Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hulk Vanish!

It's been a while since I said much about comic books so I'm going to talk a bit about the Hulk.

This character has probably gone through more re-inventions than any other. In the short run of his original comic book he started out as a cross between Frankenstein, the Wolfman (or maybe Dracula) and Mr. Hyde. At night he turned into something that looked a bit like Frankenstein's monster but had the personality of Hyde.

Because Marvel used a cheap printing process back then, the Hulk's gray didn't reproduce well so he was green by his second issue. THen he went from fairly smart but mean to nearly brainless and under the mental control of Rick Jones. Then he got Bruce Banner's intelligence and became almost a normal hero - something would happen and Banner would run to his gamma ray machine and turn into the Hulk. But something happened and the transformation stopped being reliable. And all of that was on only a half dozen or so issues.

Hulk moved into the back of Tales of Adventure as the back-up for Giant-Man (and later for the Sub Mariner). By this point he changed into a dumb Hulk when angry and changed back when he calmed down. This went on for a couple of years until Banner got shot in the head. Rick snatched the body and managed to trigger the change back to the Hulk. With a bullet in his brain, the Hulk had Banner's personality again but if he changed back he would die. A few months later the Leader dissolved the bullet but gave him such a high dosage of gamma rays that he was permanently the Hulk. Until a few years later when a radioactive pool turned him back into Banner.

Exposure to a radioactive missing link caused a one-time change to Banner with the Hulk's personality.

For the next several years it seemed like the Hulk had found his niche. He was a dumb but well-meaning guy with a bad temper and a liking for beans. Sometimes he changed back into Banner but it never lasted long. Also, the phrase "The madder the Hulk gets, the stronger he gets," became a major plot point. The Hulk could beat anyone if he got mad enough. In a cross-over, he knocked Superman into orbit. Something had to change.

One day, after a fight with an extra-terrestrial energy being and a trip back to Earth, Banner woke up in the Hulk's body. This was different than before. Usually when the Hulk had Banner's intellegence he still had a different personality. Not this time. He was pure Banner. Banner went back to inventing stuff.

It didn't last. In about a year the Hulk's personality was coming back and Banner withdrew completely. The Hulk became a mindless, savage beast. He was banished to a mystic crossroads int he hope that he could find a new home dimension that he liked.

None of this was well-written and the strip was turned over to John Byrne to jump start.  Byrne split them into two beings - a smart but crippled Banner and a savage but stronger-than-ever Hulk. Banner formed a group of Hulk-busters to hunt down and kill the Hulk. This didn't work out either and the strip was turned over to Peter David who had the longest and best run on the strip to date.

David started out with a clean slate. Banner and the Hulk had been broken apart and put back together. This appeared to cure Banner of being the Hulk but it turned out it only regressed him. He became the gray Hulk at night. For extra fun, Rick Jones turned into a green Hulk for a few issues.

The gray Hulk was smaller and weaker than the green version. He was also smart, or possibly "sly". He was no longer the strongest so he won some of his fights by outsmarting his opponent.

This phase was followed by banner becoming the gray Hulk full-time. Taking the name "Joe Fixit", the Hulk got a job working security for a Las Vegas casino.

Eventually Banner re-emerged and they went back to Banner by day/Hulk by night. Then the green Hulk showed up during the day. Dr. Sampson figured out that banner should be regarded as suffering from a multiple personality disorder with a different physical form for each personality. He managed to merge the personalities into a new being. This new Hulk had all of the green Hulk's strength, Banner's intellegence, and the gray Hulk's slyness. He joined up with a high-tech bunch of demi-gods. This lasted for a few years and is often regarded as the Hulk's best run.

Eventually the demi-gods were broken up and the Hulk went into hiding with his wife Betty. There were several more shorter story arcs before Betty was killed and Peter David left the book.

The Hulk broke back into four versions on a rotating basis. Plus Banner found out he was dying. Eventually he died but, like most Marvel deaths, it didn't take.

Marvel had just killed most of its non-mutant heroes (actually sent them to a pocket universe) then brought them back with a flurry of #1 issues. They decided to start the Hulk over with his own #1 issue and turned it over to John Byrne again. This only lasted a few months.

Apparently one goal at Marvel was to make the character more like the one in the movie (the movie that tanked). Bruce Banner was to be the lead with the Hulk acting as a supporting character. The storyline veered into a long spy plot. Banner was on the run. He had shaved his head as a disguise which proved that skinny white guys look bad with a shaved head. It didn't look good on the Hulk either although this was minor. We only saw the Hulk for a page or two per issue - maybe eight panels at most.

Then the Hulk totally vanished from his own book. Banner was shot with a long-term sedative that prevented him from getting mad enough to hulk-out. New characters were added, shot in the head, then returned months later to explain what had really happened. This went on for months.

Somewhere in this mess I realized that I didn't much care for Banner and I disliked the new supporting cast so I quit reading it.

Years later they resolved the plot, somehow - I don't care how. Peter David came back for three issues then they started the Planet Hulk story arc. The Hulk was sent to a different world because he is too dangerous to stay on Earth. He was supposed to got to a pleasant but unpopulated world but ended up on a desert world. At first he was a gladiator then he led a rebellion. It worked and I started reading the book again.

All good things come to an end. The new story arc - World War Hulk - is off to a terrible start. In the kick-off issue, the Hulk only appeared in one panel in a flashback. The rest of the book was about his cousin, the She-Hulk. Except Iron Man infected her with nanites so she was human except for a page and a half. This looks bad.

No comments: