Your family knows you in a way that nobody else does, and it’s the people that you’re closest to that can also drive you the craziest. When you have a bunch of Hulks in the room, the stakes get raised with all those triggers around. It’s an exponential way to raise the stakes - having those relationships always in flux and those buttons on the verge of being pushed. It’s funny, because I’ve found myself writing these Hercules books with Fred Van Lente for a long time, and all of those stories are about family. All the gods are related, and it’s not just about super-powered entities personifying different virtues and elements who clash with each other. It’s about brothers and fathers and sons and mothers and daughters, mothers and sons and stepmothers and sons! It’s about all these crazy, intense, deeply personal relationships. I think mythic storytelling works that way when you have larger-than-life people with intensely personal relationships. That’s what makes this so powerful. We’re all puny humans, but our emotions are as big as the gods or as big as the Hulk. These stories make sense to us and help us make sense of it all.

Jeff, for your part of this event, you dealt with a lot of those supporting characters, from A-Bomb when he teamed with Red Hulk to the adventures of the combined She-Hulks. Do you feel those characters hit the same kind of grace notes as Bruce Banner?

Parker: It’s interesting, because it’s been a really great time and it’ll continue to be a really great time to be a Hulk fan. Now you’ve essentially got this Hulk family in place, and we’re all checking with each other to make sure we’re on the same page. What I’ve found so far is that we’re kind of on the same page without thinking about anything. [Pak Laughs] We work really well without having to try too hard, and that’s magic. You can’t get that all the time. As Greg can tell you, it can be extremely painful.

I think that’s all because we’ve kept to the core characters - the original four or Bruce, Betty, Ross and Rick. I know I’ve said this before, but it was kind of funny that we’ve broken down the titles by B’s and R’s. I got the R’s, and Greg got the B’s. But it just sort of works that way, and it’s fun seeing A-Bomb come in as the fun Hulk. He’s been in the batter’s box his whole life. He’s been observing everybody, and no one is more primed to be a hero than him. For everyone else, it’s a very reluctant endeavor.

Pak: It’s funny, because Rick is also the most monstrous of all the Hulks. He’s the ugliest one, but he’s the most comfortable in his skin in some ways because he’s still the happy-go-lucky guy he’s always been. When you’re working on a team book, you realize you need that guy. They’re all Hulks. They’re all powerhouses. Having that variety of verbal style and personalities is key. You put people in a room and let them bounce off each other. And if it’s working right, you can put any two characters in a scene together, and it almost writes itself. They each have their own motivations and angles that provide for interesting contrasts and conflicts. Rick in particular provides nice variety there.

Parker: You’ve got plenty of other books to have angst in. That’s not who Rick Jones is. In the past, you’d occasionally see him handled that way, but I don’t think that’s what works best for him. Rick started the Avengers! He called his pals up on Ham radios to start the Avengers! Rick’s a catalyst.

Loeb: The part that really is extraordinary is that this cast does go back to “Hulk” #1. Stan and Jack created at the very beginning four people…that have at some point all died and come back. [Laughter] But it really does speak to the iconic nature of those characters, that it was from the very beginning at its core a family. Rick was the forgotten son who was desperately looking for a father figure. Bruce was the man who wanted to be the best husband and father that you could imagine whose life took a tragic turn. Betty was the woman he loved, and in an almost Shakespearean bit of mythos, Ross would be the thing that drove them apart. But even he always tried to act on what he thought was in the best interest of his family. For that to have survived as many decades as it has and to come back around to this new generation where they now all have become Hulks – the very thing that they were frightened by becoming the responsibility that they all share - has been an extraordinary journey. To have been a part of that shift and now be someone who can enjoy it as a reader is now super exciting.

Aside from the big character arcs that took us through this cycle of family, the catalyst for the original Hulk story that also played a huge role in this event was the idea that you’re bringing the characters together via something that was built to blow things apart. Military and war science is at the core of the franchise, and in your story we saw that manifest through the plotting of the Intelligencia and the ideas Ross carried through as Red Hulk. How does that very dangerous and volatile piece of society fit into your conception of the story and franchise?

