Saturday, June 28, 2008
Years ago, whenever I would ask my summer camp bunkmate Chanan Beizer, expert on all things comic books, who would win in a super hero fight, Hulk or ___, the answer would always be Hulk.
“Spiderman’s webs would be torn to shreds”, he’d reply to my query. “Iron Man would look like he came out of a trash compacter”, he’d retort. And, “Captain America would be wearing his shield on his kepele like your mother’s floppy beach hat.”
After taking in The Incredible Hulk again (some 30 summers later), I was again fondly reminded of the sheer brute strength that the green monster possesses. And, how it’s a universal Jewish allegory, for a misunderstood young geek to long for greater power over his life.
It’s no secret that Hulk, like his fellow comic book cronies were all born of Jewish creators and like the Golem, were molded to protect us. Hulk was born years after Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster created Superman and the superhero genre. He came to life in the 60s and at a time of change for Jews. Israel at that time, already nurtured out of the desert, again had to do battle against an army of Arabs, who were bent on destroying it.
Seeing the latest version of Hulk in today’s context, I couldn’t help wonder how germane the tale still is today.
For much of the world, Israel is The Hulk, because that’s the only side of Israel the world sees. It doesn’t get to see the scientist, Dr. Bruce Banner quietly working, creating Nobel Prize winning experiments and amazing technological breakthroughs for humankind. They see this big green monster, throwing tanks and creating havoc on the screen.
They don’t see the cause that turns Banner into Hulk. They don’t notice that Bruce doesn’t like turning into Hulk and does everything humanly possible to suppress his alter ego and the destructive transformation.
Pesky bullets and tiny rocket launchers have a minimal physical effect on Hulk, just as the stones Arab kids throw have little impact on the IDF. It all looks so harmless, until the giant arises and hurls back with a mightier and greater force, that the provocative aggressors become the victims.
In one scene in the movie, the Army General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, (played by William Hurt) corners Dr. Banner in front of his daughter (Liv Tyler) and launches gas canisters at him saying, “Now she’ll see what he’s like”. Hulk is purposefully provoked to change because he’s being attacked. And once the Hulk appears, the cameras roll and he is to most everyone, including her, a monster.
In the Six-Day War, an event that created a perceptual change in the world’s eyes of Israel, it was surrounded and attacked by Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Ever since Israel won that war and became the victor, the world has not seen Israel in the same light.
It was during that same era, and throughout his time on the pages of Marvel Comics, when the Hulk was created that he too went through a number of character changes. (Did you know that in the first issue, Hulk was grey?)
But from the earliest stories, the Hulk has been concerned with finding sanctuary and quiet. It’s only when incited, does he react emotionally and flare up.
While the Hulk is a comic book character the fact that he, and so many others, from Iron Man and Spidey to the Caped Crusader are still relevant today, outlasting plenty of other genres, speaks volumes to both their influence and relevance as iconic symbols of pop culture.
Their everlasting appeal and annual return at this time of year, helps me to remember that summer so well.
For Chanan and me, those hot months seemed to bake and leaven our teeming teen muscles like the radiated ones in Dr. Bruce Banner, emitting forces previously unknown, as we attained the zenith of physical strength.
Alas, it was 30-years ago.