Mark Waid On The ‘Hulk’ Relaunch: ‘You’re Not Sure Which Banner You’re Going To Get’ [Interview]
When Mark Waid and Leinil Yu launched Indestructible Hulk as part of the Marvel Now initiative, they took the relationship between Bruce Banner and his giant green alter-ego into a new direction. Instead of struggling against the rage-fueled monster inside him, Banner chose to use the Hulk as a directed weapon, trading off his destructive services for the chance to focus on making the world a better place as a scientist. Now, just as we’re getting used to the new status quo and Banner’s position as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s greatest asset, things are set to shake up again, with the book relaunching as Hulk, with Mark Bagley providing art and a whole new set of challenges.
For more information, I spoke to Waid about the shift in the focus, the relationship between Banner and the Hulk and how it’s changed over the past fifty years, and his process for writing a first issue — a must-read look at crafting an introduction from one of the masters of the form.
ComicsAlliance: The thing I liked about Indestructible Hulk, and this is something that comes up in a lot of your work, is that you’re a guy who’s big on mission statements and explicitly laying out your direction in a comic. You had that very simple phrase you repeated throughout the book, which was that Hulk destroys and Banner builds.
Mark Waid: I think it’s really important to hit that note. You don’t want to hit readers over the head like they’re completely incapable of picking up on subtlety. At the same time, when you do a first issue, the art and craft of the first issue, something that’s gotten really badly lost in my time in comics, and I’m not saying I’m a master of it either, I’m just very cognizant of it when I sit down to write a first issue of anything, is that the requirement is that it lays out the mission statement. Like the pilot of a TV show, like the first book in a long trilogy, whatever, any sort of serialized entertainment, I want to know what I’m supposed to be getting out of this. It doesn’t mean that you have to know everything, it doesn’t mean there aren’t surprises or twists, but I should know what I’m buying at that point so I know if I should come back.
CA: So if that was the mission statement of Indestructible, do you feel like that idea ran its course over the 20 issues of the series?
MW: I think there’s still mileage in it, but the direction that we’re going in the new series puts a kink in that for the time being. Banner has kind of gotten what he wanted, which was that he has a lab, he can do what he wants to do, he has resources to do all this stuff, but still something’s not coming together. Still, he’s not managing to maximize his time the way he wants to, he’s not accomplishing what he wants to accomplish. So what’s wrong? If he’s examined all the factors outside of him, then the problem must be inside his own head. What is holding him back?
It’s an epiphany that he has in the last issue of the current run, where he realizes what has been holding him back, and just as he realizes what’s been holding him back and what will be the key to his future success, something horrible happens.
CA: That tends to happen a lot. Both in comics in general and specifically with Bruce Banner.
MW: Poor Bruce Banner! Right on the cusp! Find me anybody in comics who has a longer history of yanking defeat from the jaws of victory than Bruce Banner.
CA: That’s another one of those themes that recurs in the story. When Hulk was announced, part of the description was that Banner had to examine whether he was trying to do the right thing for the wrong reasons, which is a classic Marvel Comics problem.
MW: I think there’s something to that. That’s what we led him up to. We’ve certainly been very explicit about the fact that a lot of what seems to drive him, while he tells himself that it’s a need to balance the scales and do good and make the world a better place, is ego. A lot of what drives him is “Why am I not as well-regarded as Tony Stark? Why am I not as lauded as Reed Richards?” I think we’ve done it in a way where we don’t make Bruce a complete dick about it. He’s still a sympathetic character, and it’s only human, that nature of envy, especially in a book about green things. There’s some envy in Bruce Banner, but he’s going to realize soon that that has been his achilles heel.
CA: That’s something that comes up often in the book, with his relationship to the other characters. Tony Stark is the big one.
