EXCLUSIVE: Keatinge Smashes Into the City of Lights in "Marvel Knights: Hulk"

For Bruce Banner, knowledge is power, and that power allows him to stand tall against almost any foe the Marvel Universe has to offer. That's because Banner's vast intellect and knowledge of science allows him to come up a number of ways to solve problems and take down a variety of foes, and when he confronts a foe he cannot beat with science he knows he can call on the unstoppable might of his alter ego, the "Indestructible Hulk."

What would happen if Banner was suddenly robbed of that knowledge and trapped in a strange city? And what if there was a mysterious and powerful force chasing him down the streets of that metropolis? Writer Joe Keatinge ("Morbius: The Living Vampire") and artist Piotr Kowalski ("Sex") begin answering those questions and more this December when they kick off their four-issue "Marvel Knights: Hulk" miniseries. We spoke with Keatinge and his editor Bill Rosemann about the project which finds an amnesiac Bruce Banner on the streets of Paris and on the run from mysterious assailant.

CBR News: Bill, in the past the Marvel Knights line has been a way to tell some interesting stories that don't necessarily fit into established continuity. Is that still the case with this new iteration?

Bill Rosemann: While all the stories "count" and are indeed set in continuity, the focus of the new Marvel Knights is on creators. The new Marvel Knights provides a stage and a spotlight to unique rising stars that will bring a distinct voice to our greatest characters. A few months ago, during one of our weekly editorial meetings, [Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief] Axel Alonso threw down the challenge to everyone in editorial to seek out creators we felt could deliver something fresh, creators who were excited to reach a bigger audience, play with the best heroes and who could do so in a unique style. You know how in the first film, Rocky is offered and takes advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? Same thing here -- and Joe Keatinge and Piotr Kowalski are going to knock people out!

What made you tap Joe for the "Marvel Knights: Hulk" assignment?"

Rosemann: Joe was nice enough to send me copies of "Glory," and I really liked what I saw there. A wild sci-fi imagination, compelling and unexpected character arcs -- it felt like the perfect combo of ingredients for a Hulk story. Joe's passion is evident on every page of script he writes, and while "Marvel Knights: Hulk" is very different from "Glory," you'll see the same combination of thought and story crafting.

Joe, your first Marvel series, "Morbius: The Living Vampire" stars a scientist who transformed himself into a blood thirsty monster. And now your next Marvel project stars a scientist who transforms into a super strong monster. Coincidence? Or is there something appealing to you about that type of character?

Joe Keatinge: The thing is, sure, if you look at Banner and Morbius at their most basic, I suppose they're pretty similar -- both birthed from the classic sci-fi trope of a scientist's bitter mistake turning them into something horrific they can no longer control. However, once you get past that, they're very different characters.

The thing is, I feel the Banner and Hulk relationship is far more than just the "man vs. self" element, definitely more so than fighting the rage and monster within. It's more apt to contrast him with Captain America -- whereas Steve Rogers turned into the American Ideal to aspire to, Bruce Banner transformed into the American Nightmare to fear. The ultimate version of our nation's sins made real, a constant reminder of atrocities committed under the guise of national defense and the growing power of our military-industrial complex. To put the comparison in a historical light -- Captain America is our victory of Normandy; The Hulk is our shame of Nagasaki.

I imagine you want "Marvel Knights: Hulk" to be new reader friendly, but it's also an in-continuity tale. So that can be tricky. Sounds like you found a fun and interesting way around that though since the plot of your story involves an amnesiac Bruce Banner. Is that correct?

Keatinge: That's where we start, but there're a couple of things happening on a thematic level, primarily with the subject of identity -- personal, national and so on. On a personal level, we have conflicting identities within ourselves -- I don't think it's a rare thing for someone to look back on an event in their lives and consider, 'what the heck was I thinking, that's not me.' We can surprise ourselves in what we do or how we act, right?
With Banner, this idea is taken to extremes. He personifies the different versions of ourselves amongst the people we know -- how we can sometimes differ in how we act amongst friends, family, colleagues and so on. It's usually minor -- I imagine most people clean up their language around their parents, but for Banner, it's massive -- the side of himself he's in conflict with ends up destroying cities.
But who is he without the Hulk? Who would Banner be now if he never had to save Rick Jones from the Gamma Bomb? As 'Marvel Knights: Hulk' begins, everything Banner knows is stripped away from him -- not only the memory of who he is now long gone, but he's stranded in a foreign country, doesn't speak the language and is being pursued by forces he doesn't understand. And even though he doesn't know he once could -- he can't even change into the Hulk anymore. He has to start again from absolute zero.

We'll be getting into the flip side of that too -- what is the Hulk without Banner? What happens to an already destructive force of nature once the humanity within is stripped away? Can either one exist without the other? We'll get into all this.

As far as continuity, it's more important to keep the stories accessible and maintain a continuity and consistency of character. You don't have to read 'Indestructible Hulk' to get what's going on here, even though it's a fine read. I'm more concerned of keeping Banner true to who has been established and making him accessible for anyone approaching the book, rather than making sure everything is absolutely consistent with some random panel from "Marvel Two-In-One" #46. I'm more interested in creating stories that will exist tomorrow than concerning myself with nostalgia.

Banner's amnesia has me wondering two things. First, which aspects of Banner's personality do you find most interesting? Which elements of his character do you really want to explore in "Marvel Knights: Hulk?"

