The Hulk and I Are Estranged


Have you ever broken up with a character? For his own good, I mean?

Recently, because apparently I crave punishment, I was reading Tom Brevoort’s blog during “Spidey Answers” week. (I don’t know why I read the web the way I do; I really should just put on a ball gag and a dog collar every time I log on.)

Mr. Brevoort, clearly and utterly out of things to write about comic books (solidarity, brother!) has started opening himself up for Q & As using the same rules by which he let readers pick the Worst Marvel Book Ever: ask any question you want, veto any question you want. Because Mr. Brevoort also apparently loves the all-you-can-beat punishment bar, the Q & A topic has been Spider-Man. The resulting deluge has taken six days to answer and shows no sign of slowing down. As you might expect from an open-phone-lines discussion about Spider-Man, people have asked a lot of interesting, insightful questions that really peel the curtain back on the creative and editorial process.

Ha ha, no! Of course I’m joking. It’s six pages of pointless tail chasing again about the unmarriage from one year and thirty-six issues ago. In fact, I apologize for referring to it as “an open-phone-lines discussion”; that is an insult to the comparatively open-minded, free thinking callers of AM talk radio. I think Mr. Brevoort had some remaining shred of childlike optimism and began the discussion in the earnest belief that “maybe, if I let them ask the Mephisto questions as many times as they want, they will tire themselves out like children running around the yard and move on. Maybe if I exhaust them with honesty, they’ll get bored and go bug the X-editor about Xorn or something.” I hope he never loses that, even in the face of Guy Who Seems To Think He Is Conversing With You Privately and Guy Who Posts Six Consecutive Comments In A Row.

As I scrolled through this unending line of posts that each read like a prosecutor’s closing argument, written by people who are clearly so inflamed that they’re typing standing up and who have clearly not read any other post on the page, I thought as I always do when subjecting myself to this conversation, “It has been a year. What are you doing here? Break up with Spider-Man. Spider-Man is not treating you the way you want to be treated, and he is not going to change just because you keep coming around with charts and back issues showing him how wrong his behavior is now. Your cards and letters will not win him back. You are not staging an intervention on this message board. Spider-Man is just not that into you.”

my first“Sure,” some people say when they get this tough-love pep talk, “that’s easy for you to say. You’re dead inside. But I have a passion for this character. I have been reading Spider-Man since I was four years old” — you see a lot of the post where the guy lists his entire reading history, chronicling every issue he ever bought to establish his bona fides so that it builds to a crescendo of condemnation when he finally unleashes the but you have gone too far this time at the end– “you have never loved as I love.”

But this is not true. I have loved and lost. I have walked away from perhaps the most beloved character of my lifetime, for I have broken up with The Hulk.

I never consciously realized it until this week, even when I named him as the hero I most resembled, but I think over a lifetime The Hulk may qualify as my favorite. He’s definitely in the running. The Incredible Hulk was the first Muppet-free television show I ever loved; I can still remember those pre-VCR days riding home from my grandma’s house on a Friday night, breathlessly watching the dashboard clock with the urgency of Jack Bauer, saying, “Mom, hurry! We’re missing it! We are missing it.” It was the seventies; I didn’t know there’d ever be complete season box sets. As far as I knew, they finished showing each episode and threw the reels into a roaring fire that powered the transmitter.

The Hulk was also in the very first comic I can remember getting, an (apparently fill-in) issue of Marvel Team-Up. In it, Hulk misunderstands, Hulk fights, and Hulk calms down and leaves. Haters recognize this plot as “The Hulk Story.”  I’ve gotten my grownup eyes on this comic, and it amazes me; there is action happening in every panel, and absolutely nothing happens in the book. It’s like a zen koan with sea monkey ads. This masterpiece did not kindle in me a love of sequential art, but as a six year old I loved watching Hulk fight, calm down, and leave. The Hulk Story as it was in the seventies and eighties was so perfect for six year olds, they must have come up with it in a lab. At that age, you’re too small and weak to reach the peanut butter jar, much less open it. You’re powerless, and you don’t understand things, and it’s all so frustrating that sometimes you just want to break something and make a big noise. The Hulk summarized sounds like something Mister Rogers would sing to you.

