I remember vividly when I first started reading comic books…
I was on my way into seventh grade and Tim Burton’s “Batman” was all the rage that year. Yet, while today he is my hands-down favorite superhero, it was a Sunday morning chance-encounter with a random airing of Marvel’s X-Men pilot “Pryde of the X-Men” that drew me into the hobby seriously. I was fascinated with Marvel’s Merry Mutants and the thought process in my mind was “Hey! If this cartoon is this awesome, then the comics must be amazing!” and they were! Sure, I’d watched the sixties Spider-Man cartoon reruns from when I can remember, caught Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends when I was a bit older, had some Secret Wars action figures from 1985, but outside of the Transformers and G.I. Joe I had never really seriously read comics before that point.
I give credit where credit is due and if it hadn’t been for Marvel, I would not be such a rabid Batman fan that I am today. Kind of a back-handed compliment, isn’t it? I assure you though; I’m not here to talk about the Dark Knight (though I assure you I could go on and on and on and on…).
Marvel’s inventive, every-man, flawed characters are what drew me to the hobby I know and love today, as I discovered, the X-Men where just the tip of a very large, very colorful, very eclectic iceberg. From a team of astronauts who get caught in a sudden cosmic ray storm to an unfortunate high school student who gets bit by an irradiated spider, the Marvel Universe offered and continues to offer a rich diversity of characters that all have fascinating (if dated, scientifically) origins.
As such I’d like to focus on one Marvel hero in particular who has continuously resonated with me.
It’s not easy, being green.
My first exposure to The Incredible Hulk was the 1978-1982 CBS TV series in which Dr. David Banner (not Bruce, one of many, many revelations that would soon shatter my precious knowledge of the character up to that point) overdoses on gamma rays on experiment he performed on himself, turning into green-painted Lou Ferrigno when ever he’s provoked or angered.
I thought that was it. For years I assumed that MUST be all.
Boy was I wrong!
As with most of the core Marvel characters, their origins are steeped with Cold War concepts and Atomic Age fears of the early Sixties, many often shadowing the B science fiction films of the time. The Hulk is no different.
Dr. Bruce Banner is the world’s foremost nuclear physicist. A genius, Dr. Banner has discovered the way to harness the most extreme form of radiation – the Gamma rays – and has built a weapon to release this tremendous power – the Gamma Bomb; a device capable of wiping out all life but leaving structures intact (essentially today what we call a “dirty bomb” which releases a large amount of radiation but has little actual explosive capability)!
At Desert Base, in the barrens of New Mexico, the test of the bomb is about to commence. From the safety of a concrete bunker, Dr. Banner watches in horror as a civilian vehicle parks directly underneath the bomb, it’s occupants a teenage boy partaking in a dare to drive out onto the test site. Watching the precious seconds before detonation tick-down, Banner orders his staff to abort the countdown while he takes a Jeep to retrieve the boy from harm’s way. However, duplicitous beings in form of Soviet espionage and a spy within his midst, the countdown is continued, hoping to kill Banner and remove a key American scientific asset.
Banner frantically argues with the teen to accompany him only to his terrified gaze does he see the bomb is still active and that he has only seconds to reach the safety of a concrete ditch. The bomb detonates just he manages to toss Rick to safety, becoming caught at ground-zero – exposed to the full payload of Gamma radiation! Banner, by some miracle, survives!
Remember when I said above there were many, many revelations that would rock my prior knowledge of the character?
Yeah, this was the second! “So he didn’t do that to himself?! Okay, makes more sense it was this kind of an accident…” I thought.
My next surprise greeted me!
Awakening in the infirmary, Banner is at a loss for what happened. His physician recommends keeping overnight for observation, along with Rick. As night falls, Rick is horrified as Dr. Banner begins to change a large, brutish human-like creature with immense strength and crude speech.
The Hulk originally changed only night. No provocation, no “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” Just sun-down did the trick.
Know what else I was shocked to discover? The Hulk was gray! Not green!
It was only later I would discover that due to an inconsistency in the printers to replicate the exact shade of gray panel-to-panel, Stan Lee was forced to change his skin-tone to something the printers could more easily read and copy.
Also added were the stress triggers, as obviously this would make for dramatic moments building suspense in the readers as you never quite knew when Banner would reach that breaking point and transform into a creature of pure rage.
And that, for me, was the deal-sealer! I can’t help but think of the Hulk as one of the finest concepts in superhero literature. It’s brilliant, really. A perfect combination of Victorian gothic ingredients – just a large dose of Frankenstein in the form of a giant, super-strong monster who is repeatedly misunderstood; equal-parts of the werewolf who cannot control when and where he becomes the monster and finally, a dash of Dr. Jekyll tossed in liberally.
Another aspect I loved (I credit the 70’s television series with really defining this) was the fact that Banner was just an average guy – a selfless individual who genuinely tried to help the people around him but yet very unassuming. You’d pass him by on the street and not give him a second glance.
However the moment he lost his temper or allowed his emotions to go unchecked he became a literal force of nature. Reading some of the late Sixties – early Seventies stories, the Hulk, often hounded by General Thunderbolt Ross, engaged the US Army resulting in so many crushed tanks, crashed jets, and missile explosions that could possibly put Godzilla to shame!
In recent years I’ve been glad to see Marvel’s Jade Giant gracing the silver screen in some big budget extravaganzas. While some strayed far off the mark (Ang Lee’s 2003 venture, which I still defend to this day as a film that was too smart for audience; an art house approach at rage and tranquility issues using the Hulk) to 2008’s Marvel Studio’s release with Ed Norton which perfectly captured the blend of both the television series and coupled it with the comic book lore.
It’s no surprise to me that in this summer’s blockbuster epic, “The Avengers” that Hulk was awarded most of that film’s best scenes. I won’t post any spoilers (but I can’t stop anyone from posting about it below) but needless to say, the Hulk steals the show!
So go on.
Lose your temper and let out steam. Pick up a Hulk comic and rage for a moment or two as you discover, in my opinion, one of Marvel’s best creations.