In May of 1962 the legendary Marvel Comics creative team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced readers to a character who was literally one of their strongest creations ever in the form of Bruce Banner, a scientist who transformed into the gamma-powered goliath known as the Incredible Hulk when angered. Banner and the Hulk went on to become one of their best known creations, starring in a live-action television series, an animated series, video games, and two feature films outside of his countless comic book appearances. Hulk plays a pivotal role in the “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” animated series and in the upcoming “The Avengers” feature film.
The Hulk’s profile is poised to grow even larger in the coming months, which is bound to create new interest in the character’s four color adventures. The universe of the Hulk comics is rich, but it’s also a complicated one full of almost 50 years of story developments and currently populated by a number of different hued Hulks. That complex mythology might seem a little intimidating to new readers, but Marvel doesn’t intend to let them stay intimidated long.
In September 2012 Marvel will release the “Hulk: Season One” original graphic novel by writer Fred Van Lente and artist Tom Fowler. Like the other “Season One” OGNS, the book provides readers the full story of the Hulk’s early days and also offers long time fans a look at what those days would like if they happened in the 21st century. CBR News spoke with Van Lente and Fowler about the project and their take on the Hulk.
CBR News: Fred and Tom, you’re both heavily involved in the creation of monthly comics. How does it feel to be given the chance to change gears and work on an original graphic novel?
Tom Fowler: Personally I’m a huge fan of the OGN model. The idea of getting a book and a larger complete story is very, very appealing to me because I’ve done things in the past where I’ve come in in the middle of a story line and I’ve left before it’s over. You never get a real sense of ownership that way. You don’t get a sense of, “This is a thing that I did.” It’s more a, “These are parts of a thing that I did part of.”
Fred Van Lente: As a kid, many of the first comics I got were the old Pocket Books color reprints of Kirby’s “Hulk” and “Fantastic Four” and Ditko’s “Spider-Man.” I sort of got spoiled by that at an early age. I very rarely ever got into the classic show up on Wednesday at the store to collect you comics routine. I was hardwired as a novelist. I’ve read a lot of comics where some story lines begin and end and others don’t. They start and then shift into these others things. I actually have a lot of respect for guys who are very comfortable writing like that because I’m not.
With “Hulk: Season One” you’re not just telling a standard story. You’re taking the almost 50 year-old origin tale of one of Marvel’s most beloved characters and updating it for a modern audience. What’s that like? What elements did you want to keep and what elements of the character’s origin needed to be changed for the 21st century?
Van Lente: What’s exciting about “Hulk: Season One” is that we’re doing something that is both classic yet different for Hulk in that we’re retaining the Military/Gamma Bomb aspect of it all. If you think about it, there’s been a whole bunch of different versions of the Hulk’s origin in media since he’s been one of Marvel’s most popular characters outside of comics. I sort of gorged on those for preparation. I watched the hour and a half long Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno pilot, which is actually a great self-contained TV movie, but it has nothing to do with Gamma Bombs. It has to do with adrenaline and medical research and the Ang Lee and Edward Norton films handle the origin similarly. The Ang Lee version has a more medical feel, where the Norton one is more about trying to recreate Captain America.
So I felt strongly about remaking the actual ” Incredible Hulk” #1 comic in the first couple pages of our story and retaining the Gamma Base setting in New Mexico. So we have Gamma Bombs and recent research, as early as 2003, shows that the U.S. Military is in fact developing Gamma Bombs. The reason they’re developing them is because they get their power not from fission or fusion, but bursts of radioactivity. I don’t have my research in front of me right now so I’m probably butchering the physics, but the interesting thing from that is you don’t have as much fallout. You can have a nuclear war without a nuclear holocaust, which is either a wonderful or terrible thing depending on your position. This is essentially what Banner is trying to develop.
