Jun 30, 2011

Hulk #178: The Story of Space Jesus.

That was exactly the apostle Mark's
reaction to the crucifixion  too.
So, I've had this old issue of the Hulk sitting in a pile of comics waiting to be read. When I finally read it I realised I would have to share it with you guys. The point of 80 Page Giant is for us contributors to share the stuff that we're reading (or thinking about) that really strikes us. And this sure struck me.

See, I'd long known that Jack Kirby's Him character had been re-imagined as Adam Warlock. I'd also long known that Adam Warlock was kind of a 'space Jesus' type of character. What I hadn't known before was how absolutely freaking literal that was.

So along came Gerry Conway and Tony Isabella to educate me, in Incredible Hulk #178. This issue... this issue... it's a retelling of Christ's crucifixion, starring Adam Warlock as Jesus.

No, I'm not kidding, man. This thing isn't even as subtle about this as a Narnia book. Take a look at that cover. Adam Warlock on a freaking cross. At least Aslan was put to death on a stone table, so you could PRETEND it wasn't a Christian parable.

So let's take a closer look at this thing, shall we?

 So the story is set on Counter-Earth. Basically it's a parallel earth in a counter-orbit to our own planet. It was created by the High Evolutionary to be a paradise, a perfect Earth. Unfortunately, one of the High Evolutionary's creations -- the Man-Beast, a hyper-evolved wolf -- decided he didn't like it being a nice paradise. So he introduced the concept of eeeevil to the planet. Yes. Man-Beast is Satan. Very, very subtle there, guys.

Our story picks up with a crucifixion right on page 1. So why don't we check it out?
I think you muddled your line there, Adam.
Okay, where do we even begin with this? So, he's on a futuristico-cross. He's being crucified. There's no doubt of that. But that could just be, y'know, symbolism. A lot of art uses the crucifixion imagery without suggesting that the subject is actually, y'know, Christ. Except then there's that line Warlock screams out right before he dies. Does it sound familiar to you?

That's because while on the cross Christ was reported to have screamed to the heavens, "Father, why have you forsaken me?!" So, uh, yeah... real subtle there, Mr. Isabella.

Bruce Banner gets stressed out by the whole thing and turns into the Hulk. He then grabs the cocoon and carries it off. When he meets up with some other allies -- basically a group of Adam Warlock's apostles -- they take Adam's body to...

Well, check this out:
The dude with the crazy hair is meant
to be a porcupine man. Weird.
Yes. They put his body in a freakin' cave. SUBTLE.

The really interesting thing about this page is in the second panel. Jason's speech bubble where he says, "Yeah he... was like tha... (choke)". That's clearly an edited speech bubble. There's no doubt about it. It's the wrong size for that text, "Tha" and "Choke" at the very least are clearly by a different letterer than the rest of the stuff on the page... so it makes me wonder, what the hell did the panel say before that warranted editing?

Did Jason actually openly compare Warlock to Jesus there? Dunno. But I imagine this was an attempt to at least cover SOMEWHAT the religious overtones of this issue.

At this point Conway and Isabella start taking the piss. No, I'm serious. Check out this splash page.
Stop using the word symbolism in your symbolic
comic book, dammit!!

SUBTLE symbolism, Tony? Seriously? C'mon man! Subtle my arse! I don't know who to blame here -- is this what Conway wanted drawn, or is Herb Trimpe to blame? Then there's the words Tony Isabella shoved on top... what the hell? How can you dare reference SUBTLE symbolism?


This page is basically the point where the comic lost me. Up until this point I was okay with it -- Christ symbolism is frankly a major part of western art. Excluding it from comics would be stupid. But, man... there are limits!!

The only place where there's any ambiguity in this issue the Man-Beast. While he's clearly meant to be Satan -- he brought evil into paradise -- he's also perhaps meant to be the anti-Christ. He assumes the form of the President of the USA on Counter-Earth, and uses his influence to make people think he's a good guy. Very anti-Christ like. In the end, though... he's pretty much Satan. Here, take a look at this nice pink page of evil:

Trimpe's always been good at drawing tanks.

The rest of the story is pretty much a massive fight scene with the Hulk fighting the Man-Beast's forces. He sure as heck beats the ever-livin' crap out of Man-Beast too. He's even going to kill him. That's unusual, the Hulk doesn't usually outright say he's going to kill someone -- usually it's a euphemism like, "Smash". But here, Hulk says he's going to kill the Man-Beast, because the Man-Beast killed his friend!

Then Adam Warlock shows up.

Yup, he came back to life. The Recorder (a robot character originally from the pages of Thor) notes that it took two days for him to come back to life. Well, at least you restrained yourself a little bit there guys. The word "two" doesn't even look to be a late edit of the script, so that's nice.

Warlock tells Hulk not to kill in his name. Then he turns the Man-Beast back into a wolf. Then he... ASCENDS TO THE HEAVENS to saviourise other planets. No seriously, look:

I have no words.

Almost all the characters in this book were created by Jack Kirby -- and the symbolism presented here is not enormously removed from the symbolism Kirby was employing with them. Him (Adam Warlock's original form) was a kind of naive Christ-like figure, and certainly there are shades of God and the Garden of Eden in the High Evolutionary and his various creations. The difference was that Kirby was actually using these references as starting points to create something entirely new.

 This on the other hand is just a pointless retelling of the Crucifixion. And people accuse Bill Mantlo of plagiarism!

So what do I take away from all of this? I have no idea. Though it does make me want to re-read issue #8 of Marvel Two-In-One again. The comic where the Thing takes part in the birth of Christ (sorta), just to, y'know, get  both ends of the story.

--Andrew S.
(Also: Hulk can totally beat the crap out of Satan. Who knew?)


  1. Tony Isabella is the guy that Jim Shooter once referred to as "one of the writers got born-again and decided that all of his characters should be born-again," right?

  2. I'm honestly not sure, Hoop. I did wonder if that was him or Conway. Looking at Isabella's entry on wikipedia I think you might be right. Also:

    "In May 2007, Isabella said, "I’d written a story wherein, couched in mildly subtle terms, Blaze accepted Jesus as his savior and freed himself from Satan’s power forever.""

    Notice the use of the word "Subtle" again? Makes me want to read that Ghost Rider arc!

    --Andrew S.

  3. That's the one I'm thinking of, then. Shooter has some stuff about it on his blog.