No stranger to The Incredible Hulk, having worked on multiple previous animated incarnations of the Green Goliath, writer Greg Johnson shares his thoughts on how the highly-anticipated Planet Hulk animated project came together. Johnson sat down with Marvel Animation Age for a Q & A to discuss his role in the upcoming direct-to-video animated feature release. Please click on the thumbnails included in this article for a closer look at each image.
Marvel Animation Age: First off, for those who may not be familiar with your impressive resume, care to provide a quick background on some of your recent work?
Greg Johnson: Over the last batch of years, Iíve been almost exclusively a Marvel Animation guy. After story editing X-Men: Evolution, I was invited to write Ultimate Avengers, the first Marvel Animated Feature. The sequel followed, and our working relationship was so strong that I was asked to write The Invincible Iron Man. Funny thing is, at the same time I was writing that script, the live action Iron Man was being developed. So the challenge presented was to do an origin story that varied from what was being done in live action. After that, I wrote Doctor Strange (one of my favorite Marvel/Lionsgate movies), helped out on the story for Next Avengers (wonderfully written by Christopher Yost) while at the same time developing the Wolverine and the X-Men series, and serving as its head writer.
MAA: How did Planet Hulk come about? Was this a story the creative team at Marvel Animation sought out to do from the beginning?
GJ: I wasnít part of that decision, so Iím not exactly sure what all went into it. One of the primary considerations, though, was the wonderfully written and successful series of books. It introduced a more thoughtful, intelligent Hulk then whatís been seen in movies and television, and gave the character an arc that hadnít been seen before on screen.
MAA: How did you get attached to Planet Hulk? Good timing or did you petition to work on it?
As I mentioned, my working relationship with Marvel has been wonderful over the years. From Rick Ungar to Avi Arad, to Eric Rollman and Craig Kyle, and now with Joshua Fine. They understand that I donít have a huge background in comics, so I believe they appreciate the unencumbered perspective I bring to the process. Craig and I broke most of the stories for the MLG movies, as well as Wolverine and the X-Men, and Josh was a huge contributor to the process, as well. So when the decision was made to adapt ďPlanet Hulk,Ē I was fortunate enough to be approached.
MAA: When first working on this project, did you think it was going to be difficult to trim a 12-issue story into 70-odd minutes? What types of risks come with adapting a story of that scope into an animated feature?
GJ: The first thing I noticed when reading through the books, was how interesting and varied the characters were. It was important to me to keep as many of them actively involved in the story as possible. But as I went through putting post-its on pages and making notes, I knew it was the Hulkís story we had to get right. In a limited running time, we had to make sure his journey was being serviced by all the other characters Ė whether friend or foe. Itís been said to death, but it really is going from Monster to Hero, and that trip has to be worthwhile and believable. Subplots are there, because thatís the fabric of the ensemble. There just obviously wasnít time to explore them in the movie as much as they were in the books.
MAA: Looking at the original story for Planet Hulk, what were some of the moments that you knew had to go? Is it difficult to trim parts away from a story, especially knowing some viewers may cry foul at whatís been removed?
GJ: Thereís no doubt some fans will claim their favorite moment in the books was not in the movie. But great care went into making sure we delivered an adaptation that people would appreciate. So as opposed to listing elements that we may have had to trim out, Iíd rather that people look forward to the elements we successfully wove into this movie.
MAA: How would you compare working on the story for Planet Hulk as compared to your work on some of the previous Marvel Animated Features?
GJ: For starters, this wasnít an origin movie. It assumes most viewers know who the Hulk is, and how he came to be, so that allowed for a fuller story. Another comparison is that I had such good source material to draw from. Some scenes I was able to lift right out of the pages. When I adapted Ultimate Avengers, the decision was made to widen the youth appeal beyond the mature story-telling in the book. To mix in a little classic Avengers tone. That necessitated some changes that hardcore fans of the Ultimates didnít care for. However, by having broader appeal, the movie experienced success over more demographics. So it was more of a challenge to find the balance. Writing the script for Planet Hulk, however, was a much cleaner process.
MAA: Have you seen the final product. And, if so, thoughts?
GJ: Each of the MLG movies has a cast and crew screening on a large screen. Unfortunately, for Planet Hulk, that screening had some technical issues, so visually it was off. However, even with that, it was a very intense experience. The action is nonstop, the music, the emotions, the plot turns Ė everything pays off.
MAA: Alright, as we head into the home-stretch here, care to give fans one solid reason to run out and snap up Planet Hulk on February 2nd?
GJ: This is Hulkís movie, not Bannerís. For the first time, viewers can see how he copes in a world where he can be hurt, or even killed. But itís also a world desperately looking to him for help. Heís got to let go of some real baggage before heís any good to anybody, including learning to trust again after the heroes of earth turned their backs on him. And to me, it becomes a movie worth watching because it transcends the expectations of a traditional "Hulk Smash, Whereís Betty?" story. It stands on its own as simply good entertainment.
Marvel Animation Age would like to thank Greg Johnson for his participation.