Marvel's Avengers is finally here, and some fans are already throwing down with their favorite characters against the forces of A.I.M. Even from the Beta, it was apparent that Hulk was going to be a standout character to play, but as fans make their way through the campaign, they will get to know the brilliant scientist underneath all that rage in Bruce Banner through the prism of Kamala Khan. That's why it was our pleasure to speak to the man bringing that character to life Troy Baker, who is well acquainted with the Marvel Universe thanks to his many turns as Hawkeye. This time around though he wasn't playing the Avengers archer, and that did come as a bit of a shock.
"It's a funny story," Baker said. "Shaun Escayg and I, we worked together on The Last of Us, we worked together on Uncharted: Lost Legacy, so I knew what that cat was capable of. He's a wicked filmmaker. When he's not making games, he's off writing and directing movies of his own. Any time that Shaun texts me, it's never like, 'hey man just wanna check-in, see how you're doing.' There's always an agenda, there's always a purpose. When he texted me he goes, 'all right, on the down-low, I'm gonna do the new Avengers game and I want you to be a part of it.' I was like, 'okay, I'm in, absolutely. I love being Hawkeye.'"
"He goes, 'uh, I don't want you to be Hawkeye.' I was like 'oh okay, you want me to be Loki?' He goes, 'no I don't want you to be Loki either.' I was like, 'you don't get it. Let me explain something to you, my good friend. I do either Hawkeye or Loki, or both," Baker said with a laugh. "He goes, 'yeah I want you to play Banner.' I went, 'uh, I don't know if I wanna be the Hulk.' He goes, 'I don't want you to be the Hulk either. I just want you to be Banner.'"
"At that point, he had my attention, even with that brief interaction," Baker said. "I realized that what we weren't gonna try to do is the hey, here is the video game tie-in to these movies, right? That's always been the thing. It's, this movie comes out and this game gets put in and it's this add-on, shoehorned-in experience. I didn't want it to be that. I realized that what they were trying to do is go, we're not even gonna try to re-create these things. These things are their own thing and they did a bang-up job, clearly."
"What we wanna do is craft a fully unique experience and tell a unique story that's never been told before using these characters and using decades of history and legacy to be able to do it," Baker said. "That's not only gonna appeal to the fandom of this world, this universe, but can also very well be the entry point for someone new. Kamala is a fairly new character, right? What we do is, we are able to pull that character into this universe and Kamala is us. We're now thrust into this new iteration and this new version of these characters and this new story. To me, it was a brilliant move. It was a brave move, but it was a brilliant move, by both Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics to tell this story."
Baker makes no bones about the fact that he wasn't the biggest Banner fan initially, but after getting lost in some digital comic recommendations he had a whole new point of view.
"Look, I've told a lot of people this, too. I made no apologies or I didn't hide this at all. I always discounted Bruce Banner," Baker said. "He was the B-lister, he was kind of the hanger-on. It's like, if everyone's going to the party, I guess we gotta invite Bruce. For me, it wasn't until I was in Japan, I was working on a project and all of a sudden, comic books were on my iPad. That barrier of entry of, I haven't been keeping up. I haven't read this storyline in a while. All of a sudden it's like, just push this button and you can have years worth of issues at your fingertips."
"So I started devouring all of this and people were like, 'well I mean, you've read Civil War.' And I went, no, and they were like 'Oh my god, you've gotta read Civil War!' Then you gotta read the Ultimates and Ultimate Avengers. Once I started going down that rabbit hole, it's like, wait a minute, wait a minute. I'm thinking about Bruce Banner in a completely different light. I grew up in the '70s and '80s, so it was Bill Bixby thumping his way down the highway for me, for the longest time. For this, it was all of these other characters. Captain America, hands on hips, shield in hand, standing as the vanguard of democracy and freedom. Iron Man being the smartest guy and creating all these widgets to be able to overcome the Kree, or whoever."
"Then Bruce Banner's like, please don't call me in. Please, I really don't wanna do this. It's not even the reluctant hero, it's, for everyone else it's an ability and for Bruce, it's an atonement," Baker said. "He made one mistake as a scientist, as a brilliant mind. He made one mistake and now he's suffering for it. He has to completely dispense with morality in order for him to make his redemption. That, to me, is such a wonderful conundrum. So that's where we find ourselves in this story. You've got Bruce, he's like Pacino in Godfather III, they drag me back in, he's like, I'm trying to be rid of this. At the root of the story, it's all about identity. All of us have this superhero inside of us if we're willing to break through the obstacle and allow ourselves to step into that power."
