By Eric Drumm WORLD WAR HULK has come to its crashing conclusion. After an event like this, one question sticks out like a green sore thumb: What happens now? Writers Greg Pak (WORLD WAR HULK) and Fred Van Lente (MODOK'S 11), along with the scorching pencils of Khoi Pham (X-FACTOR) answer that question with the emergence of INCREDIBLE HERC. We're sure, dear reader, that you're scratching your head. We assure you, it's not a typo. It's just about the most awesome thing that could happen. Smashing his way from the savage planet of Sakaar back to Earth to raise hell on those who banished him, the Hulk declared war on all those who stood in his way. Hulk made an enemy out of just about anyone in tights, but there were a few that sympathized with the bum wrap that Jade Jaws was the victim of. Hercules, along with boy genius Amadeus Cho, Angel, Namora and Scorpion saw the Hulk as someone who could use a friend (or an extra fist), and fought alongside him and his Warbound. These renegades threw caution and registration laws to the wind as they fought to clear Hulk's name and justify his cause. While Hulk may have been subdued and Earth spared the full extent of his rage, his comrades carry the torch. And beginning with INCREDIBLE HULK issue #111, on sale November 21, the title changes to the rather telling INCREDIBLE HERC. But just what is this all about, a Hulk book without the Hulk? How'd all this come about? "We originally wanted to do a RENEGADES book after the WWH issues of INCREDIBLE HULK," says Mark Paniccia, editor of all things Hulk—and now Herc as well, "but when we saw the undeniable chemistry of Hercules and Amadeus Cho (the smart guy and the strong guy), we thought there might be a lot more potential in focusing on just those two characters. [We felt] that we could offer fans something a little different than another team book." Aside from some Grecian-style smashing, what lies ahead for the brains and the brawn? "In the wake of world WORLD WAR HULK, Hercules, Amadeus Cho and the rest of the renegades all fought on Hulk's side," explains Fred Van Lente. "At the end of WORLD WAR HULK, these two, Hercules and Cho, are the last two unrepentant renegades. "S.H.I.E.L.D. wants them and the Avengers want them, so they basically become the most wanted unregistered heroes in America," adds Van Lente. "So the initial arc is basically 'The Fugitive' with Hercules, and the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. are trying to hunt down and incarcerate and possibly kill him. And Hercules's position is made worse by the fact that his eternal 3,000-year-old arch nemesis, Ares, his older brother, is now an Avenger and now has the political clout that he once had."
Threading in elements from current Marvel goings-on and into what Greg Pak created throughout "Planet Hulk" and WORLD WAR HULK, HERC sits squarely into the hot-bed of the Marvel U. But Van Lente doesn't travel this road alone! Oh, no, he's working side-by-side with Greg Pak on INCREDIBLE HERC.
"We spoon creatively," coos Van Lente about his collaboration with Pak. "I shouldn't have said that. It's been wonderful. Greg actually only lives two [subway] stops [away] from me. It's not totally an email thing. We hang out in restaurants and bars and kick ideas back and forth. It's very simple. I write half an issue and he writes half an issue and then we put it together and make changes and we talk about it. He does some stuff that I love and some stuff I don't like and vice versa. Eventually it comes out and both of us agree that this is what we want, we send it to the editors. Then it's us versus the editors!"
The editors may rule with a Stark-tech iron fist, but Paniccia's happy there's so much synergy between his writers.
"They are the Kirk and Spock of comics writing—if those two characters were high on sugar all the time," he says proudly of the two New York Hulkamaniacs.
"They actually make a pretty ingenious writing team and play off each others' strengths very well," adds Paniccia. "They're a gas when they're in a room together and the ideas just keep coming, absurd stuff that they somehow make work."
Greg Pak feels the love as well, saying, "Working with Fred is a constant pleasure. I literally laugh out loud when I get his pages.
"It's been a great process," says Pak, beaming. "I think Fred and I really bring out the best in each other. We're at the point now where we're comfortable enough and having enough fun that we're trying some really crazy stuff and using each other to help make it all work."
Artist Khoi Pham agrees that this is a match made in Hulk heaven, and has been just as excited as we are to see the book in action.
"Those guys make it easy," he says of the working relationship. "Obviously it's a great story, it's a great script. They always have references in all the scripts, there is a link so I can see exactly what they're talking about which makes my job a whole lot easier. It's a lot of action, it's fun to do. Plus, they are good with the feedback, so I'm enjoying it. It's a whole lot of fun."
While it was once a Hulk book and now a Herc book, fun is still spelled S-M-A-S-H, right?
"Yes! With a capital Y," gushes Van Lente on the smashtasitc prospects. "We've got Ares, we've got Wonder Man, we've got Black Widow, we've got all the MIGHTY AVENGERS characters. And because we've got Hercules flashing back to his adventures in ancient Greece, we've got man-eating birds, we've got hydras, we've got the legions of Troy. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not! Its relentless awesomeness."
"Its one big, long action sequence," chimes in Pham. "It's a big 'Bad Boys 2' kind of ride."
"Even though Hulk isn't going to appear other than in flashback in the series," says Van Lente. "He does exert a mighty influence over the book formally named THE INCREDIBLE HULK. The first arc takes place in the 72 hours following WORLD WAR HULK, with Herc and Cho making their way through New Jersey. So it's essentially 'Escape From New Jersey.'
"Amadeus Cho figures out that there is a way to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D., but he needs some of the Hulk's tech to do it."
Hercules may be rising, but Greg Pak says that it's all in the name of broadening the Hulk's giant reach in the Marvel Universe. "One of the great pleasures of working on 'Planet Hulk' and WORLD WAR HULK was having the chance to vastly expand the Hulk's supporting cast," he says of his epic masterpiece.
"In the fullness of time, it'll be interesting to see how their adventures may come back to affect the life and mythos of the Hulk himself," adds Pak. "And then in the short term, there are some very interesting parallels between the anger management issues that Herc, Amadeus, and the Hulk all share. The shadow of the Hulk's tragedy is always in the background in this book—the unspoken (well, unspoken until now, I guess) question is whether Herc and Amadeus will be able to avoid their friend's mistakes or whether they, too, will learn the terrible price of rage. And, of course, there's tons of smashing. What's not to like?"
Check out INCREBILE HERC #111 by Fred Van Lente, Greg Pak and Khoi Pham, on sale November 21.