Chapter introductions from Stan Lee
Choice Scene: From 1967: Rick Jones' strange jealousy toward Betty Ross.
Tech Specs: English and Spanish Dolby Digital sound, English subtitles
On the heels of their successful mid-90's Spider-Man
animated series, Marvel did what they always do: looked
around at what other properties might work, and then flooded
the market. The results were of mixed quality, including
an almost painful Fantastic Four.
Surprisingly, however, the series with the most basic repetitive concept turned out to be pretty good, though perhaps because of its syndicated banishment to Sunday mornings, The Incredible Hulk never quite took hold with fans.
Once again, Buena Vista has found itself with this little piece of back catalogue with a fortuitous timing. And truthfully, for kids who think they're fans of the green-skinned goliath, this DVD is the best Hulk buy. Hulk hands, Hulk face, Hulk muscles - they're cool, but they really have more to do with this show than with the languid art film that opens this week.
The episodes gathered here provide a nice slice of the Marvel Universe and assume that viewers have some familiarity. It's an approach that works, as the first two segments, "The Return of the Beast," take their time in recapping the updated origin for those who don't know it. But come on, The Hulk is one of the most easily grasped concepts in the Marvel Universe. We really want to see him smash things, and the show wastes no time getting to just that.
At the time of the series, the accident is far in the past and Thunderbolt Ross and his Hulkbusters have pursued Bruce Banner for quite some time. In deference to the rules of media adaptation, in which hero and villain must be symmetrical, the man responsible for the accident has also become The Hulk's greatest enemy, The Leader (Matt Frewer).
But this series actually doesn't just retread the same concepts. Three episodes in, SHIELD makes its presence known, and there's clearly a growing conflict between them and General Ross' original Hulkbusters. The electro-magnetic creature Zzaxx appears, the result of another failed experiment. And crossing over from an inferior series, Iron Man and War Machine seem far cooler here. (I dimly recall having seen Ghost Rider on the show, but alas, that episode will have to wait for Nicolas Cage's film to get done.)
It's fairly intelligent, as well-animated as the Spider-Man
series, and best of all, Lou Ferrigno voices The Hulk, not
just in growls and roars, but actually gets to speak. He
does a good job with it, too. Only the revamped Rick Jones
seems too hip for the room. When did he become a sedate,
civic-minded Axel Rose?
One reason I've really loved these DVD releases, aside from them being safe versions of the characters to show my kid (building the next generation of geeks, one at a time), is Buena Vista's seeking out of creators for interviews. Piece together all the Stan Lee segments, and you could find yourself with a pseudo-seminar on the art of comic book writing. (In conjunction with Creative Light Entertainment's excellent documentary interview with Stan,
Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters & Marvels, of course.)
Though he co-created The Hulk with Jack Kirby, it wasn't Stan who really propelled the character to being beloved by fandom. For twelve years, Peter David kept us guessing what would happen next, and so he appears here to talk about the character with whom he has the closest association.
In deference to Stan, David doesn't talk so much about his own take. Instead, he narrates the optional trivia feature. When a little Hulk head shows up in the corner of your screen, you can highlight it and the DVD jumps to David with a factoid. The man knows his stuff, and it's a cool way to bring in the subsequent generation of writer.
To wrap it all up, you can compare the "new" version of the story with the Grantray Studios version from 1966. Made up of tableaus from Kirby's original art (with only the barest, most necessary of animation), these cartoons are amazingly faithful recreations of the comic book stories. The only strange change here is that The Gargoyle, Hulk's first super-villain, has been renamed The Gorgon. In the '90's series, he became The Gargoyle again, voiced by Mark Hamill, and meant to be recurring as a lackey for The Leader.
It's a fun couple of looks at a classic Marvel hero, and again, if you've got someone under 13 jonesing to see Hulk, steer them here first.
The Incredible Hulk (Animated Series)