The Age of Comic Book TV has certainly arrived. With shows like Walking Dead, Arrow, Flash, Marvel’s Agents of Shield, (oh and Comic book Men) currently on the schedule and Supergirl and Daredevil set to make their debuts in the coming months, TV and comics have never been more closely linked.
Why just this week iZombie, the DC owned property has made a very promising debut. (It’ sort of Buffy meets Veronica Mars and worth a peek!)
Not only do we have a lot of comic related television, we have a lot of GOOD comic book related television. Dead, Flash and Arrow are all bonifide hits. And while Agents has had it’s fits and starts along the way, that show too is finding both it’s legs and it’s audience.
Even shows that were not directly tied to comics give the media more than a passing nod. The Big Bang Theory in particular nails the comic shop experience right on the head!
Yes, things have never been better for comics and TV. But of course that’s hardly a new thing. As far back as the 1950’s we had the classic Adventures of Superman. The 60’s through the 90’s saw shows like Wonder Woman, Batman, The Tick, Lois And Clark, Superboy and (ugh) Spiderman all hit the airwaves at one time or another. These shows had varying degrees of quality and success. But even the very best of them seem a bit dated by today’s standards…except for one;
The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk made it’s debut in 1978 under show runner Kenneth Johnson, known for shows like V, Alien Nation, and The Bionic Woman. It starred Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrrigno and Jack Colvin. The show ran in prime time for five seasons and spawned several made for TV movies. It has never been off the air in all the years since and is a mainstay on Netflix even now.
The Hulk would fit right in with the character driven “super” dramas of today. David (not Bruce) Banner as portrayed by Bixby is based more on Jean Val Jean from Les Miserables than on his comic book counterpart. The fact that he is relentlessly pursued by Jack McGee (Colvin) brings that parallel even closer. Johnson consciously based the reporter on the obsessed policeman Javert from the classic novel.
The relationship between Banner and the Hulk (Ferrigno) is explored in the manner of Jekyll and Hyde. Banner is not just a man who changes into a monster. He is a man who has the two sides of his nature constantly warring with each other. As portrayed by Ferrigno, the creature is more childlike and given to frustration than simply rage personified. The creature is also VERY MUCH David Banner in his compassion.
The Incredible Hulk is very much a tragedy along the lines of Les Miserables in that we know Banner is always and ultimately alone. From week to week, regardless of the circumstances, Banner moves on alone to his next stop along the road to redemption and the ever elusive cure.
In the wrong hands this show could have become maudlin and even silly. However the team of Bixby/Ferrigno, Colvin and Johnson was as talented as TV has ever had to offer. They played the material with respect and honesty. They felt for the characters and made us feel for them as well.
Perhaps the most remembered “character” in the Incredible Hulk is the music. Specifically “The Lonely Man Theme”. It is a forlorn four note motif played most often on solo piano. The piece takes the pain that Banner lives with day to day and gives it a voice that haunts everyone who hears it. It may be the single most memorable theme in Television History.
Comic Book fans have never had a better time than today for our beloved hobby and TV, but there has arguably never been a show that quite matched The Incredible Hulk.