Early on in the Beta and even more so in the full game, fans will see Bruce interact with Kamala quite a bit, almost taking on a mentor-like role. As Baker explains though, there's much more to it than that, and the rest of the cast learns just as much if not more from Kamala as she does from them.
"Great question. I love that you asked that too, because a lot of other people, that scene specifically is kind of what pinged with them. We worked really, really hard on this," Baker said. "Nothing from the conception to the execution was done haphazardly. Shaun has an amazing deftness when it comes to character and dialogue, even though he's the first one to say, you can change the words, I don't care about the words. But the moments that he crafts, along with the rest of the team of writers that he has, there's a specific intention to every one of them. A lot of those great moments are strung together so intentionally and purposefully that whenever someone comments and goes, I really like that, it's like, dude you have no idea how hard we worked on that."
"There is this notion of Bruce being this mentor. Look, I'm no stranger to playing the reluctant figure to a young ingenue, but this is something really, really different, because this is not a father-daughter relationship. Nor is it even a sense of redemption," Baker said. "This is the reminder of the power of a team and, as glib of a word and almost anachronistic it's become in our time, teamwork and actually being a part of something greater, that you serve something greater than yourself. The way that Kamala is implemented and the power that she's given in this game and in this story, it's profound, man. I'm really happy and proud of the relationship specifically Bruce has with Kamala because we really get to explore that notion. We really get to see how this comes down to reminding people, not a father and a daughter, but I'm gonna stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you. Kamala is not a daughter, she's a peer. She's a colleague, she's a teammate. That's what I'm really most excited for people to see, is how that story plays out. Once you play as Kamala, I don't know if you'll ever gonna wanna play as anybody else, to be honest with you, 'cause I didn't. She's so damn fun to play as. Her abilities are great and it's like, yeah I wanna do that! Let me do that all the time!"
In addition to his work as Hawkeye and not Bruce Banner, Baker is responsible for a variety of amazing characters, including Joel, Batman, Loki, Ryu Hayabusa, and Kraven just to name a few. So, we had to ask if he could bring in a character he's voice into Marvel's Avenges as playable, who would it be?
"Oh my gosh. Boy, Kraven would be interesting. You pulled that one out, that's interesting. My gosh, I was not prepared. What a fantastic question, look at this look of stumped. There's a stupid part of me, that you start rolling through the Rolodex and you're like, well that would be ridiculous. There's a part of me that would love Booker DeWitt to be in this world, just because he would be so like, no, you don't get it, I've got a sky-hook and I have a gun and I could shoot some things out of one hand."
Going back to Banner, when fans finally reach the end credits and have a moment of nerdy reflection about the story and the characters, there's one thing Baker hopes you leave with.
"I'll never be able to compete, in the same ways that we're not trying to compete with the movies or anything that's existed before, just simply do something different," Baker said. "All I wanted to do was move the needle a little bit with who you think Bruce is and why he is the Hulk and what that means to him. If by the end of this, and like you said, in that nerdy moment of reflection, someone's going, I learned this about Cap, I learned this about Iron Man, I learned this about Widow and I learned this about Thor and I learned this about Kamala, what is the this that they learned about Bruce? I would hope, if I could distill it down to a single word, is acceptance."0comments
"A universal thing that I think all of us struggle with, and I struggle with, is accepting the good that's in me but also accepting the bad," Baker said. "There's a terrible quote by Kirk in I think Star Trek I, where someone offers to take away his pain and he says, 'I need my pain. My pain is part of what makes me who I am.' I think that Bruce, through the course of this story, is on the path of acceptance to go, I am this part of me too and that's okay, because now accepting it allows me to control it. Hopefully, that's the message that people get from this is that, accept yourself for who you are. What I also hope and what I think will happen, is that when you are in that moment of respite and reflection after you've finished the game, is that you take a deep breath, you shake it off and you pick up the controller and you say, here we go again, because I believe that this is a game that people will be playing for the next several years."