Crowning Moments of Awesome: The Incredible Hulk
Welcome to a new section that I’m calling Crowning Moments of Awesome. The goal of this section is to show enough awesome stuff from one single character to make the reader’s head explode. And who better to kick the section off than my favorite fictional character of all time, the Incredible Hulk?
Listed below you’ll find my take on the ten most awesome moments in the Hulk’s comic book history. They’re unashamedly biased, and you might notice that fully 40% of them come from the last few years of comics. That’s because the last five years or so of Hulk comics have been terrific.
So, without further ado, let’s look at what makes the Hulk incredible.
#10: Hulk takes on Zeus (The Incredible Hulks #622)
When things go bad for Spider-Man, he sells his marriage to the Devil. When things go bad for the Hulk, he picks a fight with God.
In the recent Chaos War event, the Hulk and his family (yes, he has a family of gamma-powered beings now) played a key role in defeating a creature that threatened to plunge the universe into the chaos that existed before the dawn of time. In doing so, Zeus, the most powerful of the Greek gods, was returned to life. He raised a new Mount Olympus right off the eastern coast of the United States. As of this writing, this is the most recent issue of the Hulk, so the full ramifications of the event have yet to be explored.
Upon creation being remade and Zeus being reborn, the Hulk noticed that his family was still suffering. His son Skaar is an alien monster and an outcast. His best friend Rick is stuck as a gamma monster and severely injured by the events of the Chaos War. His wife Betty has been made crazy and turned into a red She-Hulk. The Hulk can take a lot of pain himself, but when it comes to his family, he doesn’t tolerate it. So in an attempt to help his family, the Hulk climbs Olympus and calls in a favor from Zeus. Zeus, not a kind or rational god, immediately attacks the Hulk. What results is a beatdown of epic proportions. Unfortunately, it’s the Hulk who gets pummeled. Nonetheless, even on the brink of death, the Hulk stays steadfast in his demand: “Just give them what you owe them.” As it turns out, this is the Hulk’s way of dying for the salvation of his family. It doesn’t work, but you’ve got to admire the balls it takes to hop up and punch a god in the face.
#9: Top of the World, Sym (The Incredible Hulk Annual #13)
In the 1980s, Bruce Banner committed psychic suicide, resulting in a totally mindless rampaging Hulk. To protect the world, Doctor Strange cast a spell that banished the Hulk to a dimensional crossroads where he could do no harm. The result was a lot of pain for the Hulk, who took beatings issue after issue in his search for peace. He did eventually find some happiness when an alien symbiote, Sym for short, attached himself to the Hulk and brought back some of his intellect. Sym and the Hulk formed a bond of friendship, but Sym soon began to die. His dying request was for the Hulk to climb the tallest mountain in his world so he could be as close as possible to the stars. Bear in mind that the Hulk was in a world where his strength did not matter – for him, climbing that high was like an unprepared man going off to summit Everest. Driven by friendship, though, the Hulk endured the pain and the elements and granted Sym his dying request. This issue, penned by the great Bill Mantlo, is the saddest you will ever feel about a skeletal symbiotic alien snake…thing.
#8: Hulk versus Vector (The Incredible Hulk #398)
Meet Vector. He’s a member of the supervillain group known as the U-Foes. He has the power to repel matter away from him. He usually uses this to knock opponents away, dig through the Earth, or even send things hurtling off into orbit. When he turns his full force against the Hulk in the Ghosts of the Past storyline, he winds up flaying away our hero’s skin and 90% of his body mass. What does the Hulk, now a mass of skeletal muscle and bone, do about this? He crawls toward Vector, enduring the pain long enough to knock the punk out. The Hulk then veered into the realm of too much information by regenerating with his massive healing abilities and finishing the issue without pants, giving all the men in the room a massive inferiority complex and answering a question about his gamma-irradiated anatomy that nobody really wanted to know.
