Comic Polity: Character Historicism

There are several ways to write comics. We see them written for plot, written for theme, written for setting, and for character. Jason Aaron seems to write for the character. Not necessarily for character development, but rather as an exploration of the psyche of his title’s namesake. His portfolio includes the likes of Ghost Rider, Punisher, and Wolverine among others. And now he’s tackling the Hulk.

Newly separated, Bruce Banner and the Hulk begin a new game of cat and mouse. True to form, Aaron is writing based not on a plotline or story arc, but rather an examination of personality and character. One trait that is common among most, if not all of Aaron’s pieces, is the torment that follows his protagonist, and the Hulk is no exception. Can you think of a more tortured individual within the Marvel Universe? But what can we expect from this book?

I believe that we will see stories that draw on the Hulk’s established supporting characters and continuity in such a way as to provide a contrast between what a “model character” should be and what the Hulk actually is. Another element that Aaron will undoubtedly include is the examination of the Hulk on multiple levels. For instance, the first step is to divide the two characters that make up the Hulk: Bruce Banner and the monster within. Once this division is made, Aaron will be able to deal with the motives, feelings, and actions of two separate entities.

Hulk vs Banner

My guess is that in many ways the two characters will be different. This is admittedly an obvious guess and doesn’t take too much thought. But this strategy of storytelling initially establishes and reinforces a longstanding status quo. After Aaron delivers an impactful beginning to his yarn, the reader will likely see that the two halves of the Hulk are eerily similar. Banner exemplifies and subtly articulates traits that have long been attributed to the gamma-irradiated monster that lives inside him. Then, I imagine the lines will begin to blur as the reader’s definition of the term “monster” changes. Banner’s motiviations could be placed under the microscope for us all, and we may well squirm at the sight.

Our understanding of the struggle that the composite being endures will thus begin to change.

Hulk

The beauty of this type of storytelling is that the status quo of the fan-favorite character remains intact while the story unfolds. It is not the gimmicks, but rather the spectacle that generates readership lies in the events surrounding the character while the character we thought we knew is laid bare before us. The subjectivity is masterful as the reader decides what is most important among the events that have shaped the character to become what we know from previous runs on the title.

The downside to this method is the darkness that the reader is exposed to during the journey— and there will be plenty, unless I miss my guess. So hang on as Jason Aaron begins his devastating tale of what Banner exhibits, what the monster engenders, and what the Hulk truly is.