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The Incredible Hulk
Review and Media by Matthew Williams

Review: With the release of Hulk in theatres, you may be interested in revisiting the green goliath’s other adventures. And, with that magical notion called “cashing in,” several major studios are putting out DVDs of the Hulk’s various adventures, mostly his live-action exploits. Buena Vista Home Entertainment -- aka Disney -- is releasing something different, a collection of the 1990's animated Hulk series. While this could have been a quick cash-in release, BVHE has surprisingly put a good deal of effort into making this disc.

The 90's series sticks close to the basic Hulk mythos: Dr. Bruce Banner is belted by gamma rays and eventually turns into The Incredible Hulk, the strongest being on the face of the planet. The storyline is a hybrid of comics and the acclaimed TV show; he is pursued by General Ross and the army, and Betty Ross is present, but Banner spends a large amount of time on the run, as he did in the TV series.

The tone of the series can easily be described as “dark.” A darkness that matches your average, classic episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Bruce’s condition is presented as a curse. Banner’s love for Betty Ross is overshadowed by both the Hulk and General Ross’ desire to kill the creature -- and in effect the man. His proposed cures don’t take, either because of the interference of Ross or because of an unrelated failure.

In some ways, they are darker than many other animated shows intended for a younger audience -- even Batman has a glimmer of hope in many of its stories along with the darkness. In a way, though, it is overly dark, and not enough of a balance is struck with the melodrama and the cathartic, fun “Hulk Smash!” scenes. For this reason, many prefer the 1980's Hulk, which blended moments of darkness with light-hearted sci-fi and camp series to this one.

Additionally, the episodes on this disc are surprisingly formulaic. With the exception of part 2 of “Return of the Beast,” the episodes mostly revolve around this pattern: Hulk lands in new location; Bruce Banner changes back and runs into guest star; guest star helps Bruce perfect a new contraption to cure his condition; something goes awry, Bruce hulks out, contraption is destroyed, and the guest star ends up fighting the Hulk. This doesn’t work because it’s a foregone conclusion that the scheme will fail, and since the scheme does fail, it only hammers at the depressing “Bruce is cursed” note all the more.

Is the series as bad as I’m making it out to be, though? Absolutely not. The writing is far above that of a normal superhero show, and really does make you care about Banner’s plight. The animation isn’t the quality of Batman, but it’s serviceable, with attractive character designs for Bruce Banner, Hulk, Betty Ross, and all the major characters. This series carries the torch of the fine second seasons of Fantastic Four and Iron Man, even though it isn’t as good as those batches of episodes.

Special mention, though, must go to the voice cast assembled for his series. Lou Ferrigno is obviously the biggest name, as he provides the voice of the character he helped to make famous. He does a great job and is the Hulk, even more surprising considering that all of his dialogue/noises in the live-action TV series was dubbed in! Neal McDonough (Boomtown) provides the right amount of angst and care to his role as Bruce Banner. Genie Francis (Laura of General Hospital fame) has the right amount of care for her role as Betty Ross, and Shadoe Stephens is the perfect voice for calm, gamma-powered Dr. Samson. Matt Frewer and Mark Hamill have fun in their villain roles of Leader and Gargoyle, with the latter proving his range by inventing a great original voice for the role (and not reprising his famous Joker voice). And, lastly, John Vernon(Killer Klowns from Outer Space) is absolutely thunderous in his role as General Ross, defining the role as much as Sam Elliot did in the movie.

BVHE has included the first four episodes of the animated series on this disc. They are:

Return of the Beast, pts. 1 and 2: Beast Wars-writer Bob Forward is credited with this script, which is surprisingly weak by his high standards; this is the man who penned the awe-inspiring “The Agenda” three-parter for that series, for example. Bruce Banner has completed a device that will get rid of the Hulk once and for all… but it is ruined by the Leader. The problem here is that this is made a two-part episode when the second episode has nothing to do with the first; the “invention” story inexplicably becomes a story involving gamma-mutated animals. While the second episode sets up some of the more intriguing plots for the entire show, introducing Rick Jones and the Hulkbusters, the story set up in the first part does not exist. This could have been better done as two stand-alone episodes.

Raw Power: Bruce Banner finds a friend in Mitch McCutcheon, a research technician. Banner’s experiment is foiled by the security guards there, and the accident turns Mitch into a being of raw energy, Zzaxx. This episode is much stronger than the first, as it does a good job of developing Mitch as a person who gets absolutely no respect, making his transformation sadder and more powerful. It’s also notable for a great, knock-down drag-out fight between the two tita -- the best Hulk fight on this disc.

Helping Hand, Iron Fist: Probably the strongest episode on this disc, Bruce Banner turns to industrial tycoon Tony Stark for help. Robert Hays, Dorian Harewood, and Tom Kane reprise their roles from the Iron Man animated series, making this a treat for fans of that show. While it relies on the conceit of amnesia for the big Hulk battles, the smooth delivery of the three guest voice actors was one of the best things of their own show, and their performances are so strong that they make a run-of-the-mill episode a great one.

Extras: BVHE has also supplied a nice number of extras for this DVD.

The best extra is the “Inside The Hulk” feature. With this option selected, the Hulk’s face will periodically appear on the screen. Clicking it will take you to a short video segment where either Peter David or Stan Lee will elaborate a little on what is in the scene. This ranges from general information such as Lou Ferrigno voicing the Hulk, to information about how characters have been portrayed in the comics (Abomination’s portrayal in the series being way different from the comic) even to references to the previous animated series (particularly shots at the 80s series… like Rick Jones’ cowboy hat in that series). Watch the disc with this option turned on at least once.

The second extra is the “Bonus 60's episode” that BVHE has included on most of its superhero DVDs so far. In this case, it’s the 60's Hulk series. Whereas the 60's Spider-Man series was, at best, “low-budget,” this series can be described as “budget? What budget?” The “animation” here consists of panels from the actual comic book, blown up and recolored for TV standards, with mouth and basic limb movement added to the existing artwork. The voice actors are the same as those utilized for the Spider-Man series, and have little emotion and can be laughable at times. (The voice of Hulk is particularly bad.) The best part of this series is probably the fact that the episode in question contains the artwork of the great Jack Kirby and the “cheesy doesn’t even begin to describe it” theme song.

Several smaller extras round out the package. An "Introduction to Peter David" explains who the bearded bald guy is on the “Inside the Hulk” segments, whereas “Stan Lee’s Soapbox” has the famed creator speaking his mind on his favorite medium. An option to watch the episodes with introductions by Stan Lee rounds out the package. Additionally, while not technically classified as an “extra”, there are sneak peeks for various other Disney shows such as Tokyo Pig and Spirited Away; several of them run before you reach the main menu, but these can be skipped by pressing the “Menu” button.

The series is good, but it isn’t the greatest action series nor the greatest animated representation of the Hulk. But it’s a worthy purchase for fans, and BVHE has put together a good package. If nothing else, you’ll find something to like about this package… whether it’s for the 90's series, the "Inside The Hulk" feature, or the 60's theme song: it’s the ever-lovin’ Hulk! HULK HULK!

On a scale of 10, I rate this a 7.