Monday, January 16, 2006

Cronin Theory of Comics - Don't Be Self Conscious About Writing Superhero Comics AKA "Why Puny Humans No Write Hulk Dialogue?"

I was re-reading some older Hulk comics the other day from the 1970s, and it struck me, no one writes the "classic" Hulk dialogue anymore. Now, Peter David had an excuse, as his Hulk was not in the vein of the classic Hulk, but that has not been the case for a long while since David, and yet basically every writer after David on the Incredible Hulk has kept the Hulk as basically a silent creature, which struck me...could it be because writers feel weird writing that goofy dialogue? If so, that's not a good reason, because I do not think you can afford to be self-conscious when writing superhero comics.

Do not get me wrong, I think the same idea applies to other mediums, such as television and film, but in those cases, if the WRITER feels weird about the goofy dialogue, you sure as hell better bet that the ACTOR feels even weirder about the goofy dialogue, so there is a tagteam approach to dealing with feeling self-conscious. For the comic writer, it is all him or her on the line. If people make fun of the dialogue, it is strictly the writer who will take the heat. But if fear of this is keeping writers from writing comics a certain way, then I think that is awfully silly. Just as silly as I think it is to not have Hulk talk in the "Puny humans, Hulk smash!" dialogue anymore (except, of course, when Mark Millar does it in Ultimates ironically. Everything can be accepted if you just look at it with "irony").

This goes beyond Hulk's dialogue, of course. I think it is something that pervades a lot of modern comic book writers. That is why we see so many stories like, "Why would a guy who can build a gun that shoots fire waste his time robbing banks when he could just patent the gun and sell it?" It shows a certain level of dissatisfaction with the very genre the writer is working in...a dissatisfaction that is quite telling, in regards to the writer's approach on matters.

If you don't want to write superhero comics, that's cool. We could always use good new comics in other genres.

But if you're GOING to write superhero comics, just do it. Commit to the idea.

Do not be self-conscious about it.

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23 Comments:

Blogger Jake said...

In regard to the Hulk's dialogue, I think it was explained that at least post-heroes reborn Hulk was a new personality that was less child-like and more violent.

1/16/2006 05:12:00 AM  
Blogger Iagorune said...

Giffen is doing a fine job of writing (more or less), classic Hulk dialoge over in the Deffenders.

Just so ya know.

- rick

1/16/2006 05:25:00 AM  
Blogger Nimbus said...

"Why would a guy who can build a gun that shoots fire waste his time robbing banks when he could just patent the gun and sell it?"

Erm...because flamethrowers already exist? :)

Anyway, it's a stupid argument. Why would anyone rob a bank instead of, say, getting a job or something? Because of a variety of factors and reasons.

These are worlds where grown men and women wander around in skintight, revealing costumes. Purely because they're heroes. So why is having them speak stupidly or use their cold gun to freeze the whole of Metropolis and hold it to ransom so silly?

I mean, it *is* silly. But that's what some comic books are about (I'm talking about most of the stuff by the Big Two not the other stuff about pirates or high-school romances or real life) and why some of us love 'em.

And locking evil villains away just so they can escape another day - rather than killing them - is just part of that 'silliness'. So is not having your heroes age (but that's another kettle of fish).

1/16/2006 08:34:00 AM  
Blogger daveblud said...

Hulk was my favorite comic through out the 80's. I don't collect them now, but I've always wondered why Marvel abandoned the childish Hulk speak.

I loved the 80's Hulk rampaging all over the world. Unknowningly saving mankind monthly because the U-foes (or some other group of misfits)pissed ole banner off. Then HULK smashes!

Those books were classic.

1/16/2006 09:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Matthew Craig said...

Honestly? I think it's because there's a difference between silly and shitty.

I.R. Baboon = Silly
"Hulk not understand fundamental dichotomy!" = Shitty

Plus, yeah, that whole undelying menace thing. I mean, is the Hulk a teddy bear, or is he a wandering force of nature, who's as likely to smash your car as rescue your cat?

//\Oo/\\

1/16/2006 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger Shane Bailey said...

I like the way Paul Jenkins wrote Hulk in The Sentry mini.

1/16/2006 09:20:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Rick and Shane, you're right, a few writers outside of the regular series have done admirable jobs with the "clsssic" Hulk, especially the Sentry mini-series...wasn't that absolutely BRUTAL when the Sentry uses the Hulk for his own means, and the Hulk ends up all beaten up, but forgives "Golden Man" anyways?

Nicely done by Jenkins.

I was just referring to his regular title (or any of the mini-series).

1/16/2006 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"In regard to the Hulk's dialogue, I think it was explained that at least post-heroes reborn Hulk was a new personality that was less child-like and more violent."

I will certainly allow that one problem that the writers currently have (not a problem WITH them, a problem that they have to DEAL with), is the fact that I don't think there IS a status quo for Hulk right now.

It seems like it is a matter of "write him however you want to."

