24.4.14

Γ (An Open Letter to Mark Waid)

Mark,

Long time no talk! You probably don't remember me. We talked in Pittsburgh, back at the old ExpoMart. Early on a Friday, absolutely nobody was waiting to talk to you. You signed some Flash comics for me including the introduction of villain du jour Cobalt Blue, the evil twin brother of Barry Allen. You suggested that Cobalt Blue wasn't, strictly speaking, a retconned-in character, because nothing in Barry's history outright stated he wasn't a twin.

One of my favorite Flash storylines. Don't judge. (Art by Steve Lightle.)
What you didn't know and what didn't even matter back then is that I am, was, and probably ever shall be a fan of that green goliath called the Incredible Hulk.

So, maybe I didn't take it so well the other day when the following showed up on your Twitter feed after what I'm sure was a frustrating time at Wondercon:
Now, I'm not about to take you to task over the above comment, which has incensed more than a few Hulk fans who are on my Twitter feed, or who friended me on Facebook, or who hang out on the Hulk Message Board with me, or who read this very blog.

About as angry as most Hulk fans I've talked to lately. Art by Mahmud Asrar.

I've been reading the Hulk's adventures for over thirty years, since I wasn't quite three years old. Long enough to be set in my ways, surely, right? Well, consider that I turned three in 1982 and that my first issue was Incredible Hulk #272, wherein Bruce Banner's personality became ascendant for the first long-term period in the character's existence. Consider that since my very first exposure to the character, he's never really stayed with one status quo for more than a few years at best, and you'll easily understand why I'm very, very comfortable with the concept of change.

You're one of my favorite writers, Mark. "The Return of Barry Allen" is one of my all-time favorite stories. I told Brian Augustyn how much I enjoyed "Chain Lightning" and "Dark Flash" when I saw him here in Arizona a few years ago. I loved Empire and look forward to seeing more of that world after your recent announcement. Captain America, JLA, Amazing Spider-Man, and even Ka-Zar? Terrific! Kingdom Come? Revolutionary! And nobody's brought Daredevil out from Frank Miller's shadow like you. (J.M. DeMatteis and Karl Kesel tried it, but the world just wasn't ready.)

So you, Mark, writing my favorite character? "Bliss" didn't sound like too strong a word, especially when considering the series had really and truly lost something with the departure of Greg Pak, the book's best voice since the departure of Peter David. Sure I was sad to see the book relaunched for the second time in two years, but it went along with the whole "Marvel NOW!" program and legitimately seemed like a new direction. "Hulk destroys, Banner builds"? Who doesn't love the dichotomy?

Waid's journey into Hulkdom begins. Art by Leinil Yu.
Something I didn't like about the run immediately preceding--without even getting into the story--was the constant artistic Armageddon going on. I know I said I liked change, but I prefer consistency in art. I grumble and I grouse that today there are seldom any unbroken artistic runs like in the sixties and seventies, and never at the Big Two. (Ironically, Hulk has been home to not one but two great, long art runs, by Herb Trimpe and Sal Buscema.) Generally, though, the more consistent the look, the more I'm willing to forgive.

So we had Leinil Yu, whom I've always wanted to see take the regular Hulk gig (since Wolverine #145). And then we had Walt Simonson (ditto, since Rampaging Hulk magazine). Then we had Matteo Scalera, the "new guy" with 4 generally good issues right out of the gate...before we ran smack into what must've been a mountain of Dreaded Deadline Doom. Kim Jacinto; Mahmud Asrar; Clay Mann; Miguel Sepulveda; Jheremy Raapack; Tom Grummett; Joe Bennett.

I know you don't have any control when the Doom hits, Mark, but let me tell you, nothing kills momentum like artistic inconsistency--even among artists whose work I casually enjoy. It honestly felt like nobody cared about the book since about the halfway point of "Agent of T.I.M.E." Each issue marked time (yes, please groan) until the relaunch.

So what was I expecting out of Hulk, the new series that started last week? I saw Mark Bagley's name and immediately connected the dots to his unbroken or nearly-unbroken runs on Amazing Spider-Man, Thunderbolts, Ultimate Spider-Man, New Warriors, and Justice League of America. Nothing says "consistency" like adding "Bags" to a project.