MW: I love writing scenes where Tony Stark just walks into a room and says “Stand aside!” and just shoves him out of the way. Again, from my point of view, Tony’s not being a dick either. Tony absolutely, honestly, in his own mind, regards Banner as an equal. Maybe even smarter. He’s actually a little threatened by that, but it’s not in Tony’s nature to let anyone know that, or even to hint at it in public. He’d certainly never tell Bruce that.
What I see here is two guys, in competition with each other because each of them thinks the other is smarter, but they’re not going to let on. That just amuses the hell out of me.
CA: If you read Indestructible Hulk in isolation, if it’s the only book you’ve ever read, Tony Stark seems like a complete jerk, until you realize that no one has a good reason to trust Bruce Banner with anything.
MW: That’s the thing. My favorite scene I’ve written in the entire book thus far is when he presents his solution to the Terrigenesis problem to the other heroes, like “ta-daa!” and their first reaction is “oh my God, it’s another bomb. What is it with you and bombs?!”
They don’t even bother to ask him what it does or what’s going on, they just charge in and go “no, no, no, no bombs, not from you.”
CA: And the key factor to that issue, because you set up the Tony Stark stuff very early in #2, is that the only one who’s kind of willing to give him a chance is Beast, who is a guy who knows about being transformed into a monster, and also about being hated.
MW: That’s why I chose those three specific characters, because each of them has something in common with Banner. Tony has the arrogant genius competition-friendship thing, Beast has the “I too was transformed by my own hubris into a monster” thing, and Hank Pym has that “I am broken inside and I am every day having to deal with my own mental psychoses.”
CA: That’s a reflection of those characters that I don’t think we’ve seen before. I’m not a huge Hulk guy, I’ve really only read the Bill Mantlo run, but it seems like a new twist, to examine him in the context of the universe. So many Hulk stories are about wandering off and being alone and walking along the side of the road while sad piano music plays.
MW: Exactly. So many of them end with that tinkling piano music as Bill Bixby walks off into the sunset, which, again, is awesome. But here’s the thing: Stan and Jack created something fifty years ago that nobody in comics had ever done. They created the very first tragic superhero. Thing has a little tragedy to him as well, but he had a family and friends. Bruce Banner was the absolute tragic hero, the first of them.
The problem there is that for the next fifty years, especially now — go to the New 52 and throw a stick and try not to hit somebody who thinks their powers are a curse. It’s become so played out and so cliché in my mind, the whole “woe is me, I have superpowers and it’s terrible,” that I thought it was time to take a left turn. Again, that’ll eventually play out too, and I’m sure somebody far better than I will come around in a few years and get back to Bruce Banner wandering the back roads in his Members Only jacket jacket with his knapsack, looking for a handout.
CA: It has that in common with your first issue of Daredevil. It’s very much a book that doesn’t necessarily ignore the baggage, but uses it to move in a different direction.
MW: When they first asked me to do Hulk, my first instinct was to say no because I didn’t think I had anything to say with the character, especially when they said “please do what you did with Daredevil, whatever that was.” I wasn’t sure what we’d done with Daredevil yet. When I finally broke it down, I realized that the commonality between the two that I could play off of was that I could do the same thing with Bruce that I did with Matt, which was have him walk right up to his lousy, horrible history and make the conscious decision to start living a different way, to see what that does. Just walk right up to it and say “look, this is the state of my life, this is the point I’m at where it’s brought me to, and I get up in the morning and I’m miserable. It’s no one else’s job to get up in the morning and say to themselves ‘what’s going to make Bruce Banner’s life better today?’ That’s Bruce Banner’s job.”
I think there’s something heroic about realizing that about your own life, especially if you’re afflicted with a chronic condition. There’s something heroic about seizing control of that and living a better life anyway.
CA: How does that continue with the new series? Is there a thematic shift?
MW: There’s a huge thematic shift. There’s an enormous, seismic shift. For ever, including the first six issues of Hulk’s own run, where Stan and Jack were clearly making it up as they went and, God bless ’em, changing the rules each issue about who the Hulk was and what his voice and personality were, and Bill Mantlo and Peter David — David especially — took it that much further with the idea that there’s one Banner, but several Hulks. There’s Joe Fixit, there’s the big gray Hulk, there’s the Savage Hulk. I thought that was a really smart way of playing with the character, that every time Bruce changes, you don’t know quite what you’re going to get.