(Of course, from another angle it still has some appeal to me as an adult. The Man always on Hulk’s case. Hulk always being hassled. Hulk just want to be left alone. Hulk just want ten minutes of quiet to check e-mail. It’s like looking into a mirror.)

On some level the fatal, repetitive flaw in The Hulk Story must have stuck with me, because even when I did start biking my entire allowance directly over to the comics shop I didn’t pick up The Incredible Hulk for quite some time. When I did, though, my timing couldn’t have been better; I hopped on right as Peter David was beginning his decade-long journey with the character, exploring the nature of Bruce Banner’s personalities as he actually made some headway curing himself of The Hulk, only to have each attempt result in some new permutation and set of complications. I loved Banner’s cat-and-mouse game with himself during this era, and just when I thought I’d seen it all they gave me The Hulk as a Las Vegas legbreaker. When I stopped reading comics, David had so thoroughly sucked the marrow from The Hulk’s bones that I didn’t think there was anything left to do with him.

I may have been right.

I’ve been patiently trying to keep the faith with Hulk comics ever since I returned as a reader. I put in a valiant effort with the Bruce Jones run, which started strong, but it was so unmemorable to me that I think it damaged my hippocampus. There was a mystery in this run about the identity of a “Mr. Blue.” I’ve often wondered who Mr. Blue was, and I’ve asked people on the iFanboy message boards if they knew. Someone tells me each time I ask, and although I legitimately want to know it is impossible for me to remember, no matter how many times I am told. Someone will post a comment after I write this, telling me again. It will slide through my head like it’s been sprayed with Pam. The whole story was aggressively uninteresting to me. But I stuck with it much longer than I should have, because I loved The Hulk.

The book got my interest again under the Greg Pak regime, but even when it was good it wasn’t The Hulk I wanted it to be. At some point in Peter David’s wake, we lost the Hulk Rules. Banner used to turn into The Hulk when he got mad and change back when he calmed down; for a while, he turned at nightfall and turned back at sun-up. Each time he turned into The Hulk, he had a personality that was separate from Banner’s. Now, I have no friggin’ idea what’s going on. Is he mad? Is he smart? Is he dumb? Why is he The Hulk for six months at a time? Who’s driving? No idea. Nobody writing it cares to say. Reading the 21st century Hulk has taught me there’s nothing worse than finding yourself thinking, “This book is dumb, and I don’t understand it.” But I stuck with it… for a while.

Have you been keeping up with this Red Hulk business?

That makes one of us. I’m out.

Jeph Loeb made me dump The Hulk. Was it the Hulk gun? Was it Iron Man crying “oh, the humanity!” as the helicarrier crashed in a fireball in New Jersey? Was it The Hulk jumping into space with Thor and hitting him with his own hammer, probably in the balls just to keep the tone consistent? Well, it wasn’t that last one. I was long gone by then. It was apparent almost immediately that Jeph Loeb and the people who handed him the keys were finished with using any kind of nuance when it came to the character, and that the era of psychological metaphor and introspection was a tiny speck in the rear view mirror. Indeed, the inner lives of the characters are so irrelevant that we literally no longer know who the Hulk is in the book, and it doesn’t matter. If the book could find a way to depict the Hulk beating Thought to death, it would. Readers can’t be more than three issues away from seeing The Hulk pummeling the Grim Reaper. By holding the president’s legs and using him as a bat.

Well, okay. I might buy that if Arthur Adams was drawing it.

No! No. I must be strong, and I will be. That’s the point. I knew about five pages into Hulk #2 that the Hulk and I needed to talk. I needed some space, to take some time for me, specifically some time for me to not read s###ty comics that should have review blurbs from Beavis on their covers. I needed to say, “It’s not me, Hulk; it’s you. I love you too much to stand by you while you go around punching The Watcher. Pack your bags.”

