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What happened to the Hulk and Jack Kirby?

Author: Vincent Schroder 

Marvel’s always been about the bottom line rather than the artistic endeavor. Well before churning out 2-hour-long trailers for a movie nobody remembers the plot of (but it certainly was a team-up movie), they were taking ownership of their artist’s work while paying them a pittance. Jack Kirby created pretty much all of their most popular characters, and concepts and got paid shit.

They also liked forcing competitors out of business. Marvel (together with DC) formed the Comics Code Authority back in the 1950s that specifically targeted EC, who were creaming them in sales with their horror comics. Tundra was publishing their best-selling writers’ original work so they blacklisted them with distributors.

Being bought out by Disney hardly improved matters. With the addition of Lucasfilm, Disney certainly seem to be aiming to become a monolith of pop culture entertainment.

The Avengers made over 1.5 billion dollars at the box office (not counting home video sales, tv rights, airplane showings, merchandise etc, and that on a budget of 220 million dollars). It’s safe to say that Disney is not about to change its business model anytime soon.

That business model, franchizing tentpole movies, is symptomatic of the problems with Hollywood. Don’t get me wrong, I like a dumb spectacle movie once in a while. The original Die Hard is a dumb action movie. It made a bunch of money and inspired a slew of sequels. In fact, it was originally intended as a sequel to Commando.  I don’t mind comic book movies either. Dredd was the best action movie since the original Die Hard (or Robocop, whichever came last) and the first Ninja Turtles movie has the world’s most clever gay joke.

The difference between those movies and current blockbusters is that while the former is a licensed property, the filmmakers wanted to make these movies rather than being under instruction from a studio to start a profitable series that the studio bets their year’s income on. Steven Spielberg, creator of the summer blockbuster, and George Lucas, the world’s wealthiest autist, predicted the collapse of this system a few months ago at a panel discussion.

The endless slew of remakes grew so tiresome to the public that PR folk came up with a new term: the reboot, which is a remake intended to start a franchise. Sony rushed a “reboot” of a series that was only a few years old just so the license wouldn’t expire. It made a cool 750 million at the box office.

The point of all this is that Marvel Studios doesn’t give a shit about movies. They’re about moving product. Ang Lee’s “Hulk” (2003) wasn’t suitable for a franchise so when the rights reverted back to Marvel they “rebooted” it (and then replaced the actor for the sequel because Edward Norton would demand some of that pesky character development and that would be hard).

A quick glance at the movie’s page on Wikipedia shows “Many praised the writing, acting, character development of the film and the music score by Danny Elfman, but criticized the character origins differing from the comics, outdated CGI, and the dark, depressing story plot. “

My reaction to said criticism is “Who gives a shit?”

Hulk deals with Banner’s psychology. He’s unable to express himself emotionally (or physically, watching the first conversation with his former lover Betty Ross I got the impression Bruce is impotent). It’s clear right away that at the root of this is a deep-seated psychological trauma from his childhood, but unlike inferior movies the revelation of the actual trauma isn’t the point of the story. The story is Banner dealing with this trauma that eventually manifests itself through his transformation into the Hulk. When asked by Betty what he remembers of his “dream” he responds with “Rage, power…freedom.”

In a society where we’re spoon-fed homogenization and conformity and where emotional and physical outbursts are discouraged, the Hulk represents wish fulfillment. Smashing anything that pisses him off and even his enormous leaps represent a freedom that authority, in the form of the US military, needs to contain as it presents a danger to society. The Hulk is a monster, its unbridledness scares Bruce Banner but deep down inside he enjoys the freedom. So do we, though we’d never admit to wanting to smash some jerk’s skull. It’d be uncivilized.

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