“Caught in the heart of a nuclear explosion, victim of gamma radiation gone wild, Doctor Robert Bruce Banner now finds himself transformed in times of stress into seven feet, one thousand pounds of unfettered fury – the most powerful creature to ever walk the Earth – the Incredible Hulk!” – Marvel Comics circa 1970’s
The Internet is buzzing with rumors that the Hulk is finally going to be doing some serious smashing in the upcoming Marvel super-team film, The Avengers (in theaters May 4.) This is what fans of Marvel’s not-so “jolly green giant” have been waiting for since the Hulk first appeared on the big screen in the cerebral, but not so “smashy,” Hulk movie by director Ang Lee back in 2003.
Hollywood’s second attempt at bringing the Hulk to the big-screen did a much better job of depicting ol’ “jade-jaws” as the hunted and persecuted monster that just wants to be left alone, without all the psychological daddy-issue baggage that just makes Hulk’s head hurt. 2008’s The Incredible Hulk was produced by Marvel Studios and portrayed the misunderstood creature as a much closer match to the character in the comics and the 70’s Incredible Hulk television series that most people know the Hulk from.
The Hulk originally came into being when Dr. Bruce Banner tried to save teenager Rick Jones, when the foolhardy youth drove onto a gamma-bomb test site just before the bomb burst. Gamma-bomb creator Dr. Banner ended up taking the brunt of the blast and the green gamma radiation changed him into the monster we all love. The television version (1978) had “David” Banner exposing himself to gamma radiation in an experiment to prove how people gain extra strength during times of stress. Some of the more modern versions (including The Incredible Hulk movie, the new Avengers movie, and “The Ultimates,” Avengers comic redo by Mark Millar) have Banner becoming the Hulk as a byproduct of the super-soldier initiative that created Captain America.
The comic book Avengers actually came together as a result of Thor’s adopted brother, Loki, playing mind-tricks on the Hulk and although Hulk is one of the best known characters in the new Avengers film, in the Marvel Comics universe he was actually only a member of the super-group for a mere two issues before he left in issue #3 (Avengers #1 – 3 – 1963), feeling alienated from the other heroes. But he would continue to have run-ins with the group periodically, like when the Defenders (Marvel’s super-team of anti-heroes) went up against the Avengers in The Defenders #10 (1973), which included an epic battle between the Hulk and the mighty Thor.
The Hulk has probably gone through more changes and variations than any other character in the Marvel universe. He’s been gray, green, gray again and there is even a whole story line that has the Hulk going up against the villainous Red Hulk. He’s been savage, super-smart, super-stupid and obscene (as in The Ultimates – 2002), he’s been a gangster (Mr. Fixit, Incredible Hulk #347 – 1988), the ruler of his own planet and he even declared war on the Earth in the World War Hulk storyline (2007).
The Hulk has had his ups & downs in popularity, but for the most part he has been a tent-pole player in the Marvel universe for 50 years. He’s the “strongest one there is” as he’ll tell you if you ever doubt it, and his power is unlimited as the madder Hulk gets, the stronger he gets. After five decades of story-lines, the Hulk’s history has become more than a little convoluted and hard to keep track of, but the basic Jekyll & Hyde meets Frankenstein theme that Stan Lee created has remained the same.
Much like the Ang Lee film, the past couple of decades of Hulk comics have over-analyzed the Hulk/Banner psychological issues to the point of nausea. There was a period of time when several issues would pass before a reader would even see the Hulk, and then only in a brief appearance. Some of this drama is fine, but after a while it became confusing and pretentious.
Of the many personalities the Hulk has taken, my personal preference has always been the stupid Hulk, when he is a noble monster that is gentle, innocent and loyal as long as he is not disturbed or overly angered. He hates his alter-ego Banner and curses his name, never realizing that he is one-and-the-same person. There’s no need for in-depth psychoanalysis here, that insight is great for a Master’s thesis, but doesn’t play so well on the pages of an action comic book.
My favorite Hulk moments from the past include Giant-Size Super-Stars #1 (1974) that had the Hulk in an epic battle with The Thing from the Fantastic Four after the two Goliaths inadvertently switch brains while attempting an experiment to remove their respective curses.
I also love the Hulk’s bean-eating adventure with “Crackajack” Jackson in the Incredible Hulk #182 (1974). This is one of the most touching Hulk stories ever, when one of the Hulk’s only friends teaches him to write before he is inadvertently killed by his jailbird super-villain son. The heartbroken Hulk buries the man and attempts to write his name on the tombstone. It’s powerful classic comic-book storytelling by writer Len Wein and artist Herb Trimpe.
To coincide with the release of The Avengers movie and to catch fans up on the Hulk’s history with the Avengers, this May Marvel will be releasing a comic book mini-series called, Hulk Smash Avengers, that will reexamine some of the creature’s famous battles with the characters of the Marvel Universe. Check with your local comic shop for more information on this upcoming series and to locate some of the other books mentioned here.
I’m thrilled that The Avengers movie appears to be going with the same simple but savage version of the monster that they did with The Incredible Hulk film. One of the new Avengers trailers hints at some fun interplay between Captain America and the “green Goliath” that looks like it could have been pulled directly from the pages of the comics. Fans want to see the Hulk smash, and if the latest previews for the new movie are any indication, we’re seriously going to get what we want.
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