Argumentative 2010 2nd Place
Professor: Todd Petersen
Humans are fallible. Subject to our emotions rather than discipline, we cause all of our worst problems. We turn our nightmares into reality. We are the ones who take our deepest fears and unleash them into the world as monsters. Stories of humans creating horrible monsters and evils have been around for centuries, even millennia. We create our own monsters, but in creating them, we reveal ourselves to be even greater monsters than they are. This concept is explored in the graphic novel Hulk Gray, by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. For this discussion, it is important to define what monsters are and what rhetorical purpose they serve in society and literature. The basic definition of a monster is a legendary animal that combines human and animal forms, or any creature that is hideous and horrifying, and stereotypically evil. Basically, monsters are any creature significantly different enough from humans and known animals to defy description in those terms; however, they are not merely the ill-formed creatures of nightmares, but a reflection of the society they sprang from. Monsters show us what the community “feared and also found fascinating, what worried them, and what (in contrast to monstrosity) was felt to be good and normal” (Murgatroyd 2).
Also, monsters are often used in didactic tales to establish the morals of a society, especially for children. Monsters are portrayed either as the consequence of wrongdoing—if you don’t go to bed, the bogeyman will get you—or as the end of wrongdoing. There are countless tales such as Beauty and the Beast where someone who is immoral is transformed into a monster. The storyline of the Hulk follows the second line of reasoning, for it is the scientist who put his brilliance into the manufacturing of ever more horrible weapons that is turned into a terrifying monster. But even when monsters that aren’t connected to such clearly cut moral stories, morals still shape their conception. Monsters are “the curse that results from immoral actions. There is always some ‘original sin’ at the source of the generation of the monster” (Groves). Yet as time progresses, philosophy and literature begin to take a different look at the nature of monsters. Are they inherently evil, or just a product of our society? A few centuries ago, monster stories began to include a new character to explore this developing dynamic: the creator of the monster.
Man creating monsters is a common trope in English literature, one that was consciously exploited by Stan Lee in his conceptualizing of the Hulk. He drew inspiration from several classical texts, one of them being The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In it, Dr. Jekyll creates a potion that literally metamorphoses himself into a creature with no morals called Mr. Hyde, in an attempt to separate his good nature from his evil desires. But though Jekyll and Hyde appeared to be two completely dissimilar people, they were one in the same. They were merely different facets of the same soul. The Hulk’s story bears many similarities to the tale of Dr. Jekyll. Firstly, Bruce Banner and Dr. Jekyll are both scientists whose research led to their splitting, both physically and personality-wise. Also, their monstrous ‘alter-egos’ reveal suppressed emotions of the man they began as: Hyde expresses Jekyll’s repressed selfish and violent desires, while the Hulk portrays Banner’s inner hatred of the army and its demands on him. It is interesting to note that both men, when their internal emotions are released, become brutally violent. It would seem that society and manners are a mask that represses the violent, carnal nature of man, but that repression worsens those emotions when they finally are released. By unique virtue of the fact that in these cases the creator and the monster are the same, the idea that the ‘monsters’ they created were already inside their hearts is an especially poignant one.
Another classic tale of men creating their own monsters that influenced the making of the Hulk’s character is Frankenstein. The young Dr. Frankenstein is eager to put his genius to the test and try to create life. He gathers human and animal body parts and strings them together, and manages to reanimate them. However, the monstrous thing he has created him terrifies him so badly he runs away and becomes ill. The monster, abandoned, does its best to figure out its life and integrate into society, but is rejected at every turn because of his hideous and horrible body. The Hulk and Frankenstein’s monster are, indeed, nearly parallel beasts. Both are rejected by all those they meet because of their appearance, accidently wreak havoc they never intended, and are very alone. Bruce Banner and Dr. Frankenstein are also parallels. They both have a bit of a power trip, but lose control, with disastrous consequences; however, they both are basically well-intentioned men. The key difference between the two stories, of course, is that Banner actually physically transforms into a monster while Dr. Frankenstein and his monster are two separate physical entities, and the Hulk is eventually perceived as a hero while Frankenstein’s monster remains a hideous creature. This partially was because Stan Lee, the author of the Hulk comic, wanted to create a completely new type of superhero. He took on “the challenge of…making a hero out of a monster” (Lee 75). The only way for a monster to be a hero is for it to not be monstrous inside, but to have a certain innocence. Both the Hulk and Frankenstein’s monster “never wanted to hurt anyone; [they] merely groped [their] way through a tortuous second life…trying to come to terms with those who sought to destroy [them]” (Lee 75).
The common theme between these literary influences is that all of these ‘monsters’ were created by man. They all were the byproducts of a quest for power, and all had unintended consequences. Also, the fact that Hulk was created in an effort to make a weapon more powerful and dangerous than the atomic bomb is a severe warning; pursuing ever greater weapons, destruction, and power will turn people into monsters, whether they physically look it or no.
