Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hulk smash Peter David!

Several weeks ago, I was watching The Incredible Hulk (the one with Ed Norton).  When my wife brought Logan out from his bath, it was the big fight scene at the end with The Abomination.  Logan sat down and was quite mesmerized by it.  When he saw The Hulk let loose and smash stuff, he would point and yell out with a great deal of enthusiasm.  It made perfect sense to me.  After all, if a toddler had the strength of The Hulk, they'd easily cause just as much destruction.  In other words, on some level my son was thinking, "Hey, I can really relate to this guy."

This got me to thinking about Hulk comic books, and the somewhat sizable collection that I happen to have of them.  I recently got rid of a lot of them, but I kept all of those that were written by Peter David.  While I don't have his entire run, I do have all of them from about 1990 to when he did his final issue in 1998.  A quick Wikipedia search shows that he started in 1988, so I haven't quite read all of his stuff.  (I do notice that what I'm missing has been collected in trade paperbacks, so I'm thinking of ordering those to complete the collection.)

I then went about re-reading all of those books, and I tell ya, few things are better than when you read something that you loved as a teenager and continue to love it as an adult.  That's exactly what happened with these comics.  While I probably don't enjoy them for the same reasons as I did back then, the fact that they continue to be just as entertaining is a big plus.

Anyway, I got on board the title when Dr. Bruce Banner was reverting to a grey Hulk when the sun went down.  As the grey Hulk, he wasn't as strong as he was when he was green, but he was smarter.  Still, his personality was definitely different from Banner's, and while smarter than the "Hulk smash!" version, he wasn't a genius like Banner either.

This had been going on in the comics for some time before I started picking them up.  While I wasn't reading the series, I knew about what was going on, as The Hulk would make guest-appearances in other Marvel titles that I was reading.  Anyway, the first issue that I picked up involved Bruce Banner getting in a situation that made him get REALLY angry.  (He was trying to reunite with his wife, but some guy in a strange vehicle was trying to kidnap him - not worrying about The Hulk since it was broad daylight.)

It's such an awesome sequence.  Banner keeps trying to get away from the guy and get to his wife, who's boarding a train.  He gets more and more frustrated with the guy in the mystery vehicle, and then he finally breaks down.  The change is so violent that the skin on his back starts to tear, and the classic Green Hulk bursts out of Banner's skin, rather than just simply transforming.  Much of the power of it is owed to the artwork of Dale Keown.  (See the picture?  See Banner's skin?)

Basically what Peter David set up, which is based on the works of writers who came before him, is that there were actually THREE distinct personalities.  There was Banner, grey Hulk, and green Hulk.  The green one represented Banner's repressed childhood anger from when he watched his father kill his mother.  The grey one was his repressed cocky arrogant young man.  Banner was the guy who tried to keep all of his emotions in control and had all of the intelligence.

The climax of the storyline was when all three personalities went to war with each other, causing all sorts of crazy transformations and a monster that was shifting colors and arguing with itself.  The resolution was to put all three personalities into one, creating a green Hulk with Banner's face.  He had the intelligence of Banner, the attitude of the grey Hulk, and the ability to get stronger as he got madder, just like the green Hulk.

Of course, there's a lot more that went on, as that storyline only took up a few issues.  From there, The Hulk went on to become the leader of a group of proactive heroes called The Pantheon.  His anger eventually got to be too great, and he would revert to Banner whenever he lost control.  (Which is really inconvenient when he's in a fight.)  He fought aliens, other monsters, other heroes, all sorts of good stuff that you'd want to see in a comic book.

What made it a great run of comics was that it was always switching things up.  It never got stuck in a rut, and there was always a new direction to keep things interesting.  Plus, Peter David always kept the right combination of pathos, action, and humor in the title.  The wacky situations weren't taken too seriously, but all of the human emotions were serious and kept me involved as a reader.

I also have to mention that this series had a pretty serious impact on how I saw the world.  There was an issue where one of the Hulk's former sidekicks died due to complications from AIDS.  I remember the end of the issue where a character asked Hulk how the guy got AIDS in the first place, to which the hero responded that it "didn't matter" and all that mattered was that the guy was his friend.  Younger folks might not remember how AIDS was considered "the gay disease" for some time, and oftentimes the focus shifted from the fact that people were dying to the notion that perhaps they did something to deserve it.  I remember talking with my parents about it afterward, and I said that this was going to be my attitude when it came to people who had the disease.  Honestly, I didn't have to re-read that issue to remember how much it resonated with me, but I was definitely looking forward to reading it again.  Amazing how one panel of a comic book can stick with you nearly twenty years later, huh?

Of course, there were some really great artists on the title as well.  Most notably were the aforementioned Dale Keown, Gary Frank, and Adam Kubert.  They all brought their own unique style to the title, and it was a real joy to see that artwork again.

Every now and then, I go through my comics collection and purge some stuff that I'm pretty sure I will never read again.  This particular set of comics survived every purge so far, and I think it's safe to say that it will survive the next one as well.

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