Ever since his debut in issue # 1 of Marvel Comics' The Incredible Hulk in 1962, The Hulk has been one of Marvel's most popular characters, right up there with Spider-Man and The X-Men. Since that debut, The Hulk has become a cultural icon, from lunch boxes and toys to the Emmy-winning CBS television series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno from 1977-1982.
The Hulk was created by the legendary comic team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. In the dawn of the atomic age, the premise was a simple one: Bruce Banner was a brilliant scientist working with the military on an experimental gamma bomb. Just before a test of the bomb, a teenager named Rick Jones unwittingly stumbled onto the testing site. Banner rushed to his rescue and exposed himself to a deadly dose of gamma radiation in the process. As a result, Banner began to transform into a powerful beast known as The Hulk.
There were some key differences with that original Hulk and the character we've come to know over the years. First, Hulk was initially gray, not green. There were issues with the coloring process in the early '60s issues and variations in Hulk's skin ranged from gray to greenish blue to shades of green. Later, green was chosen as the best color and later reprints of these early issues were re-colored in green. Second, Banner would initially transform at dusk almost like a werewolf. He would return to the form of Banner at dawn. Later the transformation would be triggered by excitement or anger. And, of course, Hulk would go green and bulk up considerably.
Over the years, there have been quite a few incarnations of the Hulk. On the comic pages, the early Lee/Kirby Hulk was approximately eight feet tall and 750 pounds. Later incarnations by the likes writers Bruce Jones and Greg Pak and artists such as Dale Keown and Mike Deodato, Jr. had Hulk weighing in at an impressive 1,000 pounds and standing 10 feet tall.
On the '70s TV show, Lou Ferrigno stood only six feet tall and about 270 pounds, but camera trickery was used to boost Hulk to 7 feet tall and 330 pounds. The 2003 Ang Lee movie featured the largest Hulk of all - 15 feet and 1,500 pounds.
In the 2008 Incredible Hulk movie, directed by Louis Leterrier and starring Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, the Hulk appears to stand closer to the 10 foot tall incarnations of the more recent comics.
With all of the variations of The Hulk over the years, from the comics to the TV show to the two movies, it can be hard to keep everything straight. Our Guide to The Incredible Hulk will attempt to offer a handy reference point for the new movie and the world of The Hulk as it stands today. As always, we'd love to hear what you think of our guide so feel free to drop us a line or post a comment below.
The 2008 Movie
This isn't a sequel to the 2003 movie nor is it an origin story -- the filmmakers were clear on that during Part One and Part Two of reelz.com's recent visit to the edit bay of The Incredible Hulk. For 2008's Incredible Hulk, the origin is wrapped up during the opening credit sequence. From there, the story follows a man-on-the-run plotline similar to the TV show. Edward Norton stars as Bruce Banner and some portions of his likeness have been added to the CG creation of The Hulk. Liv Tyler stars as Banner's love, Betty Ross and William Hurt plays Betty's father, General "Thunderbolt" Ross, who has been in pursuit of The Hulk ever since the transformation first occurred. Aiding "Thunderbolt" Ross in his pursuit of Banner/The Hulk is Emile Blonsky (Tim Roth). When Blonsky undergoes a Hulk-like radiation dose himself, he becomes a worthy foe known as The Abomination. Unlike Hulk, the Abomination has the added benefit of retaining Blonsky's thoughts and intelligence after the transformation.
Check out our visit to The Incredible Hulk edit bay Part 1 and Part 2.
Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/The Hulk
Banner has been on the run for an unspecified amount of time when we find him in Brazil in the beginning of The Incredible Hulk. He has been measuring his life by the days between transformations. When we first meet him in the new movie, he's gone approximately 158 days without having to replace a pair of ripped purple pants. At the start of the movie, Banner views The Hulk as a terrible curse and he's willing to do just about anything to rid him of the curse. As time goes along, Banner will realize that The Hulk's powers can be used for good if they are contained.
Liv Tyler as Betty Ross
Banner's longtime sweetheart was right by his side when the gamma ray experiment went wrong. As her father has grown continually obsessed with capturing Banner/The Hulk, her attempts to thwart his search have fallen on deaf ears.
