A New Hulk for A New Age

Greg Pak’s work with Amadeus Cho in The Totally Awesome Hulk  is important to my own personal Hulk journey.  As a kid, I loved the Hulk.  I read a lot of his comic books too – and every single Hulk comic I read (save a back issue or two) was written by Peter David.  He shaped my entire understanding of the Hulk.  As my (first) comic collecting run was coming to an end, Mr. David’s final issue of The Incredible Hulk was mine as well.  Now, twenty years later, I’ve met a new Hulk and a new Hulk author.  In Greg Pak’s The Totally Awesome Hulk, I’ve found a brilliant mix of the old and the new as well as a Hulk that’s fun, relevant, and even teaches me a little something along the way.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

The setup for The Totally Awesome Hulk finds Bruce Banner heading to the coast of Kenya as a nuclear facility is in mid-meltdown.  Iron Man and Black Panther are doing everything they can to evacuate the surrounding area but they can’t halt the impending explosion.  Bruce arrives, Hulks out, and jumps into the heart of the facility, absorbing all the raw nuclear energy.  The Hulk then dives into the ocean, screaming, as he tries to control more energy than he’s ever absorbed before.  With his physiology in constant flux, Hulk can’t settle down or begin to control all he’s taken in.  T’Challa and Tony can’t figure out a safe way to release the energy without catastrophic consequences either so they move to Plan B – teleport the Hulk to the Negative Zone.  (Clearly the Avengers aren’t really good with #HulkProblems; he saves the world a bunch of times and all they can do is shoot him into space or zap him to the Negative Zone when things get dicey.)  Enter Amadeus Cho, nineteen-year-old super-genius and the eighth smartest person on the planet (according to the Pym-Von Doom Raw Calculation Scale).

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Yep, it certainly is AWESOME! / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Amadeus heads out into the ocean with a plan he’s designed to cure Bruce Banner.  With the Hulk about to suffer some sort of meltdown himself, Amadeus uses his tech to transfer the gamma radiation from Bruce (something Bruce’s always seen as an unwanted curse) to himself (something he willingly accepts to become the hero he knows the Hulk’s always been).  With Bruce Banner finally legitimately cured, Amadeus Cho sets out to protect the world from the threats only the Hulk can.  His sister, Madame Curie “Maddy” Cho, a sixteen-year-old super-genius in her own right, serves as Hulk mission control as the two travel the country in a flying food truck hunting monsters.

I know, right?!  It’s even more awesome than it sounds.

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Classic! / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

It feels like a classic comic book in so many ways.  I know there’s (sadly) a subsect of fandom that enjoys being vitriolic about much of the modern comic scene.  (They want their new comics to be exactly like the comics they read decades ago…but still be new (?) and I guess that’s why they have to be hateful in letter pages and internet comment sections instead of just reading back issues??)  Personally, I don’t have any problems with most modern comic offerings but I admire how Greg Pak’s The Totally Awesome Hulk balances the best of both worlds.  He gives us the best of the past while situating it inside original stories.  The Totally Awesome Hulk has great guest stars!  Team-ups!  Big, splashy battle sequences!  Random monster threats!  A variety of villains from the Hulk’s rogue’s gallery and others!  And, perhaps best of all, there’s classic hero-battles-hero-until-they-learn-they-are-on-the-same-side-and-work-together stories :).  In this title I find all the fun tropes I liked as a kid without sacrificing fresh stories that interest me as an adult.

In the first arc we see Amadeus and Maddy finding, fighting, and ultimately shrinking/safely storing monsters that are threatening people around the country.  The story is exciting enough in its own right but we get to see them work alongside She-Hulk and Spider-Man too!!  Yay!  That’s not all.  They also battle Lady Hellbender, the Monster Queen of Seknarf Nine.  C’mon, tell me that’s not awesome.  Comics just don’t have names like that anymore!!

