The Incredible Hulk - Remembering the Old, Dumb Hulk and His Childhood Angst
There Was A Time When Hulk Smashed
Casting a new actor, Mark Ruffalo , in the role of a motion picture version of The Hulk in the Avengers movie is fine as long as the surly Green Goliath on the screen is portrayed similar to the classic version of the Incredible Hulk.
While it is understandable that the comic books had to modify the Hulk's character in recent years, the old Hulk is fondly missed.
Thankfully, the old school 1960's to 1980's version of The Incredible Hulk is (mostly) who we see in the Avengers movie.
The Modernization of The Incredible Hulk
Modern versions of the Hulk seem designed to appeal to an older audience. (The approach started with the short-lived magazine The Rampaging Hulk in the 1970s) A smarter, more cynical, more devious alter-ego for Dr. Robert Bruce Banner is something that those over the age of 18 now find compelling when purchasing comic books. The "dumb Hulk" you see in the Avengers movie trailer is not purely reflective of the pathos driven Hulk of the classic Marvel Comics, but he is somewhat close.
The original 1960s version of The Incredible Hulk portrayed him as a dumb brute, limiting what creators can do with the character. Narratives required simplicity to compensate for the main character's limitations. Despite his shortcomings, the Marvel Bullpen's creativity did manage to present The Hulk in many thrilling adventures. The old Hulk appealed to younger readers, allowing the character to remain one of Marvel's top tier heroes for decades. What was it about this brutish character that made him so popular? In a way, the original version of the Incredible Hulk was popular for the same reason that the Frankenstein Monster was so popular. When you stop and look at the dumb Hulk of old, he comes off a small child in a big world.
Often, that world can be a cruel one. For young children who may be struggling with serious problems children should not have to contend with, the wandering misunderstood outsider who was the lumbering Hulk garnered sympathy and empathy.
How Dumb Was The Old Dumb The Incredible Hulk?
Once again, the Hulk is a small child in an overgrown body who is misunderstood and, as he was apt to say, wants to be left alone. Of course, he never really is left alone since he suffers perpetual torment by a menagerie of creepy villains and obsessed military personnel. The symbolism in these characters is unmistakable. The super Hulk villains are symbolic of bullies that kids must deal with when they are different. The Hulkbuster army represents the authority figures who make life difficult for a (seemingly) strange kid trying to survive in a harsh environment. While Stan Lee may have envisioned The Incredible Hulk to be the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character we see in the comics and the Avengers movie, the truth is he is closer to another misunderstood child, the Frankenstein monster.
On Being Disaffected
For decades, the depiction of The Hulk as a disaffected child contributed to the lumbering hulking creature's appeal. In many ways, there was a sad pathos associated with the creature. He was hunted and haunted due to the personal vendetta of General Ross. (This was an obvious tip of the hat to Moby Dick) Despite the fact the Hulk was betrayed continuously by the "puny humans" he trusted, the green behemoth was the "go to hero" do the right thing and save the day by fending back any all-powerful threat that reared its head. Of course, the Incredible Hulk received no thanks for frequently world-saving assistance. The brute commonly received the blame for everything, even when a super-villain caused the mayhem.
Maybe these torments affected him, as the character matured cynically.
Anger is no longer a form of childlike rage in later tales. Instead, it is adolescent angst at the core of the character's motivations. The angst in the modern versions of the comic character, although it has become darker, more violent, and, in some ways, downbeat. That is not a criticism of the new version of the Hulk as much as it is an observation.
For those who wish to see a Hulk version closer to the earlier incarnations, you have to wait until the Avengers movie opens in 2012.