Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Incredible Hulk as literature

 Hulk: The Last Titan was a graphic novel that I’d never heard of. Marvel has put out a lot of one-shot graphic novels so never hearing about it wasn’t a surprise. However, despite being eighteen years old, I found it quite intriguing. Less about the story itself and more what it said about the Incredible Hulk as a literary concept.

Okay, here’s the story. In a post-apocalyptic world where nuclear holocausts have reduced the world to a barren wasteland, only horrible mutant cockroaches and the Hulk are left. The Hulk sometimes reverts to Bruce Banner, who ruminates about existence. There are no twists and surprises, just an examination of the situation. It’s pretty bleak.

But it’s a story that works very well with the Hulk. I can’t really see it working for a character like Spider-Man or Captain America but it definitely works for the Hulk. That’s because, obviously, the Hulk is a very different archetype than just about any other silver age hero I can think of, both being Jekyll and Hyde as well as a Tragic Monster.

While Stan Lee has said that he considers the Silver Surfer the most literary character he worked on, I would really argue that the Hulk really holds that title. (Although, as long as Steve Ditko was on the job, Peter Parker sure seemed to have escaped from Catcher in the Rye) While certainly not the first anti-hero in superhero comics by a long shot, it’s still a core concept in almost all the vast variations of the Hulk. He is a hero second, unhappy loner first.

In fact, that is the Hulk’s status quo. He can be dumb and green or gray and ruthless or smart and green or an alien barbarian warlord but the Hulk is always a troubled outsider in a world that he cannot fit in with. As a small child, I found Lou Ferrigno’s portrayal both scary and sad. Also as a small child, well before Bill Mantlo or Peter David got their hands on the Hulk and started looking at psychological angles, the Hulk was sad to me. Even the X-Men at least had each other.

And I read the comics for decades and still am very found of the character and his stories. Because it works.

(Someone just pointed out to me that the Hulk can be considered a metaphor nuclear bomb and humanity’s hubris instead of an anti-hero. My response was why can’t he be both? And that just adds to the literary nature of the character.)

Hulk: the Last Titan being the Hulk alone after the world ends and nothing else? It makes perfect sense.

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