The gamma-powered, loveable monster that we all know and love today – The Hulk is a byproduct of countless variations. Over the last six decades since its debut, creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby designed The Incredible Hulk in May 1962. It introduced the world to the deadly duo of the powerful humanoid Hulk and his alter ego, Dr Bruce Banner, a reserved but brilliant physicist. Following an accidental gamma radiation exposure, the original beast was not green but grey. Emotional stress and anxiety were his bane. Thus, he had no control over his transformations. In fact, he became physically stronger under increased duress.
While the premise of The Hulk is simple, the making of the now iconic character was far from it. Lee was highly influenced by Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde while creating the green beast. “I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the Frankenstein monster. No one could ever convince me that he was the bad guy. I decided I might as well borrow from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as well – our protagonist would constantly change from his normal identity to his superhuman alter ego and back again,” Lee stated. Additionally, The Thing – a member of the Fantastic Four team motivated Lee to develop a character who wasn’t entirely perfect.
On the other hand, Jack Kirby witnessed a mother lift a car to save her trapped child once. His unforgettable experience inspired Hulk’s strength. Jewish folklore’s Golem also impacted Hulk’s appearance. His name was chosen after the comic book character, The Heap, who was also monstrously green.
As for Bruce Banner’s milieu, major inspiration was drawn from the then ongoing Cold War, which birthed a nuclear anxiety amongst Americans. Banner’s exposure to gamma radiation represented the prevalent sentiment of the time that nuclear power could produce monsters or mutants. Many have observed that Bruce reflected the fear of scientists who developed the lethal atomic bomb. They were worried about the controllability of their own creation, much like scientist Bruce’s worries on turning into a monster.
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Initially designing a grey Hulk, Lee decided to shift to green, after facing issues with shades of grey. In the retellings of the origin and in the reprinting of the original publication, the now popular green Hulk was introduced. In 1984, The grey variant made a brief comeback in a few flashback scenes. Lee and Kirby developed Bruce’s background and added more finesse to his story and appearance with every publication. In fact, the name Bruce Banner was picked for its unforgettable alliteration. However, in a few publications, Lee mistakenly wrote Bob Banner instead of Bruce Banner, which was quickly pointed out by ardent fans, and eventually, the entire name of the physicist, Robert Bruce Banner was introduced.
Apart from guest starring in Fantastic Four, Hulk became one of the creators of the Avengers team, in 1963. He went on to fight super villains like the Leader and Abomination and romancing Betty Ross, which boosted his popularity. He got his very own TV series in 1978, making his catchphrase, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” a part of popular culture. Hulk is known for never remaining stagnant, offering the readers and viewers with a variety of storylines, thanks to the brilliance of Lee and Kirby. The idea of losing control under stress or rage became relatable. The resulting chaos of his transformation still remains all too entertaining for action-enthusiasts and comic fans!