The Iron Man armor allows Tony Stark to be one of the Marvel Universe’s premiere champions, but it’s not what makes him a hero; rather, he’s a hero because of what he uses the suit to accomplish: keeping the world safe and atoning for the mistakes he made as a weapons designer. When he discovers he may have been responsible for the creation of one of the world’s most destructive weapons, the Incredible Hulk, Stark is faced with the realization that he has to remedy his mistake. Of course, there’s also the question of how Bruce Banner and his gamma-powered alter ego will react when they discover Stark’s role in their creation.
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â€¨This is the set-up for “Original Sin: Hulk Vs. Iron Man,” a four-issue tie-in to Marvel’s “Original Sin” event (solicited as “Original Sin” #3.1-3.4), by writers Mark Waid and Kieron Gillen, who pen the Hulk and Iron Man’s solo titles, respectively. The crossover also features art by names familiar to readers of both solo titles in Mark Bagley and Luke Ross. CBR News spoke with co-writers Waid and Gillen about the series, what it means for two of Marvel’s biggest characters and what it feels like to be wrapping their runs on both titles in the pages of the crossover miniseries.
CBR News: Mark and Kieron, in this story, you’re taking a look at the relationship between Bruce Banner and Tony Stark. Kieron, what do you find most interesting about that relationship? Meanwhile, Mark, the Bruce/Tony relationship has been part of your Hulk run since the beginning. Is “Hulk Vs. Iron Man” sort of your final thoughts on it?
Kieron Gillen: The Tony/Bruce of it is very much the things that Mark has been playing with. They’re these two geniuses of very different temperaments who have been friends for a long time. One of the things we talked about when doing this project was differentiating them. Mark did an excellent document about the differences between the philosophies of the two guys, and I had my own take as well. They’re these two people who are kind of similar in many ways and completely different in others. [Laughs] That’s always fun to write.
Mark Waid: When I first went into “Hulk,” one of my first thoughts was that I really wanted to figure out exactly what Bruce Banner did for a living. I don’t mean in terms of a day-to-day basis. I mean in terms of his overall specialty. Most of the people who write comic book scientists, including myself, are not scientists, so we tend to make them generic. They’re in their big science labs with all their “science machines” in the background.
I thought, “Let’s go back to the basics and look at Bruce Banner and what he would have been.” He’s often been called a nuclear physicist or a nuclear engineer, and it doesn’t take much digging on Wikipedia to realize that those are two incredibly discreet and separate professions. So that sort of gave me the toe hold of, “OK, we have a lot of engineers in the Marvel Universe.” Tony Stark, by nature, is the greatest engineer in the Marvel Universe, and Reed Richards is probably a close second. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, you have guys like Hank Pym, who is more of a theoretician that builds stuff. He tends to skew towards the imaginative end of the process. So where does Bruce Banner fit in there?
â€¨What we came up with was this notion of, Bruce is, in fact, a nuclear physicist who can do engineering. Kieron, how did you put it? You put is so beautifully by saying something like, “He can do one, but skews towards the other.” Do you remember what I’m talking about it?
Gillen: Yeah, I don’t remember exactly how I phrased it. Plus, I was up very late last night. Again.
Waid: [Laughter] It’s okay, but as I said in my document, Tony Stark is a builder who can do the science, but prefers the building, and Banner is exactly the opposite. Banner is a guy who loves doing the science. He can build, but mostly he prefers the theoretical end of stuff.
â€¨This theory of mine was all obviously before we saw the “Avengers” movie. Stark and Banner and their relationship in the movie was just so brilliant and so perfect. This whole “science bros” thing came right out of there. It wasn’t a dictate from Marvel, it was just a moment of clarity looking at those two characters and going, “Oh, my God! That’s the perfect encapsulation of their relationship.”
â€¨Gillen: One of the best things that comes out of these movies is that, by seeing them on the big screen, you get different insights into these characters. It’s like, “Oh, yeah, that’s a really interesting set up. We can do something with that.”
Gillen: So the idea with “Original Sin” is going back to these characters’ early days. These two science bros have very big brains, and let’s dig into that relationship and see what they were like back then and see how they are different now.
How would you describe your collaboration on “Hulk Vs. Iron Man?” Are you writing these issues together? Or is it sort of a relay, where each of you are handling two issues?
