Issue(s): Hulk #420
The Pantheon has been working on an AIDS cure - AG-34 - but Dr. Harr says that it would be illegal and immoral to try it on Jim at this stage. Jim then asks the Hulk to give him a blood transfusion, with the hope that it will cure him.
The Hulk's reasons for refusing rings hollow to Jim, and also to me. As the example of She-Hulk shows, these characters exist in a universe where crazy science is tried and works all the time. Super-scientists like Henry Pym experiment on themselves, repercussions be damned. If the fear is that Jim Wilson might be turned into an Abomination-style monster, that still seems better than him dying of AIDS, or at least worth the risk.
What we're dealing with here is the common problem of Marvel comics having to continue to reflect the world outside our window despite all the fantastic elements in it. If the Hulk's blood could be shown to cure AIDS, that should obligate the Hulk to provide it to everyone, and then AIDS would no longer exist in the Marvel universe, and that would open the door to other such changes and eventually make the Marvel universe unrecognizable. But the solution - to have the Hulk simply refuse to help - feels unsatisfying and cruel to me. I would have preferred just embracing the comic book nerd elements and having the Hulk explain that his blood would instantly kill anyone who doesn't have the X-Factor gene. His cousin has the gene, Abomination and the other gamma characters have the gene, but the Pantheon has tested Jim and he doesn't. Alternatively, why not have the Hulk try the transfusion only to see it have no effect on Jim?
Looking at this as an individual story - which is quiet, tragic, and beautiful - you wouldn't want all that cluttering it up. But this story exists in Marvel's larger fictional universe, and these types of questions will inevitably come up.
Instead, the Hulk pretends to agree to the transfusion. But Jim is aware of the ruse.
It's very moving. Jim Wilson wasn't a major character and hadn't been seen in a long time before Peter David brought him back. But that fact that he was an existing character gives this some extra weight.
In #388, the question of how Jim got AIDS was deliberately left open and Jim wasn't explicitly said to be gay. That continues here. In my reading, it seemed pretty clear that he was gay, and the joke cover story of Jim asking the doctor out on a date was a little jarring.
Another semi-geek concern: Jim is the Falcon's nephew. And we saw in #388 that Jim has other friends. But Jim dies alone in the Pantheon's Mount, with only the Hulk nearby. Sure, the Hulk was an old friend, but not one that he'd been seeing a lot of in recent years. It seems like there was enough time to bring other people in to say goodbye.
But, these minor concerns aside, this is a very strong and subtle issue. It's especially strong in comparison to Marvel's other attempts to address the topic. It's certainly a better approach than the notorious Alpha Flight #106, but it also feels more natural than when Fabian Nicieza addressed it as part of his topical-subject-of-the-month Nomad series in Nomad #13 (the AIDS needle-stabber issue). I'd even say that this issue was groundbreaking, at least for Marvel, but it's worth acknowledging that earlier attempts at dealing with AIDS were stopped by editorial (Bill Mantlo wanted to address the issue with Northstar as far back as 1987, and more recently Nicieza wanted to have Nomad become HIV+). So Peter David deserves kudos for addressing this issue and - importantly - addressing it well, but he wasn't the first to make the attempt.
Even though Jim isn't explicitly gay, Peter David does have another gay character, Hector, in the cast. So we briefly get a moment with him and Ulysses, who continues to be horrible on this topic (despite generally being a "good" guy).
Another thread in this issue is about a straight white male character calling into Betty's crisis hotline. The man, Chet, has found out that he has AIDS. But he won't tell anyone, even his girlfriend, because he doesn't want the fellas to think that he's gay.
He ends up committing suicide without even telling Betty his girlfriend's name so that she can be warned and tested.