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

The second and third arcs also see Hulk battling and then coming to work with, first Thor and then Black Panther.  I’ll admit, even as a kid I wasn’t 100% sure why superheroes would always fight before teaming up.  Even if there’s a misunderstanding it seemed to me like Spidey (or whoever) should just say, “Hey Daredevil (or whoever), I know it looks like you’re the bad guy right now but what’s going on here?  We’ve literally worked together dozens of times.  Can we talk for a second?”  Obviously that’s still the case now.  But do you know what?  Logic aside, the stories are fun.  I’m not sure why exactly, but they are!  And Greg Pak has brought that fun back to The Totally Awesome Hulk, making it a normal feature but avoiding any overuse to make it feel trite.

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Classicness c/o all the fight/team-up comics I read as a kid. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

So we have heroes, aliens, monsters, BIG battle sequences, really fun/quippy humor, and the classic battle-then-work-together trope all coming together to make this feel like a book I could have read as a kid.  However, there’s also real depth to the narrative too, presenting an important message.  The Hulk has always been a metaphor used to explore the nature of anger.  With Bruce, the Hulk came as a primal rage monster (green) or an angry, mean, selfish asshat (grey).  It is clear, in Hulk comics, our anger is a monster that’s always with us, trying to get out.  What The Totally Awesome Hulk adds to the conversation is the important distinction that what we do with our anger affects the shape and abilities of the monster.  We can control our anger.  It doesn’t always have to control us.  Amadeus and Maddy often discuss the importance of this.  The narrative illustrates Amadeus’ struggle for control, depicting him driving a car with the monster.  Sometimes the monster is in the trunk and others in the passenger seat.  And, sometimes, he gives the monster the wheel.  Amadeus has a lot more control than Bruce ever did…but the threat of losing control is still there.  This is true of us all.  And with a different approach to anger comes a different Hulk.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

At first, when Bruce learns he is “free” of the Hulk he’s (naturally) scared.  He’s scared for Amadeus.  He’s scared of where the monster is.  And, of course, he’s scared the cure isn’t real.

Bruce – “Amadeus!  Wait!  What are you…you don’t know…”

Amadeus – “I love ya Banner.  You know that.  But you’ve got…issues.  A whole ‘nother level of anger.  I’m not poking the bear.  But you know what I’m talking about.  Me, I’m different.  So my Hulk’s different.  You don’t have to worry about me Banner.  I’m gonna go save the world.  And it’s gonna be awesome.  You?  You’re finally free.”

As Bruce slowly comes to the realization that he is honestly cured, he finds the peace that’s alluded him his entire life.  Settling into his new life, he becomes a mentor to Amadeus who is beginning to fear his own destructive potential as the Hulk.  Starting in issue #5, we learn Amadeus is blacking out and waking up after being the Hulk.  This would be a major problem for anyone but it’s an especially big one when you are, you know, the Hulk.  Amadeus doesn’t want to burden Bruce with this but, in issue #8, they finally do have a conversation about his fears.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Bruce – “Let me just ask you one thing, Amadeus, have you ever killed anyone?”

Amadeus – “What?  No!”

Bruce – “But I have.  I’m not dumb, Amadeus.  I’m very, very smart.  So I know what you came here to talk about.  So here it is:  When I was four I saw my father kill my mother.  And years later, I killed him.  I didn’t mean to.  But I did it  I’ve got that kind of anger inside.  That kind of capacity.  But you, you have your own problems.  And your Hulk’s gonna have his own problems as a result.  And you may not love everything you learn about yourself.  But you’re not a…you’re not a monster.  You’re not me, Amadeus.  You’re not me.”

Amadeus  – “Dude…you’re not a monster either.”

Bruce – “That’s what you’ve always told me.  When almost no one else believed it.  So if you’re not scared of me, how the hell can you be so scared of you?”

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

As far as Greg Pak’s writing goes (and I’m saying this with boxes of beloved Peter David Hulk comics in my closet) issue #8 of The Totally Awesome Hulk was the most beautiful issue of any Hulk book I’ve ever read.  Amadeus and Bruce shared this incredible, intimate moment but we also see Bruce finally, finally getting to enjoy peace after a lifetime of hell.  It’s gorgeous.  It has a passing of the torch.  It shows faith and strength in family and friends.  It explores the fear of what we can be and our striving to become our best.  And it ends in peace.  It’s perfect!

