Friday, August 8, 2014


The Flying Snowman, Mordor, The No Prize, and Hulk’s Teeth
by Kevin S. Mahoney


            The much better writer than I, John Scalzi, invented a term for the thing in a fictional work that throws your disbelief out of kilter and takes your head out of a story.  He called it a Flying Snowman.  It’s a neat concept.  He has a great blog post about it here.  He also tweeted something about the Hulk’s teeth being a FS for him in Marvel Comics. 
I have read a lot of comic books, probably too many.  Initially, I was going to write a column defending Hulk’s teeth.  I could have called it HULK GNASH!!, but I dismissed the idea as far too silly.  Still, the idea persisted, and so I’m writing a roundabout missive on the topic, just to get it out of my head.  Since I’m going to be using Mr. Scalzi’s concept, and referencing his initial examples, I’d like you to go read his post.  I’ll be here.  It’ll only take a couple of minutes.

Done?  Excellent.  Isn’t he an eloquent and frank writer?  Yeah, I think so too.

 So other than the picture book example, Scalzi mostly talks about the molten lava of Mount Doom.  Now, I’m no geologist.  The physics of lava are rightfully beyond me.  But I have read the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and in the text of the first book Gandalf (whose name doesn’t trigger my spellcheck, which is a point for Word I guess) goes to great pains to explain to Frodo that only the fire from the cracks of Mount Doom would be hot enough to destroy the One Ring.  So in my head, and using Scalzi’s guiding principle of “…if you’re going to complain about one specific element as being unrealistic, you should consider the work in its totality and ask whether in the context of the work, this specific thing is inconsistent with the worldbuilding" then, this isn’t even inconsistent.  Mount Doom is a special mountain.  It certainly follows then that its lava wouldn’t be garden variety either.  So I’m not going to sweat Gollum’s liquefying descent to his death, if you’ll pardon the pun.

          Scalzi’s Hulk tweet posits how Bruce Banner’s teeth get larger when he hulks out.  Well, I know a whole bunch more about The Hulk than I do about lava.  So while I’ve never sold a story to Marvel Comics, or earned a No Prize for explaining a factual or continuity error in their books, I feel like I’m on firmer jade footing here.  So using Scalzi’s guiding principle I’ll go into it a bit.  This is my uber-nerdery, so excuse the pedantry, if you please.

           Bruce Banner was caught in a gamma bomb explosion.  His miraculous non-atomization had a strange side effect: he periodically turns into the Hulk.  Everyone who’s seen three of the many Marvel movies (or their 80ish TV series equivalent) knows this.  What most people who aren’t several nerd orders above that don’t know is that there are not only multiple Hulks that Banner has changed into over the years, but multiple triggers for that transformation.  Initially, he became the Hulk only at night.  He was also grey.  But printing a grey hero using 1960’s printing methods proved inconsistent and so he became the green goliath most people know and love.  The Banner/Hulk stress trigger came later also, and has stuck around despite lots of advances in modern psychotherapy since his origin.


            The multiple Hulk thing is perhaps the most interesting part of this.  Banner can become the dumb Hulk most know.  In the comics, he has also become a grey version called Mr. FixIt who worked in Vegas and wore sharp suits (when he wasn’t wrecking buildings).  In the nineties, the Hulk and Banner personas and forms merged to result in an integrated Hulk who was giant, green, yet of classical human proportions (something neither previous Hulk had been) and kept the Hulk’s superhuman strength and durability while preserving Banner’s intellect.  For a really brief time, the two bodies swapped personas, resulting in a calm green goliath and an enraged 90 pound weakling.  The force that spurred these changes?  Psychotherapy.  So, Banner’s state of mind has some control over the Hulk’s final form.


            Why do the Hulk’s teeth stay proportionate, despite his other limbs changing their mass and proportions?  I think the answer is simple.  Deep down, Banner has the same survival drives as non-powered folk.  He flees from physical attack, or fights back if cornered, for example.  One of the earliest evolutionary drives in the animal kingdom is hunger.  Whether it’s the herbivore’s need for a large field to graze or the carnivore’s lust for game, an empty belly is an incredibly strong motivator.  Somewhere in his mind, Bruce must know that if he’s the Hulk for any extended length of time, he’s going to get peckish.  And to satisfy that need, his teeth need to fit his giant jade/grey jaws.  And so his subconscious mind makes sure his teeth continue to fit his head.  Just tell his shrink Doc Samson he’s got an oral fixation.



  • This is my first post in a while.  I had a very busy summer that included the birth of two nieces and two nephews, a phone that mysteriously reset itself to factory defaults, and a laptop that finally fried itself. 
  • This post has been in the works for most of a month.  I’m sorry if the tweet it references has lost its tread in the social media consciousness.  These posts happen when they can.
  • This post was written using my new laptop, with my Pandora account restored.  It booted with the Chet Baker station online (alphabetical listing) which I swapped to the Zevon and Neil Young stations respectively.  My new laptop’s speakers kind of suck.  But headphones fix that problem.
  • Once again, comments are appreciated and encouraged.  My twitter handle is @TheSagest, my email is
  • I don’t think I have a snowman obsession, but this story makes me look like a liar.



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