Behold: A Dark Son...and His Daddy!

Tonight: Since it's too late to make anything resembling a terrific (or even passable) blog entry, I thought I'd share a third convention sketch. This one's again from New York Comic Con 2010, and it's by writer/artist Scott Reed of Realm of Kings: Son of Hulk and Incredible Hulks: Enigma Force fame! Since he'd only written the listed miniseries, but I knew Scott was also a terrific cartoonist in his own right (see The Last Odyssey), I thought he'd get a kick out of drawing Hiro-Kala, son of Hulk and brother to Skaar. I'd say he acquitted himself admirably, don't you think? (Thanks, Scott!)

More bloggy goodness tomorrow!



That's What I Want: My Top Requested Graphic Novels of '11 (2)

Here we go with the second of two entries about the graphic novel collections I'd most like to see. They include both existing collections which have sadly fallen out-of-print, as well as original collections that have never seen the light of day. Allow me to start with one out-of-alphabetical-order pick that honestly should have been in yesterday's entry, and then we'll continue with the final seven eight picks!

Batman: Prodigal (DC)
(Collecting Batman #512-514; Batman: Shadow of the Bat #32-34; Detective Comics #679-681; and Robin #0, 11-13.) After all that's happened in the world of Batman over the last year, with Dick Grayson inheriting the cowl in the wake of Bruce Wayne's apparent demise, then continuing as Batman in Gotham while the returned Bruce begins an international Batmen recruiting drive, it's truly a wonder to me that this collection can only be found at hyper-inflated costs on eBay and amazon.com. This storyline, released in the aftermath of everything that began with "Knightfall," showed what happened when Batman left the cowl in the hands of the man best qualified for the role, instead of the noob Azrael. It's an intriguing character study that touches on all the major bases such a storyline should. It's also, in context, an excellent prologue for current events. Because it's relevant to the beginning of "Prodigal," I've also taken the liberty of including one extra story here: "Brothers in Arms" from Robin #0, a Zero Month spotlight on Robin and Nightwing that paved the way for this arc. It's the single improvement in an otherwise terrific volume. (And hey, DC? While we're on the subject, it's well past time for that collection of "Batman: Year 3" by Wolfman & Perez. Okay?)

Iron Man: The Iron Scream (Marvel)
(Collecting Iron Man #163-170.) I'm really shocked that this collection hasn't already been done, considering its conclusion is already available in the Iron Man: Iron Monger Premiere Classic hardcover. Written by comics vet Denny O'Neil and drawn by Luke McDonnell, this is the storyline that introduced Tony Stark's chief competitor, Obadiah Stane (seen in the film!), and set the two on a collision course. Playing a game of chess with real people as the pieces, Stane takes Stark to the edge of sanity in a storyline that ends with our hero back to drowning his sorrows away, leading to Rhodey donning the steel-mesh armor for the first time. That's right, it's the start of the long road that leads to the birth of War Machine, and it all starts here! What better reason to bring this storyline in print?

Morbius the Living Vampire: A Stillborn Genesis (Marvel)
(Collecting Adventure Into Fear #20-31.) Since Marvel has been releasing the rest of what would be in an Essential Morbius volume in their Vampire Tales collections, it'd be great to see them release the other solo Morbius stories in living color, which brings me to this volume, written by Steve Gerber and Doug Moench, with art by Paul Gulacy and Frank Robbins. These are Morbius stories with a more sci-fi bent than in his Vampire Tales series. The series guest-stars Blade and Simon Stroud from the Tomb of Dracula and Creatures on the Loose strips, respectively. An entertaining diversion, this volume could even pave the way for more Morbius the Living Vampire collections from the 1990s series!

The Punisher: Purgatory & Revelation (Marvel)
(Collecting Punisher: Purgatory #1-4 and Punisher/Wolverine: Revelation #1-4.) Franken-Castle? One of my favorite Punisher stories. I'm not a typical Punisher fan, and I don't like typical Punisher stories. The last time I enjoyed the character before then was in these two storylines, which have an impressive pedigree. It's not often you get a Punisher story drawn by Bernie Wrightson, with covers by Joe Jusko. The story is about as ridiculous as Frank Castle's ever gotten, right up there with having his skin turned black. He commits suicide and gets brought back as an angel of vengeance, with an arsenal from God. He finds out his guardian angel screwed the pooch the day Maria and the kids were killed. This collection of eight issues over two miniseries, including a team-up with Wolverine, would easily fit in one volume. We've got Franken-Castle. Why not Angel Punisher?

The Spectre: Crimes and Punishments (DC)
(Collecting The Spectre (1992) #1-4.) John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake are one of the best duos in comics, with work ranging from the creator-owned Grimjack, to the Superman-as-western riff The Kents, to the elemental fury of Firestorm and the alien worlds of the Martian Manhunter. The apotheosis of their collaboration is this 62-issue series that lasted from 1992 to 1998. Noteworthy for its exploration of Christian mythology, its striking covers by fantasy's foremost artists, and its development of the Jim Corrigan character far beyond anything seen over the previous half a decade, Ostrander and Mandrake's Spectre stands with James Robinson's Starman as one of the most consistent creative visions in DC history. Not only does it deserve a re-release of the first volume, it also deserves the royal treatment: either a whole series of graphic novel collections, or a deluxe omnibus release. It's time to show the masses that the Spectre, when written well, was one of the best damn characters and one of the best damn comics, period.

Spider-Man: The Cosmic Adventures (Marvel)
(Collecting The Amazing Spider-Man #326-329; Quasar #7; The Spectacular Spider-Man #158-160; and Web of Spider-Man #59-61, 64-65.) While the majority of these issues are now available in the brand-new Acts of Vengeance Omnibus, let's face it: that collected edition is a $100 hardcover and hardly something the casual Spider-Man fan would feel comfortable purchasing. Instead, I strongly suggest Marvel release an updated version of this collection from 1993, with the original Ron Lim cover, and with the additions of Spidey's guest appearance in Quasar and the two-part event where all the bad guys came back to fight Spidey after his cosmic powers had left him. Certainly a $30 softcover is more economical than that epic tome that's already available.

Spider-Man: The Owl/Octopus War (Marvel)
(Collecting Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #72-79.) While it may be readily accessible in two Essential collections, a Premiere Classic hardcover edition of this eight-part storyline in full color would be welcome indeed. In 1983, Bill Mantlo and Al Milgrom crafted what I consider to be among the best clashes between Spider-Man and one of his deadliest foes, Dr. Octopus. Guest-starring the Black Cat, and co-featuring the villainy of the Owl, this saga encapsulates just about everything I enjoyed about early 1980s Spidey books. I've already told listeners of Jon Westhoff's and my Spectacular Spider-Cast all about my love for this arc, but it bears repeating here. If you've never read this storyline, you're really missing out--as is Marvel by withholding this terrific collection. 'Nuff said.

Spider-Man Presents: The Mark of the Man-Wolf (Marvel)
(Collecting The Amazing Spider-Man #124-125, 189-190; Creatures on the Loose #30-37; Giant-Size Super-Heroes #1; Marvel Premiere #45-46; Marvel Team-Up #37; Peter Parker. the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #3; and Savage She-Hulk #13-14.) Of all the neglected monster characters, John Jameson as the Man-Wolf may rank atop the leader boards. Emblazoning Spider-Man's name on the top of this volume would, I hope, bring ample notice to this collection, filled with both battles with Spider-Man as well as the Man-Wolf's own solo adventures (some of which were drawn by a young George Perez--say, whatever happened to him?). Yes, the collection would also reprint all John Jameson's appearances as Stargod. I can't tell you how much I want to see this volume. Bark at the moon, kids!

