The Hulk is a fictional superhero created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby, who first appeared in the debut issue of the comic book The Incredible Hulk in May 1962 published by Marvel Comics. In his comic book appearances, the character is both the Hulk, a green-skinned, hulking and muscular humanoid possessing a vast degree of physical strength, and his alter ego Bruce Banner, a physically weak, socially withdrawn, and emotionally reserved physicist, the two existing as personalities independent and resenting of the other.
Following his accidental exposure to gamma radiation during the detonation of an experimental bomb, Banner is physically transformed into the Hulk when subjected to emotional stress, at or against his will, often leading to destructive rampages and conflicts that complicate Banner’s civilian life. The Hulk’s level of strength is normally conveyed as proportionate to his level of anger. Commonly portrayed as a raging savage, the Hulk has been represented with other personalities based on Banner’s fractured psyche, from a mindless, destructive force, to a brilliant warrior, or genius scientist in his own right. Despite both Hulk and Banner’s desire for solitude, the character has a large supporting cast, including Banner’s lover Betty Ross, his friend Rick Jones, his cousin She-Hulk, sons Hiro-Kala and Skaar, and his co-founders of the superhero team the Avengers. However, his uncontrollable power has brought him into conflict with his fellow heroes and others.
Lee said that the Hulk’s creation was inspired by a combination of Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Although the Hulk’s coloration has varied throughout the character’s publication history, the most usual color is green. He has two main catchphrases: “Hulk is strongest one there is!” and the better-known “HULK SMASH!”, which has founded the basis for numerous pop culture memes.
One of the most iconic characters in popular culture, the character has appeared on a variety of merchandise, such as clothing and collectable items, inspired real-world structures (such as theme park attractions), and been referenced in a number of media. Banner and the Hulk have been adapted in live-action, animated, and video game incarnations, including the 1970s The Incredible Hulk television series (played by Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno respectively) and in film by Eric Bana, Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo.
Concept and creation
The Hulk first appeared in The Incredible Hulk #1 (cover dated May 1962), written by writer-editor Stan Lee, penciled and co-plotted by Jack Kirby, and inked by Paul Reinman. Lee cites influence from Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the Hulk’s creation:
It was patently apparent that [the monstrous character the] Thing was the most popular character in [Marvel’s recently created superhero team the] Fantastic Four. … For a long time I’d been aware of the fact that people were more likely to favor someone who was less than perfect. … It’s a safe bet that you remember Quasimodo, but how easily can you name any of the heroic, handsomer, more glamorous characters in The Hunchback of Notre Dame? And then there’s Frankenstein … I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the Frankenstein monster. No one could ever convince me that he was the bad guy. … He never wanted to hurt anyone; he merely groped his torturous way through a second life trying to defend himself, trying to come to terms with those who sought to destroy him. … I decided I might as well borrow from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as well—our protagonist would constantly change from his normal identity to his superhuman alter ego and back again.
Kirby, commenting upon his influences in drawing the character, recalled as inspiration the tale of a mother who rescues her child who is trapped beneath a car. Lee has also compared Hulk to the Golem of Jewish mythology. In The Science of Superheroes, Gresh and Weinberg see the Hulk as a reaction to the Cold War and the threat of nuclear attack, an interpretation shared by Weinstein in Up, Up and Oy Vey. This interpretation corresponds with other popularized fictional media created during this time period, which took advantage of the prevailing sense among Americans that nuclear power could produce monsters and mutants.
In the debut, Lee chose grey for the Hulk because he wanted a color that did not suggest any particular ethnic group. Colorist Stan Goldberg, however, had problems with the grey coloring, resulting in different shades of grey, and even green, in the issue. After seeing the first published issue, Lee chose to change the skin color to green. Green was used in retellings of the origin, with even reprints of the original story being recolored for the next two decades, until The Incredible Hulk vol. 2, #302 (December 1984) reintroduced the grey Hulk in flashbacks set close to the origin story. Since then, reprints of the first issue have displayed the original grey coloring, with the fictional canon specifying that the Hulk’s skin had initially been grey. An exception is the early trade paperback, Origins of Marvel Comics, from 1974, which explains the difficulties in keeping the grey color consistent in a Stan Lee written prologue, and reprints the origin story keeping the grey coloration.
