My name is Dan Cody and I’m an amateur cartoonist. I’d like to talk about my favorite superhero and all around best character, the Incredible Hulk. That’s right, throwin’ down the gauntlet (insert Thanos joke). Stan Lee has often said that the concept was born from a mix of Jekyll and Hyde and Frankenstein, both classic literature. I think this strong grounding in academic storytelling, along with the peculiar identity as the most unwilling hero both come together to tell a solid story. I’m hoping you’ll agree by the end of this article, or at least not dump every insult you own into the comments.

So we’re talking about the Hulk. Cool. Well, who’s Hulk? Superhero comics are a pretty unique medium in that many different authors and illustrators take a crack at it. They interpret things differently, and hey, that’s great. Doesn’t help us.

I’d like to talk about what I call a Seed Character, which is a fancy way of just saying what’s dogmatic about a character. It’s not that these things can’t change, but you should have a good reason why. For instance, the Hulk is often a cautionary tale about nuclear proliferation. He’s a living super weapon created by a nuclear bomb analog, it’s pretty overt. You’d also be hard pressed to write a Hulk story where he has laser vision and flight instead of super strength.

Honestly, you probably wouldn’t even want to. Superheroes are often about wish fulfillment
and power fantasy. Hulk fans like to feel like they can solve their problems with big punches, it just feels cool. That specifically is a crucial element of the Incredible Hulk.

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In truth, Bruce Banner absolutely does not want to fall into that power fantasy, and as a reader you’re compelled not to. Many superheroes often have to deal with making sure that their particular Dr. Doom doesn’t blow up the school bus, sure. Bruce’s greatest enemy is actually himself and the lack of control he has over his phenomenal strength. His character, that is, his Seed Character, is based entirely on the concept. This creates an entirely different dynamic to the story that shapes the whole narrative.

Simply put, Bruce’s number one priority in a classic Hulk story is precisely to not even be the Hulk. On top of the physical implications, Banner seems to and should take a moral issue with it. It’s a personal failing when he has to.

This is the crux of what makes him such a potent character, and it’s tied to a concept I like to call an Ancillary Win Condition, a fancy way of saying that the character has goals that do not begin and end at “don’t die.” It’s not enough that he triumphs at the end of the story. For Bruce to truly be successful, he must avoid collateral damage and never actually transform. It’s an important distinction, because we as an audience should be torn. On one hand, it feeds into the power fantasy to turn into a giant rage monster and punch tanks. On a more personal level, though, we should feel sympathy for poor Banner when he loses control and Hulks out. Remember, it’s wish fulfillment because we know in real life that it’s not ok to flip over the Monopoly board when we land on Park Place.

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Why does this matter to the writer and the reader? Two big reasons. First, it actually gives us a
sense of tension. Seriously, what are the chances that the Hulk dies in some random issue without any fanfare? Every story demands that there are, in fact, stakes, and having an Ancillary Win Condition creates a situation of believable loss. Secondly, to circle this all back around, it creates a powerful hook baked right into the Seed Character that can be utilized by future story tellers. It makes a strong character.

When I got into comics, I was already an artist. I decided that I loved the medium and all the different moving parts in it. Coming from a strong literary background but without any actual experience with comics, I immediately gravitated towards the Hulk when I was looking for stuff to start with. He’s just such a strong character, and not because he can lift a small sun. He’s made whole by his weaknesses and fits into the world he inhabits in such a personal and unique way.

To be sure, the Incredible Hulk is an oddity in the Marvel lineup, and not every superhero should be written the same. However, I believe that few have the singular potential for personal and potent storytelling. In conclusion, I’d like to humbly showcase a short comic that exemplifies my philosophy here. Enjoy.

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