How Lee & Kirby's "Fantastic Four" Birthed the Marvel Universe, Part 1
In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence “Gimmick or Good?” Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with 1991’s Fluorescent Green cover Incredible Hulk #377…
Incredible Hulk #377 (published January 1991) – story by Peter David, art by Dale Keown and Bob McLeod
Arguably one of the Hulk’s most popular stories and one of the more famous comics from the early 1990s, Incredible Hulk #377 simultaneously marks the culmination of more than two years worth of storyline while also ushering in a “new era” for the character. For this seminal moment (and adding to the comic’s popularity), Marvel chose something I’ve seen described as “green glow ink” for the cover, and other neon color schemes for the second and third printings. I’m sure there will be some hand-wringing from a few of you about whether or not this is a true cover “gimmick,” as it does not produce exactly the same kind of “glow-in-the-dark” effect as witnessed by other issues I’ve covered in this feature like Sandman Special #1 and Green Lantern #50, but I’m going to group this comic into a “Gimmick or Good?” discussion all the same for the fact that this cover is dramatically different from any other comic that had been released to that point, and because the color scheme very directly capitalized on the “neon” phase that dominated our wardrobes in the late 80s/early 90s (now let me go bust out my L.A. Gear neon sneakers and listen to some Hammer).
But what about inside the comic?
Peter David rightly gets credit for resuscitating the Incredible Hulk when he started scripting the title in 1987 (having a young Todd McFarlane handle pencils helped as well) and Hulk #377 is the high water mark of the first half of his run. In the years leading up to this issue, David explored Bruce Banner’s multiple Hulk personality disorder involving the classic Green Hulk and the Grey Hulk. David also took an analytical look at Bruce’s relationship with his wife Betty Ross, and his abusive relationship with his father, and how these people impacted why and when he changed into the Hulk(s).
Hulk #377 starts off with Bruce being hypnotized by the Ringmaster so he could then be psychoanalyzed by Doc Samson. Inside Bruce’s mind, he’s fighting for control with the Green and Grey Hulks when a “monster,” that’s mean to represent his father, appears and forces him to relive the emotional trauma that is assumingly contributing to his transformation into one of the two Hulks.
I thought the Dale Keown and Bob McLeod art team did a really great job portraying the “monster” as being something so terrifying that it could force even two brutes like the Green and Grey Hulk into submission. Keown/McLeod seem to draw inspiration from Ridley Scott’s Alien movies with the character design, but the large teeth, claws and spikes along the creature really work for me as a way to visually represent those inner demons that are utterly horrific and emotionally debilitating.
David’s script discusses the idea that the more simple and benign Green Hulk psychologically embodies Bruce’s childhood trauma when he and his mother were physically abused by his father, and the smarter and nastier, but physically weaker Grey Hulk is Bruce as a young adult in college. The comic suggests that Bruce changes into one of these two Hulks based on how he emotionally processes the perceived threat, i.e., does he defensively revert to being childlike or as a snarkier college student.
Regardless, the “monster” is able to physically squash both of these Hulks with ease, thus meaning in order to overcome the abuse of the monster/his father, Bruce needs to conquer him as himself, which he eventually does before the issue’s end.
The very dramatic final sequence of this comic shows Bruce and his two Hulk personalities coming to an agreement that they need to work together symbiotically, leading to one of the most famous panels in comic book history when the “new and improved” Hulk, that contains physical and emotional characteristics of all three personalities, finds Betty to announce that he’s essentially “cured.” This moment is a major turning point for the character, and creates a whole gamut of new stories involving the “smart” Hulk.
What makes Hulk #377 such a special book from my perspective is the fact that on the front cover it promotes a whole “new” status quo change and then proceeds to actually deliver on that promise in a way that is very smart and accessible for new readers, while also satisfying all of those who had been following the book for the bulk of David’s run.
For me personally, I’ve always had a preconceived bias against the Hulk based on my limited understanding of the character as a child, and of course his campy portrayal in other pop culture media like the Lou Ferrigno television show. But through the magic of the Marvel Unlimited app, I was able to read all of the David issues up to Hulk #377 and my entire view of the character has changed. From a sheer writing perspective, it’s one of the most thought-provoking long-term character studies in a superhero book that I can think of and the fact that David was able to pay off some of his ideas so successfully in Hulk #377 and then continue to build even more from that point is just something I have to applaud, even though I’m more than 20 years too late to the party.
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