I like Hulk.
Every Friday, I'm going to write about him.
And now, without further delay, welcome to my first installment of...
Versus Debates. They're brutal. They're ugly. Sometimes, if not usually, they're surprisingly complex with the debaters providing extensive evidence to prove who-would-beat-who. They take up a sizable chunk of the Internet discussion on comics, and they are all, all of them, utterly useless.
And I'm not just being dismissive. I'm not just using the geekery of others to somehow de-geek myself. I'm not saying they're useless just because comic book Versus Debates don't cure cancer. I mean. They don't. But that's not the point.
What I mean to say here is that Versus Debates are more useless than most useless things. For example, I would argue Versus Debates are more useless than, say, this blog which, like Versus debates, is useless in the sense that it can't cure cancer. It's useless in a Dwight-Schrute-tinted glasses kind of way. You can't use my blog to warm your house, fill your belly, impregnate a mate, or profit financially. I don't make any money from it, so few people read it that the comics I review probably don't make any money from it, the last time I received a review copy they were still talking to Tom Cruise about doing Iron Man, and - now that I think about it - if I ever were to profit materially from this blog in any way I would probably receive a cooperative legal dropkick to the face from DC and Marvel since they apparently hold the trademark to somewhere around 65% of my blog's title.
But Versus Debates are even more useless than my blog, mainly because they're not just useless. They're wrong. The whole concept is wrong. The whole idea is wrong. And whatever answers reached at the end of any Versus Debate are inherently, stupidly, wrong.
The reasons for their wrongness are legion. They're wrong because of the vulgar importance they place upon pure fisticuffs. They're wrong because their debates are based on the idea that, if Hero A fights Hero B, the outcome will never vary. They're wrong because their understanding of violence is based on numbers, as if a fistfight were determined by equations. They're wrong because who wins or loses any particular super battle is determined solely by what will best serve the plot. They're wrong because they are debates about hypothetical battles between people who don't exist. They're wrong because often the fictional battles of the fictional people being cast against each other in the Versus Debate have already occurred in the comics, and yet the debaters will VIOLENTLY claim that the writers at the helms of the respective stories are wrong. Thor wouldn't beat Silver Surfer they'll argue, or Spider-Man couldn't beat Firelord. No, of course they couldn't, because neither the victor nor the defeated exist. But even in the context of the cooperative universes which we, as comic book readers of those continuities, have already given our stamps of approval, the debaters refuse to acquiesce. They argue that the make-believe outcome of the make-believe battle between the make-believe people can't be believed.
But more than any other reason, they are wrong because there is one aspect of superhero stories these Versus Debaters never take into account: CHARACTER. Oh, sure, they'll acknowledge it on its thinnest level. They'll recognize the most blatant BS the writers have shoved down their throats. They will recognize, of course, that Batman is a master strategist. But it never goes any further than that. They never ask themselves what this hero or that hero would do, but what they could do. If the handbooks tell them Spider-Man is stronger than Luke Cage, they assume Spider-Man will hit harder than Luke Cage. They never take into account the fact that if Spider-Man ever fought at full-strength, he would have a trail of bodies following him for a thousand miles. Another perfect example is the Hulk vs. Superman debate. The arguments in the Superman camp are usually surprisingly lethal. They argue Superman would melt the Hulk's brain by firing his heat vision into the Hulk's ear. Or he'd grab the Hulk, fly into space, and hurl the green goliath into the Sun. Really? Would Superman throw the Hulk into the Sun? Why the hell would he do that? Is Superman on coke now? He just throws people into the Sun? Sure, I know folks could come up with a hypothetical situation like Superman-possessed-by-demon or Superman-mind-controlled. But that's just a contrived means to the desired end of Superman suddenly and inexplicably hurling people into heavenly bodies for the sake of proving he would beat the Hulk. Superman doesn't do that. He just doesn't. That's a big part of who he is. If it wasn't, there'd have been a Lex-Luthor-shaped crater in the Sea of Tranquility ages ago.
Of course as the preceding example implies, as well as the title of this little rant, what I'm getting at here is the Hulk. The way the Hulk is mistreated in who-would-beat-who discussions doesn't necessarily say anything about the intelligence of the debaters, but it does say something about their understanding of character. The Hulk is, and this is something that has been stated with a certain amount of redundancy, the strongest one there is.
