Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hulk is Halloween Smash! (or, How the Superheroes Stole Halloween)

As I've often referenced (but haven't exploited . . . yet), my day job involves working with kids in an after school program (well, I do blog about it sometimes), and at the end of every week in October, my site has hosted Freaky Film Fridays to celebrate and countdown to Halloween. We've shown The Nightmare Before Christmas and Beetlejuice, but this week we're straying from the Tim Burton catalog and showing the recently released to DVD The Incredible Hulk. Now, some may say that I'm using these cinematic events to inflict my fanboyish lifestyle onto these children, some of whom (gasp) may not like superheroes, but I dare say that The Incredible Hulk is the perfect Halloween flick, and that its release the week before everybody's favorite hallowed holiday is indicative of an entire year influenced by comics!

First of all, the Hulk is a monster, not unlike the classic movie monsters that have come to define Halloween decor for decades. Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Mummy, and the Wolf-Man were all silver screen screamfests before they became 99 Cent Store cardboard cutouts, and, in his own way, the Hulk's popularity is a direct result of that Universal monsters motif. Even ol' Jade Jaws' most definitive character traits are akin to these freaky forefathers; from Dracula's nocturnal nature (the gray Hulk only came out at night, remember?) to the Frankenstein monster's conflicts with humanity, from the Mummy's mysterious strength to the Wolf-man's dueling duality. Stan Lee has cited Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as inspiration for his gamma-radiated anti-hero, but if Thunderbolt Ross didn't have such easy access to a military arsenal, he'd just as easily wave a lighted torch in the Hulk's face. And I think the end result would be the same.

Of course, the Hulk isn't the bad guy, and more so than his strength, his reflection of humanity's anger unleashed is the most frightening aspect of his story. Fortunately, Edward Norton's Hulk quells this fear by focusing his rage, the closest thing to a happy ending Mr. Purple Pants can ever have. No, it's the Abomination that should make geeks' girlfriends clutch their beaus' arms tighter, and now more so than his unleashed anger, the Emil Blonsky's alter ego epitomizes the way to go for future conflicts in comic book movies. Consider the most commercially successful bad guys of the past year: Venom, the Iron Monger in Iron Man, and the Joker in The Dark Knight. All of these villains are proverbial bizarros* for their respective heroes, dark reflections of the heroes' id. (Dr. Doom would fall under this category, too, but I said "commercially successful.") While the Joker's new-found influence is attributed to Ledger's unexpectedly intense performance and unfortunately tragic death, his depiction as an agent of chaos rather than a mutated mobster or mere "clown prince" is in stark contrast to Batman's need for order and justice. What's worse, Alan Moore's adage from The Killing Joke still holds true: there could go I, in the face of one bad day. Good thing this is the stuff of fiction. And by that I mean the idea of a geek having a girlfriend, of course.

A co-worker and I making fools of ourselves for the kids this summer, in homemade gear, before the Clown Prince of Crime and ol' Jade Jaws were coveted costumes! It took weeks for that paint to come off.

Finally, as I've said before, this summer was the summer to be a geek, with the likes of Iron Man, Indiana Jones, Speed Racer, the Hulk, Batman, and Agents Mulder and Scully all finding their way to the box office, and that's not to mention Wanted and the flicks I chose not to see! The second best thing to a summer's worth of releases like that is the month they all finally come to video/DVD/Blu-ray, which in this case is also the month kids of all ages can actually dress up like their favorite characters with little fear of consequence. Is it no surprise that Ledger's Joker is the most popular Halloween costume for boys this year, with Iron Man, Batman, and Dr. Jones also making the list? Interestingly, this phenomenon also speaks of the importance of an actor's likeness in a role, a possible backlash to the recent Terrence Howard/Don Cheadle debacle, in the unlikely event that some kids out there wanted to trick or treat as Jim Rhodes . . . "This is a trick or treating exercise," they could say.

A recent visit to Hot Topic reveals how cool it is to dress up like a superhero. Spidey's mask, Iron Man's helmet, Wolverine's claws, and . . . wait! Pause the DVD! Is that Cap's shield? How did they sneak that in there?

Bottom line? Superheroes aren't the stuff of pop culture background noise anymore. When I was a kid (I know, here we go), Superman and Spider-man costumes were simply the norm, not necessarily tied to the Christopher Reeve films of Saturday morning cartoons. They were simply always available. (However, don't get me started on the year my younger brother opted for Bravestarr's horse. He's still trying to live that down.) Now, Spidey, Iron Man, the Hulk, and their arch-nemeses are front and center. Even if I was showing The Incredible Hulk with some ulterior motive, in some feeble attempt to "fanboy-ize" the children in my after school program so I can write off action figure purchases as "youth development research" or something . . . my old heroes don't need my help. Today's kids know and love them either way. It's when they start schooling me in comic book canon, with questions like, "Why wasn't Rick Jones in the Hulk movie? Wasn't Bruce Banner saving him from a bomb?" Now, that's scary.

My Halloween costume, circa 1984.

*This trend proves that the next Superman flick should stray from the tired old Lex Luthor conflict and give us a slugfest with the original bizarro . . . Bizarro! Think about it, Hollywood! Pay one actor to play the good guy and the bad guy! Huh? Sigh, they never call me.


Anonymous said...

Interesting..! I have decided to be Hunk for Halloween.

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