The Incredible Hulk may be the strongest hero in the Marvel Universe, but even he realizes there's strength in numbers. That's why he's joined forces with his old friend Rick Jones (the monstrous hero known as A-Bomb), his cousin Jennifer Walters who is better known as the original She-Hulk, his recently resurrected wife Betty Banner AKA the Red She-Hulk, the alien stone man Korg and Hulk's son son Skaar, whose mother hails from the savage planet known as Sakaar. Collectively, they're the title characters of the ongoing "Incredible Hulks" and in issue #618, in stores this week, writer Greg Pak and returning artist Paul Pelletier kick off a storyline that sends the Hulk and company to the front lines of the Marvel Universe's latest cosmic crisis, the "Chaos War." CBR News spoke with Pak about the arc and his plans for the series in early 2011.
When the "Chaos War" hits "Incredible Hulks," none of the cast will be in any mood to fight. The team recently - and barely - survived the arrival of the Hulk's long lost son and Skaar's half brother, Hiro-Kala. Hiro-Kala's experiences growing up on Sakaar had the unfortunate side effect of driving him homicidally insane, and in "Dark Son," the Hulk family traveled into space in an attempt to talk him out of his plan to destroy the Earth. Unfortunately, Hiro-Kala's mind was gone and an epic and emotionally draining battle ensued.
"Each one of these characters was a shattered in a certain way during the course of that storyline. You saw She-Hulk, for example, ending up in a situation where she did some things she never would have done had she known going in what was going to happen. Bruce and Betty had hope and despair clash again in their relationship," Pak told CBR News. "And most prominently you have Hulk and Skaar having an utterly harrowing and soul destroying experience dealing with this lost son of the Hulk. So they are broken people coming back to Earth for this 'Chaos War' tie-in."
Hulk and Skaar's experiences during "Dark Son" were especially tragic because the only way to stop Hiro-Kala was to trap him in a situation that ultimately lead to his death. How this affects Skaar and his relationship with both of his father's personas, Bruce Banner and the Hulk, will be explored in upcoming issues, but readers have already been given sense though of how the Hulk felt about Hiro-Kala's death in the final pages of the "Dark Son" arc.
"We really see the Hulk's reaction at the end there more than we see Bruce's reaction. Given the way the story played out, at a certain point it was the Hulk, shockingly, that let Banner come out because the Hulk wasn't prepared to go the distance in terms of dealing with Hiro-Kala," Pak explained. "So it could be that the Hulk is the one who has the softer heart and ironically enough, it's the Hulk that's more torn up about Hiro Kala's death than Banner. I don't know that we fully saw Banner's reaction, so it's a little tough to say who's more upset over Hiro-Kala's death.
"I think it's safe to say that in a lot of ways they're on the same page about a lot of things. There is a lot of contempt, of course, between these two guys, or these two halves of this guy. So the Hulk will still say, 'Don't call me Banner.' Or, 'Don't call me Bruce,' but they've definitely been working together in a lot of ways and in an interesting way, which is as a family. That's a different relationship than what we've seen with them for a while. And when you see the commitment both of these characters have to this family of Hulks, I think that helps explain why."
None of this new understanding between the disparate personalities means Hulk will stop causing turmoil in Bruce's romantic life. During "Dark Son," Banner began to bond again with his long-lost wife Betty, only to have the Hulk crush the progress they made. And for her part, Betty's crimson-hued alter ego, the Red She-Hulk, also doesn't seem to want her to reunite with her estranged husband.
"You can say, 'Oh, if Bruce and Betty were just free of the Hulks than things would be great.' But Bruce and Betty are the Hulks, aren't they? Or are they," Pak said, laughing. "If you argue that Bruce and Betty's alter egos really are who they are, then potentially it's just that their puny human sides are in denial. They're forcing all of this conflict into their Hulk sides, so the Hulks are exposing the problems in the relationship that their puny human sides have, but don't necessarily want to deal with. That's certainly a possibility. I don't want to tip my hand, though. Like the relationship with Skaar, the relationships between Bruce, Betty and their Hulk personas is continuing to unfold and develop. It will certainly be a big focus in one of the upcoming story arcs. There is an endgame and there's a big emotional climax coming to this story of this family of Hulks."
But there's litle time to focus on personal issues with the Chaos War erupting aorund them. The result of the immensely powerful Chaos King (Amatusu-Mikaboshi) arriving on Earth with his army of alien slave gods in an attempt to destroy all of reality except himself. In the first issue of the "Chaos War" miniseries by Pak and co-writer Fred Van Lente, he obliterated the dream dimension of the Marvel Universe, allowing him to plunge all of Earth's mortal population, including most of its heroes, into a coma-like state.
"The Hulks were off planet when all of this happened, so they managed to avoid that trap. The fact that there are all these people who are basically conked out plays a big role in the story. There are literally billions of these innocents who are lying there in the midst of all this chaos. If the Hulks don't accomplish what they need to accomplish during this storyline there are dire consequences. This is the critical second front in the 'Chaos War'. So if you've been following the series you definitely don't want to miss this.
"If you've just been reading 'Chaos War' and want to see what 'Incredible Hulks' is all about, issue #618, the first issue of our 'Chaos War' tie-in, is a great jumping on point," Pak continued. "You can of course follow 'Chaos War' without buying 'Incredible Hulks,' and you can read our tie-in story without buying the 'Chaos War' mini. We're writing these books so that you get a complete story either way, but when you put them together, you exponentially increase your epic story experience. So feel free to grab them both if you have the inclination."
