In this day and age, seeing comic book characters come to life in movies or television shows has become rather old hat. It’s probably difficult for the youth of today to understand that for those of us who were children of the 80s it was rare to see one of our heroes from the funny books taking part in a film or a television broadcast aside from the cartoons we so treasured. Yes, there were reruns of Adam West’s Batman, an absurd chapter in that character’s legacy that I still treasure, and sometimes Spider-Man made a guest appearance on The Electric Company, but what else was there? I would like to forget Reb Brown’s Captain America, but that lame take on the character seemed like a masterpiece in comparison to Nicholas Hammond’s Spider-Man. Both of those efforts aired sporadically, so sporadically in fact that many of my peers thought I was lying about the existence of both ill-advised ventures. For the purpose of this argument I’m giving Wonder Woman a pass because Lynda Carter was nice to look at no matter how bad that show was, and I don’t know if you could make a good program with invisible planes and lassos of truth with modern effects. For the most part, in the late 70s and early 80s the industry simply wasn’t prepared to utilize comic book characters in entertaining and competent presentations.
That changed with Kenneth Johnson’s development of The Incredible Hulk for CBS in 1977. Like many, I would race to the television set when I heard that show’s opening theme throughout its five season run, and I would watch every episode from start to finish even if I had already seen it ten times. Like many, I was continually surprised that the makers of this smash hit were able to interest me in David Banner (Johnson didn’t like the fact that Stan Lee liked characters whose first and last names begin with the same letter) and his unique exploits to such an extent that it didn’t matter if the Hulk only showed up for a few minutes at a time to toss stuntman around and roar and flex in slow-motion. It also didn’t matter that the show utilized Lou Ferrigno sprinkled with green dust and sporting a lousy wig as the Hulk, because as primitive as that approach may have been, the end result was rather admirable.
I tuned in week in and week out to watch David’s woeful journey through a television landscape that could best be described as TV America, a land populated by engaging characters in quaint little communities where it was never hard for David to find work or conflict. Each new town presented our hero with another nice job and several honest people to call friends, and each time he grew comfortable just in time for all hell to break loose, forcing him to become the Hulk and save the day.
This endless cycle always led to the arrival of David’s nemesis, tabloid journalist Jack McGee, expertly played by Jack Colvin, who would show up, snoop around, and force our lonesome hero to move on after sacrificing his brief stint of peace for the good of those who showed him kindness. It was heartbreaking even without that sad music, and if you liked the show even half as much as I did, you can probably hear it playing right now. It’s the sound of leaving, the sound of turning your back on what you want because you know it’s the right thing to do. It’s the sound of nobility giving way to tragedy.
Yes, I own the box set with every episode of this landmark series. Yes, I still watch it and enjoy it, and my children like it almost as much as I do, so it still has some resonance even in this day and age. Since I love the show so much, it’s no wonder I found myself thinking about David Banner earlier today. In fact, I found myself wondering what exactly happened to that hero from my youth, the one legitimate success that emerged from the efforts to televise the exploits of a superhero for comic fans of a bygone era. David was a good guy, a hell of a man really, and the fact that he was played by a thespian like Bill Bixby never hurt matters. It was easy to like Bill, and he made it even easier to know and love David Banner. With that in mind, here are a few things I hope he found along the way:
A good woman. The guy definitely deserved it. I know he encountered several good women along the way, but I’m hoping he met one he was able to stay with at some point, and if not, I’m hoping he met one who was able to come along for the journey. I know this would be dangerous in some ways, but if I was traveling with David I would have been more worried about the shit he gets into than that green-skinned goliath that he transforms into when he’s angry. Though that behemoth will roar and toss bad guys around with the very best of them, he never hurt anyone who doesn’t deserve it. I’ve seen this version of the Hulk handle baby birds without incident, for Christ’s sake.
A good job that wasn’t at the center of some sinsister scheme. Let’s face it, David was the kind of employee every boss dreams about. He was willing to take on entry level work or dive head-first into mammoth projects, and he had to have the best resume of all time. Imagine all the prestigious institutes and projects listed among his job credits, and then think about all the menial labor and customer service gigs you would have found there as well. This guy was a genius with humility who came cheap, and he showed time and time again that if something bad happened at his workplace he would not hesitate to save the day. Who wouldn’t hire a guy like that? However, I should point out that if he was required to save the day at some point, well, then it would probably be time to rebuild once the dust settled. And the company would have to replace David, who probably wasn’t all that big on two-week notices. Regardless, the guy deserved a nice job.
A cure. He worked hard enough for it, and every time his results ended in failure if they weren’t destroyed while he was in the process of saving the day. Plus, he was kind of obsessed about it. Edward Norton was content to do crazy breathing exercises so that he could control his anger, but Bixby needed closure. The television version of the character needed a cure to put the chaos and strife behind him so that he could settle down and lead a normal life. I hope he figured it out at some point.
Though this is the third item on my list, it would probably be helpful if David got his cure before he met the good woman and found the good job that wasn’t at the center of some sinister scheme. Maybe the guy got on a roll at some point and the hits never stopped coming. Again, he deserved it.
A story in the news about Jack McGee suffering a terrible fate. David probably wouldn’t have wished for this, but fans of the show understand my feelings here. This guy made us hate the paparazzi before the paparazzi even existed. Seriously, how the hell did the bad guy on a television show become a poster child for the media as it exists today? Jack McGee introduced us to sensationalism and invasive reporting without conscience, and I have a hard time sleeping thinking that he might still be dogging David on his trek across TV America. Oh, and I don’t like to think David reading about Jack McGee dying in his sleep because of smoke inhalation either, I’m hoping that the bastard got it worse than that. Like maybe he was doing a story on bees and he got stung to death by thousands of angry hornets, or maybe he was doing an expose on the wrong pawn shop and someone decided it was time to get the gimp. I’m sorry if this seems harsh, but trust me: he deserved it.
A ride. Walking is good for you, and I understand this, but that dude’s feet were definitely in need of a break. He was walking along the side of the road for far too long. I get the feeling he wouldn’t have cared if it was a showpiece or not so long as it got him from point A to point B, but I hope he had a nice stereo. God knows he should have had something better to listen to whenever he was leaving town.
That haunting melody is almost enough to make a grown man cry.