This week, Marvel Comics kicks off the first of their much-anticipated "family events" with "Fall of the Hulks." By taking the epic storytelling of chart-topping mega stories like "Civil War" and "Secret Invasion" and focusing on specific franchises, the publisher plans to shine the spotlight on the different corners of the MArvel Universe, starting with the Hulk's province.
Running through the ongoing "Hulk" and "Incredible Hulk" monthlies, with a smattering of mini-series and one-shots thrown in for good measure, "Fall of the Hulks" promises to shake up the world of Bruce Banner and his Gamma-irradiated brethren in the biggest way since the literally earth-shattering events of 2007's "World War Hulk." In fact, the event represents the first of a pair of Hulk-centric epics, as "Fall of the Hulks" will be followed by the ominously-named "World War Hulks" later in 2010. But before a monstrous declaration of war can go out, the villains of the Hulk line will get the ball rolling with this week's "Fall of The Hulks: Alpha" one-shot by writer Jeff Parker and artist Paul Pelletier.
To commemorate the opening salvo, today CBR kicks off a new ongoing interview column – welcome to THE GREEN ZONE! Each week throughout the course of the back-to-back Hulk events, we'll present a tie-in interview with the writers and artists behind the ongoing smashery that is "Fall of the Hulks" and beyond. Come back each week for new story teases, exclusive preview pages and first round reactions to the major turning points in the story. Our first column starts off with part one of a special round table interview with all three minds behind the series: writers Jeph Loeb, Greg Pak and Jeff Parker!
From Loeb's best-selling turn with the mysterious Red Hulk and his "experiments gone awry" cronies in "Hulk," to Pak's twisted father-and-son tale of Bruce Banner and the savage Skaar in "Incredible Hulk," to Parker's multiple tie-in stories from the villain-heavy "Alpha" on through the upcoming "Red Hulk" mini – the trio of writers mapped out "Fall of the Hulks" last June in Marvel's NYC offices and only now can share the process it took to make the event a reality.
CBR News: I wanted to start by asking about the origins of this specific story. I know I've talked to Mr. Loeb a few times about how the Hulk line has been coming together...
Jeph Loeb: You talked to my dad?!?
I've got two "Jeffs" here! I've got to have some way to differentiate! [Laughter] But you'd said that even though people might have assumed differently, the story you'd planned for "Hulk" and the story Greg had planned for "Son of Hulk" were always set to converge together eventually. It happened to a certain extent in "Incredible Hulk" #600, but "Fall of the Hulks" seems to be the place where all threads really come together in a significant way. Back at the end of "World War Hulk," did you guys have a specific tale in mind, or was it more that you knew eventually that you wanted to bring the pieces back onto the same playing board?
Jeph Loeb: It was planned from the getgo. The idea was that as "World War Hulk" was wrapping up, and there was a space of time after that story had ended but before "Hulk" #1 appeared, we both were in constant communication along with Mark Paniccia – appropriately called Panic – who was the overlord of coordinating what was to look like two separate storylines. One was the continuation of the "Planet Hulk" storyline and what happened with Sakaar, and the other was the introduction of a new Hulk and the ultimate reveal of where Banner was and what would happen with him, which all met up at #600.
Greg Pak: We had nailed down these big, broad strokes, and the Hulk Summit in New York was an opportunity to get some more brains in the room because there's always this big, crazy stuff that comes out of those kinds of meetings that can then take the story to the next level. There are a bunch of fresh and awesome elements that Jeff Parker and Fred Van Lente brought to the table at that point.
Jeph Loeb: And I think one of the pieces was that we'd independently [been working on different threads] – I'd been working with the M.O.D.O.K. element of the story, while Greg had been working with the Leader part of the story. And it was really at that summit that we started riffing off of what Greg had been doing with the "eight smartest men" and figuring out what would be the appropriate response from the villain side of that. The birth of the Intelligencia cast and how all those people were in some ways intertwined with the Hulk history and continuity kind of blew up there. That's really when we dragged Mr. Parker into the seemingly impossible task of trying to make that story compelling [in the "Alpha" one-shot]. [Parker laughs] But it's just awesome what he and Paul Pelletier ended up doing with it.
Greg Pak: There was this big "Eureka!" moment at the summit where a lot of these elements started to fall together, and they were like, "Okay, Jeff! Now you do it!" [Laughter]
Jeff Parker: That's pretty much how things go with me all the time.
Greg Pak: Jeff did an amazing job bringing all these villains together and making them come through as terrifying as they should be while maintaining that Parker-esque magic that fans love so well.
Jeff Parker: What I'm happy about, and what I didn't anticipate, was that it kind of ended up being the most messed-up buddy movie ever between M.O.D.O.K. and the Leader. I really like that dynamic because I don't really think a lot of people are going to end up seeing themselves as getting behind "the giant head guys," but they totally will.
Jeph Loeb: That's actually been a challenge for all of us, not only with this story but over the last couple of years. The Hulk's rogue gallery could be looked at as – and this is the bad word no one wants to say – but it can be looked at as "goofy." Our challenge was to take these characters and make them not just dangerous, but also people we care about. That's the mark of Marvel villains as opposed to some other companies – these guys had to feel real. Your first inclination, when you have a guy whose name is the Mad Thinker, is that you're going to be doing a lot of hand-wringing and "Bwa-ha-ha! I'm going to take over the wooooooorld!!!" But they're not. We really wanted to delve into the idea that, if you'd constantly gotten the crap beat out of you and you were one of the smartest guys in the world, how frustrating would that be and how we could make that into a compelling drive for the overall story so that we have an idea as to what the Leader and M.O.D.O.K. are up to.
