“Do not go gentle into that good night…rage, rage against the dying of the light…” – Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night
I was all about the Spiderman. Superman was ok but even when I was a kid Superman was, I don’t know, old? Plus he was so perfect and goody-goody it was hard to relate to him. Batman was not yet the Batman of today. We all like the bad-ass that Batman has become – gritty, real, set in a realistic world. But when I was a kid Batman was still the Batman from the TV show, all campy and live-action cartoon-ish. Now, I’m not going to try and lie and say I didn’t watch and like the Batman TV series. Or that I didn’t like Superman and that I didn’t read my Dad’s Superman anthology comic so many times that I memorized it. I was (am?) all about comics and superheroes when I was a kid.
I feel like Superman and Batman were the main superheroes when I was a kid. Thor and Iron Man and the Fantastic Four and Aquaman and the Avengers were awesome, but they were not super – mainstream. And Spiderman was so cool. I related to that dweeb Peter Parker, especially as I got older. I probably was Peter Parker in high school except that I’m not very good at math or science. But Spiderman was everything Peter Parker was not. Peter Parker was a dork and he became cool. I wanted (want? still?) to be cool. Back then the teenaged Peter Parker had more angst then even Batman. The television series did not give Batman much moral ambivalence, even with his whole parents getting shot in front of him thing. I know that superheroes where supposed to be super, not only powerful physically but above our petty emotions. They are heroes, the better part of ourselves that we should emulate and aspire to be. But for me Spiderman was relatable and I think that relatability or realism is one of the reasons that superhero movies are so popular today. They’re not just for kids anymore.
I would pretend I was Spiderman all the time. I remember we had a bunch of these small Afghan blanket things, and I would use them all around the house pretending that they were my spider web. I would ensnare sisters and brother and pets and imaginary villains alike who threatened the sanctity of our house. I also broke my share of breakable things, including the baptismal pitcher that was used for all of the Como children’s baptisms. (Now that I’m writing this I wonder if I did that on purpose. Kind of like a foreshadowing of my feelings on religion. Part of my origin story?) I also climbed everything I could climb. My specialty when I was short and little was climbing doorways within the house. I’d press my hands and feet against either side of the opening and climb up until my head nearly touched the ceiling. As I got older I climbed trees. More than once when my parents were not home my brother and I would climb and hang out on the roof of the garage. Later still we’d sit on the roof in the front of our house and the back of the house, hanging out and watching over the neighborhood.
Once upon a time they only had big blocks of cartoons on Saturday mornings. There was no cable television. There were no channels dedicated only to cartoons or kid shows you could watch 24 hours a day. My sibs and I loved and lived for Saturday morning cartoons. We’d fight about what to watch, of course, the sisters always wanting to watch Strawberry Shortcake or some crap while I wanted superheroes. It got so bad that we derived a system where we had to take turns. The four of us would get one Saturday a month where we got to decide which cartoons to watch. We’d wake up as early as possible. I want to say the networks started showing cartoons at like 7am until noon. Aaah, the wasted Saturday’s of my youth.
There was a Spiderman cartoon that came on around 11am, I think. It was called Spiderman and his Amazing Friends. I don’t remember what his friends were called or where they came from. One dude was some kind of Ice-Man. He could make cold and ice out of his hands and he would slide around the city, skating on the ice path he made in front of him. Looking back I wonder how the city reacted to him and Spiderman. Sure, saving the day and foiling the bad guys is cool and all but it must have sucked trying to get to work, what with everything covered in ice or melting ice and human/spider webbing.
There was also a woman superhero who was the other amazing friend. She could fly and create fire. She was the female version of the Human Torch from the Fantastic Four. They fought crime and had their adventures. They must have eventually cancelled the show and/or I grew up. I wonder who they were, those Amazing Friends and where they came from and where they are now.
Superhero media has gone through many, many iterations since their comic book days. Cartoons, TV live action shows, movies, etc. I ate (eat?) them all up, especially anything that had to do with Spiderman. I know there were cartoons series that aired after school, and I know there was one about Spiderman.
But the go-to channel for all kid programming back in the day was PBS. I’m sure they showed other kid shows, but the ones I remember were Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. My favorite, though, was the Electric Company. The Electric Company was so awesome and cool and hip. I liked Mr. Rogers but he was such a square. I mean, Morgan Freeman (!) was on the Electric Company. He was Easy Reader. How cool was the jive-talking Easy Reader? What it do?
