What do a great big green giant and Israel have in common? A great deal it seems.Years ago, whenever I would ask my summer camp bunkmate Chanan Beizer, expert on all things comic books, who would win in a superhero fight, the answer would always be the Hulk.
“Spiderman’s webs would be torn to shreds,” he would reply to my query.
“Iron Man would look like he came out of a trash compacter,” he would retort.
“Captain America would be wearing his shield on his kepele like your mother’s floppy beach hat.”
About 30 summers later, after recently watching the latest incarnation of the Hulk (The Incredible Hulk, starring Edward Norton), I was again fondly reminded of the sheer brute strength that the green monster possesses – and of how it’s a universal Jewish allegory of a misunderstood young geek longing for greater power over his life.
It’s no secret that the Hulk and his fellow comic book cronies were born of Jewish creators and like the Golem, were molded to protect us. The Hulk was born years after Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster created Superman and the superhero genre. He came to life in the 1960s, at a time of change for Jews – at a time when Israel, already nurtured out of the desert, again had to do battle against an army of Arabs, who were bent on destroying it.
Seeing the latest version of the Hulk in today’s context, I couldn’t help but wonder how germane the tale still is today.
For much of the world Israel is the Hulk, because that’s the only side of Israel the world sees. It doesn’t get to see the scientist, Bruce Banner, quietly working and creating Nobel Prize-winning experiments and amazing technological breakthroughs for humankind. Much of the world sees this big green monster throwing tanks and creating havoc.
They don’t see the cause that turns Banner into the Hulk. They don’t notice that Banner doesn’t like turning into the Hulk and does everything humanly possible to suppress his alter ego and the destructive transformation.
Pesky bullets and tiny rocket launchers have a minimal physical effect on
the Hulk, just as the stones Arab kids throw have little impact on the Israel Defense Forces . It all looks so harmless, until the giant arises and hurls back with a mightier and greater force, so that the provocative aggressors become the victims.
In one scene in the new movie, the Army general Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (played by William Hurt) corners Banner in front of his daughter (Liv Tyler) and launches gas canisters at him saying, “Now she’ll see what he’s like.” The Hulk is purposefully provoked to change because he’s being attacked. And once the Hulk appears, the cameras roll and he is to most everyone, including his daughter, a monster.
The Six-Day War created a perceptual change in the world’s eyes of Israel, which had been surrounded and attacked by Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Ever since Israel won that war and became the victor, the world has not seen Israel in the same light.
During that same era, and throughout his time on the pages of Marvel Comics, the Hulk too went through a number of character changes. (Did you know that in the first issue the Hulk was gray?)
But from the earliest stories, the Hulk has been concerned with finding sanctuary and quiet. Only when incited did he react emotionally and flare up.
While the Hulk is a comic book character, the fact that he, and so many others, from Iron Man and Spidey to the Caped Crusader, are still relevant today – outlasting plenty of other heroes (super and not) – speaks volumes about their influence and importance as iconic symbols of pop culture.
Their everlasting appeal and annual return helps me remember summer camp so well, when Chanan Beizer and I saw the world through the pages of comic books. Those hot months seemed to bake and leaven our teeming teen muscles like the radiated ones in Bruce Banner, emitting forces previously unknown as we attained the zenith of physical strength.
Alas, that was 30-odd years ago.