One of my earliest memories is being mortally afraid of the Hulk.
You have to step back with me to understand this, possibly further than your own memory goes. It was 1982; the world waited with bated breath for the ending of the Star Wars saga, a young David Letterman taught us how to laugh, and England bid the DeLorean Motor Company a fond farewell. Meanwhile, in my little corner of the universe, I was learning about language, locomotion, and why it was bad to pee on people. It was a heady time for me, still fresh from the womb, so much to learn about the world. Including, apparently, the fact that there was a giant green man who broke things in it.
Like so many of my youthful traumas, this was the fault of my brother. Four going on 666, he enjoyed three things in life: soccer, evening television, and tormenting me. These last two came into confluence during what turned out to be the final season of the live action Hulk television series and the first and only season of the NBC Hulk Animated series that ran back-to-back with Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. We had our first VCR at the time as well, and my brother used this to its fullest advantage in recording programs that aired when neither of us were awake to see them. (In later years, this plan would be adapted as a means of securing soft-core pay cable pornography.) And so, one otherwise bright and cheery afternoon, I saw Lou Ferrigno screaming and breaking down walls on the TV.
Understand: the Lou Ferrigno Hulk, dated as the effects might be, was quite a chilling effect for its time. And imagine the compounded fright it would cause a toddler, whose everyday life is spent in the company of benign but nonetheless intimidating giants. The subconscious awareness that pretty much everyone I knew could squish me like a bug slammed into the conscious like a full diaper load, and I was pretty much inconsolable for the rest of the day.
I eventually grew out of my fear of the Hulk, but not my dislike. As I aged into what I precociously believed was the maturity of double digits, I saw in (and possibly projected onto) the Hulk many of the human traits I found undesirable. Hulk was big, dumb, obsessed with strength, solved his problems by hitting them. He was an archetype of every bully I knew, and of my own violent and petulant impulses, which I struggled daily to control. And, most of all, Hulk was my brother.
I was a child, with the child’s tendency to reduce everything into the world into a symbol of his own personal sphere. I was also a writer, with the writer’s tendency to do the same thing. In the Hulk I saw my brother at his worst and most fraternally tortuous: mean, impulsive, belligerent, petty, brutish. In retrospect, my relationship with my brother wasn’t too different from anyone else’s, but to me, it was the battle of the ages. And the Hulk was everything I was fighting against.
I got older, and I tried a few Hulk comics eventually. A reprint of Incredible Hulk #1 didn’t do much to dissuade me of my notions, as the original gray Hulk really was a bully, a completely unlikable brute with a giant chip on his shoulder and contempt for anyone smaller and weaker. A few of the issues towards the end of Peter David’s run did little more than give me an affection for Bruce Banner, trapped in the world’s most dysfunctional relationship with himself. By this time, I got the Jekyll and Hyde thing, and the Frankenstein thing, and saw a little bit of likeability in the rock-dumb Hulk who just wanted the puny humans to leave him alone. But, all in all, the Hulk was never someone I cared about.
At this point, dramatic convention calls for me to post a one-liner along the lines of “Then everything changed.” But it didn’t, really. John Byrne’s run was a mess, the Hulk little more than a rampaging brute whether he was under mind control or not. Paul Jenkins introduced some interesting wrinkles, particularly the idea of giving Banner Lou Gherig’s disease, but I still didn’t feel much affection for any of the various Hulks, only Banner. Perhaps it’s the pragmatist in me, but I view the Hulk much as Banner does: as a problem to be solved. A recurring obstacle that fouls up the day. Hulk acts; Bruce thinks. As a reader and a writer, I’m interested in thinkers, in psychology and motivations, in how people see themselves and the world around them. So while I think Bruce Banner is a great case study, I find his alter ego to be pretty open-and-shut. He’s big, he’s green, he smashes stuff. He’s the biggest thing in his world, and the rest of it exists to pretty much do what he wants it to. If that’s all he has to offer me, well, I’ll just pass on by to the next thing.
He’s a 1000 pound green gorilla, and every question for him is answered, “However you want.” Where’s the fun in that?