Thursday, June 21, 2018

Some Smashing Comics for Dealing with Grief

Technically this is “Bad Geek Confessions: The Hulk” but I liked the other title.

After years of confusion, I finally figured out how and why I read the Hulk

And also why I suddenly have a long box filled with the Green Goliath’s adventures.  

For a long time, I decided I viewed him the same way I view the Punisher: a fantastic guest star to see how other heroes dealt with him, but his solo adventures normally didn’t interest me.

Except for the times that they did.

Every so often, I’d find myself binging my entire collection of Hulk comics, while adding a couple as I read references that sparked my interest.  Then it would fade away.

A huge comic acquisition temptation, during the non-binging times, was always collections of Peter David’s epic twelve year run on the title.  Unlike almost every other comic book based temptation, I never gave into that one.

Peter David is one of my favorite writers, not just of comic books, but his essays and novels as well.  His Hulk comics are considered the high mark for the character, and are excellent and well written adventures, delving into deep psychological and personal issues of Bruce, Betty and the rest of his friends and foes.  They established much of the mythology and supporting cast that have continued along with the character.

Yet when I found myself in the proper mood for some new “Hulked out” reading, or rereading what I had, I wasn’t drawn to his stuff.  Contrariwise, in my normal comic reading mode, I wasn’t drawn to the character.

Turning my sporadic Hulk collection into a long box this past year is largely the fault of the same writer that expanded my Fantastic Four collection during the nu52 DC withdrawal period, Mark Waid. There was also a huge extra pull from the return of Walt Simonson to Thor,  since his legendary run was my gateway drug to comics collecting.

I’d seen Waid had done a run on old Jade Jaws, and kept thinking about trying it out when the occasional Hulk mood struck me.  I finally broke down this year when Indestructible Hulk, the Complete Collection came out.

In my excitement, I forgot that “complete” is rarely an accurate term in the comic book world.  That “complete” volume was the middle chapter, with equal sized “completeness” of Jason Aaron before and a smidgen more Waid handing off to Gerry Duggan afterwards. Since I was also a fan of the insane fun in Aaron’s Ghost Rider and Duggan’s Deadpool runs,  and the descriptions appealed to the Hulk mood I’d found myself in,  I completed the set.

Because I have “issues” in both senses of the word.

I usually run on minimal sleep without problems, but when I get really sick it goes beyond man-flu to full on hibernation.  At my worst, since I’m sleeping eighteen to twenty hours a day, I end up nocturnal and reading comics in the few hours I'm awake in the middle of the night.  Earlier this year, I worked through all of the above runs and then reread the rest of my collection during a severe episode of being plague bound and finally figured out my personal Hulk puzzle. 

At the times a mood strikes me that I need to read Hulk comics, it is not the same mood that would send me looking for excellent and well written adventures, delving into deep psychological and personal issues.

David’s Hulk stories are fantastic. (I do have some, it’s nearly impossible to have Hulk comics and not own any of his. Plus I very much enjoyed the couple of times he returned to more traditional forms of character…and his female self-confident cousin as well.  See Issues.)  But when David took over the title he admitted he wasn't interessted in writing the classic, savage “Hulk Smash!” version of the character. Instead he weaved tales using the ornery Grey Hulk (Mr. Fixit) and the Merged (Professor) Hulk versions primarily.

I originally though that when I’m in a Hulk mood, it was the need for “Hulk Smash!” that drove me.   However, there’s more to it. 

There’s quite a variety in the batch of adventures I own of the Incredible one, but they share one thing in common. I figured it out during those “plague readings” which included the introduction of the Red Hulk.  In those, Loeb’s writing was a tour through all manner of strange corners of that fictional universe, like his twelve issue Batman stories were, and McGuinness’s oversized and stylized art was perfect for the overly muscled members of the Marvel Universe that Hulk and his foes represent. 

Naturally, (again) I needed to fill in the Greg Pak Incredible Hulk trades in between the Loeb stories, which led to the Planet Hulk, and World War Hulk arcs before it, and the subsequent tales he wrote closing out his phenomenal run that aligned with my discovery.

Issues, people, issues.

The key factors I found for the Hulk stories, that now (issues) threatened to burst from the long box like any non-purple pants item of clothing Banner might own, are: whether combined or separate, and whether in conflict or in cooperation, the stories focus on Banner being a scientifically professional, competent and controlled individual with some issues, and the Hulk being an uncontrollably angry little boy, but who always is attempting do the right thing, even though his anger can cloud his perceptions and make him worried about messing up.  Pak added to it well by regularly reminding people in story (and the reader) that even during his worst rampages, the Hulk never killed anyone.  There’s also the element that those two apparently highly different individuals are really the same man. Bruce and the Hulk almost never accept this, but some of their closest allies, and interestingly worst enemies,  instinctively know it.