Lee gave the Hulk’s alter ego the alliterative name “Bruce Banner” because he found he had less difficulty remembering alliterative names. Despite this, in later stories he misremembered the character’s name and referred to him as “Bob Banner”, an error which readers quickly picked up on. The discrepancy was resolved by giving the character the official full name “Robert Bruce Banner.
The Hulk’s original series was canceled with issue #6 (March 1963). Lee had written each story, with Kirby penciling the first five issues and Steve Ditko penciling and inking the sixth. The character immediately guest-starred in The Fantastic Four #12 (March 1963), and months later became a founding member of the superhero team the Avengers, appearing in the first two issues of the team’s eponymous series (Sept. and Nov. 1963), and returning as an antagonist in issue #3 and as an ally in #5 (Jan.–May 1964). He then guest-starred in Fantastic Four #25–26 (April–May 1964), which revealed Banner’s full name as Robert Bruce Banner, and The Amazing Spider-Man #14 (July 1964).
The Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962). Cover art by Jack Kirby and Paul Reinman.
Around this time, co-creator Kirby received a letter from a college dormitory stating the Hulk had been chosen as its official mascot. Kirby and Lee realized their character had found an audience in college-age readers.
A year and a half after The Incredible Hulk was canceled, the Hulk became one of two features in Tales to Astonish, beginning in issue #60 (Oct. 1964).
This new Hulk feature was initially scripted by Lee, with pencils by Steve Ditko and inks by George Roussos. Other artists later in this run included Jack Kirby (#68–87, June 1965 – Oct. 1966); Gil Kane (credited as “Scott Edwards”, #76, (Feb. 1966)); Bill Everett (#78–84, April–Oct. 1966); John Buscema (#85–87); and Marie Severin. The Tales to Astonish run introduced the super-villains the Leader, who would become the Hulk’s nemesis, and the Abomination, another gamma-irradiated being. Marie Severin finished out the Hulk’s run in Tales to Astonish. Beginning with issue #102 (April 1968) the book was retitled The Incredible Hulk vol. 2, and ran until 1999, when Marvel canceled the series and launched Hulk #1. Marvel filed for a trademark for “The Incredible Hulk” in 1967, and the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued the registration in 1970.
Len Wein wrote the series from 1974 through 1978, working first with Herb Trimpe, then, as of issue #194 (December 1975), with Sal Buscema, who was the regular artist for ten years. Issues #180–181 (Oct.–Nov. 1974) introduced the character Wolverine as an antagonist, who would go on to become one of Marvel Comics’ most popular. In 1977, Marvel launched a second title, The Rampaging Hulk, a black-and-white comics magazine. This was originally conceived as a flashback series, set between the end of his original, short-lived solo title and the beginning of his feature in Tales to Astonish. After nine issues, the magazine was retitled The Hulk! and printed in color.
In 1977, two Hulk television films were aired to strong ratings, leading to an Incredible Hulk TV series which aired from 1978 to 1982. A huge ratings success, the series introduced the popular Hulk catchphrase, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”, and broadened the character’s popularity from a niche comic book readership into the mainstream consciousness.
Bill Mantlo became the series’ writer for five years beginning with issue #245 (March 1980). Mantlo’s “Crossroads of Eternity” stories (#300–313, Oct. 1984 – Nov. 1985) explored the idea that Banner had suffered child abuse. Later Hulk writers Peter David and Greg Pak have called these stories an influence on their approaches to the character. Mantlo left the series for Alpha Flight and that series’ writer John Byrne took over The Incredible Hulk. The final issue of Byrne’s six issue run featured the wedding of Bruce Banner and Betty Ross. Writer Peter David began a twelve-year run with issue #331 (May 1987). He returned to the Roger Stern and Mantlo abuse storylines, expanding the damage caused, and depicting Banner as suffering dissociative identity disorder (DID).
