The Incredible Hulk: The Peter David Years – A ComiConversation
March 19th, 2016 | by Mitch Nissen
ComiConverse Contributors Mitch Nissen and Sam McCoy have been friends since the late 90’s, when they used to work in the cornfields of the midwest together. Reading comics and watching movies are the foundation of their friendship which has lasted, despite the fact they have not lived near one another for years. Mitch was a Marvel guy through and through when Sam came along with his DC Universe of Batman and the rest of the Justice League. Over the years they’ve shared some of their favorite stories with one another. Today, they are ComiConversing about The Incredible Hulk.
March Reading For Sam:
The Incredible Hulk Vol. 1 #364 through 377 from December 1989 to January 1991
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Written by Peter David with Art by Jeff Purves, Dale Keown, and Sam Kieth.
Mitch’s History With The Incredible Hulk:
The Bill Bixby television series was my initial exposure to the character. Since then I have striven to learn everything I can about the green goliath.
My favorite era of the Hulk are the issues written by Peter David. He took the story in new directions and redefined the character. Not all of it was gold but, he evolved the character in ways no other Hulk scribe had or has since.
Paired with amazing artists like Dale Keown, Gary Frank, and Liam Sharp, the comics during Mr. David’s run had a larger than life appearance, and power equal to that of the character. Not only did the Hulk’s character grow and change, so too did his enemies. The Leader and the Abomination most notably were updated from products of the 1960’s to modern Marvel monsters. The character of the Abomination was even fleshed out into a three dimensional character.
I chose this section of Peter David’s Hulk for Sam as it shows the evolution of not only the Hulk, but also some of his enemies. The defining lines between the gray and green Hulks are clearly shown. There is a Leader story, an Abomination story, a Defenders story, all culminating in the creation of professor Hulk. Plus there is the gorgeous art of Dale Keown.
Sam’s History With The Incredible Hulk:
Like Mitch my first initial exposure to the character the Incredible Hulk was with the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno show that would have been in reruns at the time and I vaguely remember watching The Death of the Incredible Hulk TV movie when it aired in 1990 as I had gotten huge into superheroes because of the release of Batman in 1989.
I have previously read some of the Peter David Hulk stuff. I have read the famed Future Imperfect story and Hulk: The End with Dale Keown and I know this run is when Keown first joined The Incredible Hulk. I have also dabbled a bit in the early parts of his run as an old roommate of mine was going through the Peter David Hulk stuff and I had always heard about it from Mitch. I thought it was pretty solid stuff.
In terms of Peter David, I consider myself a fan. I enjoyed his and Todd Nauck’s Young Justice series at DC. In addition, I have read some of his work on Aquaman that is also very strong, as is his work on Amazing Spider-Man, X-Factor and Supergirl.
We ComiConverse on The Incredible Hulk:
Sam McCoy: It’s probably best if I break this up a little bit as I definitely found some parts of this stronger than others.
The first story arc “Countdown” was okay. It felt very much a product of the time as it was a bunch of one issues adventures with a guest star that for the most part was resolved by the end but with a pretty loose overall narrative. I enjoyed the depictions of Leader and Abomination quite a bit. In fact I would have liked to have seen them again at some point. I couldn’t really take Madman all that seriously and I think a large part of it had to be his costume to me.
Mitch Nissen: Madman only appears in a couple more issue after this story and is never developed beyond this story. Despite that, the Countdown arc always comes to mind when I read Batman: Hush, a story we mutually enjoy. The stories are quite different but they parallel each other in narrative structure and employment of characters, and they both introduce new antagonists at the story’s conclusion. Hush is a far more protracted narrative than Countdown, a sign of the different era in which Hush was written.
Sam: Issue 368 was the real highlight for me as this is a fantastic one-shot with guest artist Sam Kieth. This issue focuses on the Hulk and his encounters with the villain Mr. Hyde. This is some of the best writing I’ve ever seen come from Peter David, it was almost Alan Moore-ian. It was absolutely amazing and I can say if you’re to read only one issue of this group of comics it is this, at least from my point of view.
Mitch: It’s interesting that you liked that issue the best as it was quite the rarity within the run.
Sam: I’ve been a Kieth fan for a while. Ever since I saw some image that he did of the DC character of Lobo a long time ago I believe. He’s done a couple of different Batman minis and graphic novels over the last decade.
Mitch: His art is immediately recognizable. At one point in the early 1990’s it seemed as if his art was everywhere. He’s also contributed his artistic talents to many issues of Marvel Comics Presents penciling a few Wolverine stories and a Ghost Rider and Cable story called Servants of the Dead which I enjoyed. And of course there is the wonderful character, the Maxx.
Sam: I always loved the look on The Maxx.
I liked issue 368 because it was so different in that run and definitely pretty different from anything Marvel was doing at the time. It felt more like a Vertigo book of that era than a Marvel book.
