To paraphrase an old adage: the Hulks have fallen. Long live the Hulks.
Last month, the first wave of Marvel Comics' back-to-back gamma-powered events wrapped up with the final chapters of "Fall of the Hulks" in the respective "Incredible Hulk" and "Hulk" titles. While the series had been driven on the Intelligencia's capturing of The Eight Smartest Men on one side and the unlikely truce between a depowered Bruce Banner and the Red Hulk on the other, the resulting battle between the factions left the book's heroes down for the count in more ways than one. Not only had Banner fallen under the spell of the Intelligencia's mysterious mind-sucking machine like so many of the other members of The Eight, countless other heroes, as well as a fleet of AIM soldiers, have been transformed into Hulks themselves, giving way to the next phase of the mega-event "World War Hulks" which launches this week with an eponymous anthology one-shot.
To help put the pieces together on how the end game went down, CBR News got the trio of writers behind both events – Jeph Loeb, Greg Pak and Jeff Parker – back on the horn for another installment of our regular Hulk rundown THE GREEN ZONE. Below, the architects explain what led to the defeat of Bruce Banner, where the Eighth Man will appear and what, if anything, can help take down the Intelligencia's army of Red Hulks. Plus, see and exclusive look at Parker and Humberto Ramos' "Hulked Out Heroes" #1 and early word at the story turn in store for this week's "World War Hulks" #1.
CBR News: The final part of "Fall of the Hulk" has happened, and in a way, it seems like both the Fall and the Rise of the Hulks happened at the same time. With that chapter of the story put to bed, do you guys feel you've accomplished everything you set out to for the start of this story? Are all the pieces in place, so to speak?
Jeph Loeb: This is so delicately planned, and it had so many meetings and e-mails and outlines and late night Pak sessions that I would be surprised if there were any surprises! [Laughs]
Greg Pak: There's always little details and nuances that can come out while you're working on a script, but as Jeph says, we've got three writers hashing this thing out, and if any one of us tried to come out and do something totally different, that would jack up six or seven other books. We hammered out this story in a way that served the bigger purpose and this bigger story that we're all telling together. So we're always massaging things, but a big surprise would be a very big surprise for our collaboration.
There are so many pieces in play in the story, but one thing that stood out to me reading the final chapters was that the drive of the story was, "Who can outthink the other side?" We've got the Intelligencia with a master plan and Banner with a team following his super scientist whims. And, up until the end, it felt like Banner could actually come out on top. What was it that made Bruce fail in the end? Was the Intelligencia just more prepared? Was it hubris on Banner's part?
Jeff Parker: I think it was confidence on everybody's part. Everybody's turning out to be way more confident than in a typical hero/villain story. You've got the guy with a brain the size of a Volkswagen bug, and he's really using it. It makes it a lot more interesting when no one's doing anything obvious.
Loeb: Certainly in the case of what happened with the Red Hulk, you've got a couple of elements that are in play. While they were prepared for Betty to be part of the story, any time you introduce Betty into a Hulk story, you're going to shift everyone's priorities. So what Banner wants and what Banner can achieve are going to affected by his need to make sure that she's safe. That's an element that may trip them up or may help them out along the way. The second thing is that – and I think you used the right word with hubris – the Red Hulk really thought that the Intelligencia were following his battle plan. And they were following his battle plan. What he didn't realize was that he had been set up. The fact that they took him down at the last moment, even though he had a plan B with Deadpool in his pocket, means it just didn't work out. And now they'll all have to pay the price for that.
Pak: I think we're in a world where people are trying to think six, seven, eight, nine steps ahead of time. To put it in a nutshell with Banner, he might have been able to figure out what the plan was, but sometimes the plan shifts. And when the plan shifts, there's a whole 'nother level of new decisions and choices and opportunities that are going to arise that are incredibly hard to figure out. So it's a moving target, and at a certain point it escaped him...or did it?!? [Laughs] That's always the question. We've each got another three issues to go in this storyline, and more will be revealed about what, exactly, people are going for and how and why. So what appears to be right now may or may not be. There may be more surprises in store.
