In 2005, fans of Marvel Comics' "Incredible Hulk" series were introduced to the work of a relatively new writer, Greg Pak. For his first Hulk storyline, Pak sent the Jade Giant to an alien world where he went from gladiator, to freedom fighter to eventual ruler. The epic "Planet Hulk" storyline was a resounding success and Pak has been involved in shaping the world of Bruce Banner and the Hulk ever since. He's chronicled such massive events as the Hulk meeting the two sons he never knew he had and written stories where Bruce Banner and the Hulk had to engage in a "World War" against a multitude of deadly foes. Recently, Pak reunited Banner with his first and greatest love, Betty Ross, who had been transformed in to the savage Red She-Hulk. She was just one part of an extended gamma-powered family that Banner suddenly found himself a part of, whose members include his cousin She-Hulk (Jennifer Walters), his son Skaar and his best friend A-Bomb (Rick Jones). Because of this, the title of the Hulk's monthly adventures morphed from "Incredible Hulk" to "Incredible Hulks."
All of Pak's Hulk tales for the past six years have been building towards a single story which has finally arrived. In the current "Heart of the Monster" arc, featuring art by Paul Pelletier, Pak is bringing his run on "Incredible Hulks" to a close with a tale that pits Jade Giant against several dangerous and classic foes. CBR News spoke with Pak about the five part arc, which continues on July 13 with the release of "Incredible Hulks" #632, the third chapter in the series.
Several of Pak's recent Hulk story lines have dealt with mystical and supernatural elements. The writer embroiled Bruce Banner and his gamma-powered clan in the recent "Chaos War" storyline, where they helped foil the scheme of an insane god of evil. Afterwards, Banner confronted the Olympian gods in an attempt to convince them to rid his family of their gamma-irradiated alter egos. In the recently completed "Spy Who Smashed Me" arc, the Hulk battled his old foe Tyrannus for control of the mythical Pandora's Box and in the first chapter of "Heart of the Monster," A.I.M. forces invaded Tyrannus' underground lair and transformed his personal fountain of youth into a mystical wishing well.
"There's a funny way in which the Hulk has a bit of a history with this kind of stuff," Pak told CBR News. "I believe Peter David introduced the idea that the Hulk can see ghosts. Plus, I think there's something about the Hulk which lends itself to different kinds of stories. He's definitely got a big, crazy, sci-fi origin, but I think there's something about a big, green guy that you can drop into a bunch of different environments and he works, particularly when you get into the emotional storylines and themes that we've been dealing with about, this big question of anger. I think part of the reason the Hulk works so well in so many different genres is because many people have described him as a force of nature. The Hulk has described himself as the Strongest One There Is, and many people agree with that. Having him battle the Olympians makes sense because they're opponents who are on his level. Plus he's of mythic proportions himself so he seems to fit in well in these kinds of stories."
Another element driving "Heart of the Monster" is Bruce Banner and the Hulk's relationships with women. The supporting cast includes family members like his cousin and daughter as well as women Banner and the Hulk have had physical and romantic relationships with, like Betty Ross/Red She-Hulk, A.I.M Scientist Supreme Monica Rappaccini and the evil Dark Dimension sorceress Umar.
"When you look at the iconic imagery associated with him the Hulk is one of the most masculine of super heroes. And one of the reasons I love writing him so much is he has always had a really strong female cast of supporting characters surrounding him. Peter David did a huge amount of stuff with Jen and Betty," Pak remarked. " And I've wanted to write these stories with the Bruce and Betty and Hulk and Red She-Hulk dynamic for some time. I've been building up and aiming towards these stories for a while. It's fun to finally be able to cut loose and really delve into that."
The current dynamic between Bruce, Betty, Hulk and Red She-Hulk is extremely complicated, partially due to the possibility that Betty might be trapped in her super-aggressive She-Hulk form. The other reason is that at the end of the "Spy Who Smashed Me," the Red She-Hulk allied herself with Tyrannus. So at this point, both Banner and the Hulk believe they might have to take her down to stop the out of control wishing well that was created in Tyrannus' lair in "Incredible Hulks" #630.
"During the course of the storyline, the Hulk is going to cut loose in a way we've never seen him cut loose before. He's going to let it all go, and what that means for his specific relationships will be revealed very soon," Pak said. "You definitely do not want to miss it. Questions like what does Betty mean to Hulk and Bruce will be answered.
"When Jeph Loeb and I first talked about the idea of hulking Betty, out I thought it was brilliant," Pak continued. "Of all the characters in the Hulk's orbit, Betty is the one who has probably eaten the most anger over the years. She's the one with the most repressed rage because she's had to deal with these men in her life that all have these ludicrous anger issues: Bruce Banner, Glen Talbot, her father Thunderbolt Ross. These are not men with a great deal of impulse control. She's been put into this role of being this mediating presence in their lives. That will eat at you. It made perfect emotional sense to me that Betty, once she got the chance to finally bust out, was going to bust out big. So now we're left with the ultimate questions is the true Betty Red She-Hulk? Is this really who she he is now? And was this nice girl the front? We're going to learn a lot more about those questions as the story races to its climax."
