Monday, May 10, 2010

Don't Make Him Angry

Magnet # 238:  Hulk Close-Up

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

It was back in May of 1962 that Marvel Comics superhero the Hulk first appeared, which means he's now 48 years old. He's yet another Marvel character that was created by the great Stan Lee and penciled by Jack Kirby, Lee's usual partner-in-crime. The Hulk was perhaps the least heroic of all the pair's early creations - he didn't really set out to save people and fight crime so much as just get angry and end up smashing stuff. But he still appealed to a great deal of readers, gaining a fan base that continues to grow.

The Hulk started off as puny Bruce Banner, a genius and scientist who was pretty quiet and didn't really stand up for himself.  However, he proved to be a hero when he saved a teenager from being blasted by a gamma bomb he had designed.  However, Banner ended up being caught in the blast himself, and thanks to an unknown genetic anomaly in his DNA, did not die.  Instead, he gained the ability to transform into a monstrous creature of great power whenever he became angry or afraid.  Lee saw the Hulk as his take on the classic tales of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Frankenstein - a brilliant, kind, but weak man who, when threatened, can turn into a powerful beast.  And the beast had a beauty - Betty Ross, his colleague, whom he loves and eventually marries.  Both characters were introduced in Incredible Hulk #1, in which the Hulk is actually gray, not the green color he is now famous for.  Lee wanted him to be gray so he wouldn't be tied in with any ethnic group, but the shade proved problematic for both the colorist and the printer, so a color change had to be made.  The gray hulk would later reappear in the book, as a more street-smart version.  Also, at the beginning, Banner would only change into the Hulk at night, but that was soon changed into an emotionally influenced transformation.  The Hulk was considered a threat to humanity and was pursed by the Army, most notably Betty's father, General Ross.  At first, no one knew who his alter ego was, but it eventually surfaced.  And fans were later told where much of Banner's emotional angst came from - as a child, he was loved by his mother, but not his father, who killed her in a jealous rage.  The fallout from this incident caused Banner a lifetime of emotional trauma that would later help create the Hulk.  But thanks to his friends and the help of a superpowered psychiatrist, Banner has made progress in dealing with his emotions, even temporarily separating from the behemoth.  But the two of them will always end up together again, even if it's just due to the comic's lasting popularity.   I think the personality struggle between his two identities is partially responsible for the fans' devotion, but it's probably also because of the Hulk's considerable powers.  He is one of the strongest and fastest characters in the Marvel Universe - it's almost impossible to injure him and even then, he has regeneration powers.  He's also resistant to mind control and his body can even adapt to different circumstances.  So, all in all, he's pretty tough to take down in a fight, and that makes him pretty popular with audiences.

Of all of Marvel's characters, the Hulk has been one of the best-known in other media.  In the later 70's, Lou Ferringo played the Hulk on a television series that was very popular and introduced the green giant to a much larger audience and a new generation of fans.  There have also been two live-action film versions of the Hulk, with the second faring much better than the first. I guess Edward Norton, who starred in the second version, is a better choice to play nerdy Bruce Banner than Eric Bana, although both are good actors. But I do prefer Jennifer Connelly, who first played Betty Ross, to Liv Tyler, although her portrayal was fine. I guess the first script was the lesser of the two.  Personally, I got a little bored watching that movie, but I really liked how the second one actually had a supervillain from the comics for the Hulk to fight, the Abomination.  It was much better watching the two of them tear up a busy downtown area than the previous Hulk's fight with a pack of gamma powered dogs.  But neither film has really enjoyed the level of success other Marvel films like Spider-Man, The X-Men, and Iron Man have.  Perhaps a possible third film may be just the right fit - we'll have to wait and see.

Almost a half-century in, the Hulk's popularity continues to grow.  I have to wonder if some of the character's fans experience a bit of vicarious fulfillment in his adventures.  After all, here is an intelligent, but weak, man, somewhat like them, who can lash out at those who threaten him.  I'm sure many of them jump at the opportunity to turn into the Hulk.  The combination of this man and monster is truly a potent mix, and it's very likely to keep the Hulk very popular for years to come.

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