Gischler and Stegman Referee FEAR ITSELF: HULK VS. DRACULA

Gischler and Stegman on HULK VS. DRACULA

Vampires have popping up all around the Marvel Universe in the past year, and most of the appearances, from Death of Dracula to the "Curse of the Mutants" arc in X-Men, have been written by Victor Gischler. He's back on duty for maybe the most high-profile vamp-centric story yet — the three-issue Fear Itself: Hulk vs. Dracula miniseries, illustrated by Ryan Stegman (She-Hulks, X-23) and announced during Marvel's Cup O' Joe panel Saturday afternoon at WonderCon in San Francisco.

During Fear Itself, The Hulk is enlisted at one of The Serpent's "Worthy," which isn't good news for anyone — especially for Marvel's vampires, including Raizo, introduced in this month's upcoming one-shot Tomb of Dracula Presents: Throne of Blood.

Newsarama talked with both Gischler and Stegman to find out just how closely the series, starting in September, ties-in with the main Fear Itself series, what kind of threat a "Worthy" Hulk poses, and a lot more.

Newsarama: Victor, let's start a bit broad before moving to the series itself — it's been about a year since Death of Dracula and "Curse of the Mutants" were announced, and the role of vampires in the Marvel Universe has thus considerably expanded. There was a contingent of fans who were skeptical at first about the idea of vampires getting a higher profile in the Marvel Universe, but as essentially the caretaker of vamps in the MU at this point, how do you feel the reaction has been to these projects from the readership at large?

Victor Gischler: I started the year going to two conventions in January — Amazing Arizona Comic Con and Wizards World in New Orleans. In both cases I encountered a number of enthusiastic and friendly readers, and what I heard more than anything else was "We thought you were going to go all Twilight, but that's not what happened. Thank God!" I was grateful for the sincere enthusiasm about the direction of Marvel U vamps. Death of Dracula was the little comic that could. I was told is sold out pretty fast ... in a day? It shows there was — and still is — a lot of interest in Drac and the gang. Maybe not everyone is totally on board, but that's the beauty of our free country. And if you're a Dracula fan, what's coming is even better.

Nrama: And since Marvel has been saying for a while now that vampires will become a major player in the Marvel Universe, is it fair to say that this series — a major tie-in to the big Marvel event of the year — is part of the payoff to that promise?

Gischler: Not the total payoff, but a good down payment. We also see Dracula playing a role that is a bit new. In the past, we could count on Drac to be all "I want you blood and I'm the villain" and he's still not a guy you should turn your back on ... but there's a little more to him now.

Nrama: Ryan, I know you haven't actually started on this series yet, but have you been following the work he's been doing in the past year, building up the vampire side of the Marvel Universe?

Ryan Stegman: I haven't been following as closely as I should have, that's for sure! My wife and I recently had our first child and so my comic reading has gone completely out the window. But things have settled down now and I went out and bought a bunch of Victor's X-Men stuff so that I could catch up on the series. Stuff looks great and I can't wait to sit down and read it!

Nrama: In any event like this, there are the tie-ins that run very closely to the plot of the main series, and the ones a little more far removed, that show some of the larger impacts of the action. The very first Fear Itself promotional image released in late December featured Dracula prominently, certainly strongly suggesting that he'd be playing a major role in the story — so given that, can we expect that Fear Itself: Hulk vs. Dracula ties in very closely to the main series? And since it's not starting until September — at which point Fear Itself will already have five or so issues out — can we assume it will play a role in the story's final act? (Kind of a weird thing to be thinking of with a first issue of Fear Itself not even out yet, I know…)

Gischler: It's major. Dracula is major. Hulk is major.  It's major, baby! I mean, come on. Anything with Hulk is always a big deal, so the fact that Dracula is going to be right in the middle of this speaks for itself. Matt Fraction tees us up perfectly in the main series for what happens with Hulk and Drac. If had a look at the first few scripts and it's all gangbusters. People who read the main series are going to want to pick up the Hulk vs. Dracula arc.

Nrama: And Dracula — well, we know Dracula. Who we don't know pretty much anything about is Raizo, who seems to be an important part of this series. With a few weeks before Throne of Blood is in stores (which looks to be shedding a whole lot more light on him, so to speak), what can you tell us about that character?

