In this edition of Avengers Spotlight, we get a look at none other than the Jade Giant himself, The Incredible Hulk, whom, since his debut in 1962, has become one of Marvel’s most popular and celebrated properties. Dubbed “The Strangest Man of All Time!” in his first issue, ‘Incredible Hulk’ #1, the tale of Dr. Bruce Banner and his radioactive alter-ego is one of Marvel’s longest and strangest.
Robert Bruce Banner was born in Dayton, Ohio to Brian and Rebecca Banner. Bruce’s father was an alcoholic who abused his son, thinking his own radiation experiments had given Bruce mutant DNA. Brian finally beat Rebecca to death in front of Bruce before being taken away to a mental hospital. Bruce grew up in the care of his aunt, and quickly became a scientific prodigy. Eventually, Bruce grew up and received his doctorate in nuclear physics from CalTech and went on to work for the US military.
While he worked for the Defense Department in their nuclear research facility, he met his nemesis General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross for the first time. He also met the love of his life, Betty Ross. Banner began to oversee the creation of the gamma bomb: a nuclear weapon possessing a high gamma radiation output. Moments before the bomb was set to be detonated, Banner found that a civilian had broken into the test area, and told his partner Igor Strasky to delay the countdown before he rode out to get them to safety. Unbeknownst to him, Strasky was a Soviet agent and did nothing to prevent the bomb’s detonation. Banner managed to reach the civilian, a teenager names Rick Jones and threw him into a ditch to protect him from the blast, but Banner was highly irradiated in the explosion. Due to some unknown genetic factor, the radiation didn’t kill Banner, but of course, turned him into the nigh-indestructible avatar of rage Marvel fans have come to love.
After that, life pretty much became a living hell for both Banner and the Hulk, hunted across the country by the US Military with General Ross at the helm. The Hulk was one of the founding members of the Avengers, when Loki manipulated him into battling his half-brother Thor. The plan failed and the Hulk, along with Thor, Iron Man, Ant Man, and The Wasp teamed up to defeat him. Unfortunately, the Hulk’s membership as an Avenger didn’t last long as the group’s distrust of him became more apparent. The Hulk also went on to be part of The Defenders with heroes like Namor and Doctor Strange. When his cousin Jennifer Walters was shot and needed a blood transfusion, Banner offered his own, and the gamma radiation in his blood turned Walters into She-Hulk. (And there would be many more Hulks to come.) Banner’s life was marked by almost unending tragedy, which capitulated in the death of Betty Ross Banner from radiation poisoning.
When it was decided that the Hulk was too big a threat to public safety, the Illuminati council, which consisted of Tony Stark, ReedRichards, Doctor Strange, Charles Xavier, and Namor, decided to exile Banner into space, thinking they would put the Hulk on an uninhabited planet. The ship actually crash landed on Sakaar, a planet of barbarian tribes. There, the Hulk was forced to become a gladiator fighting for his life. The Hulk ushered in a rebellion, installed himself as king of the planet and fell in love with the queen Caiera. When it seemed that the Hulk had finally found peace, the shuttle he was brought in suddenly exploded, killing everyone on the planet, including Caiera and her unborn child. The Hulk swore revenge on the Illuminati and returned to earth. He ordered the evacuation of New York City and that the Illuminati be handed over. This crossover “World War Hulk” features brutal battles with over half of Marvel catalogue and ended with a stalemate when the Hulk learned that the Illuminati were not responsible for the shuttle explosion, although he vowed never to forgive them.
Things didn’t get any easier for Banner after that. He had to deal with Red Hulk, which turned out to be General Ross as well as find out that his unborn child with Caiera, Skaar, had not died in the fire, and came to earth to see revenge against his father. On top of all this, Red She Hulk- whom after a long battle, was discovered to be Betty Ross, who Bruce believed to be dead. Most recently, after the events of Fear Itself, Banner found himself physically sperated from the Hulk. Without his alter-ego, he snapped, isolating himself on an island and trying to replicate his alter-ego by experimenting with gamma radiation. The Hulk was called in to “take care” of his insane other-half, and their most recent battle ended in the seeming destruction of Bruce Banner in a gamma bomb explosion. But who knows if Banner is really dead? Stranger things have definitely happened in the world of the Incredible Hulk.
Shining Moment on the Page
I was tempted to use the Hulk’s biggest, most brutal event, World War Hulk, in which he nearly decimates some of his own former allies, including his own cousin, but as a devout Hulk fan, I prefer to see the green guy in a more heroic light. Thus, I turn to ‘Incredible Hulks’, in which Bruce Banner, unable to turn into the Hulk after a run in with Red Hulk, is training Skaar, who wants to kill him, to be ready to fight when the Hulk eventually re-emerges. During this time, the world is forced to turn to the Hulks – Bruce, Jennifer, Betty, Rick Jones (now A-Bomb), and Skaar to protect the earth from the Leader, who attempted to hulkify half the superhero world. During this time, Bruce and Betty are finally reunited, the Hulk remerges gets Skaar to call off his intent to kill him, reminded of his own abusive father.
Why is this the shining moment? Not only is the superhero world forced to let the Hulks handle things for once, but everyone gets their moment in the spotlight, and both Bruce and the Hulk end up heroes. It’s a rare bright spot in Bruce Banner’s troubled history.
Shining Moment on the Screen
If I had written this article before May 1st, this would have been all about the much-beloved 1970’s TV series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, since both Hulk films have been met with tepid reaction, and the Bixby series is often cited as the only time that the Hulk has ever been done “right” on screen.
But that was before I saw ‘The Avengers’.
Hulk fans rejoice, Joss Whedon finally managed to fix “the Hulk problem” in the cinematic blockbuster, and played by Academy Award nominee Mark Ruffalo, the green guy almost steals the movie out from underneath his co-stars. the casting of Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner and his verdant alter-ego may be one of the smartest (if not the smartest) decisions made for the film. The Hulk as a character has been nigh-impossible to adapt to the screen, as any frustrated Marvel fan will tell you, and Whedon seems to have found the perfect balance by using “the other guy”, as Banner repeatedly calls him, sparingly, he makes his first appearance almost 80 minutes into the film. But Ruffalo manages to pull off in about 30 minutes of screentime what his predecessors (Eric Bana, Edward Norton) only sort of managed in their own feature films. Ruffalo’s Banner is appealingly self-deprecating, easing the tension of his condition by making quiet, weary jokes about it. In contrast to all the ripped, towering specimens around him, he’s disheveled, with a twitchy demeanor and ill-fitting clothes, and ends up being the most interesting to watch. It’s only further in his performance that you can see some real bitterness and anger right beneath the surface of his calm demeanor. And the big guy? The Hulk’s never been this entertaining, and the use of motion capture technology manages to put Ruffalo’s real performance beneath that impressive mass of green CGI muscle.
So for anyone who doubted that Ruffalo could ease into the Hulk’s perpetually-torn shoes, rest easy. He is, in a word, incredible.