In 1998, David killed off Banner’s long-time love Betty Ross. Marvel executives used Ross’ death as an opportunity to pursue the return of the Savage Hulk. David disagreed, leading to his parting ways with Marvel. Also in 1998, Marvel relaunched The Rampaging Hulk as a standard comic book rather than as a comics magazine. The Incredible Hulk was again cancelled with issue #474 of its second volume in March 1999 and was replaced with new series, Hulk the following month, with returning writer Byrne and art by Ron Garney. By issue #12 (March 2000), Hulk was retitled as The Incredible Hulk vol. 3 New series writer Paul Jenkins developed the Hulk’s multiple personalities, and his run was followed by Bruce Jones with his run featuring Banner being pursued by a secret conspiracy and aided by the mysterious Mr. Blue. Jones appended his 43-issue Incredible Hulk run with the limited series Hulk/Thing: Hard Knocks #1–4 (Nov. 2004 – Feb. 2005), which Marvel published after putting the ongoing series on hiatus. Peter David, who had initially signed a contract for the six-issue Tempest Fugit limited series, returned as writer when it was decided to make that story the first five parts of the revived volume three. After a four-part tie-in to the House of M crossover and a one-issue epilogue, David left the series once more, citing the need to do non-Hulk work for the sake of his career.
Writer Greg Pak took over the series in 2006, leading the Hulk through several crossover storylines including “Planet Hulk” and “World War Hulk”, which left the Hulk temporarily incapacitated and replaced as the series’ title character by the demigod Hercules in the retitled The Incredible Hercules (Feb. 2008). The Hulk returned periodically in Hulk, which then starred the new Red Hulk. In September 2009, The Incredible Hulk was relaunched as The Incredible Hulk vol. 2, #600. The series was retitled The Incredible Hulks with issue #612 (Nov. 2010) to encompass the Hulk’s expanded family, and ran until issue #635 (Oct. 2011) when it was replaced with The Incredible Hulk vol. 4, (15 issues, Dec. 2011 – Dec. 2012) written by Jason Aaron with art by Marc Silvestri. As part of Marvel’s Marvel NOW! relaunch, the Hulk’s new title was The Indestructible Hulk (Nov. 2012) under the creative team of Mark Waid and Leinil Yu. This series was replaced in 2014 with The Hulk by Waid and artist Mark Bagley.
Fictional character biography
During the experimental detonation of a gamma bomb, scientist Bruce Banner saves teenager Rick Jones who has driven onto the testing field; Banner pushes Jones into a trench to save him, but is hit with the blast, absorbing massive amounts of gamma radiation. He awakens later seemingly unscathed, but that night transforms into a lumbering grey form. A pursuing soldier dubs the creature a “hulk”. Originally, Banner transformed into the Hulk at sunset and reverted at sunrise. Banner was cured in The Incredible Hulk #4, but chose to restore Hulk’s powers with Banner’s intelligence. The gamma-ray machine needed to affect the transformation-induced side effects that made Banner temporarily sick and weak when returned to his normal state.
In The Avengers #1 (September 1963), the Hulk became a founding member of the title’s eponymous superhero team. By The Avengers #3, overuse of the gamma ray machine rendered the Hulk as an uncontrollable, rampaging monster, subject to spontaneous changing. In Tales to Astonish #59 (September 1964) the Hulk appeared as an antagonist for Giant-Man. The series established stress as the trigger for Banner turning into the Hulk and vice versa. It was during this time that the Hulk developed a more savage and childlike personality, shifting away from his original portrayal as a brutish but not entirely unintelligent figure. Also, his memory, both long-term and short-term, would now become markedly impaired in his Hulk state. Tales to Astonish #64 (February 1965) was the last Hulk story to feature him speaking in complete sentences. In Tales to Astonish #77 (March 1966), Banner’s and the Hulk’s dual identity became publicly known when Glenn Talbot, Banner’s romantic rival for Betty Ross, witnessed his transformation, turning Banner into a wanted fugitive.