Fowler:The wonderful part of Fred’s original pitch for this was we essentially tackle the Hulk’s origin in the first five pages, which means we’ve got this weird moment in history with the Hulk where he went from being one thing to the other. So we’re being given the opportunity to basically play with that and do whatever the hell we want. In the end, by page 100 we’ve gotten to what you know the Hulk to be.
So we’re not so much telling the origin of the Hulk. We’re telling the origin of his status quo. Everything up to that point is, for us at least, little chess pieces that are in play. So we’re moving things around and having fun. We’re turning these people into the fleshed out characters we know them to be today and that’s a blast.
It sounds like you’re not dancing between the rain drops of continuity with “Hulk: Season One.”
Van Lente: Right. We’re straight up changing continuity in some places. The most obvious example us is Betty Ross. In the original “Incredible Hulk” #1 Betty was standing around a top secret military weapons testing installation dressed like Jackie Kennedy simply because she was General Ross’ daughter. That’s not going to fly in a modern retelling of the origin. [Laughs] That does not work in the 21st century.
So we’ve given Betty a new role. She’s still General Ross’ daughter and she’s still hanging around Gamma Base, but we’ve made her an active member of the military, which sort of reflects how now the U.S. Military more actively recruits women and how they have a more active role in the military now then they did in the ’60s. Plus it gives Betty something to do. She’s very integral to the plot and is kind of a kick ass character in her own right. She’s not just the girl that Banner is pining after. So Betty got a bit of a make over in our version.
Another character that seems ripe for a make over is Rick Jones, who, in the original origin, helped create the Hulk by sneaking onto Gamma Base. Both being a teenager and military security have changed a lot since 1962. Will we see that reflected in Rick’s role in the story?
Van Lente: Yep, Rick gets a major makeover as well. He is an integral part of our story, but we’ve definitely modified him a bit. Partly because of our New Mexico setting and partly because we have a brainy guy that is trying to hide something horrible that he’s doing, I couldn’t help but think of the TV series “Breaking Bad” as an analogy for the situation that Banner finds himself in. So if Banner is Walter White, Rick Jones is the Jesse Pinkman of our story.
And Again, just like Betty, we have to make some changes to the way Rick gets involved in the Hulk’s story. In the 21st century, if a kid playing a harmonica and driving a jalopy appears on a top secret weapons testing ground, the Department of Homeland Security is not going to take too kindly to that.
Fowler: They’re not going to patch him up and send him on his way.
Van Lente: Exactly, which is what happens at the end of the original ” Incredible Hulk” #1. So that gets modified as well. And Rick was always basically a juvenile delinquent. That was his whole background. He was an orphan and even started his own gang called the Teen Brigade. So Rick is definitely from the wrong side of the tracks. He’s a good kid, but he’s had a crappy life and he’s involved with some criminal elements in New Mexico that will play a huge part in our story.
We’ve talked a bit about two of the Hulk’s major supporting players. Now let’s talk about the Hulk himself. What can we expect from the Hulk and Banner in “Hulk: Season One?” How similar and how different will they be to their original counterparts in terms of looks, character traits, and behavior? How would you initially describe the relation between the two characters?
Fowler: People can go and look at the three dimensional sculpys I have on my blog. I haven’t posted my ones of Banner yet, but I’ve posted my Hulk who is more or less based on Lee Marvin and my Thunderbolt Ross, who is based on Stephen Lang from “Avatar” and “Terra Nova.” Then to round out the cast Banner is more or less Adam Scott from NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” and Betty is now based on Paget Brewster from “Criminal Minds.”
I’m not the type of guy who works from photographs and I have nothing against that, but the characters won’t look exactly like those actors. I just like to take visual cues from people. It gives me a starting point that allows me to figure the characters out.
In this story we’re dealing with the gray Hulk who wasn’t just talking in three word sentences and saying, “Smash” and “Puny” a lot. This was kind of that a-hole Hulk that would often tell people to go to hell. So if I had my druthers and a time machine and was able to make the gray Hulk movie, I would get drunken Lee Marvin in a motion capture suit for the Hulk. [Laughs] That’s basically what my entire intention for this character is. He’s going to move, look, and talk like Lee Marvin.
