|It was almost two years ago when maverick editor Axel Alonso took
control of Marvels Incredible Hulk comic, a book that
after 35 years of publication was saddled with low sales and no direction.
Alonso, known for his radical retooling, placed a call to Kansas City
native Bruce Jones.
excels with tormented souls, says Alonso. I wanted to
skew the Hulk in the direction of psychological horror/weird science,
and I knew that he excelled with those genres.
Bruce is a bit long in the tooth to be
whats it called an enfant terrible,
adds Alonso, referring to Jones suddenly being labeled a hot
new writer after almost three decades in the industry. His
work shows that hes lived, and hes known pain, and hes
not afraid to probe it.
Jones learned the language of comics as a kid. I loved reading
them, not because I ever dreamed it would be a source of income,
he says. Until fairly recently, no one ever got rich in the
comic industry. You did it because you were compelled to do it. Now
its cool. Now its an American Institution. Back then you
hid them from your girlfriend.
Back then was the 1950s and 60s when young Jones
lived with his family on Paseo and Harrison in Kansas City. Though
the family moved around quite a bit, Jones eventually attended Kansas
University where he majored in drawing and painting.
The original Incredible Hulk
comic book series was created in 1962 by Stan Lee
and Jack Kirby.
Most of the things I learned about composition,
color value and technical application began in college, remembers
Jones. The only thing I didnt learn there was comics,
which universities hadnt begun teaching yet as a valid art form.
Hoping to break into comics as an artist in the early 70s, Jones
headed to New York, where the major comic book publishers still congregate.
He ended up getting more work as a writer, working on the Warren line
of horror magazines that included anthology books like Eerie
There used to be so many books published every month you couldnt
help getting work by virtue of the sheer volume of work, says
Jones. Some editor always needed something in a hurry, and if
you showed up at the right time, you likely got the job.
Jones found his way to industry powerhouse Marvel Comics, best known
for superhero books like Amazing Spider-Man and Uncanny
X-Men. Jones however worked mostly on spandex-free characters
like Conan the Barbarian and Ka-Zar the Savage (a
thinly veiled version of Tarzan).
In the early 80s, Pacific Comics, an upstart San Diego-based
company, offered Jones the chance to write and edit his own line of
comics. The results were books like Alien Worlds and Twisted
Tales, which represented a return to the horror anthology work
hed done earlier in his career. But Pacific Comics didnt
last. By the time the 90s rolled around, Jones was in Hollywood
working on The Hitchhiker series for HBO and various made-for-TV
But after age 40, its tough getting work in Hollywood,
Jones then found himself again living in Kansas City, his comic book
work having dwindled almost to nothing. Thats when he got the
call from Alonso at Marvel. The pair had previously worked together
when Alonso was an editor at Marvels chief rival, DC. Alonso
was one of the brains behind DCs Vertigo line, a collection
of Mature Readers books that included anthology mini-series like Strange
Adventures and Flinch.
I was a big fan of Bruces work on Creepy, Eerie
and Twisted Tales, says Alonso. I recruited Bruce
because he was a natural for the material pound-for-pound,
the best writer of comic short stories.
However, not everyone was convinced that a middle-aged writer best
known for short, horror stories was the right choice to take over
the ongoing Hulk series. Since its creation in the 60s, the
character of brainy weakling Bruce Banner, who transforms into a gigantic
green monster whenever he becomes angry, had never made a very convincing
superhero. By the 90s, the Hulk had become a brooding, complicated
mess of multiple personalities. Alonso was looking for a fresh take
on the man behind the monster.
Bruce [Jones] understands that there is something cathartic
about turning into a 1,000-pound monster, says Alonso. I
mean, it aint ALL bad.
Alonsos gamble paid off. When Jones took over as writer with
Incredible Hulk #34, the book wasnt even in the industrys
top 50 sellers. Before long, it had climbed into the top 15. Once
the movie version hit, the comic jumped even higher. Jones take
on the character struck a chord with readers. Gone were the countless
pages of Hulk Smash! Some issues dont have the green
goliath appearing at all. Instead, we see the aftermath of his rampages
or simply feel the threat of his emergence. Bruce Banner is once again
a man on the run, this time from a shady, covert organization thats
literally after his blood.
Maybe American readers responded to the paranoia and sense of
unease because of things like Sept. 11th and other world events,
wonders Jones. I wasnt really conscious of the amount
of paranoia in my writing until someone mentioned it.
He plans to stay on as writer Until they throw me off.
Comics hold their own vocabulary and sense of pacing and getting
hooked on them can be very seductive, says Jones. Most
people arent aware of their potential, which is not at all unsophisticated.
Comics have matured way beyond their formative years.
The average age of a comic book reader is older now, which has
helped the medium mature. The level of creativity and intelligence
has really shot upward. The industry has been more financially healthy
in the past, but rarely more exciting than right now.