So that’s what I did. I didn’t go to the editor’s blog and ask him a series of condescending questions about his mental faculties, pausing to include enumerated lists of all the ways in which The Hulk Would Never Do That. I quietly lamented the fact that The Hulk as I know him isn’t being used in anything currently being published, and I lamented the fact that it’s probably going to be that way for years at this rate, but… whaddya gonna do? It kills me that the book is now dumber than its title character, but I’m not going to wear a sandwich board and pace outside their offices. I’m not starting a petition. I’m not even really going to talk about it, unless there’s some random occasion when I need to say 1,000 words or so about comics. All it would accomplish is making me look like a loon. They would read my single-spaced Unabomber rant and say, “Well, any comic that provokes this kind of reaction is doing its job; tell the printer we need 50,000 more copies!” All I can do is nothing, and it’s better that way. The book’s direction will only be changed by one thing: suffering sales. Besides, I’d rather never read another Hulk book again than torture myself watching someone wreck him every month. It’s like finding out the sweet girl who broke your heart is doing porn now, and then buying all her movies. Why do it to yourself? In the end, I’ll miss him, but I’ll always have the memories. And a lot of Todd McFarlane back issues that I really should have sold in 1992 while the gettin’ was good.

 


Jim Mroczkowski has talked about comics like he was dating them two weeks in a row now, and people are starting to worry. The facade of sanity remains firmly in place at Twitter and Jimski.com.

 

Comments

  1. you know what might be some good closure? the Warren Ellis mini Ultimate Human. IT’s tony and bruce trying to cure bruce of the hulk and it was baller.

  2. One phone call and you’ll be waking up with a copy of Hulk in your bed and guilt in your heart.  That’s the way these things work.

  3. Great stuff, man.  

  4. Mr. Blue was Betty.

    And the memory dump in 3…2…

  5. Great article as usual Jim

    Yeah Jeph Loeb is really depressing me with his Hulk series. I’m sorry to anyone who does like it but: To me that is the eptiome of Suck. It’s like reading 22 pages of vomit, it’s like a 10 year old grab old of a comic and wrote in the word balloons. This is not the Hulk that I grew up with, this is a Hulk that is actually more dumb then a contestant at the special olympics. It’s sad to even see this title still continue to sell well and Loeb still being told how great of a writer he is. To anyone who wants to pick up this new Hulk series but never read it: DONT! Just pick up Incredible Herc or Hulk Visionaries: Peter David; cause you’ll get more entertainment out of one page of those books instead of this garbage.

    As for Spider-Man, well I have giving up on the character mostly. I only will read the Ultimate version cause that is where the real Spider-Man truely lives. Picking up all the recent HC of BND and the back issues showed me that this 616 Spider-Man is never going to get better in the short run. So ASM #573 was my last issue for the time being, I hope it gets back the way it was in the future.

  6. I think, possibly, this might be the first piece of writing to include the Hulk with a joke referencing a part of the brain.  Well played.

    I think what amazes me the most about Loeb’s current run with the red Hulk is that he also wrote Hulk: Gray, which was a serious and very good Hulk story.  I can understand writing the comic to be fun, but this just gets into the area of being too dumb.

  7. A-ha!  New article. I was wondering why I wasn’t seeing a lot of people writing comments in exactly the style you made mock of.   I’ll just give it some time, then.

  8. Jim’s articles always make me feel paranoid.  They all feel directed at me and after my recent twitter bitching about this very subject my paranoia level has increased 10 fold.  Either I’m on to something, or Jim and I just think similarly.  Paranoia being what it is though; I’ll stick to the former.

     

    I kind of went into what it is about the current series that I like here.  It’s the stuff I like that bugs me so much about what Loeb is doing.  It’s so close to being good…but so far at the same time.  I think that might be Loeb’s curse with me.  When he gets something write, it’s usually spot on.  But when it’s off…yeesh…it’s somewhere out there.