Loeb: There is the old adage of "You may have won the battle, but it doesn't mean you've won the war."
Pak: There you go!
It seems that one key difference between the two sides of the conflict is that Banner largely kept parts of his master plan away from his allies while the Intelligencia, by dint of who they are and how untrustworthy some of their numbers can be, were all very much on the same page. Jeph, you said that throwing Betty into the equation can change things and maybe even be a liability. Is there something on the side of the villains – character flaws or what have you – that could be construed a chink in the armor of the Intelligencia?
Pak: Oh, yeah.
Parker: They're all bad with women...unlike us. [Laughter]
Loeb: As Greg promised, all the cards will be tipped over in "World War Hulks." The next three issues will tell the tale of everyone's victory and defeat. The only thing we've been careful about is warning people that you just don't know who your allies are. That will play an important part in what's to come. You may be rooting for the wrong side.
Pak: I always find it very interesting. Superheroes are fascinating in the sense that most superheroes have a vigilante streak. That's one of the central notions of superhero stories – they're civilians who put on costumes to fight crime without official sanction. That's one of the places they start from, and the implication of that is that you've got folks who decide they know what's right. In most superhero stories, they do. But when you have someone like Banner, who's as smart as the Hulk is strong and therefore possibly even more dangerous – when that person's convinced he's right, he may do things that he shouldn't do. I think that's an interesting theme to deal with then it comes to these kinds of stories. We want to explore at what point the means not only don't justify the ends, but the means become a corruption and become the end. Whether Banner will go that far, who can say? But he does have these tendencies, as we've seen in the past few issues, to go one step too far with how he treats everybody except Betty.
We've seen the first half of the Intelligencia's plan with the Cathexis ray turning so many people – heroes and regular folks alike – into Hulks. That fulfills the promise of "Incredible" #600. The other half of their scheme involves the revelation of The Eight and how this big machine all these brains have been hooked up to will come into play for the future. What's the next step in that large plan, and who are the final two members of The Eight?
Loeb: The one thing that's important to remember is that we have revealed that Stark was one of The Eight, so you have seven of the eight. So the question that remains for young Greg Pak is "Who is the eighth man?"
Pak: [Laughs] I could tell you, but then I'd have to...you know.
Loeb: Same thing goes for who the Red Hulk is!
Pak: The Intelligencia have a very specific purpose and reason for being interested in The Eight. And that crazy machine they're all tied into has a very specific purpose. You'll learn alllllllllllll about that in "Incredible Hulk" #609, which is hopefully going to blow minds in both the fictional world and the real world. Don't you dare miss it, kids!
Let's talk about "World War Hulks" #1, where you're using an anthology to check in on a lot of the cast as you guys are ramping up for your next phase. How does that all come together with the rest of the story?
Loeb: We don't want to give away too much, but what we can tell you is that we all contributed into short stories which address specific characters involved in both "Fall of The Hulks" and "World War Hulks." It's kind of a neat little primer to get you into it the action as we get ready for "Hulk" #22 and "Incredible" #609.
Pak: And you're going to see some more work from the guys doing the back-up work and other tie-ins from "Fall of the Hulks" so far. You'll get Scott Reed, Paul Tobin and Harrison Wilcox as well.
Parker: I've seen the pages from Ramon Rosanas and Zach Howard that look great.
Loeb: There's also some cool stuff from Ryan Stegman. And Ben Oliver is doing, of all things, a Winter Soldier story about how he ties into all of this that's very, very cool. It came out of something that happened in "Gamma." That's a really beautiful story.
Head back for the GREEN ZONE next week as Jeff Parker takes us on a tour of Marvel's "Hulked Out Heroes" and Jeph and Greg provide a sneak peek at when the big answers will hit in "World War Hulks!"