Thursday’s Throwback – The Original Hulk – Bruce Banner

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Robert Bruce Banner – The end of an era or another example of Marvel’s diversity campaign run amok?

Marvel has been re-vamping it’s character base and diversifying, making mainstay superheroes that were once predominantly, white and male, into a variety of ethnic and gender groups with some success and some just laughable. Ms. Marvel is Muslim, Ice-man is gay, Captain America is African-American, Spider-man is a mixed race, Iron Man is soon to be a teenage African American woman, Thor is female and the Hulk is a young Asian kid who likes being the Hulk. None of this is wrong or bad, though it may get some comic purists up in arms. But for me it would be awesome if it just wasn’t a blatant attempt at promoting and pandering to the current social and political climate in America. Which by the way, doesn’t buy your comic books in the first place Marvel. I would honestly like to know when was the last time any of those ladies on The View actually bought and read a comic?

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But with the Hulk, Marvel actually took this change a bit further. Past, for now, the point of no return. They not only made the alter ego of the Hulk a minority, they murdered the original. Shot him through the head with an arrow (which may be the only relevant comic book act Hawkeye has ever done, with the exception of screwing some of Marvel’s most damaged and attractive female superheroes) as he protests his innocence.

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Bruce Banner is dead, so let’s take a moment to look back at the original Bruce Banner. A brilliant, but troubled and lonely man.

Banner was the product of an abusive childhood. His father, Brian Banner was an atomic physicist, and an alcoholic who routinely lost control and beat both Bruce and his mother Rebecca. This treatment led Bruce to become withdrawn and as he was quite science nerd; he was also bullied when he was school. When he grew into a young man, his brilliance came to the attention of the military where he pioneered some of the early work into gamma radiation. But his withdrawn and quiet nature led him to be bullied by the military personnel around him and his unrequited love for Betty Ross (a General’s daughter no less) created a fragile psyche that would be unleashed in a terrible moment.

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During a test in a blast zone, a young boy, Rick Jones, wanders onto the test site and into danger. Banner rushes out and shield the boy from the blast, taking the full brunt of the gamma radiation himself. This selfless and heroic act splits his personalities into two separate personas. When Bruce Banner becomes upset and under stress, the mild mannered Banner transforms into the raging behemoth known only as the Hulk.

But this is not about the Hulk, it is about Banner. Puny Banner. Hulk smash.

Bruce would now go into hiding, not to protect himself, but to protect the world from the monster he would become. He would wander the country and then the world and eventually the Universe trying to keep the Hulk under control. When it benefited mankind and the superhero universe, the Hulk would become a valued team member as in his stint with the Avengers. But it should also be noted that it was these same “friends” of the Hulk that betrayed and exiled him into space. Marooning him on a distant planet where he would have to become a gladiator and wage war just to survive.

The Hulk and Bruce Banner characters were patterned after Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But it is better said that it was more of a Victor Frankenstein and his Monster comparison. Unlike Hyde, the Hulk is not inherently evil, just when he loses control he doesn’t understand the damage he is capable of doing.

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Banner for his part is simply out of his element. While the Hulk is every part of him that would be considered bad, you cannot come away from the early books without the sense that Banner actually envies as well as fears the Green monster. Actually grey in the first few issues.

Consider this, there have been various movies featuring the Hulk, but it is only in the television show that an actual actor played the big guy. Lou Ferrigno. It was the character of Bruce Banner that gave this medium its only success with the Hulk.

Though the television show, which ran from 1978 – 1982, was called The Incredible Hulk, there was little doubt that the star of the show was actually Dr. David Banner (no real reason is given for the name change) portrayed by Bill Bixby. The role is iconic. So is the catch phrase, “Mr. McGee don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” Bixby and the series proved that besides Batman and Superman, a superhero television show could work and not be ridiculously campy and goody two shoes.  Bixby’s Banner was a modern day Fugitive, pursued by intrepid reporter Jack McGee, Banner searches for a cure and in the process, saves lives, does good and overall is as much a hero as the green guy.

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Perhaps that is problem, because since then, the movies of the Hulk have flopped. With the CGI effects, the computer generated Hulk has been more of the star and unfortunately hasn’t met with much success. Several reasons. 1) the stories sucked, 2) the bad guys sucked and 3) the actors Eric Bana and Ed Norton sucked as Banner. Like in sucking on a grapefruit kind of sucked.

Mark Ruffalo however, doesn’t suck. True he has not taken the character out on a solo run and has only been part of the team, but still, one can tell that he has given Banner more than a cursory review. Perhaps Ruffalo has simply done the character the respect of understanding the simple truth, that Bruce Banner is just as important as his counter-part.

But now Banner is dead. An arrow through his head from one of his so called friends. Seriously, with friends like the Avengers, who needs Ultron? Granted Hawkeye did it at the behest of a vision shown to him by the Inhuman Ulysses and on the orders of Captain Marvel. It should also be noted that at this time Banner is free of the Hulk and just a regular kind of guy, albeit a genius scientist who may have been trying to radiate himself with gamma rays again. Still that didn’t keep Hawkeye from executing him on the spot.

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So the Hulk goes on, but the man who gave birth to him is gone. A great scientific mind whose life was one of pain and trauma and regret. An abused child. An outcast. A fugitive and outlaw. A man whose love dies from radiation poisoning that he blames himself for. Who when he finally thinks he has friends, is betrayed by them, marooned on a distant planet and eventually murdered by them.

Bruce Banner was far more Frankenstein than Jekyll and Hyde. Hated and feared, misunderstood and driven away. He often had more to fear from the world than the world had to fear from him. Yet he still tried to save the world time after time. Some of my favorite Hulk stories are when he is coupled with the Wolverine and for any Hulk fan, the fairly recent Planet Hulk and World War Hulk are not to be missed. A very different Banner is to be found in the original short series Old Man Logan.

Bruce Banner is dead. But this is comic books and no one stays dead for long. Thing is, when he comes back, will he be angry?

 

Puny Marvel….

 

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