By Kiel Phegley
Writer Greg Pak has been known to make a head or two spin in his day.
Whether proverbially blowing minds with the mix of panache and pathos called INCREDIBLE HERCULES with co-scribe Fred Van Lente or literally knocking noggins around in a line of Hulk
comics that stretches from "Planet Hulk
" to WORLD WAR HULK to the recently launched SKARR: SON OF HULK, Pak picks apart reader expectations with each new tale.
However as the summer draws closer and closer to its close, he's just warming up. HERCULES sees its biggest storyline yet wrap this week with the finale of the Secret Invasion tie-in "Sacred Invasion" rocking the book's status quo just as SKAAR picks up steam with its third epic alien warrior issue following next week. And that doesn't even count for September 10's debut of the Marvel Knights limited series X-MEN: MAGNETO TESTAMENT chronicling the harrowing origin of the mutant magnate or the highly anticipated new WAR MACHINE ongoing set to drop before year's end. Pak opened up about all these books and more for Marvel.com, starting with the son of a gun known as Skaar
Marvel.com: Occasionally, we'll hear the phrase "get bombed back to the Stone Age" tossed about, but in SKAAR: SON OF HULK, that's actually happened on the planet Sakaar!
] I hadn't thought of that useful old adage, but that is pretty much exactly what happened. The way I've talked about this in the past is that it's as if we've gone from this kind of imperial Roman culture that we saw in "Planet Hulk" to the Dark Ages that followed because of this terrible war and the cataclysmic events that occurred. But yeah, it seemed like the right milieu for our savage son of Hulk to cut loose and do his thing.
Marvel.com: How much of the advanced technology that once existed on the planet is still around, and how will those who have it affect Skaar and the others who lives as barbarian tribes?
I can say that you definitely have to keep on reading. Yes, this is still that sci fi world, and while the immediate vicinity of Crown City, which got blown up at the end of "Planet Hulk," is in shambles and has been reduced to people running around with swords and spears, there are definitely certain areas where there are pockets of technology and surprising developments that will crop up. You'll see a few interesting sci fi elements flip into the book as we go along.
Marvel.com: Skaar is very young, even considering the fact that he grows at an advanced rate. He hasn't even technically spoken yet in the series. How old would you say he is mentally, and will he begin to develop a personality and philosophy of his own outside that of brutish warrior sooner than later in the series?
It is this big savage, crazy coming of age story in a lot of ways. I think one of the big ideas behind the series is "What would happen if a person were thrust into a world where all he or she ever saw was insane, tooth and nail, fighting for survival violence every second?" Now, Skaar is the son of Hulk, which would also mean he's the son of Bruce Banner on some level. And he's not an idiot by any stretch of the imagination. In terms of literal years, he may be just over a year old, and while we have not yet seen him speak—mostly what he's doing is snorting, growling and chopping people up—there is intelligence behind what he's doing. If you're reading between the lines, you're seeing that he's making decisions on the way he's being treated and on the way people are treating his friends. As the book develops, we'll learn a lot more about what's going on in Skaar's head. And yes, eventually Skaar will speak.
Marvel.com: Between Princess Omaka, Axeman Bone, the slaves hoping for salvation and the disembodied voice of his mother, there seem to be a lot of folks vying to either ally themselves with or destroy Skaar. Over the long term, will any of these characters turn into allies he can really trust, or will most of them end up as obstacles to his personal growth?
The interesting thing about the book right now is that it kind of follows the typical thing where he's going along in this world and gathering up allies, but one of the twists we're working on here is that you don't really know if any of them can be trusted…including Skaar himself. I will say that there are still decent and trustworthy people on this planet. I won't say who, but there will be some surprises in terms of who ends up being ultimately the right ally or allies. Part of that coming of age process is finding out who you can trust in the world, what are the costs of that trust and finally taking that leap of faith.
Marvel.com: SKAAR #2 kicked off with a crazy old school fantasy map of the current
makeup of Sakaar in its stone aged ways. I've decided your book is a new genre which I will call "sword and smashery"?
