Sometime during my career of making jokes about weird things I accidentally became the planet’s preeminent Hostess snack ad expert. It wasn’t hard. I mean, collecting and cataloging them took several years and thousands of dollars, but they aren’t complicated. A superhero would run into a problem they’d normally solve with violence, and instead throw a cupcake at it. They were stupid and insane, but sort of took place in a universe with rules. Except when it came to the Incredible Hulk. Despite appearing in a dozen Hostess ads, Hulk never figured out what the hell was going on or what he was supposed to be doing. Today, on this Nerding Day, we’re going to go through all 12 of them in chronological order in an attempt to prove my academic thesis:
Hulk’s first try at selling snacks took place in November, 1975 during a disaster called THE INCREDIBLE HULK™ AND THE TWINS OF EVIL!
Hulk is getting bashed in the face by Abomination and Wendigo while he complains about the unfairness of having to fight two bad guys. Hulk’s strength comes from rage, not from pouting about the rules of a forest monster fist fight, so he loses. He loses so badly he’s not even mad about it, because that would have made him strong enough to win. The other monsters leave whiny Hulk for dead.
Two unsupervised children find Hulk’s body and nurse him back to health with pie, a thing he is learning about for the first time. One thing you’ll notice about Hulk in any media is his dumbness is never consistent. One minute he’s debating the merits of honorable punch duels, the next he’s like “WHY IS FOOD.” Speaking of food, Hulk’s not supposed to eat the snacks. Marvel and DC had an editorial mandate with Hostess about the superheroes never eating the products themselves. This was probably so the characters could also sell diet shakes or whatever, but Hulk never got the message. He would eat the pies all the time. It’s kind of like how directors tell Zach Braff not to mention butt stuff and every commercial is like, “I’m Zach Braff, and these four fingers have been in three buttholes. Deep and moist, I explore for Goodyear Tires.”
Hulk, a creature who speaks English, tells the boys he is happy and thankful and they respond by saying, “There’s no way to know, but I think in its own way, the monster is thanking us!” That’s because these are darkly unnatural. Speaking of, do you know how you become a Wendigo? You eat the flesh of man! Even by the child safety standards of 1975, these tender, meat-filled children should not be out here alone! And this comic ends with Hulk heading off to a suicide mission against Wendigo, his last act being to clearcut a highway leading right back to his delicious friends. This is not how you sell pie. This is how you sell vacation packages to Wendigos.
In July of 1976, they gave Hulk a chance to sell cup cakes in THE INCREDIBLE HULK® AND “FRIENDS!” It starts fast with Hulk already on The Toad World and he’s been captured and put in a cave. And I know what you’re thinking, but Toad World caves are immune to headbutt. Hulk can’t Hulk his way out of this jam.
A native toad rebel frees him, offering him a Hostess cup cake. But this is Hulk. “What is this?” he asks about the common food he’s eaten many times and sells professionally. It’s got to be a disappointing response for a freedom fighter who went to so much trouble finding the Earth creature one of its home planet’s caked cups here on Toad World. Only to hear “BAH! BEAUTIFUL WOMAN, HULK NOT GIVE SHIT ABOUT STAR MUFFIN.” This would have had the same effect if it was a fermented Blorb egg or a loose gloveful of toad snot. Hulk doesn’t care.
Wow, it worked! After one cup cake and a hole, Hulk agrees to take Friendly Unnamed Toadman’s side in a planetary war! That’s where the ad leaves us, but only a lunatic would think this is the end of the story. They’ve put Hulk in some unknown sector of the galaxy about to jump into a coup screaming “HULK HERE FOR HELP CAKE MAN, WHICH YOU HIS ENEMIES!? HIM HAVE METAL HAT, BLUE SHAPE, NO OTHER FEATURES!”
I don’t know how the great toad uprising went, but a few months later, in September of 1976, Hulk would be back on Earth to market Twinkies in THE INCREDIBLE HULK® VS. “THE GREEN FROG”.
The Mad Magician is destroying the city as a gigantic frog! This isn’t one of Hulk’s many enemies. He was invented specifically for this, and you already know all that has ever been written about The Mad Magician. What he is, though, is the perfect unstoppable threat to throw a Twinkie at and save the day. This is Hulk’s chance to show everyone he’s capable of being a snack spokesman!
No, Hulk just splams him in the neck and we watch The Mad Magician unfrog and die. It was the very first, most direct thing the dumbest superhero thought of, and it worked. It’s not much of a story, but it’s so spectacularly not a Twinkie ad that one of the children watching him choke his last breath has to go, “Oh, right! The point of all this! Y-you saved ‘Twinkies,’ Hulk!” This isn’t advertising. This is, at best, a vigilante killing near a product.
