The Hulk Turns 50!
2012 marks the 50th anniversary of one of Marvel Comics popular superheroes, The Incredible Hulk. The Hulk made his debut in May 1962 in his own comic called, of course, The Incredible Hulk. For myself, I didn’t discover the Hulk until the mid-1970’s when I was just a toddler. Next to Spider-Man, Hulk became one of my favorite super-heroes of all time and I want to share my experiences from following this green goliath throughout my childhood.
First a little history on this character, which started during the peak of the Sliver Age of comic books when Marvel Comics were starting to come into their own and trying to give DC Comics a run for their money. Stan Lee created The Hulk and wrote the first Hulk comics with Jack Kirby as the artist. According to Lee, the idea of the character is a combination between Jekyll and Hyde with Frankenstein’s Monster. For those of you that don’t know the origin of The Hulk, in a nutshell the story starts off with a scientist named Dr. Bruce Banner who is exposed to gamma rays during a bombing test. The result of the accident is Banner turning into a monster every time he gets angry.
The Hulk was originally colored grey, but they had trouble with the color in the comic resulting in different shades of grey. So, starting with second issue, they just made him green. The Incredible Hulk comic only lasted six issues, but the character would continue to make special appearances in other comics like Marvel’s popular Fantastic Four and he was one of the original Avengers. The Hulk only lasted for two issues as a member of that team, but he continued on in the comic as a foe of the group.
The character of The Hulk was getting very popular, so Marvel decided to give the green guy another chance with a monthly comic. In October 1964, Hulk became the second feature in Tales to Astonish, along with the first feature, Giant Man. The Hulk’s popularity would grow and grow and in the late 60’s he would take over the book and get his own comic again. The Astonish banner was dropped and the title was changed to The Incredible Hulk for the second time around.
I first discovered The Hulk around 1976 when I was about three. My mom bought me some comic books with Spider-Man, Batman, Superman and The Hulk. Automatically, these four became my favorite superheroes. I also found my uncle’s old comics, which at the time were already eight to thirteen years old. My uncle had collected Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and Tales to Astonish. He had comics from as early as 1963 up until 1968. It was like finding a treasure when I discovered these books up in our attic. There were tons of comics to go through and The Hulk’s adventures were some of my favorites.
I also used to watch reruns of the Marvel Super Heroes cartoons on WPIX Channel 11. This television series featured Thor, CaptainAmerica, Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, and of course The Hulk all in separate stories. The cool thing about these cartoons was that they used the actually panels of the comics from the 60’s and animated them. So, here I was watching the pages of The Hulk comics come to life in front of my eyes. Each day had a different superhero, but mostly I just watched The Hulk ones.
From looking at comics at a young age, I mainly became a Marvel reader rather than a DC one. I collected a few DC comics, but mostly I collected the same ones my uncle did in the 60’s, which were all Marvel. I seemed to enjoy the Marvel Universe more than the DC one. Maybe it was because I was used to the Marvel one, since I had already read so much of Marvel’s stuff at a young age or I perhaps just liked the characters from Marvel better. Also, Marvel published Star Wars comics and I was just crazy over Star Wars when it came out and had to get anything and everything Star Wars. So, I pretty much stuck to collecting comics from Marvel.
The 70’s were a great time to grow up and there were tons of toys and merchandise of your favorite super heroes and, of course, Hulk was one of them. I had a bunch of Hulk things from T-shirts, coloring books, models, and the popular Mego action figures. Those were the best. Mego made excellent action figures of Marvel and DC super heroes, plus they made figures from popular TV shows and movies like Star Trek and Planet of the Apes. I also had the hard plastic toys from Marx, who made some Marvel super hero toys including The Hulk.
Around the same time I was watching Marvel Supers Heroes, a new show debut on television, which was a live-action version of The Incredible Hulk. It starred Bill Bixby as Dr. Banner (first name David, instead of Bruce) and Lou Ferrigno as The Hulk. The TV pilot movie debuted in November of 1977. The series began months later in March of 1978 and ran till June, 1982. I quickly latched on to the show and tried to catch every episode of the series during its run. It was great to see a live-action version of one of my favorite comic book characters.
