In addition to the existing chapters about Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer and Spider-Man, we now have an Incredible Hulk chapter in the “History of the Marvel Universe” series. Sadly, due to the loss of license reported here, some of the chapters I had planned to write (and looked forward to researching) won’t happen, as I simply won’t have access to the source material. I still plan to write an Iron Man column in time for the movie, followed by the Avengers, Captain America, Ghost Rider and the Uncanny X-Men, but new names won’t be added to the list.

Highlights in the history of the Hulk

The Hulk has had a somewhat more convoluted history than some of Marvel’s other characters. The main contributor to this was Peter David. Taking over after the TV series had run its course, David had a very long run on the title, with changes to the status quo coming in every one to three years. Still, even before that, the Hulk’s life was quite eventful.

The Choices

  1. Incredible Hulk #1, May 1962 – The first issue ever featuring Marvel’s Jade Giant, in which the giant wasn’t even jade. He was a grey-skinned brute who transformed each night, and simply wanted to be left alone.
  2. Incredible Hulk #3, September 1962 – In these early days, Banner triggered the change deliberately, using a gamma machine of his own design. Each time, the Hulk that came forth was a little bit different. This was the first instance with the “savage” Hulk incarnation.
  3. Avengers #1, September 1963 – Hulk’s original solo title was cancelled after only six bi-monthly issues. It had some of Marvel’s weakest sales, though it was still profitable. However, at the time, Marvel had no printing press of its own, and had to rent DC’s. As a result, there was a strict limit on the number of titles they could run in a month, so Hulk was dropped to make room for those they expected to be more profitable. However, Hulk was popular enough (with the previously untapped college student demographic in particular) that they didn’t want to just let the character fade away, so they incorporated him into the Avengers. (In fact, the Avengers first formed when Loki tried to get Thor to attack the Hulk, as he felt the Hulk would easily defeat Thor. The radio broadcast Loki sent was scattered, and was also picked up by Iron Man, Ant Man, and the Wasp.) Thus, the Hulk became one of the founding members of the Avengers, once the other four stopped attacking him. In the second issue, the other four attacked him again, thinking he was the Space Phantom. Hulk got mad and quit, and fought against the Avengers alongside Namor in their third issue, after which he faded into the woodwork until…
  4. Tales to Astonish #60, October 1964 – Here they brought the Hulk back again. Still limited by borrowing DC’s presses, Marvel had a number of “split books,” which allowed them to run stories about two different characters without adding to the titles on the market. In this case, Hulk was introduced as the back-up story to the headlining adventures of Giant Man (formerly Ant Man) and the Wasp. Hulk also started out a new trend in mainstream superhero comics, by using a serialized storyline. For the first few decades of publication, comic book distribution wasn’t regular enough to ensure that a store carrying issue n of a particular title would also have issue n+1, so all stories were concluded in the issue in which they began. Iron Man had toyed with some two parters to some success, so they tried an experiment. Hulk was introduced in a fully serialized format, essentially meaning that every issue of Tales To Astonish from this point on included a Hulk story continued from last issue that would also be continued in the next issue. This also rewrote the rules of transformation, dropping Banner’s gamma ray machine, and instigating the change to and from the Hulk with anger. (Yes, that’s right: at this stage, if Banner got mad, he burned off the anger by turning into the Hulk. If the Hulk got mad, he burned off the anger by turning into Banner.) The next three months also had significant contributions for the character’s history. Issue 61 introduced Glen(n) Talbot, whose name was usually spelled with two n’s (as it was in the first panel that mentions his name) and sometimes spelled with one n (as it was in the very next panel on the same page.) Talbot was the head of security on the base Banner worked at, and a competitor for the affections of Betty Ross. Talbot was convinced that Banner was a traitor who was manipulating the Hulk. Issues 62 and 63 introduced the Hulk’s greatest nemesis and antithesis in the Leader: as Sam Sterns, the Leader was an unintelligent labouror, but gamma irradiation stripped him of his physical power while endowing great intelligence, making his the polar opposite of the Hulk, and in my opinion, the Hulk’s best villain.