In February of 1977, Hulk tried again in THE INCREDIBLE HULK® AND THE GREEN THUMB.
Hulk wakes up the same way he always wakes up– confused, in a strange place, and with a supervillain. This time it’s Cousin Betsy, The Plant Lady, who wants him to come live among her vegetables. And to Hulk’s credit, he replies, “Fucking what!? No.”
Then Hulk grabs the nearest artichoke man and shakes him until treasure comes out. Oh, right, this was supposed to be an advertisement for treats. Some time earlier the artichoke man hid some stolen pie in his head? Okay, great job, Hulk. But it’s not quite anything. It’s more like a commercial where someone says, “The darkness calls with the voice of ten thousand horses. Turn the page with anal, anal me… Zach Braff for Goodyear Tires.”
Despite not getting the hang of this at all, Hulk tries selling pies again in May of 1977. Here’s THE INCREDIBLE HULK® IN FORGET-ME-NET:
“Absent Minded Mac” has built a “forget-me-net.” The author knew these names were so strong they didn’t need to bother with an explanation, and they were right. Mac watches a campus full of students shrug and he shouts, “This is my most evil device… I think?” So the author is having fun. Maybe too much fun, because Mac’s other weapon is salad tongs:
The author makes a good point here– a forget-me-net only makes Hulk more Hulk. They make another good point as well– mental illness is no match for Hulk. This is legitimately a batshit idea to attack Hulk with salad spoons. What’s his plan? To delicately grab one of the green tank-man’s 14 rippling abs? Let’s reveal the very next panel to see if that works out:
In a vanishing point between moments, Hulk has already torn apart Mac’s net and made him into a spring roll. “SQUIIIISH!” say his ribs and organs. So the day is saved. Mac created a dumbness net and accidentally used it on the one superhero who likes that. This story has everything. Comedy, mystery, and an ironic fate for the villain. You know what it doesn’t have? Fucking snacks.
Oh, right. Pie, everyone! Let’s remap the neurons in our brain, starting with pi– wait, what did that guy say?
In October, 1977, Hulk tried selling Twinkies again with THE INCREDIBLE HULK® IN UP A TREE!
Hulk wakes up in a tree getting rocks thrown at him by cavemen or unfinished mutates or something. “THIS AM SO TYPICAL HULK,” says Hulk.
These beings are such a non-threat to Hulk it doesn’t even occur to him to defend himself. He has to talk himself into a reason to smash the poor creatures and he lands on, I quote, “HULK’S FEELINGS HURT.” It’s a tragic look inside a tortured soul, and oh shit. You know what it’s not? A Twinkies ad.
In what I think might be his way of trying to change what he had done, Hulk goes back up into the tree and starts dropping snacks. “HULK NOT KILL YOU, NUDE MEN. LOOK, HULK WAS IN TREE THROWING TWINKIES WHOLE TIME. THEY BUY IT, HULK NOT BELIEVE THAT WORKED?”
In May of 1978, Hulk turned the Hulk up to maximum for THE HULK® IN “LEAVE ME ALONE”.
Hulk wakes up in a public park and immediately starts throwing trees and boulders at the nearest noise. Women and children. That is a 3000 pound rock he is throwing. After that hits the playground, the world’s foremost puzzle owner won’t be able to reassemble the remains into something 47 grieving parents can bury.
“Please don’t kill us for having a picnic,” say the innocents to Hulk. This is no way to reason with Hulk, because he says:
“WHAT IS FUCKING ANYTHING,” demands Hulk. This is Hulk’s seventh Hostess ad and he actually says the words, “WHAT IS HOSTESS FRUIT PIES?“
In a way, Hulk is learning. If you look at the structure, THE HULK® IN “LEAVE ME ALONE” is a perfect Hostess fruit pie ad. A terrible threat emerges and the heroes stop it with delicious pie. The only thing Hulk got wrong is that he’s not supposed to be that terrible threat. It’s also possible everyone in this universe is fucking with him because that guy is holding a cherry pie and telling Hulk, “This one’s apple.” Or maybe these ads are being told from Hulk’s perspective and he isn’t remembering any details correctly because they’re the last flutters of brain activity from a man dying of intense radiation poisoning.
These are things to keep in mind as we read THE INCREDIBLE HULK® CHANGES HIS MIND! from March, 1979.
Hulk loves smashing trees and finding unattended children, but this is the first time he has ever done both with one punch.
The little boy who fell from the tree explains the basic concept of friendship to Hulk, riding him and tossing cup cakes to the only people stupid enough to still be in the park during a Hulk rampage. “We appreciate the moist cake,” the men tell the mysterious shadows. “Whatever threw us food has the voice of a boy and the explosions of a Hulk!” the men agree.
