Know your comics: The Incredible Hulk

Welcome to a new feature on this blog, “Know your comics”, where we profile comic book characters, good and bad, well-known and obscure. For our first profile, we’ll be looking at the complex psyche behind one of the comic world’s most beloved behemoths, The Incredible Hulk.

When most people think of the Hulk, they seem to think the relationship between Hulk and Bruce Banner is a simple one: Banner gets angry, out comes the green monster, and things get smashed. And then they seem to become confused when there are different versions of the Hulk; intelligent hulk, savage hulk, grey hulk… the list goes on. In fact, the story is a little complicated. So it’s best we start at the beginning…

Bruce’s Childhood

It’s safe to say that our Bruce’s early life was not a happy one. As a child, Bruce was abused by his alcoholic father, who killed his wife when she and Bruce tried to escape from one of his drunken rages. Later, Bruce was raised by his aunt Susan Banner while his father was institutionalized. Burying his emotions throughout his childhood, Banner had developed over time a deeply repressive personality; in fact, later on in the series we see that Bruce actually has dissociative identity disorder… which explains all those different hulks. But hang on a second… we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Anyway: let’s just say Bruce was a little screwed up. A fact only made worse by the fact that eventually, Bruce’s father was released from his mental facility. Not exactly stoked with the situation, but feeling responsible, Bruce reluctantly agreed to let his father live with him, although things weren’t exactly rosy. On the anniversary of his mother’s death, Bruce visited her grave but was attacked by his father. Fighting back, Bruce accidentally killed his father by causing him to fall and crack his skull on Rebecca’s tombstone. Bruce repressed the memory of his actions and the police dismissed the death as a random mugging.

Nuclear Genius

A genius in nuclear physics, Bruce went to work at the United States Defense Department nuclear research facility at Desert Base, New Mexico. There, Banner met General Thaddeus E. “Thunderbolt” Ross (the current “Red Hulk”, but that’s a separate entity and another post altogether), the Air Force officer in command of the base, and Ross’ daughter Betty. Ahh, Betty. She’s the damsel most readers recognise.
While working at the USDD, Banner designed and oversaw the construction of the “gamma bomb” or “G-bomb”… cue dramatic foreshadowing music.

At the first test of the gamma bomb, Bruce noticed a civilian wandering about in the test area. Banner told fellow nerd Igor Starsky to hold the countdown while he ran out to get the wandering civilian to safety. Of course, if Starsky had done so this would have been possibly the shortest series ever, so it’s a good thing that it turned out that Starsky was in fact – dum dum daaaaa – secretly a Soviet agent. So, of course, as Soviets are dastardly no-gooders, he did nothing, hoping that Banner would die in the explosion, thus bringing the project to a halt.

Banner, although just a mild manner scientist who didn’t seem to do much physical activity up until this point, actually managed to reach the civilian – who henceforth shall be known and Rick Jones, or Rick – and threw him into a trench for cover. But before Banner could get himself to safety, the gamma-bomb detonated; and, hey presto, Banner was irradiated with highly-charged radioactive particles.

Welcome to the Hulk

Thanks to the oh-so-awesomly-named “G-Bomb” and its rays, Banner changed into a gray-skinned (but intelligent) monster at sunset (dubbed “the Hulk” by spectators) and reverted to human form at dawn. For a short time, Bruce could control the transformations using gamma radiation projectors in his secret desert laboratory, maintaining rudimentary intelligence in the Hulk’s alter ego… the “Jeckyll and Hyde” time. Soon though, the Hulk became the green savage most comic book readers are familiar with, possessing little of Banner’s memory or intelligence and easily enraged. And with that savagery, the Hulk became a liability… once that was continually hunted by military forces commanded by the implacable Thunderbolt Ross. The Hulk was joined by Rick Jones, who felt responsible for Banner’s condition.

Skip forward through a whole lot of wild and wonderful Hulk adventures

For the next while, the Hulk had some pretty far out adventures, and generally speaking up until this point there were the two personalities: Banner, the “core” and the savage, simple hulk that most people know. Then “Doc Samson” became involved though, and things went slightly askew.

Leonard “Doc” Samson captured the Hulk and successfully separated Banner and his alter ego. Like, seriously separated them – they became two separate beings. Without Banner’s psyche to restrain him, the Hulk became a greater danger than ever before. Eventually, Doc Samson discovered that Banner’s life force was tied to that of the Hulk, and that their continued separation threatened to kill both of them. A hurried experiment reunited the two, but the stress of the rushed experiment led to the rise of yet another psyche within Banner: the “grey hulk” (my favourite), Mr Fixit; an amoral, but intelligent, street smart wiseguy. His time as Joe Fixit was spent in Vegas, as an enforcer.
Hilariously, the Hulk managed to convince most of his associates that his gray skin was some racial characteristic.

Three become Four.. Say hello to the Professor!

Eventually, various personalities of the Hulk began to war among themselves. Banner, just as he was coming to accept the idea of the Hulk being a permanent part of his life, began to transform into the green-skinned “savage Hulk”, just as the gray “Mr. Fixit” began to prematurely change into Banner. This culminated in a “battle” between the various psyches in Banner’s mind while the Hulk’s body began changing rapidly in the physical world to reflect the mental battle. Doc Samson felt that if such mutations were to continue it would eventually kill Bruce from the physical strain. Doc Samson and the criminal hypnotist Ringmaster, undertook to help Banner through the turmoil. Through this hypnosis, Banner, the green Hulk, and the grey Fixit all aligned to face their true inner demons– Banner’s unresolved issues with his abusive father and the murderer of his mother.

In that moment of clarity, Banner was able to fuse these mentalities together, finding peace of mind. However, a green but intelligent version of the Hulk emerged. He had the mentality of Dr. Banner but the body and abilities of the Hulk – later nicknamed the Professor.

So let’s look at these personas then…

Bruce Banner: The core identity. Bruce is highly intelligent but – to be honest – often a bit of a dick. He is the man within the beast, the human manifestation of the Hulk. The extent of Banner’s DID has only in recent times been appreciated, and a number of identities or personalities have been discovered.

The “Savage” Hulk: Perhaps the most well-known personality, he has childlike levels of intelligence and curiosity, longs for friendship and love, and is prone to violent fits of rage. The Savage Hulk is usually unaware that he is actually Banner, whom he sees as a different person and an enemy. This personality is stronger than most.

Joe Fixit: Also known as the Gray Hulk, this identity lacks Banner’s scientific knowledge, but he is exceptionally clever and crafty, with selfish motives and desires, and similarly prone to violence. The most “fun” Hulk, in my opinion.
The “Professor” Hulk: This identity possesses all of Banner’s intellect and the savage Hulk’s strength, with normal emotional capacity, though still quite prone to violence. Though he is taller and broader than the Savage Hulk, his strength does not increase with rage as much as the savage identity.

“Mindless” Hulk: This identity showed itself when Banner’s influence has been completely removed. He has a bestial look and his intellect is that of a primitive human, but he is capable of showing complex emotions like love or friendship.

The “Devil” Hulk: Malevolent and destructive, this identity is kept submerged deep within Banner’s psyche, but it’s constantly struggling to escape and take over.

By some accounts, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of different personalilty fragments within Banner/Hulk’s psyche. His different identities produce outward effects on the Hulk’s form, sometimes making him larger or smaller, gray or green, more human or more bestial in appearance, and even stronger or weaker.

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