Van Lente: The other interesting thing from a story standpoint is that we’re also developing the relationship between Hulk and Banner. To Banner, the Hulk is a disease that he’s trying to cure himself of. On the one hand he’s grateful because he was caught in the heart of a Gamma Bomb blast and didn’t die. So he’s basically invented a death ray bomb that doesn’t kill people. Or maybe there’s something about him that allowed him to survive albeit transformed? That’s the question he’s looking for the answer to. And we will answer it by the end of the novel.
One of the fun questions about the Hulk, and I didn’t even think about this until I started scripting, is does the Hulk even understand what he actually is? At a certain point the Hulk decides that he’s not Banner, but at one point does he realize that? What kind of attitude does a three day Hulk have towards Banner? And how does he understand what his relationship with Banner is?
Those questions lead to others, like once he figures out that Banner is actively trying to kill him does Hulk take action to actively “cure” Banner? So many Hulk story lines have been about Banner trying to cure himself of the Hulk. But why doesn’t the Hulk ever try to cure himself of Banner?
So this becomes a real life and death struggle between these two sides of the same personality. That sort of drives the whole story. It was very exciting to understand through scripting that this is the same guy, only Hulk and Banner don’t think they’re the same guy.
Fowler: [Laughs] And there’s some great strategic moments because they’ve both got a strategy to screw the other. There are moments where it becomes like those conversations Gollum has with himself in the woods in “The Lord of the Rings.” They’re moments of transformation where they’re literally having it out with each other. They were in the original pitch that Fred sent me. I absolutely loved them and asked for more.
Van Lente: You came up with a unique way of representing them.
â€¨Fowler: Yeah, which came as I was reading the pitch. I thought, “OH! I know just how to do this!” Those are the kind of moments that guys who really dig things like layout will really get off on. Other people will be like, “More smashing!” [Laughs]
As far as the Hulk and Banner, Banner is this character who just shows this incredible castrated rage. He’s just so angry and you can see it under the surface in every shot. He’s like a tiny little coiled spring. As far as I’m concerned that’s the monster that’s within Banner. It’s this incredible rage that he’s carried with him his entire life. So I want that to show across his face as he does what he does. And in these moments where he and the Hulk are actually having it out with each other, that’s what he’s seeing. He’s seeing that part of himself that he despises. So we’ve got all these meaty acting parts throughout the story. Right now, that’s what I’m hanging off of and getting very excited about. That and smashing tanks and things like that, which is always fun to draw.
Will this story explore the origins of Banner’s rage?
Van Lente: Yeah, we do that pretty much right on page 1.
Fowler: Then we get some information about what Banner’s father was like on page four.
Banner’s father was a villainous figure in his early life, but what about the antagonists when he becomes the Hulk? Will we see villains like the Abomination and the Leader in “Hulk: Season One?”
Van Lente: Don’t forget that Abomination, Leader, and most of the classic Hulk villains get their origins during the actual Hulk run, so they don’t actually exist at the time our story takes place. However, you are going to see a very well known evil Marvel organization show up. We’re going to introduce you to a brand new Hulk villain called Biocide, who’s pretty awful and horrible, and therefore awesome. And it reintroduces a character that I created who has been directly associated with Bruce Banner in a romantic way by other writers. I’m now officially retconning her into Hulk continuity, and she plays a major role in the story. Basically, I thought Betty needed a romantic rival for Bruce’s affections and that’s this character.
Perhaps the biggest antagonist in the Hulk’s life is General “Thunderbolt” Ross, the man who relentlessly hounded the Hulk for many years. What kind of role does Ross play in “Hulk: Season One?” Will we see the origins of his hatred for Hulk and Banner?
