Anger Management – The Horror in Hulk!

Dichotomy is a regular running theme that spans over many genres, but perhaps most endlessly represented by the comic book industry. It runs the gamut from the effortless spectacles of  the Clark Kent alter-ego to more extremes like the literal bisection of Two-Face. Robert Lewis Stevenson introduced the most significant literary split-personality with his 1886  The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde novella. This was intended as metaphor for the transformational disease of alcoholism – the addictive tonic that brought out the monster in his roommate. Simultaneously you have the similar but even more shape-shifting transmutation of the old-as-time werewolf myth. Dating as far back as ancient Greece, legends of the lycanthrope are ultimately an allegory for the emotional inner beasts within us all. These undeniable influences helped promote countless fictional characters throughout publication – most incredibly in Marvel comics. No one has more experience with losing themselves to the internal tormentor than our favorite gamma-bombed scientist, the Hulk.

The first appearance of the jolly GRAY giant.

“I always liked Jekyll and Hyde and I always liked the Frankenstein movie, the old one with Karloff. In the Frankenstein movie, I always felt that the monster was really the good guy. He didn’t want to hurt anybody! All those idiots with torches were always chasing him up and down the hills, so I thought it would be fun to get a monster that was really a good guy, but nobody knew that.”  – Stan Lee

Pierce sculpting his scream.

With flat head and bulging brow ridge, the Hulk became the misunderstood Frankenstein monster of the atomic age. Steve Ditko heavily modeled the beloved Marvel behemoth after the monstrous portrayal seen in the classic 1931 Universal Studio film. Jack Pierce was the makeup artist responsible for inserting the archaic bolted neck, flat-top, and gangrenous skin into Frankenstein’s creation. Due to the peculiarities of black and white filming at the time, it wasn’t revealed till almost a decade later that the Boris seen on the silver-screen was in actually a light green hue. This color scheme was necessitated by the fact that a greenish tint would show up as a corpse-like pallor when filmed in black-and-white. This is eerily mirrored by the cadaver-like gray unveiling of Hulk, the scrawny scientist known as Bruce Banner not actually evolving into the famous green brute until his second appearance.

Rick Jones...otherwise known as The Remarkably Obvious Boy.

Continually paralleling the Mary Shelly blueprint, both were introduced with more verbose variations. Even in Bride of Frankenstein, the more conversational man-made monstrosity (voicing no more than rudimentary English) lacked the eloquent philosophies the novel version imparted. James Whale took huge liberties with his mostly guttural and fire-fearing interpretation. Simultaneously, the Hulk’s communications skills weren’t always quite so Cro-Magnon. Famed expressions like “Hulk Smash!” do date back to the 60’s, but originally he, too, was capable of vocalizing much more thoughtful monologues. This devolution of their personalities, the primitive being preferred to the comparatively intellectual earlier, has come to be regarded as their definitive portrayals in public consciousness.

Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a Hulk when the gamma-bomb blows, and the desert moon is bright.

Halflings of varying sorts are present throughout every known cultural folklore.

For decades, the aspect of the Hulk that’s been most left in the dark is what conceptually switched on the metamorphosis. If you don’t piss him off by reminding him that Ed Norton bailed on The Avengers…you should be safe, right? Nope! 1962’s Hulk sought anger management. Yet again playing the horror-cards, the setting sun was what brought on the transformation in his initial six-issue run. Truth is, “Don’t meet me at dusk. You wouldn’t like me at dusk” just doesn’t roar Hulk-ism, but if you fine-tune that to full moons, it worked for someone else. Calling attention to none other than the Wolfman, you have two multiple personality stricken monsters with hearts of gold, thankfully not silver in the one’s case.

Cursed with the burden of lycanthropy, gentle Larry Talbot sympathetically bemoans about the bestial side encased within. The same can be said of the drifting Banner, taking on a nomadic life in hopes of forcing his plaguing problem into harmless solitude. Likewise, both often beg for imprisonment during their lunar lunacy in hopes of causing no harm. Bruce even went as far as to build a containment room in an undersea cave. Yet nothing compares to the extents Larry is willing to go for peace from his werewolfism. Desperately believing the words of one-time Frankenstein-befriended mad scientists in House of Frankenstein, those bizarre brain-swapping orgies depicted in the later universal films falsely promises to cure Talbot’s aliment. However, even this cerebral craziness has a Hulk comic counterbalance. Peter David’s acclaimed run on the hulking hero saw a radical new twist that led to the so-called “smart Hulk,” created by a medical merging of the Banner brain with the physical attributes of the gamma-exposed giant. The film is probably most notable for featuring  Frankenstein’s creation and the lupine Larry duke it out in this early monster mash. Once again we have yet another shared and long-running ritual, comic book superheroes often rallying fan friendly rivalry in their traditional wrestling match-like versus issues.

Hulk in his very Universal laboratory.

Meshing the widespread horror themes of infectious disease and lethal illness, these characters thought-provokingly rekindle anxieties about how much we truly manage our being. The Asimov coined “Frankenstein complex,” the fear of robots, is broken down into the fear of lacking command of your own creations. This resonates as we ask ourselves perplexing and overwhelming questions in the consuming darkness of the night. Are we somehow responsible for our own downfalls, our greatest fears self-destructively resulting in their very rising and hurting of those for who we care the most? For beyond anything else, the depth of these narratives lies in the fundamental question they ask: Are we, like the metaphors of Hulk and Wolfman or the imaginings of Victor Frankenstein, our own worst enemy?

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