That’s right, true believers, the Hulk is the villain of the day in our continuing Celebration of Wickedness. Yes, I know the Not-So-Jolly Green Giant has his own comic that’s been around since 1962. Yes, I am aware he has 2 major motion pictures in which he is the protagonist. Yes, I know he’s the best part of the upcoming Avengers movie (and, yes, I am planning on attending the midnight showing). Calm down, geek squad, let me explain myself.
The Hulk is the supercharged, atomic era version of the Jekyll and Hyde story, right? His entire mythos centers around Bruce Banner giving in to his baser emotions—anger, terror, grief—and transforming into a hulking behemoth with forearms that would put Popeye to shame and a penchant for raggedy purple pants. Dr. Banner is the mild-mannered atomic physicist; the Hulk is a being of pure emotion and limited intellect. You know the deal, the madder he gets, the stronger he gets. The problem is, there really isn’t a limit and you get stuck in this cycle of destruction. To me, and the United States army, the Hulk is awesome! To Banner, the Hulk is a curse.
And before I go into the philosophy behind my selection of the Hulk as the villain of the day, let’s get a couple things straight: the Hulk is not necessarily the BEST choice of folks to hang out with. For you comic book enthusiasts, it was because of the Hulk’s actions, threat to general society and constant collateral damage that the Illuminati sent his ass clear across the galaxy. And these same “heroes” were vindicated when the Hulk returned with a storyline titled World War Hulk. Even the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno incarnation sent people routinely flying into trashcans, overturned cars and was hell on Wrangler jeans and cowboy boots.
(And with that, I earn my geek cred. HOLLA!)
But what this is really about is the internal struggle between Bruce Banner and his raging alter ego. Banner is the hero here, not the Hulk. And if the good doctor is the hero, the Hulk is the villain. Marvel has done a fantastic job of billing the Hulk as protagonist, as a tortured soul who really just wants to be left alone. That’s fine for general society. But for Banner, the Hulk destroyed his life. It turned him into something to be feared and exiled, chased and hunted, whether in his human form or not. He can’t trust himself, live his life, be who he wants to be. Not anymore. This cat was the pre-eminent nuclear scientist and one act of bravery (in the comic) or hubris (in the television show) turned his life into a freak show. It’s tragic, actually. And while the Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk dichotomy makes for good entertainment, its theme is the age-old conflict of man vs himself. Yes, I used the word dichotomy; I went to college.
We’ve seen plenty anti-heroes already; that’s not what I’m getting at. Bruce Banner is a regular, ordinary guy, like you or me. He wants what we all want: nice home, good job, good woman/man, to excel in his chosen field. To be a good person. The Hulk destroys that image of Banner just as any other inner demon might. What makes the Hulk so compelling as a villain is, for all his destructiveness, it is as the Hulk that Banner realizes his truest self. It’s a part of him—sometimes for the better, sometimes the worst—and we get to see it play out in the most heroic and catastrophic manner.
And that, my friends, is why the Hulk is today’s villain: because Bruce Banner is his best self when he is his worst self. What did Harvey Dent say in The Dark Knight? “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
Tune in next time when we look at Cruella DeVille, hater of dalmatians. Excelsior!