  9. @Luthor– Heh.  I wrote a review last week about how I tried to get back into ASM after dropping it after the second month or so.  So, when I opened here and I started reading about readers of Spider-Man who are still bothered by the reboot but still read it, I thought "Oh, dear…"  In all fairness though, I’m not going buying the book next month and just stuck around for this last arc. 

    I think we can all be in agreement that books you should buy what you like to read and that’s all.  Except for Ron maybe… 🙂

  10. Dear Jimski,

     

    I have never liked the Hulk, so I cannot comment on the Hulk’s downturn. On the other hand, I have fallen out of love with certain characters over time, but not permanently. I loved XFactor back in the day (the day being the mid-90’s). Now, I can’t stomach Madrox (since when is the punky Multiple Man a government conduit?).

    But, I’ll ask the crowd and you – are there any characters you had never liked whom you like now? Somewhere along the line, I realized that Tony Stark was better than a self-hating drunk (like he was for so many issues when my brother and I were kids), and that Iron Man was a pretty cool character.

    Finally, what about the idea that you can fall out of love (or tolerance or hopeful expectations) with certain villains? I would bet that half the people reading this liked Venom when he first appeared but groan with dismay every time he shows up now. And the Green Goblin? Started as a creepy foil for Spider-Man, but after several iterations followed by the Hobgoblin, New Green Goblin, and others, and is just not interesting.

  11. Jim nailed it.  Peter David basically ended The Hulk as a main character.  It’s amazing.  Has that ever happened before?  I’d LOVE an omnibus of that run.

    In other Hulk news, my DVD shipped today!

  12. Ah, I used to love reading Hulk when I was a kid. Actually, I spent Sunday morning this weekend watching the movie in bed. I didn’t suck! ;o)

    I haven’t been reading the latest issues of Hulk as I’ve heard such bad things about the current run, but someone must be liking it as it sure is selling well. I was just looking at the shipping figures from Diamond for September and Hulk is second. Second!! 

  13. @Coltrane68-I have fallen in love with Iron Fist.  It is wavering a bit, since it has been so long since he has come to visit me and doesn’t return phone calls, but I stick around.

    I have to agree I have lost that loving feeling for Hulk as well.  Great article sir

  14. To a certain extent, It’s been up and down with the Iron Man books with me.  Sometimes, it’s really good, sometimes bad, sometimes a little of both.  Thankfully, I think I can finally close the casket on the Civil War fiasco and move on in the wake of Fraction’s book, Enter the Mandarin, and the movie.  It’s good to be an Iron Man fan again.

  15. @Coltrane68 —  (since when is the punky Multiple Man a government conduit?).

    Wasn’t that the original premise of X-Factor?

  16. Peter David both rescued and ruined the Hulk? I never read to the end of the Peter David Hulk run, but I know he rescued the Hulk from the "Hulk smash" days and made the book actually enjoyable. That and McFarlane’s art.

  17. @IroncladMerc – Who said Peter David ruined The Hulk?

  18. @ohcaroline

    As I recall, the original X-Factor was the X-Men’s original five, reformulated into an Ersatz detective agency. I think that run led to the primary conflict with Apocalypse and Sinister, Angel’s transformation into Archangel, and life aboard Ship.

    Next was the Polaris/Havok/Madrox/Guido/some furry wolf (I think Wolvsbane, but who knows at this point). At that point, there was definitely a connection with Val Cooper, but Madrox was more of a smartass of the group than a solid citizen working with the government.

    I may be wrong, as I am getting older and dumber, but I just don’t remember that character (whom I really liked) being wry and intense.

  19. @Conor

    I think that I understand Ironclad’s confusion. If you re-read your post, it seems that you meant to say that David’s run was so strong and definitive that it made future efforts tainted. However, you did say that David "ended the run". One way to end a run is to ruin the character.