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] I like it!
Marvel.com: What is it like playing in that kind of comic book genre? Will you be exploring the different layers and locales of the map?
Definitely. We're shortly going to discover the mysterious secrets of Prophet Rock, and eventually we're going to find out what exactly is going on in the mysterious city of Okini. And the fun thing about it is that these are parts of the world that we came up with and developed three years ago when I was working on "Planet Hulk." And they may have been mentioned in passing there, or maybe just mentioned in one of the entries in the GLADIATOR GUIDEBOOK that we did during "Planet Hulk." But these are all parts of the world that we've been thinking through literally for years. And now the son of Hulk is going to take us into other parts of this crazy world.
Marvel.com: On the exact opposite end of the map from the swords and smashing world of SKAAR, you've got your upcoming WAR MACHINE series on its way. Of late, there have been revelations that everything is not so swell for Rhodey under his armor as he's been badly burnt and connected to his machines in some surprising ways. How will your new book play off of those elements and help fill in the mysteries of Rhodey's recent past?
We're definitely going to reveal certain aspects of that in issue #1 and have some answers for you right away. But there is another deeper level of mystery that will be revealed later on down the line. But yeah, we're both answering and setting up aspects of that mystery at the same time. [Laughs
] I'm pretty darn excited about everything to do with WAR MACHINE right now. It's an incredibly exciting book to work on. And there's a whole thing we're developing in terms of what exactly is going on with Rhodey—how
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what has happened to him has affected him and how it's setting loose an entirely new kind of War Machine upon the world that not only draws upon recent continuity but also carries through on things that have been present since the beginning of that character. It's one of those projects that feels right from the very beginning, and it takes a character on a totally exciting and new direction while totally remaining true to that character's roots.
Marvel.com: War Machine has for so long been identified as a supporting player—and worked really well there—to a hero like Iron Man. Does that make it harder to break him out as a solo star, or is there more to mine from there?
It's both, because when a character works incredibly well as a supporting [cast member], it can be hard to think of how he or she interacts when he or she is suddenly in the lead role. There are certain dynamics that work really well, and when you have a character that works well in that supporting character dynamic, sometimes it can be tough finding what the voice becomes when [they become] the lead. I think one of the things that makes this book work and feel right is that the new take on the character is so strong and dramatic that it was immediately easy to find the [his] voice and made sense exactly how [he] is the lead. He's definitely the hero of his own story, and I think that the set up I've inherited has allowed for that.
That's one of the things that hooked me into the book from the beginning. Ever since I heard [editor] Bill Rosemann talk about it at one of the Marvel retreats, about the new direction they were going, I kind of sidled over to him and said, "Do you have a writer for that? Because if you don't…" [Laughs
] It immediately hooked me, and I saw how this story could work.
Marvel.com: You've got a strong background in science fiction which has shown up in everything from your early Marvel series WARLOCK to your "Planet Hulk" work. Will WAR MACHINE reflect any of those interests in the form of military sci fi or a related exploration of radical armor tech?
Well, I don't want to spoil
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anything, but actually some of the themes that were in WARLOCK are going to come back in the WAR MACHINE series in a certain way. We explore them from a different angle, but if you dug WARLOCK there may be certain echoes you see in WAR MACHINE. Definitely this is a book that's got a lot of hardware in it; there's a lot of crazy research we're doing and a lot of mindbending stuff you can get into when you've got a character that's surrounded by so much technology. I'm definitely having fun with that, and we're going to have some surprising new images and ways that this character is working that hopefully people will get a kick out of.
Marvel.com: The other big launch on the way for you is X-MEN: MAGNETO TESTAMENT, which will be the definitive origin for the X-Men's archenemy. As part of the Marvel Knights imprint, this feels like it will be a far cry from a sci fi super hero action tale as it focuses on the very serious and human drama of the Holocaust. Was it a challenge to shift gears for this real world drama?
