When you're tasked with hunting the most dangerous beings in the Marvel Universe it's easy to lose yourself and turn your assignment into a vendetta. That's what happened to General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross when the Air Force ordered him to hunt down the Incredible Hulk. Ross used every tool at his disposal to try and stop the Hulk, even going to so far as to have himself transformed into a crimson version of his elusive prey.
As the Red Hulk, Ross allied himself with a cabal of genius super villains and committed numerous crimes in the name of destroying Bruce Banner. Cooler heads ultimately prevailed and Ross teamed with Banner to take down the villains that transformed him. However, that didn't change what Ross had done, and when the villains were imprisoned he was forced to atone for his crimes as the Red Hulk.
Atonement has not been easy for Ross. To make up for his crimes, he's been working as a special agent for Captain America. This has brought him into contact with a host of characters both villainous and heroic who bear a grudge against Ross for his deeds as the Red Hulk or in his former life as an Air Force General. It's also brought him into conflict with a number of new villains, the latest of which is the super powered renegade Middle Eastern ruler Sultan Magus. CBR News spoke with Parker about the Hulk-Sultan Magus conflict, which comes to an end in today's "Hulk" #46, as well as future plans for the character which include team ups with his estranged, gamma-powered daughter and a storyline that teams him with Venom, X-23 and Ghost Rider.
CBR News: Jeff, the current "Hulk of Arabia" arc has seen General Ross partner with Machine Man. Machine Man is just the latest in a number artificial life forms you've paired Ross with. What was it like writing Aaron Stack, and what is it about that dynamic between the Red Hulk and robotic life forms that makes it so interesting to you as a writer?
Jeff Parker: I love, love, love Machine Man and writing him. I think he works really well as a foil to Red -- everyone else would get insulted or angry at our Hulk in no time -- and they do. But it rolls right off of Aaron, and his tendency to analyze the situation to death complements the Smash approach perfectly.
As you point out, Red seems to have found a comfort zone among the androids. It makes sense, they're all mission-oriented like he is, and he hasn't had a lot of luck with human relationships.
In "Hulk" #45 Machine Man comments on the fact that Ross seems unusually interested in the minds of androids. Is Machine Man picking up the fact that Ross is interested in Annie, the LMD that occasionally helps him on his missions for Captain America? Or is it just as Ross claims that he likes knowing how people think?
He's definitely trying to come to grips that he may be in love with an android. And he was annoying Annie with all the questions, now he's got someone who can give him some insight.
"Hulk" #45 was also the penultimate chapter of "Hulk of Arabia," and in it we finally saw the origin of the arc's chief antagonist Dagan Shah AKA Sultan Magus. In light of his origin, Shah seems almost like a tragic figure; a guy who only wanted the best for his people and was transformed into something more fearsome and violent in order to do that. Is that what you were aiming for?
Shah doesn't feel it's tragic, though. To him it's providence, the universe finally becoming fair. And of course it's ultimately a failed bid at colonization by a big power resulting in a new and dangerous state rising. That might sound a bit familiar to the region.
"Hulk of Arabia" concludes in "Hulk" #46, which came out today, and it looks like the bulk of the story involves a battle between Ross and Sultan Magus. What can you tell us about this fight? How evenly matched are these characters?
It's a bit uneven, because Sultan Magus has a serious home court advantage. That microcosm below his palace that we saw has vast amounts of power for him to use. Ross has done the thing as a Hulk he wouldn't have as a general, go deep into unknown territory with no sense of what lies in wait.
We know you can't reveal much about the issue for fear of spoilers, but we also know you're a guy who likes to seed stuff. Now that we know that Dagan Shah became Sultan Magus because of a lost Rigellian colonization ship, would you be interested in following up on that and having some Rigellians come and look for the ship?
I didn't plan on it, but it's not a bad idea now that you bring it up!
Let's move on to the story that begins in January's "Hulk" #47. It looks like the central relationship in that story is between Ross and his daughter, the Red She-Hulk, Betty Banner. What's it like writing these two characters together? And in terms of plot and themes what is that next story about?
The two Red Hulks haven't seen each other in some time, since the end of the "World War Hulks" storyline. Ross has been wanting to see his daughter again, and while he was in touch with Banner, all Bruce could do was throw up his hands and say, "I have no control over it." But Betty is finally ready to reconnect with her dad -- unfortunately it's not Betty who shows up, but Red She-Hulk.
From the solicits it looks like Zero/One is the main villain for the Red Hulk & She-Hulk story. What made you want to pit her against the father/daughter pair?
Ross needed to follow up on the journal left by Zero/One's assistant Jacob that outlines her potential as a world threat. And I'll admit, since I knew Elena Cassagrande was going to be drawing a few issues and she draws such terrific women, I started thinking in terms of bringing all those characters together.
In February the Red Hulk also pops up in the "Circle of Four" storyline that runs through "Venom" #13, #13.1-13.4, and #14. You and Rob Williams worked with Rick Remender on this story line. What was it like working with them? What made you want to be part of the story?
Those guys are a lot of fun to work with. We did almost all of the story hashing over the phone, which I don't usually do, and it came together really well. The story is about a team who shouldn't be a team, so it's automatically full of conflict.
What can you tell us about the Hulk's role in the "Circle of Four?" How big of a part does he play, and will the events of "Circle of Four" have an impact on the regular "Hulk" series?
He's been set after Flash Thompson/Venom in a role that calls back to how they would have interacted in the military. So it's their hunt that kicks it off. This jump into a dark mystic world kicks off an occult arc called "Haunted Hulk." Something that happens here plagues Red Hulk starting with his big 50th issue!
We've talked quite a bit about the stories in "Hulk." Let's wrap things up by talking about the visuals. The next several months will see you working with a couple different artists. Who are they and what can readers expect from their work?
The "Circle of Four" Hulk issue is drawn by Julian Totino Tedesco, who is excellent. I don't know if you've seen his covers for Marvel or his other work, but he is impressive. Here!
Elena, who I mentioned before, came in for the "Fear Itself" issues and drew a wonderful M.O.D.O.K. She's also drawing an issue that could have way bigger fallout later -- when the Eternals run afoul of Red!
The "Haunted Hulk" arc will be drawn by someone I've been lucky to work with a lot in the past, and no stranger to Hulk books: Carlo Pagulayan! I never get tired of teaming up with that guy. He makes everything feel so epic and exciting.
We've talked a little bit about your plans for "Hulk" in 2012. Can you offer up any more hints or teases? Anything else you can tells us about your plans for the milestone "Hulk" #50?
In issue 50 there will be a back-up that connects to the story with art by Dan Brereton! Dan and I have wanted to work together forever, and this supernatural subject matter is the kind of thing he crushes on.
Sounds like 2012 will be a great year for "Hulk" fans! Care to put a capper on both this interview and your work on "Hulk" in 2011?
I see a lot of people online who had an aversion to the character, an idea of a replacement or new Hulk, tell me they were pleasantly surprised after reading the book and became regular readers. I just want to end the year by thanking them for their trust in me and the team, and for editors Mark Paniccia and Jake Thomas being on top of everything. I work with some serious pros!
"Hulk" #46 is on sale now.