Friday, 31 August 2012

Comic Zone: Why I Love The Incredible Hulk by Barry Hutchison

Long time readers of The Book Zone will know that I have been championing Barry Hutchison's brilliant Invisible Fiends series ever since I first read Mr Mumbles. The final instalment, The Darkest Corner, was published earlier this month (see my review here) and knowing that Barry is a huge comics fan I asked him if he would be interested in writing a piece for The Book Zone's Comic Zone.

Why I Love The Incredible Hulk

I first fell in love with the Incredible Hulk (platonically I mean, nowt mucky) when I was but a lad of around six or seven. The Bill Bixby TV series would be on every Saturday night, and I’d sit down to watch it every week without fail.

I’d follow the mundane, often repetitive adventures of  Dr “David” Banner (they changed his name for the TV series, because they felt “Bruce” wasn’t macho enough) right up until the point he started to get angry. The moment his eyes went white and his boots began to rip, I’d be behind the couch faster than you could say “Gamma radiation”. There I’d remain, cowering in terror as I listened to the terrible roaring of the Hulk as he dispatched that week’s villain.

Some weeks the villain would be a heartless property developer. Other weeks a small-time gangster would get on Banner’s bad side. Whoever it was, they were always surprised when scrawny Bill Bixby became bulging Lou Ferrigno, whereupon he promptly smashed the immediate area to smithereens.

I’d stay there behind the couch until the Hulk had transformed back into Banner, then I’d emerge and retake my seat to catch the final few minutes of the episode. To me, the series was just the story of a lonely scientist wandering from place to place, and stumbling upon smashed up building more often than coincidence allowed.

And yet I loved it - not for the Hulk, but for the stuff around the Hulk. I was gripped by the scenes of Banner trying to maintain control, despite the villain of the week slapping him repeatedly in the face, or threatening to blow up a bus full of nuns. I was fascinated by the concept of there being a monster within each of us, just waiting to break free. Not fascinated enough to watch when it actually did break free, of course - that was far too terrifying - but fascinated all the same.

That fascination led me to discover the Hulk’s comics. Over the years the Hulk has gone through more changes (no pun intended) than any other comic book character. He’s been grey, he’s been red, he’s been super-intelligent and barely coherent. He’s run a casino, joined the Avengers, and freed an alien planet from tyranny.

But through most of these changes the writers behind the stories have forgotten what to me is the single most important thing - the Hulk is not the interesting character. Bruce Banner is.

Oh sure, we all want to see the Hulk cut loose from time to time. We want to see him punch a tank into space, or kick the Abomination squarely in the nuts, but the Hulk’s real struggle has always been an emotional one. He’s a hate-filled tumour on the brain of a mild-mannered scientist, and it is their ongoing battle - not the Hulk’s ability to hammer nails in with his face - which makes the Banner/Hulk character one of my favourites in all of comic-dom.

Five of My Favourite Hulk Stories

The Incredible Hulk Visionaries - Volume 1

This is the first collected edition of Peter David’s twelve-year stint writing the Hulk, and it’s one of the defining period’s in the comic’s history. OK, so the Hulk in these pages is grey and not green, and he’s been separated from Banner, but this was probably the first time the character - possibly even comics in general - were written for grown-ups and not ten-year-olds. There’s some dark stuff in these here pages, drawn by the then-just-starting-out Todd Macfarlane.

A lot of Peter David’s later work on the title may be better than this, but it’s great to be able to follow along right from the beginning.

Return of the Monster

Bruce Jones is quite probably my favourite Hulk writer. Many fans were disappointed with his run, because Banner got more page time than the Hulk did, but that’s exactly why I love his work. The Hulk has been blamed for the death of a boy, and Banner is on the run from pretty much everyone in the world. But poor old purple pants has been framed, and it’s up to Banner to try to find out whodunnit. The plot is complicated and swings from conspiracy thriller to violent horror as and when it needs to, and this is a great jumping on point for those new to the Hulk’s adventures.

The End

Another classic from Peter David, this one-shot comic was originally adapted from a short story he wrote about the end of the world. A nuclear war has wiped out all human and superhuman life on Earth, leaving only Hulk/Banner behind. Banner has gone mad from the isolation, and longs only for death. He attempts suicide again and again, only for Hulk to emerge at the last second. This is a tale as bleak as they come, and I’m a sucker for a good Apocalypse, so that’s why this is one of my all-time faves.

World War Hulk

While his inner struggles may be more interesting, it’s good to see the Hulk cut loose and smash things up every once in a while, and in World War Hulk he smashes up pretty much everyone in the entire Marvel Universe. Sometimes twice. Iron Man? Smash. X-Men? Smash. Fantastic Four? Smash, smash, smash and smash. This follows on from Planet Hulk, and while I wasn’t too keen on the alien-world setting of that story, the fall-out from it makes World War Hulk a hugely enjoyable read. WITH EXTRA SMASHING STUFF UP!

Marvel Zombies

OK, so this isn’t technically a Hulk story, but I love the way the Hulk is depicted in the first Marvel Zombies collection. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a zombiefied Hulk devouring Spider-Man’s leg, only for it to erupt through his stomach when he turns back to Banner. Lovely stuff.

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