Perceiving a Comic Book Cinema in Ang Lee's Hulk
missing works cited
Ang Lee's film Hulk (2003) is based on a character whose origins lie in the world of Marvel comic books. In both versions, Bruce Banner is a repressed and unassuming scientist who, as a result of an accident involving gamma radiation, transforms into a massive green engine of destruction, known as the Incredible Hulk, whenever he becomes angry. The Hulk is the rampaging male id, unleashed by modern science upon a world unprepared for its limitless, primal fury. But as interesting as a literary analysis of the character might be – and the Hulk is rife with such possibilities – this is not where Lee's Hulk breaks any new ...view middle of the document...
This establishes the tension of a romantic triangle between the three characters, which never fully emerges as a plot point, but remains as a subtext throughout the portions of the film that deal with Talbot.
Betty has to leave rather quickly to attend to some generic science (shot 5), but Talbot lingers a moment to have a "man to man" conversation with Bruce. There is some obvious tension between Talbot and Bruce as he makes overtures toward acquiring their research for military applications (and the ensuing financial benefit of selling the technology). The conflict is heightened by the gradual re-framing of the composition as the shot-reverse shot structure progresses from 6 to 16a. Shots become increasingly tighter. Bruce is portrayed from higher and higher angles, Talbot from ever lower, so that the space between them grows, even as the camera draws nearer to each of them. Note also how Bruce is deemphasized by being surrounded by so much clutter (even the computer monitor behind his head has several open windows). On the other hand, Talbot stands against a neutral background of mostly blank wall, making him the clear, unequivocal focal point for the spectator's eye.
However, it is in shot 16b that things begin to get interesting. Talbot turns to leave as the camera speed changes into slow motion. Soon, the audience is presented with three separate images on the screen, breaking the action apart into a number of different comic book-like panels. By 16f, the first picture-in-picture has disappeared. The original image begins to shrink and the second picture-in-picture window slides out in shot 16g, leaving pure black in their absence. With 16h, the original and last remaining 'panel' compresses out of existence and the first shot of the next scene begins to dissolve into the space that has been vacated.
Because Lee's use of picture-in-picture construction is self-consciously designed to imitate the Hulk's original medium, it may prove illuminating to extend the analysis of the sequence to include some theory of comics. This inter-disciplinary move is especially apt, in that every piece of comics theory I have ever read uses comparisons to the cinema as a conceptual tool.
The first thing we must clarify is that these panels in the screen image do not themselves actually constitute comics. Broadly speaking, there are two schools of thought on how to define comics. The verbal-visual school defines the medium as essentially a blend of words and picture (Harvey 1994:8). Our scene cannot be comics because any sound that does exist is aural, rather than visually conveyed, as through the use of speech balloons or onomatopoeia. The sequential art school, ably represented by Scott McCloud, defines comics as "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer" (1999:9). Conventional cinema is "sequential in time but not spatially juxtaposed as...