It takes an awful lot of force to topple Marvel Comics' gamma-irradiated elite like a row of dominoes. And while the momentum began to build to the "Fall of the Hulks" in both a literal sense and in terms of the coming event with last week's "Fall of the Hulks: Alpha" one-shot, the ongoing story of how the Leader and M.O.D.O.K. are conspiring to take down Bruce Banner and his anger-embracing brethren continued this week in "Incredible Hulk" #605 from Greg Pak, Ariel Olivetti and Michael Ryan.
To keep up with our own blow-by-blow breakdown of what's in store for the entire Hulk universe, CBR is back with a new installment of THE GREEN ZONE -Â a weekly chat with the minds behind "Fall of the Hulks" and the promised "World War Hulks" story to follow.
This week, the writing trio of Jeph Loeb, Greg Pak and Jeff Parker return to get into the nitty gritty of what it all means. From the metaphorical underpinnings of the entire Hulk franchise to the long-gestating mysteries behind the event, the writers lay out what's at stake throughout "Fall of the Hulks" and go into detail on why now was the time to introduce such a large cast of supporting players to the usually lonely world of Bruce Banner.
CBR News: Hulk stories in general - and the Hulk stories you've been crafting over the past several years - often deal with the idea of "Might Makes Right." In terms of the Hulk, it's not just a catch phrase, since the conflict within the character and his conflict with the military industrial complex always plays with that core conceit. In what ways do "Fall of the Hulks" and "World War Hulks" tackle that basic ideal?
Greg Pak: I tend to think of those themes in terms of the classic Hulk dichotomy between hero and monster. Jeff nailed it when he said the Hulk is a character that everybody can relate to, because everybody has those feelings of pent up anger and frustration. Everybody can vicariously enjoy the Hulk Hulking out, because that's what we wish we could do at some point in our lives. But the next step to that in some of these stories, is that the kind of anger that makes us want to Hulk out is childish and stupid, and sometimes we've just got to grow up and learn you can't Hulk out. But other times, there's such a thing as righteous anger, and there are things that can only be solved when righteous anger is judiciously meted out.
At the same time, if you're the kind of person who says, "I am the righteous one, and I get to decide when and where to wield my wrath," you become a monster rather than a hero. There's a really thin line between how far you can go. That's a constant refrain in Hulk stories. It's a struggle for Banner right now, for the Hulk-less Banner. How far can he go? He's one of the most brilliant guys on the planet, and he thinks thinks he knows what's best, but how far can he go in making decisions for the entire world by himself before he's crossed a line to become a monster to everyone who sees him? Those are the same struggles that Skarr and Red Hulk deal with. Whenever you have a character with a capacity for world-changing action, and who also within him has that kind of rage, you have the potential for great heroism or great horror. That tension is one of the great things about the Hulk in general.
Jeph Loeb: When we first sat down at the first meetings that went all the way back to the end of "World War Hulk" and ultimately built to the summit, what we talked about was that we were dealing within an ever-changing environment within the Marvel Universe. This story could not have been told at any other time. That's because it was really born out of what had happened in a post-"Civil War" world. From the villains point of view -Â from the Intelligencia's point of view and from the Red Hulk's point of view -Â the country was going to hell. Superheroes were fighting against superheroes. They were acting in open defiance of the United States government. Captain America, the one true patriot, was assassinated. And then the Hulk came down and declared war on everybody and turned New York City into his own personal battlefield. If you're looking at the Marvel Universe as a real universe -Â and the best metaphors in Marvel Comics stories are ones that echo what's going on in the political and economic realities of the world - it's a pretty messed up place, made only moreso by what's going on with Norman Osborn and the Dark Avengers and, ultimately, "Siege."
There is a move that we could then make where, like that old expression, while everyone was watching what the right hand was doing, no one noticed the left hand was reaching in the pocket and stealing the country. While everyone is focused on what's going on in "Siege," here come our guys with a very specific plan as to what's going to happen to the Marvel Universe unless the heroes of our story can triumph. And that's one of the pieces of the story we haven't yet revealed and will not reveal until after "Hulk" #18 with Whilce Portacio and "Incredible Hulk" #605 and "Alpha" and "Gamma." All those stories that come out in December put all the players into place, and you suddenly start to realize, "There's a conspiracy going on here!" The things that were hinted at in #600 and the things that Banner has been looking at from #601 on and things the Red Hulk has been talking about during "Code Red" are all leading towards the discovery that something bad is about to happen. And it's going to happen while the focus of the superhero community is on "Siege." So there's definitely a reason why "Fall of the Hulks" and "World War Hulks" is happening at the same time as that other major Marvel event, and they will echo the calamity that's going on across the Marvel Universe. By the time both of them end, there will be a new status quo, and what that means for the Hulks will be really groundbreaking.
