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Gimmick or Good? – Incredible Hulk #377

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…Hulk387_cover

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Verdict: Good

21 Comments

The “fifth color” coloring on the cover definitely made the issue stand out on the rack the week it came out. That is ‘gimmick’.
But the issue more than deserved the special attention. A great issue.

IH 377 is not “good”. It is one of the best Marvel issues ever. Hulk becomes one of the most complex characters of comics in general, something that contradicts the view that everybody had about Dr. Banner’s alter ego.

I find very hard to enjoy other writers or versions of it because to this day the Hulk has never been so rich and complex again.

Incredible Hulk #372 when the Green Hulk returns may be the best issue leading up to this. I don’t think Banner’s transformation has ever looked more brutal and intense/

IH 377 is not “good”. It is one of the best Marvel issues ever.

Ha, you totally had me going with that first sentence. Well done.

I’m astonished at how much Hulk history is brought up and tied together in this comic. I mean, it’s 22 pages, yet it’s deep and explained everything we’d been reading for the four years prior. Nowadays, this would have been drawn out over at least five issues.

Good, gooder, and goodest.

i never liked the Hulk as a dumb beast or as a tragedy figure [i don't enjoy that genre of character/story]. So, i never really paid attention to PAD’s Hulk. When i caught on was around Rick’s wedding, and then backtracked to this point.

This was my favorite take on the Hulk by far. i’ve never actually read any Hulk after PAD left.

1. I actually think this cover looks awesome. And this is coming from someone who normally HATES “enhanced” covers.

2. I actually don’t like this issue. I always saw The Unification of The Hulk as an overrated storyline that set the stage for much greater things that followed.

IH 377 is not “good”. It is one of the best Marvel issues ever.

Amen.

This is probably the best Hulk story ever. It wouldn’t be a gimmick were it poly-bagged with a limited edition trading card.

I had already been at the party for over a decade, and I applaud it now just as strongly as I did then. PAD could blow up a group of nuns with a bomb – PAD the Man, not the Writer – and I would have to say “Yeah, but he wrote HULK #377!”

Outstanding is the word if you’re a PAD fan. Just when you thought he couldn’t deliver more awesomeness during the Gray Hulk stories, PAD ups the ante and delivers the best Smart Hulk ever.

It’s also the only time that any writer has made the Ringmaster sound like a cool character. His interaction with Doc Samson is excellent stuff.

PAD & Dale Keown were unbeatable. This storyline (beginning, roughly, with issue 372, The Comic That Got Me Into Comics) might be PAD’s crowning achievement on the title (and most of what came before and after was good). The climax, in which Bruce broke down and the Hulks had to erase themselves in order to heal a personality they’ve always hated, was powerful. I’m surprised we haven’t seen a blog going through the PAD Hulks issue by issue.

I think you could have touched on Keown’s art more this issue, he’s obviously an amazing artist but he’s also a very underrated storyteller. PAD is getting the credit he rightly deserves, but I thought more could be said about how effective Keown is at putting pictures down to go with the words, this couldn’t have been the easiest issue to draw and he knocks it out of the park

Good review overall, but I dont understand the reference to the Lou Ferrigno show as “campy.” The show was low budget but it tried to be a serious take on the character. It certainly wasn’t humorous, kitschy or cheesy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_(style)

I agree with a post above. David’s run on the Incredible Hulk spoiled it for everyone else that wrote the Hulk after him. This is THE Hulk for me to read. The “Professor” Hulk is the version that I enjoy the most and those are the back issues that I go back to if I’m in the mood to read the Hulk. Interesting side note: I’ve got a second printing of this issue with a gold cover, as was standard with Marvel at this time with Ghost Rider 15 and New Mutants 98 being other examples, I’ve never seen any of the other neon covers. How many different colors were there?

@Hank “Campy” probably wasn’t the ideal word. Better put as “dated?” “Low budget” as you note works good. Bottom line is the show did not leave me with a positive impression of the Hulk as a character and a story to be told.

I thought the Hulk TV show was pretty much average. It followed the formula for action/adventure TV shows of the time. It’s not my thing, but I don’t think it really hurt the character.

Now, PAD’s Hulk was my thing. I was already a fan of Bill Mantlo’s run, and PAD took it and made it even better. It was a time when I had become frustrated with the path Marvel Comics was taking, but the Hulk remained great.

Dale Kweon also deserves recognition. That was the age of flashy artists that were poor storytellers. Kweon had the flash of the new guys, but with the clean storytelling skills of the old guard.

[...] most recent edition of Gimmick or Good? at CBR’s Comics Should Be Good blog, I reviewed the neon colored Incredible Hulk #377, considered by many to be the pinnacle of David’s run on the book. Did Bruce Banner’s [...]

How about one of these stories on Wonder Woman when Artemis took over? #100 had a gimmicky cover (maybe other issues did too).

[...] perspective, the Spider-Man/Hulk throwdown comes during Bruce Banner’s “Grey Hulk” stage (as written by the great Peter David). For the uninitiated, Grey Hulk was smarter and meaner than the traditional Green Hulk, but [...]

[…] have read The Incredible Hulk #377 more times than any other single issue of a comic.  This is a deep tale.  In a way, it gives us […]

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