Behind the Scenes of the Hulk Cartoon

By Rob Allstetter

Want a monster hit?  Turn to a monster who can really hit.  After the X-Men and Spider-Man series swept up Saturday morning ratings, Marvel's next animated network endeavor could be a smash (quite literally) on Sunday mornings.

The Incredible Hulk figures to be the flagship series of the United Paramount Network's all-new Sunday morning lineup this fall.  Don't interpret Marvel's dealings with a new network as a sign of ill will towards FOX, home of X-Men and Spider-Man.  Like other studios, Marvel is simply supplying shows to more than one network.  Besides, the Big M has Silver Surfer and Captain America toons bound for Fox.

Marvel has entrusted The Incredible Hulk to supervising producer Tom Tataranowicz, who helped overhaul the syndicated Fantastic Four and Iron Man to more critical approval in their second, most recent seasons (these shows are no longer in production, but could conceivably return).  Tom T (as he is known in the business) and crew are mixing together the different comics versions of the Hulk, the live-action TV series and a few wrinkles of their own.  You can forget that often-silly cartoon Hulk from the early 1980s.

"We're pushing the mood.  We're pushing the emotion," Tataranowicz says.  "This is more like drama with action than action with drama.  This is the original savage Hulk.  He's monosyllabic when he talks."

"He has all the range of emotion that you would expect to find in a child," adds story editor Greg Johnson.  "He feels intense anger.  He feels love.  He feels all the painful emotions like betrayal and grief.  That's one of the things that makes him an interesting character.  He's more of a sympathetic victim than a human-hater."

Producer Dick Sebast, who directed 12 episodes of Batman: The Animated Series (including the Emmy-winning "Robin's Reckoning Part 1") and did storyboards for Spider-Man, says he's trying to reflect the emotional aspects of the writing in the show's look.

"It's King Kong in a way," Sebast says.  "He's the tragic hero, and we're trying to get a lot of that mood in the lighting, especially in all the nighttime scenes with a strong sense of lighting as opposed to the flat backgrounds you usually see."

Sounds like a "dark and gritty" Hulk, doesn't it?

"That's such an overused term," Johnson says.  "To me, there's only one show that's ever really made it, Batman.  Maybe Gargoyles."

"But that is the attempt here.  A lot of it is at night.  The image of the brooding Hulk in the dark is a strong one, and that's what we want to explore.  So, it is somewhat dark, and it is somewhat grim."

Adds Sebast: "Dark is darker if it's put next to light.  Drama is contrast, so we do have lighter moments and lighter scenes, and it won't be that relentless darkness of Batman.

Johnson describes the motivations of the characters on The Incredible Hulk as "desperate."  And they don't come any more desperate than scientist Bruce Banner.

Like the live-action show, the series has elements of The Fugitive, with Banner on the run from General Thunderbolt Ross and the Hulkbusters.  But Banner's travels have a purpose, as he seeks other scientists in a cross-country trek for a cure to his transformation -- a journey which leads him to many familiar Marvel characters.  He'll also run into many situations that trigger the adrenaline rush and gamma-spawned transformation into the Hulk.  In fact, Johnson says you'll see much more Hulk than Banner on the show.

"All Banner wants is a cure, and all he wants as the Hulk is to be left alone.  So there are very noble reasons," notes Johnson, who wrote the episode of Iron Man in which the Hulk appeared.  "He's provoked into attacking, he attacks, things get destroyed and he gets blamed for destroying things.  He's really a victim throughout this whole things.  People will identify with that."

Meanwhile, Doc Samson and Betty Ross are back at Gamma Base in New Mexico, working on their own cure for Banner -- a nutrient bath that was lifted from John Byrne's run in the comic book.  Rick Jones will be another regular supporting cast member who tries to help Banner, and Major Talbot will be in the mix.

"The Return of the Beast," a two-part episode, sets up the season's story arc and tells the Hulk's origin in flashback mode.  Instead of a gamma bomb that explodes to turn him into the Hulk, Banner is working on a gamma reactor, eliminating the antiquated Cold War elements of the comics' origin and staying in line with the script to the live-action Hulk film Universal is developing.

In his quest for help, Banner encounters Iron Man in Los Angeles, She-Hulk in Washington DC, Ghost Rider in Chicago, Thor in Detroit, Sasquatch in Canada, the Thing in New York, and Wendigo in the Pacific Northwest.  "I think kids will think it's cool if the Hulk visits their area of the country," Tataranowicz says.

The Leader is the series' primary villain.  He'll appear in the season's first two episodes, a few in the middle, and in the season-ending three-parter.  Gargoyle, whose origin is being reworked from the comics, will be his assisstant.  Other villains include the Abomination, Zzzax, and Doctor Doom.

