Henry Gilroy And Cort Lane Discuss The Big Turning Point In ‘Hulk And The Agents Of SMASH’ [Interview]
The first season of Marvel’s Hulks and the Agents of SMASH has reached the halfway point, and it got there with a big confrontation between Hulk and the Leader. Hulk, with the help of The Thing, heads to the Negative Zone to confront the Leader and save his team, and it all leads to the Hulk realizing how much he’s come to value things he previously wanted no part of — friendships and family.
And now the dynamic of the show has changed. With nowhere else to send him, the Hulks have brought a defeated Leader to be a prisoner in their home, which will make for a very interesting dynamic going forward. We spoke to veteran animation writer Henry Gilroy and supervising producer Cort Lane about their favorite moments in the series so far, what to expect in the second half, and how having the Leader in the Hulk base is kind of like dropping Hannibal Lecter in the middle of a frat house.
ComicsAlliance: I feel like this is the most serious episode so far. It’s a bit of a departure from the rest of the series. When you’re approaching an episode like this, are you concerned at all about viewer reaction, because they may have grown accustomed to a lighter tone.
Henry Gilroy: If you look at previous shows I’ve worked on, whether it’s Clone Wars or GI Joe, there’s always room for episodes that have subtle differences. I think you can have shows that are wackier and sillier and you can have episodes that are and do get to the nuts and bolts, have realistic stakes. I always appreciate having stakes where it’s life or death. In this particular episode, the Agents of SMASH are in deep trouble and Hulk has to walk into a trap to save the day for them.
The previous episode was a little sillier in that you had Skaar getting his training from Doc Samson, so yeah tonally you totally have that. I like having a variety of that; we do have lighter shows and darker shows. That’s kind of the way we’ve approached the series, I think, from the beginning. Wouldn’t you agree Cort?
Cort Lane: I think so, I personally didn’t feel this episode was that much darker but I feel it was much more personal. So the stakes are a lot more intense for Hulk himself. We’ve spent 13 episodes in this season showing him putting together this family and dealing with being a leader and those two ideas come crashing and he has to deal with it. It’s hard. I think the episode questions whether friends can be a strength or a weakness. Which, obviously the latter is The Leader’s point of view and here Hulk has to fight so hard for his friends. And he had to actually rely on another friend, which is hard for him to ask for and hard for him to do.
Henry has been story editing and guiding us through this season and he does an amazing job. But on top of that, even in this episode with these very serious themes, he brings the humor. Henry is better than anyone else in making The Hulk funny, which is no easy task. Hulk has some great moments like, “stop blasting yourself, stop blasting yourself, stop blasting yourself” and “Say hello to my fist.” Henry has this way, as serious as Hulk is and as serious as this episode is, in bringing out the humor. I think that’s so important and difficult.
CA: I wanted to get into what you mentioned, about using The Leader in this episode, with him claiming The Hulk caring about his friends is a weakness instead of a strength. It’s a classic storytelling trope and it’s used to great effect here, specifically because it’s The Hulk. Why do you feel that trope works so well with a character like The Hulk, maybe more so than any other in comics?
HG: I think it does work well. You have a Hulk who generally, when you look at the past of the character, the evolution of the character, he’s a loner. Even in the Avengers movie, it’s very difficult to bring him in and join him up with the group. We actually created this environment where we put him in a group that he realizes, “Wow; I really like these people I’m around. They’re my family and my friends, so I’m going to do anything for them.” I think that aspect of it is kind of cool because even then, he’s going “Gosh you know I don’t want to get Ben’s help because I’m going to get him in trouble, and I feel like I just got my friends in trouble.” However, the rest of the story you have Ben Grimm teaming up with The Hulk — and I have always loved those characters from the older comics — putting The Hulk and thing in together without smashing each other, like here’s a different way to do a different take on their relationship. It’s kind of — I want to say a buddy cop relationship, where there’s banter but there’s also serious stakes. I think those two characters together are really fun. So to answer your question, I think any time you have The Hulk fighting for more than just himself, even though the world sees him as a monster, and in this particular case, The Leader is kind of using that — it’s kind of exactly what you’re saying. It seems to bring a much heavier resonance to Hulk’s character and how he’s evolving into his family. Rather than someone like Iron Man, who of course is going to fight for his friends.