Amadeus Cho illustrates, while not always as easy as we may hope, controlling our anger is possible and when we do we are able to do incredible things (no pun intended).  There is so much greatness possible when we transcend our fear and learn to control our anger.  Amadeus also serves as a model of compassionate understanding.  Where so many people saw something to fear, he looked at Bruce and saw who he really was.  Then Amadeus loved him for it.  Look at the brilliant metaphor Greg Pak has given us!  In approaching Bruce’s Hulk with empathy instead of fear, he was able to heal him.  How beautiful, how powerful, how relevant an analogy is that??  When we approach another in compassionate understanding, leaving aside our judgment and fear, we can heal them.  In so doing, we can become stronger ourselves as compassionate understanding and acceptance gives us strength.  Amadeus cured Bruce – physically and emotionally – giving him what he wanted more than anything else in the world.  And, in controlling his own anger and destructive emotions while reaching out in empathy and compassion, Amadeus Cho becomes the strongest one there is.

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The Totally Awesome Hulk #15 / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Lastly, it’s important that Amadeus is another of Marvel’s brilliantly executed Legacy Characters.  I’ve written before about how important these characters are.  As a young, intelligent Korean American, Amadeus becoming the Hulk opens the door for a wider audience to connect to the character in a way that perhaps they never have before.  We cannot overstate how important this is.  In the most recent issue, The Totally Awesome Hulk #15, Amadeus joins Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel), Cindy Moon (Silk), Jake Oh (Agent of SHIELD), Shang-Chi (Master of Kung-Fu), and Jimmy Woo (Head of the Agents of Atlas) in a charity event for bone marrow donations.  As they all walk to dinner afterwards, Jimmy captures the need for the growing diversity in comic characters perfectly.  He tells the assembled group, “Yeah, you’ve got a lot of people looking up to you.  All those second and third generation kids…when have they ever seem people who look like them doing what you do?  I know you think you’re a pretty big deal.  But the crazy thing is, you actually are.  So don’t screw it up.”

This is what the angry subsect of comic fandom that spends their days spewing hate about legacy characters don’t understand.  The idea of just making new minority characters is certainly important but a new character can’t carry the same cultural weight as one that’s existed for the better part of a century.  As a white, American male I’ve been able to easily see myself reflected in the comic characters I’ve read about my entire life.  Everyone deserves that experience.  To argue against that is to argue irrationally from a privileged point of view lacking empathy.  Yes, Marvel is clearly making a conscious effort to diversify their flagship characters.  For that they need be praised.  And, as Amadeus Cho clearly illustrates, the growing diversity in Marvel’s canon isn’t simply a matter of swapping the face behind the mask/green skin.  Rather all these characters being created are rich in scope and story.  There is a reason their story needs to be told and they add a great deal of excitement, depth, and fun to the Marvel Universe with their presence.

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As opposed to endless angst we also get an awkwardly hilarious look at teenage hormone-driven flirtations on a Hulkified level.  It’s great. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

I’m so thankful that the first major non-Peter David Hulk comic I’ve read has been Greg Pak’s The Totally Awesome Hulk.  I hesitate to say this is the best Hulk comic I’ve ever read.  The old Peter David stories were such a big part of my youth.  But, while they were exciting, they always made me so sad.  I’m an empathetic reader and reading about the tortured life of poor Bruce Banner legitimately hurt.  I still have vivid, painful memories of an episode of the old 90’s Hulk cartoon show where, to protect him, Rick and Betty had to tell the Hulk they hated him and wanted him to leave.  My heart broke.  It STILL bothers me!

