The Strongest One There Is: The Adaptable Legacy of The Incredible Hulk
On this day in 1962, the world was asked the question “Is he man or monster or... both?” as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the world to The Incredible Hulk. The Hulk has remained one of Marvel’s most reliable franchises throughout the decades due to his relatability and perhaps above all else, his adaptability.
Since the beginning, The Hulk has been a character in flux. Originally The Incredible Hulk was colored grey, but printing logistics forced the change to the classic green. Bruce Banner’s transformation was originally triggered when day transitioned to night, and Hulk was much more verbose in his early incarnations and spoke in the flowery and dramatic tone typical of Stan Lee.
Over the years, creators have seized upon Hulk’s adaptability to tell all manner of stories, perhaps most notably Peter David, who had a legendary twelve year run with the franchise. Under David, the Incredible Hulk was a savage, a gangster, a tyrant, and a professor. Hulk’s time in the 70s as king of the subatomic planet K’ai was a major influence on Greg Pak’s Planet Hulk.
Although it has been pared down considerably, there was a time in the late 2000s when new Hulk characters were popping up left, right and center. Red Hulk, A-Bomb, several new She-Hulks and an entire brood of Hulk children; the franchise blossomed, proving the core idea is as adaptable as the character itself.
Aside from The Hulk himself, without the franchise we wouldn’t have She-Hulk, Rick Jones who went on to have adventures with Captain America and other Marvel heroes, or everyone’s favorite stabby mutant, Wolverine. He was one of the first comic characters to really break out in the mainstream too, with his 70s television series running for five seasons, plus three made-for-TV movies in the early 80s.
The Hulk was a tricky character to pin down when it came to adaptations, with Ang Lee’s film being much derided, while the Edward Norton vehicle Incredible Hulk was plagued with on-set disagreements between Norton and director Louis Leterrier. Marvel seem to have finally struck success with Mark Ruffalo’s affable Banner in the Avengers films, as part of an ensemble cast.
When it comes down to it, The Hulk’s appeal is the same as most Lee/Kirby/Ditko characters of the Silver Age, because readers could see something of themselves in him. It’s not just the anger, although everyone has times when they wish they could Hulk out and go on a rampage; it’s the subtler emotions at the core of Bruce Banner that connect with readers.
The Hulk was revolutionary for introducing a hero that feels self-loathing and isolation, something millions of people deal with on a daily basis. Even when he’s doing his best and saving the world, there are people trying to tear him down, and that just makes him want to find a cave and hide forever, who hasn’t felt like that at one point?
The Hulk endures not only due to the creativity and innovation of Lee & Kirby, but the contributions of dozens of creators that followed in their footsteps as The Hulk evolved into a character greater than the sum of their contributions.
Also, it’s really fun to see the big green guy go smash on the baddies.
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