CA: I think it’s a nice commentary on intellectual and personal growth. Even though he starts as a loner and a savage, as he progresses intellectually, he builds a family. That’s a part of everyone’s growth. And the threat of losing that kind of makes him almost regress
CL: He’s been concerned about it from the first moments of the pilot even. Having people close to him means that they’ll be put in danger. So, it’s really his worst fear.
CA: That’s one of the two over-arching plots in the series — I’ll get to that in a little bit. I like the use of The Thing in this episode. He makes sense because he’s a member of the Fantastic Four and they have experience in the negative zone. Also, he’s one of the other marvel characters who can really relate to The Hulk in terms of wrestling with being seen as a monster. It’s never addressed directly, but you can really see it when The Thing stops Hulk from potentially killing The Leader. Did you always know that you wanted to use The Thing for that moment?
HG: Yeah, absolutely. From the beginning we had talked about doing a buddy road picture with Hulk and Thing. The idea of, “oh they’ll go to the negative zone,” which sounds really fun. Just that initial concept, but then putting the stakes underneath of him going to save his family, then as you can see from the way the episode ends it is a turning point in the season.
So, the next 13 episodes really are pretty awesome because of the new dynamic we created on the team and the environments on the base. So, I think there’s a lot of fun stuff to bring a character like The Thing in. He’s in two more episodes as well.
CL: The Thing is a great contrast to The Hulk because he’s a monster too. He could very much be like The Hulk, and we both know in publishing he’s had those moments. But, his sense of humor and the fact that he started from half being part of this family gives him a very different point of view from The Hulk, so the contrast is fun. They’re a great buddy team together not just because of the joking. They’re just really great together.
CA: So now The Leader is staying with the Hulks. How will The Leader’s presence at The Hulk base affect the team? I can see where that decision would cause friction in a group who throughout the whole season has worked hard to get past the friction that already existed.
HG: If you imagine a frat house with Hannibal Lecter in the living room in his cage. That’s the way I thought about it.
CL: Really? That’s dark!
HG: The idea is, here’s a character who’s a master manipulator, who’s absolutely smarter than everyone else in the room. And I think what’s interesting is, there’s sort of an ongoing chess game going on with The Leader and The Hulk throughout the episodes, sometimes very directly. We’ve also got upcoming episodes that are wild and crazy, far away that don’t include him. But having his presence in the base is fun.
CL: It puts them in danger and there are consequences of having him there and in just a few episodes you get to see that play out.
CA: I like the contrast of talking to the two of you at the same time. Cort is saying “Yeah, I didn’t think it was that dark” and Henry says “yeah it’s like dropping Hannibal Lecter in a Jim Belushi film.” That’s great.
HG: [Laughs] You boil it down to all the situations and all the humor, but I think our characters are really iconic and different. People talked about how they liked the characters because each one is so different. We’ve really spent a lot of time to make everyone pop. That’s kind of difficult to do when you’re working on comic book shows. People will say ‘Oh my Gosh, I really love Red for this reason and this reason” or “A-Bomb is so funny, he’s my favorite.” I really like The Hulk, I like this more intelligent Hulk. There’s a touch of Banner in him that we’re actually able to see thehumanity with a little bit of intelligence. Not a lot — he can still lose it and be unpredictable and rage out, but he can be really fun as well. I know we’ve been excited with how we’ve been able to collaborate on the stories.
I have to give a shout out to our writing team, who are a really great group of guys. Paul Dini, Steve Melching, Eugene Son; really talented guys. Asides from that, we have the production team — Mitch Schauer, Dan Thompson, Patrick Archibald — who are our supervising director and director who have this knack of bringing huge episodes, or keeping it to scale that’s worthy of The Hulk. Just making them sing.
CA: At the end, before they get back to the Hulk base we see that Annihilus re-captures the cosmic control rod. Before that we see that he was in servitude to The Leader as a punishment of his failure at the outset of the series. I’m curious about the role Annihilus will play going forward. I can see him coming after The Hulk, just as The Leader did. But I can also see him focusing his rage towards The Leader, which would put The Hulks in a position where they potentially have to protect them now that he’s in their home. So, it just feels like there’s a lot to work with there.
HG: Absolutely. However, if I told you anything it would spoil it.
