The Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962). Cover art by Jack Kirby and Paul Reinman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Incredible Hulk remains one of the most unlikeliest of heroes — or anti-heroes — to emerge from comic books’ Silver Age, partly because readers can sympathize with him for what he desperately wants: simply, to be alone and live in peace, a vain wish at best, mainly because he’s viewed by the world at large as a menace. Not to mention the fact that the forces of law and order — as well as the world’s military forces — usually end up enraging the Hulk even more whenever they’re out to attack and subdue him, an example of good intentions gone wrong (especially when they don’t fully understand the character). The Hulk has also been one of the most popular comic book characters who’s made the leap into other forms of mass media — with varied results, depending on the quality of the finished product. The Hulk wasn’t the first Marvel comic book character to make his mark in another medium other than comic books – that honor goes to Captain America, who first appeared on motion pictures screen in a 1944 Republic movie serial (during the period when Marvel was known simply as Timely). Nor was he the first super-hero ever to conquer the entertainment world — that honor belongs to DC Comics’ Superman (who would encounter the Hulk in several crossover comics co-published by DC and Marvel decades later), thanks in part to his long-running 1940-51 radio series.
The Incredible Hulk, the creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, debuted in the first issue of his self-titled Marvel comic book in early-1962 — six months after the writer-artist duo introduced the Fantastic Four, which helped to establish Marvel as one of the most famous and popular comic book companies of all time. The Hulk — a.k.a. nuclear scientist Dr. Robert Bruce Banner — owed its success to not only British author Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic 1886 novel The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (which inspired the personalities of both Banner and his monstrous alter-ego) and Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein (in which the Frankenstein Monster shared much in common with the Hulk), but also the popular science-fiction films of the 1950’s and 1960’s that were influenced by the Nuclear Age that began in 1945, as the fear of nuclear weapons threatening the real world was already growing (including the exploding Gamma ray bomb that turned Banner into the Hulk in the character’s origin story). In later decades, comic book readers learned that Banner’s traumatic childhood — including being physically abused by his father — was another factor that would affect Banner’s adult life, as well as that of his green-colored (or grey-colored) alter ego. The first comic book incarnation of The Incredible Hulk was cancelled after six issues — and yet, the character’s popularity continued to grow, thanks in part to guest appearances in other Marvel comic books like The Fantastic Four and The Amazing Spider-Man. The Hulk was even a founding member of the Avengers, when the super-hero team’s comic book debuted in mid-1963 (yet left the team by the end of its second issue). With Tales To Astonish#60 (October 1964), the Hulk got his own feature, as he shared the book with first, Giant-Man and the Wasp — then, the Sub-Mariner, the aquatic Timely comic book super-hero from the late-1930’s and 1940’s, who was revived not once but twice (with the second time, in the early-1960’s, proving to be the charm); with #102 (April 1968), the comic book was re-named The Incredible Hulk, which continued until 1999, when it was cancelled and re-started with a new issue#1.
The Hulk was among five Marvel super-heroes who appeared in the Marvel Super-Heroes animated TV series that aired in syndication in 1966 – the other four were Captain America, Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, and the Mighty Thor. The animation in the aforementioned TV series (courtesy of Grantray-Lawrence Productions) was very limited, even though it was based on the actual artwork from the Marvel comic book stories illustrated by Jack Kirby, Don Heck, etc., during the early-to-mid 1960’s – and yet, the episode scripts were very faithful to the same stories that they were adapted from (many of them written by Stan Lee); the animated Hulk episodes of the 1960’s were released on DVD by Great Britain’s Liberation Entertainment in late-August 2008.
The Incredible Hulk: Original Soundtrack Recording (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It would be eleven years before the Incredible Hulk returned to TV — first, in a pair of TV-movies, then a successful weekly TV series, both of them live-action, which Universal produced for CBS, with Bill Bixby playing David Bruce Banner (the first name changed, couresty of executive producer Kenneth Johnson), and bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno playing the Hulk. What made the Incredible Hulk TV series of the late-1970’s and the early-1980’s different from all other media incarnations of the character was the fact that none of his foes from the comic books appeared in the TV version, given the series’ budget constraints — as well as the fact that it owed its concept in part to French author Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel Les Miserables, especially since Banner/Hulk, who was traveling around the country throughout the show’s four-year run, was trying to stay one step ahead of tabloid newspaper reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin), who had a keen interest in both the scientist and his green-colored alter ego. The show’s ratings success helped boost sales of Marvel’s Hulk comic books — as well as inspire a daily newspaper comic strip that ran from 1978-82, and two prose novels published by Pocket Books in 1978-79. Not to mention Marvel introducing a new super-heroine in 1979 called the She-Hulk, who was in reality Bruce Banner’s female cousin Jennifer Walters, who owed her super-strength and green complexion to a transfusion of Banner’s Gamma ray-tainted blood in order to save her life — but unlike Banner (whose dialogue and intelligence were, for the most part, child-like whenever he turned into the Hulk), retained her intelligence and personality (as well as relishing her new role as a super-heroine). In June 1982, CBS cancelled the Incredible Hulk TV series, its declining ratings not helped much by the Screen Actors’ Guild’s strike almost two years ago, in which film and TV production in Hollywood halted to a standstill. Six years later, Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno reunited for the first of three Hulk TV-movies that New World (which then owned Marvel) produced for NBC between 1988-90 – The Incredible Hulk Returns, The Trial Of The Incredible Hulk, and The Death Of The Incredible Hulk — with the first two TV-movies featuring longtime Marvel super heroes Thor and Daredevil in live-action form for the first time. The Death Of The Incredible Hulk ended with Banner/Hulk’s death — and yet, both NBC and New World already making plans for another Hulk TV-movie when Bill Bixby died in November 1993, forcing the TV network to scrap said plans.
