From One War into Another

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Now that Marvel’s Civil War crossover has come to its close, looking back there was one omission. One big, green omission. The Illuminati – a group including the likes of Reed Richards, Tony Stark and Black Bolt – shipped the Hulk off the planet via a rocket. The Hulk landed on a planet where he set about liberating the inhabitants, and then turned his sights back onto the planet that discarded him.

BF talked with Greg Pak, who’s pen was behind this brave new world, and got his feelings about how Planet Hulk turned out, as well as a few hints of what is to come.

BROKEN FRONTIER: How much doubt was there when you first proposed "Planet Hulk"?

GREG PAK: Actually, the project was first proposed to me – [Marvel Editor-in-chief] Joe Quesada had a vision of the Hulk on an alien planet in an arena fighting monsters with a battleaxe.  When I heard about the project, and heard they were thinking of me as the writer, I had no doubt at all in my mind – I was hooked from the word "battleaxe."  Actually, I was hooked from the world "Hulk," but "battleaxe" was a pretty awesome bonus.

BF: Were you surprised by how well the story arc has done, especially since it was so different from past Hulk tales?

GP: I don't know that I was surprised, exactly, but I was certainly relieved and excited and grateful.  The Hulk has a history of crazy sci-fi adventures and has even been exiled from the Earth before – so the basic concept of the story wouldn't come as a total shocker to long-time Hulk fans.  The question was always how well we'd handle the concept. 

But I had a huge amount of confidence in my amazing collaborators and, under the expert guidance of Hulk editor extraordinaire Mark Paniccia, had hammered a detailed outline that laid out an epic story we all really believed in.  So confidence was high, although fingers were certainly crossed as the first issue hit stores.

BF: After the first few issues, and it was obvious that "Planet Hulk" was a hit, did you feel more at ease, and have more leeway with the characters?

GP: I definitely felt more at ease, but the story progressed just as we'd planned.  However, the strong fan response definitely confirmed for us that the plan was the right one.

BF: Since most of these characters and the setting of Sakaar were your doing, did Marvel put any restrictions on the world outside of what you did to the Hulk?

GP: I had an astoundingly free hand in creating the world of Sakaar and all of the supporting characters.  It was really an amazing opportunity – and I can't thank Joe and Mark and all the “big cheeses” enough for it.

BF: Now that the end of "Planet Hulk" is arising, let's talk a bit more about the world of "Planet Hulk". How much of the story did you have worked out when you begun the plotting?

GP: The whole story was outlined.  I knew exactly how the final issue would play out before I ever began writing the first issue.  This was a huge help – it meant we could seed elements in the very beginning that wouldn't pay off until the end. 

In fact, from Day One of "Planet Hulk," we pretty much knew how "World War Hulk" would pan out – and had a good idea for the third part of our epic trilogy.  So there are things we set up last February that are going to pay off almost a year from now.

BF: Were there any characters that were last-minute additions that came about well after the plotting had begun?

GP: The robot Arch-E-5912 is the only semi-principal character who wasn't planned from the beginning.  He started off as lava monster fodder in Incredible Hulk #93, but later, particularly after Miek had gone through his transformation, I kind of felt the need for a lighter character to toss in a quip here and there, and Arch-E-5912 rose through the ranks.  Oh, and the subplot with Elloe's mother and Miek's Queen were developed as we went along.  The outline had spaces for the conflicts those characters represented, but the characters themselves didn't materialize until I wrote the actual scripts.

BF: Were there any aspects of "Planet Hulk" that you wanted to do, but never came to fruition?

GP: There's a side story with Elloe being tempted to betray the Hulk and become the new Queen of the Imperials that would have been nice to explore a little more fully than we the room for. 

And early on, I had this insane idea that one of Hulk's cohorts should be a crazy dog boy – the idea was that it was one of those dogs the Russians or the US shot into space and left to die, but it had gone through a wormhole and through some cosmic twist had evolved into an intelligent creature and then ended up on Sakaar.  I still love the idea.  But instead, that character became Miek, an oppressed native insectivorid, which worked better in terms of helping set up the imperialist world of the planet.

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BF: Is there any part of the story that you feel didn't come out as you wanted? What part of the plotting do you wish you could take back?

GP: Right now I'm too close to the whole thing to want to take anything back.  I feel like Tolkien – my only regret is that we couldn't make it longer!

BF: How much of Sakaar existed before you were given the reins of Incredible Hulk?

GP: None of it.  That was one of the huge gifts of the project – they let me create an entire world, with its own history, zoology, politics, and mythology. An incredible experience. This is a good place to throw in some major props for pencilers Carlo Pagulayan and Aaron Lopresti, who made that world come to life, and Anthony Flamini, who helped describe and develop the details of the world in the Planet Hulk Gladiator Guidebook.

BF: Do you feel there are still stories to tell? Have you put any thought into telling more of  the lives of the denizens of Sakaar?