I’m pretty sure the Electric Company was my first introduction to Spiderman. I like the rest of the Electric Company but would wait all show long for the little skits that would feature him. I don’t remember if Spiderman was in every show but I feel like he was not. I have memories of being really disappointed when he was not.
You grow up though, right? I guess you can’t play with your Spiderman and Superman dolls forever. I’m the first to admit I’ve not really grown out of superheroes, and I probably never will even, though we are saturated – SATURATED – with them in our current modern popular culture. And I eat it all up. They are our modern secular legends, our Hercules and Achilles. Superheroes are our mythology. There’s probably too many of them and too many movies all at once and you have to believe there will be a backlash at some point. But it hasn’t happened yet and maybe it won’t.
Yup, Spiderman is cool and always will be. But the change for me did not happen too long ago – probably within the past ten years or so. It happened when I discovered my power.
That’s right. I have a superpower.
It’s a secret. Don’t tell anyone.
My superpower does not make me a hero by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t think it makes me a supervillain either, but that probably depends on who you ask.
But the reason my power cannot be used for good is that I have no control over it. I cannot harness this great power for good. I think as the years have gone on I’ve become better at keeping it in check. My superpower comes out less often than it used to. But it’s always there, waiting for its chance.
Here’s the secret.
I’m the Incredible Hulk.
So, I’m not sure that the Hulk is my favorite superhero. Am I supposed to have a favorite superhero at 43 years old? I don’t know if I’m supposed to or not. I do know that I can relate to the Hulk, anyway.
Here’s Bruce Banner, scientist. Super smart and mild mannered. Weak. Puny. Ineffectual. He’s got all these issues left over from when he was a kid. Overthinks everything.
He’s working on some gamma bomb or something. And they test it but some kid wanders onto the test site. Bruce Banner goes to save the kid him and he does, but gets blasted with the gamma rays in the process. (Here’s a fun fact. I didn’t know that these gamma rays were a real thing until I was an adult. I thought they made them up for the comic, because I am smart and science is dumb. Stan Lee was all about those gamma rays and radiation and nuclear stuff in his superhero origin stories, wasn’t he? That’s all Cold War fears and stuff, right?)
So Bruce Banner (his full name is Robert Bruce Banner because one time early on Stan Lee forgot his first name and called him Bob in one of the issues) goes from puny, f’d up mortal human to this Incredible (Thing? No, the Thing is from the Fantastic Four) Hulk. If you look at the Hulk from his origin story he had intelligence. He spoke in complete, or semi-complete sentences. Did you know that the Hulk was grey at first?
But that the colorist couldn’t keep the color consistent or something so he made him green in subsequent issues? Stan Lee liked the green better, and so the Hulk is green. As Kermit the Frog says, it’s not easy being green.
So yeah, the Hulk is pretty much Frankenstein or Bruce Banner/Hulk standing in for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, right? And those characters have something in common. They are ruled by emotion. They are unchecked emotion. They are all id. They get their power through unfiltered and uncontrolled emotion. Can you imagine if consciousness was only made up of raw emotions? We’d be a mess and there would be no rational thought or order of any kind. The world and people are kind of screwed up enough, but there would be chaos if we didn’t have some kind of filter to keep our emotions in check. Not to get all Freudian, but we have filter our emotions through the ego and the super-ego. Or something like that I read that on Wikipedia.
Emotions are necessary, of course. What would the human experience be like without them? Some are good and make us feel good and some are bad and make us feel bad. If we didn’t have any of them we’d just be organic meat sack robots. That would suck. But if we were ruled only by our emotions that would suck too, right?
The Hulk, though, he’s all emotion. He’s ruled by emotion. He get’s his power from emotion.
He get’s his power from his rage.
The best emotion is rage.
I have Rage.
I’m the muthafuckin’ Hulk.
Seriously, I don’t know if you have rage. Everyone gets angry. Everyone has a temper. Everyone has said or done something they wish they had not.
I have like insane, dissociative, blinding, unreasonable rage.
If you don’t think the Hulk has some kind of disassociation disorder you haven’t been paying attention to him.
I think I’ve always had some degree of control over my rage. Most of the control involved sucking it in and swallowing it until it formed a big lump of dirty red (maybe green?) throbbing rage in the pit of my stomach. It never stayed there very long, though. And the problem with trying to control rage or any unchecked emotion by ignoring it is that no one – you or I or anyone else – knows when it will manifest. I don’t know when I’m going to blow. Or why.
