By Chris Arrant
Marvel Comics has become known for its eclectic menagerie of characters over the years, and writer Jeff Parker embraces them all with glee as writer of HULK, THUNDERBOLTS and a contributor to the “Circle of Four” story arc in VENOM. As the New Year unfolds, Parker has positioned his books as ground zero for some major events like HULK’s milestone issue #50, the return of the original Thunderbolts, and more.
First breaking into comics as an artist, Parker evolved into one of Marvel’s most versatile writers with work on titles like ATLAS and X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. With his current slate, he’s turned a group of incarcerated super villains into a time-traveling team of underdog heroes and carved out a new life for Thunderbolt Ross as he settles into the role of Red Hulk. Marvel.com spoke with Parker earlier this week about these upcoming projects and what happens when Red Hulk hits the Vegas strip.
|HULK #48 cover by Butch Guice|
Marvel.com: HULK #50 hit stores in April, Jeff, so can you tell us what we can expect coming up?
Jeff Parker: Because he still answers to Steve Rogers' requests, Red Hulk goes hunting Venom as an AWOL soldier, and gets pulled into battle with an enormous occult menace. This follows him out of the VENOM series as it kicks off a supernatural arc drawn by Carlo Pagulayan, who excels at the bizarre imagery such stories entail.
Marvel.com: We’ll be asking you about that VENOM arc, “Circle of Four,” in a bit, but right now I want to focus on the HULK, specifically Red Hulk. How has it been to define Red Hulk as a solo character and develop his cast of characters around him?
Jeff Parker: Really rewarding. He's been running into/working with a lot of different heroes, but most don't connect with him. Then comes Machine Man, who is methodical and all about the mission. That is the kind of thing Thad Ross really likes.
He also really likes Annie the Life Model Decoy from Gamma Base, though he seems completely baffled that he is entering into such a non-traditional relationship with a non-human. But he crossed a line in becoming a
Marvel.com: Speaking of exploring new ground, I read that the Eternals show up soon. What can you say about that?
Jeff Parker: This year we're going to be exploring the concept of gods in the Marvel Universe, and the idea that when you look at what man throughout history has considered a god, isn't that what the modern super hero is?
The Eternals are strongly considering their place in humanity. They often decide that they shouldn't interfere with us because they're so powerful, but now there are lots of contenders to that level of power who interfere all the time. And haven't the Eternals been here for ages; isn't it their planet too? Shouldn't they maybe step in and deal with these super people who seem to bring the world to the brink of destruction so often?
|HULK #49 cover by John Romita Jr.|
Main Eternals like Zuras and Ikarus point out the explosion in the super population and the especially worrying trend that there are suddenly more Hulks. And the first one, as a rule, has not always been the most stable of all-powerful creatures. So with this growing dei-paranoia, they approach Red Hulk, and you can imagine where things might go from there!
Marvel.com: One place I’d like to go from there with you is to talk about VENOM, which you mentioned earlier. You’re joining with GHOST RIDER writer Rob Williams and VENOM writer Rick Remender to tell a unique story-arc inside that crosses your characters as well as X-23. You’re doing VENOM #13.3, so what does your issue cover?
Jeff Parker: I’m part three, where things go really wrong!Marvel.com: Exactly! Digging deeper however, this story takes place in Las Vegas. The Hulk has a long history with Las Vegas, but can you tell us how Red Hulk takes to the town?
Jeff Parker: He doesn't get much time to play the slots or meet dancehall girls; it's mostly coming apart as soon as he gets there.Marvel.com: How does the team dynamic work between Red Hulk, and Venom, X-23 and
Jeff Parker: You know how some characters are put together and just click like a unit, a well-oiled machine? This isn't that team. They make the most dysfunctional lineup of Masters of Evil look like the Fantastic Four.