I've seen criticism of this plot suggesting that David only included it to ward off complaints that he only depicted an African-American with AIDS, but I think it's much more multi-purposed than that. A common problem at this time, which Hector states in this issue, was that AIDS was almost exclusively associated with homosexuality. That reached almost comic proportions in Alpha Flight #106, where it seemed like Northstar was the only member of the team to care about a baby who had AIDS. By showing that a stereotypical straight white football player in a sports car could contract the disease, David was attacking the heart of that misconception. The scene also addresses the importance of testing and awareness in a tragic way. It also just serves as a good scene for Betty; this role gives her something to do in the book besides fret about her husband.
Overall this is a strong issue that holds up very well today.
In place of the regular lettercol, there are pieces from comics creators talking about their experiences with AIDS. Among others, there are pieces from Jeph Loeb, Joseph Rubinstein, Mindy Newell, and Kelly Corvese. And i thought the one from Chris Cooper (former Assistant Editor on this title, and also the writer of Darkhold, which featured a low-key lesbian relationship) was worth highlighting:
When Augustine died, I played back my entire answering machine, hoping that some old messages had preserved his amazing voice -- a deep resonant baritone, unmistakable. It was inconceivable to me that I would never hear that voice again. I needed something to make the loss more bearable, some small piece of good growing out of the devastation of AIDS.
There are some good critiques of this story in the lettercol for issue #426. People cite the fact that Jim Wilson didn't appear at all between #388 and now, the fact that the conversation between Hector and Ulysses was "woefully truncated", the fact that the main cast is entirely white and hetero (making AIDS a seemingly fringe issue), and the editorial message that accompanied the issue which focused on "avoid[ing] casual sex" (probably more damning on that front is that Marvel is praised by an abstinence-only type). Bobbie Chase pleads lack of space for these concerns, which is not a satisfying answer (Jim certainly could have been made a regular member of the cast after #388, allowing for plenty of time to explore all of this in detail, and if you don't have the time to tackle such a serious topic, maybe... don't?). That said, the issue was still both groundbreaking and moving.
Quality Rating: A
Chronological Placement Considerations: Pushing this back in publication time so that Hulk #421-423 can take place between Thor #477-478.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
At the time this issue came out PAD and Erik Larsen were in the middle of their very public feud, and Larsen decided this would be the perfect opportunity to attempt to "one-up" PAD. Soon after in Savage Dragon one of the police officers who Dragon worked with on the Chicago PD came down with AIDS, and he asked Dragon for a blood transfusion. Dragon reluctantly agreed, and at first it did look like his blood had cured the guy... but then it went horribly wrong. Larsen actually used this to establish that human beings cannot safely receive a blood transfusion from Dragon, and he returned to that idea several more times over the years.
Posted by: Ben Herman | December 18, 2017 12:17 PM
Any Red Letter Media fans?
Posted by: david banes | December 18, 2017 1:00 PM
I think the reason why Bruce refused the transfusion is because he saw how corrupt the Maestro was so recently- a murderer and a rapist, probably a child rapist. He was afraid that Jim might turn into another Maestro if he took the transfusion and didn't want to risk his friend's soul.
Posted by: Michael | December 18, 2017 2:32 PM
It should be clear that there were more alternatives to the Hulk's blood turn Jim into an Abomination or the Maestro. Jim was dying and traumazied and who knows what sort of gamma creature might have emerged? The Hulk would have been responsible for not only any Hulk-level destruction Jim might cause, which would likely lead to human deaths in the worst case scenario but also Jim's life, which the Hulk(presumably) would have to take. Assuming he was able to. Assuming Jim wasn't even stronger than Bruce. These are all factors that this story didn't have time to go into, but certainly come to my mind after reading it. The fact is, Jim wasn't wrong in wanting to live, but he was wrong in asking to the Hulk to save him at the possibility of even another human life's expense.
Posted by: Brian C. Saunders | December 18, 2017 3:22 PM
There is also the issue of gamma radiation therapy being used in Hulk # 294-296 which went horribly awry. A reference to that would have made Bruce's decision more understandable. Also if there was a quick (even if imprecise) study by the Pantheon to see if Hulk's blood could be used (they should have the resources to do so), and the results come out that indicated the risk of terrible effects was way too high.
PAD really should have included Falcon somehow since he is Jim's best (only?) known relative.
This is a good, quiet issue and one of a few that I truly remember from this era of Hulk.
Posted by: Chris | December 18, 2017 7:27 PM
There's also the possibility that a blood transfusion from Bruce could've mutated the AIDS virus itself, leading to who knows what problems. It's a tough call, but I can see there was some logic to Bruce's refusal.
Posted by: Gary Himes | December 18, 2017 7:47 PM
I agree with the summary..."that was then" isn't really a good explanation for why it was okay to give a radioactive blood transfusion to Jen Walters but not to Jim Wilson. If anything, She-Hulk is evidence that a blood transfusion from the Hulk can be purely beneficial. I understand why PAD wouldn't want to go in that direction -- it wouldn't have made sense for the transfusion to have no effect, and meanwhile the mood he was going for here was 'somber' and not 'uplifting' or 'horrifying', which are the two obvious options with a blood transfusion. But it does feel like there could have been better ways to set up the idea that a transfusion from the Hulk was out of the question.
Posted by: Andrew F | December 19, 2017 1:42 PM
"That was then" is accurate but incomplete. The fact is the Hulk isn't trying to have an argument with Jim. Yes, the readers need the argument, but explaining to your dying friend that you can't help him is the last thing Bruce wants to do. Jim was the sidekick of the savage Hulk and should know without being reminded of all the in-universe reasons how a dose of Hulk blood is out of the question. There's Senator Morton Clegstead who took a dose of Hulk blood for his cancer and got turned into the "Crawling Unknown" in Incredible Hulk 151. Which, Fnord, could bear mention in your comments. But doing flashbacks to that issue and a discussion of bioethics is not the place for this issue which was about Jim's death from AIDS and society's argument about it. This issue is still worthwhile without dragging mentions of the Senator in and probably better without them.
Posted by: Brian C. Saunders | December 19, 2017 4:06 PM
Have to disagree with you, Fnord: the Hulk’s horror at the thought of more gamma beings is an important theme of PADs run. First, it’s tied up with the Hulk’s own psychology: he’s cursed, like a werewolf, and doesn’t want to curse others. He even has quasi-suicidal impulses. Second, in Ground Zero and one of the anniversary issues, PAD has shown the Hulk having a guilt complex over the gamma bomb and what it has unleashed. Third, PAD has shown a lot of tragic facets of other gamma-folk: Betty has nightmares about turning into the Harpy, Half-Life and Madman are insane and monstrous, and the Leader has forcibly transformed a variety of Middleton residents into living gamma weapons to serve his own ends. The She-Hulk and Samson are the exceptions, but even Shulkie has had her savage moments, and the Hulk certainly doesn’t appreciate Samson, who may not be evil, but can certainly be destructive in his own gamma-powered arrogance. It makes perfect character sense that the Hulk wouldn’t risk turning Jim into a gamma being.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | December 19, 2017 9:21 PM
Bruce only thinks of the negative possibilities, but the positive ones should be considered too. Jen's done a tremendous amount of good as She-Hulk. If one takes the stance that he's responsible for what those he chooses to help do, wouldn't he also be responsible for the multitude of deaths that would have occurred if he'd let his cousin bleed out?
It's almost funny to think of Bruce in a timeline following that, comforting himself. "It was necessary... to prevent a monster!" Unaware that the nuking of Vegas and extinction of the asparagus people came about as the result of that decision. Maybe Jim would have become a great hero too. It's at least worth considering.
So while Hulk's decision is in-character for where he is at the moment, I do think it's a poor one. Prepare for the bad, sure, but don't let fear of it paralyze you from not doing something so obviously good as saving Jim or Jen.
Posted by: Mortificator | December 19, 2017 9:53 PM
Comments are now closed.
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