A Matter of Abuse: The Controversy Behind The Incredible Hulk 312

Wednesday, August 27 2003

The current issue of Comic Book Artist has an excellent story surrounding the controversy over who the real author of the Incredible Hulk #312 was. For those that do not know, The Incredible Hulk #312 was written by Bill Mantlo and was the first time Bruce's abusive childhood was explored. This issue laid the foundation from which Peter David, and later Ang Lee, would build thier vision of the Hulk on.

According to the interview, Barry Windsor-Smith claims that Bill Mantlo plagiarized his proposed Hulk story, Thanksgiving, which had been distributed to the Marvel bullpen along with a few pages of sketches. The Incredible Hulk #312 is a milestone issue, and the interview is a definite read for all Hulk fans. The issue is Comic Book Artist #1 and features a Neal Adams/Alex Ross Superman Cover. Below is the original pitch by Barry Windsor-Smith and a few images from his forthcoming story, now titled "Monster".

Click here to read the Incredible Hulk #312.

The Hulk
A Special Story
Barry Windsor-Smith
July 4, 1984


Plot centers around Bruce Banner's childhood. The Hulk relives a particularly harrowing day in his past.

This is the story of Banner's working-class, middle American childhood. In a mannered fantasy - Twilight Zone - tradition, The Hulk, when entering an abandoned house in refuge from a pressing military attack, relives the last days in his childhood home.

Thanksgiving Day 1950 was the day when his father, Tom Banner, a recent and embittered W.W. II veteran, turned on his family for the final irrevocable time.

Employing a battered and disconsolate childhood as the springboard for the modern-day Bruce Banner's anti-social and violent attitudes, the story explores the damage caused by mismatched parenthood and effects of the Second World War on the heart and mind of the veteran Tom Banner.

Bruce Banner, an 11 year old in 1950, is represented as the full grown, seven foot Hulk throughout this fantasy. The story is called Thanksgiving and details the tensions the Banner household suffers when it becomes apparent that the family dinner, planned with eight relatives in mind, falls apart as one by one, brothers, sisters and in-laws cancel the visit with feeble excuses.

The truth is that Tom Banner has alienated his family with his explosive, argumentative temper.

During the solemn dinner with only Tom, wife Janet and son Bobby (Bruce) present at the lavish setting, Tom gets inebriated. Janet's brother, Phil, and his French wife, Nicolette, turn up suddenly (they never cancelled; Tom forgot about them although Janet didn't) and they, unfortunately, become the targets for Tom's drunken, paranoid hostility.

Phil was a correspondent in the war: Did no fighting; Tom hates him for that (and also hates him simply because he's Janet's brother) and Nicolette Is French (Phil married her in France and brought her back to the U.S.) and that's all she has to be, for in the eyes of Tom Banner, she's a slut who must have fraternized with the Germans.

The domestic madness reaches an awful climax when Tom goes for his service revolver. Shots are fired and the police come.

The final argument and shooting take place off camera as we are watching The Hulk, confined to his room (as was the child he is representing) wailing in the agony of the lived and relived experience now as the past dissolves into the present and the sound of gunfire becomes real and the army close in on the abandoned house The Hulk is occupying.

Throughout the entire story, The Hulk is a meek background figure (despite his seven-foot green bulk) who cowers in corners and sits, pathetic and awkward, at the dinner table. He is a mark for both parents and, as tensions mount, he is either glowered at, railed at, and in several instances, struck by his aggravated parents.

It is of considerable importance to point out that this somewhat extraordinary story requires the use of what the comic book publishing world might consider profanity.

The terms I need to use in the script (all spouting from the paranoiac and drunken Tom Banner) are actually mild when paralleled to other - perhaps more sophisticated - media such as film, print and (at this date) television.

To cut to the quick: I need to employ the following terms:

Hall (as in "Like Hell you will")

These are comparatively mild terms, in my opinion. I've edited it down from stronger, more believable coinage.

The upshot is that for this story to have IMPACT, it must be published in the standard format (The Incredible Hulk) and without any special fanfare (I brought what could have been a 30-odd page story down to 22 for this very reason). Approval - within Marvel and to the satisfaction of the Comics Code Authority - is paramount and I'm prepared to offer any raison d'etre if it isn't apparent.

This story is about parent abuse and childhood trauma, which is an important issue. I believe that by sliding the topic into a regular comic book involving an established Marvel Comics character, a greater, more significant understanding of the idea can be achieved. This as opposed to (I feel inclined to suggest) the Spider-Man/Drugs issues of a decade ago that, due to their pre-publicity and etc., were ultimately regarded as hype for a medium that needed attention and was asking for recognition as a relevant form of art.

"THE MONSTER, the major graphic story by Barry Windsor-Smith [beginning life as the above 1984 Incredible Hulk story proposal], is a work in progress. This ground-breaking novel explores the disastrous effects of a Nazi program of genetic engineering, discovered at the close of World War II, upon two American families. Told through intimate, naturalistic dialogue and drawings, this tale of the cascading legacy of profound evil- blazes new trails in revealing the capacity of comics to be a powerful storytelling medium. The Monster is being created as a black-&-white book of nearly 300 pages, a monumental narrative that is meant to be a compelling first read, subsequently revealing layer upon layer of nuance each time it is revisited. (The completion date for this project, slated to be published by DC Comics through their Vertigo Imprint, is not yet known.)"

-Quoted from www.barrywindsor-smith.com [See a sneak preview of The Monster at the above Web site]

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