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Finn`s Wake : Finn Hulks You Up
© Mark Finn
June 17, 2003

I'm going to weigh in early on the final, big movie of the Geek Nation’s Summer Romantic Fling Tour.

Everyone wants to know what I think of The Hulk. After all, I'm the Hulk fan most people know about. I have comics, toys, action figures, t-shirts, paper and plastic ephemera, even a Hulk sketchbook with drawings commissioned by various comic book artists. I've got Lou Ferrigno's autograph, twice (once in color, once in black and white). In a recent company catalog, I can be seen in a Hulk hockey jersey and swinging those way-cool green Hulk fists that make noise when you hit them. I'm THAT Hulk fan.

So, why then am I not worried about the movie? I mean, I'm not sweating it in the least. Everyone is exhibiting grave concerns over the plot, the CGI, and so on and so forth. They even look at me sideways when I tell them I'm excited for it to come out. When I explain myself, they pooh-pooh my explanation. Therefore, in the interest of generating as much pooh-pooh as possible, I'll explain it all to you.

Sight unseen, this will be a great movie, provided you're going to see The Incredible Hulk, and not Crouching Tiger, Hulking Dragon. Ang Lee is directing, sure, but this won't be no art movie. Popcorn will fly, stuff will go boom, and violence will be lovingly rendered by the staff of ILM. If by some coincidence there is any artistic merit to The Hulk, then that's great. But I'm not expecting it and neither should you. Academy Award winner Jennifer Connelly, as the Hulk’s loving girlfriend, is nice and all, but I don’t expect more of a contribution than, say, Academy Award winner Halle Berry as the African Mutant Set Decoration’s contribution in the X-Men movies. Nick Nolte? Yeah, okay, his career choices are always solid. Another 48 Hours leaps right to mind. Bottom line, don’t walk into this film expecting the be-all, end-all of super hero films.

This won’t be an update of the television show any more than it will be a true adaptation of the comic book (although it will be more true to the latter than the former). The plot and story, particularly the origin, had to be changed in the light of our current cultural bugbears. When the character was conceived back in 1962, radiation was the big scary tech thing. Nowadays, it's genetics. It's a frightening buzzword designed to be the scapegoat for what happens in the story, nothing more. And rumor has it that radiation is also partially responsible for the genetic accident, so why quibble? The important question is, does he turn green and burst out of his clothes?

And speaking of big and green . . . look, the television show did what it did because it had no choice. They had to put a big muscleman in green body paint in their shows. In the modern movie world, you can do a lot more damage with computers. I know some of you think the CGI looks bad, but wait for the movie first, okay? What you're seeing is quick action shots.

If the Hulk doesn't look quite right, it's because Ang Lee sat over the shoulders of the animators and actually directed the character while they worked. He specifically wanted a very fast, fluid, graceful Hulk. I’m hoping that he was able to overcome the animator hubris that normally colors every ILM job; the nervous, twitchy shuffle of their animated characters that may in fact be more realistic, but doesn't look remotely close to believable because the characters are moving when the humans in the scene do not. I'd give a million dollars for Ray Harryhausen to come in and act as a consultant to the young code-crunchers at ILM. All of his monsters could walk up to the mark, hit it, and do the action that was required of them with a minimum of fidgeting that has become a signature style for ILM’s animators. Harryhausen knew how to emote without looking wiggly.

Personally, I like what little CGI I’ve seen. And with every close-up and still frame they publish, I am amazed at the Hulk’s open pores, tiny bumps and beads of sweat, and other realistic-looking skin textures. The close-ups, at least, look just fine to me. And he’s massive! Truly super-heroic proportions. Plus, now that CGI has freed up the need to have a hydraulic lift around every time the Hulk wants to throw a car, he can pull off some of the stunts that he’s known for in the comics, like the huge, soaring leaps, and (I’m sorry to keep coming back to this) the army tank Caber-toss we saw in the Superbowl preview. THAT is the Hulk. That’s what the Hulk does in the comics; he fights the military. He smashes tanks and then jumps away, bellowing, “Puny soldiers! Hulk wants to be left alone!” That pidgin English is another signature of what has been a tradition in the Hulk’s comic career. It was called the Fight of the Month comic for fifteen years, and with good reason.

For those of you who would like a crash course in what makes the Hulk cool for Mark Finn, let me direct you to my top five (available) Hulk comics. Most can be found at your local comic or book store with little effort.

5. Hulk and Thing: The Big Chance, by Jim Starlin and Berni Wrightson. An older graphic novel, back from when they still had original stories at a different size, this is a funny story starring Marvel’s loveable monsters. I like it because it shows some of the Hulk’s innocence, and well, it’s a Hulk and Thing story. Those are classic Marvel match-ups, the stuff of legends.

4. Hulk: Return of the Monster, by Bruce Jones and John Romita Jr. This is the beginning of the current, fan-fave run on the Hulk. It dials back the character to his roots and was very well received by everyone. It’s equal parts TV show, old school comics, and modern sensibilities.

3. Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect, by Peter David and George Perez. From the “Smart Hulk” period, made popular by Peter David and his 10-year run on the book. David brought fresh ideas to the Hulk, boosted his popularity, and defined the characterization like no one since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. This stand-alone story deals with time travel and the destruction of the Marvel world. Great stuff!

2. Incredible Hulk: Ground Zero, by Peter David and Todd MacFarlane. This was David’s first storyline on the Hulk, and it showcases his cleverness by taking the Hulk back to his roots, literally and figuratively. Art by MacFarlane (pre-litigious mogul) is fun and helped establish him as a Marvel legend, but it’s the writing that shows through here.

1. Essential Hulk trade paperback, by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and everyone else. This big, soft collection reprints Incredible Hulk 1-6, and his early Tales To Astonish appearances. If you want the essence of the Hulk, the core stuff, the Bible, then you need to check this out. Printed in black and white, so it’s cheaper to you (just remember that in the first issue, he was gray, and a coloring error made him green in the second issue).

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the CGI won’t impress me. Maybe the story will be flat and uninspiring. Maybe they will make so many grievous errors that it’ll pierce my fanboy heart and I’ll spew bile for days. Or maybe it’s because there’s one movie left that I know will draw all of the attention away from whatever shortcomings The Hulk might have. When DOES The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen hit the theaters, anyway?

Mark Finn is the author of Gods New and Used and Year of the Hare, available from your local bookstore or from www.bookpeople.com.

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