The shift we put him through here is that, due to a set of circumstances that happen in the first issue, what we’re left with is a place where the Hulk is consistent, the Hulk has a consistent look and personality and voice, but every time he changes back, you’re not sure which Banner you’re going to get.
I don’t mean, like, Red Banner, Green Banner, Blue Banner, Space Banner, Ant-Head Banner, I just mean is it going to be arrogant Banner? Are you going to get meek, mild, timid Banner? Super-smart Banner or a Banner who’s college-educated at best? It’s not physical, but mentally, who are you going to get? That’s the challenge of the next year or so: Bruce Banner trying to put himself back together.
CA: I feel like now that you’ve said that, we actually are going to get Ant-Head Banner and Space Banner.
MW: Well, now, sure. Why would I not want to do giant-skulled Banner with long fingers from the 30th Century?
CA: The Bruce Banner of 3000 AD! I can see it on the cover!
MW: I can see it now. You’re a terrible influence. Stop.
CA: But again, you talk about inverting the Hulk/Banner dynamic in that way, where it’s Banner who’s the surprise. That’s something you’ve done as well, using Hulk not as a bomb, but as a cannon.
MW: Yeah, as a directed weapon.
CA: These are new ideas. When you sit down and do that first issue, whether it’s Hulk or Daredevil or even Flash and Fantastic Four, what’s the process like? How do you sit down and go “okay, what has not been done in the past fifty years?”
MW: That’s an interesting question. The process is this, man: First you sit down, whenever you do a first issue, and I do this every time, I’m doing it again with the Daredevil relaunch even though I did a new #1 for Daredevil two years ago, you sit down and you make a checklist for yourself of everything you need to know as a new reader, if you’ve never picked up the book before. Then you find a way to integrate it into a story.
It sounds like the most simple thing in the world, but apparently it’s harder than that, because I don’t see as many people doing it that, as a reader, I would like. But that’s what you have to do. If you were writing Batman #1 tomorrow, what’s the stuff that would have to be in there? Bruce Wayne is Batman, his parents were shot, he has a Batcave, there’s a Bat-Signal, there’s Commissioner Gordon. Everyone has their own idea of exactly what the essentials are, but that’s what you do. You sit down and figure out what the essentials are.
If you go back and look at the first issue of Indestructible Hulk, if you have a sharp eye, you’ll catch something that I totally forgot to put in there. In my horror, I only realized after the fact that I took totally for granted that everyone in the world knows what triggers the transformation. And yes, we all know it’s rage because we’ve all seen the TV show, we all know that the madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets, but surely there’s somebody out there who doesn’t know that. Maybe you’re returning to comics and you’re worried that we’ve changed things and you don’t know what the rules are now. You just tick off those things as you go, and by the time you’ve done that, you’ve already written five or six pages in your head. Then you find a way to integrate it into the main narrative.
Then, like you said, it’s about finding something that hasn’t been done before. Sometimes you don’t have to. Sometimes you get back to stuff that hasn’t been done for 20 or 30 years, and it’s been forgotten, but more often it really is just doing a lot of research and doodling and talking. And a lot of talking to Tom Brevoort. That’s the real secret. You call up Tom Brevoort and go “Hey, Multiple Banners. Has this ever been done before?” and he goes “No, I don’t think so” and you’re good to go.
CA: So with the Daredevil relaunch coming up, you’ve got a relaunch of Hulk coming up, and these are characters that you’ve already written first issues for very recently. You did this with Fantastic Four in a way, too, when you came on the book and then got to a point where you had to do another big relaunch when the renumbering happened, and you did it with Flash, too. There were several points in that book where things restarted, and you were tasked with reintroducing the book. But when you’re doing it so close together — Daredevil was two years ago, Hulk was less than that — how do you go back to that?
