Bechko & Hardman Send the "Savage Hulk" Back to the Crossroads

Anger unleashes Marvel Comics' Hulk, and it's also what makes him stronger. But if the Hulk were to become truly consumed by rage, could anyone stop such a powerful and irresistible force? Writer Bill Mantlo and artist Sal Buscema posed those very questions to Doctor Strange and the heroes of the Marvel Universe in 1984's "Incredible Hulk" #300. The solution Strange chose was to mystically transport the Hulk to a place where he felt the Green Goliath could do the least harm, the dimensional nexus point known as the Crossroads. The Hulk would then spend several months exploring the strange reality and the dimensions connected to it.

CBR SUNDAY CONVERSATION: Corinna Bechko & Gabriel Hardman

This October in "Savage Hulk" #5, writer Corinna Sara Bechko and co-writer/artist Gabriel Hardman take readers back to the time when the Hulk roamed the Crossroads. CBR News connected with both the creators about their two-part story that also features the master of the mystic arts, Doctor Strange.

CBR News: Corinna, if my research is correct, you had a short story in the "Fear Itself: The Homefront" anthology, but this "Savage Hulk" story is your first full-length Marvel tale, correct?

Corinna Sara Bechko: That's true, at least for the Marvel Universe. But last year I also scripted the graphic novel "Once Upon a Time: Shadow of the Queen" from a story by Daniel Thomsen for Marvel. It's a prequel for the show from ABC, and was a lot of fun to work on.

Gabriel, your past "Hulk" work consisted primarily of drawing the Red Hulk, but I believe you've drawn the green Hulk on a number of occasions correct? How does it feel to return to that character?

Gabriel Hardman: That's right. I drew 12 issues of "Hulk" (featuring Red Hulk) written by Jeff Parker, but Banner Hulk was featured in several of the issues. Also, one of the first things I drew for Marvel was a fun Hulk vs. Frankenstein story in a "Monster-Size Hulk" Special. So he's one of the Marvel characters I've had the most experience drawing. I was pretty happy with the prior work I'd done but I always want to do better, and the iteration of Banner-Hulk in our "Savage Hulk" story is much different than the others. He's a near mindless, well -- savage. Forgive me.

In your most recent collaborations Gabriel has worked as both co-writer and artist. Will that be the case with your "Savage Hulk" tale?

Hardman: Yep, we co-wrote this arc like we have on our "Planet of the Apes" books, "Star Wars: Legacy," and our upcoming Image book "Invisible Republic." We each write stories on our own too, Corinna has a story out in "Creepy" #5 and I write and draw my book "Kinski" solo. But "Savage Hulk" was something we really wanted to collaborate on.

Bechko: At this point we have a pretty good routine down. And I think that our "Savage Hulk" arc really plays to both of our strengths.

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With "Savage Hulk" you're able to do a story set at any point in the character's history. What can you tell us about the time period your story takes place in? The solicits suggests it takes place during the "Crossroads" storyline by writer Bill Mantlo.

Hardman: That's exactly when it takes place! Mantlo's "Crossroads" arc where Doctor Strange banishes an animal-like Hulk to a crossroads of other dimensions was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. Coincidentally, I had picked up a trade collecting that story and we both read it just before [editor] Mark Paniccia contacted us about pitching for "Savage Hulk." When we heard that we could set our story at any point in Hulk's history, we knew what we wanted to do.

Bechko: Mantlo's "Crossroads" stories are so inventive and peculiar that you have to admire the shear audacity of some of the worlds he sends Hulk to. That arc is easily among my favorite Marvel stories ever. It's a real pleasure to have the opportunity to set a story there ourselves.

Let's talk about your protagonists. What sort of mental state are the Hulk and Banner in when your tale begins? Does Banner even figure into the story? And Gabriel, which aspects of the Hulk do you want to capture and bring forward in your art? Who was the character at this time to you?

Hardman: At this point there's virtually no Banner left in Hulk. He's an animal. Which in a way is the only downside of setting a story at this point because I really like Banner. He's a character I can really connect with. I'd love to do a more Banner-centric story at some point.

Bechko:Hulk without Banner is much more of a monster than he ever is otherwise. And I mean that in the best possible way. He's not evil, but he is a beast, with a beast's cunning and a beast's imperviousness to reason -- As well as a dangerous inability to explain his own actions.

I understand Doctor Strange plays a role in this story as well. Is that correct? What do you find most interesting about Strange? How does his character contrast with a more animal-like Hulk?

Bechko: Yes, and he's so much fun to write! I think we were drawn to the contrast between Strange and this incarnation of Hulk. Strange can be rather imperious, relying a lot on his intellect and his ability to "cut corners" by bending the rules of physics via magic. But when you're dealing with this Hulk reason doesn't work, and that's what provided a lot of the drama for our story.

Hardman: And we leaned into Strange's arrogance a bit here. It worked for the story and I just like those kinds of characters.

Moving on from protagonists to plot, what else can you tell us about your story?

Bechko: It is two issues, and stands completely alone that way. At heart, it's a tale about the ethics of exerting control on another person, and the unintended consequences of doing that. It's also a lot about Hulk doing what Hulk does best: smashing stuff.

Beyond Strange, will there be any familiar supporting characters? What about antagonists for the Strange and Hulk to go up against?

Bechko: We're introducing a whole race of sentient crustaceans that are new to the Marvel Universe, and I can't wait for people to get a look at how Gabriel has designed them!

Hardman: Yes, inter-dimensional shrimp people. If that's not what you want out of a comic then... I just don't know about you.

[Laughs] Gabriel, what can you tell us about the overall look of the book? How does it compare to some of your more recent work?

Hardman: I think I'm building on the gritty sci-fi style I used in "Star Wars: Legacy." I did a lot of designing of new aliens and new worlds there but took great pains to make them feel like they were part of the Star Wars Universe. I'm doing much the same here, inventing a new world with new characters but I want it to feel like Marvel. Also, this arc marks the return of diagonal panels, which I reserve only for books with Hulk in it.

Bechko: I hope people enjoy the story. We had a great time working on it and feel privileged to have added a new world to the "Crossroads."

Hardman: We loved working on this. Trust me, I wouldn't say that if it wasn't true. I really hope readers have fun with it.

EXCLUSIVE: Hardman and Bechko Resurrect "Star Wars: Legacy"Finally, let's talk about some of your other recent and upcoming work. Do the two of you have any other Marvel projects waiting to be announced? You mentioned "Invisible Republic," your upcoming Image Comics series. What do you want readers to know about that series, and are there other projects coming on its heels?

Bechko: There are a couple of things coming up that we can't talk about just yet, but if folks are curious to see past collaborations I'd point toward "Heathentown," our Image book from a few years ago, as well as "Betrayal On The Planet of the Apes" and our recent run on "Star Wars: Legacy." As to "Invisible Republic," our forthcoming Image Comics series, I think fans of epic sci-fi told in an intimate way will be pleased. We've spent a long time developing the story and I feel the time is finally right to unleash it on the world.

Hardman: I also have a print collection of my digital-first series "Kinski" coming in November from Image Comics. It's a quirky crime/suspense story about a guy who steals a dog, and everything that goes wrong for him after. The first four issues are available digitally through Monkeybrain/comiXology with the rest due before the print collection hits. After that, it's all "Invisible Republic," which I'm very excited about. It's really one of those dream projects for us.

Bechko and Hardman take on Marvel's "Savage Hulk" in October.

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