Wednesday, September 30, 2009
In the late 1970s, nothing and nobody was bigger than the Hulk. THE INCREDIBLE HULK television show was a smash hit, punnily put, and Marvel Comics (never one to look a gift horse) jumped in with both feet to promote the Hulk in every possible way. I mean, the way comics companies used to do, instead of timing their "death" of Batman in the comics to coincide with the astronomical success of the Batman movie from last year, ridding Batman's comic of, you guessed it, Batman.
No, Marvel in the 1970s went the other way. They had the Hulk shilling everything, in ads, on shirts, on Slurpee cups. And you need a sales boost? Slap the Hulk on the cover. He was better than a gorilla (which in the pulp days used to guarantee sales spikes)...the Hulk was green gold.
There's no doubt the pre-teen me identified with the Hulk of all the superheroes ever. And nothing caught the eye quicker than that brilliant combination of emerald and purple pants on a cover in a spinner rack. The Hulk was instantly accessible and understandable: he wanted only to be the most powerful bum to ever walk the Earth. He took food when he saw it, he jumped down on people's property leaving giant craters from his weight, and if he even saw a puny human he shouted and raged at them to go away. Sociable and the Hulk did not mix. I understood, down to my marrow.
So when I say the Hulk needs to be saved, right now, as a viable character with pathos and meaning, I mean I'm ready for the job. I've had a lifetime of Hulk comics. In my head, I have been the Hulk all my life. I know what it means to Hulk out. In fact, we all do, which is why the character had such lasting appeal.
"Had" is the operative word. The Hulk hasn't been the Hulk in years. Years and years. I'm talking pre-Peter David (the last notable Hulk writer), and certainly not since Sal Buscema (the most prolific Hulk artist) left Jade Jaws behind.
The only blip would have been John Byrne's truncated run in the mid-1980s, one of those vivid redefinitions of the character that we can only speculate on. Byrne departed the title to become the spearhead for DC Comics' revitalization of their Superman franchise, right around Superman's 50th publishing anniversary. We truly will never know what John Byrne might have accomplished, or how the Hulk comic might have altered his life as well. A true mystery.
Going back to John Byrne's take, though, is worthy of attention. Because the one thing Mr. Byrne understood very well: the Hulk is not a man colored green. The Hulk is not human. He's decidedly cro-magnon in appearance (dating back to the master Jack Kirby's "Frankenstein Monster" design for the beast, with prognathous brow, long ape arms, flat anvil head.)
To say the Hulk is not human is cruel, I know, considering how essentially human the Hulk's desires are. Core desires, to eat, to sleep, to be at peace, to not think too much, to enjoy nature. And even to feel grander emotions, of love. Bruce Banner, the scientist the Hulk emerged from, is a repressed guy. He's timid, withdrawn, brilliantly awkward. He's a man who doesn't "belong" in the real world, but he's a genius unparalleled whose work could benefit Mankind. When he transforms into the Hulk, all of his inhibitions are gone, replaced by animal instincts, the kind of instincts that enabled man to survive long enough to evolve and climb out of the trees. To become the dominant life on the planet.
The Hulk is not a psychological construct of Banner's id. The unfortunate process of updating the character has led to this fractured psyche element that never existed in the first place. The Hulk is a common denominator for all of us, a missing link one might say to a primitive yet necessary evolutionary path. The Hulk is not "just" Banner, he's Mankind itself, the core basis for the beast who walks upright, capable of using both brawn and brain to survive any situation. To survive, and to become more.
So I feel like the current writers have missed the point of the Hulk. The rage is but one aspect of a primitive reaction. Banner's anger, his emotional stress, his panic, brings forth the Hulk. He becomes the Hulk to survive. It's a symbolic survival, a scientific version of a warrior's spear and a bear skin to protect against the elements. Banner becomes the most advanced form of Man, as the Hulk...a creature which heralds the primitive instincts while Banner's intellect tames the savagery. The Hulk is actually more evolved, not less.
