The Hulk is capable of much more than many fans realize, and not just in terms of power, but in depth of character. The Green Goliath has a pretty complex history, one with certain tragic aspects that are directly responsible for his tendency to want to, well… Until he found cinematic success as a member of the Avengers, the Hulk’s biggest pop culture touchstone was the live-action Incredible Hulk TV show from the ’70s. On the small screen, the man-monster was nowhere near as powerful as the comic book or movie versions, so there’s one aspect of the Hulk that might come as a surprise. He’s always been hard to beat, but it turns out that even if he loses a fight, he’ll be back.
It’s not that he won’t die, it’s that he can’t. The Hulk possesses a healing factor that makes Deadpool’s look like a band-aid. He’s survived every kind of death you can imagine, from getting used as a pincushion by Wolverine to even having Bruce Banner’s body dissected and put into jars. In 2002’s Incredible Hulk: The End, it takes Hulk less than 20 minutes for his body to regenerate after being devoured by mutated cockroaches, which is pretty handy when you’re living in a world with, you know, mutated cockroaches. In 2005’s Incredible Hulk #77 we learn that his body has evolved to the point where he can safely extract oxygen from water, allowing him to stay underwater as long as he wants, and he can even survive in the vacuum of space for a pretty long time. It was in 2018’s Avengers #684 that we learn that even death can’t stop the Hulk. Plenty of heroes have come back from the dead, but most of them wait a while. The new Immortal Hulk series, on the other hand, has shown us that even if you can kill him, he’ll just come back as soon as night falls, and he’ll be angry. While his alter-ego might be a brilliant scientist, the Hulk isn’t exactly known for his intelligence.
That doesn’t mean that he’s always stupid, though. For one thing, there are so many versions of the character, and some of them are literal rocket scientists. In his origin story, the very first version of the Hulk isn’t going to win Jeopardy anytime soon, but he can speak in full sentences that aren’t just about smashing. The gray Hulk is clever and crafty, outthinking his foes as often as he overpowers them. Then there’s the merged “Professor” Hulk, who shares Banner’s genius, the “Doc Green” Hulk that we saw in 2014, and even the evil mastermind called the Maestro, who originates in a dystopian future.
On the other hand, even the supposedly less intelligent versions of the character sometimes only seem stupid because we can’t see through their eyes. For example, in 2012’s Indestructible Hulk series, writer Mark Waid hardly bothered giving the Hulk any dialogue at all, but not because of a lack of smarts. This Hulk is more like a force of nature, a creature of action completely beyond words. If you’re a giant green titan who can take on all comers in an outer-space gladiatorial arena, what do you have to say to anyone?
Besides, you know, “somebody please get me a new pair of pants.” It’s easy to go back to those early stories and think that the Hulk was a brand new kind of character whose stories captivated an audience that had never seen anything like him. The truth, however, is that Bruce Banner was not the first Hulk in the pages of Marvel comics. In fact, he wasn’t even the second… or the third. Hulk version one was a giant robot in 1960’s Strange Tales #75. Next came Xemnu, the “Living Hulk,” a giant, furry alien who could control the minds of multiple humans at once. Later, after the more Incredible Hulk became a Marvel superhero, Xemnu went through a name change and started being billed as the “Living Titan” in his very rare appearances, which usually involved getting beaten up by the Incredible Hulk. The final Hulk to precede the one we all know and love was a sea monster in 1961’s Tales to Astonish #21. Kind of. See, the Hulk of “The Silent Screen” is a character in a movie. The story fools you into thinking you’re looking at an audience watching a movie called The Hulk. When the sea monster steps out of the movie screen, you learn a different audience is watching a movie about another audience being scared by a sea monster who emerges from the film, but it doesn’t end there.
You eventually learn you, the audience of the comic, are watching an audience that is watching another audience who is watching still another audience, with the final audience being the ones freaking out about the sea monster. That’s astonishing, all right, but maybe not in the way they thought. When the Hulk first smashed his way into the panels of Marvel Comics in 1962, his skin was gray instead of the now-familiar green, something that changed in the second issue. The reason? Stan Lee chose gray over the suggestions of colorist Stan Goldberg, who argued gray was too difficult to keep a consistent shade.
Lee wasn’t convinced until Hulk #1 was released and he saw what Goldberg was talking about. In the mid ’80s, once coloring technology had gotten a whole lot better, the gray Hulk got a new lease on life. Writer/artist Al Milgrom resurrected this version in 1986’s Incredible Hulk #324. When Peter David took over writing the title, he ran with it, and the gray, crafty Hulk revitalized the series. In that classic storyline, the Hulk began working as an enforcer for a casino owner and mobster in Las Vegas, giving this version his own unique name: Joe Fixit. In 2008, the Hulk title was rebooted with a malevolent Red Hulk, who was eventually revealed to be Banner’s longtime enemy, Army General “Thunderbolt” Ross. Another military man, Robert Maverick, later assumes the title and powers of the Red Hulk, sporting an incredible gamma-powered mustache and mirror shades, until the Immortal Hulk drains the gamma radiation out of him in Avengers #685. The Red Hulks aren’t the only different versions of the gamma-powered goliath running around the Marvel Universe.
