In the hands of Stan Lee and the great Jack Kirby, Bruce Banner, the mild mannered scientist, gets blasted by an assload of gamma rays. As a result , when he gets pissed off, he turns into The Incredible Hulk, a gargantuan, knotty-muscled, green terror who runs amok and stomps the holy dog-shit out of everything in sight. A hunk of human nihilism right out of Nietzsche; a human destruction machine that cannot control itself or its furies. Of course, the source of his injury/super power is something the military was fucking around with. At the beginning of the Viet Nam war it dawned on the creative community that when Eisenhower’s farewell warned us of the militaryindustrial complex, he wasn’t talking smack. There began in America a deep distrust of this partnership. As parents watched the escalation of the war at dinnertime every night, many of their sons came home in body bags. For the first time, a war was fully visible in all of its bestial horror. It entreated the dormant subversive in a great many otherwise patriotic Americans. This was reflected in the comics. The military as a secretive, conspiratorial presence building doomsday devices became a familiar plot line.
With its combination of elements from Frankenstein, as well as Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, the Hulk was drawn by two of the luminaries of American comics history. Both the great Jack Kirby and the mysterious and equally great Steve Ditko were the original artists. There is also no small amount of The Fugitive in The Hulk as he is perpetually pursued by the military and the civilian authorities because of the torrential destruction he causes when pissed.
The Hulk has been canceled and re-introduced and re-launched a number of times. There was also a jive TV show with Bill Bixby who turned into Lou Ferrigno with a porcupine wig when mad. There were also two less-than-successful films that just were never as cool or as deperately paranoid as the comic book. This begs a certain question. Most of the films made from comics are jive. Green Lantern opened today and the word is, it sucks the big blue vein.
Thor was just okay. The Green Hornet blew goats, DareDevil was shitty and The Fantastic Four? The Thing looked like he was cobbled together out of orange turds. They’re mostly awful,
which tells us something about what comics can do that movies cannot. They cast their own kind of spell. No CGI, no Michael Bay-like pyrotechnics. Just a glossy cover over newsprint with your basic 4-color separation process. But it has its own private voodoo. These stories you can enjoy by yourself, and the world you voluntarily enter when you love comics, and they speak to you. . .it is not a communal experience. It is an intimate and private one, the comic book.
I spent every dime I had as a kid on comic books, read the Sunday comics and worshipped MAD Magazine, as well. This was the world your parents were not privy to–did not understand– the comics were where I went to be left the fuck alone. I was happy there and everything was possible–and in the Marvel Comics, good didn’t always trump evil. It was a more complicated and believable world. Life wasn’t fair and the guys who were different were heroes. Special abilities were the property of the other. Special powers were imbued in the suffering child and via this, the mutants, geeks and outcasts became powerful. It was a compelling message for me as a child.
It seems the American appetite for superheroes has always been there. From our formative years as a republic onward, wild west shows with butchers like Buffalo Bill Cody and George Armstrong Custer were all of the rage in New York in the 1800’s, with their tales of slaughtering Indians and buffalo, and later, Southerners. These tales of derring-do were often recorded in dime novels and what were also referred to as the “pulps.” Later, the Tom Mix franchise gave America its first cowboy superhero and afterward, Flash Gordon would appear, soon to be followed by other dime store mythologies that would later flower into the comics we now know.
When I was about 25, Watchmen appeared. Alan Moore’s masterpiece is a tale of the dystopian future where Richard Nixon is still President (apparently Watergate never happened) and society has unraveled. There are a cadre of monumentally fucked-up superheroes, who’ve failed to save us from ourselves. They are a group of psychos, sluts, and sexual deviates and they are honestly the superheroes that most clearly mirrored us in that myopic decade. It is a funny novel-length exercise in black humor, and penny-dreadful moralizing, but it certainly fit the America of the 1980’s. The unspoken lesson in Moore’s great book is that most societies get exactly as much evil as they deserve.
This etching is called, Bazooka Hulk. His power is, when he gets pissed, he smells like bubblegum, thus enhancing the experience for everyone.