Marvel.com: Speaking of the Fantastic Four, seeing this team together reminds me of a fun-house mirror version of the replacement Fantastic Four team with Hulk, Wolverine, Spider-Man and Ghost Rider. Was that intentional?
|VENOM #13 cover by Stefano Caselli|
Jeff Parker: Oh yes! We even lucked up and got Walt Simonson to do a cover; everyone was thrilled when that came in. His original story was just so full of crazy energy and we wanted something that gave that same feel. I always loved when his Fantastic Four headed out to Monster Island and The Hulk took the pilot position instead of someone like Ghost Rider who you'd expect. I don't know how many times I've read and re-read those issues.
Marvel.com: What’s it like to work in tandem with Rob Williams and Rick Remender to tell this story?
Jeff Parker: It's like working with two other myselfs, if one had an English accent and the other a Tin Tin haircut. We've had such an easy time trading ideas and suggestions, it fools you into thinking writers teaming up is a good idea. I hope we get the chance to do it again.
Marvel.com: Artist Julian Totino Tedesco works with you on this issue, fresh from illustrating the covers to the upcoming SEASON ONE books. What do you think his particular skill set allow you to do with the story?
Jeff Parker: Julian is one of those artists who can draw anything, so the sky's the limit. I lucked [out] big-time there. If you're an artist, just looking at his pages will hit that nerve that makes you want to draw; you can just enjoy his lines.
Marvel.com: One thing people already enjoy is your run on THUNDERBOLTS. In recent issues you’ve transported the Thunderbolts through time and it’s really taken the book in a new direction. What prompted this, and how has the change-up been for you as a writer?
|THUNDERBOLTS #170 cover by Joe Quinones|
Jeff Parker: Editor Tom Brennan suggested it, and it's the kind of story I love to do. Because then I get to do the kinds of stories I normally can't: Jack the Ripper! King Arthur's Knights! What's interesting is how well our team has gone into these other ages. You always see heroes going back into other scenarios, but it gets really interesting when villains do. For instance, artist Kev Walker and I get to show why the Knights of the Round Table were a big deal: they're the super heroes of their time.
Marvel.com: You mentioned Kev Walker, and it brings up another unique aspect of the book: the rotating artists. For THUNDERBOLTS, Kev and Declan Shalvey have rotated arcs and really built up a pattern here. What’s it like having those two on-board and working in concert like this?
Jeff Parker: Like being an astronaut who doesn't have to wonder if the rocket can make it to the moon, because these artists can do anything described and take it further. Kev and Declan are both expert storytellers; I rarely argue if they have ideas about changing a scene, because they're trying to get more out of it and really show what they can do. Both constantly toss up great ideas that I work into the stories. As different as their styles are, they match the tone of the book which is important above all. THUNDERBOLTS works a very specific way and not just anyone can come in and click with that outrageous, over-the-top tone that still makes the characters matter. Matthew Southworth pulled it off and did it though for the Luke Cage focus in #168, and it looked great there. It's a very high bar of cartooning art, and I find that a lot of artists in particular pick up the book for their work.
|THUNDERBOLTS #172 cover by Mark Bagley|
What you may not notice as much is who holds it all together like magical glue: colorist Frank Martin. I've not seen anyone who can adapt to different artists the way he does; he thinks very hard about his approach with each one, or even with the same one like when Kev goes for a different feel, like in the upcoming Songbird issue. It's like a code that he has to crack, and he always does it. Go back and look at his work with wildly different artists and you'll be able to see. Frank also thinks hard about what will get the mood and story beats across. Simply, he's an amazing professional.
Marvel.com: And you’re about to pull out all the stops with the much-hyped face-off between the current Thunderbolts and the original team. What can you tell us about that face-off?
Jeff Parker: This is going to be a definitive chapter in Thunderbolts history, and it's fitting that it would result from them running against the first incarnation of the team. Declan is drawing it, and he's killing on every page; I think he's excited about the importance of what happens. That said I don't want to make it sound like it's all about the events that happen; it's still about the entertainment of it all, and how fun it is to see the current team and the original regarding each other. Some notable reactions are from Baron