Van Lente: Absolutely, but Ross doesn’t show up until chapter two of the story and that’s partly because I want people to be scared of Thunderbolt Ross. It’s clear that Betty is intimidated by her father. I want people to see that and at the same time I want people to understand why the Hulk should be intimidated by her father.
Fowler: It gets back to what I was saying before. What we’re dealing with is the origin of the status quo. We’re dealing with the origin of why all the characters are the way they are. To give you that we’re showing you the rawest moments when they all set into these directions.
When Ross made his Marvel Universe debut he was a member of the U.S. Air Force. Later things were changed so that he was a General in the Army. Years later he was an Air Force General again. What branch of the Armed Services is Ross a member of in “Hulk: Season One?”
Van Lente: Without a doubt we’re dealing with the Air Force. In fact, Gamma Base is located in the same general area where the Air Force’s military testing ground is today: New Mexico near the Mexican border.
We’re also introducing a new character, Colonel Halperin, who is a member of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. So he’s checking into Banner’s background. He’s a a very important new character in this story and in the Hulk’s future.
It sounds like the military and its vehicles and weapons will play a significant role in “Hulk: Season One.” Tom, you’re coming off a stint on another book with a strong military flavor to it, “Venom.” What’s it like drawing all that gear and technology?
Fowler: I’ll draw anything as long as I’ve got proper reference for it. I tend to enjoy more organic shapes when I’m just doing things for myself, but I’ve got no problem drawing jeeps, tanks and guns. Also, keep in mind we’re dealing with Kirby characters and strange super science. So a lot of the technology I’m drawing, whether it’s military or not, is Kirby Tech. I’m doing all of this with “The Essential Hulk” next to me on my drafting table. I’ve actually thrown in a couple of Easter Eggs, bits of technology that are taken directly out of that book.
The Hulk exists in a very big, blocky, Kirby world so there will be enough real stuff to satisfy people, but ultimately it’s about the story and getting the right feel for this Kirbyverse that the Hulk got born into.
Speaking of Jack Kirby, will your work on “Hulk: Season One” resemble his early Hulk work?
Fowler: I’m drawing people the way I think they should be drawn. There were other people Marvel could have hired if they wanted something that looked like Jack Kirby. They hired me because they wanted something that looked like me.
Van Lente: THEY WANTED THE TOM FOWLER MAGIC! BRING IT. [Laughs]
â€¨Fowler: [Laughs] That said, there is only one Hulk and that’s the Hulk that Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko drew. And that’s the Hulk that I’m drawing. Obviously I draw differently then they do. So much of whatever style I have is going into it, but I decided at the very beginning that I’m drawing bulky Hulk. I’m not drawing veiny Hulk. Nothing against anybody else, but my Hulk is a big, huge, rough hewn golem of a figure that beats things with its massive fists, legs, arms and torso.
I’m especially excited that Jordie Bellaire will be coloring my work on “Hulk: Season One.” I asked for her because I’m a huge fan of her work and I’ve known her for years. They gave her to me and I’m over the moon. We’ve had a couple little practice gos and on those she’s turned out very beautiful work. I’m very excited to see what she’s going to do with these pages.
It sounds like “Hulk: Season One” will have some exciting visuals and a compelling story for both new and old fans of the character. What else can you tell our readers about the project?
Van Lente: I really liked doing this because the Hulk is one of those Marvel properties that is and isn’t a super hero. Banner has a secret identity that is actively trying to destroy him [Laughs] and vice versa. To go back to our original “Breaking Bad” analogy, we have someone who is trying to conceal his activities from the authorities while he’s literally embedded in a high security, locked down military installation. That’s just pure drama. Banner’s slightest missteps will either get him arrested by General Ross or killed by the Hulk. So Banner is walking a tightrope here and it’s exciting to put him through the paces to see how he tries to get out of that situation.
Fowler: We’ve got all that and smashing too!