SDCC 2010 Exclusive: Loeb Reflects on 24 Issues of Red HULK

Loeb Reflects on 24 Issues of Red HULK

“Who is the Red Hulk?” For more than two years, that was the question on the mind of Hulk readers, with the true identity of the main character remaining a mystery for 22 issues. At the end of Hulk #22, the truth came out and General Thunderbolt Ross — a man characterized for decades by his hatred for Bruce Banner, the original Hulk — stood revealed as the Red Hulk.

Along the way, series writer Jeph Loeb and artist Ed McGuinness — joined by special guests including Art Adams, Frank Cho and Ian Churchill along the way — killed off Abomination, turned Rick Jones into A-Bomb, brought Betty Ross back to life as the Red She-Hulk, and had the Red Hulk punch Uatu the Watcher right in his face. And after 24 sometimes controversial issues of calculated mayhem, Loeb’s is stepping away from Hulk, as announced at Saturday’s Cup O’ Joe panel at Comic-Con International: San Diego.

You can’t get to that point without thinking back on what brought you there, so Newsarama talked exclusively with Loeb about the writer’s personal favorite parts of the run, the true nature of that two-year mystery and the current status of the more-complicated-than ever Hulk/Ross/Betty triangle.

Newsarama: Let's start off with a bit of general reflection on your Hulk run. You've written a lot of different books in your career, but I have to imagine this was especially fun due to all the different characters you got to use, the slowly unfolding mystery and the uniquely over-the-top action. What kind of special place does this run have in your career?

Jeph Loeb: We had fun and wanted the reader to have fun too. That was the whole point. Greg Pak had come off of doing this masterful storyline of Planet Hulk and World War Hulk and we wanted to do something that was a little different — and the Red Hulk enabled us to take the book a new direction. Having Ed McGuinness as my co-conspirator also set the tone. He loves to draw huge and make it so the story is coming off the page and into your face.

Nrama: One of the most fun parts had to be all the great artists you got to work with — Ed McGuinness, obviously, but also Art Adams, Frank Cho, Whilce Portacio and stuff from Ian Churchill that looked like nothing we'd seen from him before. Then everyone rounded up for issue #23. What was the experience of working with all that talent like?

Loeb: It's the best! As you can only imagine, Sal Buscema and Herb Trimpe are my personal Hulk heroes — those are the stories I grew up reading so to be able to work with them was such a thrill. I like tailoring my writing for the people I'm working with, so it really became a challenge to find the right tone and story for these master illustrators. One of my favorites was the single issue that Whilce Portacio did — Hulk #18 — the Doc Samson story. I knew we had Whilce and I wanted something that would suit his style. He just knocked it out of the park.

Nrama: Is there a moment — maybe an issue, maybe a story arc, maybe just a scene — that stands out to you as a particular highlight? Feel free to pick as many as you'd like.

Loeb: We'd be here all night! Certainly Hulk #23 stands out because everyone who worked on that book — “The Origin of the Red Hulk” — from the artists to colorists to the lettering — all of it was such a huge undertaking and it came out great from my point of view. It couldn't have happened without an amazing editiorial staff ([Mark Paniccia], Nate Cosby and even Jordan White who normally doesn't work on HULK pitched in).

And I'd be lying if I didn't say that my favorite thing that came out of the entire run are the Mini Hulk stories at the end. These started when Nate Cosby asked if I would be interested in doing something for the Marvel Adventures line that he edits. I didn't have the time, but I suggested my daughter Audrey. Something about these little guys — Blue Hulk was her creation and their stories are all hers — that sparked for her. Chris Giarrusso, who started them all off and gave the strips the look and design, and Dario Brizuela, who has been carrying them since, really brings them to life. They just make me smile. They will continue after Ed and I are gone which is total testament to how popular they've become!

