INTERVIEW: Thor takes on Hulk in new ‘Champions of the Universe’

Courtesy of comiXology.

As the world waits with bated breath for Thor: Ragnarok, the comic universe has started to embrace a new miniseries from writer Jeremy Whitley and artists Simone Buonfantino and Alti Firmasyah. Their creation is Thor vs. Hulk: Champions of the Universe, an exclusive digital comic from Marvel and comiXology.

The story in the series, which premiered a new issue, Sept. 20, focuses on two of Marvel’s most beloved characters, who are pitted against each other to decide who will fight the Elder of the Universe, known as the Champion. A new Marvel character called the Promoter is also featured.

Whitley is a successful comic writer who created the Princeless series, The Order of Dagonet and Illegal. His work has also been featured in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, My Little Pony: Friends Forever and Courage the Cowardly Dog.

Recently, Hollywood Soapbox exchanged emails with Whitley about the new miniseries. Questions and answers have been slightly edited for style.

When you take on big characters like Thor and Hulk, do you receive directives from Marvel on how to handle the story? Do you have freedom to take the characters where you’d like?

I’d say, in this case, it’s much more like guidance than directives. In the cases of Hulk and Thor, these characters have been around for decades and have both seen a number of different permutations. There are half a dozen Hulks out there and a number of people have wielded Thor’s hammer over the years. Even when we talk … specifically about the Bruce Banner version of Hulk, there has been classic monosyllabic green Hulk, grey Hulk, Joe Fixit, smarter green Hulk, future evil Hulk and the truly savage Ultimate Hulk. One of my first questions to my editor on the project was ‘What Hulk and Thor are we talking about?’

Once I had the guidance to know what versions of the characters we needed to see, Alanna and I bounced ideas back and forth about what this story would look like. However, as long as I’m staying true to this version of the characters, editorial has been pretty hands off to let me tell the story I want to tell. There are always invaluable suggestions, but I’ve felt pretty free to take the ones I liked and leave the others behind. Ultimately, this story really pulls Hulk and Thor from one side of the universe to the other, and I was given the freedom to go as big and crazy as I wanted to.

What can longtime and new fans expect from Thor vs. Hulk: Champions of the Universe?

Our mission was to deliver a big new story featuring two characters that fans love. We wanted something that was big and really took advantage of the size of the Marvel Universe. We also wanted something that anyone can read without having to [be] waist deep in the Marvel Universe. Do you know who Hulk and Thor are? Are you willing to go on a wild ride across the Marvel Universe? If your answers are yes, you’re ready to jump into this comic. We’ll be pulling some big stuff from Hulk and Thor’s history, but we’ll never leave even the newest reader feeling lost. Or at least … no more lost than our heroes feel!

Is there a hope that Thor vs. Hulk will continue if fan interest is there?

Well, the nature of our miniseries is such that we have a pretty definite ending to this particular story. However, between some of the great characters from Marvel’s history we bring in and the new characters we add, there are plenty of other stories we could tell. If people love this story, there’s always room for more titans clashing in space.

Courtesy of comiXology.

Could you describe the Promoter? This is exciting news for Marvel fans.

Yes!  The Promoter is a new character we created for this story. She’s one of the Elders of the Universe, meaning she’s the last survivor of an ancient race and possesses immense (if somewhat specialized) power.

For me, I feel like she’s the natural companion to an existing Elder of the Universe, The Champion. The Champion is effectively an alien whose function is being the greatest fighter in the universe. He is well known for showing up, challenging the strongest members of a race/planet to fight him for the survival of their planet and then moving on. He’s not known, however, for having a particularly strong personality, and if you’re a boxer, or wrestler or a musical act with that sort of issue, you hire a hype man. A manager. A promoter.

The Promoter has enormous reality-warping powers. She can teleport herself and others, create objects and costumes from thin air, and effect the probability of factors in a competition. The catch is, she can’t use any of these things for her own benefit; she can only use them to assist others. As long as she’s doing it in interest of a person she’s representing, her powers are substantial. However, when it comes to helping or defending herself, she’s just an average civilian. It leads to some tricky situations when working for a dangerous employer.

When did you first get into to comics? Does love for this art form go back to when you were a child?

Absolutely. I started reading X-Men and watching the X-Men animated series as a kid. I was hooked right away. Luckily, my dad was also a huge fan of comic books and used to take my brother and I to the comic book shop on a regular basis. I lost track of it for a while in high school, but during college I found Ultimate Comics here in North Carolina and found myself getting sucked back in. I had already been going to school for creative writing, and the idea of writing comic books was something that instantly grabbed me.

Princeless is such a beloved series. Do you feel like you’ve achieved the goals you created when it first premiered years ago? Do you hope it continues forever?

It’s come a long way over the past six years. I feel like we’ve accomplished a lot, and the comics industry has come a long way, too. Looking around and seeing the diverse array of books on shelves right now makes me happy, and I like to think we played some small part in that. At the same time, there’s a lot of stuff I still want to do. I have some stories coming up in the series I’m really excited about telling, and I think the fact that we’re looking at working with Sony Pictures on a movie is going to afford us opportunities to try new things and expand our scope a bit. I’m always excited for the next story, and I’m sure I’ll keep working on it until the day comes that I’m not, should that ever happen!

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

Thor vs. Hulk: Champions of the Universe is now available from Marvel and comiXology. Click here for more information.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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