A company whose most popular creations consist of a self-conscious teens who make bad jokes to cover up his fear, a group of mutated teens who are walking time bombs and the most perfect soldier ever who is destined to never fit into the society he has sworn to protect is a kooky one. Marvel is known for favoring ‘heroes with problems’ and they do it well. In the pages of the Incredible Hulk, our ‘hero’ is a tortured soul whose inner rage transforms him into a destructive monster. When he is finally cured by the brilliant Doc Samson, it would seem that his troubles are over until his ‘savior’ decides to have a think about what all that raw power could do in the right hands. Samson exposes himself to the gamma radiation and becomes super strong, agile and nearly indestructible. The only real downside is that his hair turns green. Seeing the entire affair as a boon, he designs himself a corny costume (keep in mind that you can’t walk down a random street in the Marvel Universe without bumping into a super-powered being, and even dates Banner’s girlfriend Betty.
How’d you like them apples?
Banner didn’t like it at all and was so enraged that he willingly exposed himself to the stored gamma radiation and beat the smug hero to a pulp before charging off. Stunned and ashamed of himself, Samson decided to refrain from using his super powers for personal gain and to instead devote himself to curing Banner somehow. A brilliant psychiatrist, his cathexis ray was a wonder of modern science (how this relates to psychiatry, I have no idea) and Samson become a key member of the Incredible Hulk comic cast over the years, popping up whenever a writer decided that having a super-strong psychiatrist in the book would provide for an interesting story. My exposure to Samson is somewhat limited, I should explain. I first read about him in the Byrne issues and then later in the recent Fall of the Hulks/World War Hulks story. Most recently I read his first appearance. Amongst those moments I read his guest spots in other comics and became intrigued by him.
I’m always confused by people who look at comic book characters as one would a role playing game module or video game, comparing and contrasting one’s abilities and weaknesses to qualify them. Looking at Samson as a potential character to charge into battle, he makes little sense. He is strong and durable, but he is hardly a bruiser. He gets a right shellacking by the Hulk in his first appearance! However, he does provide some interesting story telling opportunities. It’s not what Samson can do but what he chooses to do that make him interesting. For instance, using his skill as a psychiatrist, Samson was able to uncover that Banner had suffered a trauma that had created distinct personalities in order to cope. It was a very modern idea and opened up some sophisticated avenues in the Hulk’s comic.
When John Byrne took over the title, he redesigned Samson as a fashion idol of the 80′s, with red leather and a pony tail. It may look awful, but it’s a kindness compared to what Byrne did to Wonder Man, so we mustn’t complain.
Byrne’s opening story was the biggest brawl readers had seen in a comic book in ages. Iron Man, Wonder Man, Hercules and Namor all worked together to beat the Hulk into submission. Keep in mind this was on the racks at the same time DC was publishing Watchmen. What a trip!
Combining the qualities of raw strength and brilliance, Samson devised a method to sufficiently weaken and trap the Hulk so that the beast could be separated from Banner ‘forever.’ Of course, this proved an even worse problem than Banner had before because now his inner monster was running free without a shred of control. In time, Samson would desperately attempt to help Bruce make peace with the trauma that caused the Hulk to come about in the first place and fused the various warring personas that ruled the different Hulks raging about in Banner’s skull, resulting in the ‘Smart Hulk,’ so he did some good in the end.
Samson is something of a cult favorite hero that turns up now and again and is used as either a hero where a powerhouse is needed or when a psychologically-driven tale is called for, such as Peter David’s issue where he attempts to treat all of X-Factor or Warren Ellis’ excellent Thunderbolts issue where the reader is given a glimpse behind Doc Samson’s cool facade and we see that beneath it all he is keeping a powerful anger in check. Keeping in mind that it was a mixture of pride and inadequacy that led to his superhero identity’s creation, it was only a matter of time before the consequences bore bitter fruit.
Most recently, Samson was exposed to massive doses of gamma radiation by the Intelligencia (The Mad Thinker, MODOK, the Red Ghost, the Wizard all under the direction of the Leader), leading to his inner demons creating a separate evil persona. This took place in the pages of Jeph Loeb’s run where various plot threads intertwined with important key points obscured as mysteries that kept the reader guessing. The big reveal that an evil Doc Samson had been running around came at the same time as other revelations, rendering it all a bit muddy which prompted an issue that focused entirely on Samson’s history and massive resentments leading to his dark persona. It was all a bit thickly ladled on for my taste and the character ended up fried to a crisp in the end when all of the Intelligencia’s stored up gamma radiation was redirected back at Banner, bringing the Hulk back to life again.
I quite like Doc Samson if only because he’s a quirky character that isn’t exactly what he seems to be. Whereas other heroes are more driven by their super powers and their actual character is all but nonexistent, Samson is the opposite. For instance when Colossus is in a comic I am usually waiting for someone to smack him and send the metal man flying. He has little else to offer! When Doc Samson appeared in a comic, I rarely remembered that he was a powerhouse and instead wonder what he was going to do. That being the case, I was disappointed with his eventual fate.
There are lots of Hulk fanatics that read this blog, so I am hoping that they will chime in with their thoughts.