“IS HE MAN OR MONSTER OR… IS HE BOTH?” That was the chilling question on the front cover of the first issue to contain the unlikeliest superstar in comics history.
The story begins at a bomb-testing facility in the American Southwest. Dr. Bruce Banner, the inventor of the gamma bomb, is making the final preparations for the bomb’s first test when he sees a young man driving on to the test range. Banner races to the bomb site and manages to get young Rick Jones into the safety of a trench, but the bomb detonates before he himself can take cover, and he is exposed to the full fury of gamma radiation. Although he seems unharmed, Dr. Banner later discovers the awful truth — he is now capable of transforming into an unstoppable monster with strength beyond imagination.
As powerful as the Hulk was, though, he wanted nothing more than to be left alone, courtesy the U.S. military was not prepared to provide. And so he began a cross-country trek in search of peace and freedom from persecution. When he reverted back to the more rational Dr. Banner, the doctor would search for a way to end his tortured existence.
The Incredible Hulk has often drawn comparisons between it and the classics Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, and the similarities are certainly there. Just as the Hulk is considered a monster only by those who fear his awesome powers, his tale also reminds us of the destructive power that lurks within every one of us. Think about it — the Hulk smashes things because he wants to be left alone. Before his accident, Dr. Banner was a scientist who devoted his life to finding new ways of killing millions of people. Who should we consider the greater monster?
Although the first Hulk series lasted only six issues, the character survived by sharing Tales to Astonish with other characters. He eventually took over the series in 1968 and went on to become one of Marvel’s best-recognized creations. For many years, the plotlines behind the stories would be fairly static: Dr. Banner would look for a cure, the Hulk would cause some damage, the military (or one of several assorted super-villains) would look for ways to either destroy him or tap into his power. It was not, to be kind, the ideal setup for a continuing series, as the possibilities were as limited as the Hulk’s intelligence. If Banner ever found the cure, or if the military ever caught up with the Hulk, the series would be over. Numerous attempts to break up the status quo resulted in the Hulk retaining Banner’s intelligence, the Hulk traveling to a subatomic world, or the physical separation of the two beings, which had to be reversed once it was discovered that the two needed each other to survive.
Clearly, there was something more to the relationship between Dr. Banner and the Hulk than a simple physical one, and writer Bill Mantlo provided it in issue #312. Readers discovered that young Bruce Banner was physically abused by his father, who also tormented and later killed Bruce’s mother. This prompted Bruce to repress his anger and primal emotions, and when the explosion ripped away from the layers of his mind, the Hulk’s rage came to the surface. This multiple-personality angle has been used by writers to explore the mental and emotional relationships between the man and the monster ever since.
The Hulk has gone through a lot of changes since his first introduction, perhaps more than any other Marvel hero. And yet, he’s also been one of the most consistent characters — even after his personality disorder was cured, the doctor is always aware of the danger of giving in to his anger.
Just as Superman reminds us that a noble hero can exist inside every ordinary person, the Hulk reminds us of the other things that can also dwell down there, in the dark.
READ: Incredible Hulk #1 1962 Origin
From The 100 Greatest Comics of the 20th Century By Mitchell Brown
Did you know…
The Hulk was originally gray until Marvel decided that green was a more appealing color, not to mention an easier one for the printers to produce.
The Hulk also had a newspaper comic strip, which ran from October 30, 1979, to September 5, 1982.
Bill Bixby starred as Dr. David Bruce Banner and bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno starred as the Hulk in a 1970s TV series and several TV movies in the 1980s. Although Ferrigno never got to say more than a grunt, he gave his voice to an animated version of the Hulk in the 1990s.