Hulk smash. Thor clash. Wolverine slash.
That's what fans want from a DVD entitled "Hulk Vs." And if the premiere of the first half of this collection, "Hulk vs. Wolverine," at last summer's Comic-Con International in San Diego was any indication, they won't be disappointed.
"Hulk Vs." is the latest direct-to-DVD film from Marvel Animation and Lionsgate, and contains two short films both roughly a half-hour long entitled "Hulk vs. Wolverine" and "Hulk vs. Thor," respectively. The first features everyone's favorite metal-clawed Canuck being hired to track down an out of control green creature that is wreaking havoc across the Canadian wilderness. As the fight between these two heroes unfolds, we see flashbacks explaining how they got to this point and Logan's history with the Weapon X team, which in this film consists of fan-favorite baddies Omega Red, Sabertooth, Lady Deathstrike and the merc-with-a-mouth, Deadpool. Fans should also keep an eye out for a cameo by a fan-favorite mutant teen from the comics.
The second film evolves around Loki, the God of Mischief, summoning the only creature that has ever been able to match his brother Thor's strength, The Incredible Hulk, to defeat the God of Thunder.
Writer Craig Kyle is best known for his comic book work, co-writing X-Men titles such as "New X-Men" and "X-Force" with Chris Yost and creating the popular mutant character, X-23. He is also well known for his work in Marvel Animation, having produced features such as "The Invincible Iron Man," 'Dr. Strange" and "The Next Avengers" as well as writing the popular "X-Men: Evolution," "Ultimate Avengers," "Ultimate Avengers II" and his current television series, "Wolverine and The X-Men."
Kyle returns again as a producer and writer on the "Hulk Vs." project, and CBR News spoke with him about his body of work, making superhero films for older fans and not children, and what can be expected from the new "Hulk Vs." double-feature.
CBR News: To begin with, how did you come up with the idea for "Hulk Vs.," whereby you produce two separate features and package them together?
Craig Kyle: I think we've always tried to plan out a strategy. In the course of our first four movies, there's an evolution that kind of happened where we were getting our legs. We hadn't done this before in long-form and it takes different chops and different kinds of skills. We had great series guys and we had to tell them that it was okay to tell a longer story. Also, you don't want to hit the ceilings of violence or sexuality because then no ones really interested and you blow an opportunity.
We started with "Ultimate Avengers I & II." Then with "Invincible Iron Man," we had some problems overseas, but "Dr. Strange" is when everything cam together. Frank Paur is a tremendous producer and Greg Johnson is a great writer. It had beautiful animation done over seas and it just all came back looking great.
So then we got all cocky and decided to try something new. We tried the younger property with "New Avengers" and decided that we didn't want to forget the little kid on the couch who snuck in to watch with their parents or older siblings.
Then it was like, how far can we take this? What are the stories people love? And Hulk vs. Wolverine is one that's been around forever. It's got amazing images and great covers. There are things that you see repeated over the years because they are so good. I think it's a fight that we will struggle to ever see in live-action, so for us animation guys who saw the time that we could stick a flag in it and call it ours, we took it.
Is "Hulk vs. Wolverine" related at all to the fight the characters had in "Wolverine and the X-Men?"
The beauty of it is that [voice actors] Steve Blum and Fred Tatasciore, both Wolverine and Hulk connect. They play those roles for us in the animated movie and in the television series. So this would be the first time they fight and the sequel happens in episode seven of the show. So that was the rematch. Now what they do to each other in this film is far more vile than what we can get away with on Saturday mornings -- although I'm really thrilled with the way it came out. But you know, this was for the fans that are sick of seeing Wolverine slash robots and doors. In the comics it's long adainantium claws against thick green flesh and they're getting that. It's Hulk not holding back and trying to end this fight once and for all. It's the fight that fans expect and they love so much in the comics, with secrets that unfold very quickly. So there are absolute connections and we speak to that in the series.
Is "Hulk vs. Wolverine" inspired by any one comic book story in particular?
