It all started with the arrival of a little lego Hulk, one of a hundred million legos, purchased in a tub from the thrift store.
” Mom,” said Luc, “Why is this guy’s pants all ripped up? And why is he green?”
Off to google! Where, like Godzilla before him, we found a million images, youtube clips, and pop-culture histories of this amazingly durable character.
There is the comic, of course, from master Stan Lee, first penned back in the early 60s,
and then the late 60s animated show (hilarious theme song!),
and the 70s live action show with Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk,
and the 80s animated show with Spiderman (odd combo, if you ask me),
and then the 90s animated show with Lou doing Hulk’s voice.
Next the Hulk moved to the big screen and we had the Ang Lee live action movie,
and now, 50 years after it all started, another live action movie with Edward Norton.
I saw “Hulk,” the Ang Lee movie, when it came out (that was pre-babies, back when I actually went to the movies) and I have to say, it didn’t work for me. I also Netflixed the new movie back in October, before (or as a prequel to?) the current Hulk madness, and liked it better, though the Edward Norton sections felt only lightly connected to the Hulk sections. And the bulging muscles of the green guy are just too over the top for me. His head isn’t big enough or something. But I digress, because the real point is this:
A story has to be pretty freaking compelling to call to so many people, in so many iterations, over such a long period of time.
And my 3 year old Luc is completely entranced by it, like so many little boys before him. “Why does he get angry? What does he eat? Would he be stronger than an apatosaurus? What if the Hulk fought a bull dozer?” Imagine small, cutie-pie, sweetheart, Luc, standing on the sofa, legs apart, arms outstretched, HURLING a sofa pillow to the floor with a huge ROAR and yelling, “I am the Incredible Hulk!”
The Hulk story is like some medicine he is taking in, exploring what it’s like to be massively huge and powerful—but still a good person.
Me: “Why do you like the Hulk?”
Luc: “Because he’s really, really big and really, really powerful and really, really, really, really green.”
A quick trip through the tv listings and we had full eps of the 1996 show, which, it turns out, we all are totally into. This show introduced new elements to us, such as She-Hulk!
a green vixen with the “kelly-green abs of steel”, aka Jennifer, Bruce Banner’s cousin, who had to receive an emergency transfusion of Bruce’s gamma-infected blood in order to save her life. Unlike Bruce, who seeks a cure, Jennifer approves of the transformation. She’s got a different gig, though, because her mind remains intact. Poor Bruce transforms completely, triggered by his anger, and so has little control over what he does when he’s all Hulkish. Jennifer, on the other hand, is basically herself, only with bigger, greener, hair, and super strength. An interesting variation on the theme.
We also got Gray Hulk (I totally couldn’t find a picture of this guy except this, from the comic):
a scary Evil Hulk, the result of a split-personality situation with Bruce and the separation of Bruce and Hulk in some kind of nutrient bath…or something…um, anyway, this guy gave Luc a whole new set of questions: “Why is he gray? When will the Gray Hulk come? Is he a bad guy? Why is he a bad guy? Maybe he needs to eat something so he will be less grumpy.” And, “I want to see the one with the Gray Hulk again.”
The center of the story (as you probably know) is a good man who, through no fault of his own, finds that his anger transforms him into a creature of great destructive power. Because of this, he loses his old life and is hunted by the military (who want to either kill him or use him as a weapon), and by The Leader, an alien (I think?) who wants to manipulate the Hulk’s DNA to take the Hulk’s power for his own—or maybe make a Hulk army he can control.
Poor Hulk, he’s quite the tragic figure, using his power only defensively against those that would hurt him or hurt his friends, Betty, Rick, and Jennifer. And this, I think, is why the story endures: despite his destructive tendencies and scary appearance, the Hulk is a good guy. Bruce is wrong—we DO like him when he’s angry, because he has a big, green, heart. Just goes to show you can’t judge by appearances.
Occasionally, watching the show, Luc gets nervous. It’s pretty intense with lots of bad guys, explosions, fighting, and a dark plot line. We sit together and watch, talking about what’s going on, him asking lots of questions and me explaining as we go. I try to give him power (what the Hulk is all about) over the tv, explaining how to pause, or fast forward, offering to watch and tell him what happens so he can know for sure that everything turns out all right before he watches himself. He can look away and just listen, and, of course, just turn it off. These are all the things that I do when I want to watch something that might be too scary for me. For example, I really enjoyed the marvelous “28 Days Later,” but only because I had my finger on the fast forward for the worst bits (like that freaking tunnel scene—forget about it!). If I put it out there that he is too little to watch, or the show/tv is too scary for him, then he is disempowered—the opposite of what he wants with all the Hulkness. But if I help him have power over his watching, so he can watch, or not watch, in a way that works for him, I figure that’s what the Hulk is all about. Doing it your own way! Hulk not smash the puny humans!
I guess it’s working because he asks for the show, again and again, and talks about it during the day, making connections between things on the show and his life in ways that tell me he is really working with this material, exploring anger and power and what it means to have either, or neither. The Hulk is a clear extension of Luc’s other interests, dinosaurs and construction machines—things that are big and strong. And no wonder this interests him—he is so little, this cute tiny guy who barely hits 3 feet tall and can just pick up a five pound weight. Just like I trusted him as a baby to know when he needed to eat or sleep, I trust him to know what stories he needs. And right now, it’s stories about power (and size!) and the Hulk is nothing if not an exploration of that. So we watch, and talk, and he plays Hulk and throws the sofa cushions. “Hulk angry!!!!”
In one of those great coincidences, with no a clue about this whole Hulk invasion, an aunt gave these shoes to Luc over the holidays:
And guess what? The teeth and eyes glow in the dark. No kidding! See how he’s wearing purple pants with them? “Mommy, Mommy, I’m busting out of my clothes!”
Here is Sophie’s rendition of the whole thing:
ETA: For further Hulk conversation, go here.