GP: Absolutely, there's more to tell.  And it looks like we're going to. I can't say anything more specific right now, but we haven't seen the last of the characters, world, and themes of "Planet Hulk."

BF: Your take on Hulk was one that was intelligent and driven to make a difference. At the beginning, did you have to wrestle with how to portray the Big Guy?

GP: I always knew that the Hulk needed to be smart to survive on Sakaar and to fully experience the emotional epic we had in store for him.  But in writing that first issue, it took a few passes to get the right feel for just how he'd talk. 

In the end, I found myself thinking about Clint Eastwood in his Spaghetti Western days – he wouldn't say much, but when he talked, it'd be tough, hard, and to the point. And usually either scary or funny, or both.

BF: Was there any specific influences for any of the characters?

GP: I'm a huge fan of Bill Mantlo, who had a classic run on the Hulk and also wrote the Micronauts, one of my all time favorite Marvel comics. In Micronauts, Mantlo had an insectivorid character named Bug whose dialogue was punctuated by "tik", so in a bit of an homage, the dialogue of our insectivorid character Miek is punctuated by "kik."

BF: If you could have stranded any other hero besides the Hulk on a planet of your own making, who would it have been?

GP: That's an awesome question.  I'm working with Hercules as one of the major heroes in Incredible Hulk #106-109, and I think he'd be a great character for that kind of experience.  Maybe just 'cause he already has the sandals. 

But I actually think Tony Stark would be the best character to throw in there in terms of the emotional story – it'd be pretty hardcore to make him have to experience what he put the Hulk through. 

And then there's a great "What If" story out there involving Banner – what if Banner, not Hulk, had ended up on Sakaar?  Of course, that story might be just one page long – Banner gets killed when the shuttle crashes.  But if he survived the crash, maybe Banner's smarts could keep him alive for a while – and then might we eventually end up with... Bruce Banner, Warlord of Sakaar?  Okay, I'm gonna stop talking about this one – I need to email Mark and start pitching a one-shot!

BF: Was it liberating to be able to play with a Marvel character without any real restrictions, as the world was yours to do what you wanted with?

GP: Absolutely.  But what made it even better was that we knew the huge emotional story we were telling – and knew how it would all tie back into the Marvel Universe in the end.  We got to tell this insane, crazy epic – and have it really matter in terms of the Hulk's life and the Marvel Universe.  Solid gold.

BF: You are also writing Battlestar Galactica for Dynamite. Did writing two science fiction tales simultaneously help or hurt, or was there no effect at all?

Click to enlargeClick to enlargeGP: The themes of Battlestar Galactica and "Planet Hulk" are distinct enough that I don't find myself thinking about one while writing the other.  But both books involve year-long storylines, and in terms of structure and pacing, it's been helpful to compare strategies for the different books as I've gone along. 

Incidentally, the first Battlestar Galactica trade is supposed to hit stores in the next few weeks – I'd humbly encourage anyone interested in sci fi with big ideas and strong characterization to check it out.  It helps to have some familiarity with the show, but some of the biggest fans of the comic have never seen the show – so don't be shy!

BF: Obviously you can't give away what happens in the final issue of "Planet Hulk", but do you think the Hulk could ever truly be happy?

GP: He can absolutely be truly happy.  But whether the universe will let him stay that way for more that thirty seconds remains to be seen...

BF: With the Hulk returning back to Earth, can you hint to us what other creatures of Sakaar will come back with him?

GP: At least three of his Warbound companions will join him.  Beyond that, I can say no more.  But you definitely don't want to miss Incredible Hulk #105 and World War Hulk #1.

BF: Having to make Hulk interact in the confines of Marvel Universe, does it feel like a restriction compared to the last year of Incredible Hulk?

Click to enlargeClick to enlargeGP: We planned for "World War Hulk" from the first day we talked about "Planet Hulk," so his return is an organic and essential part of the great epic story we're telling, and I'm having a blast writing it. Sure, there's more coordination required, as the book now has to coordinate with dozens of ongoing characters and storylines in the Marvel Universe, but everyone's on board with the story and I'm having a huge amount of fun talking with the various writers and editors about the different tie-ins and crossovers.

BF: Having Hulk off-world, are you looking forward to getting to take part in Marvel's  post-Civil War world?

GP: You bet.  We got to dip into the Civil War storyline in our Amadeus Cho backup story in Incredible Hulk #100; now we get to wade right into the conflicts and divisions within the Marvel Universe as the Hulk returns to Earth.

BF: Finally, how long are you scheduled to write for the Hulk after "World War Hulk"?

GP: After "Planet Hulk" and "World War Hulk" comes part three of our trilogy – can't say more than that right now, but it's gonna be awesome.

Check out the conclusion of the Planet Hulk when Incredible Hulk #105 hits stands this Wednesday, April 4th. Then get ready for the World War Hulk. And be sure to check out www.pakbuzz.com to keep an eye on all of Greg Pak’s other work.

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