William Hurt as General "Thunderbolt" Ross
"Thunderbolt" Ross has been in pursuit of Banner ever since the first time he turned into The Hulk. He's thrown everything his men had at him, from guns to tanks and rockets, but nothing has stopped the infamous green menace. Now he's going to try using the same super soldier gamma tests on Emile Blonsky, which could turn out to be the biggest mistake of this decorated officer's life.
Tim Roth as Emile Blonsky/ The Abomination
Blonsky is a tracker who loves the thrill of the chase. He's been relentlessly pursuing Banner across the globe and won't stop until he's captured. As it so happens, Blonsky also gets a taste for Hulk's power after their first encounter. When Blonsky volunteers to become a subject of experiments utilizing gamma rays similar to the one's used on The Hulk, he becomes something far more frightening than The Hulk known as Abomination.
The primary comic connections in the new film are the characters of "Thunderbolt" Ross, Betty Ross and Emile Blonsky/Abomination. Although "Thunderbolt" was portrayed by Sam Elliot in the 2003 movie, this incarnation of Ross played by William Hurt is much more in line with the comic take on the character. Blonsky has not appeared in any of the previous movie or TV versions of Hulk. Abomination has been one of the greatest Hulk foes over the years. This version of The Abomination has more of a yellow skin tone than the greenish blue from the comics, but the design bears striking similarities to the highly regarded Incredible Hulk issues from writer Bruce Jones and artist Mike Deodato Jr.
The movie pays homage to the comic in many ways and offers up some nice little tidbits for those paying attention. In the opening, Banner awakes from a nightmare and stops his metronome. The metronome was an item Banner used as a calming tool in the comics, specifically in the Bruce Jones material. At one point in the movie, Betty goes shopping to buy Bruce some new clothes. One of the items she returns with is a pair of purple stretch pants. Finally, pay attention during the opening sequence for the "Stark Industries" logo on much of the weaponry as well as a memo from none other than Nick Fury. Also, a few famous Marvel characters are hinted as possible Hulk allies down the line, but we won't ruin them for you.
The new movie pays heavy homage to the classic '70s/'80s show. First, the opening credit sequence shares striking similarities to the origin shots from the show's 1977 pilot. Many scenes are shot-for-shot recreations (such as the famous glowing eye shot) and the chair and lab where Banner first exposes himself to the radiation look very much like a slightly advanced version of the equipment from the show. Of course, like the show, the movie portrays Banner conducting the experiment on his own rather than with the military initiative the comic portrayed. The man-on-the-run scenario of the movie also borrows heavily from the show. Banner goes from town to town in order to preserve secret identity. When he undergoes a transformation into The Hulk, he moves on to the next town.
Perceptive fans of the show will enjoy a number of nods including the use of Culver University once again, hints of the famed "Lonely Man" theme, an appearance by the original Hulk himself, Lou Ferrigno and even a young reporter by the name of Jack Mckee who first coins the name "Hulk."
What About the 2003 Ang Lee Hulk Movie?
The 2003 Ang Lee Hulk featured an original storyline (although possible loose connections can be drawn to Bill Mantlo's early '80s issues) centered on Bruce Banner's (Eric Bana) mysterious past. As he will learn in the course of the movie, his father David Banner (Nick Nolte, his character name a nod to the TV show) worked with General Ross (Sam Elliot) on a series of military experiments in the late '60s. Ross ended the experiment when he learned that David had been experimenting on himself. Young Bruce was a very withdrawn child who was attached to his mother, Edith. When David is fired, he destroys his equipment and decides he must also kill his son Bruce, who he believes has been genetically mutated by his experiments. He winds up killing Edith and is sent to a mental hospital.
Bruce is placed with a foster family and, years later, winds up working for General Ross and his daughter Betty on a new experiment. Bruce is now using the surname Krensler and General Ross does not realize that he is David Banner's son. Talbot (Josh Lucas) used to work with Betty and Bruce and now heads a private corporation he is trying to lure them into working for. When an experiment goes bad, Bruce winds up exposed to lethal doses of nanomeds and gamma radiation. During his recovery, Bruce encounters a janitor who tells him that he now possesses a reserve of great power. Bruce does not recognize the man as his father.
Soon after the experiment, Bruce learns that Betty has spoken to her father about Talbot's offer and the news sends him into a rage transforming him into The Hulk for the first time. The lab is destroyed and General Ross and his men are now in pursuit of the raging, leaping, gigantic green beast.