  5. Tales to Astonish #68, July 1965 – Rewrites the rules again, transforming the rules of the change into those that people know best: an angry Banner becomes the Hulk, and the Hulk remains until he calms down and reverts to Banner.
  6. Tales to Astonish #77, March 1966 – Thinking the Hulk dead (when he was merely transported long into the future), Rick Jones reveals the secret of the Hulk’s dual identity to Glen(n) Talbot, who finally understands what Banner had really been up to all of this time.
  7. Tales To Astonish #87, January 1967 – Banner’s secret identity was revealed to the world, making him (to the best of my knowledge) the first superhero to be “outed” to the world in a way that stuck. (Yes, the FF were “out” then, too, but their identities were never actually secret.)
  8. Tales To Astonish #90, April 1967 – The Abomination, Hulk’s other main foe, was created here, with a similar origin to the Hulk and nearly identical powers.
  9. Tales To Astonish #92, June 1967 – For the first time, a classic story style that heavily influenced the TV series was told: Banner was on the run as a fugitive, using fake names and aliases, doing his best to stay calm and quiet until he could find himself a cure. This didn’t last beyond this issue at this stage, but it would reappear again after the series became a hit.
  10. Incredible Hulk #102, April 1967 – Free of DC’s printing press and its own restrictions, the Hulk relaunches his own title, retaining the Tales To Astonish numbering. (By this time, the Giant Man feature was long dead, and Hulk stories were backed up by Namor stories. Namor got his own title as well, initially with an Iron Man / Namor special, followed by Namor the Sub-Mariner #1.)
  11. Incredible Hulk #130, June 1970 – For the first time, Banner and Hulk were separated into two different bodies. The next issue was the first appearance of Jim Wilson, who was essentially a combination of early Rick Jones stories and 1970s Blaxpoitation.
  12. Incredible Hulk #141, July 1971 – This first introduced a major player in the Hulk’s supporting cast in the character of Dr. Leonard “Doc” Samson, who tried to cure Banner of the Hulk by siphoning off the gamma rays. Rather than disposing of them, he stored them and later absorbed them himself, becoming a Samson-like gamma powered being, whose strength is directly proportional to the length of his now green hair. He hadn’t absorbed all of the energy, and the rest was later returned to Banner.
  13. Incredible Hulk #154, August 1972 – After exposure to Pym particles, the Hulk had been skrunken down to just a few inches tall. This does not, however, prevent him from destroying a Hydra installation. In my opinion, this was the most fun issue in the first 30 years of the Hulk’s history. (It’s reprinted on the soon-to-vanish DVD-ROM collection by GIT Corp, and also in Essential Hulk Vol. 4.)
  14. Incredible Hulk #157, November 1972 – In this issue, Betty Ross marries Glen(n) Talbot, ushering the last major change in the status quo for close to a decade. It reads like the Hulk comic title was beholden to the TV series, so they couldn’t really do anything unique or different while that series was on the air. As a result, the title stagnated for close to a decade.
  15. Incredible Hulk #260, June 1981 – At this point, we have the first significant change in a long time with the death of Glen(n) Talbot. This is significant for two reasons: it could reintroduce the Bruce/Betty relationship (given the right amount of time), and it also stands as one of the few comic book deaths that stuck. (That’s right: it’s been over 26 years since this was published, and Talbot is still dead.)
  16. Incredible Hulk #272, June 1982 – In this issue, the Intelligent Hulk appears for an extended period of time. Hulk ran with Banner’s intellect for quite some time, telling truly different Hulk stories for the first time in a long time. This lasted a full 25 issues, reverting to the Savage Hulk with issue 297 in July 1984.
  17. Incredible Hulk #312, October 1985 – In what may be the biggest single issue influence on Ang Lee’s film, we learn about Bruce’s abusive father, and the pent up anger it caused within Bruce.
  18. Incredible Hulk #315, January 1986 – In John Byrne’s second issue on the Hulk, Doc Samson separates Bruce from his big green counterpart. Banner is finally allowed to live a free life, but without Banner’s constraint, the Hulk really cuts loose, killing civilians for the first time.
