Jeph Loeb’s run on Hulk ends with #24, but Marvel Comics readers most certainly have not seen the last of the Red Hulk.
Recently revealed to be long-time Hulk nemesis General Thunderbolt Ross, the Red Hulk was announced to be a new addition to the Avengers lineup on Friday afternoon’s Marvel: The Heroic Age: Avengers panel at Comic-Con International: San Diego. (Note: this interview was conducted before that announcement was made.) He’s also sticking around in Hulk, with Jeff Parker re-teaming with Atlas artist Gabriel Hardman to take over the book this September, as made official Saturday at Comic-Con during Marvel's annual Cup O' Joe panel.
Newsarama spoke exclusively to Parker about what’s next for the character, what redemption means to someone like the Red Hulk, and what kind of obstacles he'll encounter along the way.
Newsarama: Much of Jeph Loeb's run was about the Red Hulk's origin, the mystery of his identity, and establishing him as a character. It looks like your run is going to be about what's next for the Red Hulk now that he's out there in the world. What's your "take" on this Hulk? Is he a villain or a hero? (Thus far, he's been pretty hard to pin down on any type of traditional moral spectrum.)
Jeff Parker: Jeph left Red with the same kind of feel Banner's Hulk had in the 1960's — an air of unpredictability. He could be a horrible menace, he could be trying to help, no one can see, it's a case by case situation. And I think that's what you want, a Hulk makes a fantastic wildcard.
Nrama: What can you tell us about some of the conflicts he'll be facing? It sounds like readers might see him against some Marvel heroes soon.
Parker: His first trials are all fallout from the Intelligencia's recent actions. The Leader and M.O.D.O.K. left a contingency plan to start up in a month if they hadn't checked in on their networks at the regularly appointed time. The program is called “Scorched Earth,” and it implements all the plans they had amassed over the years and deemed too dangerous to use. But with the scenario of both of them falling, then no one could have the world.
A lot of this is the chickens coming home to roost. Red took a lot of liberties and crossed a lot of lines, and it's coming back to him in a big way. And there are heroes who are ready to dish out some payback.
Nrama: From what we know about the comic, it’s about the Red Hulk is in a mission for redemption. What does Ross specifically feel that he needs to be redeemed for, and what's he going to do to get it?
Parker: He delivered a lot of power and useful information into the hands of madmen, he has to atone for that. The question is, does Ross really understand that, or is he just going through the motions. The real issue is the same as with a lot of career military people when they reach the end of their service. What do they do with themselves now? All the order and structure they've always known is gone. What does life mean now? It's a crossroads, in this case for someone who now has more power than he ever had before, possibly.
Nrama: Now that we know that Red Hulk is Thunderbolt Ross, how much if any of his personality, going forward, is going to resemble the Ross we've seen over the decades, or has he been irrecoverably changed by the experience of becoming a Hulk?
Parker: That's the part I want to reserve comment on, because that's what makes it interesting. I don't expect anyone to suddenly like Ross or identify with him, but I do want you to find him fascinating and have to see where he takes the story.
Nrama: There are a lot of Hulk or Hulk-esque characters roaming around Marvel Comics right now, though it isn't publicly known at this point how many will be left by the end of Hulk #24. Will we see someone like Bruce Banner early on in your run, or are you going to keep things separate for a while, to kind of let the Red Hulk stand on his own for a bit?
Parker: Bruce is still involved, but Big Red gets his own stage too. In many ways, the Hulk books still focus on the small core group they did at the beginning, like we also have A-Bomb backups (that's who Rick Jones was transformed into) and he'll give us the kind of Hulk we never see, one who actually enjoys what he is. Over the decades, a theme has emerged, that of becoming the thing you hate/love/fear- these characters who were at ground zero when Bruce Banner became the walking atom bomb have all gradually walked in his footsteps, but have become different kinds of monsters.
Nrama: Are we going to see something of a supporting cast develop for the title, or is it basically going to continue being Red Hulk vs. the world?
Parker: I think it's now time for Red to get his own enemies and stop using everyone else's! Same with friends. And because he's a very different Hulk, his cast will be unlike what we've seen with Bruce.
Nrama: You've written a lot of Hulk-related comics recently, how does it feel to now have the reins of an ongoing?
Parker: I'm already pretty power-mad, frankly, and it just makes me worse. I've started constructing a room-sized chess board that I can move real people around on.
And yes, exhilarating. I feel I can make some big entertaining moves and follow them through in force.
Nrama: How much of a positive is it to work on this new assignment with you're already familiar with — your Atlas collaborator, Gabriel Hardman?
Parker: It's incalculable. We've gotten our process worked out so thoroughly during Atlas that we can tackle big agendas without fear. I can describe the most preposterous visual you could think of, and Hardman can make it not just believable but a joy to look at. You can get caught up in his dynamism and not realize the subtle things he's pulling off on every page. It all contributes to a very convincing, immersive whole. We go back and forth a lot to make sure a scene works, or a character comes to life. Maybe we'll try to add in some process stuff to show how we work on something, because I think readers would find it interesting.
And thank goodness we also have Bettie Breitweiser joining again to color him. She adds a whole other level and a real energy to the books. It's going to be beautiful.