Now, I'm not going to try to impress you with my knowledge of what Earth's Mightiest Mortal is capable of. I won't remind you of the mountains he's held on his shoulders, the Texas-sized asteroids he's beaten to dust, the godlike creatures (some of them being, in fact, gods) he's laid low, his ability to breathe underwater, his ability to breathe in space, the thermonuclear explosions he's survived, the healing factor so ridiculous that his dystopic-future-self - the Maestro - was resurrected after being reduced to nothing but a windswept pile of bones, or the simple fact that there has never been a ceiling to his ever-growing strength and power. It's not impressive and it isn't the point.
The point is that if any of the Versus Debaters understood character, they would know that there is only one answer to the subject of ANY versus debate. It doesn't even matter who the contestants are. Thor vs. Superman. Hulk vs. Orion. Thanos vs. Darkseid. Dr. Strange vs. Dr. Fate. Spider-Man vs. Wolverine. Obi-wan Kenobi vs. Batman. Liono vs. Tigra. Optimus Prime vs. Howard the Duck. Galactus vs. Glen Danzig. Perry Farrel vs. Harry Potter. Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters vs. Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Power Man and Iron Fist vs. the survivors of Hiroshima.
Doesn't matter. There's only one answer. Ever.
There's something important. Something that has nothing to do with power levels or what tonnage can be lifted about the Hulk that transcends what you can or cannot find in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. And most people don't get it. It makes them mad. It makes them frustrated.
Some friends, who don't read comics all that much, asked my opinion about whether or not a jedi could kill the Hulk. "The lightsaber would cut through him like butter!" they argued, and I pointed out that in Empire Strikes Back, Luke's laser-sword couldn't even get through Darth Vader's arm and that the Hulk's skin - which has withstood bullets, tank shells, missiles, lasers, and Hulk knows what else - was certainly made of sturdier stuff that Darth's bicep. "They could use the force to throw him into space!" they claimed. I explained that the Hulk can breathe in space. "The Hulk's stupid! They could order him to kill himself!" I explained that certain versions of the Hulk are anything but stupid. I told them that even when it comes to the less intelligent versions of the green guy, certain psychic bad guys have a tougher time using their hypno-crap on the Hulk because of his thick skull - see the furry Xemnu's failure to mindhump the Hulk in Marvel Feature #3. In other cases, the Hulk's fractured psyche proved a significant stumbling block to psychic dominance - see Cable's difficulty with the Hulk in Incredible Hulk #444. Not to mention that while jedi might be masters of suggestion, there's a big difference between convincing a clone that he needs to keep window-shopping before he finds the right robots, and convincing a green-skinned force of goddamn nature to take himself out like Hemingway. My karate-kid-esque block to each of the jedi fans' attacks frustrated them. They grew angry and one of them finally broke. He whined about how this was why comics book suck! They don't play by the rules! They just keep making the shit up! As opposed to George Lucas, who culled his material purely from the History Channel.
The thing that was important, the important thing about the Hulk, he didn't get it.
Of course, this reaction is not unique in those unfamiliar to funnybooks. In the cases when I and other disciples of the Hulk proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to some fan of Thor or Wolverine or Superman exactly how the source material we have all agreed to hold sacred proves the Hulk's emerald dominance, they eventually react just like the Star Wars fan mentioned above. Finding themselves soundly defeated in the Versus Debate, they turn to a debate they think they can get some ground in - the quality of the stories, and hence the character himself. If the Hulk just "automatically" heals whatever hurts, can break whatever blocks, can lift whatever needs to be lifted, can live without breath or light or food or water, then isn't the character just a big, stupid fake? Isn't he just a big, dumb brute who beats whatever is in his path without challenge or suspense? And doesn't that make anyone who reads his comics a big, dumb brute for doing so?
There's something important about the Hulk. Something these guys don't get.
My lovely girlfriend, curious about the favorite target of my geek-adoration, read World War Hulk and she didn't get it. Maryann is a voracious reader. She brings shopping bags to the library. She has a different bookmarked tome for every other room in the apartment. And she, understandably, didn't understand the appeal of a hero who simply beat the ever-living crap out of everyone. There was no clever twist to Hulk's photo-finish victory over the crazed Sentry. There was no secret tactic he used to survive Black Bolt's sonic assault or to pound Reed Richards into a giant, bruised rubber band. He endured and he smashed. And when you thought he was about to be met by something he couldn't endure or smash, well. He did. No explanation. No trick. He was just strong. Where's the suspense? Where's the worry that the hero won't win? Where's the surprise?