Even at a young age I noticed how different the TV series was from the comic. One aspect was the way Bruce Banner looked in the comic, which was thin and nerdy and he wore glasses and a lab coat all the time. In the television series, Bixby was average build and dressed casual. Even the setting and characters were different. The show had no military bases in the desert and none of the supporting characters from the comic like Banner’s love interest, Betty Ross, Rick Jones, the teenager who Banner saved before the gamma accident, or any of Hulk’s foes like Betty’s father General Thunderbolt Ross, Glenn Talbot, or The Leader.
In the series, Banner went from town to town running from the law kind of like the premise of The Fugitive TV show. Banner did have one foe, a reporter named Jack McGee played by Jack Colvin, who was trying to get more information about The Hulk. Even the way Banner became The Hulk was totally different from the comic. It was still gamma rays that caused his transformation, but it’s in a lab and not out on a bombing field where the accident happens.
I also noticed and was confused by why Banner’s name was David and not Bruce in the show. Years later I read a bunch of different reasons why. One was that the writer and producer of the show, Kenneth Johnson, wanted to change it because he wanted to keep the show separate from the comic. At one point he even wanted to make The Hulk red instead of green, but Stan Lee put a stop to that request. Another reason was that at the time CBS (the network that the series was on) thought the name Bruce sounded too gay! They did use Bruce as the middle name of the character. In the opening to the show there is a grave that reads David Bruce Banner, with Banner himself looking down at it. Even though there were so many ways the TV series differed from the comics, I still loved it and to this day it is one of my favorite shows.
As the 1980’s approached, I was still a huge Hulk fan and couldn’t get enough. A new Hulk cartoon debuted on NBC Saturday mornings in 1982. It was a part of an hour long program that included Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends. The Incredible Hulk was closer to the original comic and not like the live-action TV show. Many of Hulks friends and foes from the comics would be on the show. The settings were the same as the comic and Banner was a less nerdy scientist in the cartoon. The only odd thing in this show was when The Hulk changed back to Banner, his clothes returned to normal without a rip on them instead of just being in torn purple pants like in the comics or the live-action show for that matter.
During this time I wasn’t collecting as many of The Hulk comics as I used to. The only thing I was collecting in the early 80’s was Star Wars and Indiana Jones comics. I would just get a comic of Hulk, Spider-Man, or Fantastic Four here and there or get them in a comic book pack. Sometime in ’83, I decided to start collecting Hulk again on a monthly basis. When I started it up again I realized I had missed a lot in the story arc. At this point Banner had gained control of The Hulk and could change into him whenever he wanted and still have his own mind. It was weird reading The Hulk where he spoke normally instead of his usual few words like “Hulk smash!”
Throughout the year while The Hulk was a controlled and friendly monster, Banner started to slowly lose control of The Hulk, which made these stories very interesting and exciting to read. It eventually lead to Banner loosing total control over The Hulk and the once friendly monster became more dangerous than ever. Previously, The Hulk had never wanted to cause harm. He just wanted to be left alone and only caused havoc when he was provoked. This time The Hulk was on a rampage and could not be stopped. It took all of Marvel’s super heroes to try and stop The Hulk. Finally Dr. Strange transported The Hulk to another universe where he stayed for a while. During this time, which was the dubbed the “Crossroads of Eternity” era, I got a little bored with the comics and stopped collecting Hulk once again. I did, however, enjoy the year long storyline where Banner was in control and then lost control, which was some of the best storytelling for The Hulk since the comics of the 60’s.
Soon after that I stopped collecting comics all together because the ones I was collecting, like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, ended and others, like Hulk, were losing their appeal to me. I would still collect old issues of The Hulk every chance I could. There was a comic book store where I lived called Ravenswood that had both old and new comics. I would sometimes pick up a back issue of Spider-Man or Hulk there. I tried to get ones from the 60’s that my Uncle had missed so I could fill the gaps in the stories that I read.
In 1988, Bixby and Ferrigno would return to television as Banner and Hulk in three made-for-TV movies. The Incredible Hulk Returns was the first. The TV series originally wanted to stay distant from the comic, but the movies included some other characters from the Marvel Universe. Returns had Thor as one of the main characters in the film and 1989’s Trial of the Incredible Hulk had blind lawyer Matt Murdock a.k.a. Daredevil as one of the leads.