Gischler: Throne of Blood gets us started. We meet Raizo. It's a great, action-packed introduction to an important character we found out even more about later. Not only is Raizo a fantastic character all unto himself, but his complicated relationship to Dracula makes him even more interesting. And Goran [Parlov] is slamming it on the art. He's so perfect for this project. I'll let readers meet Raizo in the pages of Throne. But I will say he'll be an important character to watch.

Nrama: An interesting thing about this series is that it looks like not only are the vampires uniting to face a common foe, they're definitely the protagonists in this situation (facing extinction and all that). Is that an accurate read on things?

Gischler: Accurate ... but not so simple. Remember that Vamps were already united under Xarus. Dracula stepped in to take advantage of that situation, and now is the first big test of the vamp nation fighting as as one unit ... apart from the X-Men kicking their butts at the Battle of Utopia. But that was under Xarus's leadership. Dracula is far more cunning and experienced. As for being protagonists ... well, again not so simple. Yes ... but. I mean, these are vampires, right? Don't expect them to jump up and say "The citizens need our help! To arms!"

Nrama: Ryan, it sounds like by the nature of the story you're going to be drawing lots of vampires in this thing - how fun is that? Though Marvel vampires have a pretty standard look, is there a degree of creative flexibility there, being that they're inhuman and don't exist in nature and all that?

Stegman: First and foremost, there's nothing that could be more fun. Vampires and Hulk... It's crazy. Such a great opportunity to have a ton of fun.

As for creative flexibility... I think so. There's always that degree with Marvel. On all of my projects I try to add a little something of myself in there, and the editorial staff has never had a problem with it. So when I'm drawing vampires, I definitely intend to make sure that they appear to be not just human. I want them to at least of flashes of something monstrous in them. And in general, I really like vampires to be leam. I mean, if you're existing on a diet of blood wouldn't you be lean? I like the idea of elongated limbs and protruding bones at the joints. Something scary.

Nrama: Let's not forget about the other equation of the "vs." here, the Hulk. Even as a member of the Worthy and potentially not operating under his own power, is there a specific reason he's targeting vampires? Is there a personal issue for him here?

Gischler: Is he targeting vampires? That gets to the heart of how all this comes about, I guess. The circumstances of this fracas will be revealed in time, true believers!

Nrama: And it's clear at this point that becoming one of the Worthy involves a power upgrade. Obviously the Hulk is quite powerful as it is — "strongest one there is," y'know — but just what kind of a threat is he given his newfound Worthy-ness?

Gischler: I mean, it's impossible, isn't it? Beating regular HULK is already difficult enough, but Worthy Hulk? I mean, it can't be done. As a matter of fact, let's just forget it. But wait ...? Yes, obviously you've hit upon one of the key elements of the drama. How do you stop the unstoppable? Maybe you don't.

Nrama: Speaking of the Hulk — Ryab, you've worked in his part of town a good deal, but in this series the Hulk we know has been transformed into one of the Worthy — it's obviously way, way, early, but can we expect that comes with a visual overhaul?

Stegman: I don't know yet! But I'll be up for the challenge if it is. Now you've got my wheels spinning. I hadn't even considered this yet!

Nrama: I know it's very, very early, but have you guys started the first stages of the collaborative process at all?

Gischler: The first stages are mostly about Ryan and I emailing each other and saying things like "This is gonna rock!" My job is to make sure Ryan gets the best scripts possible and thanks to a crack squad of editors, I'm confident I'm on the right path. There's a lot of brain power and elbow grease going into this one. I've checked out Ryan's work on other projects and I know he's going to hit a home run.

Nrama: Ryan, between She-Hulks, Sif, X-23 and some of your earlier cover work, it's not a stretch to say that you've drawn a lot of female-centric stuff in your career. But this is Dracula vs. The Hulk. Is this a fun a challenge, then, focusing on monstrous males instead of attractive females? ("Monstrous males." Can't believe I typed that.)

Stegman: I'm chomping at the bit to try something new. I love drawing females, and I definitely intentionally steered my career in that direction because it is very fun for me. But at the same time, I like to think that I can do other things as well. And monsters are right up there with females for me in terms of what I like to draw. And when I draw the Hulk, I definitely like to make him walk that line between monster and human. And Dracula is so cool looking. I can't wait to draw him. It's a pretty special day when you get an email that says, "Hey Ryan, we'd like to pay you to draw Hulk and Dracula". And oddly enough, I got this very email on the day that my son was born. What a day.

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