The Hulk’s Most Messed Up Storylines

Nick Peron
Comics Marvel
Comics Marvel

The last time I wrote about the Hulk I pointed out five things he won’t be remembered for. That was mostly some silly fun. There were a lot of wacky things they did in the Hulk comics. However, they also went the complete opposite direction where the Hulk got a little too real. Sometimes it was to create social commentary, other times it was unintentionally horrific. Sometimes the writers managed to capture the message, but other times they flubbed it pretty bad. At the end of the day, there were times the Hulk got too real.

Warning: Some of the subject matter in this article might be triggering to some readers

That Time the Hulk Leaves Some Kids to Die

Incredible Hulk #222

Incredible Hulk #222 was one of those one-off stories that were quite common in comics. It wasn’t a huge game changer. It wasn’t an iconic story and it didn’t even feature any big villain. However, it’s easily one of the most disturbing stories in the Hulk library. In a story titled “Feeding Billy”, the Hulk stumbles upon some kids who are living in a cave in the middle of the desert. They are looked after by their baby brother Billy who was mutated by toxic waste. Naturally, the Hulk ends up fighting Billy.

So far this is some standard stuff...

That’s When Things Take a Turn…

However, lets back up a second here: Billy is their youngest of these siblings. In fact, when they go through his origin, Billy is a toddler who mutates in that big blue monster above. Now, if you can justify the idea of the Hulk beating up a toddler, buckle up because it only gets worse.

The child also turns out to be a cannibal who ate his parents:

Even the skulls have that "WTF?" expression on their faces.

As much as I hate to spoil a comic book that was published in 1978, I’m going to have to do it here. This story gets pretty damn dark. See, in the end, the Hulk and Billy get caught in a cave in which only the Hulk emerges from.

Anyone Know a Good Therapist?

Remember Billy’s brother and sister? Here was have two incredibly traumatized children with no living relatives and are stuck in a cave in the middle of the desert. Nobody except for the Hulk knows that they are there. So what does the Hulk do?

"Next Issue: At least the Hulk gets a happy ending!"

So let’s process this for a moment: These children had their parents eaten by their baby brother, who then brought them out to the middle of the desert. Billy then convinced these kids to lure people into the cave for Billy to eat. These kids clearly also ate the victims as well. They are super messed up. Yet, after the Hulk kills their only provider, he merely leaves them to fend for themselves. Dude, that’s cold.


Hulk! Magazine #23

I mentioned the Hulk story “A Very Personal Hell” in the previous article, but I barely scraped the tip of the iceberg of that story. Written by Jim Shooter in 1980 during his tenure as Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics. He was aiming for a story that had “realistic detail to create verisimilitude.” Verisimilitude, by the way, means you are making an assertion of truth. Oh, and this story was somehow inspired by the original film version of The Thing.

For those that aren’t keeping score at home, this is the same story where Bruce Banner almost gets raped by a pair of homophobic stereotypes:

Oh right, THAT yawning abyss of sadness!

The Story Only Got Worse

Anyone who talks about “A Very Personal Hell” usually focuses on that one plot point, however, the story is 35 pages of just sadness. While people were outraged about this one scene the other horrible things in this story slipped by for the most part. Trust me, this story gets even more depressing.

Later on in the story, the Hulk gets involved with a drug-addicted woman named Elizabeth “Clear” Marks, who has an abusive boyfriend. When the Hulk saves her from a beating he stays the night. She then invites the Hulk to stay the night and passes out. When the Hulk changes back into Bruce Banner later, he decides to nope out of the situation.

Not Bleak Enough For You?

Oh, the story isn’t done with your hopes and dreams yet! Later, Bruce meets yet another woman named Alice Steinfeld, a New York professional who totally falls for the grubby transient that is Bruce Banner. It’s almost like a gender swapped version of Pretty Woman, only it’s more soul-crushingly realistic. See, Steinfeld is in a painful custody battle with her husband. Not only that, she is incredibly depressed and has attempted suicide a few times. Making matters worse, her mother and her sister are getting all up in her business making her life a living hell. So, meeting and dating Bruce Banner probably seems like some sort of glimmer of hope after all.

When it all comes crashing down around Alice, Bruce has to run off because he is starting to turn into the Hulk.

Moral of the Story: There is No Joy. All Life is Travesty.

