Often in the world of comics, fans hear the phrase "There's a plan for all of this." From the complex plots woven across multiple titles in a publisher's slate to the in-story schemes of so many characters both good and evil, readers take it on faith that from page one of a story on, there are bigger forces at work to guide the events to completion. With Marvel's ongoing "Fall of the Hulks" saga, the stories steered by the Hulk creative team have proven to be as meticulously plotted as ever with twists, turns and timebombs set across all sides of the conflict.
On the side of the heroes, recent events unveiled an unexpected alliance between Bruce Banner and his former adversary, the Red Hulk. Meanwhile. on the other side of the coin, the Leader and M.O.D.O.K.'s Intellegencia took on the help of Lyra, Red She-Hulk and a Cosmic Hulk android to start kidnapping the eight smartest men alive. And to top it all off, two resurrected faces from the series past are skulking at the edges of the intrigue in the form of Betty Ross and Glenn Talbot.
Who holds the upper hand in this ongoing war of wit and wills remains unknown, as do so many of the mysteries hurtling Banner and company towards the story's next phase in "World War Hulks." But as CBR's panel of Hulk writers Jeph Loeb, Greg Pak and Jeff Parker explain it, this is all part of their larger plan. And that plan – picking up later this month with "Hulk" #20 by Loeb and Ed McGuinness, which fans can get an exclusive preview of below – not only ties all the characters together in an emotional web but also reaches back as far as Pak's 2006 "Planet Hulk" opus.
CBR News: Over the last few issues of "Fall of the Hulks," there have been a few big reveals made. We're starting to see where the battle lines are being drawn for what will become "World War Hulks," including the idea that Banner and Red Hulk are allies...
Jeph Loeb: That was certainly a shocking revelation at the end of "Gamma," and seeing that alliance – particularly in the wake of "Hulk" #19 and "Incredible" #606 – tells you that they don't play well together. [Laughs] But they have the same end goal, so we'll see how successful that turns out.
This story seems to operate in two ways: we've got on one hand the classic Hulk slobber-knocker, smash-fest, but on the other hand we've got some very deliberate planning and cunning.
Jeff Parker: It's funny how Red Hulk and Banner respond to the Intellegencia by making their own "Muscle-gentsia" or whatever you'd call it. They've sort of mirrored it a bit.
Jeph Loeb: When Greg and Jeff and I first started breaking down this story, the challenge to us was that Greg did such a great job on "World War Hulk," but to repeat the same thing would just be a big battle without a big twist to it. [That] felt like it wasn't upping things one more time. What we hit on was the idea that this was not a battle that would necessarily be won by determining who's the strongest one there is, but maybe by determining who's the smartest there is. That really forced this alliance between Red Hulk and Banner. And even though it seemed in those first six issues of "Hulk" that the Red Hulk was just out to smash some things, there's a much more complex strategician...is that a word? [Laughter]
Jeff Parker: You've got this brilliant thing where he can couch everything he does within the context of a Hulk doing it, so people naturally don't assume there's something clever going on. It's kind of brilliant. He can get by with lots of stuff that he wants to do, and it just looks like wanton destruction. Then later it turns out there was a reason for that character to die or whatever beyond that [Red Hulk] was simply lashing out.
Jeph Loeb: And that brings us back around to Banner, where one of the things Greg has been having so much fun with – because Red Hulk took Banner's ability to become the Green Hulk away from him – is exploring Bruce's side. This guy is so brilliant and has so much tech that we could move more into a Reed Richard's or Doc Savage kind of way of looking at the character.
Greg Pak: I've said this before, but it was a blast when I was writing "Planet Hulk," and it was just the Hulk's story. It was a chance to show a side of the Hulk we hadn't seen and tell a really emotional story of the Hulk himself, not about Banner. Banner was there, but it was really the Hulk front and center who was having a personal transformation at the heart of "Planet Hulk." Now, we get to do the same thing with Banner, and the thing is that it's been a long time since Banner's been able to cut loose as the genius inventor that he is. I love those early issues, when Stan would have Banner create some insane thing that no one had ever even conceived of before. Banner was constantly innovating and pulling off crazy big tricks. That was a fun idea to run with. We had been playing with geniuses for a while in introducing Amadeus Cho and making him part of the "World War Hulk" storyline that was going along in "Incredible Hulk," and that introduced the notion of "Who are the smartest guys in the Marvel Universe?" That came together in these stories.
