Deconstructing A Monster

Quite possibly one of the most tortured characters of the Marvel Universe, the Hulk is a massive, walking enigma. He is the epitome of not judging a book by its cover. As a man, Bruce Banner is neither physically imposing nor overwhelming. A quiet, mild mannered scientist, Bruce walks through life in a reserved fashion. But take time to dig a little deeper, and one will find that this man is hiding a tragic past. Even worse, he’s hiding a monster. As the Hulk, Bruce is constantly kept under harsh scrutiny because of the danger he presents. Often times, heroes included, the good the Hulk has done is ignored and focus is placed on his destructive capabilities. In both instances, in both personas, Bruce’s true potential is ignored. When putting together this article, I wanted to really get to the core of the Hulk. In my heart, I knew the Hulk was more than what the general masses see him as, an unstoppable, destructive monster fueled by rage. I knew that there had to be something more than the anger that initiated the transformation that sent this jade giant stomping away. In order to do this, I enlisted the help of Gary M. Miller, writer, blogger, and purveyor of all things Hulk, and he proceeded to school me in the Hulk mythos.

Steven: Bruce Banner seems to be repressing a lot of heavy stuff throughout his life, whether its child abuse issues alluded to in his past or even The Hulk persona itself. Do you think that it is his inner rage from these repressed issues that fuel The Hulk persona?

Gary: Certainly rage is a big part of what makes the Hulk…well, the Hulk. Anger and stress have been integral to the character since the mid-sixties, when Stan Lee and Steve Ditko first had Banner changing to the Hulk from those causes. It was only in the eighties with the advent of the “dark” comics of the era that the psychological exploration of Bruce Banner began. Bill Mantlo’s story “Monster” laid the foundations, showing Banner’s tortured childhood for the first time. Then Peter David came along and, years later, definitively established that it was young Bruce’s unwillingness to become like his father–after seeing the rage and violence Brian Banner directed both at Rebecca (Bruce’s mom) and Bruce himself–that contributed to his initial repression. He shoved every negative emotion he associated with his S.O.B. of a father deep inside himself, whence came the Hulk. Creating another personality to deal with trauma is common in cases of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Really, I tend to think Banner’s habit of repressing the parts of his personality he doesn’t like has continued. The Hulk’s identity reflects everything Banner doesn’t want the world seeing about himself at any given time. Generally, the Hulk has sublimated all that emotion, including passion, into pure, unbridled rage. But as we’ve seen in recent stories, like Greg Pak’s “Planet Hulk,” if Banner is forced to stay on the inside and let the Hulk maintain control, some of his more honorable, heroic traits can be seen in his alter-ego, as well.

Steven: Throughout his life, The Hulk has been persecuted by heroes and the military due to the immediate danger that he imposes should he lose control. What effect do you think this has on Banner/Hulk?

Gary: One of the comparisons I like to draw when talking about the Hulk and his fellow heroes who see him as a menace is between the Green Goliath and the Fantastic Four’s Ben Grimm, aka the Thing. In a way, it’s the perfect match-up, as each sees things they admire and even covet about the other. The Thing wants to be able to change back and forth between his human and rocky forms, like Banner can change back and forth into the Hulk. Meanwhile, the Hulk longs for the acceptance that the Thing enjoys in spite of his monstrous appearance. Vis-a-vis the military, it’s a tricky thing, as without the military’s initial involvement–at least in the comics and movies, if not the TV show–there wouldn’t be a Hulk. I mean, Banner might still have another personality, but it wouldn’t have super powers. General Ross has as much blame in creating the Hulk as Banner himself. It’s Ross who has the most interesting dynamic, torn between duty to his country (ending the Hulk’s “menace”) and love for his family (helping his daughter Betty, who loves the man who becomes the monster he seeks). Banner can’t afford to take the conflict as personally as Ross can and has over the years. Banner has seen the good that the Hulk can do if shepherded by friends who understand him and foster his growth. Unfortunately, his fellow heroes and the military tend to embrace the catastrophes over the times where the Hulk’s done some good. It’s a source of frustration to both Banner and the Hulk that no matter what good he does, no matter what villain he defeats or what mad schemes he stops, someone is always looking for him to slip up, always looking for the least excuse to drum up the “monster” epithet. It must make the Hulk actually want to sometimes be the very thing they believe he is–but then, in the back of his mind, he remembers that if he goes down that path, he becomes that which caused his personality to fragment in the first place.

Steven: What kind of pressure do you think Banner/Hulk is under to control himself, and how do you think this effects his psyche?

Gary: Although Banner has occasionally gained control of the Hulk’s body and done good deeds while so empowered, he’s traditionally been under enormous strain to keep the Hulk bottled up. In a way–especially during the days when anger triggered his changes–it ended up a self-fulfilling prophecy: The more he would try to rein himself in, the more often he would find himself in situations conducive to the Hulk coming out. There’s a saying that goes something like, “The world would be a great place if not for all the people in it.” To Banner and to the Hulk, people equal conflict, and conflict yields anger. Since he can’t control other people, he must either get away from everyone, or at least make the attempt to control himself better. In the sixties he used tranquilizers, and if the Comics Code hadn’t been in effect, he’d have likely used stronger stuff. About ten years ago–and I’m surprised it took so long for Marvel to use the idea–writer Bruce Jones had Banner using yoga and meditation to control his moods, and hence, the monster within him. The idea was also used in the ’08 movie starring Edward Norton, although they really didn’t get anywhere with it until the very end. Then you had those occasions where Banner only became the Hulk at nightfall, taking anger out of the equation entirely. It’s those times that were best served by having teen Rick Jones–the kid that ran out on the G-Bomb test site in the first place–lock him up behind a great big concrete door in one of Banner’s secret labs. But when the Hulk can end up hundreds of miles away in a single night, that solution isn’t practical. Can you imagine the frequent flier miles Banner would rack up trying to return to that lab, every night? It also isn’t as if his wallet’s guaranteed to survive when he “hulks out.” It’s got to be some consolation that the Hulk, for the most part, tries to do the right thing, and will do the right thing as long as the puny humans do their best to leave him alone. Somewhere, deep inside the Hulk, a part of Banner’s personality keeps him from crossing the line. A legitimate worry, then, becomes what would happen to the Hulk if Banner ceased to be? Could the Hulk exist without Banner to balance his savagery?

You can find Gary’s Blog at http://www.delusionalhonesty.com/

About Steven Brewer

I’m a lifelong comic book fan. Comics pulled me in at an early age, with influences ranging from Chris Claremont’s historic X-Men run, Walt Simonson’s Thor run, Mike Zeck’s run on The Punisher limited series, Jim Lee’s X-Men, the early 90’s X-Men animated series, and the best cartoon ever made, Batman: The Animated Series. As a kid, these comics and cartoons gave me a new world to go to when the real world wasn’t so nice. Because of this, comic books will always have a special place in my heart. I love everything about comics, and still get the same feeling reading them today as I did when I was a kid. My major in college was psychology, so I love to incorporate that into comics.
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