Random Blogness: The Spy who Smashed Me
The key to a good story? Put the Hulk in a suit.
Considering the character, it seems like an unusual move, but you can’t argue with results. From having the Hulk assume the identity of Joe Fixit, the most feared leg-breaker in Las Vegas, to pitting him against the Chicago mob (and winning thanks to puppies!), some of the most fun stories involving the Hulk have come when the big guy is dressed his best. Carrying on with that theory, the newest Hulk story is the best thing on the shelves his month, and it features the jade giant going all James Bond in a story titled “The Spy Who Smashed Me.”
This issue pretty much embodies why I love comic books. The villain Tyrannus, who is an immortal Roman Emperor, has stolen Pandora’s Box and framed the Hulk. He’s also teamed up with Bruce Banner’s wife, who is herself undergoing an unstable mutation that might transform her permanently into a Hulk-like creature. So there’s a lot of drama. But there’s also a major sense of fun. Thanks to a kid genius named Amadeus Cho arming Banner with a tuxedo that changes size whenever he shapeshifts, both Banner and the Hulk are decked out like Roger Moore. And they’re running around with a beautiful historian while fighting subterranean creatures and trying to save the world in the type of spy thriller than can only make sense in comic books.
That’s not to say that the story is just a bunch of James Bond jokes, either – although there are plenty. There’s actually some really good character moments. The poor woman who gets forced to tag along on the adventure witnesses several transformations between Banner and the Hulk, with each talking about how much they hate the other. The Hulk pops up and says that Banner’s an idiot for trying to chase down his ex-wife, then Bruce emerges and says that the Hulk loves Betty Banner more than he does. It really highlights the contrast between the intellectual Doctor Banner and the emotional typhoon that is the Hulk. Moreover, having a total newcomer standing by demonstrates very well that Bruce Banner is very definitely insane in a clinical sense.
To slow down on my gushing for a bit and look at the issue as a writer, I think that exchange highlights what makes this story strong. When some writers do a light-hearted or joke story, they sacrifice characterization, making the characters act differently than normal to conform to their story. In this case, the characters are recognizable and continue developing, but writer Greg Pak does a great job of fitting them in a fish out of water kind of scenario where the ill-tempered Hulk has to play super spy and the nerdy Banner has to act suave and charming. Moreover, the characters chosen for the story play well off of each other, with the wise-cracking kid genius Amadeus Chotesting his comedic wit against the more subdued Banner, and with a poor woman who has no idea what’s going on being forced to interact and analyze the Hulk, who isn’t about to stop smashing things so he can give her a tutorial.
Many, many comics these days tend toward one of two extremes, either focusing on off-the-wall humor at the expense of characterization or going overly maudlin in an attempt to highlight the characters’ personal dramas. I much prefer a balance of the two elements; the best stories out there tend to have plenty of good comedic moments and character moments, often at the same time. The balance of the two is something that I’m trying to get right in Meddling Heroes, though I may need another draft to fully smooth out the transitions and define the characters, and it’s one of the reasons why I was gushing about Thor the Mighty Avenger a few days ago. And in my writing endeavors in the future, I’ll definitely be looking at “The Spy Who Smashed Me” as an example of how to get the balance right.
All this, and I haven’t even touched upon the fact that the story takes Tyrannus, a guy who has been a joke character practically since his introduction in 1962, and turns him into an affable, cunning, and effective villain. This is seriously a really, really good issue, and I just needed to gush about it for 700 words or so or my head was going to explode.