With the Incredible Hulk about to smash his way through theaters, it’s time to take a minute and look back on the amazing origins of this big green bruiser. It was more than 45 years ago that saw the first appearance of a character who would go on to become one of the most recognizable figures in comic history, the kind of character that went head to head against Superman, both in marketing strength and in actual fisticuffs on the page. To this day, the Hulk still moves comics into the hands of fans and puts giant novelty boxing gloves on our youngsters, encouraging them to pummel the heck out of each other.
First Appearance and Origins
In May of 1962, the Stan Lee scripted and Steve Ditko Jack Kirby (error corrected…) penciled The Incredible Hulk #1 hit the stands, featuring a brilliant scientist with an alliterative name being turned into a quasi 1960s nuclear Frankenstein’s monster. Bruce Banner was working with the US Government on developing a powerful new bomb utilizing Gamma Rays, some of the most damaging substances in the universe. When a young teen by the name of Rick Jones mistakingly ventures onto the testing site, Banner rushes to his aide, pushing him into a ditch in the nick of time. Unfortunately, Banner received a large dose of Gamma Rays that, after the sun went down, transformed him into a giant, hulking grey beast that smashed his way out of the hospital. A witnessing soldier described him as a “hulk” and the name stuck.
In that first issue, the Hulk appeared grey to maintain a neutral color profile, but problems with the printing press resulted in many shades appearing throughout the book with some panels featuring a green tint. To solve the problem of the printing discolorations, a decision was made to move away from grey and the choice from Stan Lee was “Go Green,” 40 years before that was a popular idea.
That initial run lasted a mere six issues, after which the Hulk guest spotted in various other comic books and side stories before finally taking center stage in “Tales to Astonish” which was later retitled “The Incredible Hulk” which ran continually until 1999, when the title was restarted with Issue #1.
The Green Meanie
Everyone knows that you won’t like Bruce Banner when he’s angry. However, it wasn’t, and isn’t, always that way. The transformation from “puny Banner” to “Hulk smash” has changed at various times over the years. Initially, the change happened only at night before being cued on by emotional reactions. As an aside, during a period of time in the late 1980s, the grey-skinned Hulk returned, as did his day and night transformations during the “Joe Fix-It” days (a pseudonym).
The Hulk is most well known for and most frequently portrayed as a beast fueled by rage. When his alter-ego Bruce Banner is faced with danger, fear, or anger, he loses control and the primitive beast is unleashed. When transformed into the Hulk, the muscled titan possess potentially limitless strength, bound only by the intensity of his emotions. He can withstand nearly all weaponry including machine guns, nuclear bombs, and the intense heat generated by the Human Torch going Nova. Beyond this his jumping abilities allow him to leap hundreds of miles and at times, even into low Earth orbit, and should he ever be injured, a healing factor quickly returns him to health. In the comics, Hulk has overpowered nearly everyone he’s come across, destroyed planet sized asteroids with a single punch, and supported a 150 billion ton mountain on his back. Suffice to say, the madder Hulk gets, the stronger he gets – and he is capable of intense rage. The only weapons that have reliably been able to hurt the hulk are those made of the unbreakable adamantium, which penetrate his hide, though rarely do enough serious damage to slow him down.
At times, the Hulk has taken various alternate forms, including The Savage Hulk, who was a nearly mindless destructive force, The Professor, who was a combination of the Hulk’s strength with Banner’s intelligence, Maestro, an Evil Hulk, as well as Grey Hulk and the “normal” Hulk. Recent incarnations of the Hulk have often switched between a Hulk that was either fairly Savage or had a personality that was almost completely different from Banner, often regarding him as weak.
The Battle Within
As every coin has two sides, there is a reverse to the sometimes uncontrollable force that is The Hulk, that being scientist Bruce Banner. One of the most intriguing aspects of the Hulk has always been the guilt and fear contained in Banner. When you or I get mad, we may put a hole in the wall. When Banner gets mad, he can put a hole through the Earth. Much of Banner’s early years after the accident were spent trying to avoid the Government, spearheaded by General “Thunderbolt” Ross, and on the run. At various times Banner has been accepted by his peers and worked again within the scientific community, though often he’s treated as a dangerous potential weapon of mass destruction.
Banner himself also often feels regret for the creation of She-Hulk, who as Jennifer Waters was a cousin to Bruce. She became affected by the Gamma Rays after a blood transfusion, which resulted in her transformation, though she retained her personality and intelligence at the expense of being significantly less powerful than the Hulk. Also worth noting is She-Hulk is a total babe.