The Hulk and his companions confronted Betty at the end of "Incredible Hulks" #630, and because of the out of control nature of the wishing well, the Hulk's ally, Amadeus Cho, accidentally summoned five very powerful enemies. In "Incredible Hulks" #631, the Hulk took down two of those adversaries, The Wendigo and the Bi-Beast, and in issue #632, he goes toe to toe with his old foe, the alien warlord Arm'Chedon, who has taken A-Bomb and She-Hulk hostage.
"Arm'Chedon is another fantastic Peter David creation, and when I was thinking about this arc, I felt he really needed to be in it. He made sense because he's the person with the biggest emotional axe to grind. This whole story is about the Hulk's family, and Arm'Chedon is a guy with a familial reason to take down the Hulk," Pak explained. " He blames the Hulk for the death of his son. As Arm'Chedon sees it, the Hulk killed his son twice and this is the time for payback. His presence fit everything thematically. Plus, he's a phenomenal character. He's just been a blast to write.
"Arm'Chedon is one of the Hulk's most dangerous foes. This is a guy who took out the Silver Surfer last time he fought the Hulk. How many people in the universe can make that claim? He's a ridiculously powerful, smart, canny and dangerous enemy and She-Hulk and A-Bomb, the two people in the world that Hulk and Bruce Banner are closest to, are now in his clutches," Pak continued. "As I said before, the Hulk is going to cut loose in ways that you've never seen. If you saw the last page of #631, I'd advise you to pick up #632 to see the place where that cork finally gets popped."
In "Incredible Hulks" #633-634 the Hulk will have to contend with the gigantic dragon Fin Fang Foom and the sorceress Umar. "Umar is really the wild card in this story. The last time she met the Hulk, they were lovers. It was not an equal relationship, though," Pak said, laughing. "The Hulk and Banner ended up as Umar's love slaves in that fantastic 'Defenders' miniseries from a few years back by Keith Giffen , J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire. I thought that was a really cool reworking of Umar, and again, she's got a personal interest in the Hulk, which has the potential for some real surprises. So she's a great character to play with too."
In October, "Heart of the Monster" and Pak's six year Hulk run comes to an end with the release of "Incredible Hulks" #635. "It's a special issue, and we're taking some time to make sure we're dotting all our I's and crossing our T's. We want to pay things off in a huge way. The last few pages have been in my head for quite some time now and it's pretty exciting to actually be typing them out. These are characters that I've been thinking about for years and years. it's a little bittersweet, but it feels very right to be finishing out the book in this way," Pak said. "I can't say much about the issue for fear of spoilers, except you will indeed be surprised. The way this thing is going to end is a bit of a shocker. I'm hoping it's the kind of thing that no one will see coming, but when you hit that last page, you'll realize that this is where the story needed to go. I'll say no more."
"Heart of the Monster" isn't the only big Hulk story currently unfolding. The Green Goliath is also a major player in the current Marvel event story line "Fear Itself," where he's been transformed into one of the avatars of the malevolent fear god known as the Serpent. It's currently unknown which one of these stories happens first, but Pak promises things will become much clearer when both storylines are finished. "I'm not going to say anything because I don't want to spoil either story," the writer remarked. "After they're done though it will all make sense."
Pak has been a lifelong Hulk fan, and the chance to tell a long form story with Bruce Banner and his related characters has been a dream come true for the writer. With the end of that story in sight, Pak told CBR he will miss the Hulk family of characters, but he's ready to move on and explore some new corners of the Marvel Universe.
"I fell in love with those characters when I was a kid growing up in Dallas. Thursday nights at seven, I would watch the "Incredible Hulk" TV show. That's really where I learned the literary concept of tragedy. It made a huge impact on me, and the comics blew my mind. Over the years, these characters have kind of gotten underneath my skin. I feel really lucky to have been able to tell all these stories with them and go on this journey," the writer stated. "So I'll totally miss writing the Hulk. It's a very comfortable character for me to write. Of course that's also a reason why it's a good time to move on. This big arc of stories is reaching it's climax. We really are at the end point of all these things I've been building over the years. It's probably smart for me to now go and fall in love with some other characters for a while.
"The Hulk will always hold a special place in my heart, though. So will all these other characters I've spent so much time with. It's a phenomenal cast. We've got classic characters like Rick and Betty, and I never really wrote much with Thunderbolt Ross, but he's a fantastic character as well. All of those characters that were in the first few issues of 'Hulk' are solid gold to this day," Pak continued. "And I've had the great fortune to introduce a lot of new characters to the Hulk mythos like the Warbound, Skaar and Amadeus Cho. I'll definitely be interested in playing with some of them. We'll see some of those characters pop up here and there as time goes on. It feels right, though, to move on to other things."