The last TV movie in 1990, The Death of the Incredible Hulk ended the trilogy and the series forever. Hulk dies when he falls from a plane and then changes back to Banner after he hits the ground. I thought the ending was stupid. Hulk has fallen from tons of planes, rockets, and spaceships and has always survived. I could see if he changed into Banner while in the air, but that didn’t happen. Although it had a terrible ending, I enjoyed all three films and I often wondered if they would ever make a feature length film of The Hulk for the big screen.
Some sad news came to Hulk fans when Bill Bixby died from cancer in 1993. Bixby had many TV roles in his career like My Favorite Martian and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, but to me and many fanboys and girls, he’ll always be remembered as Dr. David Bruce Banner.
Finally after the success of Marvel’s 2000’s X-Men and 2002’s Spider-Man, it was time for The Hulk to make his big screen debut. In June 2003, The Hulk debuted in theaters. Although the film had original Marvel comic characters like Betty Ross, Thunderbolt, and Talbot and Banner’s first name was back to Bruce, who was played by Eric Bana, the film was a disappointment. Director Ang Lee was all over the place with the film, at times adding comic book panels to some scenes, which could have been a good idea, but it turned out it wasn’t.
In the film, Banner’s gamma accident is done in a lab, like in the TV series, but in the film Banner already has some type of mutant cells in his blood. This is due to the fact that his father, David Banner, experimented on himself while trying to make a formula to heal soldiers faster, and this carried on to his son. When the gamma rays hit Bruce Banner in the accident, they awaken the mutant cells and this causes him to change into The Hulk.
When I saw the film I thought it was okay, but not great by any means. I thought they could have done a much better job with The Hulk and, for this movie to be Hulk’s launch into major motion pictures; it wasn’t likely to see a sequel. Bana did an all right job portraying Banner, but I felt he didn’t have his heart in it. Unlike the TV show, The Hulk was not played by an actor; he was just a CGI creation, which is common nowadays of course. Jennifer Connelly, who played Betty, and Sam Elliott, who was a dead ringer for Thunderbolt, did excellent in the film but they couldn’t save it.
In 2008,Hollywooddecided to reboot The Hulk with the release of The Incredible Hulk starring Edward Norton as Banner. Most of the time I hate reboots, but this series needed it. They got it right this time and The Incredible Hulk was a great film adaptation. It paid homage to both the comic book and the 70’s TV show. The opening of the film shows how Banner first transforms into the Hulk, which is very much like the transformation in the TV show. This film wants you to forget the first movie and just start with this one, but it kind of picks up where the last one left off with Banner hiding from the military in South America.
Norton is excellent in the film as Banner and gives the character depth in the same way Bixby did when he played him. Many of the battle scenes seem to be taken right out of the comics, especially when Hulk battles the military and fights Abomination on the streets of New York City. I have to say Liv Tyler does a good job as Betty Ross, but I preferred Connelly in the role. I’m just a bigger Connelly fan. William Hurt pulls off Thunderbolt and Tim Roth is great as Emil Blonsky, who becomes Hulk’s nemesis, Abomination.
I was very pleased with this film and thought they did The Hulk justice. It was also good to see nods to Bixby with a clip of The Courtship of Eddie’s Father playing on TV and a cameo from Ferrigno as a security guard. The traditional cameo in all Marvel films from the creator of most of their super heroes, Stan Lee, was always good to see. There was also one point in the film where “The Lonely Man Theme” by Joe Harnell from the TV series shows up. It was great to hear that theme in the movie.
Today, The Hulk is still going strong. May of 2012, which marked the 50th anniversary of the first Hulk comic, was also the long awaited theatrical release of The Avengers, which featured The Hulk. This time the part of Banner was played by Mark Ruffalo, who did a good job, but I liked Norton in the role better. Since the 2008 release of the Iron Man film, there were hints to The Avengers film that were included in Iron Man and Iron Man 2, Thor, CaptainAmerica, and The Incredible Hulk. A film that featured all these heroes plus Hawkeye and Black Widow was well worth the wait. There is also another Hulk film in development with Ruffalo reprising the role as Banner. For me, I can’t wait for another Hulk movie, but I hope they can pull it off like they did on the last one.
From comic books to TV to films, The Incredible Hulk has given me hours of entertainment for almost forty years of my life. The character of Banner/Hulk has always fascinated me. This character is a mix of part classic Universal monster, part 60’s sci-fi and all Marvel super hero. The Hulk will always be one of my favorite comic book super heroes and one of my favorite characters from 20th century pop culture.