  19. Incredible Hulk #319, May 1986 – Seemingly free of the Hulk, Bruce and Betty finally marry. Despite the promise made on an earlier letters page that Byrne was on this title for the long haul, this was Byrne’s final issue. He had promised Marvel at least two years on the title, but when DC offered him Superman, he dropped this and Fantastic Four and ran to the other guys. He was replaced on very short notice by Bill Mantlo, but then Mantlo was involved in a hit and run accident that has rendered him unable to work ever since, leading to another last minute replacement in Al Milgrom.
  20. Incredible Hulk #323, September 1986 – Bruce and the Hulk were remerged. The rules changed again, and the grey Hulk returned. In this incarnation, he was grey and nocturnal, but his behaviour was exactly the same as the Hulk during the day. That was about to change once more.
  21. Incredible Hulk #328, February 1987 – Peter David is given a fill in issue.
  22. Incredible Hulk #331, May 1987 – Peter David’s first run begins in earnest. This run is the most eventful in the character’s history, and in my opinion, the best the title has ever been. I’m probably not the only one who thinks so, either, as David continued on the title with a grand total of three fill in issues between this and his final issue, #467. He also wrote the lead stories in the Incredible Hulk annuals published during this period.
  23. Incredible Hulk #340, February 1988 – In this issue, it is established that the Hulk can be hurt, but that he heals so rapidly it’s hard to notice.
  24. Incredible Hulk #347, September 1988 – By this time, Peter David had already established a completely new personality for the Grey Hulk. In this issue, Hulk starts working as Mr. Fixit, a legbreaker for the Vegas mob. He’s got a home, a job, and a girl who loves him as the Hulk. He’s also got a habit of drugging Bruce Banner during the day to keep him from screwing this life up.
  25. Incredible Hulk #377, January 1991 – In another of David’s massive status quo changes, Doc Samson recruits the Ringmaster to hypnotize the Hulk and help him reconcile all of his personalities. They do so, creating a new personality in the “professor.” The Hulk maintains Bruce’s complete control of his faculties, but has all of the Hulk’s strength. This change lasted a long time, and lead to (in my opinion) some of the most interesting stories the character has ever had.
  26. Incredible Hulk #382, June 1991 – Hulk joins the Pantheon, a group naming themselves after Greek and Roman gods, who are trying to make the world a better place. Hulk would stay with them for over 40 issues, eventually leading the group.
  27. Incredible Hulk #390, February 1992 – In my opinion, this is the most fun any single issue of the Hulk has ever been. Any issue named after a Bugs Bunny quote, in which the Hulk can chastize his opponent for ruining his size 22 pink bunny slippers, and in which Hulk can lament running out of ammunition because he was so enjoying the “B-Chooom” sound the gun was making has got to be a lot of fun. Include Dale Keown pencils with this lot, and you’ve got a great combination of elements to enjoy.
  28. Incredible Hulk #420, August 1994 – The AIDS awareness issue, built around the death of Jim Wilson.
  29. Incredible Hulk #425, January 1995 – The fall of the Pantheon. As a side effect, we meet a savage Bruce Banner, who has the Hulk’s original personality trapped in Banner’s puny body.
  30. Incredible Hulk #466, July 1998 – Betty Ross dies of exposure to gamma radiation.
  31. Incredible Hulk #467, August 1998 – Peter David’s final issue of the original run. This was truly the end of an era.
  32. Incredible Hulk, Vol. 2 #14, May 2000 – Remember those Hulk dogs everyone blamed Ang Lee for in the movie? Paul Jenkins created them here.
  33. Incredible Hulk, Vol. 2 #62, December 2003 – We learn that Betty Ross is alive and mostly well, wearing a new face, and operating under the name Mr. Blue.
  34. Incredible Hulk, Vol. 2 #77, March 2005 – Peter David returns for an 11 issue run, bringing back the savage Hulk and taking the Hulk through the “House of M” event.
  35. Incredible Hulk, Vol. 2 #88, January 2006 – Daniel Way takes over long enough to have the Hulk tricked and launched into space. This kicks off the saga that has been the Hulk’s life ever since. Greg Pak takes over as writer with issue 92, the first part of the Planet Hulk epic that lasts until issue 105 in a 14 part epic that left the Hulk smart, savage, and really, really mad. Issues 106-111 tie directly into the World War Hulk event reviewed yesterday, which brings us up to date on the entire history of the Hulk.

If you’re interested in the Hulk, I suggest grabbing one of the DVD-ROM collections while they’re still available. It’s the most cost effective way to get the entire Peter David run. If that’s not an option, or if you just prefer the paper versions, grab and of the “Hulk Visionaries: Peter David” volumes out first, and start on the Essentials (volumes 1 and 4 in particular) after that.