Friday, September 28, 2007

Alfredo Alcala - Hulxploitation!

A Very Personal Hell written by James Shooter with art by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala from The Hulk magazine, 1980.

Alfredo Alcala is another one of those extremely prolific Filipino artists with a uniquely detailed style. You can always pick out Alcala’s work by noticing his use of shading that includes intense cross hatching combined with some charcoal looking tones. Some of his more unusual works include a graphic novel adaption of the adults only blaxploitation novel Daddy Cool by Donald Goines. He was also the illustrator of the short lived series Voltar, a lushly detailed fantasy epic. Marvel’s magazine version of Nightmare on Elmstreet from the 1980’s was also drawn by Alcala, making it even more enjoyable and surreal than the actual films.

One of my favorite pieces by him was a collaboration with John Buscema on a Jim Shooter scripted piece for Hulk Magazine. From the looks of it, it seems to me that the first half of the story was roughed out by Buscema, while the latter half was completed drawn by Alcala. This is because the second half has less of the staged , typical Marvel look and more of an underground feel to it. I’ve posted a few of these pages here, but not the whole story (it’s 33 pages long).

While I’ve never been much of a fan of mainstream superhero comics, I think I can say with confidence that this might be one of the all time strangest contributions to the genre. The Marvel black and white magazines of the time, in competition with Warren’s line, attempted to appeal to a more adult audience. This was also true for HULK magazine, resulting in a different look and writing style than the actual standard comic book at the time.

In …A Very Personal Hell, writer James Shooter has created a story that looks more like Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver than it does the Typical Marvel Universe. Set in a seedy version of New York City, the comic actually has the feel of a campy exploitation movie along the lines of Basket Case.

Typically, Marvel shies away from any discrete sexual overtones. Not so, in this case. Hulk’s alter ego, Bruce Banner is staying at a YMCA. Here is the basic plot:

While taking a shower, two homosexuals attempt to rape him. A nude Banner is able to resist his anger and escape into a back alley. There, he breaks down and cries against a brick wall. Soon, aggression takes hold and Banner is transformed into the rampaging green beast. After falling down some steps, the Hulk finds himself in the basement apartment of an emaciated drug addict who is stoned on acid. She immediately takes a liking to the Hulk, who she calls Sam. When her abusive boyfriend returns, the Hulk socks him in the face. The woman then offers herself sexually to the Hulk, but ends up passing out. The Hulk turns back into Banner and leaves the apartment in search of a job.

Roaming the streets of NY, he ends up entering a brothel where a half nude woman offers him the opportunity to hand out fliers on 44th and 7th. He turns down the position quickly! Back on the streets, he ends up being picked up by a pretty business woman. It soon becomes clear that this woman has some damaging psychological issues with her mother and is desperate for a man in her life. She helps Bruce find a job as a dishwasher and soon after lures him up to her apartment. They make love.

Meanwhile, the Hulk returns to save the drug addicted woman from her sadistic boyfriend. After busting down a burning building, Hulk turns back into Banner and returns to the apartment of his newly found love interest. It’s too late. The tormented woman has committed suicide! She does leave a note though and $1,000 dollars for Banner. Anonymously, he leaves the money for the burnt and bruised drug addict lady who is now bandaged up in the hospital.

The whole thing is outrageous, and James Shooter’s attempt at “reality” here is laughable. Still, the artwork by Alcala fits the story perfectly, adding just the right of melodrama and mood. For Marvel, this is escapist entertainment of a different type, most likely not to be repeated too many times over. But sometimes bad writing and good art can click in just the right way! Case in point.