In the fall of 1982, only several months after CBS’s live-action Incredible HulkTV series came to an end, the character returned to TV, when Marvel’s animation division (formerly DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, which created the opening credits for some of Blake Edwards’ live-action Pink Panther films, as well as the subsequent Pink Panther animated shorts that were produced for both motion pictures and TV) produced an Incredible Hulk animated TV series that aired on NBC, and which was paired with Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends, another animated TV series that Marvel also produced (and where the Hulk made a guest appearance in one episode). The 1980’s Incredible Hulk animated TV series, narrated by co-creator Stan Lee, was certainly more faithful to the character’s comic book roots than the live-action TV version that went off the air a few months before. In 1996, another Incredible Hulk animated TV series debuted on the now-defunct UPN TV network, with Lou Ferrigno voicing the title character that he played in the live-action TV version almost twenty years before – several episodes of that series also paired the Hulk with his cousin, the She-Hulk. The Hulk also made guest appearances in the Fantastic Four and Iron Man animated TV shows that were part of The Marvel Action Hour that aired in syndication in 1994-95.
In 2003, the Hulk made the leap to movie theater screens with the self-titled live-action film of the same name, directed by Ang Lee, and starring Eric Bana as Bruce Banner and Jennifer Connelly as Betty Ross, who has been part of the Incredible Hulk comic book’s supporting cast since its inception in 1962. Five years later, The Incredible Hulk debuted in movie theaters, with Edward Norton and Liv Tyler playing, respectively, Banner and Ross. The two Hulk feature films produced in the 2000’s were notable for the fact that the Hulk that was shown on screen wasn’t played by an actor — but rather, was created via CGI-computer animation. The two films (both featuring cameo appearances by co-creator Stan Lee) were successful at the box office (despite mixed reviews) — though in some respects, their quality couldn’t reach that achieved by more successful feature films based on other comic book super-heroes (including Marvel’s Spider-Man). The two Hulk feature films also inspired several home video games based on them, part of over a dozen (and still counting) that have been produced since 1984 — with the Hulk taking center stage in some of them, while making brief appearances in others.
In the first two decades of the the 21st Century, the Incredible Hulk has made various appearances on various animated TV series and in direct-to-DVD movies produced by Marvel — including The Super-Hero Squad Show (which has aired on both cable’s Cartoon Network and the Hub channel), which is more comical and light-hearted than the more serious TV shows and movies based on popular Marvel comic books. Currently, the Hulk appears in The Avengers: Earth’s Mightest Heroes animated TV series that airs on Disney XD (which is owned by Disney Enterprises, which now also owns Marvel). In May 2012, the character (in CGI-computer animation form) will appear alongside Captain America, Iron Man, and other Marvel super-heroes in the live-action Avengers feature film co-produced by Marvel and Paramount, with Mark Ruffalo playing Bruce Banner. There are also plans for ABC (another Disney company) and Marvel to produce a live-action Incredible Hulk TV series involving the services of filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy) — not to mention another animated TV series co-produced by Marvel and Disney that is slated to debut in 2013.
Much has changed since the Incredible Hulk first appeared in 1962 — yet, the basic concept of the character, a tragic hero yearning for peace yet tormented by his personal demons and hunted down by a world that doesn’t fully understand him, has endured, giving generations of fans who’ve thrilled to the Hulk’s adventures, and not just in the comic books, something to think about when it comes to our own human nature. And perhaps that’s one reason why the Incredible Hulk, a character as fascinating as many of the greatest fictional icons ever created, has remained popular — and why he’ll remain so for a long time to come.
John Lavernoich is the author of the novels Code Name: Chameleons and Chameleons To The Rescue, as well as various non-fiction articles and short stories that have been published in print and on the Internet — to learn more about Mr. Lavernoich and his writing achievements, please visit his official website (http://johnlavernoich.sharepoint.com), as well as his pages on Windows Live Spaces (http://cid-ef88d131988ab38f.profile.live.com), Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/john.lavernoich?ref=name), MySpace (http://www.myspace.com/jlavernoich), Twitter (http://twitter.com/JLav65), and WordPress (http://johnlav.wordpress.com). Mr. Lavernoich also maintains his own video channel on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/user/JLav65?feature=mhsn) as well as his own Author Spotlight page on Lulu Books‘ website (http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/Highroad).