As you can probably figure out, Alice ends up committing suicide. However, there is some silver lining in that Alice leaves Bruce Banner money. The Hulk later tries to save Elizabeth from her abusive boyfriend again, but he lights her apartment building on fire and she ends up in the hospital. But it’s okay, Bruce Banner sends Elizabeth the $1000 so she can move out of town and away from her abuser! Wow, I’d call that a happy ending, but it’s totally not.

This story hits on all sorts of heady subjects, and it does so poorly. Maybe nothing could have been done for Alice, but Elizabeth certainly has the wrong idea. “Hey, my ex-boyfriend almost murdered me, I’ll just run out of town and leave him to be someone else’s problem.” What a great message.

If Jim Shooter accomplished anything, it was demonstrating his jaded view of New York City during a period of time it wasn’t that great a place to live. This story actually reads more like an exploitation piece than trying to shed any light on or provide solutions to, the problems therein. Massive fail.

Hulk Tries to Get Serious About AIDS, Teaches Nothing

Various Issues

Peter David wrote one of the most well-regarded run of the Incredible Hulk in the 1990s, during a period where most comics were garbage. Part of the reason was because he tried to tackle real world issues. Well, tackle them as best you can with a character whose trademark is getting mad and breaking things. Many, many writers have tried to do this (like Jim Shooter above) and failed horribly. David’s run had just the right blend of social commentary mixed with comic book hijinx and managed to add a dash of humor.

In Incredible Hulk #388Peter David wrote a story about how the Hulk’s old sidekick Jim Wilson has AIDS. This was 1991 a time when the disease was killing scores of people it was almost a major health crisis. Most of that could be directly linked to homophobia, ignorance, and lack of education. The big reveal is like this:

Sure, Let’s Teach the Kids Nothing

The problem with this story is the fact that other than having people suffering from AIDS and demonstrating there is some huge stigma around the illness, leading to scenes like this:

They totally nailed lack of awareness.

But. they missed an opportunity to teach people about how the disease is spread. This comic book was published during a time when people thought you could catch AIDS from a toilet seat after all (and is still asked today, Google it if you want to get depressed for humanity.) So maybe a little education on the subject of transmission could have helped. They don’t even address how Jim Wilson, typically straight character got infected.

Taken at a personal level between the Hulk and Jim Wilson, I suppose it doesn’t matter in the sense that the Hulk will still be there for him and will never judge Jim for whatever happened. But, hey, I don’t know, 90’s era Marvel, maybe if you want to educate people on the subject you could help the readers who might not understand.

The other glaring issue is the fact that they do skirt around people’s sexuality in this story. Case in point:

Tyler and Jefferson are Dr. Who fans?

This was also a few months that they revealed that Northstar was gay. So it’s not like Marvel Comics was skirting around homosexuality as they had in the past.

Peter David is a prolific writer who usually doesn’t shy away from real world issues. How could something like this happen?

Damn You, Fredrick Wertham!

It Got Worse From Here….

Okay, I got to wrap this up, so how could they make this even more terrible? Well…. The subject gets brought up again in Incredible Hulk #411 and wow, just wow.

Yeah, who needs education! Just make some pills or something already! Stupid scientists!

It’s interesting that they have Betty Banner totally crap all over the Red Ribbon campaign. Which is funny, because when the tie up the whole AIDS plot thread what do they do…

Emphasis added because what the $#!t?

The ultimate insult to that whole story is that the Hulk takes Jim to the headquarters of the Pantheon, a group of near-immortals who are a highly advanced secret society. Jim asks for a blood transfusion from the Hulk to try and cure him like the Hulk did to save the life of his cousin the She-Hulk.. What happens next….

Granted, I trimmed some panels out for pacing, but wow... Just wow...

What makes this all the more horrible is the fact that if you go back and read Incredible Hulk #381, the issue where the Hulk joins the Pantheon they tell him this:

He must have forgotten that part of the tour.

Let’s take a step back here for a minute: The Pantheon are on the brink of a major medical breakthrough and the Hulk doesn’t even think to ask anyone? Also, a cure just doesn’t happen overnight, there are treatments, and ways to at least combat the illness. Yet this highly advanced society can’t do anything to at least help Jim live a little longer? I’m going to repeat myself: Wow. Just wow. I need a stiff drink. Also, I’m going to have to start reading Sandman, because that’s less depressing.

Nick Peron
Stand-Up Comedian from Ottawa, Canada. Long time contributor at the Marvel Database Wiki. Banned in China.
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