“WOW, HULK UNDERSTAND FRIENDS NOW,” says Hulk, being very wrong. “HULK PROBABLY COMPLETELY DIFFERENT HULK TOMORROW, THOUGH,” says Hulk, finally getting it. Oh, and here’s something fun you can try at home. Pick up a 7-year-old with one hand and absent-mindedly karate chop a tree into shrapnel with the other. Congratulations, that boy is dead in ways we have no names for. People won’t even know what you’ve done. They’ll ask why you’re transporting stew in a pair of children’s jeans.
Let’s try again. October, 1979: THE INCREDIBLE HULK® AND THE ULTIMATE WEAPON!
Two scientists in an unfuckable haircut contest have unleashed some kind of super tank! Now, Hulk, focus. This is a Hostess fruit pie ad. You’re going to want to tempt the pilot out of the ultimate weapon with the luscious, juicy tas–
God damn it, Hulk.
Sure, fuck it. Everyone have an unrelated pie.
In June of 1980, veteran spokesperson, Hulk, became one of the rare superheroes to star in ten Hostess advertisements. Let’s see how Hulk does in THE INCREDIBLE HULK® IN “HULK GETS EVEN!”
Someone drives straight through Hulk, loudly explaining how they’re having such a good day that murdering a guy, even an ugly one, isn’t going to put him in a bad mood. Now, Hulk, listen. I know you’re confused, but this is the part of the ad where you throw a Twinkie to the bad guy an–
You know what? Close enough!
Hulk was starting to get the hang of this! Until August of 1980, when he returned for THE INCREDIBLE HULK® VS. THE ROLLER DISCO DEVILS!
This is precisely the kind of situation that calls for a fruit pie. A group of noisy roller skaters calls for snack diplomacy, not violen–
Oh my god, Hulk, no. Hulk, what have you done!?
There’s no way those men are alive, and it is the worst kind of dead. And they were crushed into a mass roulade grave with no idea what was happening. They were having the time of their lives, skating to their favorite song, everyone thinking they’re tough… then they were made liquid by a sudden crushing darkness. “ALL DEAD, HULK NOW EAT PIE,” says Hulk. And yes, murdering six men for rudeness is bad, but again– eating the pies is the one thing Hulk wasn’t supposed to do.
“GIVE HULK ERASER. SEE, NOW HULK NOT EAT PIE. IT THAT SIMPLE, PUNY REALITY.”
By now it’s clear Hulk can’t do this. He killed a goddamn roller skating club and ate a pie, and they had to cut one of those things out. This is like filming a commercial where Zach Braff holds a cat underwater and says, “I’m butt man and butthole man Zach Braff, and I’m killing this cat for Goodyear Tires,” and then bleeping the word “Goodyear.” They gave Hulk one last chance in October, 1981 in the breathtaking and final Hulk Hostess ad… the masterpiece, THE HULK® VS. THE PHOOMIE GOONIES.
Of all the Hostess ad openings, this has the best world building. Bruce Banner looks at a post office and in only two thought bubbles you really understand how hard it must be being Hulk. “I could work there! This will be gr– wait, no, they’ll probably ask me if I’m the Hulk during the interview. My entire life is a hopeless wreck.” And he’s right. Hulk exists only to stumble into nightmares and walking into the post office only to turn around and walk out was more than enough time for him to spawn some unthinkable insanity.
The Phoomie Goonies, a three man revolutionary government and maybe some kind of Marvel executive inside joke, take everyone hostage. “Oh, great. Just what this day nee– ME AM HULK NOW,” thinks poor, puny Banner.
If any other superhero else threatened to squeeze you through an “out-of-town” slot, it’d be cute banter, but Hulk definitely means it. This would have literally been his seventh straight Hostess ad with a crushing death if he wasn’t stopped by a little boy offering a fruit pie solution. You’d think the kid would be terrified, but a post office full of machine guns and an Incredible Hulk was a very ordinary day for an American boy in 1981.
“We surrender for fruit pies!” wheezes the third Phoomie Goonie, choosing their words deliberately to help Hulk get it. As if he can explain in five words what the snack company has been trying to get Hulk to understand for six years. It’s the light, flaky crust that stops villainy, not the crushings. Stop killing every man and tree, Hulk.
The police let the seditious conspirators keep their fruit pies and Bruce Banner turns directly to us to say, “I’m going to invoice the Phoomie Goonies for those pies and my fucking shirt.” And then he definitely thought, “No, no, that will mean including my real name and address! The bank will have forms! Questions! Damn it I can feel i– ME AM HULK AGAIN. WOW, WHAT JOURNEY. OH, IF ONLY HULK SMART ENOUGH FOR PERFECT GOODBYE WORDS.”
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