    That reminds me of what I was once told when asked to write a letter of recommendation for someone who has marginal qualifications:

    "I cannot recommend person X too highly."

  20. @coltrane68 – Sure, one way to end a run is to ruin a character, but that’s one of about one thousand ways to end a run.

  21. @coltrane68  Oh, yes, sorry — I meant David’s X-Factor, which obviously wasn’t the original.  I see your point, although I actually like the idea of seeing Jamie grow up past the point of being that smartass kid into being the one who has to make tough choices and compromises (like Havok and Polaris did in the earlier incarnation of the book).  That said, I’m pretty close to dropping XFactor, myself, so I definitely agree that something that made XF special has been lost.  (Though if they ever get back to the Layla story, I’m all there).

    And I just realized I never commented on Jimski’s article itself — eloquent and insightful, as always.  I never had any strong attachment to the Hulk, but I definitely recognize the sentiment.

  22. O.K., Conor. I’ll bite. I suspect that this board could come up with at least 100 ways to end a run, but 1000 seems tough. I’m in a wacky mood, so I’ll name the 1st ten.

    1. Get overwhelmed with your other books and neglect your original book until nobody pays attention to it any longer.

    2. Actually finish the story you wanted to tell.

    3. Have a lack of commercial success causing your publisher to just cancel.

    4. Have a similar lack of commercial success, but be fortunate enough to have your publisher show you the respect to ask you to write a somewhat hurried ending (I’m looking at you, American Virgin).

    5. Finish the story without realizing it and continue writing a very long, superfluous coda (some might feel that Return of the King fits here; I don’t, since it’s not a serial).

    6. Change creators so often that the themes are forgotten over time.

    7. Last long enough to lose relevance to what’s contemporary.

    8. The Cousin Oliver Effect – try to spice things up by adding kids to the mix (isn’t that what Ron hates about the Flash?)

    9. Reductio ad confusum (not really Latin) – make the book so obscure and self-referential that it’s necessary to have read the past decade’s worth of books to make any sense of the ongoing story (as a recovering X-addict, that one hits home).

    10. Write a novel story that is a few years ahead of its time. Attract few readers. Close up shop. Wait until the reissue the decade later at which time everyone re-discovers a gem that they all claim to have loved in the first iteration.

  23. I’m going with Conor on this one.  The Hulk has been dead to me since David left, until Bruce Jones made a small blip on my radar a few years ago.  The Hulk as a concept just doesn’t hold a lot of appeal to me, except when you place him in a setting that’s far removed from the basics.  I couldn’t even get into the movie that much because the basic concept has such limited appeal.

  24. I liked Bruce Jones’ run a lot.   I think it was my favorite Hulk run I’ve read.

  25. I’ve checked in on The Hulk from time to time. I broke up with Batman some time ago. Just before his back was broken. I checked back in with Prodigy to see how he was doing. Still gimmicky as ever. I just broke up with him again, well The Batman Strikes just ended, and I think I’m gonna have to swear him off completely.

    I doubt it makes much difference sharing this or letting my wallet do the talking. Maybe I’m outnumbered both ways. More people are willing to reconcile.

     

  26. Two points (not saying either are valid)

    1. Spidey fans got spoiled in the nineties with the clone saga. My theory is that since they were able to whine enough then to  reverse the course of the Clone Saga they think they can do it again here.

    Personally the Clone Saga got me into comics (I was like 10 OK, but to this day I still like Ben Reilly’s spidey outfits) and I loved most of JMS’s ru. I realize I just infuriated about half of the i-Fanbase, but my point is that even I left the book after OMD. I returned with the New Ways to Die arc and have liked it. I agree these whiners need to move on but unfortunately they think they have prescedent on their side.

     

    2. My crazy-ass Hulk theory is that Marvel is doing this on purpose. We all know Loeb can write really well and really awful so it’s not like he’s ruining his reputation or anything.

