Comic's Hulk has "That childish impulse in us"

The original comic series created in 1962 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby was intended to last just six issues. Yet Marvel execs found that the Hulk - like nearly every hero and villain in comics - is very difficult to kill.
We do like him when he's angry.

For 41 years, fans of Marvel Comics' "The Incredible Hulk" have waited for psychologically tortured nuclear scientist Robert Bruce Banner to become angry or agitated so that he'd transform into the raging monster known as the Hulk.

The original comic series created in 1962 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby was intended to last just six issues. Yet Marvel execs found that the Hulk - like nearly every hero and villain in comics - is very difficult to kill.

Across his four decades, the Hulk has spawned a successful TV series, a handful of animated incarnations and now a major motion picture staring Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly.

The Hulk isn't the comics' most popular character - the X-Men have him beat on that score. Superman is the nicest. Batman is arguably the coolest character, maybe Spider-Man.

But the Hulk, argues Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada, is the one that's most like us.

"He's that childish impulse in us," Quesada says by phone from his New York office. "How many times a day do you get angry at your computer and want to 'Hulk out' and put your fist through it? That's what the Hulk represents: the releasing of the id."

The story behind the Hulk seems a bit dated, a Cold War relic. Banner, working on a gamma-powered bomb for the U.S. government, is accidentally caught in the detonation of the bomb when he runs into the test area to save Rich Jones, a teenager who'd wandered onto the test site.

The exposure to radiation mutates Banner's DNA. At first, the Hulk appears gray and comes out only at night.

Eventually, the Hulk mutates to green and the transformation is triggered when Banner becomes angry or frightened, stimulating his adrenal glands.

In the real world, the change from gray to green happened for much less dramatic reasons: The printers screwed up the color. People liked it, and Marvel kept it.

The Hulk has, by and large, kept mutating through the years. Some incarnations were better than others.

At one point in the early 1980s, Banner was separated from the Hulk. Banner's intellect even gained control over the Hulk for a time. One writer had the Hulk wandering in another dimension for several years, kept company by a creature called the "Puffball Collective."

Peter David, who wrote the Hulk for a decade, decided the Hulk was actually the corporeal incarnation of Banner's childhood rage at his abusive father. David eventually decided Banner had multiple-personality disorder, and the Hulk took on various characteristics, including, at one point, becoming gray again and taking up as an enforcer for a Las Vegas mobster.

Today, Quesada's editorship at Marvel has returned the Hulk to his roots: a lonely man pursued by the government, tortured by the monster he struggles to keep inside, desperate to find peace. Writer Bruce Jones, a horror-novel veteran, writes more about man than monster but builds up tension in his episodic form.

"Not to disparage anything that other writers have done, but we, as a company, got too far away from the essential nature of Hulk," Quesada says. "The Hulk is a very basic character. He's a modern-day Jekyll and Hyde, the tension between humanity and monster, something we all struggle with."

Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno brought Banner and the Hulk to prime time from 1978 to '82. Bixby played David Banner (inexplicably renamed from Bruce), who accidentally exposes himself to a high dose of gamma radiation in an effort to increase his strength after the love of his life died in a car accident and he was unable to save her. Ferrigno played the green Goliath, slathered in green body paint and wearing a green wig.

The show was serious, dramatic and even earned an Emmy. Bixby played Banner as a haunted man running from himself, a character not unlike Richard Kimble in "The Fugitive."

Ferrigno's Hulk, though not the 1,000-pound monster seen in comics, was believable enough to scare, excite or at least interest viewers young and old.

"The show treated the Hulk seriously," says Ferrigno. "This was not 'Batman' from the 1960s. This was a real drama. It was very good."

Quesada argues that the show may have made the Hulk Marvel's most internationally recognized character.

"Once you factor in the syndication of that show and how many places that reached, it's a tough argument," he says. "But the Hulk is definitely one of those things where you could be just about anywhere and people will know 'Hulk smash!'" The show created at least one piece of quotable pop culture, when Bixby told a harassing newspaper reporter (of course!): "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."

But Bixby was wrong.

The Hulk is the money shot. He's what we're paying to see. He's what has kept alive an idea created by a couple of comic-book guys some 40 years ago.

Quesada believes the Hulk is a little bit like us.

He's the fist of rage we wish we could unleash. He's the frustrations of daily life we can't shake. He can do what we wish we could do - smash, crush, destroy - but, alas, know it is better not to do.

So we'll settle for watching some big green guy doing it instead.
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