When the Hulks arrive on Earth, they'll discover that the Chaos King is ready for them. He's tasked one of his lieutenants with stopping them; a lieutenant that bears a striking resemblance to a hated foe that the Hulk thought was long dead. "If you've seen the cover, it certainly looks like they're facing the Abomination, doesn't it? One of the things that has happened during the course of 'Chaos War' is that the Chaos King has destroyed the underworld; thrown wide the gates of hell basically and the dead are roaming the Earth again. Now, that becomes a pretty cool set up for folks like the Dead Avengers and Alpha Flight to come back, and that's being explored in some of these tie-in books," Pak explained. "But it also creates this terrifying situation where some of the most deadly super villains who ever existed may have a chance to return. So it's certainly looks like that may be the Abomination coming back. And if it is indeed the Abomination, it certainly sets us up for some high drama in the sense that the Abomination and the Hulk, of course, have a long history in a lot of ways.
"The Abomination has always been the Hulk's most powerful enemy. In terms of sheer brute strength, he's his most formidable foe, among mortals anyway [Laugh]. So a Hulk-Abomination fight is always something to pay attention to. Plus the stakes are increased because Betty is back in the mix and of course the Abomination was responsible for the death of Betty Banner back in the day. So there's a lot going on that could make for a very high stakes conflict if indeed that is the Abomination returning," Pak continued. " Also, if indeed this is the Abomination coming back, a character like the Chaos King would have great use for somebody who has shown as much viciousness and craftiness as the Abomination has over the years. What makes things even scarier is that the Chaos King's involvement could end up creating a more deadly Abomination than we've ever seen before. With the power and support of the Chaos King all of the Abomination's worst tendencies and instincts can be magnified in a pretty horrifying way."
The villain who may or may not be the Abomination won't be the only prominent supporting player in this "Chaos War" tie-in. "During the course of this story arc, you're going to see two huge Hulk adversaries that we haven't seen in a while. One of them is the Hulk's greatest enemy, ever," Pak revealed. "And if you've seen the cover to #619, you know that Doctor Strange will play a huge role in this storyline. You can speculate on what that role may be. So yes, there is some big stuff going on with Doctor Strange during the course of the story."
The Hulks' "Chaos War" adventures will unfold in both New York City and a secret location out west. There will be enough action at both these locales to keep the entire cast busy. "This is a story arc in which each of the Hulks is going to have some pretty significant moments. This story is absolutely critical for Rick Jones. Korg, the Warbound companion to the Hulk also has a very big moment during the course of the story. We deal with some unfinished business from his old life and his old relationships. So if you're a fan of the Warbound, this is definitely an arc you're going to want to grab," Pak explained. "I was really excited about writing this story arc and this tie-in because the set up 'Chaos War' provides, with the dead coming back in the middle of this huge conflict, presented some really compelling possibilities for a lot of these characters and it fit right in with the big emotional story I've been building with this family of Hulks. So this was a storyline I was happy to write"
Pak's storyline involving "Chaos War" run through issues #618-620 and generated some interesting reactions from his editor Mark Paniccia. "I'd send scripts into my editors and Mark would e-mail me back single word e-mails in all caps and exclamation points. He was totally shocked about some of the stuff that happens during the course of this storyline," the writer revealed. "Again, because of the set up of the Chaos King and the things that are going on, there's a chance to play with some different kinds of genres. This story is kind of like a cross between an action movie and a horror movie. We're pushing the envelope on this thing in terms of visceral shocks and horror. There's some pretty incredible stuff here."
Pak feels that stuff was made even more incredible by the efforts of his artistic collaborators on the arc. "Paul Pelletier is back on pencils for this arc and he's absolutely killing it. Danny Miki is on inks and Paul Mounts is doing colors. So it's a dream team. These guys are knocking this story out of the park."
In January, Pak and Pelletier kick of the new year with a new two part "Incredible Hulks" story that deals with the fall out of the crossover. "'Incredible Hulks' #621-622 is one of two big places where you'll see the aftermath of 'Chaos War.' In those issues, the Hulk takes his grievances to the gods themselves. Paul is drawing this story as well, and the art is absolutely spectacular," Pak stated. "It's a big, big, big two-part story that you don't want to miss. And fans who have been following the adventures of Hercules will definitely not want to miss these two issues."
In February, Pak teams with artist Dale Eaglesham for a three part storyline that sends the cast of "Incredible Hulks" to a locale where they're sure to fit right in - The Savage Land. "It's been a while since the Hulk has had a Savage Land adventure, and given the fact that we've got folks like Skaar and Korg on the team, it seems like a natural place for them to end up. It's a big, crazy story. Fans of the Warbound definitely should pick up this story arc and fans of Dale Eaglesham should absolutely pick this up," Pak said. "Dale is eating this story line alive. I think it's the kind of story that Dale has been hungry to draw for quite some time, and he's having so much fun with it. The inspiration is just leaping off of these pages as they come in. He's doing an amazing job with these characters and this whole environment. You haven't seen the Savage Land until you've seen Dale Eaglesham draw the Savage Land. You definitely want to be on board for all of that."