So the way to fix the Hulk is simple. You get him back to his Kirby look, because as much as I adore Sal Buscema's take, I think the Hulk works better the less human he seems. Right now he looks like a psychopathic steroidal Dolph Lundgren. He's also way too big; the Hulk isn't fifteen feet tall. The purpose of the Hulk, in Kirby's hands, was to show the incredible strength of an ape-like anthropoid. Deceiving strength, in a beast man about as large as a very large human male (seven feet, as noted). When Superman displayed his strength and good looks, he was beloved. When the Hulk, with his bruiser's hairy barrel chest and slouch throws a car, people flee in terror.
Also, erase all indications that the Hulk is a manifestation of Banner's psyche. Ditch that. Not only is it cliche, but it's been used to create more Hulks, Hulks of different colors to indicate different personas. You're de-uniquing the character, Marvel. Cut that out. All you're doing is confusing readers looking for the actual Hulk, who is green and burly and misanthropic, and smashes people who try to capture and kill him. The formula is simple and effective, even now.
Lastly, cap the Hulk's strength. For decades now, the Hulk has been one of the strongest beings on Earth. That's fine, but to have his strength increase proportional to his anger, that really takes the suspense out of a Hulk story. He needs to escape the death trap? He gets angrier, he breaks free of the unbreakable bonds. He is down for the count? Ditto, big knockout punch driven by his Gamma Ray-spawned steroids. The Hulk doesn't need this articulation. It's like Superman always having a super power ready to deal with whatever he needs to deal with. Super-memory, Super-friction, Super-whatever. The Hulk is this strong, and that's it. Anybody stronger than the Hulk is stronger than the Hulk. The cool thing is, when you reach that point, it makes it even more imperative that the Banner part of the Hulk come forward to help Greenskin figure out a physical way around the stronger opponent. A way the Hulk can understand, if you see my meaning, since Banner isn't a football coach inside the Hulk's mind...the two beings are one. The Hulk has to summon Banner's intellect from his subconscious, and Banner has to face his fears and repulsion of the Hulk. To survive. See what I'm getting at?
Anyway, it'll rain tiny Selma Hayeks before I ever get a chance to write the Hulk, but it would be fulfilling. All the way back to some primal origin point only my genetics can recognize.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Monday, September 28, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
That said, Brubaker and Phillips' CRIMINAL is often the best thing on the stands, so any time you see a new arc, pick it up. Bru's tendancies to give a good lapdance is lessened by his innate ability to get inside noir-trodden characters, and Phillips is much more effective as a mood artist than an action one (though he's pretty good at that as well.)
AGENTS OF ATLAS has been cancelled, one of the best comics to come out of Marvel in a long time, which I have to thank all you fine Spider-Man/Batman/"Dark" Avengers buyers for. Thanks for f*cking that up. Jeff Parker and the blossoming talent of artist Gabriel Hardman was producing a comic of full-bodied depth and gratifyingly action-packed dimensions. Parker knows he's writing pure heroin in the form of Pulp, so he throws everything great into a mix of talking gorillas, 1950s robots, secret agents and Uranian saucer men. It's impossible to even describe AGENTS OF ATLAS without nearly weeping from happiness, so I appreciate everyone buying it and keeping it on the shelves. Nice pull, folks.
AGENTS will be extant at Marvel, albeit in crossovers with X-titties and backing up in someone else's comic. Which then forces me to buy a comic I don't want to get the back-up I do. Oh, you Marvel-ous ways.
SECRET SIX by writer Gail Simone and artist Nicola Scott is still pulsating with life, thankfully, at DC, and it's head and shoulders better than anything else the company is producing. Visceral and ethically-challenged, you're in for a treat designed for you, the adult comic book reader. Which means, when you read SECRET SIX, you aren't forcing DC Comics to adultify Superman and Batman (kids' characters) to meet your expectations. The criminal protagonists of SECRET SIX exist in a moral void, yet continue to amuse with their inability to ever truly be evil. No matter how repellant their actions, they still somehow conflict with greater evils than themselves. And I'll say now: Nicola Scott is the best comics artist working right now. That's a fact. She has the exquisite style straight from the pre-1990s, coupled with the ability to draw stunningly sexy women without having to resort to porn poses in order to convince the reader they are, in fact, supposed to be attracted to the female form. Amazingly, Scott's women are beautiful and sensuous the more ragged and sweaty they are, because by god they look like real women would look, instead of some horny teenager's wet dream of the way they look.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Sorry to be crude, folks, but I'm positively enraged whenever I think about it.
