Yesterday, I spoke about the different ways the Hulk is portrayed in comic books, in TV, and in the movies. Marvel's new show, "Hulk and the Agents of SMASH," portrays Hulk as a wise man, and a team leader. It's a refreshing take on the classic character, one that views him as a person, and not a monster.
As we searched through the old comic books, the manager walked through that area of the store twice. The first time he asked us if we had any questions, we, like the others in the shop, told him “No, we’re fine.” The second time he asked, I asked him about this dichotomy. While he had not seen “Hulk and the Agents of SMASH,” he agreed that different writers treat the character differently. Some make Bruce Banner less intelligent, or less moral than traditionally depicted. Some glorify in Hulk’s violent capabilities, while others treat him as a thinking, reasoning person. He mentioned several recent series he had particularly enjoyed, as well as others that he had not. He also mentioned how characters like Captain America and Iron Man might act in radically different ways, depending on how a particular author approached him.
So often I hear people speak dismissively of comic books, suggesting that the authors of such stories dumb down characters, situations, and subjects. Yet most of us look to any form of Fiction as entertainment: we look for content and surface-level enjoyment first. If we like a particular character or setting, we may invest deeper thought in aspects of the story. If we don’t immediately enjoy it, most of us discard the story, and move on to another. After all, there are plenty of stories out there to be discovered. Why spend time ruminating on aspects of one you didn’t enjoy?
What struck me as the man spoke was how he had weighed the merits of the stories he had read. He spoke in terms of his philosophy about what the character should be—how Hulk, Captain America or Iron Man should act. What his responsibility to others should be. Never once did rank a story in terms of its art, or revel in depictions of action and violence. Never once did he say, “This is a particular scene I wanted to see played out, and the writer gave it to me, so I’m satisfied.” He had internalized the stories, thought deeply about them, and judged them in terms of his own morals and worldviews. In other words, he had mentally and emotionally processed the stories just as literary writers hope their readers will. He had accompanied those characters on their journeys. The situations they had faced together, and the choices his heroes had made, had informed his own responses to real-world situations.
While we were there, a man came in with a young boy. The man told the boy (presumably his son) that he could read any of the comics in a particular area. Unlike most of the children who have waited in the store while their parents searched through the comic book boxes, this boy didn’t make noise. He didn’t wander, play with toys, throw things, or beg his father to leave. Instead, he read the comics his father had recommended to him. As I finished my conversation with the manager, and my wife and I left the older comics area, I heard the man begin instructing the boy on the proper way to hold a comic book.
I didn’t glance back to watch, but I wish now that I had. I wonder what stories the boy will grow to love, who his heroes will be, and how they will shape him into the man he becomes.