1/16/2006 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"Honestly? I think it's because there's a difference between silly and shitty.

I.R. Baboon = Silly
"Hulk not understand fundamental dichotomy!" = Shitty"

I can buy that rationale a bit. "It's not that we are ashamed of it, we just don't think the dialogue is good writing."

"Plus, yeah, that whole undelying menace thing. I mean, is the Hulk a teddy bear, or is he a wandering force of nature, who's as likely to smash your car as rescue your cat?"

I dunno about this, though, as I think that was part of the appeal.

1/16/2006 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger buckshot said...

Alan Moore was pretty self conscious about writing superheroes when he came up with Watchmen, and I think that one turned out okay...

But I hear you, man. The only thing sillier than superheroes is superhero writers taking themselves too seriously. Loosen up, have some fun, and above all, HULK SMASH!

1/16/2006 09:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Matthew Craig said...

I think that it's all too easy to give in to the temptation to make villains and monsters more cuddly - as if in humanizing them, writers lose sight of what makes them dangerous. Look at what happened to Venom and the Punisher. Hell, even Doctor Doom broke the fourth wall to tell us that he loved us.

(and yes: the gorge rose in my throat to see Punisher lined up with the other wankers in the Civil War poster)

The Hulk only became a cuddly hero character after so many years of being horrible.

Hm. What if it wasn't his intellect that choked his vocabulary...but his anger?

//\Oo/\\

1/16/2006 09:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Iron Lungfish said...

Self-consciousness is bad? This coming from a Grant Morrison fan?

I tend to not like "Hulk-speak." The Hulk shouldn't be cuddly or goofy or childlike unless he's in an explicitly comedic book like Defenders or the recent Devil Dinosaur one-shot. A Hulk that talks like a caveman is going to be funny. Ultimately, if you want a funny Hulk, that's okay, but know the limitations of what you can do with a funny Hulk. A funny Hulk isn't a scary Hulk, and a funny Hulk isn't a tragic Hulk.

Bruce Banner is a tragic figure because he's a good man who turns into a monster. The Hulk is a tragic figure because he never asked to exist and yet now that he does he can't be left in peace - he's a hunted creature precisely because he's a terrifying monster. That monster should be scary; if the monster is made an object of fun, we lose the sense of tragedy for both Banner and the Hulk.

In the sixties it was fine to have him talk in "Hulk-speak" because it was a cheap and dirty way to convey the Hulk's emotions without giving him thought balloons (which seemed contrary to the character - we're meant to see him as a huge unthinking brute) and because the conventions of the time didn't give Lee and Kirby the option of devoting silent panels and pages to visually establishing the Hulk's mood.

Hulk-speak doesn't serve that purpose any more; now it's either used to get a laugh, as pure nostalgia for aging fanboys who want to see "their" version of the Hulk. The "silent Hulk" approach tends to work better in hitting the character's core themes these days. It's not about being ashamed to tell a superhero story; it's about telling it in a more effective way.

1/16/2006 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Foss said...

I think it depends on the type of Hulk, and Hulk story, people are writing.

Is it quiet-but-pensive Hulk? Misunderstood loner Hulk? Short-tempered but well-spoken "Frankenstein's Monster" Hulk? Smart Hulk? Mr. Fixit? Savage Hulk? Angry-but-sympathetic Hulk?

Is the story portraying him animalistically? Is he shown to be a character or a force of nature? Are we meant to feel Hulk's pain?

I think these are questions we should ask when we see the Hulk's portrayal. "Hulk Smash" has its place, but when we're supposed to be empathizing with Hulk and feeling sad for him, "Smash" ends up making him seem needlessly aggressive and vendetta-seeking.

1/16/2006 11:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Beta Ray Steve said...

Every writer that comes along creates a status quo to his liking. There is no status quo for the Hulk, except for being green and strong(and under PAD, not neccessarily green). Smart, stupid, inarticulate, or verbose whatever the writer wants Hulk to be, Hulk is.

1/16/2006 01:08:00 PM  
Anonymous RAB said...

"Hulk not understand fundamental dichotomy!" makes me think of "Mongo only pawn in game of life!"

(Say, somebody should turn Blazing Saddles into a Broadway musical. And then turn the musical version into a movie. And then be subjected to the eternal torments of the damned for doing something so utterly wrong. But I digress.)

Most commenters here seem to be focusing on the specific case of the Hulk -- which is perfectly understandable, given this was Brian's example to illustrate his general point -- rather than the overarching principle it represents, and the latter deserves some careful thought.

There are some writers you just know have no affection whatsoever for superheroes, and deeply resent having to work in that genre to make the income they feel they deserve. I don't think Warren Ellis or Mark Millar are doing anyone -- including themselves -- any favors by slumming in the long underwear ghetto and making it so obvious to all that they consider the genre beneath them. And then there are writers who really are geeky superhero fanboys at heart, but are so conflicted by their own self-loathing and the poor reputation of the genre that they recoil from anything fun or silly even if those elements are at the very core of what they secretly love.