Gillen: We’re doing two issues each, but we’ve done so much plotting — this has kind of gone back and forth between us for some time. It’s led to something where you could very easily swap the issues. Would that be fair to say?
Waid: Yeah, I would say that’s plenty fair. There’s a lot of both of us in all four issues. This was a Google document that went back and forth across the ocean many, many, many times. Even right up to issue #3 and #4, Kieron and I were having late night conferences, going, “Okay, where do you want to pick up? Where should I leave off? Do you want to do this part? Do I want to do this part?” So it’s been a pretty seamless collaboration, which is great.
Gillen: This is definitely one of my favorite things about the job. It’s worked very well. I’ve only co-written a couple times before, so I’m always interested, and to some degree worried. I’m thinking, “Is it going to work? Am I not going to pull my weight? Or are we going to be two people whose styles don’t really gel?”
While Mark and I are very different writers, there’s definitely enough of a shared ground and interest in things. I’m really happy with what we’ve done.
â€¨Waid: Yeah. After 25 years of doing this, and I’ve co-written a lot of things, I can tell you, it’s never half the work. [Laughter]
I don’t care who you’re working with It’s always at least three quarters of the work even if you’re co-writing something. That’s the way the collaborative process works, but in this case it really did feel very smooth, and I hope we can work together again on something.
â€¨Gillen: It was a real joy. My God, you got me in a sappy mood today.
â€¨Gillen: I love you, man! [Laughs]
Let’s talk a little bit about where each character is at mentally when the series begins, and how the “Original Sin” revelation impacts those things. One of Tony Stark’s heroic traits is, when realizes he made a mistake, he goes out of his way to rectify it. How does he initially handle the revelation of the part he played in Bruce’s transformation, especially considering some of the other things he’s been dealing with of late, like the fact that he’s adopted and has a half brother in Arno Stark?
Waid: Tony is not confronted with all the truth at once. You’ve got to remember that there are two things going on. One is that, because of the nature of the revelation and the way it plays out, some of his memories are filtering into Hulk’s, and some of Hulk’s are filtering into his at the same time.
â€¨We’re telling our story very much from Tony’s point of view. He’s getting little flashes, but you also have to remember there are times in Tony’s past that he doesn’t remember quite as clearly thanks to his good friends Jim Beam and Jack Daniels. For Tony, it’s not so much that he’s learning things as he is remembering things.
Now he’s in a desperate race against time to find out the absolute, unvarnished truth about this series of secrets and exactly what his complicity in Hulk’s origin was while trying to get to the answers before Bruce Banner gets to them. Because if Bruce Banner gets to the answers first — he does not take surprises well.
So Bruce Banner is thrown off his game, too?
Waid: Oh yeah.
Is he starting to wonder if all the difficulty he’s wrestled with over the years is not entirely his fault?
Gillen: That’s the big thing. Imagine if this is a thing you carried for so long, and you discovered that your friend and rival might have had a hand in it. Tony Stark is the world’s greatest weapon designer. Did he have a hand in making the world’s greatest weapon? There’s a degree of anger. [Laughs]
â€¨An earlier interview you guys did about “Hulk Vs. Iron Man” offered a “True Detective” comparison, but it sounds like this isn’t a journey these two characters are going on together. It sounds more like a race.
Waid: Yeah, that’s fair to say. We originally envisioned this as a “True Detective” sort of thing, but honestly, as we broke into it and really drilled down to the idea, the ticking clock element of the plot became a very important part of it. Because again, what is Bruce Banner but a walking bomb? Never knowing exactly when he’s going to go off is part of the fun of any Hulk story.
Do you guys get to have some fun with the supporting casts of each other’s books like Arno and Pepper Potts or Maria Hill and Banner’s lab assistants?
Gillen: We’ve kept things sort of minimal. I’ve never actually written Bruce, so it’s like, “Hooray! Another one off the list.” Arno is in it though. He’s quite important for reasons that — do you want to talk about it, Mark?
â€¨Waid: Arno is very important. We can’t yet talk about how, but he is very important. Likewise, with the flashback stuff, we get some new insight into General Thunderbolt Ross. If we’re lucky, we may even see a little bit of Rick Jones in there.
