The heroes in last year’s Avengers movie won the day thanks in no small part to the fact they had a Hulk. But now in December, the innovative (and reborn) Marvel Knights comics line has not just one, but several.
The four issue series Marvel Knights: Hulk by Joe Keatinge and Piotr Kowalski sees the two well-known independent creators delve into the core of Marvel comics to tell an “epic” story according to the publisher that delves right into the core of the dichotomy of Bruce Banner and the Hulk. And oh yeah, smashing and explosions too. This new series is the newest in a recently revitalized Marvel Knights line, the imprint of the publisher that back in 1998 served as the breeding ground for the company’s return to success and fostered the success of future Marvel stalwarts such as Brian Michael Bendis. Now on Marvel Knights’ fifteenth anniversary, they’re aiming to do it once again.
Newsarama spoke with series writer Joe Keatinge about this story, delving into his long fascination with the Green Goliath and into the heart of darkness that is at the character’s core. Channeling both classic Hulk creators like Kirby and Keown all the way to outside sources of inspiration like composer Ennio Morricone and French film-maker Jean-Pierre Melville, Keatinge is coming into this series with a head of steam and a lot to talk about.
Newsarama: Joe, what can readers look forward to with Marvel Knights: Hulk when it launches in December?
Joe Keatinge: Everything and nothing, depending on how you feel like reading it.
If you just want a comic where the Hulk smashes a bunch of stuff and big things blow up big, well, we’ve got plenty of that going on.
If you want to give it a deeper read, there’s plenty going on underneath the surface. What the Hulk is. What the Hulk represents. The Hulk as the Ultimate American Nightmare. What the Hulk means to Banner. What Banner means to the Hulk. What they both reflect of ourselves. What they mean to the Marvel Universe. What they mean to Marvel Comics. An actual dissection of 1962’s Incredible Hulk #1. How an extremely American idea survives when filtered under international lenses — what it could evolve into, what it could become.
I’ve spent a lifetime in part thinking a lot about Marvel Comics, especially the Hulk. So has my collaborator and series artist Piotr Kowalski. That guy was born in a crib sporting a Hulk sticker. This has been a long time brewing for the both of us. When those perspectives are mixed together after brewing for a couple of lifetimes, Marvel Knights: Hulk is what happens.
Nrama: According to what I’ve read, Marvel Knights: Hulk is set squarely in France, from the banks of the Sienne and on to Paris. What led you to bringing Hulk to France?
Keatinge: Well, it only starts squarely in France. One major aspect of the series is that it transforms what it is as it goes along, as a reflection of Banner himself. It’s a very international, globe-spanning book, both in setting and execution. Getting too much into either at this point will take away from the read. I’d rather people see what Piotr and I are doing here through a comic, as opposed to an interview.
Nrama: There’s more than one Hulk here, according to the solicitations – there’s someone hunting him who transforms into a “grotesque” Hulk. What can you say about Bruce’s pursuers?
Keatinge: When we start off, there are a number of people who can turn into a Hulk — but none of them are Banner. Who they are, who they work for, what their motivations are — well, that’s part of the story, obviously. Again, I’d rather people check out the comic and find out the answers to the who, what, whys. Piotr is killing it way too hard on the visuals to see what we’re doing any other way.
Nrama: Lately in the Avengers movie and the main Indestructible Hulk comics they’ve been working at defining Bruce Banner more as a character outside of the Hulk, and Marvel Knights: Hulk seems to follow in that as well. How would you describe the contrast between Bruce and the Hulk and defining him not just by the fact he gets mad and turns into the Hulk?
Keatinge: Actually, this very definition — or rather, these definitions — are a central part to the mechanics behind our storytelling. And heck, at a certain point, become a leading part of it. I could answer this question or you could read Marvel Knights: Hulk #2 and #3, in specific. And trust me, folks want to see it in the comic. Whatever on me, Piotr Kowalski is doing some career-best work on this, which is saying a lot, because he’s doing an amazing job on the Image Comics collaboration with Joe Casey, Sex.
Nrama: I’ve read elsewhere you describing this as a 60s/70s European thriller movie with Bruce Banner in it. Can you talk about that?
Keatinge: Yeah, absolutely. It’s less actually me attempting to do a 60/70s European thriller movie and more those acting as a major influence, among others. I write comics to write comics, not out of wish fulfillment to do movies. The comics medium’s power is so damn vast that trying to do a movie on paper is doing yourself a disservice. That being said, the works of folks like Jean-Pierre Melville, among many others, had a major influence on me. This is definitely a different type of setting, to begin with, than we’re familiar with — certainly different than one Hulk is familiar with. I listened to a lot of Ennio Morricone while writing the first issue, so, again, the influence is there. The execution ends up being something else entirely.
Nrama: You said in a previous interview that this Hulk story is something you had in mind for a while before editor Bill Rosemann came to you from Marvel. What’s your fascination with the Hulk and how this story came about?
Keatinge: He’s a gigantic usually-green-sometimes-gray guy who smashes the heck out of everything. How do you not like that? But yeah, under the surface it gets a lot more interesting. As a kid, I dug him for, well, the visceral, surface level stuff. But, as time goes on, the work of folks like Jack Kirby, Herb Trimpe, Peter David, Walt Simonson, Art Adams, Dale Keown, Todd McFarlane, John Romita Jr., Bruce Jones, Tim Sale, Jeph Loeb… I could go on for hours… made him go from a character I enjoyed to someone I was enthralled with.
While this story directly came about because editor Bill Rosemann asked me to do a Hulk story, you bet your ass this — among many others — has been gestating in my brain for years in one form or another. It didn’t really come fully together until Piotr came into the mix and we created this thing that wouldn’t have existed without the two of us, as well as Bill, series colorist Nick Filardi and letterer Clayton Cowles. Comics are a team effort and I feel extremely lucky that this one came together the way it did.
Nrama: The Marvel Knights moniker is a storied branding symbol at Marvel, and you’re a real student of comics. In having this be under Marvel Knights and not being a main Hulk title, or MAX or 616, what does that give you to go on for this story?
Keatinge: First and foremost, it’s an honor to be part of Marvel Knights. There’s a major history there, a really tightly guarded pedigree. It’s the line that gave new life to Daredevil, that gave us one of my all-time favorite minis, Marvel Boy by JG Jones and Grant Morrison. A lot of now huge names came out of the line. A lot of weird experimentation that took place there become mainstays in the Marvel Universe. It was born out of a feeling of innovation, giving two relatively new names the freedom to do a lot of cool stuff and ended up revitalizing the entire company.
Now Marvel Knights is continuing that tradition of experimenting on their icons with mostly new names you may not have associated with them before. I don’t know that we could have done this story the way we’re executing it — I mean, there’s a drug addled Banner in a sequence that’s a tribute to Marvel’s Third Eye Blacklight posters — under any other line. And the fact Bill, Axel Alonso and Mark Paniccia always pushed us to take it further and further, to not hold back from what our vision of the Hulk is — and could be — well, yeah, you can’t beat that. It’s been a damn fine good time.