Swamp Thing: Bad Gumbo (DC/Vertigo)
(Collecting Swamp Thing #140-143.) Especially topical considering today's return of Swamp Thing in Brightest Day (and possibly strongly a no-no to be reprinted because Swampy's back at mainstream DC), this storyline is by three industry giants and well deserves a collection. Was Swamp Thing only a dream, a hallucination of botanist Alec Holland, stoned out of his mind? This contrarian take on Swamp Thing had more than its share of psychological horror courtesy of co-writers Grant Morrison and Mark Millar and artist Phil Hester. This is an utterly raw story by all talents, but something makes it work. Millar's plotlines may have meandered in later issues, leading down the long road to cancellation in issue #171, but this four-part storyline is solid and representative of some of the best of 1990s Vertigo that isn't Sandman. It actually led me to dive into the back-issue bins for Alan Moore's original run. How's that for inspiration?

Well, that's my list! What say you fellas?



That's What I Want: My Top Requested Graphic Novels of '11 (1)

Bonjour, mes amis!

It's been a long, long time since I've posted one of these things (try 2007!) so I thought it was about time. In the modern age of comics, there isn't a whole lot that isn't in some form of collected edition from the Big Two. That said, there's always room for improvement! Herewith, I present my wish list for collected editions! These are books that have either never been collected in a graphic novel format, or have for whatever reason gone out-of-print and are in dire need of a re-release. (Hey, four out of the ten entries on my previous list have made the jump to collected editions, so I must be onto something. Either that, or the law of averages applies. And that's not counting all my other favorite series that have had collected editions pop up, particularly in the Marvel Masterworks series!) What do you want to see?

In alphabetical order:

Avengers: The Complete Crossing Epic (Marvel)
 (Collecting Age of Innocence: The Rebirth of Iron Man #1; Avengers #390-395; Avengers: The Crossing #1; Avengers: Timeslide #1; Force Works #16-22; Iron Man #319-325; and War Machine #19-23.) Betrayed by Iron Man, the Avengers are faced with the ultimate scheme of the time-traveling villain, Kang, and his band of ne'er-do-wells from the future, including analogues of some Avengers mainstays. Though later retconned in Avengers Forever, this storyline still holds a special place in the hearts of some fans, and a two-volume uber-collection would be a worthwhile effort. Yes, I'm reviewing this catastrophe of epic proportions elsewhere on this blog, so really, everything that I want to say is best explored there. It wasn't all bad, else I wouldn't be blogging about it or begging for its release! The collection seems most likely next year near the release of the Avengers film. (After all, they're releasing The Lost Gods and Blood and Thunder this year as tie-ins with the Thor film, right?)

The Creature Commandos (DC)
 (Collecting Weird War Tales #93, 97, 100, 102, 105, 108-112, 114-119, 121, 124.) I recently realized this book was one of the first comics I ever bought! Right now I'm trying to amass the whole series, but it's understandably difficult as every store that stocks back issues may have Superman and Batman, but not every one keeps Weird War Tales, which is where this motley crew first assembled. Created by J.M. DeMatteis (whose work I always greatly enjoy) and Pat Broderick (whose run on Firestorm was terrific) in issue #93 in 1980, the team survived nearly twenty adventures, which due to their brevity (the book was an anthology with 2-3 stories per issue) could easily be reprinted in one edition. Who doesn't like a good werewolf or vampire or Frankenstein story? This series had them all! (And hey! Dig that Giant-Size X-Men cover homage!)

Essential Deadly Hands of Kung Fu (Marvel)
(Collecting Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1-??) Since the most popular series to spin out of the 1970s kung fu craze, Master of Kung Fu, is nearly unreprintable due to licensing issues with the Sax Rohmer estate, and Iron Fist's color adventures from the period are largely reprinted in Essential and soon Masterworks format, that leaves this gem. Although some issues can't be reprinted because of the same licensing matter, there are still many terrific stories, including the "Sons of the Tiger" strip which ran nearly the full length of the series, introducing characters like the first White Tiger and the Jack of Hearts while showcasing the early work of Dick Giordano, Bill Mantlo, and George Perez. Iron Fist also appeared in the series in his own multi-part stories by Chris Claremont, as did the Daughters of the Dragon. Marvel could reprint this series either in the Essential format, or follow the same format as the recent Vampire Tales collections.

The Flash: Chain Lightning (DC)
(Collecting The Flash (1987) #143-150 & Speed Force #1.) Mark Waid's Flash tenure has been all but forgotten amid Geoff Johns' greatly successful runs (ha) on the Scarlet Speedster. With the upcoming event FlashPoint centered around the character, I'd have thought now the perfect time to catch up via some classic collections such as this one. Waid returned to Wally West after about a year (during which Grant Morrison & Mark Millar had their way with him), wasting no time in aborting his impending nuptials with Linda Park and throwing him into a multipart epic that struck at the core of the character's long history. A villain named Cobalt Blue showed up, and he promised to kill Barry Allen, the Flash he had known. To that end, Wally had to send a "chain lightning letter" to all Flashes in the future where Barry had lived his final days before perishing in the Crisis on Infinite Earths. (Yes, he got better.) But was he really playing into the enemy's hands all along? The story features a wide range of Flashes, past and present, and features terrific artwork by Paul Pelletier, late of Incredible Hulks. Yes, Cobalt Blue's identity may be silly, but this is a great Silver Age-styled tale. If successful, DC could even release the next volume, "Dark Flash," including the remainder of the latter Waid run.

The Hulk Vs. The Thing Omnibus (Marvel)
(Collecting Fantastic Four #12, 25-26, 112, 166-167, 320, 368, 533-535; Fantastic Four Unlimited #4; Fantastic Four: The World's Greatest Comic Magazine #5; Giant-Size Super-Stars #1; Hulk (2000) #9; Incredible Hulk #122, 350; Marvel Fanfare #20-21; Marvel Feature #11; Marvel Graphic Novel #29; Marvel Two-In-One #46; Marvel Two-In-One Annual #5 and more.) Arguably one of the greatest conflicts in all of comics, the Hulk and Thing deserve their own omnibus edition to duke it out! Collecting 50 years (!) of stories, it's far too large for one measly Premiere hardcover, so why not? At the very least, let Marvel make the graphic novel and the Marvel Fanfare issues (by Starlin!) available again for the first time since they were published!

I...Vampire! (DC)
 (Collecting The House of Mystery #290-291, 293, 295, 297, 299, 302-319, 321 & The Brave and the Bold #195.) There's precious little I can say about this series more than I've already said in that last entry four years ago, but now would be the perfect time with a rumored I...Vampire! revival in the works at Vertigo. These tales of Andrew Bennett, British nobleman cum vampire, would be a great fit in a new collection, either in softcover or hardcover. The talent list is terrific, with stories by J.M. DeMatteis, Bruce Jones, Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn, and art by Tom Sutton, Joe Kubert, and Mike Kaluta. Throw in a guest appearance by Batman, and you're set! Extra bonus: DC could also release the first six issues of DeMatteis' Dr. Fate co-starring Bennett in a softcover edition.

The Incredible Hulk: Bill Mantlo Visionaries (Marvel)
(Collecting The Incredible Hulk #245-313 & The Incredible Hulk Annual #10-13.) Bill Mantlo is one of Marvel's most underrated talents, and next to Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, this series is really the only one that the publisher can reprint! Unfortunately, they'd probably run into rights issues with issue #296 (due to an appearance by Rom, a licensed character), but still, there's a treasure trove of tales that are well worth reprinting, including epic battles with heroes like Captain Marvel, the Silver Surfer, Thor and Dr. Strange, and villains like the U-Foes, the Leader, the Wendigo, Zzzax, Kang, the Abomination, MODOK and Nightmare!  Mantlo also pioneered the Hulk with Banner's brain during the middle of his tenure, and delved deeper into the Hulk's psychological origins than anyone before him. He buried Jarella, killed Glenn Talbot, made General Ross commit treason, and made the Hulk lose his mind! What's not to love?

