UPDATE 8:43 AM: Marc Laming is now working on “Hulk Annual” rather than artist Elia Bonetti.
For years now, Marvel Comics has been releasing Annual issues of their ongoing titles, usually in the form of extra-long, standalone tales. They can serve many purposes, from introducing new readers to a book’s central characters and conflicts to introducing new threats to the larger Marvel Universe. From the publisher’s standpoint, they can also provide a forum by which to introduce readers to new creators.
“Death Sentence” writer Monty Nero recently made his Marvel debut on an “Amazing X-Men Annual” which served all of the aforementioned purposes, and he’s set to do it again this September in this year’s “Hulk Annual” featuring art by Luke Ross, Marc Laming and Pat Goddard. Once again, Nero will pen a tale that adds new elements to the title character’s world and the greater Marvel U, and CBR News spoke with him about breaking in at Marvel, the challenge of annuals and his Hulk story that pits an intelligent Hulk against an all-new adversary who poses a threat to all life on Earth.
CBR News: Monty, in just a few short years you’ve gone from your first comic project, “Death Sentence” to writing some of the biggest Marvel characters, namely the X-Men and the Hulk. How does that feel? When you first started putting out “Death Sentence” with Mike Dowling, did you ever imagine it would lead to work with Marvel?
It feels very surreal and exciting. The whole Marvel experience has been wonderful so far — an unexpected thrill. I’m a very happy bunny.
What do you enjoy most about writing for Marvel? What about the Marvel U do you find compelling as a writer?
Characters that have lasted this long were clearly designed by geniuses and have something wonderfully compelling at their core. Sometimes it gets lost for a while, so I see my role as discovering the magic and doing something fantastic with it. I love the spirit and mood of the original comics, but all these characters have never existed on this day in this year before — if you see what I mean. It’s a brand new world, changing by the day, and by mixing the new with the old you can create something fresh and exciting.
What’s it like moving from a team book like the “Amazing X-Men Annual” to a solo book like the “Hulk Annual?” Do you prefer writing larger casts of characters or having the chance to focus on one particular protagonist?
I wrote the X-Men based around Storm, so it didn’t feel very different to the Hulk in terms of scope. Though the the Hulk took a little more background reading because there’ve been lots of exciting developments with the character in recent months. It’s a great time to jump on board.
Your “Hulk Annual” is your second Annual for Marvel. What’s it like writing Annuals? It feels like you might you might have some more freedom with an Annual since you don’t necessarily have to dive into all of a book’s ongoing plot threads. Is that correct?
Yeah, it’s great. I’ve never written an ongoing Marvel book so I have nothing to compare it to. But I’ve found it a very free and fun experience writing the Annuals. All the Marvel editors have been really creative people, full of ideas. You can do all kinds of cool stuff in a stand-alone story, as long as you wrap it all up by the end. And we’ve introduced new villains in both books. And the new villain in this “Hulk Annual” is already queued up for sequels. She’s an epic new threat.
Let’s talk about your take on the Hulk a bit. What do you find most interesting about Bruce Banner and the Hulk? Which aspects of their personality are you especially interested in exploring?
Well, there’s no Bruce Banner in my story. There’s your first clue. So we investigate all the cool stuff you can do with a super intelligent Hulk. If you combine incredible strength and speed with astounding intellect, there are obviously going to be some mind blowing moves we haven’t seen before. And the antagonist for this kind of action has to be worthy of that, a world shaking threat. Otherwise we’d have no tangible conflict. A good story’s all about conflict — physical, mental, spiritual. Here we take Hulk to the limit. And in doing that we get to the core of Hulk’s relationship to man, and to Banner.
In terms of plot and themes what is your “Hulk Annual” about? What sets the story in motion?
It’s instigated by Patricia Wolman, who’s been assisting Banner for a couple of years. In resolving her arc we uncover some stunning facts about what’s really been going on these last years, and see a villain evolve who can shake the earth to its core. This creature’s gonna be around for some time, and without being stereotypically villainous they have a world view that doesn’t mesh with mankind’s dominance. So Hulk gets into a battle where he has to take humanity’s side, and argue the merits of our civilization, while dealing with his personal feelings on the threat. And if he loses the argument, the battle, he’s toast — because this creature is just as powerful as he is.
We’ve got Patty Wolman and Dr Zadian and the epic new villain I mentioned, and a brand new Hulk that Gerry [Duggan] has cooked up. That’s a pretty potent recipe for a story. And it’s resolved in 30 pages, so you get a lot of bang for your buck.
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Let’s talk about the artists involved on this project. The solicits mentioned you were working with Luke Ross and more on this project. What does Luke bring to the story? How many other artists are contributing, and how does it feel to be telling a self-contained story with several artists?
Oh, we’ve been so lucky with the artists. Luke can handle epic detail without losing character, and make it very realistic and dramatic. So I tested that skill to its limit. “Breathtaking pages” was Luke’s precise phrase, I think. So he and Marc Laming are doing the first and third sections, and delivering the widescreen action beats. And Pat Goddard has a very similar art style, and he’s adding more emotional resonance and backstory. He’s particularly great with mood and character acting.
You have to write to people’s strengths and let them do what they do. We only wanted to use three artists if they all had very similar styles, to keep a consistent tone — which we’ve achieved. And because they’re all doing specialist jobs they can each deliver the AAA art.
This is an origin story, so whether you love or hate the Hulk you should check it out — because it’s never been done like this.
I can’t imagine you can get too specific with your answer here, but is there any other Marvel work on the horizon for you? Are there any Marvel characters that you haven’t written yet that you’re especially interested in tackling?
Ah, that would be presumptuous. Inevitably, when you write a character like Storm or the Hulk, you come up with loads more ideas for stories than you can put into an Annual. So right now I’d love to do more Hulk and Storm, because those are the Marvel characters I’ve been thinking about in depth. It’d be cool to one day take them both in new directions, while respecting the heritage, and really give some fresh tone to the way they both see the world. It would be a dream come true to write Spider-Man before I die, too, because he was my favorite Marvel character as a kid. But thousands of writers would like to do the same, and I have no special claim. They all seem in excellent hands.
Finally, your Marvel work may have some readers curious about your other works including “Death Sentence.” What do you want readers to know about that book? Is there a collected edition?
The “Death Sentence” collection is out now, box fresh, in all comic and book shops. It’s been called “a masterwork,” “Watchmen on acid” and “sexual ‘Akira,'” among other kind things. It concerns a virus passed through sex which gives you incredible abilities but kills you in six months. So you’ve only got a short time to realize all your creative ambitions — to make something of your life. It’s adult work, with mature themes, so it’s not for everyone. You can read it as a kick-ass action story or a meditation on life and the point of it all. And it’s funny and moving. I mean, that’s what people say when they review it. Don’t take my word for it, check it out yourself. It’s published by Titan Comics, who are doing all the new “Doctor Who” stuff, and they did an amazing job on it: hardback cover, deluxe pages. It’s one of the most beautiful books I own, and I own a lot of books.
Marvel’s “Hulk Annual” goes on sale in September.