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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Personality of the Incredible Hulk

"According to longtime series artist Sal Buscema, as a superhero “the Hulk doesn't fit any category at all. He's totally unique. He's monstrous, lumbering, huge, unbelievably strong, and he gets even stronger when he gets angry". He has the mentality of a child" (Amash 44, my emphasis). This may sound familiar. In discussing the character creators, critics and fans have tended to rely on just such a “petulant child” psychological portrait: writer Danny Fingeroth calls the Hulk “the distilled essence of anger, from pouting, shrieking infant to tantrum-throwing four-year-old” (121); fellow Marvel scribe Kurt Busick likewise describes him as “more like a four-year-old [r]epresentative of that age when kids want to be dinosaurs and take great pleasure in imagining great power and destruction, because they're so powerless themselves. He's the world's most powerful baby” (136); while comics scholar Charles Hatfield, who includes the Hulk in his category of early Silver Age “creature—heroes,” emphasizes “the mismatch between his monstrous strength and his frequent childishness” (117). adding that he spoke “at times like a small and confused child, one who referred to himself in the third person as if dissociated (Nobody tricks Hulk!)" (118, emphasis in original).

But while commentators like Fingeroth point out the limitations such a premise places on the character as a protagonist for complex stories, former comics writer and neo—Bettelheimian cultural critic Gerard Jones has argued the most insistently for the role of just such primal destructive fantasy narratives in the psychosocial development of children...

If Jones values the anger readers vicariously experience through figures like the Hulk as a cathartic “energizing emotion,” others have read the character's rage more allegorically, relating it to “the unconscious aggression linked to Banner's scientific experiments - as a warning against the destructive powers technological development" (Genter 962), to Howard Beale's 1970s media assault on the zeitgeist (Patrick and Patrick 217); and to male frustrations over “the loss of Vietnam, Watergate and the rising tide of Feminism” (Eaton 149). Note that all these interpretations posit out-of-control fury as a fitting post—traumatic response, whether to nuclear age angst or other perceived loss of potency...

Abreaction to trauma has strong historical links to dissociation; not surprising then, that the Hulk's split psychc has proven as central to his profile as childish rage-and over the decades, much more productive as a subject for drama. The inspiration for the "dual mind" character. as co-creator Stan Lee noted. was Robert Luis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). Indeed, like his literary predecessor, Hulk expresses utter contempt for his alter ego. In his first "encounter” with it (he stumbles on a picture of Banned), the brute pronounces the scientist's face "weak-soft!! I hate it! Take it away!" (Lee 89)...

For all the ways Jung's shadow seems to anticipate the Hulk/Banner's psychic interrelations, in practice the |atter's changing triggers for its transformations (nightfall, anger, excitement), odd shifts in its mode of expression (first person, second person] and fluctuating level of intelligence throughout the Marvel Silver Age betrayed Lee's uncertain grip on the series. It didn't help to explain away such "glitches" by repeatedly averring to the Banner persona's waxing/waning influence on the monster (as pointed out by Hatfield 118). As Fingeroth sneered, the Hulk “probably holds the record for personality changes for one character" (126).

--- The Monsters Analyst and the Binomial Self / José Alaniz in The Ages of the Incredible Hulk: Essays on the Green Goliath in Changing Times / ed. Joseph J. Darowski
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