For all his strength, the one foe Marvel Comics' Incredible Hulk has never been able to truly defeat is his alter ego, Doctor Bruce Banner. In the past, most of their battles took place on a psychic plane where, if the Hulk wins, he's only able to suppress Banner for a limited time and take control of their shared physical form. Eventually, Banner always reasserts control.
What would happen if the Hulk and Banner split into two separate and rational beings? What would their conflict look like then? And who would be the more dangerous and monstrous one in such a struggle? Writer Jason Aaron recently began exploring those questions and more when he launched a new volume of the ongoing "The Incredible Hulk" series. CBR News spoke with Aaron about his plans for the book.
Taking over following writer Greg Pak's six-year run on "Incredible Hulk," Aaron picked up an idea Pak began exploring during his later years on the book -- that Bruce Banner's brilliant mind is a much more frightening and dangerous force than the Hulk's awesome physical might. "That was certainly an idea that interested me and fit with what I wanted to do and how I wanted to flip the dynamic between the two of them," Aaron told CBR News. "We've always seen them antagonizing one another, but the idea of breaking them apart into two separate beings and having them go at it was really interesting to me. I thought that based on what we've seen so far Banner could certainly hold his own against the Hulk and might even be the one that you'd be a little more scared of at the end of the day."
In the first few issues of Aaron's "Incredible Hulk" readers have seen the titular Jade Giant coping well with his separation from Banner. He even managed to find his own bit of peace in the underground realm of Subterranea as the protector of a tribe of Moloids. Banner, on the other hand, has not been faring as well. In fact, the loss of the Hulk may have driven him insane.
"One question that we'll continue to explore in this initial set of stories is whether or not Bruce Banner and the Hulk can survive as two separate beings," Aaron said. "From the Hulk's perspective he's always been told that he was Banner's burden. He was the thing that was holding Banner back. He was never going to find the happiness that he would have found on his own. So this looks at that from the other side of things. Maybe that wasn't exactly true. Maybe the Hulk was the one that was being held back. At least that's the way he sees it. That's a question that's going to be explored more going forward.
"And what's wrong with Banner?" Aaron continued. "Why is it when you take the Hulk away he starts to go crazy? Why has he descended into madness like he has? And of course the big question still remains: How did they get separated in the first place and who did it? Who's able to do something like that? Those are all big questions that will be answered in the coming months."
In #3 readers saw hints about how the separation came about in a scene that flashed back several weeks and showed the Hulk waking up in a high tech laboratory asking an unseen voice, "Did it work?" while Banner slept on another bed. The scene suggests Hulk enlisted a mysterious ally to help separate himself from Banner and did so without the doctor's knowledge.
"Banner feels the Hulk has been stolen from him. He wasn't aware of anything that was going on. He didn't make the decision to separate; the Hulk did. He just woke up one day and a good portion of his brain and personality had been stolen away. That, of course, doesn't sit right with him. He wants to know who did it and wants it back," Aaron explained. "So Banner is hung up on the Hulk. The Hulk was an accident. Banner built a bomb and just happened to get caught in its explosion, which brought this thing out of him. At the end of the day though, the Hulk is still the most significant thing he's done over the course of his life. The Hulk was something that he told himself for years he had to get rid of, but now that he's rid of it he can't really think of anything else that he wants."
Banner's desire to recover the Hulk leads him to experiment on a variety of animals, turning them into green-hued, gigantic, super strong man-beasts. In "Incredible Hulk" #3, two of Banner's creations tracked down and attacked the Hulk leading the Jade Giant to decide to take Banner down once and for all. At the end of the issue Banner caught wind of the Hulk's coming attack and readied his army of creations for battle.
"I wanted a book filled with big crazy monsters for Hulk to punch in the face. I also liked the idea of Banner getting hung up on the idea of trying to recreate the Hulk in the world around him as well as trying to turn himself into the Hulk again and failing, thus driving himself deeper into madness," Aaron said. "So issue #4, the first part of the next arc, is actually story subtitled 'Island of a Thousand Hulks.' The idea that Banner has become a version of H.G. Wells' Doctor Moreau and creating hulked out beast-men makes for an interesting fight."
The arc that begins with "Incredible Hulk" #4, on sale January 11, features art by Whilce Portacio and revolves around the Hulk and Banner duking it out. Banner will be backed up by his army of monsters and the Hulk will have allies as well. In "Incredible Hulk" #3 the Hulk agreed to work with Amanda Von Doom and her agents Mister Gor and B.R.A.I.N. as a member of the Mad Squad, the U.S. Government's top secret anti-mad scientist squad.
"Once I knew I was taking Banner into full on deranged mad scientist territory I liked the idea of a group of all new characters whose primary objectives are to hunt and kill mad scientists. You saw a little bit of them in this first arc. They play a very big role in the second arc and they're a lot of fun to write," Aaron said. "Taking Igor from 'Young Frankenstein,' basically, and turning him into James Bond was a blast.
"Amanda Von Doom is another character that will continue to be explored. She's quite adamant that she has no relation to Doctor Doom, but is that true?" Aaron continued. "So we see the Mad Squad fly into action against Banner in the second arc with Hulk at their side. Even beyond that arc they'll continue to be a part of Hulk's world."
Many Hulk fans are curious about what sort of role Amanda Von Doom will play in the Hulk's world moving forward, especially considering she's a strong, attractive woman and given Hulk has fallen for those types before. "Is Amanda the Hulk's type? That's an interesting question and another one that will be explored," Aaron said. "She certainly seems to have taken a liking to the Hulk. So far that hasn't been reciprocated, but that could definitely change in the coming months."
The Amanda Von Doom-Hulk dynamic could also become incredibly complicated in the months ahead when the Hulk finds himself confronting one of his and Banner's great loves, Betty Banner, now the Red She-Hulk. "Given how things play out over the course of the Hulk versus Banner arc, you will definitely see Betty come back in a big way," Aaron explained. "I don't have any plans yet for the other Hulk characters, but there will be a big Hulk-Red She-Hulk confrontation coming in the next few issues."
The Hulk-Banner showdown that kicks off the next year of stories in "The Incredible Hulk" will be a big one with lasting consequences for the stories arriving later in 2012. "There will be huge fall out as things continue to evolve and change in the relationship between these two characters. We're not going to gloss over things and suddenly have them hugging each other," Aaron remarked. "The Hulk-Banner relationship is going to continue to get uglier and weirder as things move forward."
"The Incredible Hulk" #4 by Jason Aaron and Whilce Portacio is on sale January 11, 2012.