Sunday, August 05, 2012

Reader's Diary #848- Steve Henglehart, Chris Claremont, Mary Jo Duffy and illustrated by Herb Trimpe, Jack Abel, Ken Landgraf, and George Perez: Marvel Treasury Edition #26, The Rampaging Hulk

This summer I was recounting with my cousin my minimal experience with superhero comics as a young boy. I had a Justice League Viewmaster Projector and I used to watch the cheesy Spider-man cartoon reruns and the equally(?) cheesy serials Incredible Hulk starring Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk and Batman reruns with Adam West. That's it-- no experience with the actual comics themselves.

Yet, with my son being interested in superhero comics which in turn has gotten me into them, and the new batch of movies being... well, great, I've been thinking that I really missed out as a kid. So this summer when my father in law gave us 3 Marvel Treasury Editions from the early 80s, I was very excited to see exactly what I missed out on.

Maybe I'm better off. As I say, I relatively new to the whole comic book thing, but from what I gather, things started to change with Frank Miller and Alan Moore in the 1980s, when they started giving the comics more of an edge and more mature story lines. Of course, not everyone was thrilled with this. Even Mordecai Richler weighed in on the Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, suggesting that the story was too convoluted and that kids wouldn't get it. Without having read that one, it seems like a valid complaint nonetheless. But where were the writers to go? Could they appeal to an audience that was growing up? And if so, would that run the risk of losing their child audience?

In 2012, I can say that it doesn't necessarily need to be one or the other. I took my son to see the Avengers and Spider-man, but I wouldn't take him to Batman. Which is okay, by the way, I don't think it all needs to be family fare. The adults can have Bat-man, the kids can have Superhero Squad (okay, so I like those too). What I'm saying is, I like where comics have come. There's room for all demographics. But when I look back at an old collection, such as this treasury of Marvel comics, all I can say is, we've come along way.

In the Rampaging Hulk, we see the seeds of the more mature adult story lines, that Miller, Moore, Christopher Nolan, Josh Whedon and others must have been attracted to but were almost lost beneath so much camp and blather. The camp wasn't surprising. The old Batman show thrived on it. (Zam! Thwack! Holy timebomb Batman!) But the blathering was the more intrusive. So rarely did the writers let the panels speak for themselves. The very first panel in "To Destroy The Monster," for instance, shows a bog beneath a blanket of fog. Above it the writers have written, "Night... and fog... and the dull swampy bog..." Either they had no faith in their artists, or no faith in their readers to understand the picture. For an adult, this is rather annoying. But that's not the least of the problems.

So we all loved the Avengers. For some reason, we like to mash things up and see what happens. It's why whenever a bunch of drunk guys get together they argue about who would win in a fight between a tiger and a polar bear. (A tiger, by the way.) Yet, it's not always a slam dunk. Remember how badly the third Spider-man movie was panned, mostly due to the inclusion of too many villains? "To Destroy the Monster" and its follow up story, "The Hate of the Harpy" suffer the same fate. What begins as an intriguing development of turning a former love interest (Betty Ross) into a foe, suddenly gets lost beneath a mess of other villains (the Bi-Beast, MODOK, and then an entire island of giant, grotesque monsters.)

Returning for a moment to Bi-Beast. I doubt this monster will make an appearance in any future Hulk movies, at least not without a name change, for obvious reasons. And that illustrates another issue with revisiting these old comics. They're terribly out of date with current political correctness. Of course, many may argue that we've become too sensitive to such issues, but I still have issues with the stereotypical portrayal of the Hulk's black friend Jim. He has an afro and talks a little more street that anyone else. Not that a black person couldn't have had an afro and talked more street, but it seemed to hint at racism. (Researching for this post, it seems that Jim eventually becomes a superhero in his own right called the Falcon, but dies of AIDS— I guess comics had REALLY grown up at that point!). Even more offensive was the short comic at the end of the treasury starring the Wolverine and Hercules. Wolverine is doing his manly-man bit and the women, who he refers to as "chicks," are man-crazy airheads. He also refers to Hercules as a "fairy" and "tinkerbell." Geez, if these comics were aimed at impressionable children, maybe I'm fortunate to have missed them! (Then, I was still allowed to watch Three's Company and I turned out okay, so maybe there would have been no harm done.)

Anyway, I don't mean to slam it all too hard. Clearly, beneath it all were some very creative ideas and characters. Still, I think I'll look ahead more than backwards!


Nikki in Niagara said...

Oh John, John, John. {shaking head}

You can send me your three MTE's to be appreciated LOL!

My husband was never into superheroes as a boy either. He was too busy playing sports as a kid. Whenever new movies comes out my son & I have to explain to him who everybody is :-)

Unknown said...

I did read comic books as a kid, but never the Hulk. No one I knew read the Hulk. Just saying.

This was a long time back mind you. I stopped buying them when the price went up from .75 cents. I figured I could buy a decent book at the local used book store for the same price and moved on to fantasy novels.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I don't think I can watch the Avengers without expecting to see Emma Peel and John Steed saunter onscreen.