Hulk Week Q&A: Fred Van Lente

Hulk Week Q&A: Fred Van Lente

By Jim Beard

This month marks five decades of gamma bombs, science gone awry and, of course, plenty of smashing as The Hulk celebrates his 50th anniversary!

Since his 1962 debut in INCREDIBLE HULK #1, the Green—and occasionally Grey—Goliath has become not only one of the most iconic and beloved characters in comics, but across pop culture, from his classic TV series to “Marvel’s The Avengers.” Over the next five days, we’ll celebrate the greatest hits—and we do mean hits—of Bruce Banner, his friends, his foes, and his family with Hulk Week!

The Season One series of original graphic novels offers the origins of Marvel’s mightiest characters in a new light, presenting a bold, fresh take on the legendary stories. For the Incredible Hulk’s turn in the spotlight, Fred Van Lente brings an expertise to the gamma-irradiated HULK: SEASON ONE that makes him the right man for the job.

Looking ahead to the book’s arrival this August, we tossed Van Lente a few questions on the beginnings of a monster and the complicated man who lurks inside it. Fred, what will you show in HULK: SEASON ONE to let us in on what makes the character tick?

Hulk: Season One preview art by Tom Fowler

Fred Van Lente: The other Season One books, as wonderful as they are, are about super heroes; people get powers, they decide whether not to fight crime, what costume to wear, not necessarily in that order.

HULK: SEASON ONE is about two people trying to kill each other; they just happen to be the same person.

And one of them may succeed. Where do you feel Bruce Banner's story truly begins?

Fred Van Lente: The gamma bomb explosion, right? Unlike most movie and TV versions of The Hulk, which skew more toward a medical angle, I feel the military is the center of the story. For one thing, I was fascinated to learn the US military is actually developing gamma bomb technology—you'd think after 50 years of Hulk comics they'd know better.

If this really was "season one" of a TV show, all episodes would revolve around Gamma Base, a US Air Force R&D lab in the southern New Mexico desert. We'd follow Bruce Banner, the head scientist; his on-again, off-again significant other Betty Ross, the commander of the MPs; her no-nonsense father, base commander General "T-Bolt" Ross, a troubled orphan named Rick Jones, and some other characters it'll be more fun for you to discover during the course of the story.

And, of course, there's something smashing stuff around the Base that has become something of an urban legend among the airmen. Betty Ross's MPs call it "The Hulk" and they're trying to hunt it down, but nobody believes that crazy “Finding Bigfoot” stuff, amirite?

There are lots of Easter eggs for current Hulk fans from various runs of the book so it'll delight longtime readers as well as [new fans].

Hulk: Season One preview art by Tom Fowler Okay, what weight will you give in the story to the relationship between Banner and the Hulk?

Fred Van Lente: When starting from the ground floor with this franchise you get to ask all sorts of exciting questions, like what did The Hulk think he was when he was first unleashed? How did Hulk go from being smart and cunning to inarticulate and childlike "Hulk Smash" Hulk? How did Banner go from changing to The Hulk at night to transforming when he gets angry? We answer those questions for the first time here. Who are your most favorite Hulk adversaries, and why?

Fred Van Lente: The great thing about Hulk is we get to explore the struggle between good versus evil within one human soul, the long shadow cast by child abuse, but also monsters getting punched in the face. There's quite a lot of all three in HULK: SEASON ONE.

Gargoyle, the diminutive Russian genius from the original INCREDIBLE HULK #1 is here, but in this new post-Cold War milieu his talents have a much more criminal bent.

There's a cadre of sinister biologists with plans for the Hulk of their own—they called themselves "Them" this far back in Marvel history, but gosh don't those yellow outfits look vaguely familiar?

Monica Rappaccini, a scientist who appeared in the first Marvel comic I ever wrote, and has popped in and out of Bruce Banner and Hulk's history, is canonized in the early years here. But is she friend or foe?

And there's a brand new villain, about whom I will only give a name: Biocide. And he is the most fearsome thing I've ever seen artist Tom Fowler draw.

Hulk: Season One preview art by Tom Fowler Speaking of villains, The Hulk could easily be construed as a villain himself; what's your take on him and his story here in those terms?

Fred Van Lente: The kernel of the story for me, really, thinking about the first few issues of the Hulk, was…

Since Banner has spent much of his life trying to find a cure for The Hulk, if The Hulk started out smart, wouldn't he try and find a cure for Banner? Hulk finds some shady allies to do just that; how does Banner wriggle out of that?

Or does he? Banner has enough of a hard time trying to keep his double life as The Hulk a secret from his cop girlfriend and the rest of Gamma Base, much less staying out of the clutches of the guy he is during the nighttime hours. That's where our tension and suspense comes from. Now, what about Tom Fowler's art makes him a good fit for HULK: SEASON ONE?

Fred Van Lente: I can't tell you what a joy it's been working with Tom. He was actively involved in the script from the outline stage and we've had many, many long phone conversations crafting the story. He's really pouring the love onto the page.

I mean, Gargoyle has these robots...

Well, that would be telling. Hopefully this article will have enough preview art for you to see his genius for himself.

Hulk Week continues tomorrow as we chat with HULK artist Dale Eaglesham!

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