Keatinge: I like the idea that while the Hulk exemplifies muscular brutality Banner does the same for intellectual brutality. His genius is on par with Mister Fantastic and Tony Stark, yet all its primary result is one of the greatest threats to the Marvel Universe. However, he still presses on to contain it, control it no matter how often it fails or what the cost is. I find it interesting how every writer gives how Banner deals with it in such a different light -- how Peter David's final issue gave Banner a way to deal with the Hulk, how Joss Whedon's Banner dealt with anger, how [Mark] Waid's Banner puts the Hulk to work -- the conclusion drawn here will be just as varied, yet still rooted in Banner's core intellectual brutality.

Let's talk a little bit more about the plot of this story. Is it essentially a mystery and a cat and mouse-style thriller?
Keatinge: To start, yes. I've been referring to it as a "super science thriller," but the comic evolves and changes with each issue, just like Banner and Hulk's relationship.

For instance, while it's well on the record I'm a massive fan of classic Marvel, I thought it'd be a more interesting to change up how you typically approach superhero comics by placing this over-the-top Jack Kirby American Ultra-Monster into a setting and flavor much more akin to what you'd see in Van Hamme & William Vance's "XIII," Hugo Pratt's "Corto Maltese," Angela & Luciana Giussani's "Diabolik," Jean-Pierre Melville's "Le Samouraï," Sergio Corbucci's "Django" or Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless," all written listening to a soundtrack primarily consisting of Ennio Morricone & Bruno Nicolai. It's the Amalgam universe for Marvel Comics and Bande Dessinee, as approached by a North American writer and a European artist.

However, again, this is where we start. It wouldn't be a Hulk comic without an element of metamorphosis and that's definitely prevalent throughout the whole thing. Where we end up is in a very different place than where we start.

We know that while Banner is in he'll be hunted by someone or something. Can you talk about who or what is after him in "Marvel Knights: Hulk?"

Keatinge: I really don't want to in any great detail. I think we're in an era where we have so much information going in when you buy a comic book there's not a lot of surprise left. I'm going to keep pretty mum on the force that's so strong it's taken down Banner and seemingly eliminated The Hulk. However, I'll hint it has to do with my approach on Hulk as American Nightmare personified. That the sins of atrocities past have come home to roost. Banner's caught up in a war of one generation against another, one he may be responsible for -- a Nouvelle Vague of international scientific super-crime.

Let's talk about supporting characters. From what it sounds like the biggest supporting player in this story is the city of Paris itself. Is that correct?

Keatinge: You hear a lot about making the city where your story is set a character and that's definitely very true here. I lived in Paris for a little while, so I obsessed over mapping out the chase scenes in the story, making insane charts and graphs for Piotr to reference when he was illustrating them. You could actually take a walking tour of our first issue. [Laughs]

So, yes, Paris itself is the main supporting character in the first issue. It introduces Banner to the rest. His opposition is one I'm keeping mum on, but there are a couple of familiar faces for both long-time Marvel readers and those who have checked out my most current work there. That said, I couldn't stress enough how you absolutely don't need to have ever read a Hulk comic to enjoy this.

Are there any other supporting characters in "Marvel Knights: Hulk" that you can talk about?

Keatinge: Part of the overall concept is putting Banner completely on his own in a variety of foreign settings as he fights to regain his very identity. So, I'm not going to use a lot of his typical supporting characters, because it was essential for him to be isolated in a completely alien place, both physically and mentally.

However, as I mentioned one of the themes of the series is how the consequences of the past are coming to full fruition in the present and what that means for The Hulk's future. That's all I care to say for the time being.

We've talked about story and characters let's start to wrap things up by talking about Piotr Kowalski's artwork. What do you feel he brings to "Marvel Knights: Hulk" as an artist?

Keatinge: The series having an international feel was imperative for this to work. I'm an American with a huge affinity for Euro-comics. I thought ideal to have a European artist with a huge affinity for Marvel comics. Luckily for me, I've been talking to Piotr Kowalski about working together for a couple years now; primarily on an original project we're still hoping to do together sometime down the road, along with Fabrice Sapolsky.

When "Marvel Knights: Hulk" came up, he was the first person I thought of, not only because he's doing an astonishing job with Joe Casey on the Image Comics series, "Sex," but he's someone who can well pull off exactly what I was hoping to do here.

Given he's worked primarily in Europe before "Sex," he's able to execute perfectly the visual styling and storytelling of both Bande Dessinee and Marvel Comics, making him uniquely qualified to perfectly execute this story.

He was the first and only person on my artistic wish list. Luckily, Piotr was excited to come on board, as were editor Bill Rosemann and Axel Alonso to have him.

Bill, what made you tap Piotr for the "Marvel Knights: Hulk" assignment?"

Rosemann: Once the story's "European chase thriller" engine took shape, Joe's #1 suggestion to draw this was Piotr Kowalski -- and he was 100% perfect. I was a big fan of Piotr's art in "Sex," and was even more impressed by the additional samples of his internationally-published work that he shared once I reached out to him. The "stranger in a strange land" situation is key to our story, and not only does Piotr authentically bring to life our European setting, but he's the perfect representation of the type of artist Marvel Knights is made for. His opening two-page spread will take your breath away!

So with "Marvel Knights: Hulk" you and Piotr are giving readers a tale that looks and feels distinctly different, but still captures everything fans love about the character. Can you give us a sort of grand overview of what readers can expect from this project?

Keatinge: In terms of scope, it's a world spanning adventure, but at the same time it's very much a personal story about questions including: why does Banner need the Hulk? Why does the Hulk need Banner? And if they don't need each other, why can't they separate? What happens when your past outruns you and you're finally forced to deal with it? What are the consequences of dire actions long forgotten? Can you endure past your sins? Can you evolve into something greater than you are? Can you survive yourself?

"Marvel Knights: Hulk" storms into comic shops in December.

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