The Hulk and Harlan

The Incredible Hulk #140

Continuing with our breathless coverage of The Incredible Hulk’s rapidly approaching 50th anniversary, here’s a nearly-forgotten gem from 1971. Comic books had not exactly broken through into the wider adult market at that point in time, so it was unusual to find an established writer willing to openly pen a story for a pulpy medium aimed at your average 12-year-old boy with a spare 15 cents rattling around in his pocket.

And yet, right there on the lower right-hand cover of The Incredible Hulk #140 is the blurb “Harlan Ellison Strikes Again!” Yes, the mighty Harlan was not afraid that his reputation might be soiled by working in the lowly comics field. Who knows what his reasoning was in taking on this job (beyond the obvious paycheck), but in hindsight it looks shrewd, introducing an entire young generation to his name and work. It was certainly my first exposure to him.

So what did Harlan concoct for the jolly green giant? (Spoiler alert!) In brief, the Hulk gets shrunk down by a bad guy to a microscopic world, where he finds a previously unknown race of green-skinned people.  He finds acceptance and love before having it all ripped from him when he is returned to his normal size. Much smashing ensues.

All of which, now that I think of it, sounds amazingly like the plot for the “World War Hulk” storyline from a few years back. Ol’ Harlan really was ahead of his time.

The Incredible Hulk’s Retirement Job

I hate being last to note an anniversary. So let me take the lead in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first appearance of The Incredible Hulk. Yes, I know it’s still not quite 50 years, as The Incredible Hulk No. 1 came crashing onto those spinning comic book racks in 1962. I’m a couple months early. But the arrival of the Hulk comic book was such a momentous occasion in the history of Western literature that it will take the entire year plus some to properly celebrate.

I thought I’d kick off the celebration by catching everyone up on the Hulk’s current whereabouts. As you might expect, a half century of smashin’ stuff wears a body down. It’s not commonly known, but the Hulk has finally taken a desk job. He’s not entirely reconciled to the idea, but, well… judge for yourself.

And so, with apologies to Stan Lee and Herb Trimpe, here’s the transcript from the Hulk’s first day as a radio talk show host:

Hulk: Hulk is on radio? Good. Stupid producer, sit down. Hulk knows what to do.

So, welcome to Hulk Show on radio. You are probably wondering — why is Hulk on radio? And will he smash me if I don’t listen?

Here is the truth. Hulk tears Achilles tendon in battle with Doc Samson. And then Hulk gets in another argument with Thor, and stupid hippie hits Hulk in face so hard with Mjolnir hammer that Hulk’s head hurts for long time.

Hulk says, ‘Enough of this. Hulk needs sit-down job in air conditioning.’ So Hulk sends out feelers, and then satellite radio people call Hulk. They say ‘anyone who was famous for even 10 minutes can host a satellite radio program.’ So now Hulk has radio talk show host job. Puny humans, call me now.”

Caller 1: Hi Hulk! Long-time listener, first-time caller…

Hulk: This is Hulk’s first day on radio.

Caller 1: Er, yes. Big fan from way back. Anyway, Hulk, I’m worried about my mutual funds. My broker tells me I should diversify into more developing Asian markets, but I don’t know….

Hulk: Puny human. Hulk not care about stupid problems. Hulk wants to smash something.

Caller 1: So you’re saying I should be more assertive?

Hulk: Why is this hard? Hulk sees problem, Hulk smashes problem. Smash broker, and then call Hulk back. Ok, Hulk takes another call.

Caller 2: Hi Hulk! Hey, I have a bet with my buddies down at the bar that I hope you can settle. Are you strong enough to smash the federal deficit?

Hulk: (15 second dead air) Hulk smashed Abomination, and Rhino, and… lots of others Hulk can’t remember right now. Deficit monster is bigger than all of them. But yes, Hulk can smash. Hulk knows secret of deficit powers. Is all caused by puny human congressmen and their appropriations bills. Hulk can surely smash puny congressmen and appropriations bills. But then stupid American humans just vote in more congressmen and appropriations bills, and Hulk would have to be smashing forever. Stupid humans. Why can’t you leave Hulk alone? Smash deficit monster yourselves.

Caller 2: Thanks Hulk! If you ever decide to fight the deficit, I’ll definitely buy the pay-per-view!

Hulk: That good call! Hulk not smash puny human. Ok, next caller, talk to Hulk.

Caller 3: Hey, Hulk, Is it true you and Bruce Banner are the same…

Hulk: BANNER! HULK HATES BANNER! WHEN HULK FINDS BANNER HE WILL SMASH HIM INTO BLODDY PASTE! THE MADDER HULK GETS, THE STRONGER HULK….

<Commercial break>

Hulk: OK, Hulk is back.  Hulk’s stupid producer says if Hulk smashes any more equipment, it comes out of Hulk’s paycheck. Hulk listens. Hulk may be green, but he’s not made of money.

Producer also says now is time for interview. Hulk’s special guest today is Doctor Strange. Doctor Strange used to be Hulk’s friend in Defenders supergroup. Then lots of other stuff happened. And then Hulk had to crush all the bones in Doctor Strange’s hands during World War Hulk. Ha Ha! No hard feelings, Hulk hopes.

Strange: haha no hard feelings Hulk.

Hulk: So, welcome to show. Hulk understands Doctor Strange has new book out?

Strange: Yes, Hulk. It’s called “Using Everyday Magic To Create a Better You.”

Hulk: Hulk hates books.

Strange: Er, yes, but…

Hulk:  Books have words, and words are always lies. LIES! Why does everybody lie to Hulk, Doctor?

Strange: (under breath: By the dread Dormammu…) I am not lying to my readers Hulk, nor to you my friend. I’ve tried to give as much truthful information as possible in a way that will help people navigate the shoals…

Hulk: So, if Hulk reads book, will Hulk have enough magical powers to crush Dr. Strange?

Strange: Er, no, Hulk. I am the Master of the Mystic Arts, after all. This is just basic introduction to help people develop a positive life-force…

Hulk: YOU THINK YOU ARE BETTER THAN HULK BECAUSE HULK HAS NO COLLEGE EDUCATION!

Strange: Please, calm down, Hulk.

Hulk: OK, Hulk is CALM. But Hulk really hates self-help books. They sit on the bookshelf and nag, nag, nag at you until Hulk just wants to smashsmashsmash (deep breath). Although they do make big money, which Hulk respects. What’s next for Doctor Strange?

Strange: Well, Hulk, after sending the completed manuscript to my publisher I retired to the Astral Plane for months of cleansing meditation. And now I’m eager to begin my book tour. The tour kicks off at the Borders in Austin, Texas, at The Domain shopping center.

Hulk: Ha Ha! Doctor Strange doesn’t read business section very much, does he?

Strange: I’m sorry?

Hulk: No Wall Street Journal delivery in Astral Plane, eh?

Strange: Um, the rivers of time flow at different rates between the Earth and the Astral Plane, but I don’t quite follow….

Hulk: Don’t worry Doc! You are Master of Mystic Arts! You will figure it out! Hulk thanks Doctor Strange for coming on show to promote stupid book. And be careful shaking hands on book tour! Hulk wouldn’t want doctor’s delicate bones to ache. Ha Ha! Hulk likes jokes.

Blog outpost for writer Steve Statham