An early image of The Hulk. Artists: Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.


Original Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1962
Creators: Stan Lee (writer/editor) and Jack Kirby (artist)
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During the late 1950s and early '60s, Marvel Comics writer/editor Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby collaborated on a long succession of horrible monsters, often with goofy names like …

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… Rommbu, Fin Fang Foom, and Googam Son of Goom. These creatures were decisively defeated, month after month, in such comic books as Tales of Suspense and Strange Tales. In 1962, those days were drawing to a close — the success of their Fantastic Four alerted them to the fact that the superhero was once again the genre to work on in comics.

The Hulk was either one of their last collaborations in the fading monster genre, or one of their earliest in superheroes. He bridges the gap so perfectly, it's hard to tell.

The first issue told of a young scientist named Bruce Banner, who presides over the detonation of an experimental gamma bomb. Just before the blast, he sees a teenager, Rick Jones, in the danger area. He saves the boy, but in so doing, absorbs a full dose of gamma rays. That night, he undergoes the first of many transformations into the super-strong, sometimes near-mindless brute known as The Hulk. Rick, the only person who knows The Hulk's human identity, takes on the job of trying to minimize the monster's damage.

As a regularly-published comic book, The Incredible Hulk lasted all of six issues. But the character continued to appear as a guest star, especially in the Fantastic Four title, where he fought The Thing several times. He was perhaps the first comic book character to be nurtured and promoted this way until he found an audience.

In 1963, an adventure of his involved several superheroes, including Ant Man and Iron Man, and led to his becoming a charter member of The Avengers. As incompatible as he was with a group like that, he quit one issue later. It was another year before he actually began appearing regularly again.

By 1964, Marvel's former monster titles all featured superheroes. The Hulk found a berth in the back pages of Tales to Astonish, where he continued to build his readership. Within a year, he was sharing equal billing with the magazine's other star, The Sub-Mariner. In 1968, Subbie moved out into his own book, and the title was changed to The Incredible Hulk. It has appeared monthly under that name ever since. Somewhere along the way, the Hulk/Banner dual identity became public knowledge.

In 1971, The Hulk got another shot at group membership, when Doctor Strange put together a loose federation of disparate characters called The Defenders. His sometimes-uneasy alliance with this group continued, off-and-on, until The Defenders disbanded, in 1986.

The Hulk's first shot at television came in 1966, when he was part of an animated series starring several Marvel superheroes, including Thor and Captain America, which was syndicated by Grantray-Lawrence Productions (Rocket Robin Hood). The stories were faithful to the comic books, but the animation was very weak.

But the TV show he is best remembered for is the one starring Bill Bixby as David Banner (changed from Bruce, which network honchos thought sounded "swish") and Lou Ferrigno as The Hulk, which aired 1977-82. It started as one of several Marvel properties (including Doctor Strange and Spider-Man) adapted into TV movies, and quickly became a prime-time series that ran four full seasons — the only one of those attempts to succeed. Reruns can be seen today on cable TV's Sci-Fi Channel.

While The Hulk was riding high on TV, Marvel expanded his comic book franchise by creating his one and only spin-off. In 1980, Bruce Banner gave an emergency blood transfusion to his cousin, Jennifer Walters, and his gamma-irradiated blood transformed her into The She-Hulk. "Shulkie's" first series lasted a mere two years, but like most Marvel characters, she never quite went away.

No sooner had the live-action show gone off the air, than The Hulk was animated again. The 1982 series lasted only one season. A third animated TV series, this one lasting two seasons, began in 1996. In between, the Bixby/Ferrigno version was reprised on TV in three movie-length sequels. Currently, Universal Studios is gearing up to star him in a major theatrical release.

Back in comic books, The Hulk has been done as many different ways as he has had different writers and artists — which says a lot. One creative team merges his personality with Banner's (temporarily, as it turns out), another makes him smart and Banner stupid (again, temporarily), a third treats the Hulk/Banner dichotomy as a case of Multiple Personality Disorder.

But however it is handled, the juxtaposition of the "egghead" scientist whose life is governed by thought and logic, with the rampaging monster who represents the very epitome of visceral physicality, has kept interest in the character alive for decades.


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Text ©2000-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Marvel Comics.