It isn't so much just a recap of any one comic. We looked at all the various times that they faced off going back to Todd McFarlane's moments and even "Ultimate Hulk vs. Wolverine." We just looked through the various years to kind of find what's the "best of." I think it was director Franks Paur's idea to choose Jeff Matsuda, who is our designer for the piece, and he brought a great, beautiful size to the characters. They just have these big shapes, big shoulders and long claws and are very recognizable in their silhouettes.
How is producing a direct-to-DVD film different than your work on television series like "X-Men: Eveloution" or "Wolverine and the X-Men?"
The beauty of these projects especially this one is that in animation, doing Saturday morning fare, you're like chained animals. There are things that you want to do, there's things that you're desperately trying to do, but you're constantly being told no. You never want to harm the audience and you don't want to lose the audience. I'm of the mind that children can be challenged and if they can't enjoy portions of the show now, then they'll go back to it and say, "Oh my God, I wasn't just a stupid kid. I loved it and for good reason." And they'll get layers of elements that they never got the first time around.
So we're constantly told no and what we normally face, unfortunately, is that there are very strong standards of how much romance, how much violence and what kind of issues that you can handle on TV. It gets to a point where people start to feel something like, "I don't think that's right, and I don't think we should do that." That's what we're going for [on the DVDs]. That emotion is what we're shooting for. In these films, finally we can just do it. If we need romance, if we need someone to die, we'll do that because it services the better story. So here, we're allowed to that stuff.
We had two products that we were working on, "The Next Avengers," our first PG-rated film that was released in September, and "Hulk Vs." "Next Avengers" was an all-ages film. A "Goonies" take on the Marvel universe. "Hulk Vs." was to say, "Okay, we didn't forget about you fans." I'm right there with them. I am one of them. We are you guys and we want this too. This double feature is that. It's great and I hope the fans agree and support us because I feel like we should be doing these "vs." DVD's every couple of releases. I feel like this is only the beginning of what could be the greatest Marvel fights brought to life over the next few years. That's what I would like to see. Frank Paur is a tremendous producer; he designed the character and the style for "Hulk vs. Thor." It's a beautiful style. When Joe Quesada, our Editor-in-Chief, saw it, he was just blown away; he loved it.
Do you have ideas for future Marvel direct-to-DVD projects that you'd like to work on?
Yeah, I would hate to spoil it but I'd love to do other solo characters in the way that we have just done "Hulk Vs." I'd also like to do teams. No one loves anything more than heroes fighting heroes. Look at **Civil War,** it was huge. Now you couldn't do that in thirty minutes or forty minutes, but you know, I think we'd love to see the Avengers take on the X-Men. I think we'd love to see the Fantastic Four up against someone else. Any opportunities that we can take to bring all the good guys together into battle would be fantastic, so that's what I'm hopeful for.
Can you ever see Marvel adapting projects directly from source material such as "Civil War" or "Secret Invasion" in the same way that DC has with "Superman/Doomsday" and "Justice League: New Frontier?"
I would love to see a series of three films that tell "Civil War" and other stories, absolutely. The reason it did well in the comics is because it's a great story with beautiful artwork. So I would take any of those opportunities if they came my way. But again, as silly as it sounds or desperate as it sounds, the fans really have to show us that they'll be there for us. If the sales aren't there, then there's no way to justify it. There are so many places where we can make money in animation without doing those grand epics. So every time a chance like this comes, I snatch it up and fight for it because it's worth it.
Is Marvel Animation making an effort to gear these direct-to-DVD films for older fans?
I think broadening the entertainment for the older fans is crucial. You know they tell us when they're not happy, they're very scrutinizing and I love that because they push us. That would be my plea. If people enjoy this DVD, then they really have to support us. I got really heartbroken because the folks across the street [DC comics] came out with a great Batman DVD ["Batman: Gotham Knight] and the same day it was released, chunks of it were on YouTube. You know, as much as I love fans doing things to keep the word out there, it's heartbreaking when you work so hard and both sides are working really hard to bring you great entertainment. Things are happening over at DC that are really exciting and I love it. It just says that we have to keep upping our game. That's why you've got a "Hulk Vs." movie.