The 1970s saw Banner and Betty nearly marry in The Incredible Hulk #124 (Feb. 1970). Betty ultimately married Talbot in issue #158 (Dec. 1972). The Hulk also traveled to other dimensions, one of which had him meet empress Jarella, who used magic to bring Banner’s intelligence to the Hulk, and came to love him. The Hulk helped to form the Defenders.
In the 1980s, Banner finally married Betty in The Incredible Hulk #319 (May 1986) following Talbot’s death in 1981. It was also established that Banner had serious mental problems even before he became the Hulk, having suffered childhood traumas that engendered Bruce’s repressed rage. Banner comes to terms with his issues for a time, and the Hulk and Banner were physically separated by Doc Samson. Banner is recruited by the U.S. government to create the Hulkbusters, a government team dedicated to catching the Hulk. Banner and the Hulk were reunited in The Incredible Hulk #323 (Sep. 1986) and with issue #324, returned the Hulk to his grey coloration, with his transformations once again occurring at night, regardless of Banner’s emotional state. In issue #347 the grey Hulk persona “Joe Fixit” was introduced, a morally ambiguous Las Vegas enforcer and tough guy. Banner remained repressed in the Hulk’s mind for months, but slowly began to reappear.
The 1990s saw the Green Hulk return. In issue #377 (Jan. 1991), the Hulk was revamped in a storyline that saw the personalities of Banner, Grey Hulk, and Savage Hulk confront Banner’s past abuse at the hands of his father Brian and a new “Guilt Hulk” persona. Overcoming the trauma, the intelligent Banner, cunning Grey Hulk, and powerful Savage Hulk personalities merge into a new single entity possessing the traits of all three. The Hulk also joined the Pantheon, a secretive organization of superpowered individuals. His tenure with the organization brought the Hulk into conflict with a tyrannical alternate future version of himself called the Maestro in the 1993 Future Imperfect miniseries, who rules over a world where many heroes are dead.
In 2000, Banner and the three Hulks (Savage Hulk, Grey Hulk, and the “Merged Hulk”, now considered a separate personality and referred to as the Professor) become able to mentally interact with one another, each personality taking over the shared body as Banner began to weaken due to his suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease. During this, the four personalities (including Banner) confronted yet another submerged personality, a sadistic “Devil” intent on attacking the world and attempting to break out of Banner’s fracturing psyche, but the Devil was eventually locked away again when the Leader was able to devise a cure for the disease using genes taken from the corpse of Brian Banner. In 2005, it is revealed that the supernatural character Nightmare has manipulated the Hulk for years, and it is implied that some or all of the Hulk’s adventures written by Bruce Jones may have been just an illusion.
In 2006, the Illuminati decide the Hulk is too dangerous to remain on Earth and send him away by rocket ship which crashes on Planet Sakaar ushering in the Planet Hulk storyline that saw the Hulk find allies in the Warbound, and marry alien queen Caiera, a relationship that was later revealed to have born him two sons: Skaar and Hiro-Kala. After the Illuminati’s ship explodes and kills Caiera, the Hulk returns to Earth with his superhero group Warbound and declares war on the planet in World War Hulk (2007). However, after learning that Miek, one of the Warbound, had actually been responsible for the destruction, the Hulk allows himself to be defeated, with Banner subsequently redeeming himself as a hero as he works with and against the new Red Hulk to defeat the new supervillain team the Intelligencia.
In the 2010s, Hiro-Kala traveled to Earth to destroy the OldStrong Power wielded by Skaar, forcing Skaar and the Hulk to defeat and imprison him within his home planet.
