This week, everyone’s favourite hero with anger management issues, the Incredible Hulk.
The Hulk first appeared in The Incredible Hulk #1 back in 1962. As with many of Marvel’s early original heroes*, the Hulk was created by Stan Lee, with Jack Kirby. The origin had Dr. Bruce Banner, physicist, being at ground zero of a gamma bomb. Instead of dying, Banner absorbed the gamma rays, turning him into the Hulk. From that point on, whenever Banner was upset or angry, the Hulk would be released. Stan Lee has said that he invoked Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde along with Frankenstein with the character, noting that the Hulk, despite being the monster, was the hero. Although not an immediate hit**, the character guest starred in other Marvel titles and became a founding member of the Avengers, staying in The Avengers for the first two issues before leaving.
In 1978, CBS aired a television series, also called The Incredible Hulk based on the comic. Changes were made; Bill Bixby played Dr. David Bruce Banner, a name change required by executives. The gamma bomb accident because a lab accident that infused Banner with gamma radiation. The Hulk, played by Lou Ferrigno, had reporter Jack McGee chasing him, trying to find out the truth about the accident. The series ran five seasons, with three made-for-TV movies following.
Wait, you may be thinking, why mention the TV series when I haven’t done anything like this before? Isn’t this about the 2008 movie, The Incredible Hulk? Indeed it is, I say as I somehow read your mind. However, I continue, the TV series is important to keep in mind for the rest of the review.
The 2008 movie The Incredible Hulk was filmed by Marvel Studios as part of its Avengers Initiative, a series of movies leading up to the release of The Avengers. The Hulk, as mentioned above, was a founding member of the team, despite leaving after the second issue. Might be easy enough to gloss over; Avengers #1 is older than the target audience. Except, as seen with the other entries, the filmmakers are well aware of the history of the comics. The Hulk is, now, one of Marvel’s iconic characters, inspiring phrases such as “hulking out” and the source of, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”***
The movie quickly shows the Hulk’s origin during the opening credtis, combining the one comic and the one from the TV series to have a super solider serum test go wrong. Banner was led to believe the serum was to help resist gamma radiation. General Ross, an old foe of the Hulk from the comic, had other ideas. The movie opens in Brazil, with Banner working at a factory while trying to research a cure. An industrial accident that leads to a Stan Lee cameo lets Ross know where Banner is hiding. Ross sends a special forces team, led Emil Blonski, to retrieve the hiding scientist. Suffice to say, they got Banner upset, and that never ends well for anyone.
While Banner returns to the US to get the original data from the project that turned him into the Hulk, Blonsky and Ross work together to create a weapon capable of going toe-to-toe with the green monster. Blonski volunteers to under go the super soldier treatment, foreshadowing the events of Captain America. The first fight between Blonski and the Hulk, at a college campus, leads to Blonski recuperating in the hospital with every bone broken, but healing fast. The fight was also recorded by a jounalism student with the last name McGee.
The movie continues, using Blonski as a mirror to Banner. As Banner works to get rid of the Hulk, Blonski works to embrace the monster within, eventually becoming the Abomination. The difference between the two gamma radiated monsters is that Blonski kept his intelligence. Where the Hulk is raw, brute strength and fury, Blonski keeps his skills, losing a little in raw power.
The movie itself draws from the Hulk’s forty year comic history and the television series, blending the two. Edward Norton, who played Banner, looked a lot like the late Bill Bixby, even down to mannerisms as Bruce. Lou Ferrigno not only has a cameo as a security guard, but is also the voice of the Hulk. The journalism student mentioned is a shout out to Jack McGee of the TV series. Audience members who know the hulk solely through the TV series would not be lost. The influence of the TV series brought me to a question that I hadn’t considered before; that is, “Is there such a thing as an adaptation that is more influential than the original work?”
The Incredible Hulk also had to deal with history progressing since 1962. Originally, Blonski was a KGB agent. With the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the de-Sovietization of Russia, having a KGB agent would stick out. Turning Blonski into the English-born son of Russian immigrants on loan from the UK to the US brings the character into the 21st century. Likewise, the gamma bomb became a lab accident; the push to out-arm the Soviets also disappeared with the end of the Cold War. While the US does maintain a stockpile, the need to increase the number of warheads has dropped greatly. The movie updates the Hulk mythos nicely, telling an archetypical Hulk story with a current setting.
Next week, expanding a setting through an adaptation.
* As in, not the ones originally created my Marvel’s predecessor, Timely
** The Incredible Hulk, volume 1 lasted six issues.
*** Originally from the TV series, in the opening credits.