I don't know what the perception of Tarzan movies is today, really. At one time, Tarzan movies were as popular as James Bond flicks, and produced on a fairly regular basis. Unlike Bond, Tarzan movies didn't require a huge budget for pyrotechnics. In TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE, the sweaty conflict between the white hunter (the great Anthony Quayle) and Gordon Scott's Tarzan is enough to fully stimulate all the senses. Strange coincidence, Sean Connery (007 himself) has his first major role (as a thuggy bad guy) in this movie. A few years later, Connery is the biggest rising star on the planet.
In a way, Tarzan passed the baton for action movies over to the James Bond franchise, as Tarzan couldn't keep up with the ever-increasing cool factor and budgets of Bond. That's not to say there wasn't some great Tarzan movies in the 1960s (notably, starring Jock Mahoney and Ron Ely as the Ape Lord).
I was born in 1970. It could be argued that Tarzan had been done onscreen as well as he ever could be. My generation grew up on Tarzan movies shown on Sunday mornings on the television. I was educated by Tarzan, who reflected everything I wanted to be.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
That's right, folks, the laughing stock of the superhero set, the character every writer and artist loves to talk about and think about and mess with, the character no one seems to be able to sustain public interest in...Arthur Curry, known as Aquaman.
Honest injun, I don't have an overriding love for Aquaman. I never read Aquaman comics growing up in the 1970s (where he was relegated to ADVENTURE COMICS and his own series for a short time, and then as a back-up in ACTION COMICS "starring Superman by the early 1980s). I did see him on "SuperFriends" along with the rest of my generation. You can all hear the thought-wave sound effect from the cartoon, as Aquaman called his finny friends to help him combat some menace. The effect was cool, and I did dig his orange shirt and green fin-pants combo. But interesting he was not.
The popular comic book writer Peter David took on Aquaman for perhaps the most successful portion of Aquaman's four-color history. Despite the fairly terrible art in the mag, David's approach made sense: chop off Arthur's hand, replace it with a harpoon, put a gnarly beard and long hair on him and Conan the Barbarian him out. And despite myself, after actually recently reading the first 14 issues of the comic, I liked the approach.
But like anything, the approach collapsed once David left the book, and subsequent writers tried to integrate the "classic" Aquaman and the new Aquaman, leading to all kinds of problems. Nobody can or has been able to determine just what it is Arthur Curry brings to the table. Is it the orange shirt? The fish telepathy? The harpoon/magic hand made of water thing? Just saying that is disturbing, isn't it? "Magic hand made of water." It's like the description on a bottle of anal lube.
I was reminded again how much of a challenge the entire conceit is. It isn't just about having an Aquaman solo comic on the shelves; DC Comics doesn't have an interest in what happens to Arthur, unless their star Geoff Johns decides to write him. Then you'll hear the slobbering over how great the character should be, and how Johns will take him there. Well, let's just say Johns doesn't impress me much anymore. Not at all.
I already wrote about some ideas concerning Aquaman in the past. His conceit is difficult, yet not. He's the hybrid son of an Atlantean dame and a human father. Arthur is a caucasoid after his dad, but he can breathe underwater like his mom. Arthur is also of royal blood, so he's really the King of Atlantis, which is full of blue-skinned underwater people. In the 1960s, Arthur somehow managed to surround himself with a caucasoid redhead babe in a skintight outfit, a caucasoid sidekick Aqualad who wore a cool red shirt like Aquaman's and sported a man-fro (which is awesome, I now realize), and a caucasoid Aquababy who ended up murdered by Aquaman's mortal enemy, the Black Manta.
