While never achieving the popularity of top-tier superheroes like Superman or Spider-man, The Incredible Hulk is certainly one of the more fascinating comic book protagonists. While most of the heroes have a super ability and a super weakness, the Hulk’s ability is his weakness – an uncontrollable temper.
When I get mad, I might grumble or yell. When Bruce Banner gets mad, he transforms into a nine-foot-tall green monster with the strength of 100 people. He can tear, rip, throw or just smash whatever is in his way. Not very productive, but I’m sure it’s a lot more satisfying.
When the Hulk transforms, he is often drawn as a shirtless muscular giant who has burst out of his street clothing and wears only pants. The other day I was looking at my two-year-old son, who was running around with his shirt off. I was immediately struck with the realization that the Hulk is really a two-year-old having a temper tantrum.
My son is usually very sweet, but when he doesn’t get his way, his temper can flare quickly. He will start flailing and grab whatever is nearby and start throwing it. He’ll intentionally knock down the magna-tile structure his sister is building if he doesn’t get the piece that he wants. Okay, he doesn’t exactly turn green, but I can almost hear him saying “Hulk smash!” in my head.
The Hulk’s creators, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, claim that the Hulk was inspired by a combination of Frankenstein’s monster and by Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. While this sounds like a nice explanation, both Lee and Kirby had children in 1940s and ’50s, so they would have been well acquainted with the temper tantrums of kids. I prefer to think that Frankenstein was just a better sounding cover story, and really creating the comic book character of the Hulk was a way for them to vent some of their parenting frustrations.
As adults, we learn to channel our frustrations into non-violent forms of expression. We might say something nasty or swear. As we get older and more mature, we learn to take it in stride and respond calmly. We make non-threatening personal “I feel” statements.
A few weeks ago, I was complaining to my wife about a trip to the mechanic to get a tire replaced. I had expected it to take about an hour, but a combination of other cars ahead of me, a problem with a pressure monitor in the tire, and an out-of-stock part soon transformed it into a 5 hour ordeal.
My four-year-old daughter was listening and asked me what was wrong.
“I had a very frustrating day,” I told her.
“Did you cry?” she asked. Logical – if you are frustrated, obviously you would cry, right?
“No, I didn’t cry,” I answered.
“Did you go like this?” she asked, pointing down at her feet and stamping them.
“No, I didn’t stamp my feet,” I answered.
Clearly, my daughter is already past The Hulk stage of frustration. To her, when she’s upset, she cries and stamps her feet.
My son is still clearly deep in the Hulk mode. He is getting better about responding, but I still need to be on guard when he is playing with other kids in case a dispute breaks out.
Learning patience takes time. So I will have to be patient too.