Brian's closing words cut right to the heart of the matter and, IMHO, can't be improved upon.

1/16/2006 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger Shane Bailey said...

"the fact that I don't think there IS a status quo for Hulk right now. "

I'll agree with that.

As far as the Sentry appearance goes, they tried to point out that it was the Sentry himself that calms hulk down enough to make him act like a Teddy Bear. Normally he's this giant full of rage and brutality and the Golden Man comes along and the Hulk becomes docile.

As far as any other appearance of the Hulk or any other character in the Marvel U. I'd put it down to editors and writers that just don't care about stuff like that. When was the last time you've seen any kind of cross universe character continuity when it comes to their personalities or mannerisms?

1/16/2006 04:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Iron Lungfish said...

There are some writers you just know have no affection whatsoever for superheroes, and deeply resent having to work in that genre to make the income they feel they deserve.

Except that an absence of baby-talk coming from the Hulk isn't evidence of this deep writerly resentment. How widespread is creator-fostered superhero-resentment at a time when a comic like Marvel Zombies becomes a sales success? To put it another way, how many Big Name Writers demonstrate an actual dislike of superheroes in or outside of their writing? Ellis, sure. Mark Millar, maybe? I'd really call his writing more misanthropic in general than anything else; he doesn't seem to have any specific hatred of men in tights.

Aside from them? Morrison, Johns, Bendis and the rest of the Names writing most of the Big Two's output right now have a level of superhero-love that borders on the geekish. These are the overgrown fanboys who brought back what, four versions of Supergirl and Krypto the Superdog just because they missed them from back when they were kids? Even Brad Meltzer with his fin-headed ass-rape claimed an undying love of the Silver Age which I'm sure is genuine even if his writing doesn't demonstrate it (you don't go into comics to make the big bucks, people).

Sadly, just because you love superheroes doesn't mean you can write them well, and those writers "ashamed" of writing superheroes can often do a pretty good job of it. Even the Big Bad Ellis, with his eeeeeevil hatred of all that is good and caped, has written some damn good superhero comics in his time, even if he only does it because he knows he wouldn't be able to feed his kid otherwise. So let's not try to draw a connection between fannishness and quality.

1/16/2006 05:53:00 PM  
Blogger Eli said...

"Hulk want Freddie Prinze, Jr.!" is one of my favorite moments of recent years - moment-haters be damned! Is it done ironically? I hadn't thought about it that way, to be honest. But I guess I see why it'd be read as such. Irony is slippery!

1/16/2006 08:26:00 PM  
Anonymous thekamisama said...

Part of me think it is weak writers, part of me also realizes that it must be really be hard to write without feeling like Grimlock or Bizzarro on SuperFriends.
I'd rather if they not write "dumb Hulk" dialouge, they at least go the route of the Grey Hulk era and just make him mean as hell when he does talk.
Making Hulk the big mean green Silent Bob does not cut it.

1/16/2006 09:40:00 PM  
Anonymous maestro_takatak said...

If we're tallying votes or anything, mark me down in favor of classic Hulk-speak. My favorite version of the Hulk was the dumb, green, angry, childlike Hulk who hung out with the Defenders before Bill Mantlo gave the Hulk's body Banner's brain. Things like "Puny Humans", "Hulk Smash", "Why won't Dumb Magician leave Hulk alone?" and "More beans" are as much a part of the Hulk as gamma radiation.

1/18/2006 01:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, It takes a fair amount to get me interested in Asshole Hulk, and even more to make me feel anything for Smart Asshole Hulk - who frankly is just a dick, he's the Vic Ferrari of Hulks. Too much wish-fulfillment here on somebody's part, I think! Just like the whole question of "why doesn't the Flash rogues' gallery do X, if I was Captain Cold I'd do X..." Yeah, but why be hatin' on Captain Cold? He wants to rob banks, okay? That's what he does. Now leave him alone. Little kids don't care what you would do with CC's powers if you had them, how you would KILL FLASH with them and then take over the world while wearing nice suits and drinking expensive bottled water...

Yeah, "Hulk Smash" is really the only way to go, for me. Think you can't tell as many stories while hobbled with baby-talk Hulk? I beg to differ, my friend. Good writers have been doing it for fifty years.

1/18/2006 04:41:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"Little kids don't care what you would do with CC's powers if you had them, how you would KILL FLASH with them and then take over the world while wearing nice suits and drinking expensive bottled water..."

That is absolutely perfect.

1/18/2006 09:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad you liked it, Brian, I wrote it just for you.

That Millar, he's all about the evil Mary Sues, isn't he? And all the hot sex they have, 'cause they're so evil.

I mean if you think about it, even Ultimate Nick Fury is an evil Mary Sue.

1/18/2006 10:53:00 PM  

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