With his off-the-chart strength, size, durability, speed and fighting skills, The Hulk has achieved the enviable status of one of the most popular Super Heroes of the last century. Created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby, the character debuted in May 1962 in a series of Marvel Comics. A young writer, Lee had just finished the first of the Marvel line of books with a then unknown team called the Fantastic Four, and he was looking for a hero who wasn’t as handsome or pretty—someone, or something, totally different who could capture the imagination of Marvel’s readers. Lee and Kirby wanted a “misunderstood hero.”
Lee remembers, “I had always loved the old movie Frankenstein. And it seemed to me that the monster, played by Boris Karloff, wasn’t really a bad guy. He was the good guy. He didn’t want to hurt anybody. It’s just those idiots with torches kept running up and down the mountains, chasing him and getting him angry. And I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to create a monster and make him the good guy?’”
Wondering how to bring a new twist to Mary Shelley’s classic character as imagined by director James Whale in 1931, Lee recalled another favorite from his childhood: Robert Louis Stevenson’s half-man/half-monster, depicted in director Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 classic, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. “I combined Jekyll and Hyde with Frankenstein,” Lee tells, “and I got myself the monster I wanted, who was really good, but nobody knew it. He was also somebody who could change from a normal man into a monster, and lo, a legend was born.”
Lee and Kirby imagined Dr. Bruce Banner, a nuclear physicist who was forever changed after a freak accident during the testing of an experimental bomb that showered his body with gamma radiation. (Notably, Lee, a big fan of alliteration [think Sue Storm, Scott Summers, Peter Parker], preferred to give his heroes the same first initials in both their names, therefore Bruce Banner was born.) Whenever seriously angered, adrenaline would course through Banner’s body and he would morph into the fearsome Hulk, a creature of limitless power and endless aggression. When enraged, he became a brutal menace to society, but would learn to use his powers to help the weak and helpless. Dr. Banner would spend the rest of his life battling to control the fury of his alter ego and do good with The Hulk.
Though the series was initially cancelled in March 1963 after six issues, The Hulk immediately went on to guest star in “Fantastic Four #12” and, shortly thereafter, became one of the first members of The Avengers, appearing in the first two issues of that famous series. Two years later, he turned up opposite Giant-Man in “Tales to Astonish (#59),” earning his own story in the very next issue.
By 1968, the popularity of the character caught on with audiences across the globe. The Hulk had taken over the entire book of “Tales to Astonish,” which was then renamed “The Incredible Hulk.” The series ran all the way to issue #474, when it ended its publication in 1999; it was quickly relaunched in a new series titled “The Hulk.” With issue #12, the name was changed back to “The Incredible Hulk,” and the title remains one of the most prominent in the Marvel library today.
For almost half a century, audiences have responded to the fact that Bruce Banner and The Hulk are two sides to the same man. They have been fascinated by the idea that he represents the extremes of the id and superego that Freud believed controlled us all. When Banner is The Hulk, his consciousness is buried in the monster, and he has next to no control over his green counterpart’s actions.
Lee offers that he originally thought it’d be fun if the monster and the man “both hated each other. The good guy, Bruce Banner, doesn’t want to turn into the monster and wishes he could cure himself. The monster thinks of Banner as a weakling and wishes he wouldn’t have to change back to Banner.” And their battle for dominance raged on for decades while readers devoured it.
Throughout his career as a Marvel Comics character, The Hulk has been seen in a number of incarnations. Not only has he gone from the pages of comics to television to the big screen; he’s turned from gray to green and lumbering lunk to brilliant colleague. He’s taken on aliases from Annihilator and Joe Fixit to the Green Scar and Green Goliath—but he has always retained the core element that has kept him beloved by audiences for nearly half a century. He remains indelibly linked to a scientist confused by the fate dealt him, and the two have been intertwined in a constant, volatile relationship.
Fifteen years after his introduction, The Hulk’s immense popularity generated a successful CBS television series, produced by Universal Television. In 1977, the show The Incredible Hulk, which starred Bill Bixby as David Banner and a young bodybuilder named Lou Ferrigno as The Hulk, was imagined. The series, which premiered in March 1978, was a huge hit that enjoyed a five-season run before being cancelled in 1982. Six years after the cancellation, the devotion of legions of fans prompted the network to create three more telefilms, which aired in the late ’80s. In 1993, Bill Bixby passed away from cancer, ending that legacy of The Incredible Hulk on television.
In 2003, director Ang Lee imagined The Hulk in a feature film for Universal Pictures. The Oscar®-winning filmmaker captured Banner and his alter ego in an origin story, one that examined a portrait of a man at war with himself and the world. HULK told the story of a beast that was both hero and monster—whose powers embodied Banner’s waking nightmare. The film opened in American markets with a record-setting $62 million, third only to Spider-Man and Iron Man in highest opening-weekend grosses for original Marvel properties.
When Universal and Marvel decided to make the next chapter in his saga, they elected to capture the rawest elements of the franchise, selecting a French filmmaker known for his lightning-fast camerawork and passion for the television show that transfixed him as a child. Opting for a series reboot that embraces the spirit and narrative of the Bixby/Ferrigno series, the studios knew it was time to give fans exactly The Hulk they demanded. THE INCREDIBLE HULK would be full of the pulse-pounding action audiences begged to see from their hero—complete with feats of heroic strength and a nemesis even more dangerous and powerful than The Hulk himself.