Enter the Green Gladiator

Will The Hulk find peace on a distant planet? Don’t count on it!

A word to the wise: If you have a powerful, green superhero roaming your planet who does a great job of getting rid of the bad guys, don’t put him in a spaceship and blast him into space. That’s pretty much the lesson learned by the mysterious band of heroes (including Iron Man and Reed Richards) which decides to send Hulk to a faraway planet in the exciting new animated DVD feature, Planet Hulk. The movie, which is based on the 2006-2007 comic series written by Greg Pak, follows our misunderstood hero’s adventures as he crash-lands on the Planet Sakaar where he’s sold into slavery and becomes one heck of a gladiator.

Directed by Sam Liu, who also helmed the recent Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, the animated feature has been generating strong word of mouth thanks to its anime-influenced look (courtesy of Japan’s Madhouse Ltd.) and its ability to cater to a more mature comic-book audience. For frequent Marvel collaborator Greg Johnson, who penned the movie’s screenplay, it was a great chance to really understand what made the angry superhero tick.

‘I liked the opportunity to get into Hulk’s head,’ says Johnson, whose many animated credits include Iron Man (1995-96), X-Men: Evolution (2000-2003), Ultimate Avengers (2006), Doctor Strange (2007) and the recent TV series Wolverine and the X-Men. ‘His entire existence is waking up in the middle of this rage and he battles to calm it down, and then he goes back to sleep. Although he is betrayed by Earthlings, he ends up being a hero once again and learns to trust others again.’

Johnson says the idea of having Hulk go through this new experience and environment proved to be quite an interesting one. ‘It felt like a real meaty story,’ he notes. ‘You feel like you’re absolutely invested in Hulk’s journey and it results in an enjoyable, rewarding culmination of all the various storylines. From a visual standpoint, it’s so well-directed, visceral and exciting that you won’t really find a moment that you’re not staring at the screen in wonder.’

Johnson, who collaborated closely with execs Craig Kyle and Joshua Fine, says working with the team at Marvel has been quite a rewarding experience. ‘I have a wonderful relationship with the studio,’ he adds. ‘They seem to appreciate that when I approach these movies I really get into them and start from the bottom up and learn a lot about the character and the storyline. The Planet Hulk series was quite huge, so they wanted me to bring a critical eye to this project.’

To prepare for the project, he read the story from beginning to end and really focused on all the details that supported Hulk’s perspective. ‘I was focused on two things: first, themes that support his arc, his journey from monster to hero; and second, the characters who had an impact on him during this journey and the ways in which Hulk impacted their lives. Those are the things that give this story its definable spine.’

Johnson points out that the Hulk persona has gone through numerous changes since creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced him to the world in 1962. ‘He has been depicted as a monosyllabic monster as well as an intellectual and has even divided his character to Red Hulk and Green Hulk. Ultimately, it’s the misunderstood beast aspect that people respond to. He is mistreated because he looks a certain way, and people respond to storylines that deal with his struggles.’

As a writer, Johnson has been very successful at juggling TV series such as Wolverine and the X-Men and DVD feature assignments like Planet Hulk. ‘They do exercise different muscles. When you’re working on a TV series, it’s exciting to create a project that has a strong continuity from beginning to end,’ he notes. ‘There are lots of storylines that converge in the finale, just like they would in the final issue of a comic-book series. For a movie, I have more time to write a continuous story. You can play up the themes faster, you don’t have to worry about putting in commercial breaks, and it’s more liberating. You also have to have believable character growth from beginning to end.’

Whether it’s episodic work or movies, Johnson is sure about one thing: Animation provides infinite possibilities. ‘I love working in animation because you don’t have budgetary restraints like you would in live-action projects,’ he explains. ‘You can get away with so much more in animation. The absolute diversity and variety of things I have worked on, I could have never been able to do in live action, and I can say that I’ve absolutely loved every show that I’ve worked on!’

Lionsgate Home Ent.’s Planet Hulk is now available on DVD (special two-disc edition: $24.98; regular disc: $19.98) and Blu-ray ($29.99). Bonus materials include creative commentaries, featurettes, music videos, an episode of Wolverine and the X-Men featuring The Hulk, two Marvel Motion Comics and a sneak peek of the upcoming movie, Thor: Tales of Asgard.