There is always room for the absurd in comics, and it is fun to devour a feature-length burlesque starring iconic characters. The 1982 graphic novel The Incredible Hulk and the Thing – The Big Change by Jim Starlin and Berni Wrightson is as awesome and silly as its two protagonists.
Today, Marvel touts “the deadliest Hulk in Marvel history,” but there is no good reason to pass up a story about the Hulk and the Thing becoming friends while hitchhiking across an alien planet. With the depth of darkness in comics today, Starlin’s romp might seem shallow. Stories like these are still fun to open like time capsules. Readers can witness older pop culture references and devour tomfoolery. For posterity, more books like this should be made.
Starlin’s BigChange has the Thing (Benjamin Grimm) being attacked by tomatoes, hurled by a Yancy Street Gang member. Meanwhile, an old man in Utah (once awed by witnessing the Thing’s heroic disposal of a criminal into a trash can) is chipping away on a grand stone effigy of the hero. Once the colossal monolith is finished, the Hulk enters the story and quickly (and hilariously) reduces the statue to rubble
In the middle of their respective escapades, Hulk and Grimm are suddenly teleported to alien planet Matriculon. The banter between the mismatched pair begins immediately when the Thing realizes he is in the company of the Hulk. He demands the alien “zap ol’ Greeny” back home. In response, Hulk sticks a finger into the fleshy tomato still on the Thing’s head and has a taste. The Alien bureaucrat, Stamben Malelet, subdues Hulk’s rage with a seemingly simple quest. Upon delivering legal summons, each hero will receive one wish. The Hulk is not at all interested in acting as a civil servant to the alien race which abducted him. Only after Grimm reassures him does Hulk agree to the job.
Malelet promises the pair anything they wish from obliterating disease to receiving a mountain of gold. Grimm ponders their possible choices during the journey. Maybe he can stop hunger, war, or poverty. Hulk remains disinterested in making wishes. He hates the puny Banner identity. The funniest scenes have Grimm deciding they need disguises in order to blend in on the planet as the aliens act shocked at the sight of two mighty behemoths.
Ironically, the makeshift disguises fool an alien passerby. He greets the Thing as a fellow citizen, but mistakes Hulk for Grimm’s pet. Hulk is naturally offended and smashes the alien on his head and wears him like a hat. The paper-thin disguise trope makes for some of the best comic buffoonery in the story. After the two hitchhike on an airship, the two end up in the sewers. Hulk remarks it seems like he is always dirty since he started hanging around “Rockman.” His rocky companion of him replies, “That’s ’cause I always take my dates to the nicest spots in town.”
Nearing the end of the tale, the two must battle Banger McCrusher who has physically altered himself to look like a hybrid of the two giants. Consequently, he possesses the strength of the two titans combined. To get Hulk angry enough to beat the oversized enemy, Grimm taunts him by telling him he heard the foe talking about the Hulk’s mother. In the end, after all Grimm’s dedication to completing his task, Hulk steals his chance at normality and world peace by taking both wishes. Hulk hilariously demands for food and the ability to go home. Before Grimm can muster an objection, the alien transports the duo home where, much to the chagrin of Grimm, they land in a mountain of hamburgers.
Current stories about the Hulk and the Thing more or less lack this light-hearted, almost absurd approach. Bruce Banner is now perpetually trying to master some internal psychological gauntlet as he attempts to micromanage his alter-ego’s rage. Ben Grimm is being arrested for unleashing his jealousy of him upon his girlfriend of him. The Big Change offers pure escapism and comedy with two iconic Marvel powerhouses at the center of its narrative. Modern comic book writers and artists would do well to incorporate these lessons as a refreshing change of pace.
What Makes Hulk and Thor’s Battles So Epic?