That isolation and pain were, for better or worse, always a part of the Hulk.  Yet that’s no longer the case.  With Amadeus Cho as the Hulk, we have all the prerequisite fun (and smashing!) of Hulk superhero stories but without the pervasive (and, at times, oppressive) feeling of sadness and exclusion hanging in the air.  Essentially, it’s the best of what I remember with none of the emotional pain.  In a time when the news grows increasingly darker every day, this gift becomes more and more welcome each month.  The story of a Hulk who works to control and direct his anger, while being a model of empathetic/compassionate understanding, becomes more and more relevant by the day as well.  In reading The Totally Awesome Hulk, I certainly have a lot of fun.  I also see a story that gently nudges me toward becoming the strongest me I can be too.

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Thankfully, the Hulk is out-of-control no longer.  And he helps show us how to be better people too, having a lot of fun along the way. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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19 thoughts on “A New Hulk for A New Age

  1. As a fellow collector of this title, I could not agree more with everything you’ve said. There is something incredibly refreshing reading any issue from this title and it is simply wonderful. Brilliant Post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Refreshing” is a wonderful way to put it. And I’m happy to know you share my love of Amadeus’ exploits as the Hulk too. Thank you so much for the kind words. And after reading #15, I can’t wait to see where this latest arc goes!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not quite up to date yet (I get my issues in instalments of 3 issues) but I intend to read them in the next few days. Regardless, I look forward to whatever the creative team have in store.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ve now read issue 13-15. Can’t deny I was a bit worried when they advertised that a pro basketball player would be guest starring as I thought it would be a bit of an ad for basketball but it was pulled off far better than expected and, yet again, it was a very refreshing little arc. Issue 15 felt much needed after everything Ammie has been through lately and the dinner conversation was simply sublime.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. ME TOO! When I saw the NBA tie-in all I could think of was this weird, freebie comic I got as a kid in the early 90’s where Michael Jordan teamed up with some comic characters to…I don’t know, maybe fight some crime? It was weird. But you’re right, it worked! It’s another testament to how great the creative team was. And yes, #15 was certainly refreshing after everything – the dinner scene was perfect too. You took the words right out of my mouth :).

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciate that. During my absence from comic reading I’d hear about the exploits of certain characters and feel like I was missing out but the Hulk stories often sounded epic…yet, as I wrote above, sad. But I would agree – clearly given the tone of the post 🙂 – that his current incarnation is a brilliant one.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yep, it certainly is AWESOME, Michael!
    Thro an amazing, well-written Post, u’ve invigorated Ol Bronze Age Brad to go an’ giv this modern title a butcher’s!
    I too was a fan of th Hulk (lollipops, playing cards – and that 70s TV series! – all emblazoned w th Green Goliath)
    Th latter half of ’16 – as u may have realised – has been spent tryin to reconstruct my earliest comic collecting phase; I am convinced that my v 1st comic was Hulk Comic: a Marvel UK venture (started in 1979) which, I am pretty sure, is where I discovered such faves as Nick Fury and Night-Raven
    Will do a piece on Marvel UK some time!
    Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds fantastic! I can’t wait to read it. It’s especially exciting as an American reader who didn’t have direct/easy access to those sorts of volumes. As always, happy hunting and good luck on your continuing Bronze Age Quest!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks, amigo!
        I thot th perspective from my side of th Pond might intrigue my American friends and fill that gap in your knowledge!
        Th BA quest is going great – trouble is trying to keep apace w th reports to accompany it!
        Here’s ta fun tropes!
        Cheers!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Micheal,

    Great post as always! Hey, crazy idea but I am trying a new way to do a final in my English Media class. The theme they have to use is a person of transformational resistance. That means a person who sees the need for change and it thereby changes the people or society around them.

    I want to use you post as a reading post that they can use and write an essay. I am excited and see the wheels turning that maybe this is the buy on that high schoolers (and middle schoolers) need. These are the places where we could have so many cool open doors.

    So, if you are good, I am going to take a few of your posts, Squirell girl, Rodri, and this one as a sample for my kids to try. Next quarter my students will be making their own blogs so I hope you might be picking up some new fans.

    Thanks, brother,

    Gary

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m honored Gary! You are more than welcome to use whatever pieces you’d like in your class. As we discussed a bit before, I love the whole theme of the course and I’ll be interested to hear how your students respond to it. And I’m beyond flattered to be included on the reading list!

      Like

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