I’ve been reading a lot of Incredible Hulk comics by Len Wein (with Herb Trimpe and Sal Buscema). I’ve been reading a lot of everything really; sitting by a sporadically ringing telephone has literally been my job description for the past nine months . At first I read books that glared at me from my mountainous “To Read” pile, but as the weeks wore on I started just letting whatever was sitting around my local library (or my own bookshelves) guide me.
Which brought me to these issues of Hulk. My dad had a ton of them, and they’ve since been handily collected in a big Essential phonebook. One particular issue held a totemic place in my youth: Hulk #182 directly follows Wolverine’s Collector’s Item First Appearance, and he appears on the first page, jumping onto a helicopter and leaving Hulk to wander through the forest. That’s pretty much all Hulk does in these stories, wander from place to place getting confused and angry.
When I was a kid, I thought this comic had to be special, since it was my dad’s most valuable comic according to some mid-1980s Overstreet Price Guide. I didn’t care about the X-Men, and Wolverine barely looked like Wolverine for his brief appearance, but I loved the rest of the issue, and my dad’s stack of old Hulks in general. After Wolverine flies off the rest of the issue features a hilariously dumb (even to a kid) supervillain origin, where the Cut-Rate Defiant Ones stumble upon a ridiculous looking alien and try to kill it with a gun. Since the alien in question absorbs metal for food, he thinks they’re feeding him and gifts them with a super-powered chain in return for their “kindness”, which they proceed to use to wreck shop. Sure, why not?
Meanwhile, Hulk wanders in the woods and encounters a good ol’ fashioned hobo, who teaches him how to fish, write his name and use a fork.
Wein’s Hulk was the world’s most powerful toddler going through his “Terrible Twos”. He gets tired and cranky. He pouts. He lashes out and gets ANGRY at being woken up, at loud noises, at a villain who speaks only in rhymes. He really hates water, too.
All Hulk really wants is to feel safe and loved, and have someone explain the world to him instead of shooting rockets at him. He doesn’t understand basic concepts like cutlery. He’s even a picky eater: if it isn’t baked beans then he DOES NOT WANT IT.
1970s Hulk is still The Strongest One There Is, but he isn’t the insanely powerful Worldbreaking, Spaceship Surfing, Waterbreathing Immortal he’s since become. Wein, Trimpe, and Buscema have him eating, getting sleepy, and knocked out by gas attacks every other issues it seems. Given the modern conception of the Hulk, it’s weird to even think about him eating. But eat he does, and he even has a favorite food.
What’s strange is that I am pretty sure he’s the one of the only superheroes with a favorite food. How many other food-hero connections can you even think of? There’s the Martian Manhunter and
Oreos Chocos. Green Arrow makes chili, apparently. Superman has beef bourguignon, but that’s really just code for sex. Then he went vegetarian, which is like the opposite of having a favorite food. Spider-Man ate wheatcakes once and now no one will shut up about them. Beyond that, you get into characters like Volstagg, Shadow King, and Galactus who just like to eat everything. There’s also Pizza Dog, but come on. How many times have we actually seen him eat pizza? I think it’s just a publicity gimmick.
I’m not just talking about showing superheroes eating: that happens with some regularity, though rarely with any significance and shots of them actually eating as opposed to being in the same frame as food are rare indeed. I’ve obsessed about this before. Over the past eight decades, there are plenty of gracenotes and trivia answers about superheroes’ faith, politics, sports fandom, hometowns, sexual peccadilloes, their favorite films and novels. But food is something literally everyone does (even robots and Gods and aliens, even when they don’t need to it seems) and in a world where Mark Waid knows Clark Kent’s social security number, why don’t we know Tony Stark’s hangover cure? What’s Jarvis’s signature dish he makes for birthdays, weddings, and resurrection parties? What does he make when he’s tired and just has to slop something out for thirty six Avengers, and he isn’t going to waste his good wine on D-Man? Is there some weird hipster ethnic food that Kitty Pryde keeps bugging her teammates to try? Why is there a food-shaped in hole in most superhero comics?
In the interests of having light reading to counterbalance dense historical narratives and a futile attempt to understand logarithms, I’ve just been grabbing any Marvel trades that the Brooklyn Public Library has seen fit to obtain. Some of these are amazing, in that I am amazed anyone would reprint them, much less purchase them for a modest but growing graphic novel library. I’ve discovered there are more references and appearances of food, but still less than seems natural. I’ve been cataloging all the references to food in Marvel Comics. I have no idea what I hope to accomplish with this. But did you know that Peter Parker was eating “exotic” Thai food in the mid 1980s? That Iceman’s forgotten punk rock girlfriend Opal Tanaka was a strict vegetarian? That no one actually eats anything in The Avengers until Jarvis shows up in issue 16? Is anyone but me even interested in a Culinary History of Marvel?