Concluded tomorrow with the final seven entries!



The Crossing: NOT The Avengers' Abbey Road (1)

(Newly re-edited with pictures!)

Aw, gawd, you have NO idea how badly I wish I had a picture of the various Avengers changed during the brief period in their history known as "The Crossing," all posed like the Beatles on their famous album cover. Maybe not even really succeeding at crossing the street. Maybe Giant Man's looking one direction, the Wasp's looking the other, Moonraker's getting his toes stepped on, and Iron Man's repulsor is at the ready. Maybe Hawkeye's tripping over the corpse of the second Yellowjacket. I don't know. Would any of the artists reading this blog (you know who you are, and I know you're out there) get on that? No? All right, then: I'll have to settle for this picture that doesn't quite conjure a thousand words:

This story changes everything. If that's not enough: really kewl chromium cover!
I was looking through my collection some weeks ago, and that got me thinking how pitifully few articles are out there about "The Crossing," the Avengers storyline meant to Change Everything We Knew About Earth's Mightiest Heroes (TM). It was constructed in 1995 under the auspices of then-Avengers group editor Mark Gruenwald by a group of writers including Dan Abnett, Bob Harras, Terry Kavanagh, Andy Lanning and Ben Raab, and artists including Mike Deodato, a bevy of his studiomates, and miscellaneous other talent. Here, I want to give my readers a look--as honest a one as I can without surrendering to raucous laughter--at the storyline in all its (should I use this word?) glory.

When did Stark become a pawn? Wink wink, nudge nudge. Art by Tom Morgan.
Please remember, "The Crossing" came about in a comics era that was, on the surface, very different from today. It was the era of special effect covers--of hologram covers, of multi-color foil covers, of neon fifth ink covers, of chromium covers, embossed covers, die-cut covers, quadruple gatefold covers, polybags, free trading card inserts, platinum variants, and every permutation of the above. It was also the era of the Special Event Designed To Change Your Favorite Character Forever (a mutually-owned trademark of Marvel and DC Comics), where DC killed Superman and decided it couldn't stop there, and then Marvel decided whatever DC did, they had to do it bigger, better, and often bloodier.

(Wait. Minus a few of the more outré components in the previous paragraph, it seems...I don't believe it! Ah, well--that's a topic for a totally different article! Moving right along...)

Tuc hints to Luna's nanny of her impending demise. Art by Mike Deodato.
"The Crossing" starts with two prequels in Invincible Iron Man #319, wherein Tony Stark reminisces about his life as an Avenger and decides to reunite with his old team (whom he'd left some time earlier to assemble the ruins of their west coast branch into Force Works), and Avengers #390, wherein Janet Van Dyne, aka the Wasp, learns she's broke, and the rest of the Avengers team tell stories around a campfire. There, they're visited by a mysterious guest named Tuc with ties to Quicksilver and Crystal's daughter Luna. Simple enough, right? The hallmarks of major storylines were all there: looking back upon the past, introducing new and mysterious characters, hinting at unusual situations to come. Little did everyone know what was right around the corner.

In the one-shot, chromium-covered Avengers: The Crossing, things go kablooey. Rita DeMara, the second Yellowjacket, returns from adventures in the 30th Century alongside the original Guardians of the Galaxy, flitting through a few moments of the not-too-distant future, seeing glimpses of fugitive Avengers, of the team fighting to enter their own mansion, of Avengers in different costumes, and an enigmatic blonde woman who warns her moments before a mysterious assailant kills her at the gates to Avengers Mansion. Whoever it is does a good job of hiding the body, because next thing you know, it's the following day, and the Avengers are reuniting to celebrate the day of their founding. Hercules finds the blonde woman who tries to warn him of events too, but the moment she disappears, he forgets her as if she were never there. The team finds itself under siege by mysterious attackers who disappear before they can be defeated, and discovers they left behind the Eternal named Gilgamesh, a former Avenger, now elderly and near death. All the while, something happens to the mysterious door in the team's basement--a door that didn't exist before one of the Watchers reconstructed the mansion in the wake of an extradimensional attack. Then, the mysterious attacker bookends the story by claiming another victim, Luna's nanny Marilla, before standing revealed as...Tony Stark! (Gasps, oohs, ahhs. Aren't you excited?)

DC's Green Lantern killed people? Screw that! Tony Stark can do it, too!
Over the next few months of stories, Tony Stark grapples with apparent memory loss and a split personality of sorts before arriving at the truth about his own schemes, denying it but at the same time trying to make Hawkeye into the fall guy for the murders he knows he committed. He helps seal up the mansion and the team relocates, then Janet forces him to leave when she finds out he was behind her current financial status. Hawkeye escapes following a confrontation with Stark and the Force Works team and their newest member, Suzi Endo aka Cybermancer, and goes on the run alongside former Avengers teammates Jim Rhodes, aka War Machine (enhanced with a new, alien suit of armor--the "Eidolon Warwear"...hey, if it worked for Spidey in the '80s...!) and John Walker, aka USAgent. They grow increasingly suspicious of Stark but ultimately refuse to believe he could have any malevolent intent.

Suzi Endo--the modern exception to the 1st rule of The Crossing. (You don't talk about it.)
Marianne Rodgers, a former flame of Tony's with psychic powers, escapes from an institution where Tony'd sent her many years before. She's convinced that having glimpsed the truth in Stark's soul--of which even he wasn't consciously aware--left her mind irreparably damaged, and she teams with a woman wearing the mask of Stark's former lover/foe Madame Masque. This new Masque can disguise herself as any woman, and when Stark captures the duo and ships them to his secret arctic fortress, she demonstrates her ability in a bait-and-switch escape sequence. (But, can she make the carpet match the curtains? Inquiring minds wanna know!)

Neut! Why do we care? He's killing Gilgamesh--because he's NEUT!
Meanwhile, the Avengers get in more trouble as result of that damned door in their basement, with a blue-skinned, big-headed creature called Neut killing Gilgamesh while the team is helpless to stop him. One of the newest Avengers, the other-dimensional analogue of the Swordsman, Philip Jarvert, finds himself visited by the Cotati incarnation of the Swordsman (who married Mantis during the "Celestial Madonna" storyline in the '70s). The alien tries to warn of an imminent threat, but then the blond-haired woman from The Crossing #1 returns with the axe-wielding brothers Malachi and Tobias, whose solar eyebeams possess a creepy similarity to those of the Vision. The brothers defeat Vision and Swordsman, but their blonde compatriot bids them away out of apparent concern for the Avengers. With the Cotati Swordsman captured, they return to their "mother"--Mantis herself!

Something familiar about those boys Bo and Luke...er, Malachi and Tobias.
Still elsewhere, the Force Works team, formed from the remnants of the West Coast Avengers, finds a new member in their midst, the enigmatic (there's that word again!) Moonraker. (The real mystery being, of course, how someone could possibly think naming a character after one of the worst James Bond movies could ever be remotely cool.) Other strange things occur at Works HQ, like Moonraker's girlfriend Spider-Woman (Julia Carpenter) making breakfast only to realize the eggs are still in the container on the counter, or cutting and putting roses in a vase only to find they're still in their wrapping from the florist. On top of that, Julia's daughter seems to be the only one who realizes Moonraker wasn't around in the previous issue. And, oh yeah, Vietnam's gone missing, and nobody realizes it was ever a real country! Somebody cue that "Twilight Zone" music...
Look, kids! Mantis! And she's eee-vil now! MANTIS! EVIL!
As it becomes increasingly apparent that "The Crossing" is a sequel of sorts to the beloved "Celestial Madonna" storyline, we see Black Widow join Rhodey, USAgent and Hawkeye because it was all getting to be too much of a boys' club. They all fight Deathunt 9000, one of Kang's Anachronauts. (Nobody here wins awards for names, but at least these ones were created before this arc.) Hawkeye goes to call out Stark on his own, and together they go to the Van Dyne mansion, where the Avengers have holed up since the abandonment of their own mansion due to the door in the basement. The visiting Hank McCoy, the X-Men's Beast and a former Avenger himself, helps Hank Pym reconfigure an image inducer so it can bring Avengers' memories to holographic life in hopes of discovering the identity of the murderer. When Stark's memories are probed, they find nothing, but Luna's memories clearly show Stark as the culprit. (The jig is up! The news is out! They finally found him...) A battle wages, during which Stark critically injures the Wasp. Pym becomes Giant Man and nearly crushes Stark, who narrowly escapes and falls into a portal. The scientist then takes the Wasp back to his lab and attempts to save her life using a similar procedure to the one that originally empowered her, resulting in her body being surrounded by a strange cocoon. Tuc returns and absconds with Luna, to whom he refers as "sister," and soon afterward, a ship lands and Masque disembarks, telling the Avengers that they must stop Tony Stark--and now! (Or is that yesterday?)