MW: You have to be cognizant of how you’ve done it before. I think, for instance, that as much as you hear people online scream about it sometimes because they forget that not everyone has been reading comics since they were nine, there is tolerance among older and long-term readers to be reminded. To see the scene of the Waynes being shot again, seeing Krypton explode, however briefly, to hit the touchstones, as long as they’re seeing it in a way they haven’t seen it before. As long as there’s some new information or some new emotional content or new observation or new perspective on that moment, however small, I think readers are a lot more tolerant of it. It’s just dependent on you as a writer to find a new way to deliver that information in a way in which it doesn’t sound like you’re taking a coffee break while you’re rewriting a bunch of panels.
So, for instance, with the new first issue of Hulk. It’s a little tiny thing, but I feel like it’s a good illustration of what we’re talking about, showing the same stuff as before with a slightly different perspective and it goes down better. This time, we’re touching on the Hulk’s origin from the point of view of somebody who doesn’t really know the Hulk’s origin, or only kind of knows the story, as anybody in the Marvel Universe who reads the newspaper and visits the web might. But on a real-world level, not everybody would know everything about the Hulk, in the way that I don’t know everything about the Indianapolis Colts. I know they’re a team, you know? [Laughs] I don’t know who the players are.
So, with that said, we get that perspective from this guy’s point of view as he’s telling the story. The Gamma Bomb went off, Bruce Banner was hurt by the bomb, we don’t know what happened to him, and about that time, this weird gigantic monster started roaming the Southwest and there were many theories. Was it like a Bigfoot character who’d been irradiated? Did the bomb open up some sort of portal from another dimension where monsters came out? We didn’t know at that point, that’s what this guy’s saying. Of course, he learns later, but still. This idea that this is what someone else’s outside perspective of what the Hulk’s origin would be, I don’t think we’ve seen that before. It’s the same information that we need to know, but at the same time, it’s a different way of looking at it.
I’m not trying to paint myself as some sort of genius, and that may be a dumb example, too, but any time I’m re-reading an origin and I see even just one sentence of something I’d never thought of before, I don’t feel like it’s wasted time on my part.
CA: Let’s talk about Mark Bagley.
MW: Man, here’s a guy who it doesn’t make sense that we haven’t worked together before. Between us, we’ve done like 7,000 comics in the past 20 years.
CA: You’re both Marks with a lot of output.
MW: Yes, and by the way, our editor is Mark Paniccia. It makes all the e-mails really hard to read. It’s always “Hey Mark, what if we do this?” and then we have to clarify.
Bagley’s a brilliant storyteller, that’s the thing. Not only can he flat-out draw, not only is there body language and expression and these big giant things and drawing comics in the Marvel Manner, I never have to turn the page and think “what am I looking at here?” He gets it. He and I are very much on the same page, we like our Marvel heroes to be reflective of what they’ve always been, but not trying to recreate comics we’ve already read. We like the basic characterizations that Stan and Jack and Steve and all those guys came up with and we like our heroes in a classic form, but we both are pushing to try to find new ways of doing it so that it doesn’t look like karaoke of the 1960s. Even though we’re both older than dirt, we have no interest in doing retro comics.
CA: The interesting thing about Bagley on the book is that he’s so strongly identified with Spider-Man and visually, you could not get further away from Spider-Man while still having two arms and legs than the Hulk.
MW: I know! But the Hulk he’s drawing is such a creature of power. Like Lenil Yu, who kicked off the first series, he’s very mindful of the fact that we’re treating Hulk — not because we were asked to, but just because it was such a great interpretation — is in line with the Avengers movie. It’s very much visually informed by the idea that being around Hulk is like standing next to a tornado. When the Hulk is around, it’s like being in the middle of a field during a lightning storm. You could be hit at any second, even if you’re a hundred yards away. You don’t know.