    Basically they kind of wrote themselves into a hole with the World War Hulk storyline but still had a Hollywood movie coming out at the beginning of summer and needed a Hulk book.

    Who, other than us dorks, goes to see Hulk movies? Kids.

    Who, other than that self mutilating guy from the Da Vini Code, likes to torture themselves with stories that make no sense and don’t have a point but have some really out there weird fight scenes? Kids! 

    I think if you listen to the Loeb report on word balloon or read some interviews with Loeb it starts to sound like he’s in on the joke of how bad this book is. Kind of like we all hope Bendis is on on the Sentry joke. 

  27. Ah, Ron.

    Don’t ever change. Though it would be epic if you did and dropped the Flash till Rebirth.

     

    I did it with the Runaways. The beauty of dropping a title when it’s not enjoyable is that the the enjoyment of the original series is preserved. It’s like Conor’s selective continuuity. The reader decides the canon when he or she stops buying. 

  28. Good article, Jim. I for one am enjoying Hulk. Looking forward to the new issue. Audrey Loeb’s mini marvels are priceless. 🙂 As noted earlier you should check out Ultimate Human. Michael Turner’s variant cover this week is looks amazing. 

  29. Jim, you make me really proud to be a comics reader and a forum poster.  You actually have respect for the creations and the other faceless usernames on the internet. 

  30. how the fuck could mr. blue be betty!?!?!!? even i dont remember that!

  31. The Leader had brought her back to life after she was poisoned by Abomination.  She escaped and underwent a lot of surgery to change her appearance and started helping Bruce from behind the scenes. 

    Keep in mind Peter David came up behind Jones and retconed everything away as a dream (I wish I was kidding)

  32. I liked the "integrated Hulk"; that was the version that actually got me to buy Hulk comics. I ended up buying several issues that preceded it and several issues after it before I ulitmately fell out of comics (due to just being broke all the time).

    So, after a brief period of interest, I’m back to essentially ignoring the Hulk, because a stupid creature who basically just makes the world a more miserable place doesn’t interest me.

     

  33. @Tork – Wow!  Really?  The Hulk books are a mess.

  34. Meh…. if lovin’ the new Hulk books are wrong, I don’t want to be right.

  35. Wow, it’s like you read my mind and wrote an article about it: Marvel team-up … Peter David awesomeness … Hulk gun. Yeah, after 23 years of reading nearly every single Hulk issue, I’m fed up with the current approach. I’d drop the book, but my son reads it. This just means that if it ever gets good again, I’ll be right at the gates. Until then, make mine anything else. Shame for one of the single greatest characters Marvel ever had.

  36. Over 10 years ago I went on a (possibly gamma-irradiated) rant about how The Hulk has been the same thing for 30 years. Since that time, Marvel has done one interesting thing with the character.

  37. @patio If it ain’t broke…  What? He’s RED now? nevermind!

  38. Is that what was going on in Peter David’s post-Jones arc? The whole dreamy Nightmarey thing was a "reset" on the Mr. Blue thing? I wasn’t entirely sure what I was looking at when David drew me back to the book, as every new writer does.

    Ironically, I have the complete Hulk DVD-ROM at home. I could just look any of this up in the actual books if I had any psychic energy at all.

  39. I do this all the time. 

     

    I stopped with the Hulk as PAD left…but picked up World War Hulk, and regretted it.  I dumped Spider-Man in Skin Deep (I sat through Sins Past for that?) and wonder why people were still reading before the unwedding.  Brian K. Vaughn kept the last shred of the Ultimate Universe going for me until he left.  Joss Whedon sent The Runaways back in time in late books and I never bothered to see them come back.  Avengers after Kurt Busiek.  One Year Later Teen Titans.

     

    Though on the other hand I’ve got Adam Warlock, who has been in more than his fair share of bad comic books, but more often than that is in no comic books.  But I’ve waited patiently and now he’s back and treating me just fine.

  40. Issue #7 is the last insult i can take. no more.