Getting personal for a second, let me just say that I like the Hulk. A lot. But I hadn’t always; growing up, I saw some of the TV show and snored through it. I only bought one comic of the big green guy at my first comic shop tenure, and that was due to the subject matter (PAD did AIDS before Winick shed his Real World days!). I did what most people did: looked at the cover, saw a big monster throwing truck and based my opinion from that.
A friend of mine changed all of that. He’s the one who got me to actually open a book and look inside, something very integral to all Marvel characters. While someone can take a look at Superman or Batman and get their gist (Superman, dressed in red and blue, sailing through the sky, Batman, dark, normally hunched in shadows, lookin’ mean), you really have to find out about guys like Spider-Man to learn about Great Power and Responsibility and the real heart of their stories. Thus it was with the Hulk; one of the first things I read was Incredible Hulk: Beauty and the Behemoth (from the House of Ideas!) with Peter David’s forward and afterward, and I found a remarkable romance within the character and got that all important connection that grabs most readers from the House that Stan Built: character identification.
Back issue after back issue was added to my collection as a love of Peter David (from his Star Trek novels) and an understanding of Bruce Banner hooked me line and sinker. I’m a 98-lb. weakling, folks. I got pushed around in school as a kid. I came from a really loud family and I’m a huge bookworm. The Hulk was made for me with all the daydreams of just freaking out and going postal on those things we’re all powerless against: idiots, adveristy and ourselves. I mean, it’s not hard to see that Banner’s worst enemy is himself, there’s no stretched metaphors here. Guy gets angry, turns into a monster and smashes, reverting back as he calms down to deal with what’s left behind. Who hasn’t done something in the heat of anger than they have honestly regretted? Now, take that and tack on throwing a tank. It’s fantastic, but human at the same time.
I love Bruce Banner. I think he’s a fantastic character with the burden he carries. It’s why I tune in to see what he’s up to, looking in on that part of ourselves that can totally screw up and yet redeem themselves time and again. I caught an old episode of the TV series (the one that used to put me to sleep as a kid) and now watching it with the background I have, I have no idea why this couldn’t be translated into a comic series.
Guy wanted for crimes he didn’t commit? Traveling from town to town while eluding those who would hunt him down? Running into people who need help that he has decide on how he could possibly aid them without royally screwing it all up? Then walking away when it’s all done, moving on to the next town… It’s very western in a way, could go episodic if there’s not a unifying plot to thread through, could handle writing changes and different artists when things get sticky release-date-wise. But at heart, it’s a good premise. Not only do you get versatility with your smashing and awesome Hulk-itude, but you have multitude of ways to get across the heart of the man behind the monster. Someone who may be puny, but is stronger than you or I could ever be.
And I will never get this story. The Marvel Universe has changed so drastically, ideas I wanted to see explored back in the day have had the book closed on them. There’s a superhero team in every state, the wandering hero has no place. Hulk has been charged, tried and found guilty of being a danger to himself and others and was sent into space, punishment found fitting and hands wiped clean. Sure, World War Hulk is on the horizon, but it’s not like the Hulk is going to start a war and then get back to the old status quo. Bruce Banner himself is no longer a character, just a shadow of the Hulk, recently seen only when he feels weakness. It’s been nearly a year and only in the last issue (#103 for those of your counting at home) has Bruce Banner shown up to say a few words on the Hulk’s behalf. And with SHIELD in charge and all heroes unified towards a common goal, there is no running from the law.
While exciting, Marvel’s brave new world closed the doors on a lot of previous standards and plotlines for characters. I mean, just look at Robbie Baldwin. But with great power comes great responsiblity and as powerful a storyarc as Civil War was (like it or hate it, we all had an opinion on it so it’s justifiably powerful here), there should still be a responsibility to the characters put through all this change. They still need to be the same heroes and villains that we connected with in the first place, no matter how wild and wacky things get around them. So, while I may never get my hitchhiking man-cum-monster, traveling from town to town solving mysteries and smashing bad guys, that doesn’t mean that the Hulk I connected with in my awkward youth won’t still be in the books. The surroundings can change but the character at heart, that honest truth that connects us to these heroes (or villains), should always remain the same.