Can we order up some cheese with that whine, Tony? Huh?
Are we confused yet? I gotta warn you, it may well get worse before it gets better! But don't worry, folks--Uncle Gary's gonna show this saga who's boss in the second segment of this review-a-thon, coming soon to this very blog! Aren't you excited?

Yeah. Didn't think so. All the same, it is coming. Along with, you know, the reasons why we'll never see this story referred to in-continuity ever again. (You know: Avengers Forever.)



3-in-1 Review: Incredible Hulks, Hulk, Skaar

Greetings, all!

Yes, I've been remiss in recent weeks, giving you a noticeable dearth of new blog entries. I want to begin blogging every day I can so I can bring you guys (and gals) as many new insights as I'm able. That'll mean retrospectives, interviews, and spotlights on some rare comics you just won't see on these shores (and that's a major hint to at least one new feature!). I went back to Pittsburgh, my hometown, and attended the Pittsburgh Comicon, getting about eleven sketches (that you'll see soon, both here and at my Comic Art Fans page) and buying a few unusual items. I've also catalogued more of my collection that remains on the east coast, and soon I'll be putting those books on eBay (or, if anyone wants to give me offers here, feel free!).

Speaking of old books for sale, I recently re-bought several issues of Incredible Hulk from the 1970s and 80s, replacing my lower-grade (Very Good and lower) issues with nice, Fine-or-better copies. They were deals I couldn't resist, but it does leave me with dozens of duplicate issues. They're "reader" copies so I'm willing to sell them on the cheap. Yes, virtually all of the Todd McFarlane issues are for sale, including the battle with Wolverine in #340. The earliest book I'm selling is #122, and the latest is #431. If interested, shoot me an email at delusionalhonesty [at] gmail [dot] com and I'll play Monty Hall. (And if you want to inquire about what non-Hulk books might be for sale, do so!)

Now then, what've we got today? Since I haven't blogged on them during the last couple weeks, I figured I'd take time out today before any more issues hit to review three books. They won't be my usual in-depth reviews since I'm squeezing three issues into one entry, but you'll get the idea. As in my last round of quick reviews, these ones will be summed up with four main classifications you can easily make sense of: Buy It (highly recommended), Read It (recommended), Skip It (unless it's a light week...), Burn It (a very special kind of hell).

Incredible Hulks #626 - Marvel Comics, $2.99
By Greg Pak, Tom Grummett, Cory Hamscher & Edgar Delgado

One of my longstanding wishes comes true this issue as artist Tom Grummett takes the Hulk's artistic reins for the four-part arc, "The Spy Who Smashed Me." He doesn't disappoint one bit, giving a classic feel to this saga that features the return of one of the Hulk's oldest foes. Although Greg Pak teased Tyrannus in a one-off story (#605), he devotes substantially more energy to his return here. It's a perfect storm of elements that Pak has at play, with Betty at risk of remaining Red She-Hulk forever even as she joins forces with Tyrannus, and Banner donning a tux (made from unstable molecules, natch) and teaming with Amadeus Cho in a wonderfully off kilter Bond-and-Q tag-team scheme.  The narrative moves fast, and Pak works overtime to involve the Hulk in a storyline that, when announced, didn't remotely seem like a "Hulk story." With Betty being at the center of the storyline, this arc may prove to be the most personal yet for Banner since the book became pluralized last fall. (Speaking of which, wasn't this issue solicited with the Hulk back in the singular role?)

This is a well-oiled, gamma-irradiated engine of storytelling, and it just might challenge Roger Stern & Sal Buscema's "They Who Wield Power" arc in the 80s for best Tyrannus story. Cheap hype? Perhaps. Regardless, this book was a treat after the darkness of "Planet Savage," brought to vivid life with Pak's knack for clever dialogue and Grummett's superb superheroic art. It's a fun, fun bit before the emotional torture that's sure to come in "Heart of the Monster." Simply put, Buy It.

Skaar: King of the Savage Land #2 (of 5) - Marvel Comics, $2.99
By Rob Williams, Brian Ching, Rick Ketcham & Guru-eFX

Skaar's second go-round at a solo title continues, with the Son of Hulk involved inconsequentially in a battle with "Kirby Kreations" Moonboy and Devil Dinosaur, while the real action occurs in the tribal council of the Savage Land, where a possessed Shanna sheds blood and turns the tribes against Ka-Zar.

A few short weeks ago, I lauded Rob Williams and Brian Ching's efforts on the first issue of this title, overlooking the unusual nature of the "tribal council" where Ka-Zar addressed the people while wearing a business suit. Obviously, it is writer Williams' effort to establish a dichotomy between the Savage Land's name and what it has become, making Ka-Zar out to be too wrapped up in the ways of more developed countries to be a suitable leader. That point is doubly the thrust of the Designer, who has possessed Shanna. The comparison doesn't quite work when you consider the Savage Land's history and that this series marks the first occasion for the tribal council to be presented thusly. This issue downplays Skaar's involvement, which is unusual considering his name's on the cover, and the lion's share of the narrative involves Ka-Zar and the Designer/Shanna. Now, it looks like Skaar will again be near the center of events with the next issue, as he's poised to attempt a rescue of his fellow Sakaarians (mentioned in this issue at last) from the Designer's, um, designs.

As it is, in spite of the continual lush artwork by Brian Ching, Williams' Skaar is a weak leading man. I hope that changes, and very soon, because the character, who's been well-developed under Greg Pak, risks being trampled by the grandoise narrative around him. Sadly, my concerns from the first issue, amplified through this issue's events, force me to downgrade my opinion. For now, you should definitely Skip It.

Hulk #32 - Marvel Comics, $2.99
By Jeff Parker, Gabriel Hardman & Bettie Breitweiser

It's been fascinating stuff during these last several months since Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman attained control of the Scarlet Smasher's book. Parker brings old-school sensibilities to the book, effortlessly weaving sub-plots through the main story and through the recently-finished series of back-up tales. Several of those elements are going to come to a head next month, where if the cover's any indication, the Red Hulk will face four new foes, the final of which Parker introduces this month in Black Fog.

Speaking of the Red Hulk, this month's adventure for him amounts to little more than reminding readers of his ongoing troubles with General Fortean (with, don't get me wrong, a terrific dream sequence as drawn by Hardman) and giving him an unremarkable foe to fight in the form of...a tornado. In virtually all ways, the storyline echoes every old Len Wein/Herb Trimpe story where the Hulk was on the run from the military, wandering into some small town and helping them against some nebulous menace. In this, Parker only succeeds in marking time--dynamically illustrated time, as is always the case when Hardman and Breitweiser are involved, but time nonetheless.

