10 Must-Read Stories Before You See ‘The Incredible Hulk’
EDITOR’S NOTE: Here on ComicMix, our lists of must-read Iron Man stories and recommended reading for The Dark Knight were so popular that we decided to put together the following list for Friday’s release of The Incredible Hulk in theaters. Enjoy! -RM]
He’s been in comics for decades. His cameos in series other than his own have always meant blockbuster action. He’s had a live-action television series, TV-movies, cartoons, videogames and now a new major motion picture coming out this Friday.
He is the Hulk.
Yet he is also Dr. Robert Bruce Banner, and long ago, he created the gamma bomb — the next step in nuclear warheads. But when he saw a kid named Rick Jones in the test area, Bruce condemned himself by saving the boy’s life and getting caught in the bomb blast. Bathed in gamma rays, he was mutated so that he would now transform into a gray-skinned, monstrous version of himself at night.
As time went on, Banner’s mutation shifted and he would turn into a green-skinned, savage, child-like creature whenever he was angered, which became the most famous take on the character. Later still, he struck a balance by becoming a gestalt, merging his different alter egos. In recent years, he has reverted to his "classic" status, the scientist who is terrified to lose his temper lest he become a destructive emerald beast.
Perhaps it’s this isolation, and his desperation to change his situation in life, that causes so many people to relate to him — both in the fictional world he occupies and the real world of his readers.
Here, then, are some of the most important, must-read stories involving the Hulk from the character’s long history, and a good place to start if this week’s release of The Incredible Hulk piques your interest in Marvel’s famous green-skinned goliath.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK, Vol. 2 #140 — “The Brute … That Shouted Love … At the Heart of the Atom!”
Acclaimed novelist and screenwriter Harlan Ellison plotted this story, which was scripted by Roy Thomas and drawn by Herb Trimpe. So naturally, it’s not like any Hulk story that came before it. First, the jade giant is transported to another dimension inhabited by green-skinned people. Thanks to magic, the Hulk then finds himself with Banner’s personality, and becomes a warrior hero to the people, fighting great beasts and falling in love with a beautiful woman named Jarella.
If you always thought “the Hulk should be more like Conan,” then check out this one-issue story that became the target of countless call-backs over the years by a variety of Hulk writers.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK, vol. 2 #223 – 227 — “The Monster’s Analyst”
Roger Stern and Sal Buscema gave us this, the first story to hint at the truth behind the Hulk’s fractured psyche. It begins with Bruce Banner thinking he’s on the verge of finally burning off all the gamma radiation from his body, which means he can be a normal human being again. Too bad his arch-enemy the Leader has to appear and screw everything up. A psychopath who was mutated by gamma radiation to become a super-genius, the Leader winds up putting the entire Earth in danger in this story and only a certain jade giant can stop him.
This story-arc not only includes a major battle with the Leader, but it’s also the first time the character Doc Samson (who appears in the Ed Norton film) has a therapy session with our hero and begins to understand the Hulk. Through a mental joining and a reliving of the Hulk’s birth, Samson comes to realize for the first time that the Hulk is not just a monster but is actually a symbol of Banner’s repressed emotions, incarnated as a “child with unlimited power.”
THE INCREDIBLE HULK, Vol. 2 #298-#300 — “Days of Rage!”
Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema give us this tale that was the partial inspiration for the "World War Hulk" story arc years later. When the Hulk is mentally manipulated by the dream-villain Nightmare, the sorcerer Dr. Strange attempts to help him heal. But the conscious mind of Bruce Banner decides that he’s had enough and allows himself to “die” in a dark corner of the mind, leaving the Hulk now completely savage and without any human sympathies to hold him back. Can the combined efforts of every superhero in New York actually stand a chance against the rampage of a remorseless Hulk?
THE INCREDIBLE HULK, Vol. 2 #344 — “Pyrrhic Victor”
Star Trek novelist and Aquaman writer Peter David and Spawn-creator Todd McFarlane put together this story focusing on character rather than fight scenes.
Bruce Banner is back to transforming into the gray, self-serving, more intelligent Hulk who appears at night. While Banner and his friends are on the path of the Leader, Betty Ross decides it’s time she and the monster finally sat down and had a talk. What follows is a very raw, honest dialog between the gray Hulk and the love of Bruce Banner’s life as the two try to figure out whether or not they can really co-exist.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK, Vol. 2 #376 – 377 — “Honey, I Shrunk the Hulk!”
For a while, Bruce’s transformations involved him becoming gray and nasty. Then, for years, he would become green, child-like and savage. Then he was back to being gray and a jerk. And now he was … both? Chaos ensues when Bruce Banner, the gray Hulk and the green, savage Hulk all start warring for control of the same body — and no one seems to be winning. So what can help the situation except to bring in a green-haired, gamma-powered doctor named Leonard Samson?