During the Fear Itself storyline, the Hulk finds one of the Serpent’s magical hammers associated with the Worthy and becomes Nul: Breaker of Worlds. As he starts to transform, the Hulk tells the Red She-Hulk to run far away from him. Rampaging through South and Central America, Nul was eventually transported to New York City where he began battling Thor, with aid of the Thing, who was transformed into Angrir: Breaker of Souls. After defeating the Thing, Thor stated that he never could beat the Hulk, and instead removed him from the battle by launching him into Earth orbit, after which Thor collapsed from exhaustion. Landing in Romania, Nul immediately began heading for the base of the vampire-king Dracula. Opposed by Dracula’s forces, including a legion of monsters, Nul was seemingly unstoppable. Only after the intervention of Raizo Kodo’s Forgiven was Nul briefly slowed. Ultimately, Nul made his way to Dracula’s castle where the timely arrival of Kodo and Forgiven member Inka, disguised as Betty Ross, was able to throw off the effects of the Nul possession. Throwing aside the hammer, the Hulk regained control, and promptly left upon realizing “Betty’s” true nature.
With the crisis concluded, the Hulk contacted Doctor Doom for help separating him and Banner for good in return for an unspecified favour. Doom proceeded to perform brain surgery on the Hulk, extracting the uniquely Banner elements from the Hulk’s brain and cloning a new body for Banner. When Doctor Doom demands to keep Banner for his own purposes, the Hulk reneges on the deal and flees with Banner’s body, leaving his alter ego in the desert where he was created to ensure that Doctor Doom cannot use Banner’s intellect. When Banner goes insane due to his separation from the Hulk, irradiating an entire tropical island trying to recreate his transformation- something he cannot do as the cloned body lacks the genetic elements of Banner that allowed him to process the gamma radiation- the Hulk is forced to destroy his other side by letting him be disintegrated by a gamma bomb, prompting the Hulk to accuse Doom of tampering with Banner’s mind, only for Doom to observe that what was witnessed was simply Banner without the Hulk to use as a scapegoat for his problems. Initially assuming that Banner is dead, the Hulk soon realizes that Banner was somehow “re-combined” with him when the gamma bomb disintegrated Banner’s body, resulting in the Hulk finding himself waking up in various strange locations, including helping the Punisher confront a drug cartel run by a mutated dog, hunting sasquatches with Kraven the Hunter, and being forced to face Wolverine and the Thing in an old SHIELD base. Banner eventually leaves a video message for the Hulk in which he apologizes for his actions while they were separate, having come to recognize that he is a better person with the Hulk than without, the two joining forces to thwart the Doombots’ attempt to use the animals on Banner’s irradiated island as the basis for a new gamma army using a one-of-a-kind gamma cure Banner had created to turn all the animals back to normal. Following this, Bruce willingly joined the spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D., allowing them to use the Hulk as a weapon in exchange for providing him with the means and funding to create a lasting legacy for himself.
After the Hulk had suffered brain damage upon being shot in the head by the Order of the Shield- the assassin having been carefully trained to target Bruce at just the right part of the brain to incapacitate him without triggering a transformation- Iron Man used the Extremis to cure the Hulk. This procedure also increased Banner’s mental capacity, which gave him the intelligence to tweak the Extremis virus within him and unleash a new persona for the Hulk: the super-intelligent Doc Green.
During the Original Sin storyline, Bruce Banner confronted by the eye of the murdered Uatu the Watcher. Bruce temporarily experienced some of Tony Stark’s memories of their first meeting before either of them became the Hulk or Iron Man. During this vision, Bruce witnessed Tony modifying the gamma bomb to be more effective prompting Bruce to realize that Tony was essentially responsible for him becoming the Hulk in the first place. Subsequent research reveals that Tony’s tampering had actually refined the bomb’s explosive potential so that it would not disintegrate everyone within the blast radius, with the result that Tony’s actions had actually saved Bruce’s life.
