Buddha-killing The Avengers: Hulk Reflections

Here at KtB, we do like to explore the margins of faith, but once in a while we like to sharpen our Buddha-killing swords on a nice big piece of ultra-pop culture, to mix several metaphors.  And there’s nothing bigger than this summer’s Marvel blockbuster The Avengers, directed by Joss Whedon and starring Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Thor, and several other supporting superheroes. (Rachel Maddow couldn’t resist either.)  The plot is impossible to summarize, though it does of course involve saving the universe. We Buddha-killers are more interested in the clashing characterizations of gods, humans, and heroes, and the setup of an intriguing franchise. So over the next couple days, expect to see a few varieties of pop-culture Buddha-killing. Contributing editor Becky Garrison starts us off with “Hulk Reflections.” –KtBniks

Loki Laufeyson, the Norse god of mischief, manages to wreck havoc on earth (mild understatement) but in the tradition of Greek gods and other characters of biblical proportions, he becomes undone by his own hubris. Initially, he appears able to go mano-a-mano against the Hulk until he pushes the limits of his own mortality to the breaking point. In the midst of decking it out 3D style, Loki yells, “ENOUGH! You are, all of you, beneath me. I am a god, you dull creature, and I will not be bullied by…”

This deification of evil proves to be the breaking point for the Hulk, who throws Loki back and forth like a rag doll. In this midst of this pounding, the Hulk casually utters, “puny god.” Game over. Evil has fallen and it can’t get up. The world has been avenged.

Though as Dr. Bruce Banner reminds us, there’s no trigger of an event that will make him transform from mild manner humanitarian doctor to a raging id machine. Instead, when asked how he becomes the Hulk, Banner replies with the obvious truth: He’s always angry.

In Film Crit Hulk’s analysis of the appeal of Mark Ruffalo’s inhabitation of this role, he cites the evolution of this character’s embrace of his anger. “This speaks to the idea that our emotions are always present. Anger can’t be abstained from. It cannot be feared. Anger is simple an ever-present part of us. Just as much as joy, sadness, of even something instinctual like hunger. It is just something that is felt.”

I felt for this Hulk. The roar from the audience when he put Loki in the ground tells me I wasn’t the only one who felt the puny god’s gotta go.

Becky Garrison is a satirist/storyteller whose most recent book is Roger Williams’s Little Book of Virtues (Wipf & Stock, March 2020). Also, she edited Love, Always: Partners of Trans People on Intimacy, Challenge and Resilience (Transgress Press, 2015). Her six books include 2006’s Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church (PW, starred review).