I’m curious, what are your thoughts on that issue?
Mitch: It is a truly wonderful issue and an introspective tale. The gray Hulk is essentially a Mr. Hyde archetype. Having Hulk eventually confront the actual Mr. Hyde is a natural progression and a brilliant way of having the character confront himself. This one issue foreshadows the coming issues where Hulk actually does confront himself. The darkness of the art was amazing. As far as Sam Kieth on Hulk however I always think of his work on the Marvel Knights mini series Wolverine Hulk in which Kieth both writes and draws.
How about the rest of the run?
Sam: From issues 369-377 it is a sort of ongoing saga of the struggle of Gray Hulk against a reemerging Green Hulk. My enjoyment ranged from really liking it (the Dr. Strange and Namor issues) to thinking it was pure filler (the Freedom Force issue). I feel that 377, is the culmination of not just this arc but of most of the run of Joe Fixit which I’ve only read what is here so I don’t think I got the satisfaction out of I would have if I had read it all.
Mitch: So you found #377 a little unsatisfying. Does this mean that you’ll go back and pick up the older issues to complete the overall experience?
Sam: Honestly I don’t know. I’d probably be more interested in seeing what comes next than what came before. I was never super smitten with Gray Hulk, and this is more the Hulk I’d seen from my early days of picking up Marvel books that he’d guest starred in.
Mitch: As a Hulk fan it’s my opinion that you can’t go wrong moving either forward or backward in the run from here. Going forward in the run the book really hits its stride. Peter David’s writing continues to grow in quality through the saga of the Professor Hulk. The art keeps getting better even after Keown leaves and Gary Frank picks up the reigns. And of course there is the milestone story Future Imperfect which you already are familiar with. Issue #400 is a massive culmination of the Hulk and the Leader’s stories stretching all the way back to the beginning of Peter David’s run with issue #328.
What did you think of Gray Hulk and the differentiations between him and the Green Hulk?
Sam: I’m not sure I was really all that much of a fan of Gray Hulk. His character was unlikeable to me, and not in a good way like a great villain can be. I admit I did get a little tired of Gray Hulk always coming out on top physically and then ragging on who he just bested, especially considering there was little doubt of him ever getting his comeuppance. In fact at some point if let’s say Abomination was able to mount a better fight I would have found it a little more interesting.
Mitch: The personality of Gray Hulk in these issues comes from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original Hulk. Bruce became Hulk at night and was more of a Mr. Hyde than the iconic misunderstood emotional monster he’d eventually become. At one point this original Hulk pondered taking over the world. When reading that first issue of Hulk (where he is also sporting a gray skin tone) he is a rather unlikable character. Peter David employs this same personality in his Gray Hulk while adding his own blend of arrogant humor. In issues #376 and #377 Peter David attempts to explain the reason why Hulk was such a different character in those early issues by Stan Lee, expanding the Hulk mythos as well as unifying those early issues with overall continuity.
There also exists a six issue mini series Hulk: Gray by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. This story expands upon the Hulk’s first appearance. While having powerful scenes, Loeb disregards Stan Lee’s characterization of the Gray Hulk, employing a childlike version of the Green Hulk instead. It’s interesting but completely incongruous with every other depiction of the Gray Hulk.
There are a lot of iconic images in this section of the Incredible Hulk. What did you think of Jeff Purves’ art and Dale Keown’s?
Sam: I thought Jeff Purve’s Hulk looked pretty decent, but I admit a lot of his other characters I wasn’t all that impressed with. Now Keown I really liked, especially after the first issue or two I thought by and large his work was very good.
Although as great as I do think Dale did, towards the end when Rick and Banner were together at times I had trouble distinguishing one from the other. It helped most when Rick was still in the Bucky costume.
Sam: I think this part of the Peter David run on Incredible Hulk was pretty good and if you’ve enjoyed Peter David’s writing in the past give this a shot for sure.
I also would like to tell readers that if you are curious about this run and don’t have these issues, you’ll have to head to the back issue long boxes as the trades for this volume are out of print and they are not available digitally yet.
Mitch: The trades had been in print and available for the last eight years under the titles Marvel Visionaries: Peter David ~ The Incredible Hulk Volumes 1 Through 8. This last year however Marvel took the books out of print. They are still available from third party sellers and are worth tracking down. The latest volume was released just this last October under the title Incredible Hulk Epic Collection. Hopefully soon Marvel will rerelease the out of print trades under their new Epic Collections line or in Omnibus format as these are some of the most influential Hulk stories ever written.
Thanks for reading and be on the lookout for the companion article later this month where Sam has Mitch read Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again.
Sam McCoy is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on twitter @realcactussam
Mitch Nissen is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow us on twitter @ComiConverse