You know, there are a lot of people who are like, "You know, we can make more toys if it's a young kid series." That's important, we've got to pay the bills, we can't go back to bankruptcy. So there's a valid point there that's tough to argue with. If we don't make money, we're done. These are the times when we fight to say, "Lets try it, lets see if they'll be there for us and support us." But the fans have to be there to tell them that yes, it's a great idea. So for us, this is going to speak to the future of Marvel direct-to-DVDs in a lot of ways. I think there can be room for the fans to be and the fans like us, who have been around a long time. That's really important not to forget anybody. I'm really proud.
Is it more fun for you to work on the projects that are made for older fans or younger?
The X-Men universe, if you make it younger, it doesn't work. "X-Men Evolution" -- as proud as I am of that series -- it just wasn't as successful as the '90s series, which was a very mature series and that's what "Wolverine and the X-Men" is. Tony Stark, for instance, his issues are really tough. We're talking about very adult themes and as much as they worked beautifully in the live action film, and those guys did an amazing job with it, we do have a responsibility to try to get those younger fans in and give them something they can call their own.
That's why we did "Next Avengers," so [kids] have something they can say belongs to them. The older fans have the classic characters that come in, but you want to have those entry places. You want those entry places because what you do is you start to grow the fans that will someday tell the new fans, "No, it should be this way because I had this." That's what we end up doing. We keep growing the fans of the future, which is important to do without loosing the respect and the care that needs to be given to all these characters. It's extremely important. So even though we've changed some ages, we've updated some of these villains and the world in a way that I think the fans will really appreciate.
When producing a feature like "Hulk Vs." or "Wolverine and the X-Men," how and when does the comic book source material come into play?
Where I struggle is when we start doing things that you cannot find any basis for in the books. If Captain America did not have a jetpack, then I have a hard time writing him with a jetpack. If the character wasn't a robot, then I have a tough time making them a robot. If I can find even the loosest connection to something that was in the books, then I have no problem making the character older or younger or playing with those kinds of limits because at their core they're still the character the fans know. Now, they may not like that version and I get that, but I'm not shocked when fans that the show is not made for don't like it. If the kids don't like it, then we have a problem. Or if we made an older thing and the fans don't like that, then that's a problem too.
But as long as I can find an anchor for it in the books, which is where everything starts and should be looked to, then I'm cool with it. When I'm asked to do things that I as a fan and as someone who respects all these mediums thinks is stupid, then I really fight against it. Fortunately, I haven't been asked to do that yet.
We would have none of this without the comics, okay. They have lasted this long, they have done this well, they are this famous and people have cried and cheered and laughed over more of these characters than a lot of the people they know in the flesh. When you hear people talk about it, about Marvel and the hot debates they've had and arguments, that's real. They may have existed on paper or celluloid, but they're real. The emotions you have about them are absolutely real. So that's the beauty of it.
It's when you don't respect them like that, that's when I have a real issue. Again, I don't mind that people don't like it when we're done, because you can't please every fan. But we know that our hearts are in the right place no matter how we approach a project. That's spoken to in "Vs.," it's spoken to in "Next Avengers" and in "Tales of Asgard" that is coming, which is a younger Thor take but it's my favorite long form yet. And "Planet Hulk" is going to be another challenge for us. So we always approach it from a fans point of view because we are fans. There are some fans that rant and say we aren't fans, but we are.
Finally, which do you enjoy writing more, comics or animation?
There are two sides to it. I got into this business because I love animation. For the longest time, it was Disney and all of that and then I got my first comic book when I was twelve and that just changed my whole life. I was like, "Whoa, what is this?" It was an X-Men comic so writing comics is the fanboy dream. Since I was a kid, I've loved the smell of old comics in the comics shops and I still love it when I walk by the old section in comics shops now. So I love being a part of that. It's exciting seeing your name on a comic book.
But animation is a special place because that's where you get to take the panel and try to bring it to life and entertain these very tough fans. It's a tough job, but it's a great job and I hope with the "Wolverine and the X-Men" series and this "Hulk Vs." DVD that people get that experience that they do from a long comic book.
"Hulk Vs." is on sale now on DVD and Blu-Ray from Lionsgate Home Entertainment.