Amalgam And Metamorphosis: Joe Keatinge On ‘Marvel Knights: Hulk’

By Matt D. Wilson

The Marvel Knights imprint is returning this fall, and in December, writer Joe Keatinge and artist Piotr Kowalski will be taking the Hulk somewhere you maybe wouldn’t expect to see old Bruce Banner: France. The four-issue “Marvel Knights: Hulk” series promises to turn readers’ expectations on their heads in a lot of ways.

I caught up with Keatinge to talk about what’s in store, and how this series will have an especially European sensibility.

MTV Geek: The “Marvel Knights” banner had been retired for a few years, and you guys are one of the teams bringing it back. What do you think it means to be on an MK book?

Joe Keatinge: The way I’ve always viewed Marvel Knights — since its origins in titles like Joe Quesada & Kevin Smith’s “Daredevil” and Jae Lee & Grant Morrison’ “Fantastic Four: 1 2 3 4” all the way to this newest iteration — was to provide an imprint for creative voices and takes on characters you wouldn’t immediately associate with each other. With this story, we’re going for a very different approach with American comics in general, much less the Hulk.

I’m an American writer who’s highly influenced by Euro-comics partnering up with a European artist who’s highly influenced by Marvel Comics, so we’re going for something very much down the middle — a sort-of Amalgam-style crossover event where Bande Dessinée and Marvel are mashed up into something I don’t think people have quite seen before.

While “Morbius” was overall an enjoyable creative experience for me, I feel “Marvel Knights: Hulk” is the most me comic I’ve worked on since “Glory” wrapped up. The amount of freedom here has been astounding, with Piotr and I given a chance to really do the type of comics we’ve always wanted to do in the Marvel Universe.

Geek: Is this series totally removed from what Mark Waid and team are doing over on “Indestructible Hulk?”

Keatinge: I’m going to say something kind of unpopular and admit I don’t sweat continuity to the extent of some people. Yes, I think it’s absolutely imperative to not violate the continuity of character — like it’s an awful idea to have it turn out Gwen Stacy had a baby with Kang or whoever — but I’m not all that worried about which day of the week this Hulk story took place, because Mark has him fighting Thor on a Tuesday. Nor do I think it’s a great idea to be sacrificing stories because it conflicts with a panel from King Sized “Marvel Team-Up Annual” #2 or “Secret Wars II” #8. I’m more concerned with stories existing now and into tomorrow than losing sleep over catering to something from forty years ago. It’s kind of like Joss Whedon being worried “Avengers” conflicted with “The Trial of the Incredible Hulk.”

That being said, the general idea is that these stories all happened, this one sometime before Indestructible. Incidentally, “Indestructible Hulk” has been astonishing. Walt Simonson and Mark Waid doing Hulk and Thor?! I was signed up sight unseen.

Geek: Do you feel like this comic needs to have a particular tone or feel to it to fit under the MK label?

Keatinge: The thing that [“Marvel Knights: Hulk” editor Bill] Rosemann stressed when they first asked us to do this was that they wanted it to have Our tone. They didn’t want us trying to force in what we thought was the Marvel house style or what we might think Marvel Knights would mean. My gut was to do something different with my European influences and the very first person I thought of was Piotr, because we’ve talked about working together for years and I knew he had a huge affinity for not just Marvel, but the Hulk in specific.

What I’m getting to here is the particular tone we’re going for is one completely dictated by Piotr and me. We’re in this place somewhere between Jack Kirby and Jean Van Hamme & William Vance’s “XIII” or Whedon’s “Avengers” and Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Samouraï.” It’s a super-science thriller on an international scale, mashing up classic American and European sensibilities into something I think feels new and different, something that’s our own.

Geek: This series takes place in Paris, which seems to sort of push back against the classic Hulk “walking across America” premise. Is that the idea?

Keatinge: That’s very methodical, yeah. The germ of an idea behind all this was considering what Marvel Knights offered us — the ability to tell a Hulk story we might not be otherwise able to. My first instinct was to set him far and away from America; to strip away everything that makes him who he is. The opening spread is of Banner waking up in the Seine without any memory of who he is, being pursued by forces he doesn’t understand, completely unable to turn into the Hulk. The very core of who he is has to be rebuilt and rediscovered in a situation even a Banner with a full memory wouldn’t know how to deal with.

Geek: The solicit copy also says the series will “SMASH your expectations of what a Hulk story can be.” Can you elaborate?

Keatinge: I don’t know that there’s been a Hulk story citing the majority of its influences from sources like Hugo Pratt and Ennio Morricone. And really, that’s just the beginning. It’s not a Hulk story without an element of metamorphosis, so what the book evolves into by the end is a different place than where it began, in terms of approach. I don’t want to say much more beyond that right now.

Geek: What can you tell us about Bruce Banner’s mysterious pursuers who can turn into Hulks themselves?

Keatinge: I’d like the reader going into this with as much knowledge as Banner does in the beginning – which is none. I think right now is the best era comics has ever seen, with a huge exception for how much gets revealed before someone even gets to the stand. What I will say is the sins of Marvel Universe past have born a new generation wanting to destroy the old and Banner’s in the middle. Beyond that, again, I don’t want to say anymore.

Geek: Will we see any of the Hulk supporting cast here, or is this strictly a Banner tale?

Keatinge: While the first issue is almost primarily Banner-focused, by the time we get to the last issue it’s reached a very different scope than what we set out with. That being said, the majority of the supporting characters in this are entirely new. We’re putting Banner into a world, situation and community he’s never been confronted with before.