What can you tell us about the antagonists of “Hulk Vs. Iron Man?” What kind of opposition are Bruce and Tony up against?
Waid: [Laughs] Each other.
Gillen: Yeah, you don’t need much more than these two guys. I think anyone else would be kind of extraneous.
Waid: Yeah, there’s no way that having M.O.D.O.K. or Whiplash in our story would have made it any better. This is “Hulk Vs. Iron Man!” And without giving anything away, there’s a twist at the end of the second issue that makes it a fight that they’ve never had before, on a level that they’ve never had before. And it’s very scary.
Let’s talk a little bit about the artists you’re working with on “Hulk Vs. Iron Man.” Who are you collaborating with and what do you feel they bring to this project?
Waid: The way it breaks down is Mark Bagley and I are handling issues #1 and #3. Then Kieron, it’s you and Luke Ross for issues #2 and #4, correct?
Gillen: Right. I’ve worked with Luke before on “Iron Man.” He did the Malekith arc, and the “Mandarin War” stuff that comes after it.
Waid: Bagley was the natural extension for us because this story was initially conceived as two issues of “Hulk” before Marvel asked to make it a big “Original Sin” spinoff tie-in. So Mark is joining me for my farewell to Hulk.
How does it feel to say goodbye to “Hulk?”
â€¨Waid: It sucks! Because of the recent reboot, there’s sort of the illusion that I wasn’t here for very long, but two years and 26 issues is actually a pretty good run.
This is the God’s Honest truth: There’s no hidden agenda here, I just needed more time to catch up on “Daredevil” and to get further ahead on the Thrillbent stuff. I’m also working with Marvel on a few things that are not necessarily monthly comic periodicals. It’s sort of behind the scenes stuff. So I needed to free up time for that. It was a tough decision to make, but I had a pretty good run.
So if the opportunity presents itself, you’d like to return to the character someday?
Waid: Sure, I’ve still got stories to tell. I just ran out of time to tell them.
Kieron, I understand “Hulk Vs. Iron Man” is sort of your farewell to Tony Stark as well?
Gillen: Yes. My situation is, an enormous opportunity came up at Marvel, we looked at my schedule and it just wasn’t going to work. It was one of those situations where you look around and realize that something had to give. We looked at “Iron Man,” and realized that the end of “Mandarin War” would be a good place to end my run. So this story with Tony and Bruce is kind of the big, fun climax to it all. I also like the synchronicity of me and Mark leaving at the same time as well. There’s something fun about it.
So, yeah — it was a case of something had to give and when people hear what the opportunity is I think they’ll understand why I thought this was the best way of going.
Waid: I’ll second that, absolutely.
Gillen: So I’ll echo everything Mark said. I had other stories I was planning to tell, but I had to weigh that against the opportunity of something else. I left quite a lot of stories on the table for the guy who is coming next. They’ve got a lot of things to play with.
I’ve also done quite a lot. If you add in the Annual, I’ve done 31 issues of “Iron Man.” That’s the exact same length of my “Uncanny X-Men” and “Journey Into Mystery” runs. So there’s kind of a weird poetry to it. [Laughs]
Finally, what’s it like writing a story that ties into and is launched by Marvel’s “Original Sin” event?
Waid: You hit upon something early on in this interview that’s key. The first thing that Tony does when he realizes what his complicity in this might have been is, in fact, to investigate and try to make things right. That’s what I like about the whole “Original Sin” concept, overall, and this is what sold me on it. It could have been a very cynical “look at what jerks our heroes can be” journey into darkness, but it was never positioned that way by Marvel editorial. In fact, it creates situations where all the characters across the Marvel line have to step up, because that’s what they do. They have to take responsibility for some sins, even if they’re not of their making. The great hook of “Original Sin” is how it gives our heroes a chance to really show what they’re made of, even in their darkest moments.
Gillen: Besides speaking to the classic heroism of the characters, it’s also great, textbook drama. You put them in different positions and see what they do, and how they deal with the stakes. That’s the heart of this story. There’s no real villain; it’s a story about two people dealing with some very messed up stuff.
Waid: Right. They’re dealing with it like heroes — well, except for the whole punching part! [Laughs]
“Original Sin: Hulk Vs. Iron Man” begins June 25.