My Ambivalence about the Hulk

As an student and admirer of genre fiction (not really a “fan” and certainly not a “scholar” of it) I went through a phase in adolescence of reading some comic books (not too different than the “Doc Savage” novels I loved). This was before the great revolution in comic books that has driven them further into a world that has required us to think of them differently and to describe them differently–as graphic novels.

I remember that The Hulk was also a television series starring Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby as the Hulk and David Banner respectively (I even remember the dispute about name David Banner, Bruce Banner, David Bruce Banner). What I admired about the comic book and the television series was Banner’s genuine fear that when he was the Hulk that he was out of control and that he might damage (or have damaged) innocent people when under the spell.

The idea that there is a force inside of us accessible in anger or inebriation) is ancient and common in literature (think of the struggle of the Apollonian order and the Dionysian chaos that exist in so much mythology and its internalization in battles between reason [it’s DOCTOR Banner after all] and emotion [ANGER drives the Hulk]).  Its exploration in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde adds interesting elements with the notion that Jekyll is “good” and Hyde is “evil” is not something that really exists in the mythological binary. By the time one gets to Psycho the being inside of Norman Bates (Mother) is not really a good/evil struggle, it is one of sickness/health. The line from doppelgangers (exterior foils), drunks, Jekyll and Hyde, Norman and mother, to the Hulk and “possession stories” of all kinds (including The Exorcist and its progeny) is pretty clear.

The Hulk is now most familiar as a member of the Avengers and the graphical representations of him are jaw-droppingly spectacular. But, I am afraid that he is now merely a giant, indestructible hero. I have rarely been so angry that I was out of control–but I recognize the emotion and when it takes you over it may give you the strength or courage to do something you might not otherwise do–but innocent people can be hurt and your sense of “proportional response” is eradicated. I admired that sense that used to exits that you really DO NOT want to turn the Hulk loose–now we want the Hulk and his atavistic power sanitized from the possible “collateral damage” he might cause. Something has been lost in this change–it has made the Hulk more brittle, less scary, not quite as interesting–and not as human as he once was.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “My Ambivalence about the Hulk

  1. Have you seen Avengers: Age of Ultron, Dan? Bruce Banner’s fear about the harm he might cause to civilians as the Hulk, which is shown to be a justified fear, is central to his character arc in the that film.

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