The Hulk is the strongest one there is or ever will be. A character that was beset by printing issues, coloring mistakes and general disinterest upon initial release, The Hulk has to be one of Marvel’s biggest pop culture breakthroughs. The many iterations, eras and actors portraying the character have created something that is beyond what one can rationalize. The Green Goliath has graced the cover of Rolling Stone, met Tom Wolfe and made Lou Ferrigno a nerd culture icon. No matter what the character did, America loved him and people were wearing purple pants everywhere you went. The TV show and lame Ang Lee adaptation were a given by the point. Yeah, it’s an Asian director crafting a tale of artists disappointing their authoritative parents and turning into rage monsters! I get it and I don’t care. My preference is somewhere between Bixby’s calm and Ruffalo’s compassion in the role.
Dr. Robert Bruce Banner began life as an abused child desperately trying to protect his mother. After some time, an adult Banner calls out his father for the abuse and then kills him. Burying the incident as an accident in his mind, this incident of rage begins a cycle of repression and anger that creates The Hulk. The actual green monster man would appear after Rick Jones drove out onto a Gamma Bomb testing site. The fallout would smack into Banner’s body and start the process of making a Hulk. Some time would pass and then Banner would change for the first time. From there, it was Stan Lee trying to figure out how to work the transformations for best story effect.
Gamma radiation is a unique concept that Stan Lee pretty much threw out the window. The conceit behind the Hulk was another early 60s nuclear scare metaphor that aped the best parts of Jekyll and Hyde. The Hulk was going to be a brainy scientist that became a hulking beast that took revenge on the Sci-Fi conceits of the burgeoning Marvel Universe. Over the decades, he would find out new things about the Gamma Bomb. But, we’ll offer up more about that later. The Hulk would fight a handful of small time villains including Tyrannus before his first series was cancelled. A few scant months later, he joined The Avengers. His featured role was being turned into a mechanical circus clown by Loki after being manipulated into creating the event that brought The Avengers together. Just like the movie! But, minus Tom Hiddleston and the mechanical clown stuff.
After facing an early cancellation, The Hulk made his way to The Avengers and quickly left after two issues. The reason he left was due to blasting himself with excessive Gamma Radiation to aid his transformations. Now, the Hulk was changing at random and Banner didn’t feel he could control the beast anymore. Shortly after leaving the team and fighting with Dr. Pym for a bit, the Hulk first discovers that stress is the key to his Hulk transformations. While trying to control his stress/anger, the Hulk becomes far more savage and Banner’s intelligence loses hold. Running alongside these developments, Major Glenn Talbot and General Thunderbolt Ross are using the Army to hunt down The Hulk and now Banner due to Talbot witnessing one of the Hulk’s random transformations.
The Hulk would return to The Avengers at odd times for anniversaries, but General Thunderbolt Ross would have a longer stretch as a member during his Red Hulk phase. If you think that’s a spoiler, then you might also be shocked to hear that Snape killed Dumbledore. To save time, I’ll take us through the next 15 years of Hulk history in one breath. Ready? Hulk nearly gets married to Betty, but Glenn gets in the way. Hulk goes into space, meets a green Empress that uses magic to cure him of the savage Hulk nature. Hulk meets The Wendigo and Wolverine, fights both. Hulk goes back into space and meets Rocket Raccoon. The Hulk also becomes a Defenders founding member, but then we start going all psychological in the 80s right before Peter David takes over the book.
Banner/Hulk has always been viewed as a liability and his most recent role has been as space outcast. The “Planet Hulk” storyline has turned into this short run that has captured geekdom’s attention. Honestly, I’m a bigger fan of his rage rampage against the Marvel Superhero Illuminati that abandoned him to die in space. “World War Hulk” and “Planet Hulk” need each other, but “World War Hulk” allows decades’ worth of rage pour out of The Hulk against the heroes that treated him like dirt. Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Stephen Strange and Black Bolt could’ve cured The Hulk at any time or tried to help the guy. The heroes did it for anyone else, but Banner was always kept at arm’s length.
Now, the Illuminati of the Marvel Universe has killed Hulk’s new wife, unborn child and left him to die in Space. The Hulk fought for his life on a gladiatorial world and made his way back to do the right thing. The Illuminati deserved to get their ass kicked. The efforts to push down Banner after what was a well deserved revenge shoved me away from the character for a bit. But, I appreciated Mark Waid’s efforts on the book. Banner realizes that he needs a legacy outside of the Hulk, so he offers up the Hulk as a living weapon for S.H.I.E.L.D. to use against superhuman enemies. Things were going great until “Original Sin” happened and Banner learned something about Stark.
The Gamma Bomb that went crazy and mutated Banner into the Hulk was Tony Stark’s fault. The drunken weapons magnate thought that Banner made a mistake and changed the design of the bomb about a day before the fateful blast. The problem was that Banner wasn’t wrong and Stark’s tampering created the event that birth the Hulk. Fearing for his life and the fate of his world, Stark tries to make amends in the present by helping to find a way to fix Banner’s problems. So, he injects Extremis into his brain. Extremis was the techno-organic system that created one of Stark’s most memorable armor suits and it was the plot device for “Iron Man 3”.
After the Stark origin revelations, The Hulk found himself infected with Extremis and birthed a new personality dubbed Doc Green. Doc Green goes all “Armor Wars”, as he realizes that the planet has way too many Gamma powered individuals. So, he finds a way to depower everyone that he can touch. A few like She Hulk manage to escape his wrath, but Doc Green seems unhinged to his S.H.I.E.L.D. science team and others. Unbeknownst to the Modern Marvel Universe, Doc Green is taking steps to become The Maestro of the future. Who’s The Maestro? He’s the aged Hulk of a distant future who has slaughtered all of Marvel’s heroes and villains so that he reigns supreme. It’s funny what 53 years can do to a character.