#7: Ten Times as Mad (The Incredible Hulk #270)
One of the Hulk’s key powers is that the madder her gets, the stronger he gets. The villain known as the Galaxy Master learned that the hard way. The Galaxy Master is basically a poor man’s Galactus, traveling the cosmos and destroying worlds, but he is more overtly evil than Galactus. In his second encounter with the Hulk, he powered up the Hulk’s old enemy, the Abomination, to a level of strength that doubled the Hulk’s own. (I don’t know how you can accurately measure double immeasurable strength, but the Galaxy Master did.) The Abomination proceeded to kill entire planets, and the Hulk became the champion chosen to stop him. This resulted in a seemingly anticlimactic showdown where the Abomination took the Hulk down in a matter of seconds. While he was gloating, though, the Hulk got up. Turns out that the Hulk doesn’t appreciate seeing innocent people dying. In fact, it really pisses him off. The Hulk then pointed out that the Abomination could be ten times as powerful as the Hulk and it wouldn’t matter – the Hulk would just get ten times as mad. The Abomination was lucky and survived the encounter, although he developed a pathological fear of the Hulk that lasted for years as a result. The Galaxy Master wasn’t so lucky – this was his last appearance. Ever.
#6: A Friend in Need (The Incredible Hulk #388)
Back in the 1970s, the Hulk picked up a sidekick named Jim Wilson. This was pretty progressive for the era, since Jim was black when black characters didn’t really get acknowledged in comics. The Hulk didn’t care about skin color – he just knew that Jim was nice to him, so he regarded Jim as a good friend. Later in the 90s, the Hulk went through some super-therapy that resulting in Bruce Banner’s split personality getting treated, melding the minds of Banner and the Hulk together and resulting in a big green guy who was super-smart while still being super-strong and aggressive. The transformation did a number on Bruce’s wife Betty, who became estranged from him for a little while on account of Bruce suddenly being big, green, and Hulkish. While this was going on, Jim Wilson returned with the revelation that he had AIDS.
What makes this a Crowning Moment of Awesome is the Hulk’s reaction to it. This was in the early 90s, when AIDS hysteria was huge. And leave it to a big green comic book character to do the right thing while everyone in the real world was freaking out and spreading misinformation. The Hulk stood by his friend. Near the end of the issue, Betty asks the Hulk whether he’s curious as to how Jim got it. And the Hulk’s reaction is what any good friend’s would be: it doesn’t matter how he got it. Given the time period, the terror of the virus, and the notion a lot of people held that AIDS was some sort of punishment for gays and drug-users, this was an amazingly emotional event. Hulk is the strongest one there is, folks, whether you’re talking about supervillains or AIDS.
(Sadly, Jim would die of the virus in a later issue. Where he got AIDS was never revealed and, as the Hulk pointed out, doesn’t matter.)
#5: Unbreaking the World (The Incredible Hulk, volume 3, #102)
In 2006, a group of the Marvel Universe’s finest minds thought it would be a good idea to blast the Hulk into space. The ship went off course and the Hulk landed on a savage world known as Sakaar. Thus began the awesome Planet Hulk storyline, which was basically Gladiator with aliens and gamma-irradiated monsters. The major theme of the story was that people of Sakaar had two mythic figures: the Sakaarson, who was basically alien Jesus for them, and the World Breaker, who…well, broke worlds. The people of Sakaar thought that the Hulk was the second coming of the Sakaarson, while the Hulk feared that he was really the World Breaker. At the event’s climax, the corrupt Red King of Sakaar, realizing that fighting the Hulk was useless, triggered a doomsday device that cracked Sakaar’s tectonic plates and threatened to tear the world apart. One of the Hulk’s allies stated to him that not even he could save the day. This actually turned out to be a clever plan on the friend’s part – telling the Hulk not to do something is like a Bond villain saying, “Nobody could have survived that.” In response to the naysaying, the Hulk jumped into a river of lava, grabbed the tectonic plates of Sakaar, and pulled them back together. The World Breaker unbroke his world.
