One of the strengths of the Marvel Universe is that it's meant to reflect our own. It's home to many real world figures and impacted by real world events. That grounds fantastic elements like super powers and the supernatural, but it also creates lots of interesting storytelling opportunities. Imagine how much more complex and dangerous a politically-charged environment can become when a man who can level cities goes charging into it?
That's what happens this October in "Hulk" #42, which kicks off the new story arc "Hulk of Arabia" by writer Jeff Parker and artist Patrick Zircher. The arc was announced today at Marvel Comics' "Next Big Thing Panel" at Comic-Con International in San Diego and CBR News spoke with Parker about the story, which sends the Red Hulk, General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross, to the Middle East on a mission of revenge.
CBR News: Jeff, the action in "Hulk of Arabia" begins with the death of one of Ross' old friends. Can you tell us a little bit about who this friend was and what he meant to Ross?
Jeff Parker: Ross' friend was Will Krugauer, a Major who seemed to be career military, and then left for the private sector. Which didn't sit well with Ross, who frowns on the kind of mercenary work Will did after they parted ways. It's this job that led to him being killed in the country of Qatar.
When Ross learns of his friend's death he sets out on a mission of revenge. How much does he know about things going in though? Is the "Hulk of Arabia" arc more an espionage thriller where Ross has to find out who killed his friend and why? Or is this a straight up revenge story where Ross knows his targets and sets out to take them down?
It's both of those kinds of stories. Like a Hulk, he gets upset and goes charging into a war zone. But things are never that simple in global disputes. And frankly, he's having a hard time figuring where he should place blame, he just wants so badly to smash something.
The Middle East is a complex, politically-charged area of the world that's been the scene of much conflict and strife in recent years. What's it like writing Ross in that environment? We imagine as a solider, and an opinionated one at that, Ross might have an interesting perspective on the area.
The area appears to be more in flux than ever. Currently, many are hoping for a domino effect of government changes across the region-the Arab Spring as it's called. But even though he has more power than ever, Ross isn't interested in affecting change. Really, we get a sense that was never something he was big into, he was more about direct threats to the U.S. I don't clean up the way he would likely regard the Middle East, and we do meet some counter point-heroes like Arabian Knight.
Earlier you mentioned Qatar. Will Ross be traveling to real Middle East nations in "Hulk of Arabia," or are we going to see some fictional Marvel Universe locales as well?
The initial fighting is in Qatar, [which is] real of course. And the disputed region he goes to is at the border of Libya and Egypt. That's where we discover a place being carved out that is completely fictional, but really amazing to see!
Ross has been working as an agent for the U.S. government in the pages of "Hulk," but for this arc he goes rogue and charges into the Middle East without authorization. Ross' government handler, Steve Rogers, dispatches the Secret Avengers to bring him back and keep him from creating an international incident. What's it like writing the dynamic between the Hulk and the Secret Avengers? Do they believe Ross must be stopped, or are any of them sympathetic to what he's trying to do?
It's important to remember a couple of the SA joined She-Hulk to fight Red before: Black Widow and Valkyrie. So that comes up right away! War Machine of course will unleash all the armament he has to to follow Steve's mission, but also a surprise Marvel character gets drafted into this operation.
The Secret Avengers aren't the only government agents that will be pursuing Ross in "Hulk of Arabia." His old friend General Fortean will also be on hot on his heels. Fortean is unaware that Ross is the Red Hulk and has sworn to destroy Ross' alter ego because he believes the monster murdered his old friend. How intense is Fortean's vendetta against the Red Hulk when "Hulk of Arabia" begins? If the right evidence presented itself would he stop and consider that the Red Hulk could actually be Ross? Or is Fortean so laser focused and committed to destroying the Red Hulk that he doesn't care or want to know who his foe really is?
I promise we'll find that out next year! But yes, he's pretty deep into the obsession of destroying a Hulk.
"Hulk of Arabia" also introduces a new foe for Ross in the form of Sultan Magus. The name suggests an attachment to the Zoroastrianism religion of ancient Persia. What can you tell us about this character? What makes him an interesting foil for Ross?
His regular name is Dagan Shah, and he's the first character we meet in the story. He's been struggling to keep his tribe alive in a region that doesn't honor their wish to not be part of the nations there. They're nomads, but not by choice -- always forced to the worst locales to survive. But a powerful connection changes the game profoundly for Dagan Shah and his followers.
It's a real treat. One, Patrick comes up with great story idea after great story idea. Way too many to use. And he does meticulous character design and planning. For a story that demanded so much world-building, he is the perfect creator. Patrick thinks about all levels of the story, and will often make his own job harder than it has to be to really sell a scene. It all looks incredible. And Rachelle Rosenberg has been really rocking on color.
When you took over "Hulk" you set up a status quo with Ross working for his redemption as an agent of the U.S. government. "In Hulk of Arabia," he'll turn his back on that redemption and embark on an unsanctioned mission. How big of an impact will this arc have on the series' status quo when all the dust clears?
I can't spoil that! But I think everyone will enjoy the dynamic we're left with. [The story] brings in another power player to the Marvel Universe in a way that isn't cut and dry, easy to process. That gives us all more fertile landscape to explore in the future. I'm very proud of it.