Do you want to get it? The important thing about the Hulk? Here's the important thing about the Hulk. The important thing has to do with a somewhat vague memory I have of my childhood.
I know I'm maybe somewhere around 6 or 7 or 8, and I know my parents promised to bring me somewhere. It may actually be the comic shop, but I'm not sure. It might be a movie. It might be an amusement park. I don't know. Regardless, the promise is broken. Something comes up. They can't take me, and I am in my bedroom, belly down on my bed, throwing a goddamn fit. I am crying, I am sobbing, I am punching my pillow as hard as I can and then stuffing my face in the pillow to muffle the wet, pathetic scream. This goes on for hours. Occasionally I jump up and perform a silent, red-faced tantrum dance. I punch at nothing. I glare daggers at the closed bedroom door as if I'm about to burst through it and tell those lying bastards what they can go do with their broken promise. Inevitably, I will belly-flop back onto the bed. This goes on until the afternoon sun is gone and the sky outside my window is a darkening blue. My face is still damp, but my breathing is even. There are no tears, only the occasional snuffle to remind me of the storm I just endured. I feel tired. The offense that triggered my tantrum feels far away. The sting is not as sharp. The pillows and sheets I had been pounding and tossing around I now gather to me, under and over me, and before I succumb to the sweet sleep I have angrily earned, something occurs to me. Earlier, the world had not been right. The world was wrong. I had been promised something and it was not given. In response, I cried and wailed as I never had before. I screamed the wrongness of it as loudly as I could. Regardless, the world did not change. My anger changed nothing. That seems new to me. Horribly new.
Now here's another story. In Incredible Hulk #126, the Hulk fought a creature called the Night-Crawler in a distant dimension (not the blue elf from the X-Men, different guy). I forget why, but it has something to do with Dr. Strange and the very beginnings of what would later become The Defenders. The Hulk is in this other dimension fighting the Night-Crawler, and he doesn't want to be there. He doesn't like it. He probably only has the barest sliver of an idea of why he's there in the first place. Night-Crawler unleashes a sonic barrage from his crazy helmet and the Hulk responds with one of those earth-shattering claps of his (which, depending on who's writing, either creates a sonic boom or is just really windy), and the resulting clash between the Hulk's completely venereal disease free clap and Night-Crawler's wall of sound is a shockwave that rips Night-Crawler's dimension apart.
Are you getting it now? Maybe? Put Superman in that situation. He'd probably come up with some nifty combination of his different super powers to find a way out of Night-Crawler's dimension. Reed Richards or Iron Man would probably figure out some superhero-correct science answer to get back home. Someone more cunning like Batman might figure a way to trick Night-Crawler into sending him back.
The Hulk, on the other hand, found himself in a world he didn't want to be in. He didn't make any equations. He didn't solve any riddles. He didn't find any time-travel treadmills. He just grabbed hold of the world in which he was prisoner, and he motherfucking DESTROYED it.
This is the Hulk. The Hulk is not a bench-pressable tonnage listed on a fan-site. He is not a list of stats on your Heroclix. He isn't his secret button combos in Marvel Vs. Capcom.
The Hulk is the impossible personified. The Hulk destroys what cannot be destroyed, endures what cannot be endured, and defeats what cannot be defeated. The Hulk smashes whatever and whoever is in his way whether they ride lightning or lift mountains or eat planets or flood the whole world with fire because that's what he does. That's who he is. His precise powers are tools, if he didn't have them he would have other tools, and no matter what they were he would use them to pound anything in his way into the dust. His complete and utter dominance over every other superhero and supervillain is not something to brag about, or for fans of other heroes to feel shame for. It isn't a contest. It's hardwired into his character. Arguing that the Hulk cannot defeat everyone and everything in his way would be like arguing that Batman doesn't wear dark colors or that Spider-Man has no sense of humor. If you dig past the anger, the strength, the repressed memories, the fractured psyche, and everything else what you get to is that the Hulk's primary function is this - when the Hulk has his red-faced tantrums, when the Hulk pounds his fists and screams into the pillow, the world does change. The Hulk is the Impossible even in a world defined by impossibility. The Hulk is Hell freezing over. The Hulk is the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
Hulk wins. Dumb ass.