CL: We’ll leave it there in terms of what happens with The Leader, but we get a lot of fun out of it in ways you wouldn’t expect.
CA: This is the half way point, everything was building to this. The two over-arching plot points were everything going on with The Negative Zone and as we talked about, everything with The Hulk from the beginning resenting the idea of having a family. Now he’s gotten to this point where he realizes how much he cares about them and how he’s a better person for it. You’re through those plots, what can viewers expect from the second half?
CL: To your point, he really questions the wisdom of putting together this family, even though he did embrace it because he needed it and they needed him. We resolve a lot of it in this episode for The Hulk. But what we deal with now is, The Hulk’s and the world; How are they perceived by the world? They have this mission of showing the world they’re not monsters, they’re heroes, which by the way is the thing that drives The Leader the craziest.
You see in his plot in destroying The Hulk it’s about turning him into a monster more than just destroying him. So you’ll see them out in the world more and trying to prove to the world that they’re heroes. Also, dealing with the consequences of what The Leader has done and what The Leader can do and even the unresolved plot line of “where did Skaar come from?” So we have a lot material in mind for the rest of the season.
HG: It’s hard to add to that. We’ll be introducing some fan favorite villains *cough* Abomination *cough*.
CL: [Laughs] That’s OK.
HG: So we’ll have Leaders presence in kicking some things into motion but we’re also going to have new villains that are fresh to the series. As well as reoccurring team ups with other Marvel heroes. Lots of exciting stuff to come.
CA: Looking back on the first half, is there anything that either of you would feel comfortable saying you feel you were happiest with? An episode or a moment?
HG: I get that question all the time, where people ask “who’s your favorite character” and I go, “it really depends on the story I’m writing.” I love all the characters. I look at these episodes and say gosh, I really love all the Skaar stuff. I think it’s funny. On the other hand, I really like A-Bomb freaking out in the Wendigo episode, or the funny interactions between Red and The Hulk. It’s hard to — each episode I think has got great moments, and really fun action.
We’ve worked really hard to make a lot of the action different so it isn’t the same thing you’ve seen in the previous episode, “Oh, here’s Hulk smashing walls again” or something. There are challenges to it. I was really proud of creating The Hulk launcher which was a gun and a ship that would just fire The Hulk out. Yeah of course. You’re invulnerable. You can just get in your gun and get fired wherever [Laughs]
CL: A favorite moment, that’s hard because progressively each episode I love a little bit more. I did particularly like this one because of the Hulk/Thing dynamic, but also the fun elements. In my notes I wrote about the Hulk launcher, because it’s so cool. There are so many things. A favorite element for me, because I feel personally connected to it is Devil Dinosaur’s role in this series. I don’t know why it just makes me so happy. Their interactions with him, I don’t know. I can’t explain why it makes me so happy.
HG: Everyone loves a T-Rex. I get it.
CL: Yeah, he’s just so cool looking, ferocious and cute. Next week’s episode is a great deal about Devil Dinosaur, so that’s cool.
CA: I got into a conversation about Devil Dinosaur recently, because I was at the Jack Kirby museum in NYC. Someone there was trying to say that not enough people appreciate Devil Dinosaur and I said, “Everyone I know who knows Devil Dinosaur, loves him. Who doesn’t love Devil Dinosaur?”
CL: I know!
CA: Not liking Devil Dinosaur is madness. To that point, what can you tell us about the next episode?
CL: Everyone on the team loves Devil Dinosaur except Red. That conflict comes to a head, and Red does something pretty awful and the consequences are felt around the world and we get an epic adventure between Red and Devil Dinosaur. Dr. Doom is involved, there’s a lot of humor, there’s a lot of smashing and crashing. It’s a super fun episode. They’re all fun, but this one goes above and beyond.
HG: The one thing I would add is that Devil loves Red.
HG: That’d be the one thing. If you have a character who hates another character, but that character loves him, there’s potential for comedy there.
CL: And comedy ensues.
CA: I like the idea of a buddy team up with Dr. Doom on the other end of the spectrum.
CL: That episode also illustrates that even though the team comes together a lot by this point, the relationships are still evolving. This is a great example of how this relationship changes a lot in this episode. Other relationships on the team will continue to evolve. There still is a trust issue between Red and the team, which the next episode touches on, and we’ll be looking at that further.