Somewhere around the Hulk issue, I started to get it…
Confident that I couldn’t possibly write a more horrid script than the first draft of the Dr. Strange issue, heading into the Hulk one was actually more than a bit refreshing. My ever so patient and responsive editor had me back under control, Mike O’Hare’s schedule was going to allow him to contribute all of the artwork for the issue, and the prospect of a good old-fashioned Hulk/Thing battle is always good for the soul. When the smoke cleared, what we got, in my humble opinion, were some of the strongest moments of the series, and a comic I’m fairly happy with. Fairly. But I promised to ease up on some of the harsher self-criticisms, didn’t I? Straight to it then, a scene by scene walkthrough of all the unseen elements that combined to form the 22 page story, “Widescreen,” featuring that most incredible of Hulks.
My scripts seem to start one of two ways, either with an extreme close-up of a person or object, leading to an immediate pull back on the next panel or page, or the complete opposite, starting far and then coming forward. With this one I used the pull-in, right before my very obvious impression of the Danger Room from the X-Men flicks. You know the bit, where the giant door performs the retina scan, and then announces in that computerized voice, “Welcome, Professor.” Not anything really huge, but it was in my head when I was plotting out the scene, so I dropped it in there. No idea what a “quantum lock” is, but it sounds a bit cool, right?
The emotional thrust of this first scene actually came from a small cosmetic change made to the Dr. Strange issue. On page 4 of that one, Ben and Alicia are walking down a sidewalk, and in the original script, I asked that Ben appear without his typical disguise to give him a more “open” look. Put him in a more relaxed state, coming down the street with his girl on a beautiful day, not really giving a damn about whatever else might be going on. Mike was doing layouts and wanted the trench coat and hat, to make for a stronger visual, so my editor asked if that was cool, and we changed it. The whole thing ultimately worked better that way, especially when the little creatures showed up and tore into Ben, but that little alteration morphed into the background of this exchange between Reed and Ben. Cause it put that question out there, “How must it feel to have to wear a disguise every time you leave the house? To not have the luxury of just walking down the street with your girl, and ignoring everything else?”
Thinking about that gave me a little seam to dig into Ben’s character, along with his reoccurring anxiety about his appearance, and other people’s reactions to it, along with stealing another chance to write Reed. In the notes, this was called “Reed and Ben have a moment,” and the whole tone of it just makes me think about my own friends, and whatever bad mood they’ve ever talked me out of. Initially, the sequence was 5 pages, but my editor wanted it cut to 3, and then let me have 4. Still a tad cramped, and you can tell by the number of balloons I used, but it’s not too bad, and doesn’t feel any less sweet as a result.
The Hulk intro was an idea I’d been waiting to put down, since finding out he was appearing somewhere in the mini. It’s really just a very obvious build-up to Banner’s famous “You’re making me angry,” line, which is right at home in this story, considering Alan Kupperberg’s original story used the Hulk TV show as its starting point. There, Ben, after finding out Hulk has his own show, stomps off to Hollywood to show everybody what a real hero looks like, and you know, one thing leads to another. But anyway, I gotta admit that I love the page turn between pages 6 & 7, transitioning from the smug bully telling Banner to “prove it,” to Hulk just erupting through the diner’s roof. One of many things that O’Hare really just smashed out the park, and we talked a little about the Hulk when I was still in outline stage, so I knew he was looking forward to drawing him. Had to give my man the chance to show off, and I knew he’d really dig this shot, which explains the big ass grin I was sporting while typing the description for this page. Came back even better than I hoped for, and that’s always good.
The “studio tour” section got a couple Mike O’Hare cameos, along the lines of sneaking Spidey into the background of the title page in Destiny’s Song. Wolverine’s hand is in the first panel (minus the claws which got removed from the raw pencils) and Rhino appears in the second. There’s so much dialogue that you can only make out the horn, but he’s there, and I suppose, it’s pretty obvious I dig little stuff like this, from a completely unapologetic fanboy perspective. Far as the dialogue itself, it’s actually Craig Brice (more on him later) reciting to Ben one of my earlier ideas for this issue, that got thrown out in favor of this set-up. With it committed to print there, it sounds pretty absurd, but honestly, it kinda was.
Soundstage 4, a more commercialized application of the Danger Room, was the story element that kept on giving. Initially, just a really cool “set” for the inevitable Hulk/Thing brawl, it evolved into something more complicated and integral. Just the idea of it provides Reed a stronger connection to the central story, gives Ben an “in” at the studio, all the while spotlighting the inherent coolness of Mr. Fantastic, and his constant drive to invent and/or discover that next big thing. A character who can’t stop thinking is always gonna be fun to explore, and like most of the ones that scroll through this mini, I really didn’t realize how interesting some of them were, until I sat down and started putting words in their mouth. From a mechanics standpoint, Reed’s soundstage makes everything better, and it was originally designed to be this big “thing” to spice up the fight, and satisfy this Moon obsession of mine.
Don’t know what triggered it, but after I had to slice the original opener for the Doc Strange issue, I had to find another reason, perhaps one more logical this time, to get Ben on the Moon. Will definitely settle for the holographic one, ‘specially when it got me that incredible shot of a completely pissed off Hulk, dropping out of a mass of stars. Again, credit due to Mike O’Hare (and colorist J Brown) for delivering that, because I know the panel description made it sound almost completely insane. Wish we’d had maybe one more page of space stuff, before moving on to the glacier, but the transition was very smooth, and really “sells” the visual of this holographic battlefield. Think that was all J Brown.
Wrapping things in the Old West was another nod to Kupperberg’s original story, and an opportunity to have a little “Matrix moment.” The layout for page 16, with Ben and Hulk charging at each other, before slamming together in a cloud of dust, is more than a little Revolutions. Mix that imagery with the idea of a superhero shootout at high noon, and you’ve got another of my favorite pages in the book. Really liked being able to halt this massive throwdown with the word “Sorry,” and the small convo. between Hulk and Ben got quite a few rewrites before it felt right. It’s a bit text-heavy, but really couldn’t be helped without losing the point, that both of the characters were drawn to this same place, over essentially the same thing. Story nearly ended up titled “One Word,” but that sounded a bit unnecessarily obtuse. “Monster” could’ve worked, but overstates things.
Page 20, which has most of the heavy exposition, was originally a short flashback that took us back into the diner where Banner turned, and showed there was a little “time delay” between pgs. 6 & 7, revealing that the TV is what ultimately sent Hulk to Miracle Studios. The editor thought it’d break the narrative and prove more confusing then clever (what I thought it was) so Bruce just relates the same info in a crowd of word balloons. Easily could’ve used an extra page here, but not having one doesn’t completely crash the scene.
Last page was probably my best ending of the whole mini-series, hitting that Sat. morning cartoon vibe real nice, and I think what got it working better than the others, was the possibility to have a little back and forth with Ben and Johnny. The relationship has such a natural sarcastic bent to it, that mining it for a wisecrack or two is pretty easy.
Overall though, I’m borderline proud of this one, and it gave me the confidence for the last issue, which set me loose on my first solo story of the series. Next week, this all comes to an end with Why I Love Susan Storm and You Can’t Stop Me…
Oh yeah, and the whole “Craig Brice” thing? My direct editor here at SBC is Craig Johnson, and my EiC is Jason Brice. You do the math…