Brian Truitt wrote:The old saying goes, "Hulk smash!" — not "Hulk quip!"
When Mark Waid was offered the chance to write Marvel Comics' green-skinned muscular monster as part of the "Marvel NOW!" initiative, he didn't know if he had it in him. He wondered if he could replicate the success he had with Waid's recent swashbuckling Daredevil reboot.
"There's not a whole lot of room for humor with Hulk smashing things. It's not as cerebral a book as Daredevil can be," the award-winning writer says.
Then Waid figured out the key to what makes his new Marvel Comics book Indestructible Hulk hum: take Bruce Banner, a man who's hit rock bottom, and have the Hulk's alter ego join the spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D. as both a scientist and weapon of mass destruction.
Featuring art by Leinil Yu, Indestructible Hulk gets its title from Banner finally coming to grips with his very large, clothes-ripping id. In recent comics, the genius has fought for survival in a turf war with the Hulk, wanting to rid himself once and for all of the monster he transforms into when angry, but no resources in modern science can help him.
"So rather then treat it like a curse that he has and spend 24 hours a day to eradicate, he's decided to treat it like a chronic condition like cancer or diabetes," Waid says. "And the way you live with it is you learn to manage it and you learn to make some sort of peace with it instead of it becoming the sole focus of your life.
"It's a little different than diabetes because if left unchecked, it can devastate half a city block."
Waid also started thinking about Banner as a scientist, although it's been a long time since he's been shown in a laboratory doing anything but trying to stop the Hulk. And after the event series Avengers vs. X-Men showcased science saving the day while Banner/Hulk's job was punching stuff, Banner's realized this, too, and decides he doesn't want a tombstone that reads "Hulk smashed."
"He wants to rededicate his life to the idea that he can contribute something positive to the world," Waid says.
Enter Maria Hill, director of S.H.I.E.L.D. She's been tracking the Hulk but Banner finds her first and makes her a deal in Indestructible Hulk No. 1 (out today).
He gets S.H.I.E.L.D. funding and resources to build things to help humanity and will do his best to keep the beast in check. But when stuff happens and the Hulk roars to life, then S.H.I.E.L.D. points him at a situation where finesse isn't paramount — if there's a Hydra insurrection in Montana or a terrorist act in the Midwest — uses him like a living cannon and then picks him up after the damage is done.
"Lather, rinse, repeat," Waid says. "That's the new status quo."
The writer is taking Banner to different parts of the Marvel Universe he doesn't go often to find things that will help him invent — the fourth issue begins a two-part adventure to the undersea land of Lemuria and a face-off with Attuma, while issues 6 through 8 will feature Banner taking his team of lab assistants to the Rainbow Bridge to tap into Asgardian science but running afoul of Frost Giants.
"A lot of that is science-driven, a lot of Bruce exploring, but at the same time in issue 3 he fights the Quintronic Man because S.H.I.E.L.D. specifically sends Hulk on an espionage mission," Waid says. "And if you think you can imagine what it's like to have the Hulk on an espionage mission, you are mistaken."
So far, he's enjoyed crafting the feisty dynamic between Banner and his S.H.I.E.L.D. handler.
"Maria Hill is a control freak — the perfect person to have in charge of the Hulk," Waid says of the character, who Marvel movie fans got a version of in The Avengers. "It's a constant tension between not only her and Bruce but also her and the Hulk. Maria likes every hair to be in place and every last little detail of every mission worked out to the thousandth percentile, and then here comes Hulk."
And how does Banner solve a problem like Maria? Lots of torment.
"The way the Hulk works is there's still always a vestige of Bruce's personality buried deep down in there somewhere. So if Banner likes you, Hulk is more likely to listen to you," Waid says. "That is why Bruce is always getting Maria to pick up the check at a restaurant, getting Maria to lend him 20 bucks.
"And Maria is constantly struggling between the impulse to curry Banner's favor, and the impulse to go ahead and put a gun to his head and be done with it."
In some "Marvel NOW!" promotional images — and designs in the back of the first issue — Hulk is shown decked out in battle armor, leading some fans to wonder why an indestructible Hulk needs such a thing.
However, Waid confirms that it's not for Hulk but instead for Banner post-transformation, when he wakes up trapped under a wrecked building or buried in feet of snow in a state of undress after hulking out.
"If you're sending Bruce Banner into dangerous situations where he's going to turn into the Hulk and turn back out of the Hulk, it would be nice for him to wake up with something other than another ragged pair of purple pants for a change," says Waid, who reveals that Banner's form-fitting armor shifts into shoulder pads, arm guards and other shields when he expands to Hulk size.
In terms of combating villains, Hulk is going to face a "slightly deeper bench" of bad guys Waid is creating or pulling from obscurity, and the writer wants to use others such as the Sandman he hasn't faced for a while in a change of pace.
"You need somebody who can go toe-to-toe" with the Hulk, Waid says. "You can get by on occasion with a Kang or somebody like that who is a little less slugfest-worthy, but at the heart of every issue, if there's not some moment where the Hulk is punching something really big in some giant shot, first off you're doing the character and the readers a disservice — because the book is called Hulk — and you're doing Leinil Yu a disservice because that's the thing he does best in all the world is punch, punch, punch."
Hulk's worst enemy, though, is R.O.B., according to Waid — a tip of the hat to Bruce Banner's first name, Robert. Hill assigns the small Roving Observational Bot to monitor the Hulk whenever's he in action and keep an eye on him.
"Every time you open the issue, you're going to be able to take bets on how many pages we'll go in the issue before Hulk just smashes that thing to bits," Waid says. "There's a closet full of them. Hulk doesn't take that kind of stuff very well."
Banner also has a crew of four S.H.I.E.L.D. lab assistants, all with different specialties and all with a secret reason "for being willing to be part of this suicide squad," Waid says.
One hopes none of them spills hot coffee on Banner in an enclosed space. But the not-so-humble scientist is OK with feigning crankiness with his new associates if his funding is rejected or he doesn't get the materials he wants.
"Bruce is not above at this point just pretending to drop a wrench on his foot just to see if Maria will freak out," Waid says.
Having Banner be a likable character for comic readers — and showing Hill smack him upside the head with a two-by-four to unleash the beast — is important for Indestructible Hulk, according to the writer, but the humor has to always be tempered by the fact that the Hulk is a raging engine of destruction.
"The great thing about the Hulk is that, as we saw in the Avengers movie, I don't care if you're 300 yards away when he changes. You pee your pants because you know your life is likely over, whether you're his friend or his enemy," Waid says.
"It's like being in the middle of a lightning storm — you just don't know. And I never want to lose sight of that sense of danger to the book."