For centuries, human beings have been fascinated by the inner monsters that lurk in the shadowy corners of their subconscious. In his classic 1886 novella "The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," writer Robert Louis Stevenson told a of how a scientist accidentally devised a potion that would transform him into a twisted being bereft of kindness and compassion. Seventy-six years later, Stevenson's story would inspire the legendary Marvel Comics creative team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to create their own tale of a scientist who accidentally endows himself with a monstrous alter ego.
Lee and Kirby's creation made its debut in "Incredible Hulk" #1, which introduced Bruce Banner, a brilliant scientist transformed into the green-hued, insanely strong and rage-driven title character after an exposure to a high dose of gamma radiation. The dynamic between Banner and his overpowering id has been the central relationship of "Incredible Hulk" for decades, and this October that dynamic enters a new phase when writer Jason Aaron and artist Marc Silvestri launch an all-new volume of "Incredible Hulk." Comic Book Resources spoke with Aaron about the project, which was announced by Marvel yesterday at their "Fear Itself" panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego.
Aaron has been reading "Incredible Hulk" in its many incarnations for a long time, and when offered the book he welcomed the chance to make his own mark. "I believe the first Hulk stuff I read was John Byrne's short run on the character," Aaron told CBR News. "Then I was along for all the Peter David stuff from the beginning. Bruce Jones' run, which I was a big fan of, had a change in tone and feel. Then you have to respect what Greg Pak has done. He's taken the character to all-new heights and done a lot of different kinds of stories. From a pretty straight sci-fi story in 'Planet Hulk' to a colossal, event-level story like 'World War Hulk' to all sorts of crazy superhero shenanigans. He did all that and expanded the Hulk's cast of friends and family with some very interesting characters.
"It's a big challenge to follow all these guys on a character that has done so many different things, took on so many different kinds of roles and been in so many different kinds of stories, " Aaron continued. "It's a challenge to follow all that and add something new to the mix. Hopefully that's something I'll be able to do."
Currently the Hulk is embroiled in two major storylines. In "Incredible Hulks," writer Greg Pak is bringing his five-and-a-half year run on the character to a close with a story about an out-of-control wishing well that may well bring down Bruce Banner and his Hulks family by fulfilling their deepest and darkest wishes. Over in "Fear Itself," writer Matt Fraction has transformed the Hulk into one of the Worthy, the avatars of the malevolent fear god known as the Serpent. In the September tie-in miniseries "Fear Itself: Hulk vs. Dracula," writer Victor Gischler sends the possessed Hulk to Transylvania where he'll be confronted by the titular vampire king and his Nosferatu nation. It's currently unclear how Pak's story and the "Fear Itself" stories fit together, but Aaron's new volume of "Incredible Hulk" picks up some time after the events of all three tales. During that time, something happened to dramatically redefine the relationship between Bruce Banner and the Hulk.
"Like I do with a lot of stuff, we kind of jump into the thick of the story in 'Incredible Hulk, '" Aaron teased. "Something has happened, and for some reason Banner and Hulk are no longer the same person. We initially don't know why this happened, how it happened or who did it. The details will be filled in along the way. I don't want to go into specifics in terms of what role each character will be playing, but I will say this is more of a Hulk story than a Banner story. I wanted to flip that dynamic. For so many years Hulk has been driven by that Hulk-Banner dynamic where Banner is the super-scientist who accidentally gives birth to this monster inside him and the two are always fighting for control. Banner is fighting to suppress the Hulk and the Hulk is kind of this burden that Banner has to carry around. It brings a lot of tragedy into his life.
"With this new book, I wanted to look at things from the Hulk's point of view," Aaron continued. "Maybe the Hulk doesn't see things quite that same way. If he doesn't, the question becomes: What would he do if left to his own devices? Going into 'Incredible Hulk' #1 we have these two guys who tried to go their own separate ways and live their own lives, but, as you expect, it's not quite that simple, and they find themselves being dragged back together for various reasons. In the past we'd see them at odds and fighting for control of the same body. That fight would be in their minds. Now we see that fight exploding out, quite literally into the Marvel Universe at large. This is the beginning of the biggest Hulk-versus-Banner showdown we've ever seen."
Aaron sets the Hulk-versus-Banner conflict into motion with his first arc, "Hulk Asunder." "We pick up with both Hulk and Banner and see what they've been up to, and our first issue is more Hulk-focused," Aaron remarked. "Our second issue is more Banner-focused, so it is well balanced. We get to see things from both guys' perspectives. The arc also introduces a few new characters into the mix who will have a particular interest in both of these guys."
The Hulk and Banner were split into two beings before in the 1980s, but when that happened it was clear that the Hulk was a monster. In Aaron's run, the clear line between man and monster will become blurred.
"We're going to show that these are both flawed characters," Aaron said. "They were flawed when they were inhabiting the same mind and body, and their flaws expand more deeply when you try to separate them. The whole idea of this series is about stripping things down and focusing on that dynamic between Hulk and Banner. So we'll get glimpses of and make references to Betty Banner (Red She-Hulk) and some of the other Hulks, as well as some of the members of Bruce's extended Hulk family. Initially, though, we won't see those characters, except for Betty who makes a brief appearance in issue #2. This is really meant to be a jumping-on point for people who haven't been picking up 'Hulk' the last few years. They can pick this up and dive right in. It's also meant to focus on that classic dynamic with a bit of twist to it."
Aaron will explore that dynamic in a series of fast-paced, interconnected arcs. "I want this to be a fast-moving, fun book -- it's not going to be a slow, plodding book with huge, over-arching plotlines," the writer explained. "Things will move quickly. Arcs will be shorter, but elements will carry over from arc to arc. The situation between Banner and Hulk is not one that's going to be wrapped up in three or four issues. It's a problem that will persist for quite a while."
Initially it will be Banner and some new characters that make the Hulk's life miserable, but members of the Hulk's rogues gallery will get involved as Aaron's story progresses. "I'm definitely introducing some new friends and foes, and going forward we will see some of the Hulk's old villains -- including one or two of his greatest villains -- who will have a very big impact on the events of this book," Aaron stated. "For the most part, though, from Banner's perspective Hulk is the villain here. And from Hulk's perspective Banner might be a villain. So it's really more about these two characters battling each other as opposed to the Abomination or the Leader or anything like that."
Mad science will play a large part in the battle between Banner and the Hulk, which means veteran artist Marc Silvestri will get the chance to bring to life all sorts of twisted and monstrous creations. "Expect lots of crazy creatures in the first issue, and really the first year," Aaron remarked. "I've thrown a lot of stuff at Marc. I've asked him to draw some of the biggest, weirdest monsters he's ever had to draw. So far he's knocking it all out of the park. I'd say this first arc is certainly crammed to the rafters with weird monsters, deformed animals and as many robots as you can possibly fit into a monthly comic."
Aaron and Silvestri's monthly "Incredible Hulk" run begins in October, and the writer hopes fans give the book a chance. After all, he has a long-form story to tell and would love to add his name to the list of creators who have had extended, multi-year runs on the Hulk. "In some sense this is a long-form story, but I'm also looking at this as a bit looser," Aaron said. "At this point we're talking about where the Hulk is going to be headed in the next year or so. Obviously he's a big player in next year's 'Avengers' movie. So that's going to be a good time for the Hulk. I'm thrilled to be involved with guiding the character forward. It will be an exciting time to figure out where we want to take him and where we want to go. So I'm in for the long haul."