Editor's Note: The following interview doesn't contain any direct spoilers for the current issues of Marvel's "World War Hulks" event, but the nature of the reveal of the Red Hulk is discussed in detail.
It's been the longest-running mystery of the entire Hulk mythos in years: Who is the Red Hulk?
However, while many readers were waiting to find all the details on the brash crimson brute who's upended Bruce Banner's life since his introduction at the start of Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness' "Hulk" series in June's "Hulk" #23, the turning point piece hit this week in issue #22. Combine that with the startling revelations at hand regarding the identity of the Red She-Hulk in the latest chapters of Marvel's "World War Hulks," and fans of the series and the Hulk franchise got more than they expected this Wednesday afternoon. At least that's what the event's writers hoped for.
This week, THE GREEN ZONE returns with Jeph Loeb and Greg Pak stepping up to explain what they can for now about how the identities of these vital players in the Hulk's ongoing story were revealed, including how they kept the lid on things early on, what A-list Marvel creative staffer forgot who Red Hulk was and what fans can expect to discover in June's origin issues and beyond.
CBR News: Jeph, the identity of the Red Hulk is something you've been holding onto for a long time. How does it feel to have it out there and in the way you'd wanted rather than having slipped out in some major fashion as these things often do?
Jeph Loeb: Well, as people who read the issue will see, there's a reveal, but hopefully it's a reveal that will elicit a ton of questions – not the least of which is "How is that possible?" So hopefully what will come from this is a lot of speculation, and what I'm super happy about is that between me and Greg and Mark "The Panic" Paniccia, along with Ed McGuinness and a team of Marvel interns who were forced to stay through a weekend of nights...we tried to answer every question we could that we hadn't already answered with what'll be going on in "Hulk" #23 in June. The actual origin of the Red Hulk is there. We just wanted to slip in as a massive surprise the answer to the question of "Who is the Red Hulk?," but the how and the where and how it's possible or if it's possible is still to come, and that's what's coming next.
Greg Pak: Jeph's issue #23 is really a tour de force. It's really spectacular, and as Jeph said, it answers everything and in a wildly entertaining and crazy way.
Loeb: We've talked about this a little before, but one of the things that is so exciting about it are the people we've gotten involved. To go over that magic list again, we've got Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema doing pencils and inks, Dale Keown, Tim Sale, Ian Churchill, Adam Kubert, John Romita, Jr., Lenil Yu, Mike Deodato...and of course the big bulk of it is being handled by my partner in crime, Ed McGuinness. We tried to get everybody who at one time or another has had a pretty significant impact on the Hulk. If your favorite person isn't there, it's either because they were not available to us – obvious guys like Todd McFarlane and Gary Frank – or we just ran out of room. It is a double-sized issue, but we also wanted to be able to let them do their jobs to the best of their ability. The readers will get all that as well as some really significant reveals in Greg's book with Paul Pelletier, which is just shocking and awing all of us.
Pak: [Laughs] And when we talk about Paul, we should also talk about Danny Miki and Frank D'Armata, the inker and colorist. It's a crackerjack team, and these guys have created a whole new look that we haven't seen from any of them. It's a cliché to say, but comics really is a collaborative medium, and this is a true collaboration the way we've all undertaken it. Sometimes you mix people together and something incredible happens that takes us all by surprise. These guys are tearing this book to pieces in the best possible way.
I think it's safe to say that the reveal this week took a lot of readers by surprise. With those next issues in June promising the origins of these characters, I was sure that that's when we'd see the reveals. When you were plotting this out, did you decide to pull this first piece of info back a month because you knew solicitations would have people expecting it the other way?
Loeb: That's exactly what we did. Because of the internet and people getting ahold of advanced copies, it's really hard to keep a secret. We had planned on this all the way back way before "Hulk" #600, when the book split into "Hulk" and "Incredible Hulk." We'd timed it out then when the reveals were going to be and in a way that would be a surprise. We still wanted our readership to be going forward and all the sudden go, "Whoa. I wasn't expecting this!" That seems to me to be the fun of it. Hopefully, there will be some readers who don't get spoiled and who weren't getting spoiled right down at the comic book shop.
This is something Greg and I both remember from reading comics before there was "Previews" and the internet and everything else...back then you went to the store and bought the comic, and that's when the surprises happened, not four months beforehand.
Pak: It's fun because we've hopefully engineered a bit of a surprise here in how it's panning out. Drama and suspense and surprise – that's what storytelling is all about, right? And at the same time, it's very hard to sell comics without spoiling a lot of stuff. [Laughs] So we're trying to thread the needle here and have it both ways. Hopefully we're doing something special here by springing things earlier than you might expect. I think it's also kind of a fun reward for people who have been reading all the way through to discover something unexpected for the first time.
Well Jeph, I learned the hard way how the fun can get sucked out of reading years ago when I inadvertently spoiled Onslaught's identity for my older brother. He was not pleased about that.
Loeb: I hope you've since reconciled and are speaking to each other! [Laughter]
Things have been patched up. But Greg was talking about collaboration a minute ago in how all these things come together, and it made me think – Jeph, you've been working with the identity of the Red Hulk since you and Ed first pitched the "Hulk" series. How did you go about bringing in other people to the series as the story was built over the past few years?