Impossible? You bet your ass it is. But don’t tell that to the Hulk.
#4: Hulk versus Onslaught (Onslaught: Marvel Universe)
If you’re like me and you got into Marvel Comics in the 1990s, you probably have a deep-rooted hatred of two things: the Clone Saga from Spider-Man and Onslaught. Onslaught was an X-Men villain who came about when Magneto ripped out Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton, resulting in Professor X erasing Magneto’s brain and…I don’t know. Somehow he kidnapped Reed and Sue Richard’s uber-powered reality-warping kid and threatened the whole universe or something. It made no sense even by comic book standards. What’s worse, this crossover infected everything in the Marvel Universe. I remember desperately looking for a Marvel comic that didn’t reference Onslaught, and I could not find one. It even intruded upon the Clone Saga, for chrissakes. The Hulk got screwed too, as an excellent storyline got derailed because some jackwagon editor said, “Hey, we need the Hulk in this thing, too.”
Whatever the hell Onslaught was, he was ungodly powerful. He stopped the Juggernaut. He whupped the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and the Avengers combined. Then, in the climax of the story, the Hulk stepped in. He had Jean Grey of the X-Men “turn off” the Banner part of his brain, unleashing a pissed off, fully enraged Hulk. Onslaught still handled the Hulk fairly well, but he made the mistake a lot of people do when they’re winning a fight against the Hulk: he gloated. As a result, the Hulk got madder, got stronger, and punched Onslaught so hard that he created a hole in reality. Yeah, You know when Superboy Prime punched reality and broke it in Inifinite Crisis? He was just ripping off the Hulk. Because the Hulk is a trend setter.
Does this moment really rank among the most awesome moments ever? Yes. Because without the Hulk’s intervention, this fucking event would still be happening today. Trust me – if you didn’t read comics in the 1990s, you were lucky.
#3: The Hulk Returns Home (Incredible Hulk, volume 3, #105)
Spoiler alert: Planet Hulk ends in tears. Although the Hulk overthrows the Red King and becomes the ruler of a brave new world, the Red King’s loyalists sabotage the ship he arrives in, blowing up most of the planet and killing the Hulk’s pregnant wife. The Hulk won’t find the true perpetrators behind the distaster until after he’s blamed the dickhead heroes of Earth and gone on a total smashfest in the crossover event World War Hulk. Really, all of World War Hulk could be considered a moment of awesome, especially when the Hulk finally gets to beat down that blond pussy known as the Sentry. Out of them all, though, I’m going to pick the image here: the last shot from Planet Hulk. The Hulk is in gladiatorial armor, wearing the crown of his destroyed home world, wielding a sword he forged himself, and riding outside his spaceship on the way back to Earth. Yeah…unlike Batman, the Hulk actually can breathe in space. This image, beautifully penciled by Carlo Pagulayan who is just as responsible for Planet Hulk‘s awesomeness as writer Greg Pak, is one of the most badass things I’ve ever seen. There’s a reason why I use it as the intro image to the Comics section. To get something more awesome than this, you’d have to get Bruce Lee and Abraham Lincoln riding on cybernetic space sharks while jamming on nuclear-powered laser guitars. And heck, I still don’t think it would be a more awesome image unless you involved Shaft or Mr. T.
By the way, the Hulk literally has the sword just for show. I don’t think he actually uses it in any of the fights in World War Hulk. He spent time forging that thing just so he could look awesome. And it totally works.
#2: The Wedding of the Hulk (The Incredible Hulk, volume 3, #103)
Like I said, I love the writing of Greg Pak and the entire Planet Hulk storyline. And for all the fun stuff in it that you can only get away with in comics, it’s the wedding to Caiera the Oldstrong that I love the most.
