Last year at Comic-Con International: San Diego, Jeff Parker was announced as succeeding Jeph Loeb as writer of Hulk, the ongoing series chronicling the adventures of the Red Hulk — the transformed version of the Green Hulk-hunting Thunderbolt Ross.
Starting in October’s Hulk #42, Parker preps the Red Hulk for a major mission — taking on The Sultan Magnus, dubbed by the writer as “the Middle Eastern Dr. Doom,” following the death of one of his old friends. The five-issue arc, announced Thursday afternoon at Comic-Con International: San Diego and titled “Hulk of Arabia,” also guest stars the Secret Avengers, who do their best to try and calm Ross down — which never seems to work too well when dealing with a Hulk. Patrick Zircher, fresh off of the currently unfolding Mystery Men, joins in on art for the arc.
So who is this Sultan Magnus fellow, anyway? And how has he made an enemy of the Hulk? Newsarama tracked Parker down via email to ask these questions and more.
Newsarama: Jeff, we'll get to the upcoming stuff in just a bit, but let's take just a slight step back first. You were announced as the new writer of Hulk at last year's Comic-Con, making this effectively your first anniversary on the book. How would you assess your run on the book so far? How has your view of the title character changed in that time?
Jeff Parker: I feel like we've accomplished a lot in the past year — moving Red Hulk off into his own space but still keeping a strong connection to the legacy of The Hulk. I hear a lot of readers telling me, Gabe Hardman and Bettie Breitweiser that we made them care about a character who used to anger them, and that makes me happy. I've certainly come to identify with Ross a lot more over the past year.
Nrama: This arc begins with an old friend of Thunderbolt Ross being killed. It seems like there's definitely a lot of territory to be explored with Ross's past, given that there's still a lot we don't know about the guy before he started chasing the Hulk. How fertile is that ground for potential stories?
Parker: It's wide open — Ross' whole life wasn't just about chasing the Hulk all over the world. In the upcoming Omegex 3-parter, we begin to fully acknowledge that and go way back to his earliest days.
Nrama: You've added a lot of new adversaries to the Hulk's world during your run, and it looks like we're getting a new one in this arc. What can you tell us about Sultan Magus, and how he ends up on Hulk's radar?
Parker: Dagan Shah, a.k.a. The Sultan Magus, is essentially going to be the Middle Eastern Dr. Doom, in regards to the role he'll fill in the Marvel Universe. He's struggled for years to keep his people alive and now has more than enough power to do it.
Nrama: On that note, Fortean is still in the picture for the foreseeable future, correct?
Parker: Yes. General Fortean fulfills that circular structure of history where there will always be a military response to The Hulk. Just in case Ross ever forgets what he put Bruce Banner through!
Nrama: The Secret Avengers show up as part of the "Hulk of Arabia" arc. Since the team's been kind of established as "different members for the sake of the mission" type of operation, which characters can we expect to see? And might this conflict affect Red Hulk's relationship with the Avengers proper?
Parker: Two people who had a run in with Red in the past, Black Widow and Valkyrie are on the mission. Also another military man, War Machine. But Steve Rogers is also going to recruit a character we haven't seen him work with before, who I'm really excited to have in the book.
Nrama: The upcoming arc is set in the Middle East, a region that's obviously long inspired fiction in a variety of ways. How did you arrive at placing the story there? Given that we're talking about a story that involves the Middle East and the US government, how much are real world events reflected in the comic?
Parker: I think Patrick and I both felt the region was a relatively untapped source for great conflict in the books. It's certainly timely, as the whole of the Middle East is undergoing big changes. We don't call out specific events, but we do echo a lot of what is really happening. Dagan Shah's new country of Sharzhad is fictional, but we also reference real ones like Egypt, Libya and Qatar. To me, it's like Iron Man being involved in Vietnam originally — why shy away from it?
Nrama: Your run on Hulk has had some shorter story arcs with long-running plot threads that continue throughout. How long of a story is "Hulk of Arabia"?
Parker: It's five issues, so it's a longer, more dedicated arc. Since we've started building in double-ship months, we can embrace this length of story without dominating too much of the year. I do like to tell lots of stories fast, as you say — but the scope of this lets us do a number of different things within the main story.
Nrama: Patrick Zircher, who drew this month's issue #36, is back on art for "Hulk of Arabia," fresh off of Mystery Men. How has collaborating with him been?
Parker: It's been a dream! Patrick comes at everything with a wealth of ideas, things that spur the plot and characters even farther. He's meticulous with his art, constantly making changes to get more power out of a scene. And he's not remotely afraid to go big. I think you'll find this story reminds you of some of the wilder concepts Jack Kirby would dive into, because Zircher has a world-class imagination. And the skills to back it up!Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!