Suddenly, Arthur had a bunch of whities around him and you didn't see those blue-skins much. Which is interesting, in a "there goes the neighborhood" kind of way. Arthur ended up practicing some extensive racial discrimination, there. Without some diversity, it was just another comic about homogenized, deodorized, whiter-than-white superheroes.
Look at the X-Men reboot in 1975, and how reader interest was drummed up by the racial/cultural diversity of the new group. It was an original take in comics of the time, to have a Russian and a German and a Canadian and an African hottie and an Irishman and a Navajo indian, all with superpowers, teaming up. It was the "Star Trek" approach to diversity, but it held reader interest until the X-Men became the biggest thing in the comic book world.
Today, everyone is trying to shake up various characters by changing their race, their identity, even their sex, in order to propose "change." None of that gets to the heart of change. The success of X-Men (and it wasn't immediate success by any means, but at least that new cast kept the book from imminent cancellation) came from the character-driven sub-plots most notably exploited by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, the writer/artist team that changed the book's downward spiral into, literally, a phoenix from the ashes.
Basically, Aquaman needs to become another kind of character, not another character completely. I imagine Arthur to be a pretty tough hombre, but not in the league of his creative influence, Marvel Comics' Namor the Sub-Mariner (created a couple years prior to Aquaman, 1939 to 1941). I don't think Arthur is super-powerful strong, able to punch holes in a submarine. But he might use a fancy Atlantean battle ax to hack through the steel and sink the thing.
On land, Arthur is no less imposing physically than in the sea. He is more adept at fighting in the water, so if you rumble with Arthur in the ocean, it's like taking on a judo master in his dojo. For an idea of Arthur on land, battling, you just take the judo master out of his dojo (training room) and put him on the streets of Detroit. He's not nearly as effective, but he's still effective. Learning how to survive on those streets, the judo master must attain another kind of knowledge: street sense. Interesting, no?
Also, Arthur has an advantage on land in that I believe, personally, his skin will be tougher, his muscles harder, due to the stress and pressure of an entire life in the oceans. He's stronger than most any normal man whose body has not been shaped by that life. His skin is half-Atlantean, which means it could be similar to a shark's, that rough concrete texture that protects those fish. It takes a high-velocity weapon to pierce a shark's flesh, and thus will it be with Arthur. He's still vulnerable, but he's also way more durable.
I think Arthur is going to be a hard-looking dude. You see the way boxers faces become misshapen from the constant impact of blows? Well, I think ramming his kisser through water all the time will have a distinct impact on Arthur's facial features, which will be more "weathered." Also, I don't think he grows facial hair, frankly, nor do any Atlanteans. Kind of like a lot of Native Americans and Asians. For undersea people to grow facial hair or body hair of any kind would be kind of weirdly counterproductive of evolution. Arthur has hair on his head because he's human, but as much as I obviously dig the beard, he doesn't grow one. Not this version of Aquaman anyhow (though he might rock some sideburns, if we're going to get technical.) Arthur's hair is short, because he isn't a hippie or a rocker. It's a utilitarian haircut. He's a warrior, not a fashion slave.
All this aside, Arthur Curry's persona is private, a bit on the aggressive side. I think he judges people, Atlanteans or humans, by how they move or hold themselves. Fish in the oceans determine danger by the frenetic activity around them. Nothing that hunts in the waters does so without announcing their intentions in a kind of language of motion. Sharks almost always seem to "dance" around prey, determining danger, or advantage, before striking in earnest. Arthur perceives in much the same way, which would be particularly interesting on land if he misreads intention based on how people approach him.