Caiera was a slave and bodyguard to the Red King. The romance between her and the Hulk got built up over the full year and a half that Planet Hulk went on. An alien creature with magical stone-based powers, Caiera began as the Hulk’s enemy, then joined him in battle against the Red King. She was offered to the Hulk by her people as a bodyguard when the Hulk became king, but the Hulk instead said he wanted a bride. Thus we get this lovely scene. For most of Planet Hulk, Banner remained suppressed, as Sakaar was too dangerous for him not to be the Hulk. Here, when asked to reveal all his secrets, the Hulk finally lets Banner out, releasing the one part of himself that he hates.
Bruce Banner is a bit of a serial monogamist. He married an alien queen named Jarella who died in battle, then he married Betty Ross who died and wouldn’t return until after World War Hulk, and then he married Caiera. While both Jarella and Betty cared for and accepted the Hulk, they really loved Bruce. Jarella cared for both sides of Bruce’s psyche, but had no issues with the Hulk personality being gone – in fact, she first met the Hulk when her people had given Bruce Banner control over the Hulk’s body. Betty had a very love-hate relationship with the Hulk, alternately blaming him for all Bruce’s problems and accepting him as necessary. Caiera, though, fell in love with the Hulk, not Bruce Banner. And when Banner’s presence was revealed to her, she loved him too. Caiera would die soon after this, but her last act would be to protect the Hulk’s son Skaar and enable him to grow, thus bringing us the current status quo where the Hulk has a family to care for.
So yeah, the wedding of the Incredible Hulk counts as a crowning moment of awesome. What can I say? I’m a big softie.
And if you’re a Hulk fan, you could have probably guessed the top spot on this list a mile away…
#1: The Mountain Comes to the Hulk (Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #4)
I might wax on and on about literature and romance, but deep down I’m a big goofy man-child who loves the over the top absurdity of comics. Secret Wars had that in spades. Secret Wars was basically a quickly thrown-together crossover event spearheaded by then-editor in chief Jim Shooter in response to DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. It was goofy and stupid, yet it still had some of the most awesome images in Marvel continuity. It also introduced Spider-Man’s black suit and other long-lasting changes to the fictional universe. But none of them match the sheer epic awesome that is Secret Wars #4.
Secret Wars was basically a massive version of my Fights section, but with a sad lack of Bruce Campbell. It pitted a ton of Marvel superheroes against a ton of Marvel villains. One of those villains was the Molecule Man, whose power is that he can do anything with matter. In this case, seeing a ton of superheroes in one spot, he dropped a mountain range on them. Not a mountain – a mountain range. Specifically, a mountain range that was said to dwarf the Andes. Dead heroes, right? Not when the Hulk’s around. Instead we get one of the most iconic, interesting covers in comic book history. Iron Man carved out a small cavern in the falling mountain range, and then the Hulk caught and supported the entire thing. He did this long enough for the heroes to figure a way to get to safety, effectively saving all the major Marvel superheroes (except Thor and a few others who were lucky enough to be outside, but even Thor’s mightiest blows failed to make much more than a dent in the mountain range).
Yeah…the Hulk caught and supported 150,000,000,000 tons of solid rock. Yes, it’s silly and impossible. Yes, physics says that the mountains would have crumbled and/or driven the Hulk straight into the ground like a railroad spike. But keep your damned science out of my comics. Folks don’t watch pornography for the plot, and I don’t read comics for scientific accuracy.
I want, nay, I demand a world where gamma-irradiated behemoths can woo alien shamans, where a man can telekinetically drop a mountain range on someone only to have said someone catch it, where a person’s sheer desperation can cause him to hold a planet’s tectonic plates together with is bare hands, and when someone can actually punch a god in the face if he’s got the guts and determination. I want all of this out of my comics, and to top it all off I want it to have heart. In those moments when my hero is not fighting Greek gods or omnipotent psionic mutant entities, I want to feel the pain of his losses, the depths of his caring for his friends, and the fears he has as he approaches a new love. I am a greedy, greedy fan, and I want it all out of my comics. Fortunately, the Hulk is here to give it to me.