Jeff Parker: Can you tell that the three of us just essentially extrapolated from ourselves? We're all a bunch of brilliant egomaniacs, and we all related to this so easily that it seemed like a very natural place to start with the villains from the beginning. [Laughter]
Jeph Loeb: Clearly none of us were the strongest. We had to pick something else to be good at.
Greg Pak: We're very comfortable with the "brilliant get no respect" or "cunning geniuses sitting in our lairs" imagery.
Jeff Parker: You have to like the villains to pull it off, though. I think a lot of people don't realize that. I think a lot of people like Doctor Doom, so they understand that. But we also really like Leader and M.O.D.O.K. and have to convey that.
Greg Pak: I think one of the great things Jeff has done is that when you see Leader and M.O.D.O.K. or any of these guys interact, it's very human and believable, while at the same time they're maintaining their interestingness and their evilness. There's humor in their interactions that's very character-based and very real, which makes them even scarier in certain ways. I really had a lot of fun watching the script come together and peering over Jeff's shoulder.
We've all been hearing about how the Intelligencia will kick off what will become the battle of "Fall of the Hulks," but what does this first phase of the event hold for the titular behemoth - whoever he may be - as the story rolls on?
Jeph Loeb: What's equally important about all of this is, as you guys know, at the heart of our story, both Red Hulk and Skaar are of questionable moral character and can in some ways also be seen as the villains of the piece. The challenge that was put before us was to have us care about them as well, and really the key of the summit was that ultimately, this was a story about Bruce Banner and what he has to face. Part of the reason why it was important in #600 for the Green Hulk to go away was so that we could really put Banner in a world where the alliances that he would have to form and the choices he'd have to make – particularly with Skaar – were going to be completely unpredictable. We got to see a Banner, in what Greg's been doing in "Incredible Hulk," that we've never really seen before. He's extremely cunning and very dangerous and, in some ways, more dangerous than when he is the Hulk. It's dangerous in a different kind of way.
Greg Pak: I've really had a ton of fun playing with this storyline and this direction with the character. It was a total blast being able to go to "Planet Hulk" with just the Hulk and have Banner be there on the periphery. Now we're kind of doing the flip of that, and it's just as fun for me to write. Hopefully it'll be just as revelatory for the character in the end. I've said this before, and I'll say it again: "Fall of the Hulks" and "World War Hulks" together, I think, will be the biggest emotional story that has ever been told about Bruce Banner. It really will rock his world to its foundations in multiple ways. It's big, big, big. It's Hulk-sized!
Jeff Parker: I think that what people are going to remember about this storyline is that it's really when we let Bruce Banner define himself. In the past, he always got lost with the other smart guys of the Marvel U. There's Hank Pym and Hank McCoy...anybody named "Hank" basically. [Laughter] There's Reed Richards. But this is where for the first time Banner has come into his own. In the past, everybody's always played with different personalities for Hulk or different takes on Hulk, but you've never seen that concentrated focus on Banner. Now it starts to become clear why he's the Hulk. When you see his actions, you start to go, "Oh, now I see why you turn into a big green monster. A walking atom bomb." It was always there, and that's the eternal appeal of Hulk. Everyone can relate to it because everyone has a Hulk side and sees themselves that way, to a certain degree.
Greg Pak: Previous Hulk writers, like Bill Mantlo and Peter David, laid the groundwork so well and established certain facts about Banner's past and his relationship to his father. It's a real kick in the pants to be able to take that stuff to the degree we're taking it now.
Jeph Loeb: And similarly, as we are discovering the other sides of Banner's personality, it absolutely was a choice that out of #600, after a year of watching the Red Hulk plow through the Marvel Universe without exactly understanding what his agenda was, and having everyone react to the kind of insanity he was going to bring – the next issue was narrated by Bruce and was Bruce's goodbye to the Hulk, leading into "Incredible." But as soon as we started on "Hulk" #14, I started to include the internal narrative of what was going on in Red's head – the choices he'd made and why he made them. Really, the first year of "Hulk" was about the abuse of power. This was somebody who was given an enormous gift of power, and in the same way that many Marvel heroes face "with great power comes great responsibility," Red didn't take that advice. He became this guy running around on Silver Surfer's surfboard and doing whatever the hell he wanted. When the point at which he crossed the line and did away with the Green Hulk hit, some of that responsibility and the dilemma of what it is to be "The Hulk" has landed on him. You realize, if you've been reading "Code Red," that he does have a very vulnerable side, and not in a weepy kind of way. He's vulnerable in that there is a way to destroy the Red Hulk, and it's going to put him in a very difficult, challenging place. What we're watching as "Fall of the Hulks" begins is the Red Hulk descending in terms of his arrogance and Banner ascending in terms of his confidence. How that'll play out in "Fall of the Hulks," and in particular what goes on in "Gamma," should be pretty surprising.
"Fall of the Hulks: Alpha" hits comic shops this Thursday. Check back to CBR early next week for more with the trio of writers behind the family event from the secret origin of the "Fall" story to a look inside the mind of Doc Samson.