I get the sense Arthur should be more "feral" than he is mostly shown. He's usually just a man, a King, a politician, a hero. But living beneath the waves must affect the thought processes, the survival instinct, the reactions. He's not an animal, but I think Arthur must have more in common with sea life than with either the Atlanteans or humans. In a sense, Arthur is more in tune with sea creatures, like Grizzly Adams and Tarzan to wildlife in their respective worlds. Arthur doesn't "talk" or "command" fish/dolphins, but he "reads" them by their movements. They relate information to him by how they act. And who's to say there isn't some orca whale somewhere who long ago befriended the boy Arthur and is a protector?
The last thing is to alter Arthur's reason for being. He's not interested at all in being a King. If that element must be part of his conceit (which, originally in his earliest incarnations, was not), then let it be something Arthur refuses utterly. This will alienate him from Atlanteankind in one swoop. Yet still he has to face his blood right someday. Let it be someday then.
The other aspect is to put Arthur in situations where he is most likely to find action. This Aquaman seeks conflict, from his righteous belief that neither Atlantean nor human have the best interest of the Seven Seas at heart. Dig it?
The way to do that is put Arthur in a research facility run by an independent purveyor, using the old Sea Devils adventurer/explorers and other DC second-string/supporting characters for history's sake. The point is to have a cross-section of a lot of interesting characters involved in studying the heretofor unexplored 3/4ths of the world currently deep under water. Even the Atlanteans, for all their thousands of years before Mankind's ascendance, have lost the knowledge of the what is to be found in all that vastness. This includes islands, and reefs, and deep ravines and so on. Anything could there. ANYTHING, and a lot of harm besides. And the Atlanteans are isolationists at this point in time, lacking interest in exploring, or learning, of anything but their own prideful superiority. Which isn't to say some young Wyatt Wingfoot-type young Atlantean won't get fired up and join the research team, wanting to learn while also impressing the cool-as-a-moose Arthur Curry, who remains unimpressed. If you can feel me.
Can this work? Would you read that Arthur Curry, that Aquaman? This is just part of what I'm thinking, but it's the game to play. Nobody knows how to make Aquaman popular and readable and cool...but I'm sort of a nobody, right? Maybe that's what Aquaman needs? A nobody, instead of some somebody. Just saying, of course. Just a little hint, is all.
for all, and I do mean ALL, things Aquaman on this beautiful blog!
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Just the other day, I was pointed toward an article in the Washington Post
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
At any rate, the point is that I feel the Pulp character has been making a steady return in recent times. Not the flawed superhero of Marvel and DC Comics, nor the unassailable indestructible Pulp Hero of the 1930s. But a mysterious element has begun to creep back into the new icons, a detachment between what the readers know about the character and what the character's actions are. I believe the new Pulp Hero must be prepared to do anything, in order to return his world to the status quo. The Spider, a 1930s vigilante character cut in the Shadow mode but 120 thousand percent more violent and unpredictable, reflects what I'm thinking in theory. The only thing you could be assured about with the Spider is that he would kill and destroy anything and everything in the pursuit of justice. He was an agent of chaos strictly imposing his world view on the criminals/citizens of Earth. Unlike the Randian philiosophy of the Individual choosing to be either good or evil and judged according to that choice, the Spider clearly chose for you both Fate and Punishment. I guess the Spider is the most gloriously pure example of what might be politically referred to as Facism, or outright psychotic in head shrink terms.
There's something to be said for the purity of the mystery of the Pulp. The fact that so many Pulp characters such as The Avenger and The Phantom exist only in the pursuit of an ideal Justice, a specific concordance with the Laws of Man they themselves are not bound to, makes the Pulp Hero somewhat more edgy and new in these times. The Pulp is not an "anti-hero", which represents a pretentious style of hard-edged character, but the Pulp is neither restricted by nor loosed upon moral standards. The Pulp seems motivated by a methodology we, the reader, can only begin to guess at. I think some of the most vivid Pulps seem undefined by what they are after, and wholly defined by the process of avenging.
In every way, the Pulp's journey to avenge injustice is truly why they exist. "Justice" is merely an excuse to return, again and again, to the unleashing of fear, pain, and blood. Whether it be their own, or yours, under the strangling vines of Pulp's lacquered darkness.