Taking a nod from Roger Stern years before, Peter David starts with the idea that Banner is actually a victim of Dissociative Identity Disorder (what used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder) and then takes it to the limit and beyond, changing how everyone looks at the anger-prone hero and influencing all later writers to work on the series. This was also the introduction of the gestalt-Hulk who was green, arrogant and highly intelligent (later referred to as “the Professor” by some writers). These issues are beautifully drawn by the talented Dale Keown, whose portrayal of the Hulk inspired the design used for the character in the new movie.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK, Vol. 2 #420 — “Let Darkness Come”
Being nearly invincible doesn’t mean you can’t feel the shadow of death. When Rick Jones left to have his own life away from the Hulk, the jade giant spent a lot of time hanging out with young Jim Wilson (nephew of Captain America’s partner The Falcon). But a while back, Jim revealed he was HIV positive and now, in this issue, he is in his last hours, dying of full-blown AIDS.
This issue shows the great love and loyalty the Hulk has for his friends and the moral boundaries he’s built for himself due to his unique mutation and life experiences. Read this, and you will see everything our hero will and WON’T do for a friend in need.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK, Vol. 2 #465 – 467 — “The Lone and Level Sands”
I have known quite a few people who were teary-eyed at the end of this story arc, which was the end of Peter David’s long run. After a lot of chaos in his life, things finally look like they’re settling down for Bruce Banner. He’s working for the government. He’s back with his friend Rick and his love Betty. He’s even struck a strange balance with his green-skinned alter ego.
So you just know things are about to go to Hell.
Though the story technically ends with issue #466, the next issue is the true cap to it, as Peter David writes his own idea of what the final story of the Hulk could be were he allowed to end the series rather than just pass the reins to another writer. Taking place years in the future, an aged Rick Jones talks about the last days of the Hulk, his final conversation with Bruce Banner, and summarizes what could have been years worth of stories while also giving voice to some of David’s own feelings ("sometimes it’s best to move on").
This is a story arc of honesty between enemies, funny observations between friends, introspection and heartache. It is wonderfully drawn by David Brewer and Adam Kubert.
This trade collection comprises Peter David’s "Future Imperfect" two-parter and the one-shot Hulk: The End. In "Future Imperfect," George Perez illustrates a tale of the Hulk journeying into the future and meeting a dark possibility face-to-face. In The End, drawn by Dale Keown, we journey centuries (perhaps longer?) into the future of Earth. The planet is a harsh, almost lifeless place and humanity is long dead.
The Hulk always wanted to be alone. And now, at last, he is. Be careful what you wish for.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK, Vol. 3 #24 – 25 — “Always on my Mind”
Paul Jenkins penned this tale that was drawn by superstar artist John Romita, Jr. Just as Bruce is beginning to come to grips with the death of the love of his life, her killer returns. Emil Blonsky, the Abomination, a gamma-mutated monster who is stronger than the Hulk and far more vicious, is back.
Yet this story is not just about action and a brawl (though that’s definitely a big part of it). This story is about Bruce analyzing his feelings towards love and those he’s loved and how Blonsky hates himself on some level for being a monster rather than a poet and a storyteller. It’s an interesting story that makes you sympathize with the villain while also hating him as a bloodthirsty, cold-blooded murderer. This is also a story of just how far both Bruce Banner and the Hulk will go to have revenge.
While they’re technically two different stories, Planet Hulk and World War Hulk are so connected that one really can’t be read without the other. If you want to know what the Hulk’s like these days, this saga will bring you up to speed.
The Hulk had been launched into space twice before over the years. But this time, it looked like the plan was actually working. Rather than crashing back to Earth (or another planet in the same solar system), the Hulk is rocketed across the stars and winds up on a savage planet where beings who rival him in strength and formidability are forced to fight as gladiators. In fact, it’s just the kind of place where a green-skinned, anger-filled brawler can feel right at home.
But then everything goes horribly, horribly wrong.
Eventually, the Hulk returns to Earth with the sole objective of dealing with the people who shot him into space in the first place. Who were they? Just a few so-called super-heroes known as Dr. Strange, Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic and Black Bolt.
Planet Hulk is drawn by a collection of artists, including Carlo Pagulayan, Aaron Lopresti, Gary Frank, Takeshi Miyazawa and Juan Santacruz. World War Hulk is drawn by John Romita, Jr. Both tales are written by Greg Pak.
And that just about does it for the must-read stories from Hulk’s history. Will the Incredible Hulk film live up to the character that makes these stories possible? Only you can answer that question.
But once you decide, be sure to let us know.
Alan Kistler once turned green and violent after five shots of tequila. He has been recognized by Warner Bros. Pictures and the New York Daily News as a comic book historian. He can be seen in the special features sections of the Adventures of Aquaman and Justice League: New Frontier DVDs. His personal website is http://KistlerUniverse.com.
The Incredible Hulk debuts in theaters Friday, June 13.