It’s the face that launched a thousand…well…dozens and dozens of comic purchases. Issue #333 was the one that started me buying the longest run of comics I ever have. I tend to be pretty fickle and my attention span isn’t overly long for any title or character. If two or so issues are lackluster, I’m gone. Peter David and the Hulk kept me for their entire run. It helped that the Hulk changed focus and personalities frequently during the years and also…well, Hulk is a monster and there was often humor in the stories.
I started reading comics at around four years of age and I had two favorite types of books: funny and monster. Werewolf By Night, Tomb of Dracula, Donald Duck, and Mickey Mouse were my mainstays as a young kid. You could keep your white guys in tights, I wasn’t interested. Superheroes didn’t interest me until I was 11 or 12 years old and the art of Walt Simonson and John Byrne sucked me in. The only “superhero” comic that I always kinda looked at on the stands was The Incredible Hulk. I loved the fact that a monster was the hero of the book. But, there was a problem. My brother had already claimed the Hulk. I don’t know if it’s like this in all sibling relationships, but sometimes you can “claim” a character and it’s yours and the implication is that your sib has to choose someone else. One time at the drugstore spinner rack in the 70s, I looked at a Hulk issue, put it back, picked up something like Laf-A-Lympics and in the meantime…Jeff, my brother…decided he would get the Hulk issue. I can, to this day, still remember being miffed that, at that moment, Jeff had claimed the Hulk. So, I stayed away from the character for years.
Fast forward to Incredible Hulk #333.
It’s 1987…I’m in high school…making my own money working at a grocery store…and I’m spinning the drugstore comics rack. This Todd McFarland cover just punched me in the guts. The size of the Hulk…the shadow on the face…the menace. I had totally forgotten how scary the Hulk could actually be. I reclaimed the Hulk that day.
The issue itself was different. No “Hulk smash” and the idea that the Hulk would try to keep Banner incapacitated by binge drinking was a crazy, new idea to me. I liked the dual story of the Hulk bullying Bruce and the domestic abuse story. The idea that monsters aren’t all huge and grey…they can look like the guy standing next to me in the drugstore…was interesting to me. We didn’t yet know, at least I didn’t, about the severe abuse in Bruce’s family history. This Hulk was complex and I was looking for that in the year after Dark Knight and Watchmen. The Hulk had a moral compass, as evidenced by his saving of Rick and taking on the abusive policeman, but he sometimes didn’t listen too hard to it. Justice, vengeance, guilt…the motivations of most superheroes didn’t apply to him. I was hooked.