Everything I know I learned from the incredible Hulk

Okay, not really. But I did learn (or relearn) quite a bit from reading Essential Hulk Vol. I.
•When doing research, primary sources are always best.
During my reading, I browsed a Wikipedia article and learned that Jack Kirby drew the Hulk’s original comic, which was canceled after six issues (he then moved to the Avengers, then to a backup for Giant-Man in Tales to Astonish), except for the final issue, drawn by Steve Ditko. However, a quick look at the book shows Ditko also drew the second issue. Not an error on the scale of “Saddam has WMD stockpiles!” but an error nonetheless. One that a little reading could have fixed.
(On a minor note, I wondered if having them both work on the same strip would produce marked differences in the stories, given they were coplotters with Stan Lee on most of what they worked on—but no, I can’t perceive any. I’ve no idea what lesson to draw from that).
While I’m not a Wikipedia fan, it’s not as if this is unique to them. The book Friend or Foe?, about portrayals of the USSR in film, takes its synopsis of Red Planet Mars from an earlier book, Running Time; the synopsis is wrong (having read Running Time, I think the author may have intended her description tongue-in-cheek). Again, watching the original movie would have fixed this.
The point? Going back to the source is always best, whether it’s history or movie reviews. My former roommate was baffled that I’d sit and copy credits off the screen for The Enemy Within (or as it’s now titled, Screen Enemies of the American Way) rather than just go to the Internet Movie Database, but ultimately, the original source is the only one you can count on.
•First person accounts aren’t always reliable.
Stan Lee has described the Hulk as his attempt to combine the Jekyll and Hyde concept with Frankenstein’s monster, creating a man who transforms into a tragic figure, unreasonably hated by mankind (it’s been pointed out that the Hulk’s origin has more in common with the film Amazing Colossal Man than either literary source, but that doesn’t prove the other two weren’t in his thinking).
Trouble is, there’s nothing misunderstood about the early Hulk. He’s a bludgeoning, aggressive brute, a meaner version of the Thing, who tells Rick Jones in one issue that “the human race’ll never be safe as long as the Hulk’s around.” When he’s pardoned for his crimes in one issue, he’s not relieved he can walk around free, he’s angry that’s all he gets for defeating an alien invader.
He never attempts to communicate. He never tries to make nice. His sidekick Rick Jones periodically insists Hulk’s being mistreated, but the evidence isn’t there in the story.
So possibly Lee decided claiming a literary antecedent as honorable as Frankenstein’s creature would make him sound cooler. Or he really was trying to create a sympathetic, misunderstood protagonist and completely blew it. Either way, I don’t take his description of the creative process at face value.
•As L. Sprague deCamp once wrote of H.P.Lovecraft, when you reach a certain level of success, you have to endure everything you wrote, however bad it is, staying in print. Lovecraft’s bad stories (and there are several) will be around just as long as “Call of Cthulhu” and “Pickman’s Model.”
So it is, it seems, with Stan Lee, because the Silver Age Hulk was frankly a mess.
For one thing, Lee seems to have had no idea what to do with him. In the original six-issue book, Bruce Banner changes every night; then he becomes a permanent Hulk under Rick’s control; then he changes by use of a machine. The Hulk is an unthinking brute, then he’s a brute with Bruce Banner’s brain (which didn’t make much difference that I could see). Having him change under stress didn’t become the norm until the end of his stint in Avengers.
Even after Greenskin moved into Tales to Astonish, the storylines are sometimes astonishingly choppy. In one, he’s transported from a battle with the Army into the future where he scares people, battles the Executioner (an Asgardian foe of Thor’s, suddenly showing up leading a high-tech invasion of Earth) then returns home without any real resolution.
In another, sinister Professor Zaxxon shows up to take over Banner’s research for the government, but in reality plotting to drain the Hulk’s life-force to power his own evil inventions. At the climax, he confronts the Hulk—and in a half-dozen panels in the next issue, overloads his weapon and dies.
A few issues later, the cosmically powerful Stranger compels the Hulk to wage war upon the world until mankind is almost wiped out. The Hulk begins the attack, then turns back to Banner, who tries to kill himself with gamma radiation to stop the nightmare. Things go awry (the radiation creates the villainous Abomination instead) and that’s the last we hear of it. The Stranger story amounts to 12 pages of the Stranger flapping his gums with no payoff.
All of which would not have seemed as bad back in the day, when you had to wait a month to read the next installment. But the Fantastic Four’s stories sometimes jerk around or drop plotlines and they’re a lot more entertaining.
But because it’s Marvel, and Stan Lee, the Hulk will not go out of print.
What the heck, there are worse curses for a writer than to be that successful.

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3 responses to “Everything I know I learned from the incredible Hulk

  1. Pingback: Lost in the mists of time … « Fraser Sherman’s Blog

  2. Pingback: Pressed-together reading « Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: Comic-book TPBs (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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