Lee's Hulk was met with mixed reaction from Hulk fans and critics alike. The new storyline brought about some questionable scenarios, such as the daddy issues with Nolte's character. Of course, Nolte's recent public image of being more than a little crazy and his DUI arrest complete with crazed-looking mug shot didn't help things much. By the time Nolte himself transforms into a new creature composed of living electricity, fans were left scratching their heads. Added to that were additions such as the Hulk-like demon dogs and a massive amount of CG effects which weren't always as seamless as intended. Five years later, Lee's movie is largely forgotten which could only benefit the 2008 movie.
Recommended Issues of The Incredible Hulk Comics
The Early Hulk
Although the early issues of The Incredible Hulk are classics for the character they launched, they don't hold up very well by today's standards. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's early issues are overtly simplistic and the dialogue is often pretty painful. Lines such as "It's the end of the Gargoyle! And perhaps... the beginning of the end for red tyranny" are more than a little dated. These early issues did offer up some classic "Hulk-isms" that have stood the test of time such as "Hulk Smash!" and "puny human!" Interestingly enough, this early Hulk was far more verbose than he would later come to be known offering such thoughtful monologues as "I don't want you with me! I don't need you! I don't need ANYBODY! With my strength -- the world is mine!" -- a far cry from Hulk's later caveman inspired lines like "GRRRRR!" and "Out of Hulk way!"
The Incredible Hulk was actually cancelled after the initial six issues. A year and a half later, Hulk would appear as a supporting player in Tales to Astonish # 59. This is where Hulk would ultimately find his own audience, and after issue #102 of Tales to Astonish, the series was re-titled as The Incredible Hulk. Besides his own comic, Hulk would also appear in Tales to Astonish (issues # 90 and # 91 would introduce Abomination) and as a supporting player opposite other Marvel characters. Hulk would also soon become a founding member of The Avengers.
Recommended issues: The Incredible Hulk # 1, Tales to Astonish # 90 and # 91, The Avengers # 1, Amazing Spider-Man # 14
Hulk's Mid-Life Crisis
Hulk in the late '60s and '70s stuck with similar storylines involving Banner transforming into the beast whenever rage set in and generally battling other genetically mutated monsters. In 1974, Hulk would face one of his most famous foes, The Wolverine. The iconic Marvel character made his debut before X-Men in issue # 180 of The Incredible Hulk. These issues, # 180 featuring a brief appearance from Wolverine on the final pages and issue # 181, in which Hulk battles Wolverine, have become some of the most collectible and valuable issues in the series.
In 1980 Bill Mantlo took over as writer on the series with issue # 245. His "Crossroads of Eternity" issues from # 300 to # 313 explored possible child abuse in Banner's past. These probably share the strongest comic connection with the themes explored in Ang Lee's movie.
In the late '80s Peter David would take over the series with issue # 331. His issues involving the more intelligent Gray Hulk (a.k.a. Joe Fixit) were both controversial and highly inventive. David explored a Gray-skinned Hulk that simultaneously possessed Banner's intelligence and The Hulk's strength. He spoke in complete sentences and even switched out his trademark torn purple pants for a James Bond-esque size XXXXXXXL white tux on occasion. David also famously killed off Betty Ross in issue # 467.
Recommended issues: The Incredible Hulk # 181, # 182, # 300 - 313, # 331, # 340, # 350, # 377 and # 467.
After Peter David's long run at The Hulk helm, a number of writers and artists have taken turns at reinventing the Hulk. In 2000, Paul Jenkins wrote a mind-bending story arc which Banner and three different Hulk personalities were able to mentally interact with one another. Cybil anyone? Writer Bruce Jones took liberties with Hulk's origins, creating a more adult-natured series reminiscent of Frank Miller's Dark Knight work. These issues featured some of Hulk's most lavish artwork from Mike Deodato Jr. Peter David also returned for some issues in 2004 and 2005 before moving on to non-Hulk material once and for all.
Greg Pak's 2006 Planet Hulk series has caused quite a stir in the series of late and breathed new life into the comic. In the series, Hulk is considered a menace on Earth and shipped off to a distant planet. Hulk lands on the warring planet of Sakaar and soon fights to become a rebel leader.
