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Smash Across the Atlantic with Marvel Knights: Hulk

Joe Keatinge teams with artist Piotr Kowalski to send Bruce Banner on a trip to Paris!

By Paul Montgomery

In France, they might call what he does a fracas, but the star of December’s MARVEL KNIGHTS: HULK suffers no translators. Adrift in the City of Light, the Hulk looks only to “Smash!”

Dr. Bruce Banner awakens on the banks of the Seine with little memory of his past life. Whether a mercy or a pending disaster, he no longer remembers that a savage green id monster waits just a temper tantrum away. Writer Joe Keatinge considers the tale both a physical odyssey of a man simply trying to get home, but perhaps more importantly, an “odyssey of identity.”

“One of the reasons I’m so attracted to Marvel Comics in general is the fact that these characters aren’t pure good,” explains Keatinge, “They’re not these paragons or ideals of humanity. With the Hulk, he’s this devastating force of nature. He’s an Avenger and, I guess, a hero. But what does that really mean?

“The two biggest questions, for me are ‘Why does Hulk need Banner?’ and ‘Why does Banner need the Hulk?’ If there’s a third question it’d be, ‘What would they do without each other?’”

Marvel Knights: Hulk #1 cover by Piotr Kowalski

Hunted by Hulk-like grotesques through the streets of Paris, Banner’s amnesiac tour of the French capital takes several surreal turns.

Aside from the fractured identity of the long suffering scientist, culture shock and discovery serve as primary motifs. The American Bruce Banner’s travails in Paris mirror the creative team’s own explorations of other cultures as young readers on either side of the Atlantic.

Keatinge points to his own evolving palate as a lifelong comic fan, starting with Marvel Comics like SECRET WARS, and then discovering the works of European masters like Hugo Pratt and Moebius. Meanwhile, Keatinge’s collaborator, the Polish artist Piotr Kowalski, sought out Marvel’s catalog in his youth before making a name in the European comics scene. Though a recent discovery for many American readers, Kowalski surfaced on Keatinge’s radar years ago, and since around 2010 the two have actively discussed a creative partnership.

“When the opportunity came to do this series, Piotr was the first person I thought of,” says Keatinge. “I don’t think people have seen a lot of him. He’s a brilliant artist. Again, it’s that perfect setup. An American writer influenced by European comics and a European artist highly influenced by American comics—Marvel’s Hulk comics in particular—with the aesthetic I was looking for. The biggest influences on this book, within comics, are Jack Kirby, Hugo Pratt, and a [Belgian] series called XIII by Jean Van Hamme and William Vance.”

The influences go well beyond comics. Keatinge and Kowalski also sought inspiration from the films of the French New Wave and Italian cinema of the 60’s and 70’s.

“It’s a huge mix of stuff,” notes Keatinge, “But at its core it’s a kickass Hulk story. I’m saying all this stuff and getting kind of pretentious, but in the end, the Hulk kicks a bunch of ass for four issues, and it’s awesome.”

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