Story-wise, that's something different. Since the seventies, more casual fans have identified more with the mute Hulk of the live-action TV show. A mute or near-mute Hulk carried over into both the 2003 and 2008 films as well as Marvel's The Avengers. While it works well enough because of the character's physicality, the Hulk's near-muteness can be a real detriment to the comic book page, working best when hidden behind prose more purple than the Hulk's pants (e.g. Bill Mantlo's "Crossroads" stories) and worst when the Hulk becomes an incredible cipher (e.g. Bruce Jones's horror take of the early 2000s).

The segue into the relaunch. Art by Joe Bennett.

The Hulk is Bruce Banner's rampaging id, yes. Everything Banner represses sublimates into the Hulk, true. But the Hulk works better with a brutish personality, whether it's the craftiness of the Grey Hulk; the canny savagery of the World Breaker; or the unique blend of childlike innocence and blind rage that was the Savage Hulk. (Very few, it seems, can write the latter well anymore, alas.)

When you stray too much from a Hulk who is capable of articulating his rage at being bound to Banner--either by saying "Banner keeps Hulk locked in dark place!" or by imbibing so much booze before dawn that it leaves Banner incapacitated until his next change at dusk--you lose something about the character. The Hulk becomes less a character and more a mindless weapon to aim.

I don't feel that Banner's character development must come at the expense of the Hulk's. However, it seems that's what we've gotten lately. True, from the looks of last week's Hulk #1, you might just be priming us for a reversal of fortune for which I'd be ever so grateful.

I'm anxious, very anxious, at the questions posed between last month's Indestructible Hulk #20 and this issue. How can the Hulk's healing factor be so severely curtailed by two mere bullets? (Clever way to make the Hulk "indestructible" no more.) Who could have infiltrated a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility to make the hit, and why? Could one of Banner's own team be to blame? What does that frightening last page mean for the Banner/Hulk paradigm you've established? How will the physicist we know and love return to normal? And might we still have to worry about Banner's "insurance policy" he worked out with Matt Murdock?

Where the answers begin (we hope). Art by Jerome Opena.

So, you've got a whole lot of questions to answer. Hopefully a smarter Hulk is part of the answer. After all, a Hulk that doesn't talk--much if at all--is an invention of a television producer who by and large looked down at the comics medium. Comics shouldn't be beholden to that portrayal. Comics are, well, comics. So reach higher. Do more.

And for god's sake, "Hulk knows how to con-joo-gate stupid verbs! Hulk is not stupid!" Truth: As was frequently the case during Bill Mantlo's earliest issues as Greenskin's scribe, those around him underestimated the Hulk time and again. Just because the Hulk spoke like a caveman, that didn't mean he was as dumb as one.*

(* - With apologies to the Geico cavemen.)

With a character that's been through as many iterations as the Hulk has over the last 52 years, you're always going to do something that disagrees with part of the readership. You've just got to find balance--between Banner's intelligence and the Hulk's savagery; between loquaciousness and taciturnity; and between what you want to write and what the readers want to read.

Excelsior!

~G.

6 comments:

  1. A respectful, well-written critique of the new (and last) series... and I respectfully agree in regards to the lack of a regular art-team on the previous volume being the biggest problem on the book.
    Looking forward to seeing what both Mark's bring us in future issues... I really enjoyed issue one of this current series!

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    1. I always loved Waid ' s themes..just the execution is so piss poor sometimes

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  2. Good post bro. Wished you could of written this before Agent of T.I.M.E. The end product could of been different

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  3. I think you'll find that's 'could have', not 'could of'. Happy to help.

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    1. In proper English that is true. People don't always speak in proper English though. In the proper forum it is important to do so: a research paper, a major media publication, or on the news. In an informal environment such as this? Nah. Proper English is not necessary.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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I can never tell if two comments from "Anonymous" are really by the same person, so please, especially if I know you from other websites, leave a name or alias or something! Thanks!