Why is the Hulk my Favorite Character?

Heart of the MonsterThe Incredible Hulk is far and away my favorite comic book character. In fact, I’ve posed the argument before that he is one of the greatest literary characters of all time. I could delve into the many reasons that he is compelling not only as a superhero but as a creature of horror and a modern allegory. But, no matter what sort of merits I think the character has, the fact is that I only discovered most of them after I became a fan. So what got me hooked on the Hulk in the first place?

Well, truth be told, it was mostly because he was in the right place at the right time.

Incredible Hulk #12

The comic that transformed me from a casual fan to a Hulk fanatic.

An Outlet for Rage

I’ve always liked the Hulk, but I wasn’t always a fan. I enjoyed the character’s appearances on Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends and I was fascinated by the existence of the gray Hulk in the 1980s. But I didn’t really get obsessed with the character until I was 18 years old and going through the worst year of my life.

After high school, I wound up in an abusive relationship with a horrible harpy who sucked away my will to live. Comic books were pretty much the only reasonable source of entertainment I had. They were cheap, so I could afford them even on my dirt salary. They were quick reads, so I could enjoy them in between the moments where I wasn’t working or sobbing, and I could buy them at the convenience store right down the street from my apartment.

One of the comics I bought during this time was The Incredible Hulk #12. I picked it up because it had a picture of the gray Hulk on the cover. Written by Paul Jenkins, the story dealt with the fact that Bruce Banner, who had already been put through the emotional wringer after the death of his wife, had recently discovered that he had ALS. As his body decayed, his rage grew not because he was about to die but because he knew that the Hulk wouldn’t. Banner’s intellect would disappear, and the Hulk would become a creature of pure, unfettered rage. The narration, written in the first person, painted a picture of a man who was trapped in the worst scenario he could imagine.

So yeah…the rage-filled kid who felt trapped in an inescapable situation became a fan of the rage-filled hero who was trapped in an inescapable situation. Small wonders.

The plot of The Incredible Hulk #12 is what most would call inaccessible to the casual fan. Bruce Banner goes into his own mind and faces the multiple incarnations of the Hulk, including the child-like Hulk, the aforementioned gray Hulk, and the smart “Professor” Hulk. But I had the Internet, and I hit fan pages and message boards to find out more about the character. By the time issue #13 hit the stands, I already knew more about the Hulk than most people at Marvel probably did.

Incredible Hulk #103

My favorite issue of my favorite comic.

Beauty and the Beast

My renewed interest in comics and the Hulk lasted me through college, but by the mid-2000s I was in a very different place in life. I no longer had the rage issues I once possessed, I had to keep my entertainment spending on a tight budget, and outside of a few great issues the overall quality of the Hulk’s book had been on a decline for years. All these factors led me to reduce my comic book spending and drop the Hulk’s book for a while. Then Planet Hulk came along.

I got engaged in 2006 and married in 2008, so the concept on long-term love and relationships pretty much dominated my thinking for a period of about two years. During this time, Marvel decided that they needed to get the Hulk off-world so he wouldn’t be a player in their Civil War event, and the result was the Planet Hulk storyline.

I first picked up the comic because it seemed like fun. The Hulk hadn’t really been allowed to cut loose for a while, and putting him on an alien planet where he could swing a battleaxe and fight monsters appealed to my interest in both comic books and fantasy literature. I didn’t realize at the time that it would turn into one of the most touching stories I had read.

In The Incredible Hulk volume 2 #103, the Hulk gets married to a woman named Caiera. I was still more than a year away from getting married myself, but this issue still caught me at the right time to really strike a chord. The Hulk’s wedding issue has since become my favorite comic book, and it resonated enough with me that the placecards at my own wedding read “Hulk” for me and “Caiera” for my wife.

Had I not been on my way to getting married, the issue would still be a good one but it wouldn’t have had the same level of meaning. But as it was I went from somebody who had mostly dropped out of comics to someone who made monthly trips to the comic store part of my routine again.

Incredible Hulks #612

The Hulk and his family.

The Hulk Family

Unlike my marriage, the Hulk’s relationship with Caiera didn’t last. She died a few issues after marrying our hero, and my complaints about the decision to kill her off are a whole other rant for a whole other time. Despite her brief but awesome life in comics, she didn give the Hulk one important thing in death: a child.

Well, actually two children, but we’re not going to get into the whole cosmic twin who tried to destroy the universe thing right now.

The Incredible Hulk #611 came out in August 2010, about two months before my son was born. The issue featured the return of the Hulk, who had been absent from the title since Bruce Banner had all his gamma radiation drained away by Thunderbolt Ross about a year earlier. It also featured an ending that I described as one of the top father-son moments in comics. And it kicked off a slight title change as the book went from being The Incredible Hulk to The Incredible Hulks.

In addition to his son Skaar, the new “Hulk family” included his gamma-irradiated wife Betty, Rick Jones who had become the “A-Bomb,” the Hulk’s cousin Jen (the original She-Hulk), the Hulk’s daughter from an alternate future Lyra, and some members of the warriors who had befriended him during the Planet Hulk storyline.

The theme of the title at this time was that the Hulk, a creature of irresponsible rage, had suddenly found himself responsible for a strange family of his own. And while family can save you, they can also enrage you like nobody else can. The Hulk family lasted a full year, during which time I went from being an irresponsible young man into a parent who had to care for a family. And while the Hulk certainly wasn’t my model for fatherhood, I did connect with the character very much because the themes in his book mirrored the problems I was facing in my own life. “Am I good enough?” “How can I raise a kid when my own childhood was a mess?” “What happens if I teach my son the wrong lessons?” These are all questions that Bruce Banner was asking himself during this time period, and they were also questions I was facing in real life.

Heart of the Monster ending

If I could choose an end point for the Hulk’s story, this page would be it.

The Modern Day

The Incredible Hulks #635 ended the Hulk family arc and largely served as my jumping off point for the series as a whole. While I’ve been keeping up with the character since in order to write comic book reviews, I haven’t been as invested in the character due to the general inconsistency of the title and the fact that Marvel quietly got rid of the stuff that I really liked about the Hulk family as soon as they could, presumably because they bought into the false line of thinking that characters with families aren’t accessible to readers or don’t make for good drama.

Although I’ve cooled on the character in recent years, he’s already got me hooked. Whenever a new creative team comes in or a major change to the title occurs, I tune in. by now, I want to find reasons to buy more comics about the Hulk.

A common statement tossed about the comic book industry is, “Every comic is somebody’s first.” This is quite possibly true. It is also true that any comic could be the one that hooks a new reader. I can give a million reasons why I love the Hulk as a character, but the reason he’s my favorite character? Pure coincidence – the Hulk stories I read at certain times in my life just happened to resonate with me because of what I was experiencing at the time. Had I picked up a copy of the Iron Man Demon in a Bottle trade, I’d probably be a gigantic Iron Man fanboy (and would also probably be less flippant about his alcoholism).

A comic book writer has no way of knowing what sort of reaction he’ll get when he writes a story. But as long as the writer focuses on telling a good story with a real human connection at its core, the tale has the potential to hook new readers.

I became a fan of a medium filled with rage monsters, space cats, and magical flying men because I happened to pick up a story that made me feel less alone when I was going through the worst time in my life. It seems weird that such a thing can happen, but it does happen all the time.

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