That's part of what makes the Hulk a great character. Hulk has always been fundamentally about anger, but the tableau against which that plays out is this contrast between the big, giant brute and the big brain. I think it's time to play with that big brain notion, and that's a really good combination for this kind of a book. To do the unexpected and turn things on their head and take that big brain and run with it makes sense, particularly when we're up against the villains we're using here. Very often you'll see stories where big brained villains just end up defeating themselves for whatever reason. We wanted to have the biggest brains in the Marvel Universe go against those kinds of villains and have a true battle – a battle between the very tops.
It seems like right now is a good window to reflect on "Planet Hulk" and its role in shaping how we've arrived at this point, especially since the DVD adaptation just came out. Certainly, a lot has changed since that story kicked off, but aren't many of those ideas things all three of you are still playing with?
Greg Pak: For me, it just feels good just because all these stories stem out of "Planet Hulk" and "World War Hulk." With all this coming out now, somebody could go from reading "Planet Hulk" or seeing the movie and jump right into "Fall of the Hulks" and then "World War Hulks" and be able to follow this character through some major changes. It is one giant, emotional storyline. It all feels – in the little fantasy world in which I live in my head – just right. [Laughs]
Jeph Loeb: I think, also, what we're talking about here is that the best Hulk stories deal with the humanity of the character, and part of the reason why Greg's story, in my opinion, has such resonance is that it completely fits that. You feel what's going on in this man's life, and because of that, you have this huge tapestry and history to address. So let's see what happens next.
Greg Pak: One of the things I love about working with "The Jeff/phs" is that we're constantly coming back to the idea of the emotional story we're trying to tell. What is going on with these characters? I think all of us are also drawn to the Hulk because we love big smash-fests, and it's really fun to write a story that's tears stuff up. But these guys are just totally focused on using all that crazy action to tell a story that matters to these characters. It's a nice place to be in to work with collaborators who think that same way and come up with big, crazy ideas, but [also enjoy] throwing them at each other to make the emotional story work better.
The other big revelation to hit so far in "Fall of the Hulks" is the dual return of Betty Ross and Glenn Talbot. What does Betty's involvement signify for Bruce? Is it a mistake for him to fix? A mystery for him to solve?
Jeph Loeb: I think most important thing about Betty is that she is the love of [Bruce's] life. She's always the one that has the biggest impact [on him] and the one who's believed in him the longest and was there on the very first day. She's been extraordinarily important to all of this. She's Ross' daughter, and there's nothing like having the person who's pursued you and hunted you for years be the father of the woman you love. She is now back with Glenn Talbot. How that happened and why that happened is, of course, a mystery to be solved, but she is in many ways Bruce's hold onto humanity. She's not there during "World War Hulk," and he had moved on with his life and had other loves. But now that she's here, it's certainly going to complicate things.
With Betty and Glenn in the picture and the Intellegencia on their own side, how can we expect these threads gel together beyond the "good guys" versus "bad guys" conflict sense?
Jeph Loeb: You'll have to read on! [Laughs]
They're all very much tied together. Obviously, where Betty is and what's going on with Talbot, who has been missing for years, and how that's tied into the Intellegencia – we do know there are clues that have been put out there, because in "Alpha" we saw Leader and M.O.D.O.K. find Betty's body. And so we can probably expect that a thread is there. If what you were planning on doing was forming an alliance with the Red Hulk, and you wanted to control Banner, certainly Betty is a piece that you can use on the battlefield which would be of great value. Something we keep coming back to about this story line is that the Intellegencia are incredibly intelligent men who have thought out every single angle they can in terms of being able to control the situation. That will help show you were some of the ties are coming together.
Tune back next week as the all-star writing trio tackle the classic Hulk triangle, lay out the big mysteries fans might be missing and pave the way for some big name guest stars right here in The Green Zone!