It looks like the Hulk is coming down with a case of Linsanity.
Basketball star Jeremy Lin, 28, who signed a three-year deal with the Nets in July, will be bringing his on-court heroics to the pages of Marvel Comics’ “Totally Awesome Hulk” series in December.
The idea to have Lin team up with the Hulk sprung from the mind of a comics writer, New York-based Greg Pak, who was himself stricken with Linsanity during the 2011-12 NBA season, when Lin broke out with the Knicks and led the team to a seven-game winning streak.
“I was here in New York when Linsanity happened and it never stopped for me,” said Pak, who will be writing the issue with interior art by Luke Ross and a cover by Bernard Chang. “I followed him everywhere. I just love the guy. And at a certain point, I just found myself thinking, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if the biggest Asian-American superhero met the biggest Asian-American sports star?’ ”
That’s right. Right now, the Hulk in the comics is a Korean-American named Amadeus Cho, who took over the mantle of the Green Goliath from Dr. Bruce Banner, whom you might remember from the 1970s television shows and all of the Marvel movies.
Pak said Cho is a “genius, he’s ridiculously cocky, he thinks he’s going to be the best Hulk ever.”
But the new Hulk has got a lot to learn, he added, and one of those lessons will come from Lin’s comic incarnation.
“Our story picks up when Amadeus is kind of at a low point,” explained Pak, who was careful to avoid spoiling the story, which will be in the series’ 13th issue. “He’s getting notoriety, people recognize him. He eventually ends up meeting Jeremy and the two of them team up for reasons that will be revealed soon.
“It’s kind of about Amadeus being used to being the best at whatever he does ... and thinks he can handle anything,” Pak continued. “And Jeremy, as a great basketball player and point guard, knows a little something about teamwork, and so they’ve got kind of an interesting conflict and room for people to learn something along the way.”
Pak pitched the idea to Lin’s people, sending over the basic outline of the story as well as some reading material featuring Cho, who debuted in 2005 and was created by Pak and artist Takeshi Miyazawa. One of the selling points was that it looks like Cho and Lin might go to the same barber.
“They had me with Hulk’s hair. We’re kindred spirits,” Lin said. “It is an honor and a cool opportunity to become part of the Amadeus Cho, ‘Totally Awesome Hulk’ storyline. Additionally, I think it’s great that Marvel is making real efforts to add diversity to its superheroes and their origin stories.”
The move toward building diversity has been key for Marvel, according to editor-in-chief Axel Alonso.
“It is very important to us that everyone sees their reflection in our characters,” Alonso said.
Alonso said the move to make Cho into the Hulk was a decision that “felt especially right for a lot of reasons.”
The first reason was that it allows the readers to experience an all-new Hulk — Banner, a middle-aged white guy who treats the monster as a burden, is vastly different from Cho, who is young, cocky and overconfident.
The second reason was a lot more personal.
“Having the most powerful character in the Marvel Universe be Asian-American was exciting to me,” Alonso said. “My wife is Korean. ... I’ve got mixed-race kids. It’s important for me that they see themselves in our characters.”
He recounted a story about his 4-year-old nephew Reece, who is a big comic book fan. He got a call from Reece’s mother in the middle of the night.
“Reece had just learned that the new Hulk was Korean and could not fall asleep because he was convinced now that he would be the next Hulk, because a Korean boy became the Hulk,” Alonso said.
“It blew his mind that a Korean boy could be the Hulk. That spoke volumes to me. I had to call him and explain ... [that] there would only be one Hulk and he had nothing to worry about. ... Then he fell right to sleep. Now I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a significant thing and I think that part of the reason that we’re in this business is to touch people like that.”
It was also very personal for Pak, who, like his creation Cho, is Korean-American. When he had the opportunity to create a new character 11 years ago, he was looking at the Marvel universe, which seemed to have quite a few Asian characters, but not many Asian-American ones.
“I came up with this idea of Amadeus Cho and everyone gave it a thumbs up and said go for it,” Pak said. “The idea that Marvel was open to letting this Asian-American kid into the room in a big way, it was huge.
“I had the culmination of this experience happen to me just the other week at a signing,” he continued. “This little Asian-American kid came up with this wrinkled, big poster that he had had on his wall, and it was the Amadeus Cho Hulk poster. This is his favorite book, and so he brought this poster from his bedroom into the shop for me to sign and he also had these books and everything. My heart grew three sizes.”
Like Cho, Lin is a heroic figure that fans just can’t seem to get enough of. Alonso saw him play against the Utah Jazz on Feb. 6, 2012, Lin’s first start for the Knicks. He ended up scoring 28 points in New York’s 99-88 win at Madison Square Garden.
“It was phenomenal,” he said. “Seeing an Asian guy basically own the floor and single-handedly win the game, you just don’t see that. ... I’ve been to Madison Square Garden countless times, but I’ve never seen the Garden embrace someone like an everyman hero like that.
“The idea of having Lin in a Marvel comic book was exciting,” Alonso continued, “and Greg did not need to have to sell me on the synergy of having Amadeus Cho team up with Jeremy. It was really a matter of finding a way that the story could connect and make sense. And he’s done just that.”