In the wake of the conclusion of World War Hate as seen in the AXIS storyline, when a mistake made by the Scarlet Witch caused various heroes and villains to experience a moral inversion, Bruce Banner attended a meeting between Nick Fury Jr. and Maria Hill of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers who refused to turn over Red Skull. Later when he sided with Edwin Jarvis and tried to prevent his teammates from executing the Red Skull, the Hulk was thrown aside by Luke Cage. The Hulk’s sorrow at his friends’ betrayal awakened a new persona known as the bloodthirsty Kluh (described as the Hulk’s Hulk, being the ruthless part of himself that even the Hulk repressed) with this new version easily defeating the Avengers, sneering that the Hulk they knew was nothing more than a “sad piece of ‘Doc Green’s’ ID.” Kluh then leaves to wreak havoc, with Nova attempting to stop him after witnessing his rampage with the remaining good heroes. As with the other inverted Avengers and X-Men, Kluh was restored to Hulk when Brother Voodoo was summoned back to life by Doctor Doom so that Daniel Drumm’s ghost can possess the Scarlet Witch and undo the inversion.
With his newfound intellect, Doc Green came to the conclusion that the world was in danger by Gamma Mutates and thus needed to be depowered. He developed a serum made from Adamantium nanobites that absorbed gamma energy. He used these to depower the Leader, the Red Hulk, and A-Bomb, but decided to ‘spare’ She-Hulk as he concluded that she was the one gamma mutation whose life had been legitimately improved by her mutation. At the close of the storyline, Doc Green discovered that he was beginning to disappear as the result of the Extremis serum losing wearing off. He ultimately allowed himself to fade away, returning to his normal Hulk form, as he feared that remaining at his current intellectual level would lead to him becoming the Maestro.
During the Secret Wars storyline, the Hulk took part in the incursion between Earth-616 and Earth-1610. The Hulk used the “Fastball Special” with Colossus to destroy the Triskelion.
As part of the All-New, All-Different Marvel event, Amadeus Cho became the new Hulk. Flashbacks revealed that the Hulk had absorbed a dangerous new type of radiation while helping Iron Man and the Black Panther deal with a massive accident on Kiber Island. Fearing the Hulk’s meltdown would kill countless innocents, Cho was able to use special nanites to absorb the Hulk from Banner and take it into himself to become his own version of the Hulk, leaving Banner normal and free from the Hulk. He is then rescued from a bar fight by Amadeus, who tells him that he is cured. Having confirmed that he can no longer transform or sense the Hulk, Bruce spends some time travelling across America taking various risks such as driving at high speeds, running away from a bear, or gambling in Las Vegas, until he is confronted by Tony Stark out of concern that Bruce has a death wish. Bruce instead acknowledges that he still harbors guilt and rage over how so many of the Hulk’s rampages were provoked by various agencies refusing to leave him alone.
During the Civil War II storyline, the vision of the Inhuman Ulysses showed a rampaging Hulk standing over the corpses of the superheroes. Meanwhile, Bruce Banner is shown to have set up a laboratory in Alpine, Utah, where he is approached by Captain Marvel, followed by Tony Stark, the rest of the Avengers, the X-Men, and the Inhumans. The confrontation leads to the Beast hacking into Banner’s work servers and the revelation that he had been injecting himself with dead gamma-irradiated cells. S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Maria Hill places him under arrest. Banner gets infuriated at all these events, when suddenly, Hawkeye shoots Banner with an arrow to the head and then to the heart, killing him, much to the dismay and horror of the superheroes, especially Tony Stark. At an Avengers-presided tribunal, Hawkeye states that Bruce Banner had approached him and ordered him to kill him if he ever showed signs of turning into the Hulk again. At the funeral, Korg of the Warbound stated how Hulk wanted to be left alone and how his allies that he made along the way have become his family. In his video will, Bruce leaves various items to other heroes and his allies including leaving Doctor Strange his notes on the Hulk’s ability to perceive ghosts and an egg-timer for the various former/current other Hulks (based on one of Bruce’s more successful attempts to control himself as he would sit down for three minutes doing nothing before making a particularly big decision and then decide if he still wanted to do it).
Following the funeral of Bruce Banner, the Hand in allegiance with Daniel Drumm’s ghost steal Bruce Banner’s body in order to use the dead to bolster their ranks. When the reassembled Uncanny Avengers went to Japan and attempted to enlist Elektra for help in stopping the Hand, the ritual that the Hand performed has been completed as the Uncanny Avengers are attacked by a revived Hulk who is wearing samurai armor
by simon schofield