There is one thing I've wanted to throw in here, and Greg and I have been trying to get it out there: We absolutely promise that we know what month it is and what the story is - and we have known for a long time -Â [the revelation of] all the secrets that we've been holding. Who Red Hulk is. Who Red She-Hulk is. What their relationship is to all of our characters. Skaar's desire to kill his father. Where the World-Breaker is. Any of those things that have felt like they've been one inch out of the reach of the readers will be settled in as big a way as we can.
Pak: It's all coming! [Laughter]
One of the elements that you guys have seemed to play with across the board during the past few years of Hulk stories is growing the Hulk cast. The X-Men and Avengers franchises have been built up with tons of guys for years, and even Spider-Man has a pretty large supporting cast, but I think this is the most people we've ever seen in the pages of the Hulk's world. Was this a gap in the Hulk series that you wanted to fill, or has it just been a natural introduction of a lot of elements?
Pak: There was an opportunity here, and I think each of us just ran with it. Here's one thing I'll say regarding Skaar specifically -Â as we were building the story of "Planet Hulk" I saw early where it was going to end and that there was a perfect little place there to create a Son of Hulk. I pitched it to Joe Quesada as Editor-in-Chief, and he immeadiately got it on the same level I did. He thought it would be a ton of fun, and we went for it. On the one hand, it's just fun to have a big, barbarian son of the Hulk rampaging on an alien planet. That would be a real fun story to write. But on a deeper level, I think the reason I was so drawn to it was because I knew eventually Skaar and his father would have to meet. Not only Skaar and the Hulk, but Skaar and Banner -Â and this idea that Skaar was going to have multiple incarnations that could interact in different ways with his father. There was just this ripe opportunity to introduce this question of family.
When you think about it, the central metaphor for the Hulk is anger. He turns into the Hulk when he gets angry, and the angrier he gets, the stronger he gets. When you think about those emotions, no one on the planet can make you angrier or save you from your anger quicker than your family. The people closest to you and who you love the most are the ones who can drive you crazy or redeem you. So, being able to introduce a son was going to provide a great way to explore those themes on a whole 'nother level. That was the big attraction for me, and it's been particularly fun now that we've got Skaar on earth with puny Banner. It's fun finding the myriad ways they can annoy each other and see where that goes.
Loeb: And then, taking that to its next extreme, when we looked at Banner's life and the terrible things that had happened to it -Â the death of the woman he loved in Betty Ross -Â the cast was winnowing itself down. Glenn Talbot who had played such a role for so many years as Banner's competitor and Betty's husband and other really important characters who were gone from the mythos. General Ross has essentially become someone who had the same problem repeatedly on his hands: he wanted to destroy the Hulk, and he continually failed. And so, as a father-figure, as an antagonist, where could we go with the character? Even Rick, as a character, found himself in a place where he couldn't communicate with Banner except as the errant child. And Jen Walters as the original green She-Hulk, in many wonderful ways -Â thanks to what Peter David and Dan Slott and going back to John Byrne had done with that character - had adventures [that were] always kind of outside Bruce's life. There wasn't a real compelling reason for that family to all be together.
When McGuinness drew the right half of that "Fall of the Hulks" cover, where we see the three She-Hulks and the three Hulks and Samson and A-Bomb, we suddenly found ourselves with a real strong cast. And thank you for pointing out that the X-Men and the Avengers have a huge rotating cast of characters. Our job was to make them not repetitive, but to make them a family. Their relationships to each other were all not familial - we're not taking brothers and sisters here any more than we are in the X-Men universe -Â but they are in some way related, in ways we'll be revealing, to this singular, dangerous Jack Kirby and Stan Lee concept of Gamma radiation and what it does to you and what it brings out of you. It goes back to what Greg said about the monster within us all. And one things we are doing that Jeff can speak to is that there will be a series of one-shot specials going along with this, told from the point of view of the Red Hulk which will delve into the origins of these characters.