He is much more successful in the other storyline in this issue, the origin of Black Fog, a serial killer endowed with superhuman abilities by Zero/One. Zero/One's childhood memories of the killer as a "boogeyman" become chilling reality thanks to her new power. His transformation is an excellent centerpiece, and I'm intrigued to see just where the character goes from here. I just hope there's time to examine his state of mind with the grand conclusion impending next month. Truly, his is an excellent lead-up, but add in the less-than-incredible Red Hulk plot means you should just Read It.

Next: Firestorm? The Crossing? More fun with the Hulk family? A convention sketch? Or something totally different, yes? Just wait!



So, I've Been Busy... (It's Not Like a Dire Wraith Assumed My Identity!)

And if I were, I sure as sin wouldn't post a picture of this guy, on the off chance that he might, you know, come to life and send me to Limbo with that Neutralizer gizmo of his.

To whet your appetites until I return with Hulkish reviews tomorrow, here's another sketch!

Steve Ellis (of High Moon and Box 13 fame--available at comiXology!) drew this sketch of Rom, Spaceknight for me at New York Comic-Con 2010. I understand he and his frequent collaborator David Gallaher (who got hitched this past weekend to Valerie D'Orazio...congrats, ya lucky bum!) are big fans of the ol' toaster as developed for Marvel in 1979 by Bill Mantlo & Sal Buscema! Here he is, slightly smaller than life, ready to shine the crimson light of truth on all who might bar him from regaining his lost humanity. I hope this one's been worth the wait. He's been sitting in my sketchbook since October with nobody to keep him company but, well...a whole mess of esoteric characters! Please, give him some love!

(Oh! And be on the lookout for some Spaceknights in this week's Avengers #12.1 by Brian Michael Bendis & Brian Hitch!)



Pittsburgh Comicon - Yes, I've Been Busy!

Hey all!

Greetings from the east coast! Yes, I've been remiss in posting lately, but I've been tremendously busy with family obligations and with enjoying the company of friends including the various writers, artists, and other talent assembled at the Pittsburgh Comicon over the weekend of April 15-17. I'll be gradually adding art I amassed from the convention floor both here at the blog and at my Comic Art Fans page (link on the right-hand column). It was quite a fun show as it always is, made even more special through meeting some folks I follow on Twitter (Hello, Amber!) and through some inspired sketches. I had the pleasure of chatting up some pros who have actually read this very blog (but who are somewhat poor at matching names to faces...no worries, time will change that!). Also there were some artists who enjoyed the sketches I was procuring to the degree that, every time I crossed within range of their booths, they stopped me to see my latest pieces and snapped pictures! How flattering is that?

I just want to give a taste of what to expect in days to come--though those of you on my Twitter feed have already glimpsed the names of a few subjects that were sketched. If you've seen the CAF page, you know I like to pick subjects not everyone knows about. I like unique sketches because it gives the artists the opportunity to journey outside their comfort zone, and it gives me a special kind of notoriety. (I can't tell you how many times I heard something along the lines of, "So-and-so warned me about you!")

The first piece I'm showing comes courtesy of Pittsburgh native Dave Wachter, who's drawing IDW's Robert Bloch's That Hellbound Train this June (which I strongly suggest you all pre-order, now!). I showed Dave a few potential subjects for whom I had reference, and let him choose. The winner? A hint of one of my other upcoming review posts: Rhodey's alien armor from during "The Crossing," the Eidolon Warwear version of War Machine. The original design is by Jim Calafiore, whom I've met at many a convention in years past (and who is doing fabulous things on Gail Simone's Secret Six). I believe there was some discussion of this costume being very unusual, yet really much ado about nothing in particular. Just so oddball a pick it was too good (or is that bad?) to pass up!

What do you think, sirs?

More on the way later in the week!



Gene Gonzales & Psylocke! (But Not THAT Psylocke!)

Guys and dolls--

I'm heading back east tomorrow night (redeye *yawn*) but wanted to give you all a taste of what I'm going to get when I arrive! The Pittsburgh Comicon will be in town, and I'm sure I'll meet a Twitter follower or two along the way. Also, I'll be getting convention sketches! I've prepared an interesting list which may not be totally fulfilled--hey, I still have NYCC in October, right?--but I'll be doing my best. I already have a few super-cool ideas! And yes, I do pick unusual subjects, just ask this guy...

Click the pic to see my commission at Gene's blog!
While you wait for the next post from me, head on over to Gene Gonzales' blog, where today's feature is my convention commission: the original 1980s X-Man, Psylocke--purple hair and all! This is where it's at, kids! Isn't she lovely?



Do You Fear...The Hulk Looking Like a Total Tool?

Don't say I didn't warn you! Stuart Immonen's variant cover to Fear Itself #2 spotlights one of "The Worthy." Yes, I'll be picking this one up.

It looks as though Marvel's prepping the Hulk for something big, post-Pak and post-Fear Itself. How big? Well, he is headed for his 50th anniversary in 2012...

Anyone else getting vibes that conjure the House of M version of our beloved Hulk, from 2005?

That's what I thought. What is it about a bald Hulk? Any comments from the ladies?

Stay tuned, this story's definitely developing in weeks to come...



Do You Fear...The Red Hulk Getting His Tuchas Kicked?

I sure hope not, because, well...what fun would this be, then?

Per Marvel's press release:

The Marvel Universe’s biggest, reddest brutalizer clashes with the forces of Fear Itself this July in Hulk #37, from acclaimed writer Jeff Parker and rising star Elena Casagrande! Which is stronger? Mortal terror or all-out rage? Red Hulk is going to find out with his fists as he goes toe-to-toe with the God of Fear’s most unexpected recruit in a brawl for the ages!

“Red Hulk's intersection with Fear Itself is really a defining moment for the character, showing what he's made of. It's really cool to be right up front during a happening like this!” said Parker. “It also gives us the chance to show what goes on with the other world threats who aren't commanding the center stage during a crucial event – in this case the newly returned M.O.D.O.K.!”

But which of the Serpent’s earthly avatars has specifically sought out Red Hulk and why? This July, can the Crimson Crusher withstand a treacherous battle with Worthy and make it out alive? Find out when Fear Itself stomps into Hulk #37!

HULK #37
Written by JEFF PARKER
Rated T+ …$2.99

Place your bets now, ladies and gents! Who's the guy all blacked out on the cover to July's issue #37? Is it the "Worthy" Hulk, hammer and all? To be honest, it doesn't really look like the hammer the Hulk has in all the other previews. (The Thing, on the other hand...!) And hey, wait, does this mean Jeff Parker's Hulk is now also double-shipping, as issues #34-35 were just solicited for June? And most importantly, what the heck has become of series artist Gabriel Hardman? Here's hoping he's just taking a breather and illustrating an upcoming arc!

More news as it becomes available. And yeah, yeah, I also heard that Ryan Stegman kid's drawing Fear Itself: Hulk Vs. Dracula, a three-issue miniseries written by X-Men's Victor Gischler.


Quick Reviews: Age of X, Brightest Day, Fear Itself, Herc, Skaar

Howdy, heroes!

I'm going to be adding some features in weeks to come and this is one of them. Some of you wonder what I read outside of the adventures of the Hulk and Spider-Man. You'll also be seeing some special indie features (one's coming very soon--sorry about the delay!). If you have any suggestions, or if you're a creator looking to get your own project out there, contact me at delusionalhonesty [at] gmail [dot] com & give me some lead time. I'd be happy to take a look!

Meantime, let's start with one of last week's holdouts and continue on to some of this week's highlights. Fair warning: some of my reviews may contain SPOILERS, so read with care. My reviews will be summed up with four main classifications you can easily make sense of: Buy It (highly recommended), Read It (recommended), Skip It (unless it's a light week...), Burn It (a very special kind of hell).

