Greg Pak's Robot Stories was one of our favorite indie science fiction films of recent years. It explored people's emotional relationships with robots — and robots' relationships with each other — through three short narratives. Now Pak is writing comics, including the recent World War Hulk and a Battlestar Galactica miniseries. He talked to us about movies, comics and the inner lives of robots. (Minor BSG: Razor and comics spoilers)
When we watched Battlestar Galactica: Razor, it reminded us of your BSG comics. Did you invent the idea that Adama's call sign as a pilot was Husker? Or was that in a bible you were given for the show?
I wish I could take credit, but Adama's call sign was introduced in the miniseries that launched the new show. Adama's crew has restored his old Viper from his days as a pilot — and "Husker" is painted on the side. Originally, I misread that as "Husher," and in the comic book I had him explain it with the sardonic line, "Guess I was always running my mouth." When the our sharp-eyed letterer Simon Bowland caught the glitch, we tweaked Adama's explanation to: "Just had a sore throat the day they handed out nicknames."
I did notice, however, that I did scoop "Razor" on another detail. When we showed the old school Cylons for the first time in the comic book, their first words were, of course, "By your command." "Razor" played their version of the scene the same way, which made me chuckle. Guess we're all osBSG fanboys at heart.
Your comics were also the first time we came across the idea that the human-looking Cylons could have been patterned on actual humans. Sharon Valerii thinks she's the "original" Sharon whom the others are patterned on. Was this something you came up with, or were you told it might be true?
I came up with that idea and wrote those stories before the show itself had made any big reveals about the origins of the Cylons. I think Universal let us run with it because in the comic, Sharon's belief that she's "Sharon Prime," a real human that all of the Sharon Cylons are modeled after, turns out to be part of a fantasy — the kind of dream that a machine with emotions and no clue about her actual origins might have. I'm just as clueless and curious as you regarding the actual explanations that may come in this next season of the television show.
Speaking of robots with emotions, one thing that really blew us away about Robot Stories was its portrayal of robots having unexpected emotions. At one point, two androids designed only for office work fall in love. At the same time, you have people having emotional reactions to robots that clearly can't feel anything (like action figures). Do you think people will have trouble telling the difference between humans projecting emotions onto robots and robots having emotions of their own?
Absolutely. I read something recently about people already attributing emotions to things like Aibos and Furbies — even after being told that the machines are absolutely non-sentient. And no doubt robots will be designed to recognize and mimic emotions long before they have any of their own. On an everyday, individual level, I don't see any real problem with that — people already personalize their stuffed animals and computers and cars — it's just in our nature. The big challenge will come the day everyone who fantasized that their robots had emotions will have to confront the responsibilities and moral and ethical challenges that arise when robots really do have emotions. The fantasy's so much easier — because the main thing we'll fantasize about is unconditional love, or maybe a bit of cute mischievousness. But the reality very well may include less pleasant emotions such as anger or contempt or more complicated things such as neediness, existential dread, or mental illness.
That sounds like it could lead to some awkward moments.
I imagine it could be a bit like the experience of some folks who adopt baby raccoons — so cute! But then they turn into adult animals with very distinct needs and instincts that have very little to do with the comfort level of their owners.
We loved Planet Hulk, your storyline where the Hulk gets trapped on an alien world and forced to become a gladiator. One of the coolest parts was the planet Sakaar itself, with its patchwork of different species and cultures. How did you come up with that concept for the planet?
I'm mixed race — half white and half Korean — which I think made me hyperaware of race and racism and the promise of a genuinely pluralistic society from a ridiculously young age. So it was a natural thing for me to populate Sakaar with a variety of different sentient species interacting in a society dominated by racist and classist ideology — and then to turn the various prejudices and stereotypes about the various characters on their heads as the story progressed.
Was the planet's mix of cultures something that evolved in the process of writing the story, or did you spend a lot of time on world-building beforehand?
Under the expert guidance of Hulk editor extraordinaire Mark Paniccia, I spent a huge amount of time developing the world ahead of time, but also developed a great deal of the specifics as we went along. It was a great way to work — I'd nailed down all of the big picture ideas about the planet's ecology, history, society, politics, mythology, zoology and theology before I started writing the first issue, so I knew how all the working pieces fit into the story we were telling. But there was space to explore and expand and discover along the way, which was incredibly invigorating.
The most engaging character in Planet Hulk was probably Miek, the cute bug who turns into a warlord. In some ways, Planet Hulk seemed to be Miek's story as much as the Hulk's. I was glad he turned out to have a pivotal role in the end of World War Hulk, the sequel. But do you think the ending of World War Hulk would make sense to people who only read the World War Hulk miniseries and not the Incredible Hulk issues (which focused more on Miek)?
No doubt folks who have been following the story from the first issue of "Planet Hulk" will get the deepest appreciation of Miek's journey. But having talked to tons of fans at Wizard World Texas in November, the ending seems to work pretty well with folks who only read World War Hulk. One of the things I'm pretty proud of, actually, was the way we worked important moments for each of the Hulk's alien Warbound companions within World War Hulk proper. It's not every day that that many new characters get such a big spotlight in the Marvel Universe.
And we're going to see more of the Hulk's companions from Sakaar, who came back to Earth with him on his mission of vengeance, right?
Yes, I'm getting the chance to feature these characters in a brand new adventure right here on planet Earth with the Warbound miniseries (the second issue of which hits stores on January 16).
Another great new character is Amadeus Cho, the angry coyote-carrying teen super-genius who took the Hulk's side during World War Hulk. We're hoping the "Incredible Hercules" issues of the Hulk comic will be basically a vehicle for Amadeus. Is that true?
Heh. Someday we'll do an Amadeus Cho solo book. But the "Incredible Hercules" is definitely the right place for the character right now. And it's definitely a shared book with Herc and Amadeus playing equal roles as foils for each other — the world's most irresponsible god and incorrigible teen genius get each other into a ridiculous amount of trouble in the wake of World War Hulk! What's not to love?
So is there any chance you'll make another independent movie?
Absolutely. I have a dream project or two that I'll get made one way or another in the fullness of time. I can't spill the beans just yet, but I have a few creator owned comic book projects coming up in the next few months that could help the process along.
So what are you working on right now? Anything besides the Warbound and "Incredible Herc" comics you can talk about?
My craziest new project is "Skaar: Son of Hulk," a new Marvel series that launches in the spring. It tells the tale of Skaar, the son of the Hulk and the alien woman warrior Caiera the Oldstrong, as he struggles to survive and conquer on the savage planet of Sakaar. More epic science fiction adventure that picks up right where Planet Hulk left off. And then I have a couple more top secret projects I can't talk about just yet — but the latest news can always be found at pakbuzz.com.