While Bruce Banner’s dark side will always be at the center of the story, there’s been a whole roster of Hulks running around at one time or another. The first was Banner’s cousin Jen Walters, better known as She-Hulk, who got her powers from a blood transfusion. Banner’s wife Betty was the Red She-Hulk for a time, and there’s even a third She-Hulk named Lyra who comes from a dystopian reality where men and women are in a constant state of war. Technically speaking, she’s Bruce Banner’s daughter. There’s also Brawn; a.k.a. Amadeus Cho, who used to be known as the “Totally Awesome” Hulk. And then there’s a son of Hulk, and another son of Hulk, and the Hulk’s original sidekick Rick Jones was once the blue-scaled A-Bomb. He was eventually “cured” by Doc Green before being executed in the pages of Secret Empire, but compared to the rest of Rick’s life, that wasn’t all that unusual.
He was once the new Bucky for a hot minute and used to be half of Captain Marvel, too. We all know the rule about the Hulk: don’t get Bruce Banner angry, and you won’t have to worry about the “Other Guy,” right? Not quite. Back in the early days, he worked more like a werewolf, emerging from Banner at night and only at night. In the late ’80s, writer Peter David stressed that Hulk was more than just a manifestation of Banner’s rage, he represented Banner’s survival instinct. In David’s finale on the title, 1988’s Incredible Hulk #467, Banner attempts to end his own life several times in the wake of his wife’s death, including a swan dive off the Empire State Building, and the Hulk shows up to save him every time. You don’t even have to read comics to be familiar with this particular idea.
In the Avengers movie, Bruce Banner confesses to the team that he attempted to do the same thing, but was stopped by his other self. Al Ewing, writer of Immortal Hulk, brought back the day/night dynamic more recently and added a brand new trigger for the transformation: death. Bruce Banner can only die during the day, but rises again as the Hulk once the sun goes down. The night is his time. When it comes to the question of how strong the Hulk is, there’s no definitive answer.
Even after he transforms, the Hulk’s strength continues to increase, and the angrier he gets, the stronger he gets. As long as he’s on his feet and he’s fighting, there’s virtually no limit to his power. This is why the wilder versions of the Hulk tend to do more damage. When the green guy has a degree of Banner’s intelligence, he isn’t always willing to let himself get angry, but when the Hulk doesn’t have Banner holding him back, he becomes a massively destructive force. Ironically, though, one of his more memorable feats of strength came when Banner was in control. In the pages of Secret Wars, he holds up a mountain range on his back, saving most of Marvel’s heroes from being crushed. The trick? It happens because of Reed Richards, who keeps insulting Hulk in order to keep him strong enough while the heroes find a way to escape. He’s a founding member of the Avengers on both the comics page and the silver screen, a part of the original lineup of the Defenders, and he even spent some time in a strange lineup called the New Fantastic Four. With all that in his history, it seems like the Hulk is a good teammate to have around when the bad guys come calling.
Well, while you definitely do not want to be on the side fighting against him, the truth is that the Hulk just does not play well with other superheroes. He’ll help them, but the alliance is always an uneasy one. In spite of helping to found the Avengers, for example, he quit the team in the second issue, and has fought the team more often than he’s been on it. The Hulk’s contempt for other superheroes is pretty obvious even when one of his more intelligent personas is in charge. For example, the “Professor” Hulk had the reins during the original Infinity Gauntlet storyline.
This version of the Jade Giant is known for his intelligence and relative calm, but he still spends his entire time with the assembled heroes insulting them, and even does some ill-advised trash-talking against Thanos. Whether he’s green or gray, whether he talks like a caveman or like a Nobel prize candidate, you can be sure of one thing about the Hulk: whoever you are, he probably doesn’t like you. There are plenty of different interpretations of the Hulk, but one of the biggest changes to happen over the years is the way his origin story has developed. The Gamma Bomb is always a big part of it, the catalyst for releasing the monster inside Bruce Banner. But ever since we learned about Bruce’s tortured childhood in Incredible Hulk #312, there has been a completely different layer to the relationship. The Hulk was with Bruce Banner long before he was exposed to the radiation that gave him a form.
The gamma bomb just opened the door for something that had been inside Banner since he was a boy. In 1991’s Incredible Hulk #377, Bruce Banner is officially diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder for the first time. According to Doc Samson, the Marvel Universe’s resident super-psychiatrist, both the gray and green Hulks are splintered personalities that Banner’s subconscious created to protect him from the trauma he suffered growing up. Ever since that comic, more personalities have emerged, including a huge, malevolent version called the Devil Hulk. It’s this last one who appears to be ruling the roost in the horror-themed pages of Immortal Hulk. During Planet Hulk, the story a big chunk of Thor: Ragnarok was based on, writer Greg Pak presented an interesting take on Hulk’s view of Banner. As the Hulk’s new gladiator allies tell their life stories to each other, the Hulk shares his own. When he tells them of the gamma bomb that set him loose from Banner, he not only says the bomb didn’t create him, he claims Banner made the bomb to kill him.