Nrama: The main crux of your 24 Hulk issues were establishing the Red Hulk as a character, and teasing who it might be. We now know it’s Thunderbolt Ross. Certainly a lot of other people were hinted at, some pretty convincingly, along the way — was Thunderbolt Ross always the plan?

Loeb: From the first idea, the first conversation with Joe Quesada, it was always Ross. Anything else was a rumor or a misdirect. We told the story we set out to tell.

Nrama: Tell us a little bit about the choice to turn Thunderbolt Ross into a Hulk — did the idea maybe start with looking to turn Ross into what he'd always fought against, and then how he'd deal with being in that situation?

Loeb: Hulk Gamma and Hulk #23, both of which dealt with Ross' past and his decisions, laid out what we had intended all along. The notion that deep down, Ross coveted the Hulk's power (this was touched on a little in the second movie) was where we wanted to get to. But in order to do that, he had to become everything he hated. It was a nice echo on Banner's own story. Bruce had been picked on his whole life — burying this rage inside of him. When he finally could get the power he had always wanted — or thought he wanted — it came at this terrible price. That's what happened with Ross. How it ends though … we'll see in Hulk #24.

Nrama: Unfolding over 22 issues, the reveal of the Red Hulk's identity took longer than most were used to. Was it always scheduled to occur that way, or did you maybe detect that people were getting into the mystery aspect of it, and then wanted to keep it going for a bit longer?

Loeb: It was never intended to be a big mystery — although sometimes what you intend and what the audience perceives can be two different things. We wanted people to be invested in this new character in the Marvel Universe first and then peel back his origin. The closest we could come to what we had in mind — and in no way am I comparing it in terms of popularity — was how Wolverine was introduced. It was a long time before his full story was told and even then, it's not completely over. Knowing Red Hulk is now fully immersed in the Marvel U and that there are plans that extend past our run is a very happy thing for Ed and I.

Nrama: Betty Banner being Red She-Hulk was a bit of a shocker. Was it important to you to bring Betty back into the Hulk mythos?

Loeb: We said it a lot — it was always about Betty. The Hulk is a terrific love story — and Betty was his first love. Getting back to the triangle of Ross/Betty/Banner was critical for what we had in mind. Only now, it will be very different from ever before!

Nrama: Clearly you're busy with your new job as head of Marvel's TV department, plus Ultimate Comics: X and Ultimate Comics: New Ultimates are both still coming out, but any possibility that now that Hulk is wrapped, you'll have a new Marvel book soon? This is also the obligatory "What's the status of Captain America: White?" question.

Loeb: All of this will be answered in San Diego and by the time you read this!

Additionally, Hulk editor Mark Paniccia shared with Newsarama his thoughts on the end of Jeph Loeb’s run on the title.

“It's been really fantastic to watch this thing grow into the amazing run it's become.

I think the biggest highlight (among many) was seeing that first issue in print and holding it in my hands. A lot of work went into it and there it was, finished and just beautiful. And I can't say enough about issue 23. Getting a chance to work with all those great artists in one issue was one of those things you don't really expect. I mean you fantasize about such a thing but you don't really think it'll ever happen.

What I'm going to miss is getting Ed's pencils. He's such a great superhero artist. One of the best of our time. He was perfect for the Hulk. Dynamic. Bold. Cool. When I'd get that e-mail with a page attached I knew I'd be grinning from ear to ear when I opened it. Ed is one of my faves and he always delivered the goods!

And working with Jeph on this has been a blast. I can't tell you how many great conversations we had that started with discussing the story and then went into anything from "did you know that M.O.D.O.K. did this … " to "I found a Twinkie ad with the Wendigo and … ". It was a lot of fun and I'll miss that craziness.

One of my favorite moments was a point at the Hulk retreat with Jeph, Ed, Greg Pak, Jeff Parker, Fred Van Lente, Nate and Jordan. I looked up at the notes on the board and I knew we had something really special with WORLD WAR HULKS. And looking back at it all as a collective, it's just awesome to see it all come together better than I could have thought.”

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