Loeb: I credit our editorial team: "Panic" and Nate "Howling Commando" Cosby and Jordan "I have a mustache" White. They made it so I'm not even sure people who worked on the book even know, now! Certainly when I worked with Arthur Adams and Frank Cho on issues #7, 8 and 9 and on the Giant-Sized issue, there wasn't any reason for them to know. So we just proceeded, and I think those guys at some point asked “Who is Red Hulk?”. So we said, "Do you need that information to tell the story you're telling?" And they said "No" so we said, "Well...then let's keep moving." [Laughs] And these are guys I work with now on "Ultimate X" and "New Ultimates," so I don't even know if they know now.
The oddest thing was when I was working with Ian Churchill, who I've known for ten years. When Ian did "Code Red" – the story from "Hulk" #14 through 17 – that story was about someone finding out who Red Hulk was. I wrote to Ian and said, "I'm going to tell this story, and you're not going to know. So you're going to have to draw this story the same way anybody who's actually in the story would be reacting. When Domino sees him, you're not going to be able to see what she sees...so you can't draw that." And what that did was it forced Ian to create a scene with information that even he didn't have so that the reader could experience it the same way the people in the story did.
And again, I think a large part of that had to do with the fact that it's really hard to keep secrets when you cross over into other people's book. We were lucky that our character existed in our Hulk family. And when Greg started on "Incredible," all those things had been set up with him ahead of time. At a certain point, we had to tell [Jeff] Parker. But at the same time, we do have the deed on his house. And we haven't given him his car back yet...have we, Greg?
Pak: Oh no. It's still in my undisclosed location.
Loeb: That's what I thought. Though we did agree to stay away from family members. But it really was a case of being a "need to know basis." And there were some people that we just lied to. [Laughter]
Pak: It's kind of hilarious actually because at a few of these Marvel creative summits, it would become clear that a lot of people sitting around the room don't know, and Jeph just sits there and smiles like the proverbial cat with the canary.
Loeb: Really, the best was Bendis. Because at one point Brian knew and then forgot. [Laughter] So then Joe Quesada and I decided we weren't going to tell him, and he spent the better part of an entire summit talking and then suddenly he'd change subjects and go, "And you guys told me the Red Hulk...what's his name?" And we'd sit there and go, "We're not going to tell you now!" So Brian got to find out Wednesday. It's very exciting.
Well, Greg - you were someone who found the pieces out very early. What was your reaction as someone who'd been playing in the Hulk world and with this cast for so long? How did it affect what you were doing with Banner?
Pak: I was in on it from a pretty early stage and clearly was thrilled about it, because when you've got that close relationship, it adds to the kinds of stories you can do. You've got multiple levels of story, and it becomes as personal as possible. That always gives the story a lot of juice, and I'm thrilled to be able to run with this in the books. Also, I had a huge amount of fun writing the person in question in "World War Hulk," so the idea of him getting a bigger spotlight is a perfect next step for the character. I love the way that feeds all the different emotional threads. Like I've said before, this is the biggest emotional story for Bruce Banner, ever, and this is a big part of the reason why.
With the reveal of both Red Hulk and Red She-Hulk, there's going to be a collision in terms of what fans have expected from the characters these two have been and the personalities of the Hulked-out takes on the characters. Do you feel you've got some real new traits and quirks to play with in the Red form, or are you just uncovering something that's been a part of this tapestry for years?
Loeb: I think the answer to that question is...I'm hesitant to say too much because a lot of what you're asking is what "Hulk" #23 is about. I think the biggest reaction to how this week's issues ended is going to be, "How is this possible?" And that's why the next issues are so important in order to pull back the full reveals of everything. The one thing that we can say unequivocally is that by the end of those next issues, there aren't any surprises left other than "How is this all going to end?" and "What's going to happen from this point forward?"
Pak: Yeah. There are big surprises in the June issues in terms of what's going to happen with major antagonists, and then the July issue #611 for "Incredible Hulk" gives us the "insane climax." It's a big confrontation that's been building for over three years gets to happen in that issue. And there are some big twists in how all that plays out.
Loeb: And we're still leaving open for the end of the war how any of this stuff is going to be resolved. Is there going to be a Red Hulk? Is there going to be a Red She-Hulk? Is there going to be a Green Hulk? Is there going to be a Green She-Hulk? How many of these characters will still be there when the war is over? Because war is not without its casualties. Reveals in stories often give us ideas as to where personal sacrifice comes in, and that may be what we're dealing with.
And the one thing that Greg and I do want to get across is that we really did want this to be a surprise and be something that even if you saw it coming, you couldn't see when it was coming. For that, we're super grateful to everyone at Marvel and for everybody who protected this. By the same token, hopefully what we've learned in the past few years working on these books together is that just because you see something doesn't mean it's all been answered. There's still a lot of good stuff to go before the war is over.
Pak: Absolutely. That's particularly because these reveals imply a huge amount of stuff, and depending on who makes it through and in what form they'll make it through, anything is possible. You'll have to keep going to find out what the ramifications of this really are.
"Hulk" #22 and "Incredible Hulk" #609 are on sale now. Check back later this month for more on the Red Hulk in CBR's THE GREEN ZONE.