For writer Kieron Gillen, the challenge of coming up with an interesting story to frame a battle between "Hulked-Out" versions of Thor and Spider-Man wasn't easy to meet.
But it was even harder to resist.
With a solicitation that was kept secret until the release of last week's Hulk #22, World War Hulks: Spider-Man vs. Thor is being written by Kieron Gillen with back-up features by Chris Eliopoulos. We talked to both writers to find out more about the two-issue mini-series.
"It's a book I had to commit to. It's a story which I knew, theoretically, what I had to do to make it work," Gillen said, "but to actually throw it down on a page, I had to have 100 percent faith in the concept and what it allows you to say about the characters."
"The little voice that occasionally said... 'Wait? Character study/fight comic comparing/contrasting a hulked-out Spider-Man and Thor? Are you sure?" Gillen laughed. "Well, I ignored that guy. He knows nothing. He's the guy who said I was being foolish bringing back Death's Head in S.W.O.R.D. He's just boring and should be shunned. Also, mocked."
Gillen said he couldn't resist the offer from Marvel editor Nate Cosby to take what he was doing on Thor and write a different version of the character.
"I was intrigued. And when I heard actually what version he was talking about... well, I sort of blinked a lot," Gillen said. "It's the sort of 'High Concept' collision-pop madness which I highly approve of. Or am scared of. Or both. Either way, getting involved struck me like a whole lot of fun."
The story takes off after Hulk #22, where the Intelligencia set a trap for some Marvel superheroes, who get a huge dose of gamma radiation.
"Spider-Man and Thor landed near each other and... well, disaster follows," Gillen said. "The metaphor which leaps to mind – because I'm British, and have to play to stereotype – is drunk people. As in, situations that would be normally free of drama escalate with the slightest encouragement. What started as something as simple as 'Let's get back to the battle and stop this' turns into them being at each other's throats due to their mentalosity increasiment. Which is, I think you'll find, the technical term."
The writer said that the core personality of the two characters remains the same. "Thor's basic nobility. Spider-Man still covers his insecurity with wisecracks. And, fundamentally, both are driven by a deep seated belief in what they consider their duty," he said.
"The problem is that there's not as much intelligence behind it. Even worse, what's really reduced is their instinct control," he said. "The very root, base motivating factors rise to the surface, and they find themselves acting out upon them. The immature stuff which they keep bolted down. It's basically bits of their Id taking over, with a diminished Super-ego to keep it in check."
Although the story is filled with Hulked-Out battling, there are flashbacks to explain what drives the bulked-up heroes.
"It's a sort of dual-pronged thing. On one hand, it's a full-on epic brawl. On the other, I'm trying to use the hyper-gamma-transformation as a device to highlight bits of Spider-Manand Thor's fundamental nature," Gillen said. "So we alternate between the present day and their decisions – rendered in true hyperbolic action style – and the formative scenes in their early life which they're acting out upon – rendered in something that's much more slice-of-life. We see exactly why the characters are acting the way they are."
And before fans dismiss the issue's battle as a no-brainer, since one of the characters is an all-powerful god, Gillen said it's not as uneven as you'd expect. While Spider-Man would have no chance against Thor in a normal situation, this isn't a normal situation.
"Their powers have been changed, for a start," Gillen said. "Spider-Manis a whole lot stronger while still keeping most of his agility. And, even more importantly, their self-control and focus is totally warped. I'm stepping close to the superheroic cliché, but the things that really make Thor and Spider-Man so formidable is their personalities. That's not all there. It's there, not in their force of arms, where they've been weakened."
Eliopoulos, who's writing a back-up story that follows a battle between Hulked-Out Cyclops and Iceman, said he had a similar response when he heard the idea behind the "Hulked-Out" tie-ins.
"I think I said, 'Huh?' Basically I was handed a bunch of comics and scripts to read through and thought this was totally a fun and crazy idea," Eliopoulos said. "What I found daunting was writing for continuity. I'm used to going off and writing and not really worrying about if it jibed with what has gone before, but in this story it goes back to the very relationship of two of the original X-Men, so it had to have close scrutiny. I realized that every time I said, 'How hard could it be?' I should have been punched in the nose."
The writer ended up writing a story that explores the relationship between Cyclops and Iceman, and to find out why they are the way they are. "Their personalities when Hulked-out is just a magnifying glass on those character traits," Eliopoulos said. "Iceman is always goofy and never taking things seriously — why? Cyclops is always trying to be proper and do the right thing, even Hulked-out. Why? So, we go back and explore that a bit."
He said the story ended up being a character study with a lot of punching and fighting. "I think any fan of the X-Men will really get a kick out of this story. It's two of the original members and finding out what makes them tick," Eliopoulos said. "I really relate to both of them and man, I'd love to be able to write an Iceman series. Tell everyone to let me do that!"