Warren Simons is the editor of [the project] and there was a certain point when I was in the Marvel offices, and he cocked his finger at me and said, "Come here a minute." He told me about this project, and as soon as he started talking about it…well, there was a part of doing it that terrified me honestly, but I knew that this was a project I had to work on. This book more than any other I've worked on, I feel a responsibility about doing this right. Obviously because of the subject matter, it's the kind of story that needs to be told again and again and again.
To get specifically to your question, I wanted to get on a project like this because I studied political science as an undergrad, and I studied history later on, and so I've been attracted to projects which let me get into real world history and research and work those muscles. To do so on a project like this has been a real opportunity. It's been the hardest project I've ever worked on. To do this kind of research into the Holocaust, it's not like you can read back issues of INCREDIBLE HULK for research all day, and that's a blast. [Laughs
] I wouldn't call this fun. This is the most harrowing material I've ever looked at and had to immerse myself in, but it also feels like a project I was really committed to doing. Warren has been committed to this for years. We actually started developing
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this project over three years ago, and we're trying to do it right every step of the way.
The other thing the project is letting me do is write about everyday people and explore small everyday moments between people within a family. And even in my biggest, craziest Hulk stories, I was always trying to find those tiny silent moments. Those small vignettes of human interaction can be very, very funny or very, very moving. Sometimes the subtlest interactions can be the most powerful. In a story like this, we're following this family, and it's nice to write about [them] and find the moments that bring out their character in these small, subtle ways.
Marvel.com: While there won't be the kinds of gonzo mutant explosions seen in a regular X-title, what elements of Erik's magnetic powers will manifest in TESTAMENT, and what can you say about the changes that draw them out?
I don't want to say too much about that because I don't want to spoil anything, but I will say that we will see his powers, but it's not the kind of story where a super hero suddenly fixes everything. It's a story where normal people are struggling to survive in the most horrible of circumstances, and there are no easy solutions or escape.
Marvel.com: Lastly, we can't talk about your Marvel work without talking about INCREDIBLE HERCULES. What is your writing relationship like with Fred Van Lente in terms of how you two team up to deliver the goods each month?
Fred has been nothing but a pleasure to work with. Neither of us had ever co-written with anybody before, so we sat down and went, "Well, let's do it." We sit down and hammer out the pages. Usually one of us [will] pound out the page-by-page and then send it to the other guy who will tweak it, edit it, send it back. Then the first guy will tweak it and send it back until we're happy. And then we just split up the script. Sometimes he'll write the first half, I'll write the second half. Sometimes
he'll write the middle and I'll write the beginning and end. However it is, we split up the script and send pages to each other, we edit each other, and then we hammer it out. At a certain point, we'll say, "This works!"
It's been great because we'll both catch each other. Like there are points where if your head is getting tired of a certain area and you're not quite figuring out a scene, you can send it to the other guy, and he will be fresh and can fix it. He sends it back to you, and you go, "Yeah, that's the way it should be!" We're always just saving each other in that regard.
The other thing is that we're having a lot of fun because we're surprising each other. We know what the story is going to be, and we know what most of the gags are going to be, but still, when you get the pages back from somebody [else], there's something fresh and fun about how the other guy has played out a scene. I always find myself laughing when I get to certain lines, and in a way we're having fun surprising each other with the writing. That encourages us to take some risks and to have fun in a way that's paid off.
Marvel.com: Speaking of payoff, this week sees the final part of your "Sacred Invasion" storyline pitting the gods of Earth against the gods of the Skrull empire. How will the finale to this event tie in affect the status quo of HERCULES as we move forward into future adventures?
The nice thing about this is that we wouldn't have done a crossover if we didn't have an idea that made sense that was not only a fun addition to the big event but was also taking the big super story of our characters to the next level. This isn't just a little detour for Hercules
and Amadeus. This whole Skrull adventure is key in setting up very important elements in terms of the epic adventure story that they're on—particularly in terms of the last few pages of issue #120. Some of those things are going to reveal themselves, and it should be kind of a mind blower for people who have been following the book for a while. There are big consequences and ramifications coming out of this story that will affect these characters for quite a long time.
Check out more work by Greg Pak on Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited!