Issue(s): Hulk #388
Rick's band will be playing at a benefit concert for an AIDS clinic. The Hulk will be joining as well, which is partially why Jim invited them. The clinic has been harassed and attacked, and the Hulk will make a good deterrent. But the bigger news is that Jim is HIV positive.
When Rick gets to the clinic, you can see that moment of hesitation before he shakes one of the patients' hands.
That particular patient has a father who is a mob boss, and he blames the patients' boyfriend ("companion") for giving him AIDS (and probably for turning him gay). So he hires a new super-assassin to kill his son's partner. The super-villain is called Speedfreek, and he has an addiction to a drug called Snap, which the father can provide. It turns out that the father sent goons to attack the clinic previously, but they were fought off by Jim's uncle, the Falcon, who happened to have been visiting.
Speedfreek attacks while Rick's band is apparently doing a tribute to Twin Peaks.
Rick is no slouch...
...but a bladed speedster is a bit out of his league, so luckily the Hulk shows up.
At a minimum, Speedfreek's whip has an adamantium tip. I don't know if his whole outfit and his blades are also adamantium. I want to know when they started selling this stuff at K-Mart; it seems like every new villain has some nowadays.
Speedfreek manages to hold his own against the Hulk for a while...
...but he eventually gets punched away by the Hulk and doesn't come back. He didn't manage to kill his actual target, but the mobster's son wound up dying. And Jim got cut badly, and Rick is afraid to go near the open wound. Hulk brings him to a hospital.
Rick and the Hulk then confront the father, and trick him into confessing on tape to hiring assassins.
With the pink shirt and the earring, Jim seems to be depicted in comic book shorthand as someone who is gay. But it's also mentioned that he had a girlfriend.
In the end, the Hulk says it doesn't matter how Jim got AIDS.
And that's fair enough as far as it goes. But on the other hand, since this was a time when there weren't many gay characters at Marvel, it would have been nice to be explicit about Jim being gay. But on the other other hand, it would be nice to have some gay characters who weren't dying of AIDS (see also Bill Mantlo's intention to have Northstar die of AIDS). Peter David will address this by revealing that Hector of the Pantheon is gay without making it a "thing". And we'll also have a follow-up story on Jim.
As Peter David intended, this story does a good job of addressing AIDS regardless of Jim's sexual orientation. The little moments showing Rick's reactions to the circumstances he is put on are well done. And regardless of the question of representation in comics, Hulk's comment at the end that it doesn't matter how someone gets AIDS was ultimately the right message.
Speedfreek will also appear again, but he doesn't exactly take off as a character (after appearing once more in David's Hulk, he's killed off in Civil War #1). He does work pretty well in this story. His hyperactive attitude fits well with Peter David's sense of humor, and he certainly comes across as dangerous, if not necessarily someone that is ultimately in the Hulk's league. According to the Marvel Appendix, Peter David intended to reveal that Speedfreek was brother to Crazy Eight from Hulk #380.
Also in this issue, someone calls into the hotline center where Betty works, claiming to be Rick Jones' mother. Betty is off duty at the moment, so she's not there to get the message.
Quality Rating: A-
Chronological Placement Considerations: The Hulk is late in getting to the benefits concert because he is with the Pantheon, planning for the upcoming War and Pieces crossover with X-Factor. It's said that the foray into Trans-Sabal will begin in "a couple of days", giving the Hulk enough time to go to LA. But next issue, with a fill-in creative team, also takes place before the War and Pieces storyline. So if other Hulk appearances needed to take place in these "couple of days", that would probably be ok. See also the considerations for X-Factor #75.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showBetty Ross, Hector, Hulk, Jacqueline Shorr, Jim Wilson, Marlo Chandler, Rick Jones, Speedfreek, Ulysses
PAD discusses his reasoning in coming up with the "it doesn't matter" ending here:
Posted by: Michael | November 18, 2015 7:55 PM
I think in a way someone did eventually have to tackle AIDS after the whole Northstar fiasco; and while Jim Wilson feels like "lets pull someone semi-important out of a hat we hadn't seen in a while" in some respects (his last appearance prior to this is the Hulk pardon), it did ultimately work out in being an important storyline regardless. Heck, I know when Jim finally does died of AIDS, it actually heard about it in the news.
Posted by: Ataru320 | November 18, 2015 8:51 PM
I hadn't been buying comics when Jim Wilson was in the Hulk so I had no idea who this guy was. There weren't captions or enough thought balloons/dialogue explaining who this guy was. I would have liked it more if I knew Jim Wilson as a character beforehand.
Speedfreek is not really a Hulk level villain. One doesn't even need a supervillain to kill this guy - although I have give PAD some credit for bringing in the Falcon.
Like PAD's other work, there is good craft showing in this story. And I appreciate the thought behind these "very special episodes". But this is one of his weaker efforts in this period. I don't think these elements gel together as intended. It is however of far better quality than most of what Marvel is producing in this time period.
Posted by: Chris | November 18, 2015 9:11 PM
PAD really overdid the Twin Peaks references- there was an Agent Cooper in issue 372, a reference in X-Factor 71 and now this.
Posted by: Michael | November 18, 2015 11:14 PM
Fnord, they probably stock adamantium at the same place they have kryptonite on "2-for-1" sales. (And chris, that was probably the reason Speedfreak was armed with adamantium everything. This was the age of "power inflation" so villians would have to protect themselves with gobs of unobtanium and sudden healing factors to be able to survive.)
Finally on a more important note, is Betty suppose to be blonde? (I could have sworn she had brown hair.) Did she dye it or is this a coloring error?
Posted by: Jon Dubya | November 19, 2015 1:00 AM
This is actually the second time a goon who shouldn't be in the Hulk's league gets the necessary boost from adamantium: the Constrictor is the classic case of "what's this clown doing with adamantium?"
PAD deserves credit for being the first Marvel writer (that I can think of, anyway) to address AIDS and homosexuality maturely, and he was right to maintain the ambiguity about Jim Wilson, but it's weird how the art clashes with that and seems over-the-top in the way it presents Jim. The art and even some of PAD's writing with Hector leans in stereotypes as well, although the Hector story is interesting for PAD's attempt to show how poirly Ulysses and Cassiopeia deal with Hec's sexuality.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | November 19, 2015 2:59 AM
Posted by: JC | November 19, 2015 3:14 AM
Ugh try dat again.
Posted by: JC | November 19, 2015 3:15 AM
As for SpeedFreek, even with the adamantium it just never made much cents that he could give the Hulk, let alone the Merged Hulk problems. He simply doesn't have the strength necessary to be on the Hulk's level.
But wat's rly weird is PAD going out of his way, particularly in SpeedFreek's next and last appearance, to show how much trouble the Hulk has defeating him. And yet PAD makes a big stink of the upcumming Erik Larson Sinister Sex arc where the admantium armed Doc Ock beats the crap out of the Hulk. So much so, dat he makes sure to rectify it by having the Hulk make a joke of him in wat barely resembles a fight.
PAD's an incredible writer (c wat i did dere) but his temper can get the best of him.
Posted by: JC | November 19, 2015 3:22 AM
Regarding HIV vs. AIDS, you can see Jim trying to make that distinction to Rick but kind of giving up in one of the first scans above. The rest of the characters then conflate the two. I don't know if that was deliberate on PAD's part.
Posted by: fnord12 | November 19, 2015 8:14 AM
Regarding LGBT representation in comics at the time, I remember a Hulk letters page where Marvel are responding to some homophobic letters objecting to this storyline, though I can't recall whether they were in response to this issue or to the followup. There's also an upcoming X-Men letters page where someone complains about Xavier giving a fairly standard speech where he includes gay people in a list of people who should be treated equally! I dunno if they got a lot of letters like that, or they just printed the cranks.
Posted by: Jonathan | November 19, 2015 5:00 PM
That's coming up in #393, Johnathan. They do include a couple of letters in what might be called rounding the opinion, but there's no less than one poignant personal testimony, too.
Posted by: Lyron | November 19, 2015 6:00 PM
Yeah, PAD wrote about how big the backlash to Northstar's coming out was here:
Posted by: Michael | November 19, 2015 9:22 PM
Was that pot-smoking hippie guy who briefly hung out with the Hulk ever brought back during David's run?
Posted by: Mark Drummond | November 20, 2015 4:09 PM
Fred Sloan has a couple more appearances, but not during David's run.
Posted by: fnord12 | November 20, 2015 5:10 PM
Speedfreek has a line of dialogue explaining that he stole his armor from some unnamed inventor, whom he killed.
Regarding gay representation in comics, two landmark stories had already been published, neither at Marvel: the first was an issue of Scott McCloud's creator-owned series Zot!, which presented gay supporting cast members sympathetically, presented some well-told coming-out stories, and got a fair amount of poisitive critical attention but also some nasty letters as a result.
Then, in 1991's Flash #53, reformed villain the Pied Piper comes out as gay and is likewise handled sympathetically, which made a pretty big splash at the time. It got nasty letters as well.
This story is still a landmark, however, not only for representing gay characters, but also, as has been noted, for a sensitive handling of the AIDS epidemic.
All of them have aged better than Northstar's heavily hyped, utterly terrible coming-out storyline.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | October 13, 2017 5:29 AM
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