It is not the thoughts themselves but the subject that is incredible. I speak, of course, of the Hulk. I mentioned earlier that an issue of The Incredible Hulk was my introduction to the medium; because of this, I have a soft spot for the big lug. In the past year, I’ve sort of dipped my toes back into the comic mainstream of superheroes, and had to check out the state of the Hulk. I picked up the Planet Hulk storyline, which had the title character shot into space and landing on a world filled with warlike races and bloodthirsty gladiatorial entertainment. It was Hulk with touches of John Carter and Conan; high fantasy meets space opera meets the Strongest There Is. Mix in a messianic cult who views Hulk as the savior (conveniently, his blood causes plants to sprout from the dry, dusty surface of the planet) and you’ve got everything set up for Hulk to take over the world, bringing peace through force. If you excuse the hackneyed ending that drives the Hulk back to the Marvel Earth and thus the greater comic continuity, it is a fun blast of action well worth a read.
However, I have to say I don’t realy like this current version of the Hulk. He has been portrayed in many ways – and in a couple of skin tones – with his intelligence ranging from bestial to Banner. Currently, he seems as strong as ever and pretty intelligent, but not inhabited by Banner’s mind. It makes the Hulk somewhat boring and generic, just another super strong guy. Originally the Atomic-age Frankenstein monster (with the cunning and intelligence the monster possesses in the novel), the character became more akin to the monster of the Frankenstein movies, with childlike tenderness and his fits of rage coming only due to his persecution. This is the Hulk I grew up with, the Savage Hulk; unbelievably powerful with the mind of a child. This incarnation is hard to write, which I believe is why they’ve tried out so many other versions. “Hulk Smash!” is the cliché we all know because it was so easy to fall back on; Hulk as angry id, unchecked. But the best portrayals of the character also draw on the other aspect of the four-year old mindset that gets kids past that age without being throttled; unfiltered love.
I pointed out the tenderness in the Hulk’s pose on that fateful cover, something Herb Trimpe was able to do where many other artists failed. He was also able to portray a broad range of anger, from annoyed to berserk to furious, vicious determination. His early 70s Hulk is not the drooling beast of Sal Buscema (who I do like, and bought issue after issue of in the early 80s). Just compare these two images, Sal on the left and Herb on the right:
One is savage, and regardless of what triggered that reaction (I think it was the Abomination), it is hard to sympathize or identify. The other is annoyed, and like a child is beating on something with an “I don’t wanna!” expression. We’ve all been there and see kids act like that everyday. Especially in grocery stores in the cereal aisle.
In Marvel’s favor, they are now more open then ever to creator’s playing with their character’s outside of the comic continuity. A few years back, one of my favorite artist’s, Sam Kieth (of The Maxx fame) wrote and illustrated an Hulk & Wolverine limited series. His Hulk is outstanding, a childlike being of limited patience and understanding but fierce loyalty and compassion. I’m not going into the story (it would be easy to ruin), but the dialog for the Hulk is spot-on and the art is some of Kieth’s best. I’ll share one panel, where the Hulk’s approach to problem solving is wonderfully in character:
The way he’s grabbing the tail of the plane is so perfect! I don’t think it is hard for anyone to imagine the next page.
Long story short, I wish that the current Hulk was more like the Hulk of the past and not just the strongest hero in the Marvel Universe. Who said I couldn’t be concise?