While a lot of this blog will be about appreciating artwork, today’s entry focuses more on the story. This is The Incredible Hulk #388, page 28, panel 1, by Peter David, Dale Keown, and Mark Farmer. When I first read it, this panel changed my perspective forever.
Here, long-time Hulk sidekicks Jim Wilson and Rick Jones have been attacked by new Hulk villain Speedfreak. As you can see, Jim takes a serious slash across the chest, while Rick suffers minor cuts to his hands. In this panel, Jim begs for help, while Rick looks at his hands, not knowing what to do. While a couple of scratched palms would normally be no big deal, earlier in this issue Jim Wilson revealed to Rick that he is HIV positive. Rick can’t help Jim without putting his own life at risk.
I was in my late teens when this book came out, and being a big, fat geek, sex wasn’t exactly a big part of my life. Thus, my concern over HIV/AIDS was very low…until I read this. By concern, I don’t mean that this book made me fear HIV more, rather it opened my mind to the idea that the issue was far more complex than my narrow, not-getting-laid perspective. That a hero could be hesitant to do the right thing out of caution for their own safety was a concept I’d never considered, and one which since has become fodder for drama in virtually every medical and cop tv show, as well as at least one reality-based ER show.
One note on the artwork. Times sure change. In a modern book by another team, this would likely be a double-page splash, rendered with hyper-realistic detail. Here, it’s a small panel, the first of seven on the page. Yet the impact of this one, small panel left an indelible mark on my consciousness.
Moments like this one are what draw me to the comics medium. When the old “picture is worth a thousand words” adage proves truest, comics can excite and inform at the same time, both to great effect. I’ve often referred to this book as one of the most important I’ve ever read, and this panel is the reason why.