Jeff Parker: Well, going back to the question of how and why we created these characters, I can say that when I created Lyra...well, Fred [Van Lente] gave her a name. I was too lazy. [Laughter] But when I wrote the story with her, I had no idea she was going to be coming back. I guess it was just the look of her -Â a green girl with red hair is cool. So she got brought back in pretty fast, which I thought was neat, but it wasn't planned for.
But we're going to strangely get the Hulk womens' perspective coming up, because suddenly there are big, green hulking women around. One of my favorite things Fred came up with for that character is that she gets weaker when she gets mad. That was brilliant. I really like how all the Hulks are turning out different. For me, the coupe of the whole thing is A-Bomb. Jeph, I think that'll be on your grave. "I created the A-Bomb."
Loeb: [Laughs] I blame and share credit with Mr. McGuinness.
Parker: It's a very Ed-inspired thing, too. But he's cool because he's a Hulk with no rage in him.
Pak: Yeah. He's essentially a ton of fun to write. I just got to write A-Bomb in "Incredible Hulk" #604, and he's a blast. I've always liked Rick Jones, but it is kind of funny how those kinds of contrasts always work really well. You have the unexpected thing of this big, giant monster maintaining Rick Jones' happy-go-lucky personality.
Parker: And Jeph and I were talking about this yesterday. Rick's gotten powers before and used to swap bodies with Captain Mar-Vell, but for some reason this one feels intuitive. It really works well with him. It's only right that he would take the role of a former Hulk character, and I think he does a lot more with it than Emil Blonsky ever did.
Loeb: When Ed and I first started talking about it, the idea that was prevalent in all our books was that this concept of "Doc Bruce Banner, belted by gamma rays, turns into the Hulk" and how the gamma rays for whatever reason became a way for you to physically manifest the darkest thing in side of you. Greg and I talk about the Id gone wild. For Rick, as we've seen in every incarnation, whether he was Cap's sidekick or with Mar-Vell or in that quintessential Kree-Skrull War moment where they plucked the 1940s comic characters out of his head, there's always a sense of joy in this. It's what he always wanted to be. And having lived and worked so often with the Hulk, the idea that he finally gets to be, as he puts it, "in the strongest there is club" -Â that's just kind of cool! We're still finding our way with the character, and Jeff and I were spending a lot of time talking about his origins and where he went and why things happened the way they did.
And for me another thing that fell into place was the way that John Romita, Jr. drew him in "Gamma." There's a moment in "Hulk" #13, where he's wearing a trench coat and hat, which we've seen the Thing do, but Johnny just dressed him. And I look at it -Â and I'm a huge Hellboy fan. [Pak and Parker laugh] And I'm particularly a fan of what Mignola does and of how he's portrayed in the movies as this sort of rollicking monster who has a gentle side but would just as soon smoke a cigar and drink a beer as take out a big gun and blow people away.
Pak: And you've got to love a guy that loves cats.
Loeb: True. But we're now getting to a place where that character is another member of the Hulk family and apparently sticking around. That's the other thing Greg and I talked about and that Jeff just mentioned. We've got this character I like to refer to as "Kid She-Hulk"...
Parker: I like that name too.
Loeb: And it's just so much fun to have a girl who's 17 or 18-years old who is a Hulk. There are wonderful things we can explore. Yes, she did come from this horrible, hellish future, but now she's here. We have an opportunity to really explore the joys of being powerful and beautiful and growing up in a completely different culture in present day New York City. And even though there's been very, very little we've revealed so far about Red She-Hulk, you can see how different she is from Jen Walters personality. And the fact that we haven't seen Jen Walters since she appeared should be very telling. Wait...did I just give something up?
Parker: WHHHHAAAAA?!? [Laughter]
Loeb: But again, the fun of this group is that they're not just Hulks of a different color. Each of them has their own particular wishes and good and evil within them. We just don't know in this war that's coming whose side everyone's going to be on and why?
Pak: And I think that will be a lot of the fun of what's coming out. As we reveal what's going on with all of these characters, there's going to be some pretty shocking alliances and enemies formed and declared. There are big surprises coming in terms of where all these characters line up and the emotional impact of all of that. There are some very big payoffs and revelations coming.
Check back next week for more with the writer's on their long-term plans for the event and supporting star Doc Samson, and in two weeks a chat with "Fall of the Hulks: Alpha" artist Paul Pelletier!