General Ross leads the Hulkbuster in typically battle-ready fashing.  SHIELD agent Gabriel Jones is also a member of the team -- to Ross' chagrin.  "He and Ross have a friction between them because of the imposition Ross feels because a SHIELD agent has been allowed on the team," Johnson says.

Johnson is especially excited about a realtively obscure group of characters that he's bringing in from the comics called the Outcasts.

"They make their first appearance in the opening two-parter, and they'll be back again," he says.  "The Outcasts were, during the original gamma explosion, the animals and bugs that were also affected and have grown into their unique mutant forms.  There's a huge scorpion, a bat, a rattlesnake.  They have some element of intelligence but they don't talk."

"They're kind of like the Ewoks [the creatures from the last Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi], who will help the Hulk.  They're very cool characters."

For the three-part season finale, Betty and Samson succeed in splitting Banner from the Hulk, and Banner marries Betty.  Of course, there are complications, and Tataranowicz says you might eventually see the gray Hulk.

Tataranowicz is also the voice director of the show and has an all-star cast, including Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk (see below).  Johnson's writing staff includes Len Wein (a former Hulk comic writer), Bob Forward, Glenn Leopold, and Meg McLaughlin.

Character desgins were done in-house at Marvel.  "They're not particularly cartoony, but we're getting a strong individual sense out of them, sort of a television quality," Sebast says.  "We're looking for the mood of the show, and because of the straighter aspect of the drama, we're taking a straight-forward approach."

The first two episodes of The Incredible Hulk will likely be shown in primetime by UPN just before the series settles into its scheduled 10AM time period beginning Sept. 8.

Thirteen episodes are scheduled for the first season, and the Ghost Rider episode will serve as an introduction to a Ghost Rider series Marvel is developping for UPN.

At press time, the seventh script of The Incredible Hulk was being worked on, and the first episode was nearly ready to be shipped to Sae-Rom, an animation house in Korea that has done Batman and Gargoyles episodes.  The exact final tint of green for the Hulk's skin had yet to be determined, but, as Sebast points out, that wasn't the toughest challenge in the coloring department.

"The Hulk wears those purple pants from the comics, and we always have to have Banner in the purple pants too," Sebast laughs.  "We're always trying to coordinate Banner's wardrobe so he doesn't look too fruity with those grape pants."

The purple pants are just one of the identifying elements that Sebast feels will appeal to fans of the Hulk.

"This will be a true adaptation of the Hulk character," Sebast says.  "We're not trying to make him cuddly or cute.  We're not trying to put quips and humor in him, other than what might come out of a situation."

"If you're going to do a character like the Hulk or Spider-Man that has such a strong history, to simply go off and take a different tact on something that's far off the might as well create your own character."

In the Green Room

For the voice cast of The Incredible Hulk, discovering the rich background of the comic book characters through reading their scripts turned out to be very cool.

"One of them said, 'Even Coppola doesn't bring that kind of back story to characters,' " says Hulk supervising producer Tom Tataranowicz, referring to movie director Francis Ford Coppola.

Tataranowicz is also the voice director for The Incredible Hulk and is striving for a style to reflect the mood of the series.  "We're pushing for a naturalistic, dramatic reading," he says.  "It's not stilted at all."

Neal McDonough (Boomtown) does Bruce Banner's voice.  The Hulk is played by Lou Ferrigno, who starred in the late '70s/early '80s live-action  Hulk TV series.

"This wasn't a promotional gimmick," Tataranowicz says of Ferrigno.  "He was the best voice for the part and is doing a great job."

Luke Perry, former heartthrob on Beverly Hills 90210, supplies the voice of Rick Jones.

"He's got that 'cool' down voice that you would expect from Rick Jones," Tataranowicz says.  "I used him before on Biker Mice from Mars."

Other supporting characters include Genie Francis of General Hospital as Betty Ross and John Vernon as General Thunderbolt Ross.  Vernon did the voice of Doctor Strange in a Spider-Man episode that aired in May.

Matt Frewer, who was the villain Russell Tresh in February's Generation X live-action movie, is the voice of the Leader, a role he is reprising from an episode of Iron Man last season.  Mark Hamill, who has worked on just about every action/adventure animated series but is best known in the field as the Joker on Batman is Gargoyle, the Leader's assistant.

Several of the characters appearing in the first of The Incredible Hulk also appeared on either Iron Man or Fantastic Four last season.  The same performers will be back, too, including Frewer as the Leader, Robert Hays as Iron Man, Dorian Harewood as War Machine, Richard Grieco as Ghost Rider, John Rhys-Davies as Thor, Chuck McCann as the Thing, and Simon Templeton as Doctor Doom.

Lisa Zane, the voice of Madame Masque on Iron Man, will be the voice of She-Hulk, Shadoe Stevens (Dave's World) is slated for Doc Samson, and although not confirmed at press time, it looks like Peter Strauss will be doing the voice of Walter Langowski, the human side of Sasquatch.

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