Not The Jolly Green Giant!
Introducing The Incredible Hulk

The new infusion of ideas that led to the modern super hero era as we know it began at Marvel ("The House of Ideas") with The Fantastic Four in November, 1961. Prior to then, the genre had been slowly withering on the vine. In fact, up until then, the only super heroes were all at DC Comics, namely Gardner Fox's Green Lantern and The Atom (both drawn by Gil Kane). Most agree that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, when they spawned Marvel's Silver Age, were also inaugurating the most innovative periods the comics industry had ever known, a period which was to revitalize the entire field.

What was it that made the new style of comics so popular? A key ingredient to the Lee /Kirby success story was the introduction of the concept of the flawed hero. The hero who, like us shlubs, had problems, and whose super powers not only didn't eliminate those problems but actually contributed to them!

After the success of the first of their stable of characters, The Fantastic Four, Lee and Kirby would come up with the most tragically flawed super hero of all, The Incredible Hulk.

There were obvious literary antecedents to The Hulk. Anyone looking at Kirby's early drawings can see a marked resemblance to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, as portrayed by Boris Karloff. Other literary influences were The Hunchback of Notredame and Robert Lewis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. All figures of ugliness and power, and, like Frankenstein's creation, feared and misunderstood by the world of "normal" people.

There was also a comic book ancestor on the Hulk's family tree; The Heap, a character written by Harry Stein and drawn by Mort Leav for Hillman Publishing's Air Fighters #3 (December, 1942). The Heap was once World War One German flying ace Baron Eric von Emmelman. After his fokker is shot down and crashes in a swamp, the badly burned airman undergoes a metamorphosis, somehow evolving into a mindless greenish-brown creature, feared and hated wherever he/it goes.

The Hulk, however, was not transformed in a swamp, but rather on a nuclear test site in 1962. In the early sixties nuclear bombs and radioactivity were still enough of a novelty to provide Lee with a gimmick --"youwantum physics" --that could be used to explain the transition of a scientist, Dr. Bruce Banner, into a massive engine of mindless destruction.

Shortly before testing his new "gamma" bomb, Banner discovers that a teenager has somehow wandered into Ground Zero. When Banner races to rescue the teen, a treacherous bolshevik triggers the bomb! In the resulting explosion, Banner manages to save Rick Jones, but is exposed to a massive dose of gamma radiation. "Bathed in the full force of the mysterious gamma rays," Bruce survives only to turn into a mindless rampaging monster after the sun sets, possessed by "sheer, savage fury." Like Dr. Jekyll, Banner never has any recollection of what he may have done as the rampaging brute.

As Lee developed his new and tragic figure, the vampiric device of the setting sun was dropped, and strong emotion -usually rage- became the trigger for transformations. Skin color was another change. In his first issue the Hulk was gray, however, due to the difficulties the printer had in maintaining that hue, by the second issue the Hulk had become the jolly green giant he is today. I don't recall if the color change was ever officially explained, but one other matter was certainly glossed over; the Hulk always seemed to be wearing purple trousers, no matter how Banner was clothed before the transformation. (Just another side effect of those mysterious gamma rays!)

Although the Hulk's first title only lasted six issues, Lee and Kirby must've realized that they were onto something when a group of Columbia University students visited Marvel's offices to proclaim that The Hulk was now their official mascot.

The Hulk's early cast of supporting characters consisted of Rick Jones, the trespassing teen Bruce rescued (later going on to become the sidekick of Captains America and Marvel), his perpetual persecutor, General "Thunderbolt" Ross, and Banner's long-suffering girlfriend, Betty Ross.

The Hulk was revived in Tales To Astonish #59 (August 1964) and the title was changed again to The Hulk with #102 (April 1968). The title has lasted well over 400 issues. Lee handled Hulk scripting until 1969, passing on the character to Rascally Roy Thomas in 1969. Since then the Hulk has been handled by numerous other writers, including Gary Friedrich, Chris Claremont, Harlan Ellison, Archie Goodwin, and, most recently, John Byrne. Artists have included Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, Marie Severin, and Herb Trimpe. (Trimpe was the Hulk's main artist for quite a few years, ably assisted by Joe ( E-Man) Staton.) Among others who later illustrated the title are Tod McFarlane, Walt Simonson, and Frank Miller.

The Hulk made his first television appearance as part of the Marvel Superheroes cartoon show (1966-68), but his real impact came with the Bill Bixby/Louis Ferrigno prime-time Hulk tv series (1978-82). The four year run on the tube helped boost sales, and in the last twenty years there have been numerous Hulk spin-offs, including books, graphic novels, dolls, action figures, cartoons, as well as a newspaper strip (written by Lee and drawn by his brother, Larry Lieber). Comic book spin-offs include Hulk 2099, The Sensational She-Hulk, The Rampaging Hulk, and The Savage She-Hulk.

Ang Lee, the director of the Oscar winning "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", was responsible for the 2003 release of The Hulk film, which, despite impressive computer graphics, saw disappointing box office returns and somewhat harsh professional criticism. Still, the Hulk movie franchise will continue, according to Marvel Studios exec Kevin Feige. The Hulk, for all his limited intelligence has proven to be a lasting success. The big lug.

--Steve Stiles