In less sexy history, Banner’s past has been said to include abusive relationships with his father and a more troubled childhood, though various writers choose to embrace or ignore this particular aspect, though he is almost always written to be reclusive and withdrawn, accept when around his love interest – Betty Ross.
Friends are Foes, and so are Foes
The Hulk is somewhat unique in that he has done battle with just about everyone from the X-Men to the Avengers to the Abomination, despite at times fighting along side them. Wolverine notably first appeared in The Incredible Hulk #180 / #181 and the Hulk gave him a knock-out punch right to the top of the head.
The regular gallery or rogues that attempt to match strength or wits with the Hulk include the Abomination, another gamma ray beast and The Leader, a green skinned super-intelligent villain who obsessively tries to destroy the Hulk. As the Hulk himself was a creation of the Cold War fear of nuclear weapons and radiation, often his villains shared his origins or at least somewhat similar origins revolving around the splitting of the atom.
He has also gone up against the other strong-men of Marvel, including Juggernaut, Absorbing Man, The Sentry, and the Thing. Depending on his level of anger, the Hulk is often able to handle any challenger, many times with relative ease. On the side of “right” the US Government has often lead attacks against the Hulk and is routinely beaten back. Iron Man developed special suits of armor, dubbed Hulk-Busters, that are scaled up and strengthened to try to combat the green beast, with limited success. SHIELD has also employed Hulk Buster units that are often tossed aside by the Hulk, but hey, they get points for trying.
Where Is He Now?
The last two years have been good to the Hulk, with his comic title selling extremely well and being critically acclaimed. On a personal note though, the Hulk would probably feel that 2007 sucked. The Illuminati, a group of Super Humans consisting of Charles Xavier, Iron Man, Black Bolt, Namor, Doctor Strange, and Reed Richards, came to a group consensus (with one no-vote and one non-vote) that the Hulk was too dangerous to be left on Earth after he destroyed Las Vegas. The meeting resulted in the Hulk being tricked and shot off into space towards an uninhabited planet where he would be left alone and not a danger to anyone else.
Instead, Hulk ends up on the gladiatorial planet of Sakaar, where he becomes King and takes a wife. Tragically for the entire Universe, basically, the ship the Hulk arrived in explodes violently, destroying the entire planet and nearly every being on it. The Hulk reaches levels of rage that knows no bounds and he sets his sights on those responsible – The Illuminati, with Earth in the cross-hairs.
Arriving back on Earth, the Hulk turns New York into his new gladiator ring and calls out and beats up dozens of heroes, including most of those responsible for his exile. In this comic span, the Hulk defeats Black Bolt, Iron Man, the X-Men, many of the Avengers, and forces the evacuation of New York City. The Hulk is finally fought to a standstill by The Sentry, perhaps the only being on Earth that ever had a chance of combating an enraged Hulk. The brawl ends with both of them on the verge of collapse and Hulk reverting to his human form. Iron Man then orders an attack on Bruce Banner, which leaves him unconscious and allowing the forces of SHIELD to imprison him underground.
What Does the Future Hold?
The future of the Incredible Hulk is both bright and bleak. On the real world side of things, his popularity continues to grow with a possible film franchise kicking into gear and strong sales of comics. In the fictional world, the conflicted battle within Banner and the prejudice against the Hulk will continue. In several future time lines, the Hulk is either a sad or deranged character. Sometimes both. One possible future features Maestro, an aged, bearded embittered Hulk who rules the world with a powerful, green fist that loves to smash. Another possibility sees Hulk as the lone survivor of a nuclear holocaust who finally gets his wish of being alone. Recently, a Red Hulk variant has appeared, featuring the strength of an ultra-enraged Hulk with significant intelligence.
On the Ultimate side of things (Marvel’s alternate continuity) the Hulk is shown to be a rampaging beast with a sense of pride in himself used as a weapon of mass destruction when its convenient, but sentenced to death for his actions.
So there you have it, a quick (sort of) little look back at the 45 years of history behind the Hulk. If you find any of this interesting, be sure to check out the upcoming Marvel film and hey, read a book. There are a lot of Trade Paperbacks available that chronicle the Hulk and what’s not to love about seeing a big bruiser pound puny punks to dust?
For the foreseeable future, at least in the world of comics, this green smash-a-holic will have a prominent place in the pantheon of comic characters, rampaging and smashing his way across villains and heroes (occasionally) alike. So do yourself a favor and take the time to get to know the surprisingly complex and incredible character that is The Hulk.
Sound Off: Are you excited for The Incredible Hulk? Fan of the comic? List your favorite Hulk moment below!