Age of X Universe #1 (of 2) - Marvel Comics, $3.99
By Si Spurrier, Khoi Pham, Tom Palmer & Sonia Oback

Back during the "Age of Apocalypse" storyline, there was a two-issue limited series, X Universe, that explored the lives of the human superheroes amid the background of the greater AoA arc. Of course, with the current Age of X arc conjuring memories of that epic storyline, why wouldn't Marvel try to echo that success with a story of a team of Avengers in this alternate reality? I'm not following Age of X, only this two-part series, so I can't speak for the quality of the remainder of the event. Si Spurrier offers up a script where the Avengers are government hunters of mutants under the direction of the man who is our Marvel Universe's Punisher.

The characters in the story overwhelmingly reminded me of the Millar/Hitch "Ultimates," with a few changes in the lineup. The story makes it clear these aren't people who are comfortable working together. It's interesting if unnerving to see Captain America taking orders instead of giving them. The rest of the team is twisted in different ways, with the most jarring changes to the Hulk and Iron Man. We're supposed to bring the mainstream Marvel Universe's characterizations to the table as comparison here, but for me the whole picture never gels. I'm anxious to see if the next issue resolves or compounds my worries. This story may work well in the Age of X scheme, but by itself I'm unimpressed.

The Verdict: Skip It.

Brightest Day #23 (of 24) - DC Comics, $2.99
By Geoff Johns, Peter Tomasi, Ivan Reis & Joe Prado

Over the last year since Blackest Night ended and Brightest Day began, there have been hints that the major players were all symbols of elemental concepts DC has flirted with since the mid-1980s and the heyday of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing. How fitting is it, then, that in the same issue where Johns and Tomasi bring the elemental undercurrent to the surface, they also return DC's original elemental--although in a very strange role? When you read the previous 22 issues altogether, you realize the elemental context was there all along, and to their credit, the creators bring the disparate elements together here in time for the big finale in two weeks' time. I am anxious to see the future plans for the elementals assembled in this issue, but don't exactly think a Primal Force revival is in the cards. However, with so many other characters having been embroiled in the main Brightest Day series (Hawk, Dove especially), I do wonder about their roles henceforth.

With Johns' and Tomasi's script hitting its stride and bringing out all the elements that have been thoroughly seeded throughout all of the previous issues, I'm happy to say that artists Ivan Reis and Joe Prado have brought their artistic "A"-game to this issue. The elemental designs of the five main characters are well-done. Although I certainly wish to see them all restored to their previous looks in this saga, there's a definite purpose to the heroes all looking as they do. Their villain, the Black Lantern avatar, is also appropriately horrifying.

This issue continues to tie up all the loose ends of the main storyline while clearly ramping up to the next major status quo, with an Aquaman series already announced and, unless I miss my guess, a Swamp Thing series also in the cards. Based on the last page of this issue, however, I'm a bit puzzled how DC plans to integrate the character's Moore-renovated origin. Alas, time will tell.

The Verdict: Buy It!

Fear Itself #1 (of 7) - Marvel Comics, $3.99
By Matt Fraction, Stuart Immonen & Laura Martin

Marvel's annual major event has begun, or rather, their annual line-wide crossover events have returned, as last year they divided their efforts in several "mini-events" of varying success. They've brought their current darling writer Matt Fraction (Invincible Iron Man, Thor, Casanova) together with terrific art talent Stuart Immonen (Ultimate Spider-Man, Nextwave, New Avengers) and one of the best colorists in the business, Laura Martin (Astonishing X-Men, New Avengers). They've created an incredible amount of incentive variant covers (including my favorite, by Paolo Rivera, above). The story ostensibly concerns a blending of recent plot elements from Fraction's Thor and Ed Brubaker's Captain America, heralding the arrival of the heretofore-unseen Norse God of Fear and the transformation of the Red Skull's daughter into its avatar, Skadi, possessed of a mystical hammer akin to Thor's. And the heroes of Earth tremble.

Fear Itself is obviously set to mainly appeal to Captain America and Thor fans, and the reasons are obvious: after all, movies featuring both characters hit movie screens this summer. So far, Thor and Steve Rogers are the key focus, with the centerpiece being a formulaic father-son smiting between Odin and Thor that's really been done many, many times before and more tactfully. It's all set-up, this first issue, establishing the relationships between the primary protagonists and antagonists. It's well done enough, and very well-illustrated by Immonen and Martin, but set-up it remains.

I'm anxious to see what occurs next month with the arrival of "The Worthy," don't get me wrong. (And yes, according to previews, one of those Worthy is one of my favorite characters, so I'll be watching with a very, very critical eye.) Right now, it's just another ramp-up to another major storyline that we've seen a million times before. And if you like that kind of thing, well, here's another one. The story still has plenty of room to improve in future issues, and knowing how terrific many of Fraction's stories have been in the past (I'm looking at you, Invincible Iron Man: World's Most Wanted) I'm definitely hopeful. You can bet I'll be watching this one as it develops, and bringing the latest to you.

The Verdict: Read It.

Herc #1 - Marvel Comics, $3.99
By Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Neil Edwards, Scott Hanna & Jesus Aburtov

Hercules has certainly had an interesting year thus far, between the epic five-part miniseries Chaos War which stripped him of his godlike powers in his and the other Marvel heroes' clash with the Chaos King, and his guest appearances in the storyline's aftermath in The Incredible Hulks. Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente have chosen to return to Hercules in this new regular series, this time without his partner from the previous series, Amadeus Cho. This time out, Hercules must rely on his wits and an arsenal of unusual weapons to combat evil on the streets of New York City.

I was prepared for something different than what Pak and Van Lente offered in the previous series, but I'm not sure if I ever imagined something like this. The overt comedic tone that made the original Incredible Hercules series so endearing is largely absent, replaced by a grittiness that represents an incredible shift in tone I'm not sure I enjoy yet. Certainly the creators make it clear that Herc is a very different series than its predecessor, setting up the status quo in this issue, with Hercules adjusting to life being powerless, and getting a new job along the way. Now in a lower strength tier, Hercules fights similarly lesser-powered enemies, with the one at this story's end an interesting first pick.

Despite my reservations about the story, I have no such reservations about Neil Edwards' terrific artwork. The entire book is lushly rendered, from Edwards' pencils, to Hanna's inks, on through to newcomer Jesus Aburtov's colors. The entire package is capped off with a well-deserved "Hercules Saga" feature, which encapsulates Herc's history in eight pages. Time will tell if Pak and Van Lente can catch lightning in a bottle twice, but I'm willing to stay aboard for a while longer.

The Verdict: Read It.

Skaar: King of the Savage Land #1 (of 5) - Marvel Comics, $2.99
By Rob Williams, Brian Ching, Rick Ketcham & Guru-eFX

In the wake of "Planet Savage," the recent Incredible Hulks arc set in the Savage Land, the Hulk's savage son has remained among Ka-Zar, Shanna, and the other inhabitants of Marvel's Antarctic jungle, and now stars in his own miniseries by Marvel newcomers Rob Williams (Cla$$war, Shadowland: Ghost Rider) and Brian Ching (Incredible Hulks: Dark Son). The story appears poised to investigate the origins of the Savage Land, with Skaar encountering at least one Marvel mainstay from the 1970s.

The storyline follows a few tracks, one of which includes Skaar in his exploration of his new home, another which centers on Ka-Zar's quarrel with the Savage Land's Council of Tribes, and yet another about a strange force with knowledge of the area's origins. Conspicuously absent from the storyline are all of the Warbound, who were left with Skaar at the end of last week's Incredible Hulks #625. Williams has a good feel for action and introduces all the characters well, providing some interesting moments between Skaar and Shanna (who didn't appear in "Planet Savage").  The set pieces, including Skaar's quarrels with two dinosaurs, are terrifically designed and pulled off with flourish by Brian Ching, whose work here is brighter and freer than in "Dark Son."

