The following article contains mention of domestic abuse.
Peter David’s seminal Incredible Hulk run is lauded for many reasons. David not only brought about major changes in the Jade Giant’s status quo, but he also imbued his stories with social relevance. AIDS, mental illness, and domestic abuse were among the sensitive topics addressed during the groundbreaking run. The issue of abuse became especially important when it was revealed that Bruce Banner’s cruel father had influenced his angry alter-ego, the Hulk. As a result, the Hulk would become enraged when confronted by the victimization of others as it reminded him of his own trauma and feelings of powerlessness.
Incredible Hulk (vol 1.) #333 (by Peter David and Todd McFarlane) opens not with the Hulk, but with a woman named Blaire crying in the corner of her bedroom while an off-panel voice angrily berates her. She has been beaten by her husband Mike, a police sheriff who towers over her. In a show of defiance, she grabs her abusive husband’s service pistol and points it at him, but it is quickly snatched away, and she is beaten even more. When her husband storms out, she reminisces about how Mike used to be someone who stood up to bullies but became a monster himself once he achieved power as the small town’s sheriff. Having finally had enough, Blaire packs a suitcase and leaves.
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Meanwhile, the Hulk, in his grey Joe Fixit form, has resolved to shed his Bruce Banner persona for good. Always a wanderer, his journey takes him to a small town where he breaks into a liquor store. Desperate to disable his human side, Hulk consumes almost all the liquor in the store so Banner will wake up too inebriated to function. Blaire’s husband Mike later discovers an extremely drunk Banner and books him into the local jail. He mistreats the imprisoned Bruce throughout the course of the following few hours, causing him to transform back into the Hulk. Feeling Banner’s rage within him, Hulk is now solely focused on teaching the bullying sheriff a lesson he will not soon forget.
Throughout the story, Mike is portrayed as a threat to everyone around him, from his wife to his fellow cops and even to Bruce. So, when the Hulk starts toying with the abusive sheriff and shows him who is truly dominant, it is a satisfying reversal of power dynamics. Even Wolverine isn’t a match for the Green Goliath, so the sadistic sheriff of a small town stands little chance. Hulk humiliates Mike in front of the townspeople he has tormented for so many years, and instead of cheering their sheriff on, they encourage Hulk to kill him. In the end, it is not Hulk that delivers the finishing blow, but Mike’s wife Blaire.
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Blaire, who comes across the street brawl while fleeing town, tries to protect her husband by picking up his discarded gun and pointing it at Hulk. Instead of being grateful, Mike scolds his wife, telling her that she will face hell at home for making him look weak in front of the town. Upon hearing this, Blaire turns the gun toward Mike and kills him. Standing over her husband’s lifeless body, she claims she didn’t mean to shoot him, to which Hulk simply replies, “sure, you didn’t,” and leaps off. As the issue concludes, Hulk reflects on how he no longer feels alone because he now knows there are monsters everywhere.
Victimized throughout her marriage, Blaire is finally empowered through her ultimate act of defiance against her abuser. This serves as a parallel to Hulk who still deals with the childhood trauma that his father inflicted on him years ago. As powerful as the Hulk is, he will never truly be able to defeat the ghosts of his past. Hulk’s final line about monsters being everywhere may appear to be a reference to himself, but perhaps the real monster he is comparing Mike to is his own father. The Incredible Hulk comics have always made a point of showing that the Jade Giant still has humanity buried deep within him, whereas true monsters look no different than any person on the street and are all too common.