It was the inner demons of anger and vengeance that fueled former U.S. Air Force General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross' vendetta against the Incredible Hulk. The monstrosity of those emotions was made flesh when Ross was transformed into a crimson version of his hated foe and became the star of Marvel Comics' ongoing "Hulk" series. As the Red Hulk, Ross was a brutal and misguided monster, but he was not an evil man. When confronted by the chaos and carnage he was causing with his newfound power Ross decided to set aside his vendetta against the Hulk and try to redeem himself.
For the past several months "Hulk" writer Jeff Parker has been chronicling Ross' quest for redemption. It's been a long and bumpy road that has seen Ross grow as a person and become heroic, but it's not over yet. In "Hulk" #53 Parker and artist Dale Eaglesham kicked off "Mayan Rule," an arc that pits Ross and his allies: Machine Man, A-Bomb, the Canadian super team Alpha Flight, and the She-Hulks (Jennifer Walters and Lyra) against a super powered invasion force of "Mayan Gods." In today's edition of COMMENTARY TRACK, Parker joins us for a look at some of the pivotal pages in the issue.
CBR News: Jeff, in "Mayan Rule" Ross and his allies are facing off against the "Mayan Gods" and here we see a blood sacrifice designed to awaken one of them. What exactly is going on here in terms of waking the gods up? Is this a magical ritual? Or are they powering up a device of alien technology? Are these "Mayan Gods" deities in the supernatural sense of the word or are they really just an advanced race whose technology resembles magic?
Jeff Parker: It's not magic, it's just good science! It's also not alien. You're closer with the advanced race, and that will all be made clear deeper in the story. They were human at one point, and this touches on an idea we were bringing up in the story where The Eternals appeared and recognized that today's supers are barely discernible from gods.
In this scene Rick Jones transforms into his A-Bomb form causing the Mayans to immediately recognize him. This of course is a callback to the "Hulk" back-up story several months ago where you set this story up. As a writer, what's your sort of philosophy on back-up stories? Do you like to use these tales to establish and set up larger, grander stories?
Yes, it's a perfect use of a back-up, to seed a story for later. That kind of thing [is] done in TV all the time, so there's no reason we can't make use of it too. It's also an arc of personal responsibility for Rick Jones. The Mayans, particularly Ixchel, played on Rick's desire to be seen as a hero and lured him down to free them from their long imprisonment.
Here Rick is told that his gamma enhanced power can't harm the Mayans on their ground. Is this true of just Hulks or are they invulnerable to other attackers as well? From this panel is it safe to conclude there's something about the Mayan temples and fortifications, either technological or magical, that makes them intangible and impervious to attacks?
At this point in the flashback, the temples aren't at the full operating power they will be, but you'll see that they have pretty awesome defenses. Ixchel is also talking big, but she's right that there isn't a lot he can do to them at that moment. We later go into the process that makes them 'higher' life forms.
In the bottom of this page, Rick has a line of dialogue that really shows how much Ross has grown over the past several months. What would the old Ross have done if Rick had come to him and said, "I screwed up. I figured you would know something about that?" How does he feel now that Rick has come to him for help? Besides the immediate importance of saving the world, how important is helping Rick to Ross? What does it mean to him to have someone come to him and ask for help?
Ross a few years ago may not have been so helpful. But now he's had to walk the earth in those big gamma shoes and relates much more to the rest of the Hulk Family. And he's a bit of a sucker for someone having to humble themselves and come to him for guidance, no bones about it. He was pretty protective of Rick back when they were trying to survive on Monster Island, A-Bomb kept him alive when he was vulnerable. Ross, and therefore Red Hulk, values loyalty highly.
In this page we have another scene of what feels like character growth for Ross when Guardian says he contacted them before they undertook action on Canadian soil, and it seems Ross is even heeding Guardian's advice. Is that true? Would the old Ross behave like that? Was he an arrogant leader who expected his orders followed to the letter or was he more egalitarian? Further, what's your sense of the current dynamic between the Red Hulk and Alpha Flight?
Ross is all about protocol when there is any; he likes all that order and hierarchy. Ever since he became the Red Hulk he's been trying to sneak his military life back in even though he can't be a General again. I don't think he was actually arrogant, but yes, he did expect that his orders were The Word and a unit follows them all the way.
He seems to respect Alpha Flight a little more than many of the US super groups because they are a national-based defense. That's the kind of thing he understands. Other groups just thrown together for vague reasons? He doesn't trust that!
In this scene the Mayan's reveal another ability. It looks like they can possess beings? Do they need to be beings of limited intellect like Sasquatch or can they possess other more intelligent beings as well?
They don't do it again, it's just something they could exploit with Sasquatch at his current state of clarity. He got knocked back a bit in recent stories -- Dr. Langowski would never have succumbed.
We also get a look Snowbird transforming and the Sasquatch shape she morphs into. I don't recall Snowbird's animals and transforming process ever looking this sort of ethereal. Is this a new effect or has it been used before? And who came up with it, you or Dale?
That's Dale! He started that in his ["Alpha Flight"] story with Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente. It's been great having him in here to keep Alpha Flight running smooth. He's also very clever with depictions and effects, that Eaglesham. He's been a joy to work with.
Here you reveal that the Mayans possessed Sasquatch to try and lure Red Hulk and Alpha Flight into their temple. This suggests the Mayans won't be doing a lot of fighting out in the open and that, at least at first, they'll rely on subterfuge. Is that correct? Or do they have forces or members that can go toe-to-toe with the Hulk outside of their temples and fortifications?
Exactly, they start off sneaky and subtle. And once they don't need to be so cagey, they go totally big. You'll see in the next issue, they have some real ancient bruisers who pack a wallop. They've had a lot of time to think about this plan…
You end things here with one hell of a cliffhanger, especially for She-Hulk fans. Can you comment at all on what we're seeing here? It looks like Jen and Lyra have been mummified?
It's true, they may get their own museum tour like this final go-round of Tutankhamen! That was a bit unfair, as we were looking forward to seeing our powerful heroines, and then get a big creep-out.
PARKER'S FINAL THOUGHTS ON "HULK" #53
This was the part of the story where you could still approach the threat as a mission, and bring in the logic and tactics we understand. From this point on, we start going into a much stranger environment as the Mayan Gods return. Readers are used to the Greco-Roman and Norse pantheons, which shaped a lot of our literature and culture. This is a very different system with much more bizarre figures.
PARKER LOOKS AHEAD TO "HULK" #54, IN STORES JUNE 20
It's where Dale Eaglesham starts going off on your minds! One of my favorite bits is his interpretation of Ah Puch, the corresponding God of Death. But they're all extremely cool. I kept trying to urge him not to make the designs so involved since he has to draw the characters so much, but he charged right in anyway, Hulk-style. It's a visual spectacle in the way a comic like this should be.