The Incredible Hulk #378: Rhino Plastered
The ego-driven, smart alec, Gray Hulk is Bruce Banner and he transforms to fight Rhino, who has the Christmas blues because he is a super-villain. The two fight it out in a mall and cause ruckus before they discover the true meaning of the Christmas season.
Author: Peter David
Artist: Bill Jaaska
Genre: Science Fiction,Superhero
Bruce Banner, a brilliant scientist, was exposed to a gamma bomb. The effects turn him into the Incredible Hulk every time Banner experiences peak levels of emotion. Ever since the Incredible Hulk debuted in 1968, his raging personality has been splintered plenty of times in multiple ways. In this story, Peter David tells about the Gray Hulk, who acts as a darker alter-ego to Bruce Banner. The Gray Hulk is clever, egotistical, boastful, and only comes out at night. He takes on the personality of Mr. Hyde, while Banner acts as Dr. Jekyll in a sense. Meanwhile, there is also a Green Hulk: Banner’s friend, Rick Jones.
Peter David is the premiere Hulk writer. He has had a twelve year career writing the green and grey skinned monster. Before David, the story was more about the Hulk’s rage and isolation issues. Once David took over, he suggested that Bruce Banner suffered from DID (dissociative identity disorder). This was a problem Banner had before the Hulk and led to the Hulk’s many changes in character.
Bill Jaaska worked with Peter David, who commented that Jaaska’s art on issue #380 was crucial to the impact of the story. Jaaska died November 9, 2009 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, after providing the world incredible art for Marvel, DC, and Acclaim comics.
Violence: Just normal superhero action. There is no blood, just the kind of violence you would find in Tom and Jerry or Looney Toons.
Language: There are insults hurled in panels, 90’s terms such as “jerk weed” and “moron.”
Spiritual Content: N/A
Sexual Content: Santa-Rhino laments that he can never take his suit off, so the Hulk makes a reference to not having a woman — implying Rhino can’t have sex.
Drug/Alcohol Abuse: In his frustration, Rhino comments he wants a drink. A boss makes mention of a mall Santa Clause who, “fell down drunk.”
Positive Content: Although Hulk and Rhino fight through the mall the entire book, in the end, to preserve a little girl’s belief and hope, they unite to help the kids in a sacrificial way.
Negative Content: The hero, Gray Hulk, is an opportunist. He fights and beats people up just to prove he can and to bring glory to himself. He and the villain, Rhino, display the same traits. The selfishness of their actions threatens to destroy Christmas for everyone.
This is the season that can be really fun for many. This is a time to remember the great things in the past, and escape into those warm memories of watching Home Alone, or The Christmas Story. This is a time to unwind, travel back, and soak in the events of the year while sipping hot cocoa and playing board games with loved ones.
This is also a time of depression and discouragement for many people. We are confronted with family stress. We are drawn back to our home towns where there are many ghosts, many Jacob Marleys, which we have to confront. Maybe we are alone this year. Maybe 2016 wasn’t as wonderful as we wanted it to be.
In joy or depression, I can relate to both around this time of year. It is this strange Christmas dichotomy that caused me to travel back to the past to explore when the incredible egotistical grey 90’s version Hulk fought a manic depressive Rhino who posed as a mall Santa to escape his doldrums.
This work, Rhino Plastered, is a fun seasonal story with plenty of holiday frolicking cheer, while Banner’s mental illness acts as a backdrop.
The plot is enjoyable and reads easily. Rick Jones (the Green Hulk at the time) tries to teach a kid-bully a moral lesson around Christmas. He attempts this by telling a story about what happened to him, Clay Quartermain, and Bruce Banner (Gray Hulk) a year earlier when Rhino chose to wreak havoc in the mall, acting like a 600 pound Grinch.
Rick tells the children that Aleksei Mikhailovich Sytsevich (Rhino) was depressed because nobody seemed to care about him during Christmas. Kids only loved the heroes. He could never get his thick suit off to get a real job. He begged for money instead of resorting to crime, but nobody had compassion on poor Rhino. He was a reject, alone, lost, sad and scared. Then he put on a Santa suit and people started looking at him differently. They patted him on the shoulder, smiled warmly, and begrudgingly put money in his cup in passing.
That didn’t last long though. After he started working as a mall Santa, the consistent complaining from the little boys and girls and the way people laughed at him grew to be too much for him.
He lost it and hurled a kid into the air, but the Gray Hulk saved the boy. What happened next was a full-out slug-fest between the two giants.
The mall is practically destroyed by them. Both of them launch insults back and forth while they slam into each other like linebackers on Thanksgiving. They crash through a bowling alley, a store, and a bakery.
What makes this interesting is the personality of the Gray Hulk. He does not act like the typical hero.
He is not the brute with a big heart who can only grunt. Nor is he the green behemoth who cannot control his anger like the Hulk we are accustomed to seeing in the movies and the latest comics.
Gray Hulk is an alter-ego to Bruce Banner. He wise cracks and is crafty, while maintaining just a portion of the strength of the Green Hulk. He can reason enough to hurt with his words as well as his fists. The Gray Hulk does things for his own gain.
He cares more about himself than others.
That is what makes the two combatants, Rhino and Gray Hulk, mirror images of each other. They are two hurting men dealing with the same issues over Christmas, slugging it out to mask their pain.
When a little child approaches them with tears in her eyes, the two mounds of muscle have to make a powerful decision. The trembling little girl forces them to assess themselves and their actions. As they look into each other’s fiery eyes, they recognize the monsters they’ve become. They could either continue to destroy everything and themselves or use their gifts to help other people.
Bill Jaaska’s art is great here. There was no Photoshop or other effects to work with back then, so the lines had to be as clean as possible. Jaaska’s art is expressive, almost like Manga before Manga was popular. The kids’ faces are comical yet believable. Anybody who has ever been around a bunch of kids can instantly relate to them. Through his work, Bill Jaaska shows people how to draw the “Marvel way.” His anatomy work is perfectly done and as far as the old artists go, Jaaska was one of the best. Look him up some time.
David’s story, like many of the good holiday classics, is great for a one-shot. He fills his panels with jokes and plenty of colorful characters. Like a crazy holiday story, all of the children are rowdy and misbehaving. This was back when parents could let their kids roam around the town on bicycles. If you loved that time like I did, you’ll appreciate the references to “Nintendo and Turtle cartridges.”
I had that game, and it was extremely difficult to beat.
There are plenty of 90’s references and less politically correct fun in the book for people who remember that magical era of flannels and Cobain music.
David keeps the story light and fun, with some heartfelt lessons at the end that makes one think about the scene in Jingle All the Way, when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s son gives up his Turbo Man toy to Sinbad’s son as a Christmas present.
So what do we learn from this issue? What spiritual lesson can we glean?
Sure, I could go into the deep psychology of the grey Hulk and how David dealt with Bruce Banner’s disorders and his fractured sense of self. I could compare Rhino’s Santa suit to something like the clothing of Christ, or the importance of being clothed with humility as a way to bring blessings to others.
But instead I’ll keep it simple this time. Merry Christmas, and enjoy a fun story the way this comic was meant to be read: with the eyes of a rambunctious child on Rhino’s — er, I mean — Santa’s lap.
+ Fun story
+ Seasonal and reminiscent
+ Great art
- 90's style may turn off young readers
- Story is a one-shot holiday special