The Incredible Hulk: Season 1 Volume 1 (1996) Review
Never this viewer's favourite superhero - that would be Spiderman! - the Hulk has lasted longer than most on, I can only assume, everyone and their auntie wanted to see a giant green man in tight purple shorts smash things to shit. And just in case any viewers are confused as to the Hulk's intentions, he helpfully shouts, "Hulk SMASH! Hulk BASH!" while dragging helicopters out of the sky, tearing giant robots apart to their very components and crushing buildings underfoot and between two very large fists.
Like most superheroes, the Hulk comes complete with baggage. And, like other superheroes, the Hulk also reflects the times into which he is written. Less the simple and misunderstood creature that he once was, the Hulk is now a cipher for much that could be described as passive-aggressive, be it the weakness felt by a superpower when faced with the guerilla warfare of the Vietcong, the stalemate of the Cold War or the terrorist attacks on Western society of the last decade. On a more personal level, many can understand the trigger that sets Bruce Banner off into transforming into the Hulk, that need to repress and hold one's anger before letting go. The enduring popularity of the Hulk may have much to do with his being a figure who can submit to anger and aggression and while no one would envy Banner's helplessness in the face of the Hulk's anger, there's a part of everyone who, on being pushed too far, would want to let their fists fly without their conscience being unduly troubled. For this reason, alongside his being big and green, the Hulk has remained in popular culture long after many of his Marvel contemporaries have long been forgotten about.
On the other hand, this cartoon series from 1996 doesn't have very much to do with any of that. However, it does have a lot of the Hulk smashing things up in those bits of the Nevada desert where mysterious nuclear facilities are located. "Hulk no smash puny humans!" That must be the reason for it all. It's no good having Hulk run riot in the inner-cities where people are more likely to be accidental victims of his destructive rampages when he can stomp all over the sand and rocks of those parts of the desert where giant Hulk-busting robots can wreak even more chaos than does the Hulk. And things are just as subtle as that suggests, with Hulk meeting supervillains or superhero on a weekly basis, some new and some old. Iron Man, Sasquatch, ZZZAX, the Ghost Rider, The Leader and The Gargoyle all appear in these six episodes while She-Hulk, Doctor Doom and The Fantastic Four would do so later in the series. Meanwhile, Bruce Banner, on the occasions that he's allowed to appear, continues his search for a cure. However, given the choice between boring old Bruce Banner messing about in a lab or the Incredible Hulk smashing up tanks, airplanes and other pieces of military hardware.
The six episodes here include the two-part The Return of the Beast, Raw Power, Helping Hand/Iron Fist, Innocent Blood and Man to Man, Beast to Beast. These begin with Banner having already conducted the experiments that had transformed him into the Hulk. Yet again, he is attempting to reverse the outcome of the mutation in his biology but the military, led by General Ross and Agent Gabriel Jones of S.H.I.E.L.D., interfere in each of these experiments, often just as Banner is on the verge of curing himself. And when they're asked, politely or otherwise, to refrain from firing missiles, guns, tranquillisers or gamma weapons in the direction of the Hulk, the creature finds himself bothered by The Leader attempting to add strength to his gamma-mutated intellect or the Ghost Rider who, initially at least, wants to exact his own form of punishment on the Hulk. Even when Banner, still wearing the half-trousers of the Hulk, ventures into the Canadian wilderness in the hope of finding another equally brilliant scientist to help, his experiment is interrupted by the unlikely figures of a small boy and his dog.
Proving that no one, not even the Hulk, is without a friend, Rick Jones and the love of Banner's life, Betty Ross, come to the Hulk's aid when they can, albeit that this sometimes involves nothing more than standing in the way of gunfire or perhaps giving the elbow of the weapon-bearing soldier a quick shove to spoil his aim. At other times, Rick proves himself useful by bringing a herd, or perhaps a flock, of friendly gamma mutants to help out the Hulk as well as turning the Ghost Rider around to work for the Hulk rather than against him.
On the whole, this stuff is good fun. Unlike the long-running animated series from Japan, this is more the kind of stuff that this viewer grew up watching on a Saturday morning or on a weekday afternoon. Rather than there being any actual story, or that much of a one, this is all about larger-than-life figures destroying things. Cheaply animated, a sounds effect budget of £2.41 and with colours louder than the United Colours of Benetton, this is very far from being a classic cartoon. It shows scant regard for anything like lip-sync or anything approaching detail in its characters and whilst I'm no animator, I do think that those who draw cartoons should at least understand the basics of perspective. I'm not entirely sure that those who worked on The Incredible Hulk do, at least they don't based on what I've seen here. But they do draw great explosions, which is probably what matters more. And it does have a decent voice cast, Matt Frewer and Mark Hamill amongst them. It's biggest coup, though, is getting the original television Hulk, Lou Ferrigno, for the part of the animated Hulk.
Actually, the word 'coup' does rather indicate that Ferrigno was rather in-demand and so may be too strong a work to use here. I mean, what else, other than comic book conventions, is he up to these days. Still, if you remember this from when it was first animated, it's probably aged well enough to take a place alongside the television show from the seventies and the later movies. The problem comes with this being volume one of a series. It may be that I'm slightly, or indeed a lot, older but the cartoons of my youth are available in boxsets, Ulysses 31 and Dungeons And Dragons amongst them. Anyone who remembers this is likely to have an income sufficient to stretch to the season boxset so this seems like a poor way of having them collect the series. There may be more money in these individual releases but sometimes the likes of Liberation ought to overlook the odd pound here or there in favour of doing the decent thing. Six episodes out of thirteen in the first series is not doing quite that.
There is a short feature on the restoration of this show for DVD but it's not really convincing anyone. The colour has been boosted for DVD and made brighter but pause the DVD and step through it a frame at a time will reveal a good many faults in the picture, including white spots and other little bits of dirt. These don't stay in the picture for long, maybe a single frame or two, but they're definitely there if you go looking for them. The bigger problem is that the DVD presentation is interlaced rather than progressive and this lends the picture a clunky, juddery look. On a small television, this is less of a problem but it was very much more noticeable on a 43" screen.
The soundtrack has been remixed into a DD5.1 but Liberation have also included the original stereo track. The former isn't a very good mix. The background music has been drawn out of the mix in the direction of the rear speakers and often swamps the dialogue such that characters become inaudible. The stereo track is much better. With it messed about with less, everything, being dialogue, sound effects and music, is in its proper place and it is definitely the pick of the two. Finally, there are subtitles on all six episodes.
There are no extras on this DVD release other than a short feature, which lasts a few minutes, on the restoration of the picture.
Last updated: 13/06/2018 13:49:34