Recommended Issues/Hulk Volumes: Incredible Hulk Vol. 2 by Bruce Jones, Incredible Hulk Vol. 3 issue # 12, Incredible Hulk: Planet Hulk and Incredible Hulk: World War Hulk by Greg Pak.
Recommended Episodes of The Incredible Hulk
Original Airdate: November 4, 1977
Available on The Complete First Season DVD Set from Universal Home Video
The two-part pilot set the stage for the most successful superhero television series of all time. The series opens with Dr. David Banner (not Bruce) dreaming of his happy relationship with his wife. When the two get into a terrible car crash, Banner attempt to lift the car to save her from a fire but is unsuccessful. Following his wife's death, Banner has become obsessed with tapping into the otherworldly rush of adrenaline that allows humans to perform superhuman feats. When Banner tries to tap into this strength by testing gamma radiation on himself, he unleashes his alternate persona, The Hulk, portrayed by Lou Ferrigno. As Banner tries to correct the condition, he finds it harder and harder to hide his new identity. Hot on his trail is gossip news reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin), who becomes obsessed with tracking down The Hulk. After a laboratory fire, Hulk and Banner are believed to be dead and Banner heads on the road under a new alias.
Death in the Family
Original Airdate: November 27, 1977
Available on The Complete First Season DVD Set from Universal Home Video
This episode introduces Banner as man-on-the-run. David takes a job as a ranch hand and befriends a young heiress. Things are moving along peacefully enough until Banner stumbles upon a plot by the stepmother of the heiress to poison her to death and gain the inheritance. Banner finds peace more difficult to find than he first imagined and soon The Hulk emerges once again. This episode is also notable for the fact that Ferrigno got the chance to tangle with a real-life bear. Watch closely and you'll notice the green make-up rubbing off on the bear's fur.
Original Airdate: February 22, 1980
Available on The Complete Third Season DVD Set from Universal Home Video
A new town and a new job. Banner is minding his own business sweeping up outside a convenience store when a young woman with psychic abilities sees him and discovers his alter-ego. The Hulk is mixed up in the murder of a local boy that he didn't actually commit and the psychic is tempted to turn Banner in for a reward from Jack McGee. Banner soon befriends the woman and she helps him to discover the true murderer. One interesting side note in this episode is that Banner contemplates committing suicide. He stands on the side of a railing and nearly jumps off to end it all before the woman talks him out of it. This concept of Banner ending the Hulk's life has been explored on occasion in the comics and is referenced in the 2008 movie.
The First, Parts 1 and 2
Original Airdate: March 6 and 13, 1981
Available on The Complete Fourth Season DVD Set from Universal Home Video
Often considered amongst the best episodes of The Incredible Hulk, these two parts are as close as the TV show ever got to the monster vs. monster battles from the comic pages. David learns of another scientist that experimented with gamma radiation and reports of a strange beast attacking people in another town. Banner hopes that a cure to his condition may lie within the town and the medical journals of a man thought to be a mad scientist. Similar to the Abomination storyline of the comics and the new movie, the effects of the gamma rays affects each individual in different ways. Banner's Hulk is, in essence, a heroic character who never actually harms anyone permanently. But when someone with more malicious intents comes into possession of The Hulk's powers, watch your back.
Prometheus, Parts 1 and 2
Original Airdate: November 7 and 14, 1980
Available on The Complete Fourth Season DVD Set
Combine the radiation from a meteor with The Hulk and David Banner soon finds himself in mid-transformation. He possesses the strength of The Hulk with at least part of Banner's intelligence. This hints at some of the Hulks comics to come in the '80s and also boasts one of the most creative storylines of the series. Camera tricks and make-up were used to make Banner and Ferrigno appear as the same person. It doesn't always look quite right, but the concept is pretty cool if you can get past the cheesy effects.
The Animated Hulk
Hulk has appeared in animated form on three different occasions - 1966, 1982 and 1996. The '96 version is generally regarded as the best of the animated form and lasted the longest (21 episodes). Lou Ferrigno gave The Hulk a voice for these episodes, which must have been a nice change from the grunts and growls he uttered on the live action show. The 1982 show was part of an hour-long animated show with The Amazing Spider-Man and featured narration from Stan Lee himself.