Loeb: That was one of the things that Greg and I talked about from the very beginning and something he really brought to the forefront in “Planet Hulk” and “World War Hulk.” Then we actually springboarded off that into where Red came from. It was this whole terminology that didn’t exist until ten years ago or so, and that was the WMD idea - that these characters really are Weapons of Mass Destruction. The revelation in “Hulk” #23 was always kind of implied, although we never really stated it - that Ross as a man and as a military man saw in the Hulk something that he coveted. That kind of raw, unbridled power - with him being a soldier first before he was a father or a husband - was him being able to see his own equivalent of the super soldier program. That’s pretty extraordinary. Setting up his abject devotion to Captain America and what Cap meant to the military and to the government and to his job and his life, and then seeing that on its own level…well, some might see that idea perverted in becoming a Hulk, but others might see it as Ross did: as the next stage. If you could get beyond the fact that you were giant and green or giant and red, it did make you far more powerful and indestructible than Cap was. In a military situation, that’s an extraordinary thing to have.

There is a certain lesson and metaphor that always works well in Marvel Comics. If you take whatever lessons you’ve learned in real life and apply them into a story delicately, then you get something that’s as much fun as “Secret Invasion” or “Civil War” or anything we’ve done in the Hulk. It allows you the opportunity to talk about those dangerous things we have among us and how we deal with them. It’s odd, because the Hulk was originally born out of that same fear – the whole notion of the Cold War and A-Bomb testing. We’ve come so far technologically, but at the end of the day, we still have this tremendous drive to create things that will destroy us all and somehow feel both good and bad about that simultaneously.

The other thing that draws people in on that front is that, since this story was a war, there were casualties. We thought we were getting Glenn Talbot back, but he’s still gone. Doc Samson is the big casualty from the whole story. Did you want to reflect equally the price that can be paid in these conflicts?

Pak: Things need to happen in this kind of conflict that feel real. Samson had his own arc, his own journey to go on, and this felt like the right end to his story. From the beginning, what we saw about Samson was that he was one of the very few Marvel Heroes who chose to try to make themselves into a superhuman. Most Marvel heroes are reluctant heroes. Like, the classic is Daredevil who pushes this kid out of the way and takes a radioactive isotope in the eye. So their powers are punishment, almost. They’re heroes because of how they rise to the occasion. Samson’s different because he wanted this. He saw what the others were doing and went, “I want a piece of that.” And I’ll always love Samson because of his gall. In the first couple of issues where he appears, he immediately moves in and tries to make time with Bruce’s girl.

Loeb: It wasn’t the first couple of issues – it was by page 17! [Laughter] He immediately became Doc Samson and then tried to put one over on Bruce.

Pak: Exactly! I’s interesting, because that sets him up for a lot of fun stories, but it also sets him up as a guy who can earn a redemptive moment. I was really hungry for that. I think we all responded to that idea. We talked a lot about the mechanics of how to set that up and how to make the emotional impact work in “Hulk” #610. I think we are all pretty loathe to just off characters to create false drama. It made sense to do it in this case because this character’s story arc provided a heck of a sendoff and it was a high stakes moment for all of the characters involved. It worked for the character. It wasn’t a cheap, “Oh my God! He’s dead!” moment.

Loeb: What I really liked too, Greg, was that you handled this character who was born out of a desire to rid the world of the Hulk and become a hero in a way that he gave his life so that the world could have the Hulk back, and he died a hero for it. That played really nicely at the end.

Pak: It was a lot of fun when we were sitting in the room at our big Hulk summit, because we batted these ideas around - the different characters and the plot moments that’d work best for them. It was really exciting. It’s a thrill to see how it’s all proceeded according to plan.

We’ve gone through this whole journey already, but looking forward, there’s a lot yet that can be done with this cast. Starting with Red Hulk, it feel like even though Jeph found a way to settle so much about who Ross is, how he sees himself in relation to the Hulk and what he’s done the past few years, there are still some open-ended ideas in terms of where he goes next. He doesn’t have the Ross identity and is under the thumb of Banner, somewhat. Did you set that up with an eye on the future, or did you put that in place without worrying about where the character would necessarily go next?