David Banner (why the name change though) on the TV show The Incredible Hulk would say, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
At least he tried give some warning. But they didn’t listen. They never listen. I remember that show scared me when I was a kid. It wasn’t a silly fun adventure hero worship superhero story. There was some real shit going on with the Hulk that I didn’t really comprehend at the time.
See, the thing about rage though – it feels good. I like it. The adrenaline hit is insane. At my ragest rage in my life I’m scared of nothing. Literally. My heart is pumping like crazy. I have no fear. I’m empowered. I’m confident. I can say whatever I want to anyone and it does not matter. I give no fucks. It is a true super power.
It’s hard to use rage for good, though, and even when the Hulk has tried he’s forever breaking too much shit. You can’t be a rage monster forever it is untenable. No matter what the emotion we favor we can’t have that emotion, be that emotion all the time. It’s impossible. It’s not healthy. If I felt the power and adrenaline that I feel with rage all the time I would not really be human anymore. My head and my heart would explode.
Why do you thing Bruce Banner is always looking for a cure? If he could be like a Bruce/Hulk hybrid and control his feelings and call on the super power at will then he’d have something. (Yes, I know there are many iterations and story lines where the Hulk is able to control his rage and anger. He always loses that ability though, right? If he didn’t he wouldn’t be the Hulk. He’d just be Superman or whatever. No one wants a Hulk in control. No one wants a Hulk who has control. Because we don’t always have control, no matter what we try or how hard we try.)
The Hulk eventually calms down because even the Hulk cannot maintain that kind of emotion for very long. He changes back into Bruce Banner. Bruce Banner doesn’t fully understand or remember what he’s said and what he’s done, but he knows it must have been bad. Rage is an empty emotion at the end of the day. That shot of adrenaline is like empty calories, a temporary fix for the bigger problem. Usually his rage is replaced by shame and regret and apologies. Rage is counterproductive.
I’ve calmed down a lot since my peak rage days. Mostly people just thought I was (am?) an asshole. I will admit that it’s easier to make other people feel bad about themselves to feel better about myself than to just try and feel better about myself on my own. I haven’t hit anyone (well…not exactly true. I hit sister #1 one time in full rage mode but that was kind of an accident. We were in a fight after bar time the year after I graduated from Marquette. I think she was a junior still and we had been out with one of her friends at a bar just hanging out and having some drinks. We were walking home afterwards and some dudes were talking crap and sister #1 does not take crap and they surrounded her and I was just going to get her out of the situation but they decided they would take turns punching me instead. There were probably like 10 of them and I found out later they were on the rugby team or something. So it was me and her against all of them and the rage and the alcohol turned me into a rage monster. Let’s just say we won the fight and we were not the ones covered in blood at the end. I remember latching onto one guy and really if his friends hadn’t pulled me off of him I don’t know that I would have ever stopped punching him. So they took the guy to the hospital I guess and the whole thing was a mess and somewhere in there I clocked sister #1 because after the fight she wouldn’t stop screaming (totally justifiably screaming it was crazy) but the whole thing was still going the rage and the adrenaline and I smacked her. I still remember how good it felt to hit that guy and how bad I felt about hitting her and how its now 20 some years later and I still feel bad about both of those things. Sister #1 was the real hero that night. If she ever tells you that story tell her that I said that and that I’m sorry for hitting her) and I’m not really about rage in that way I don’t think. The rage I feel these days is not the same tightly wound throbbing ball in my stomach. It’s more dissipated now. I’ve learned some ways to control it, I guess.
But don’t ever be fooled. It’s there. And I don’t think its going anywhere.
The Hulk is not going anywhere.
But he tries, doesn’t he? Bruce Banner likes the power but knows it’s ultimately not good for him or good for anyone else. He doesn’t want to be the Hulk but he’s always going to be the Hulk. He never gives up, though, does he? He’ll never be the person he thinks he can be. But he never stops trying, or at least tries to try. And that’s worth something, I think.
Rage is anger and anger is depression turned outward. I have rage and anger. But I try.
You can’t change who you are but you can change your behavior. That’s what Bruce Banner is trying to do. That’s what I’m trying to do.
It’s not you it’s me, as I’ve said before. I get that. But do me a favor and meet me halfway. Don’t, please don’t, try not to make me angry.
You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.
#13 – (Listen I’m don’t really have #13 planned out yet so it will be a surprise for all of us)