Hulk Visionaries: Peter David, Vol. 1
By Peter David, Todd McFarlane, and John Ridgway
Published By Marvel Comics; $19.99 USD

I was not happy with Mr. David. Oh no, I was not happy with him at all.

I was around 10 or 11 when Peter David started his twelve-year run on The Incredible Hulk, and as happy as I was with his dispatch of the ill-conceived Rick-Jones-Hulk in his second issue, well. What can I say? I had just barely nudged myself into pre-adolescence, and it was the freakiní Hulk. Donít get me wrong, I didnít care that he was gray or smart or could only lift a large hill rather than a small mountain, but. Well.

In his third issue he fought a cop.

A cop. One cop. As in singular. As in less than 82 cops. As in not the Abomination or the Rhino or Thor or anyone else who could likewise lift large hills or small mountains.

The adversaries that followed included a Kate-Moss-sized gamma zombie, a similarly sized supernatural killer who dressed like a reject from The Crucible, an alien chick, and a kid not much older than I was at the time. He fought three-fifths of the original X-Factor somewhere in there, a scenario that gave me at least some hope of a respectable Hulk-smashing, that is until they kicked his ass.


I would re-read those issues with the same kind of juvenile masochism that might urge me to watch Caddyshack 2, just so I could sit and bitch about how utterly bad they were. During these re-readings, something funny happened. I realized that, in spite of the relative lack of earth-shattering fisticuffs, I liked the stories.

Peter David was the first writer to make me realize that comics could be more than flashy costumes and seizure-inducing battles. In fact, he was the first writer to make me realize that comic books were written. I literally had never before been interested enough in the writing craft of the medium to bother to turn to the title pages to check who had scripted the issues. It just never occurred to me. I was too busy counting the number of pebbles that jumped off Ben Grimmís head every time my green guy knocked him into orbit.

The first nine issues of Davidís run are collected in Hulk Visionaries: Peter David, Vol. 1, and re-reading them now itís strangely satisfying to note the relatively quiet beginnings of what would later become some of the hallmarks of Davidís work on the title.

Davidís interpretation of Betty Banner, for example, starkly contrasts her previous portrayals. Sheís far from the G.I. Jane whoíd follow her husband to different worlds and level uzis at the heads of gods later during Davidís tenure, and still little more than an appendage to the Hulkís paler half, but as soon as the first few pages of the collection, we see a stronger Betty than we ever have. If you donít believe me, go through some of the Milgrom issues (Al Milgrom wrote the title right before David), and you just COUNT how many of Bettyís lines start with "Oh, Bruce!", usually accompanied with tears, a faint, a swoon, or all of the above.

Davidís pension for diving headfirst into political hot topics is evident here as well, most notably in his exploration of domestic violence in the third chapter, "Quality of Life" (the aforementioned Hulk vs. only-one-cop issue).

Though -- contrary to popular belief -- it wasnít David who first introduced the idea that the Hulkís creation was just as connected to his childhood trauma as it was to radiation, it was David who made the concept an absolutely inseparable part of the characterís evolution. The beginnings of one of Davidís most controversial interpretations -- that Banner not only was a victim of radiation, but suffered from Multiple Personality Disorder -- is most blatant in "Native Son," the final chapter of the trade, where he references the abuse Banner suffered during his childhood. Though, really you can see it as soon as the first chapter. As early as the second page of the first story, Banner suggests he should jumpstart his transformation into the gray Hulk in order to go after the (soon to be de-Hulkified) Rick-Jones-Hulk. When Betty tears him a new bunghole for the suggestion, he says, "Iím sorry Betty. Of course. Youíre absolutely right. I donít know what possessed me." Throughout the collection, the notion that Banner is a bit more "Hulk" than heíd like to admit, and vice-versa, is a simple yet powerful extension of the concept heralded at the end of Bill Mantloís run (and, to a lesser extent, Roger Sternís): that Bruce Bannerís connection to the Hulk runs deeper than DNA.

Itís interesting to watch McFarlane try to find his footing in the beginning of his work on the title. The first few issues feature numerous panel-for-panel swipes from John Byrneís first Hulk run, particularly during battle scenes. It isnít until the last few chapters that we see him settle on the Hulk that defined his tenure on the book -- the jutting forehead; wrinkled, gray skin; the dark, unreal mass that often suggested fat more than muscle.

The only penciler featured besides McFarlane is John Ridgway in the classic "The Evil That Men Do!" which survives as perhaps the single scariest Hulk story ever told.

Other highlights include the aforementioned "Quality of Life" and "Native Son," the latter of which ends the trade with a line of dialogue that even today can still tear me up just a little bit (and no, I wonít reproduce it here, because you need to read it yourself).

Hopefully, the "Volume 1" om the title isnít just a damn tease, and Marvel will finally start reprinting more of Davidís run in TPB format. There arenít many Hulk fans I know who wouldnít gladly clear space in their bookshelves for them. Grade: 4.5/5

-- Mick Martin

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