At this point, it’s safe to say that Planet Hulk is something of a modern classic. In the time since it was first published in the pages of Incredible Hulk in 2006-2007, its popularity has only grown, spawning animated movies, “What if?”-style alternate takes, and inspiring the Jade Giant’s next cinematic appearance in Thor: Ragnarok.
Planet Hulk defied the conventional Hulk-wisdom of the time, which said that Bruce Banner was the one who had the character development and the struggles, but instead put Banner away for a while and let readers see what happened when the Hulk had triumphs and tragedies all his own. Betrayed by his friends and sent to the far-off planet Sakaar, where he’d be humbled and forced to fight for his life as a gladiator and revolutionary, the Hulk was defined by Planet Hulk in a way that no story since — and few prior — has done.
Now that epic story is being brought to yet another medium, in the form of a prose novel, and it’s being penned by the man who wrote the original comics, Greg Pak. In the novel, Pak revisits Sakaar and its residents for a familiar, but completely fresh take on the classic storyline.
Pak chatted with SYFY WIRE about his new novel and the new elements it brings to the story, as well as the exploding popularity of Planet Hulk, returning to the world in the comics, and much more. Read on for the smashing interview with the writer and be sure to pick up the Planet Hulk novel in stores on October 4.
It's been just over a decade since the original Planet Hulk storyline wrapped up, did you have any idea at the time of how much of a landmark story it would be for the character?
Greg Pak: I had no idea. I mean, everyone who worked on that book thought we were doing something special. We all loved it and gave it everything we had. But over the course of a long career, you work on a lot of books that you absolutely love, and not all of them catch fire the same way. So it was hugely gratifying that this story we all adored reached its audience and ended up meaning so much to so many people. Huge thanks to everyone who worked on the book and everyone who's bought and read it over the years!
Returning to the story now, with ten more years of writing experience behind you, did you find yourself wanting to change things about the story?
I'm still pretty much in love with the story we told, so there's not much I'd want to tweak to it in comics form. But in adapting it to a prose novel, I absolutely loved the opportunity to do things a little differently here and there. First and foremost, the prose novel format allowed me to dig a little deeper into the background and mindset of all the different characters. For example, Governor Denbo, the alien aristocrat who captures the Hulk right after the Hulk arrives on Sakaar, plays a much bigger role in the prose novel. He pretty much does the same things he does in the comics. But the prose novel allows us to get inside his head more, which I think builds up Denbo as a character, deepens our understanding of the world and society he lives in, and increases our understanding of the Hulk and his huge impact in this world. So little things like that that end up having a big impact were a huge amount of fun to play with.
And yes, we did make one very big change from the original graphic novel. I won't reveal exactly what it is here for fear of spoilers -- I think it'll be a lot more fun for readers to discover it on their own. But it's a huge thing that has a big impact and I have a feeling Hulk fans may really appreciate it.
This is your first novel, unless I'm mistaken. Was writing a novel something you'd aspired to do? Do you think you'll do more?
I grew up writing prose — even wrote a couple of spectacularly terrible fantasy novels when I was twelve or thirteen. I wrote short stories all through my childhood, high school, and college. But then I went to grad school for film and then eventually became a comics writer, so most of my writing has been in dramatic script form for the past few decades. At the same time, I've had a number of stories in my head over the years that really felt like they wanted to be novels. So writing the Planet Hulk novel has been a huge pleasure and a tremendous experience for me. It's a return to my roots, for one, and it's kind of a proof-of-concept to myself — telling me that yes, I can write a novel! And yes, I am working on another one!
Shifting from comics to prose gives us a more intimate perspective of the story, particularly in emphasizing how strange it is for the Hulk to feel pain. That was certainly an element of the original story, but it's a lot more prominent here. Was that something you thought would be more effective in prose?
Yeah, prose gives you a chance to explicitly explore a character's inner life in a really intimate way. I mean, comics and film do that as well, gorgeously and incredibly effectively. But comics and film are essentially dramatic, meaning everything is shown through action. That makes it incredibly powerful, particularly when you're conveying big emotional changes through subtle action, and I love that kind of writing. But prose opens up other doors, lets you tap into the running commentary in a character's head that draws you in in a whole other way that I also adore.
Were there other themes or ideas you wanted to play up more than in the comics?
There are a lot of moments in the prose novel with Caiera — the Shadow warrior who starts out as the Hulk's enemy and becomes something very different — that I just love and that really benefit from that chance to step directly inside a character's head.
What is your process like for adapting this? Did you go back to your original scripts or did you work from the comics themselves?
I thought for half a second early in the process about cutting and pasting descriptions from the original comics scripts for my first draft. But I abandoned that immediately. Those comics scripts were written for a very different audience and purpose. They're working blueprints for the creation of the comics. The language of the prose novel is an entirely different thing. So when I referred back to the comics, I went to the finished comics and stole bits of dialogue here and there, for example. But the vast, vast bulk of the prose was written from scratch.
That being said, the fact that I'd hammered out all of the beats of the original story already meant that putting together my outline for the prose novel was a thousand times easier than doing it from scratch. The hardest part of writing for me is always what happens and how the big story is structured, not how to describe or dramatize it in the writing itself. We made some tweaks to that big picture. But the fact that it was already in excellent shape at the beginning of this process meant that I got to spent most of my time on the really fun stuff of writing the actual book.
Were there any characters that you were more captivated with as a writer in prose than in comics?
Oh, yeah. I've already mentioned Denbo. I also had a huge amount of fun with the Shadow Elder we meet about two thirds of the way through the original graphic novel. She becomes a pretty big character in the prose novel and I love her. I also created a few brand-new characters for the prose novel, and that was a ton of fun.
You're also returning to Planet Hulk in the comics, this time with the Totally Awesome Amadeus Cho version. Has working on this at the same time informed the new comic arc or vice versa?
Yeah, we're shooting Amadeus into space! He'll end up back on Planet Sakaar, trying to save a small community from a terrifying warlord. The catch is that Amadeus has recently been having a huge amount of trouble controlling the monster within — and now he's on a planet that's practically screaming at him to release that monster. We'll see if he can handle the terrible pressure — and what the ramifications will be if he actually lets the monster take over — or if he doesn't!
Working on these two stories at once has been great. I finished the Planet Hulk prose novel a few months before I had to dive into the Return to Planet Hulk scripts, so the original story was fresh in my mind and I was chomping on the bit to play more in the world. It should also be fun for fans to read both — Amadeus was always one of the heroes who sided with the Hulk when he was exiled to Planet Sakaar — in the comics, Amadeus fought with Reed Richards as he tried to find out what happened to Banner. So Amadeus has been tied into the story in the past, and the prose novel digs a little deeper into that in fun ways. And then the Return to Planet Hulk story thrusts Amadeus right into the thick of it, which is a hugely fun thing to do to a character that's kind of been yelling from the sidelines. It's time for Amadeus to put up or shut up, and it's a blast!
This is obviously a huge year for Planet Hulk, with this book, new comics, and it being incorporated into Thor: Ragnarok. But what's next? Are there any mediums left that you'd like to see Planet Hulk to conquer?
Ha! How about a five season, big-budget HBO series? I'm available to write and direct. Call me!