Loeb: Well, as odd as it may seem, I’d written the end of the story back at the beginning. I knew exactly where it was going to end and what the last few pages were going to be. It was fun when Panic read them and how he remembered what we had talked about from the very beginning. One of the things that was very important to us was that at the beginning of the story, everything that had ever motivated Ross was his complete inability to understand what he had done to Bruce. By continually hunting him and putting the Hulk in the public eye as a menace, he had taken Bruce’s life from him without ever really killing him. There would never be a quiet moment for Bruce. The real victory at the end of it all wasn’t whether or not the Green Hulk could beat up the Red Hulk, but that Bruce had gotten Ross to finally understand that he would now become everything Bruce had been forced into because of Ross. It was the best revenge of all and the best finish of the story. That’s really what Ed and I set out to do.

At the beginning of the story, he was this bombastic force with a lot of smarty pants quips who was beating on people and creating a stir as to who he was and what he wanted and what’s it all about. We purposefully went up to “Incredible” #600 and took the Green Hulk off the table for a year, and I’m extremely grateful to Mr. Pak for letting that happen, since he then had the responsibility of telling a Green Hulk book without a Green Hulk in it. From there, to build out we started doing the internal narration on the character so you could understand that there was a purpose and a mission to what it was he was into. We finally tied it off with Banner being able to have the big win. All of those things came together, so for me it wasn’t a question of whether we left things unattended to. Actually, it was quite the opposite, where we got him exactly where we wanted him to be so the next team could come in and say, “Okay, we’ve established who he is, what his powers are, what he’s capable or what he’s afraid of, what he wants, and now we can go off and tell adventures.” That’s a super exciting thing to do with a brand new character, and having that as something taken over by Bendis and Parker…well, it doesn’t get much better when you’re setting up a brand new show and handing it off to guys like those.

Well then, Parker, I guess the takeaway here is, “Don’t screw it up!”

Parker: [Laughs] That’s pretty much the entire description of my job here! I’ve been handed a nice big weapon, I’ve just got to point it the right way. So, I guess where we’ll start is that I’m going to have Red walk across America. [Laughter] No, one of the things I’m trying to be careful to do in the script is follow up on the whole point Jeph was just talking about. Ross got to have fun coming out and beating his way into the Marvel Universe, but now he’s learning the other part of being a Hulk – how you can’t ever stop being one. Even when you’re trying to do good, people keep coming up and hammering away on you because you’re the biggest. That’s the way it goes, and he’s got to get used to it. I want to be careful to not change Ross’ character any or make him just an affable guy who everybody loves. He’s still going to be difficult, but we’ve got a chance to see a little bit more of him now that you know it’s Ross so we can let you see what he’s thinking. Being entertaining doesn’t mean you have to be likable all the time. In fact, usually, it’s the other way around.

Pak: There was a certain point when I realized almost every character in every piece of popular fiction – published, written, filmed, broadcast - they’re not necessarily the most compelling when they’re on their best behavior. Bad behavior is incredibly interesting because it demonstrates that people are at a difficult, high stakes point in their lives. Characters like Ross are great because they just say and do what they want.

Parker: Even if they’re trying to work with you…well, Ross is essentially the Great Santini with Hulk powers. [Laughter] It’s kind of who he is! He’s somebody’s dad.

Pak: You don’t want to play basketball with the Red Hulk.

Greg, as you’re taking the rest of the family out into “Incredible Hulks,” if sounds like what was left by Banner out in space is coming back to haunt him. How does that form up with the broad stories you’ve been telling from day one?

Pak: The arrival of Hiro Kala is not just high stakes for Bruce, it’s high stakes for his brother Skaar and Betty/Red She Hulk. I don’t want to spoil the state of the relationship between Hulk and Red She-Hulk or Bruce and Betty, but if the strain of learning he had one son was crazy enough, imagine what happens when a second one arrives. It was this plot thread we’ve purposefully been dangling and developing for a while now, and this was the perfect time for it to come back. With the big family kicking around, it’s the perfect next step for blowing things up for the Hulks and pushing them to deal with this big question of family and rage.

The next phase of Marvel’s Hulk family kicks off next month with Pak’s “Incredible Hulks” #612 on September 1 and Parker’s “Hulk” #25 on September 22.

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