While the story has many of the right elements for a story set in the Savage Land, I'm still not altogether sold on Skaar by Williams. Conceptually he has a firm handle on Skaar as a young character who, due to his strength and upbringing on Sakaar, often charges into situations he doesn't fully understand. However, much of Skaar's dialogue doesn't seem to fit, with only occasional snark that seemed to flow so easily under his creator, Greg Pak. But that's really a small gripe in an overall very solid debut issue, and I look forward to the next issue's imbroglio.

The Verdict: Buy It!



Blast From My Past: Greg Pak Talks "Planet Hulk" Circa 2006

I thought I'd amuse you all with this little piece of history, the first in a series, as I recently realized it's all-but-gone from the web, thanks to the originating site Comixfan apparently having disappeared recently. (It returned, but the archives are gone.) I rescued this little gem from my cache so you can marvel at it--it's probably the first lengthy interview with current Incredible Hulk scribe Greg Pak back when he'd just been announced as writer of the series with issue #92. That means this is a big talk about "Planet Hulk," with the mega-epic World War Hulk still over a year away. It was conducted in late 2005 via e-mail, and originally posted at Comixfan on January 3, 2006 under the somewhat hammy title of "Gamma Gamma Hey! Greg Pak Talks 'Planet Hulk'!" Forgive the liberal allusion to Dan Slott's She-Hulk series and enjoy! It's particularly apt to see Pak's comments in the beginning, since as recently reported, we're staring out at the end of his tenure.

By Gary Miller, Comixfan Staff Writer

At San Diego Comic-Con International 2004, whilst promoting the then-upcoming Warlock limited series, Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada labeled maverick indie filmmaker Greg Pak "the best writer you've never heard of." Four of Pak's projects were all excellent, he said, but never saw the light of day for one reason or another. However, since Warlock and Greg's subsequent miniseries, X-Men: Phoenix - Endsong became critics' darlings, he's been on a roll with some even more notable Marvel projects, such as Iron Man's entry into the House of M and the follow-up to Neil Gaiman's Marvel 1602. Finally, in October 2005, Quesada named Pak as one of the "Ten Terrific," a group of writers the editor claimed would be getting a big push from Marvel and one super new project apiece to catapult them into the medium's forefront.

In Pak's case, that project is The Incredible Hulk, a book with which Pak appears to have more than a passing familiarity. A new storyline, called "Planet Hulk," begins in February's issue #92, written by Pak and illustrated by Carlo Pagulayan. A "tentpole event," it--and Greg Pak--are poised to take the comics reading public by storm in 2006. We're ringing in the new year by bringing you our in-depth interview with the talented Mr. Pak. So, to paraphrase Stan Lee: can a man with green skin and a petulant personality find true happiness in today's status-seeking society? Or must said green man seek his fortunes on alien worlds? Let's ask the new man behind the curtain...

Comixfan: The Incredible Hulk marks your first gig on a regular Marvel title, and it's a pretty high-profile gig at that, coming hot on the heels of writer Peter David's second run on the book and the four-parter by Daniel Way. How did you come to land the job?

Greg Pak: I was lucky enough to get paired with editor Mark Paniccia on the Marvel Nemesis miniseries. Mark eventually became the editor of [The Incredible] Hulk, and since I'd brought up the Hulk a ridiculous number of times in conversations with him, he must have gotten the hint that I was interested in the character.

Comixfan: What's your exposure to the Hulk?

Pak: I’ve loved the character for years. In particular, I remember the origin story and the Namor fight in the Origins of Marvel Comics anthology [reprints of The Incredible Hulk #1 and The Incredible Hulk #118 respectively] making a big impression on me as a kid. And while it’s very different from what we’re doing with the character in "Planet Hulk," I loved the Bill Bixby television show--I credit it as my introduction to the literary concept of tragedy. I’ve been lucky enough to work with the Hulk already at Marvel--in the Marvel 1602: New World series and as a special guest star in the "Mastermind Excello" story from the Amazing Fantasy #15 anthology comic.

Comixfan: The Hulk has been different things at different times: smart, stupid, and somewhere in the middle; gray and green; strangely simpatico with Banner, and fiercely antagonistic. For those who haven't followed the character in a while, what's the state of the Hulk these days?

Pak: We're carrying on with Peter David's version of the Hulk from the end of his last run--big and fierce but neither fool nor child. Crafty, mean, and green. It's a great version of the Hulk to work with--he's smart enough to be in charge of his own decisions and destiny, but savage enough to raise the question of whether he'll ultimately become a villain or a hero.

Comixfan: In your own words, who are Bruce Banner and the Hulk? Do you see them as two sides of the same coin, or almost totally different characters trapped in one body?

Pak: From a storytelling point of view, I think it's most fruitful to think of Banner and the Hulk as different aspects of the same person. The great thing about the character is that Banner and Hulk can be interpreted any number of ways, depending on the story and the reader. Typically, Banner's seen as the hero and the Hulk as the monster he has to suppress. But I'm intrigued by the notion that the Hulk may embody certain virtues that Banner can't or won’t express on his own. That's the angle we took in Marvel 1602: New World, in which Banner is essentially a villain and the Hulk is the manifestation of his conscience and true human potential. Whichever way you choose to interpret Banner and the Hulk, the dual nature of the character provides a great way for a character's inner struggle to be depicted visually, dramatically, and compellingly.

Comixfan: What's the fundamental appeal of the character(s), both personally and, as you perceive, in fans' minds? How has the Hulk survived for over forty years?

Pak: On the one hand, the Hulk takes the wish fulfillment aspect of superhero stories to the absolute extreme--Banner's a skinny nerd who can become the strongest human being on the planet. That's a powerful fantasy for kids--and I think it's why young kids in particular, who have so little power of their own, can really love the Hulk. But wish fulfillment alone wouldn't provide the character with the staying power he's had. The fact that the Hulk can never belong, can never truly find a place in the world, makes him an enormously sympathetic and compelling character, while the fact that he's always on the verge of explosion, of losing control, raises deeper questions of how a rational human being should deal with an irrational and unjust world. Those are great themes for multidimensional, emotionally compelling storytelling.

Comixfan: I've heard many suggest the Hulk is an extraordinarily difficult character to write. Do you agree or disagree, and why?

Pak: When writing any established comic book character, it’s a huge challenge to be true to a character's distinctive voice while avoiding the cliché of just repeating the character’s various catchphrases and tropes. For me, the solution is usually to figure out the character's real emotional story — then the character comes to life and what could be cliché has the chance to become a resonant reflection of the character's struggles and journey. When it comes to the Hulk, there's a particular challenge because he's so often associated with caveman syntax, or at the very least, an economy of vocabulary. If you assume that mean's he’s an idiot, then the range of possible stories and character development becomes pretty narrow. But once you realize he's sharp and dangerous and full of hidden emotional needs and desires of his own, he becomes an incredibly rich character to explore.

Comixfan: For those who don't know, "Planet Hulk" takes the Hulk out of his traditional element and into what seems to be a rich fantasy-oriented setting. What was the impetus behind the move?

Pak: I wasn’t in the room when the idea first germinated. But as I understand it, [Editor-in-Chief] Joe Quesada and the other Marvel editors saw that it was time for the Hulk to cut loose, to run wild -— essentially, to be the Hulk. And a savage alien planet seemed like the perfect place to stage that kind of story.

Comixfan: Without giving too much of the innards of the saga away, how much of the concept for Planet Hulk was given to you and how much was your own invention? Was it an "event" before or after you became involved? Were you given a beginning and end point?

Pak: The editors gave me the set up and a few key plot points, big brush ideas which made me grin--they totally fit in with the kind of Hulk story I'd been itching to tell. My job has been to flesh out the plot, develop the Hulk's emotional story, invent the political, social, and ecological background of the planet and its inhabitants, create the supporting cast, and work out the character arcs and subplots and subtext. Editor Mark Paniccia has been a great collaborator and interior artist Carlo Pagulayan and cover artist Ladronn have been brilliantly creating designs for the characters and planet which bring my loopy concepts to life while always inspiring new ideas.