There's also something incredibly cathartic about, "Hulk is the strongest one there is," being guaranteed by, "The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets."  Basically if he gets angry enough at the problem, it goes away.  I've seen this apply to yard maintenance equipment, but rarely in the helpful way it happens in the comics.

I'm not really a fan of the clever and nasty grey Hulk, or the idealized merged Hulk, or even Hulk with Banner’s mind.  They’re all too confident.   The last one worked in the original Secret Wars, because Savage Hulk kept fighting to reassert his personality.

This is also why I wasn’t a fan of John Byrne’s run.  Banner learned to accept his need for the Hulk, but Hulk was mindless without Bruce. Mindless rage and childlike rage are different, and the calm moments were even more distinct. 

I like knowing the other versions exist for the occasional wanderings through Bruce’s mind.  However, it's the childlike, angry Hulk that fills the need for my Hulk fixes. 

To see “my” version on screen, watch Thor: Ragnarok.  It did an excellent job of showing this interpretation. See the "Thor Sad" through “Stupid Avenger,” “Friend Stay,” or “Big Monster?” scenes for key examples.

While they may not seem to fit that mold at first, the Planet/ World War Hulk and Duggan’s Doc. Green arcs, to me, do align.  They feel like the childlike Hulk grows up and matures if he maintains control longer, or at least pretends to…but it’s still him.  The speech Hulk gives the Illuminati after he’s triumphed in World War Hulk and showed he was not going to kill them, had many similarities to Captain Marvel’s (Shazam!) berating of the Justice League for not living up to the standards that previously inspired him in the Justice League Unlimited episode “Clash.” In both cases, it’s an angry child in an adult’s body taking those in power to task for failing to do the right thing and be the inspiration they are supposed to be.

This is a late discovery as I should have figured out how these stories gave me what I needed back in 2008. 

Ten years ago yesterday, my father died.

Shortly thereafter the Edward Norton Incredible Hulk film was released.  While, objectively, I like the quirkiness and the actors better in the 2003 Eric Bana Hulk.  The more basic, smashy version was exactly what I needed at the time, and was paired with me starting to collect the Loeb/ McGuinness “Red Hulk”leading to “World War Hulks” runs as well.  This was the first time I’d had one of my Hulk issue building episodes that extended beyond grabbing a random story or two on sale when a comic store was closing.

Every day for the past ten years, I’ve needed to ask my Dad’s advice on something, but every day, I make decisions based on his advice.

That creates a pretty strong division in my mind.

When we first lost him, there was this overwhelming feeling of rage that the whole world was going about their business like nothing was wrong, while I was unable to focus on anything other than the giant gaping hole in the universe that they weren’t noticing.

That feeling lessened over time, but has always been lurking around in the dark corners of my mind, gaining strength when I need his help.

It's the times when that feeling grows, and I feel far more like an uncontrollably angry little boy, but who is always attempting do the right thing, even though the anger can cloud my perceptions and make me worried about messing up that I’ve found myself deep into reading and adding to my Hulk stories.

Until the advice Dad gave me brings me back to functioning as a scientifically professional, competent and controlled individual (with some issues) once more.

Yes, comics are an addiction.  However since they don’t cause cancer, they don't impair my driving, and it’s not illegal to share them with my child, I won’t be battling it. 

I’ll repeat myself- this country is too young for a real mythology- Superheroes are our myths.  But they’re also psychological archetypes.

Sometimes, letting a giant green monster with the rage of an angry child run around in my head to rail at the unfairness of life, while knowing it’s only the internal release of a competent scientist, helps on those days where that giant gaping hole in the universe is too big to ignore.


Renae said...

That was “Incredible” to read. 10 years...
Very moving! Your last paragraph was so well said.

Jeff McGinley said...

Many thanx. Comments on posts like these mean the most.

thank you again.

Antonia said...

Loved it Jeff. 1) Very informative about The Hulk as I learned many things I would not ever have known and 2)so beautiful and insightful about your feelings about your dad. He is insanely proud of you from heaven, I am sure of it.

Jeff McGinley said...

Many thanx!

The odd part was this started out as two separate posts, so I guess I learned something this time around too.

thanx again