Spoilers for Secret Wars, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Planet Hulk, World War Hulk, DC vs. Marvel Comics

Janitor: “So, which one is it? Are you a big guy that gets all little, or a little guy that, uh, sometimes blows up large?”

Bruce: “You know – I’m not even sure.”  –A deleted scene from The Avengers

the Hulk on television

Lou Ferrigno as Hulk

An army unit is closing in on their target that has led them on a worldwide chase, but they’ve finally tracked him down. The target suddenly notices them. “$#&*, he’s seen us!” The squad leader screams at his troops to stop the target, but it’s too late. The target undergoes a startling metamorphosis, his muscles bulging, and his skin turning a vibrant green. As the unit opens fire, the creature roars “LEAVE HULK ALONE!”

You may have seen him in the Avengers movies, but there’s a lot more to the Hulk than meets the eye. So how did this not-so-jolly green giant come to be? How did he help found the Avengers? And what do you mean there are multiple Hulks?! Let’s find out.

If I Could Save Rage in a Bottle: Hulk’s Backstory

Bruce Jenner: “You’re so strong when you get mad. Too bad you can’t go back and protect your mom from your dad.” – “Epic Rap Battles of History, Bruce Banner vs. Bruce Jenner”

Hulk first debuted in The Incredible Hulk in 1962. His creation was inspired by Frankenstein, Quasimodo, and The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Bruce Banner is a genius who was born in an abusive home. Bruce’s father beat him and his mother for years until one day he killed Mrs. Banner in a rage. This caused Bruce to develop psychological issues around anger and fear. In spite of this, Bruce became a brilliant physicist who specialized in gamma radiation. Yes, that’s a real thing. 

Bruce was recruited to develop a ‘gamma bomb’ for use by the U.S. Army. While working on the bomb, he became enamored with Betty Ross (Liv Tyler in The Incredible Hulk), the daughter of his boss General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt in the MCU). During a test of the gamma bomb, Bruce noticed a teenager had snuck into the test site and rushed to save him. Bruce saved the teen, but was caught in the blast himself.

He was taken to a military hospital and introduced to Rick Jones (Luke Perry in the animated show The Incredible Hulk), the teenager he had saved. When night fell, Bruce transformed into an unstoppable creature that was soon named The Hulk.

The Worldbreaker: Hulk’s History

He calls himself Worldbreaker because he knows that one day, his rage will burn this planet clean. But today the planet burns him. Sears him to the very bone. But he will not let her go. Today the Worldbreaker unbreaks his world. – “Planet Hulk”

Bruce Banner struggled nightly to control his transformation into the Hulk. He eventually managed to create a device that could transform Hulk into Banner and vice versa. Unfortunately, using this machine mutated him again, causing him to transform when he grew angry. At one point, Hulk helped a group of superheroes battle the Norse god Loki and decided to join this group called The Avengers.

Throughout the decades, Hulk would encounter countless heroes and villains. Sometimes he helped heroes fight evil, and others he would face heroes trying to stop his latest rampage. Hulk was eventually deemed too dangerous to remain on Earth. A group called The Illuminati* subdued Hulk and used a spaceship to send him to a peaceful world. Hulk woke up and damaged the navigation, landing instead on the planet Sakaar.

Hulk was enslaved and forced to fight as a gladiator. Realizing his human form would never survive in such a world, Bruce gave complete control to the Hulk. Hulk soon led several other slaves in a rebellion and ousted the planet’s evil king. Hulk became the king and finally found peace. Hulk even found a lover! So naturally, an explosion killed countless people, including Hulk’s lover, just so he could get pissed off again.

Blaming the Illuminati for his lover’s death, Hulk returned to Earth with his Warbound soldiers to seek revenge. Earth’s superheroes launched an all-out counter-assault, desperately trying to stop him from killing the Illuminati (not so bad) and destroying New York (kinda bad). After a fight with the hero Sentry**, the Hulk calmed down enough to listen to reason. It was revealed that the ship was sabotaged by the evil king’s army, and one of Hulk’s Warbound had allowed it to happen. Hulk grew so furious that his ambient energy started tearing the Earth apart. To prevent the Earth’s destruction, Hulk allowed himself to be knocked unconscious and taken into custody.

Green Scar: Hulk’s Powers and (Split) Personality

Beneath 150 billion tons stands the Hulk… and he’s not happy. – “Secret Wars”

Everyone knows that The Hulk is super strong, but few realize just how powerful he is. Hulk grows exponentially stronger the angrier he gets and has no upper limit. During the event comic Secret Wars, the villain Molecule Man used his powers to throw a mountain at a group of heroes. Hulk not only caught the mountain, but managed to hold it up for several minutes while the other heroes came up with an escape plan.

Because of his super strength, Hulk is insanely durable and has a healing factor that puts Wolverine’s to shame. In the crossover comic “DC vs. Marvel Comics”, Hulk battled Superman and almost won.***  During his time on Sakaar, Hulk learned how use various weapons and fight strategically. The result? “Hulk Slash!”

Due to the cornucopia of mental problems Bruce Banner suffers from, he developed a cadre of split personalities that manifest through the Hulk. The Savage Hulk is the one most people are familiar with. It represents the anger and rage that Banner bottled up beginning as an abused child. His original transformation turned him into the Gray Hulk****, sometimes called Joe Fixit. This form releases Banner’s inhibitions and is comparable to Mr. Hyde. Banner at one point managed to become a ‘merged’ Hulk that let him stay in control while transformed. This form was only strong when he was calm and weakened him if he grew angry. During his stay on Sakaar, Banner gave Hulk full control, resulting in the Green Scar Hulk. This Hulk was basically Conan the Hulk and easily the strongest.

The Actors Who Played The Hulk

The Hulk’s television debut was The Marvel Super Heroes, where Hulk was voiced by Max Ferguson and Bruce Banner by Paul Soles. In 1978, The Incredible Hulk premiered. The wildly popular show starred Bill Bixby as David Banner***** and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk. In recent years, Hulk has been voiced by Fred Tatasciore in many animated shows, including Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., and Avengers Assemble.

Hulk’s theatrical movie debut was in the 2003 eponymous film, Hulk, starring Eric Bana as Bruce Banner and CGI as the Hulk. Hulk entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe with 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, starring Edward Norton as Bruce Banner. Apparently ol’ Brucey got some plastic surgery after that bomb, because when he showed up in The Avengers, he looked like Mark Ruffalo. Hulk left at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, but returns in Thor: Ragnarok.

Didya Get All That?

Readers, make him angry. You’ll like him when he’s angry.

* A group of heroes that try and run the superhero community behind the scenes. Spoilers: They aren’t very good at it.

** Marvel’s neurotic version of Superman.

*** The fights results were based off of reader votes. Superman got more votes than Hulk.

**** Fun Fact: Hulk was originally supposed to be gray, but was changed to green due to a coloring error.

***** Not-so-fun fact: Ferrigno and Stan Lee have said that Bruce’s name was changed because CBS thought the name Bruce was “too gay-ish”.