Comixfan: How was the decision made to use Carlo Pagulayan as an artist? Was he your choice, the editor's, or someone else's?

Pak: Mark Paniccia had worked with Carlo on a number of projects, including Marvel Age Fantastic Four. He showed me some art and I was sold immediately. Carlo's doing tremendous work--he's not only a great sequential artist, but a fantastic designer, bringing a fresh look to every alien, monster, and piece of hardware in the book.

Comixfan: Tell us about the world the Hulk visits in "Planet Hulk." And how the heck does the Hulk even get to this far-out world?

Pak: I can't say too much for fear of entering spoiler territory. But imagine imperial Rome with a smattering of 21st century technology. The planet is run by a corrupt empire which depends upon slavery to power its economy and gladiatorial games to placate its citizens. The empire has little advanced technology of its own, but alien ships periodically fall from a nearby cosmic portal to the planet's surface. Scavenging the alien wrecks for the past two generations has given the empire enough advanced weaponry to consolidate its power and oppress its people. But the planet is still primitive enough that a single powerful individual with the will and vision could literally change the world.

Comixfan: I'll take that as a big hint. On that note, some of the previous information released for "Planet Hulk" ("In a world in which might makes right and he who wins in the arena has the chance to influence thousands, what path will the Hulk take? Will the monster become a hero? Or will he become the worst tyrant the universe has ever seen?" from the press release) seems to suggest the Hulk becoming not unlike the Maestro, his evil alternate self (from Peter David's Future Imperfect series). Any comments?

Pak: My lips are sealed.

Comixfan: It couldn't hurt to try. So, who are some of the new characters the Hulk meets on this new world? Do any old spacefaring favorites show up?

Pak: Again, I can't say too much. But the planet will feature a number of indigenous species as well as a few key individuals from some particularly lethal Marvel Universe alien races. There's one new character in particular I'm excited about--watch for the giant woman warrior in [#92]. She's as dangerous as the Hulk himself and will play a critical role as the story unfolds.

Comixfan: Longtime Hulk fans know the Hulk's been in some off-world, fantasy-type adventures before (c.f. the Jarella/K'ai sagas of the 70s, the "Crossroads" arc in the 80s, and a few other stories here and there). What separates "Planet Hulk" from those epics?

Pak: I love the Jarella and Crossroads stories. And fans of those stories should get a big kick out of "Planet Hulk" -- any day you get to see the Hulk with a battle-axe is a good day, after all. And there are a few specific homages here and there which long-time readers may enjoy. But readers should also be happy to know that "Planet Hulk" has its own unique scope, character arc, and genre twist.

Regarding scope, the Jarella stories were largely episodic, a few issues here and there separated sometimes by years. The Crossroads stories, while appearing sequentially, were built like a series of fables, almost like "Twilight Zone" episodes in comic form. In contrast, "Planet Hulk" is an ongoing storyline which follows the Hulk and his allies and enemies over consecutive issues through a series of tumultuous decisions and events which will change each character and indeed the entire planet. We’ve been given a huge canvas to work on, which we’re doing our best to use to deliver a tale with the multi-level storytelling impact of an epic movie.

Another important distinction is that the Jarella stories, the Crossroads stories, and "Planet Hulk" all deal with different incarnations of the Hulk, and thus each has something different to offer in the exploration and development of the Hulk character and mythos. In most of his appearances on Jarella's world, the Hulk was subjected to sorcery which put Banner's brain in control of the Hulk's body--the initial idea seemed to be to explore the notion of fulfilling Banner's deepest dream, of having his own brain in the body of the Hulk in a world in which the Hulk's tremendous power would make him a hero. The Crossroads stories took the other extreme, stripping the Hulk down to an animalistic, barely sentient state, exploring the question of whether an insanely powerful, animalistic child of a man could find a home in any world. In "Planet Hulk," we’re working with a savage but crafty Hulk. Again, the question is whether the Hulk can ever find a place where he can belong. But we have the good fortune to be able explore the question on an entirely different level, since Peter David has bequeathed us with a dramatically complex and compelling incarnation of the Hulk who can make his own decisions and who's responsible for his actions, yet who retains the savage instincts of the more animalistic incarnations of the Hulk. It's going to be a great ride with inherent tension--will our savage, crafty Hulk seize the challenges and opportunities offered in this brutal new world to become a hero... or a monster?

Finally, both the Jarella and the Crossroads stories involved swords and sorcery--they're a bit more fantasy than science fiction. But "Planet Hulk" is more science fiction than fantasy--battleaxes and blasters, if you will. We're striving to create a world which makes sense biologically and scientifically as well as politically and socially. So the tone is less magical fable and more science fiction epic--it’s a visceral, tactile world in which flesh-and-blood people use politics, technology, violence, and emotion to struggle over life-and-death challenges.

Comixfan: It certainly sounds like you know your Hulk history. Besides the Jarella and Crossroads stories, what Hulk storylines or single issues have you particularly enjoyed and/or define the character in your mind? Why?

Pak: Peter David's Future Imperfect and Hulk: The End stories are amazing. My favorite recent Hulk story is Eric Powell's Devil Dinosaur one-shot. Beautiful art and hilarious writing. Again, very different from what we’re doing with "Planet Hulk," but a great example of the fun potential of the savage Hulk incarnation.

Comixfan: Speaking of incarnations...who'd you rather have your back in a fight: the current Hulk of "Planet Hulk"; the gray-skinned "Fixit" Hulk; or the ol' "Hulk Smash" version? Why?

Pak: The "Planet Hulk" Hulk, of course. Although I can't tell you why just yet for fear of spoilers.

Comixfan: What's been said about the storyline thus far--far-away planet, enemies as strong as the Hulk himself--it doesn't seem like there's a place for Bruce Banner. Where does the 'puny human' scientist fit in amid the chaos?

Pak: My lips are sealed.

Comixfan: Okay, now I know something is up when you issue a denial about Banner. Very interesting. I'll up the ante again: if the Hulk action takes place on another planet, then the obvious question is, how does the storyline have repercussions throughout the entire Marvel Universe, as has been promised?

Pak: All I’ll say is listen to what Joe [Quesada]’s been saying. It’ll be big.

Comixfan: How long is "Planet Hulk" set to run? Are you planning on staying around after the storyline wraps?

Pak: It's at least an eight issue arc. And I'm ready to stick around as long as they'll have me.

Comixfan: Good plan. Let's start to close this puppy out, and discuss some generalities. Who are your writing influences?

Pak: It's tough to say what's influencing me at any given moment. But a few of the fiction writers I've always loved include Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, and William Faulkner. In film, you can't beat Akira Kurosawa and Billy Wilder. My all time favorite comics include Miller’s Daredevil: Born Again, Batman: Year One, and Dark Knight Returns; Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind; and Windsor-Smith’s Weapon X. Oh, yeah, and “Peanuts.” Bendis's New Avengers, Vaughan’s Runaways, Slott's Spider-Man/Human Torch, and Hotta’s Hikaru No Go are probably my favorite recent comics.

Comixfan: Nice...a wide variety. Besides Hulk, what other projects do you have in development?

Pak: I have a few very exciting comics projects coming up, but nothing I can talk about publicly yet. I’ve also recently completed two new short films, which should be hitting film festivals over the next few months. More news, as always, at www.gregpak.com.

Comixfan: We've glimpsed your view of Hulks past and the tip of the story iceberg for "Planet Hulk." In summation, what do you hope to bring to the Hulk that is unique from what other writers have brought to the table?

Pak: I’m just trying to tell the best darn Hulk stories I can. The rest is up for readers to judge.

Comixfan: And that's about as good a point to end on as any. Thanks for the interview, Greg, and all the best!

Incredible Hulk #92 hits shelves February 8th.