The Incredible Hulk #420
There's no showdown in the universe that the Hulk can't smash his way out of. But there are some problems that even his great strength can't punch through, as Banner's old friend Jim Wilson experiences a shocking crisis.
In 1994, at a time when fears of the HIV virus and AIDS remained rampant, we find surprising insight into humanity through The Incredible Hulk in issue #420, bringing to light our own real-world struggles in a society consumed with prejudice and panic.
This is the type of comic that is more than just an instant classic, it shows the depth that the medium itself can have by tackling a complicated situation with a range of emotion and sentiment. Peter David ‘s Incredible Hulk run is nothing short of iconic because issues just like this. With his longtime friend Jim Wilson dying from AIDS, we get right to the heart of the Hulk character as they struggle with what to do with the little time that remained. This story is told alongside Betty’s discussion with a suicidal man named Chet who is also dying of AIDS. In these dual narratives, we both see a yearning for hope and the pangs of hopelessness as two individuals cope with their circumstance in very different ways.
This structure allows for a dynamic exploration of both internal coping mechanisms as well as the impact on our loved ones and community this virus had. We see society in it’s entirety, full of bigotry, homophobia and selfishness but also what it means to offer help and the meaning of a hero in such times. Betty and Hulk find themselves in similar positions, and as the fate of Jim and Chet comes crashing down, the consequences become introspective and force the reader to come to terms with their own emotions. It’s powerful storytelling that pushes the superhero genre in a remarkably relevant direction.
Marvel has a unique penchant for approaching such pivotal issues like this, and everyone in the creative team feels like they are firing on all cylinders to execute a remarkable issue. Frank’s illustrations are heartfelt with just the right amount of nuance to tug at your heartstrings. While the color palette is a bit lighter than I would have preferred, it’s difficult to deny the impact that these visuals have on the success of the story itself. Hulk’s emotions are far from random and help to channel our own sometimes directionless anger that stems from the inability to help in any way. There is a moral dilemma at the core of The Incredible Hulk #420 that puts Hulk in a position to potentially save Jim with a blood transfusion, asking the question, is the cure worse than the disease? While Hulk ultimately chooses against this action, attempting to lie to Jim for false hope in the process, there is a sense of inevitability that permeates every single panel and it’s downright heartbreaking.
Maybe some of the themes aren’t handled with as much tact as they could’ve been, but The Incredible Hulk #420 can easily stand the test of time with its inherent ability to navigate such a complex time. It will find phases of relevance not unlike what we are in today in 2020, but the power of expression on display will never lose it’s luster. You don’t need to be a massive Hulk fan with years of reading history to pull everything you need out of this issue, just an open heart and a willingness to examine our own reflections and actions in the face of tragedy.
Ultimately, The Incredible Hulk #420 is a true classic and for all the right reasons. It’s a fundamental example of what comics can offer as an entertainment medium, helping to make it recommended reading for any fan.
In 1994, at a time when fears of the HIV virus and AIDS remained rampant, we find surprising insight into humanity through The Incredible Hulk in issue #420, bringing to light our own real-world struggles in a society consumed with prejudice and panic. It's a true classic and for all the right reasons.
SUNDAY CLASSICS: The Incredible Hulk #420: In the Shadow of AIDS
Writing - 10/1010/10
Storyline - 10/1010/10
Art - 10/1010/10
Color - 10/1010/10
Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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