The origin story of the Hulk is perhaps one of the greatest examples of a monster creating a monster, because the creation of the Hulk has several layers. The most immediate creator of the Hulk is Bruce Banner himself. Banner invented the gamma bomb in an attempt to make a weapon more terrible than the atomic bomb. He himself is not a violent or vicious person; yet he is creating weapons of mass destruction. Even if he would not ever unleash such a weapon himself, making it and putting it into the hands of those who would fire it is wrong; Banner is, effectively, personally murdering every person that his bomb will kill. Though he tries to deny this, it preys on his mind; he laments to his friend Leonard that his brilliance could have been set to finding a cure to cancer, yet he’d created death instead. So when Banner is exposed to his own weapon, it is interesting that it turns him physically into a violent monster. The bomb merely externalized Banner’s inward atrocity, both by its existence and the effect it had on him.
Yet for all of Banner’s shortcomings, he at least felt guilt for the potential danger he had caused the world. But what of the monster that created him? The army, in particular General Ross, hired Banner and paid him to create new weapons for them to destroy their enemies with. The army begins aggression, even against peoples or nations that have not precipitated such a violent reaction. The army is much worse than the Hulk because their primary purpose is to destroy, whereas the Hulk wants to be left alone. The army is actively seeking out a fight; the small detachment of soldiers the Hulk meets right after he transforms for the first time attack him without even trying to figure out what he was. True, coming upon a massive figure in the dark would be terrifying, but it was the violence of that first group forced the Hulk to be violent, which created a spiral effect of ever increasing violence between the Hulk and the army. The army struck the first blow. The creators of monsters—in this case, the army—are far more horrible than the monsters themselves, because the human inventors have the power to think and reason and still choose a path of violence and vying for power.
The 2008 movie The Incredible Hulk emphasizes the travesties and lack of morals in the military even more than the graphic novel. In the movie, the army is pursuing the Hulk not to try and kill him and remove his menace from the world, but to try and get his DNA in order to weaponize the power that the gamma radiation gave to Banner. The army isn’t trying to get rid of the ‘monster,’ but to create more monsters in order to strengthen the army. If they succeeded in creating super-soldiers of unlimited strength, their next step would probably be to go conquering—their goal is always to gain more power, even power too great for them to control. In a beautifully ironic twist, in an attempt to weaponize the Hulk’s power, they create an even worse monster called Abomination that they have no control over, and the Hulk must save them from it. The only thing that kept the army from self-destructing and quite possibly destroying America is the responsibility of the first ‘monster’ they created. William Hurt, the actor who played General Ross in the film, said his character “wants Hulk's power but is humiliated by Hulk's conscience: he actually sees and recognizes that it's more developed than his own” (Rappe). But even though Ross recognizes that Banner is morally superior to himself, his greed still overcomes his shame and spurs him to continue hunting the Hulk.
America’s actual army seems very similar to the army portrayed in the Hulk. Just as General Ross’ army is trying to create horrific weapons such as the gamma bomb and super-soldiers, the American army in the 1940s commissioned and used atomic bomb research and in the Cold War researched and created nuclear weapons. General Ross’ army attacks the Hulk repeatedly without fully understanding what he is, just as America struck Iraq under a hazy blanket of confused motives, such as “terrorism, oil, Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda, 9-11, and the desire to spread ‘freedom and democracy’…throughout the middle east” (Thorn). General Ross’ army serves as an allegory for the worst aspects of the American army, both in the 60s when the Hulk was first conceptualized and in modern days, when the Hulk has been readapted.
Yet there is another layer of the monster creation in the Hulk that both the graphic novel and the movie neglect to explore: politics. Scientists create the weapons and armies carry out war, yet it is politicians who dictate their movements, much like the players of a massive game of chess. It is politicians’ and the leaders of nations’ disagreements that beget war. Politicians cause endless problems by being the ones who dictate war: they are removed from combat, so many see war only as an equation: if our input exceeds the enemy’s input, we win, so all we need to do is send more soldiers. But the worst facet of politicians running war is that some use it to fulfill their own political agendas, while beguiling the public with “just war concepts” which thinly mask wars “chosen for other, less noble reasons…[like] expanding and consolidating power” (Fiala ix). Politicians are hypocrites in this because their entire purpose is to solve problems through words, negotiations, and compromise, not throw soldiers at international problems, many of which they helped create, and hope to beat the other country into submission. Their selfish and ignorant directing of armies creates a massive monster (war), and armies seeking to win war create horrible monsters (weapons), and, in the case of the Hulk, the weapon finally created something recognizable as a classic monster, the Hulk. Yet the Hulk is far and away the least of our worries in this chain of terror.
Monsters creating monsters is a common occurrence in literature because it is such a frequent problem in real life. Stories are but mirror-images of reality. This idea of monsters creating monsters is just as prevalent in modern societies as it was in ancient ones; the only variation is that our monsters have different names and faces, ones that often disguise their true nature. However, when the next monster appears in our society, the root of the problem will probably be a few levels up, waving and smiling.