So Sayeth the Odinson: The Many Incarnations of the Hulk

Greetings from the Odinson,

“Just gonna have to be a different man…” – David Bowie, Changes

Whenever Bruce Banner, one of the world’s most brilliant scientists, gets agitated or in times of great stress, this one-hundred and fifty pound man transforms into an eight-foot tall one-thousand pound juggernaut of rage and power known as the Hulk! The Incredible Hulk is easily one of the most complex and interesting comic book characters ever created. Iron Man may upgrade his armor, Superman may drop the red shorts, and Batman may have the special Bat-suit for any occasion, but nobody weathers change like the mighty Hulk.

Throughout his long and illustrious career of smashing any would be challenger and establishing himself as the strongest one there is, the Hulk has given new meaning to the word “change.” From scientist to monster, from menace to hero, the Hulk has been it all and continues to evolve, continues to change to this very day.

The Many Incarnations of the Hulk

Frankenstein-Hulk (1962) – This is the original incarnation of the Hulk. When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Hulk at the Dawn of the Marvel Age, Lee said he wanted to take aspects of the Frankenstein Monster and merge them with the duality of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The result was an Atomic Age scientist caught in the heart of Gamma Bomb. Infused with Gamma radiation, when the sun would set, Bruce Banner would transform into a seven-foot tall, lumbering brute with a poor attitude that would lash out at friend and foe alike. But this first incarnation would not last long at all. In the very next issue, the Hulk’s first transformation would occur.

Childlike-Hulk (1963-1982) – For the next twenty years, the Hulk was the lovable “HULK SMASH” misunderstood monster that most of the world has come to know. This sympathetic King Kong-like incarnation was hunted by the military, especially Thunderbolt Ross, and spent almost as much time brawling with other super heroes like Thor and the Thing as he did smashing evil doers like Absorbing Man, Rhino, and the Leader. All he ever really wanted was to be left alone, so he searched far and wide for a home. During this incarnation the Hulk really made his rounds throughout the Marvel Universe. From the Savage Land to New York City to the Microverse to Outer Space and Beyond, the strength of the Hulk was witnessed far and wide. There are so many great tales to choose from but one of the Odinson’s All-Time favorites is the Word Tour the Green Goliath takes in the early 80s that sees him cover the globe in a span of a few bone-breaking, earth-shaking exciting issues. Not long after that the Hulk’s third incarnation was born – the Banner-Hulk.

Banner-Hulk (1982-1984) – Finally, the brilliant mind of Bruce Banner is in control of the monstrous strength of the Hulk. Immediately, this Banner-Hulk sets out to make up for all the chaos and destruction caused by the temper tantrums of his previous incarnation. The world forgives him in Amnesty, he helps the Avengers defeat the Leader’s mad schemes in Time-Lost, and he fights for the White Hats in the Beyonder’s Secret Wars campaign. Unfortunately for Banner, in a truly Shakespearian twist, his hold over the Hulk was not meant to last. The storyline, Regression, follows the doctor’s tragic descent into madness and ultimately his transformation into his next incarnation. The most dangerous incarnation of all!

Savage Hulk (1984-1986) – Next to the Maestro, this is truly the scariest incarnation of the mighty Gamma-powered monster, a mindless Hulk with absolutely no Banner influence to keep him in check, a Hulk whose sole purpose is to destroy and smash anything and anybody that crosses his path. This Savage Hulk was so out of control that not even Earth’s Mightiest Heroes could keep him in check (see Incredible Hulk #300), so they banished him to the Crossroads, a mystical realm with countless paths that lead to countless worlds but none that will lead him home. With the Beyonder’s help (and John Byrne), the Jade Giant returns to Earth angrier and more out of control than ever. Bruce Banner is actually separated from the Hulk making the monster even more dangerous than ever. It takes the combined effort of Doc Samson, the Hulkbusters, and ultimately all the Avengers to slow down and finally stop the monster’s rampage which demolished half of New Mexico. In order to save both their lives, for one cannot exist without the other, Bruce Banner was forced to reinsert himself into the Hulk. However, as things tend to do in these cases, something goes wrong and a new incarnation of the Hulk is born. Or rather, an Original!

Grey Hulk (1986-1991) – This new grey-skinned Hulk could not have been more different than his previous incarnation. Though he wasn’t as strong as the Hulk-Smash Hulk, he was smarter, more cunning, and more ruthless. This Hulk actually took pleasure in breaking bones and smashing others. During his reign, the Grey Hulk crossed swords with X-Factor, renewed his rivalries with Wolverine and Thing, and embarked on one of the greatest Hulk adventures, Ground Zero. He became an enforcer for the mob in Vegas known as Mr. Fixit and a member of the New Fantastic Four. He even reunited with his pals the original Defenders, twice (see Strange Matters and Return of the Defenders). The Grey Hulk feared only one thing, the return of the Savage Hulk. Doc Samson, a psychiatrist by trade, sits down with Bruce Banner to try and find out just why the Incredible Hulk is so angry. They have a breakthrough, and a NEW Hulk is born.

New Hulk (1991-1996) – This new Hulk was not Banner, he was not Hulk, he was both. Just imagine, a Hulk with all the brilliance and all the limitless strength. Just imagine what he could accomplish. During this new era for the Jade Giant, he truly became a champion for justice. He fought beside the heroes of Earth against the Mad Titan and the nigh omnipotent power of the Infinity Gauntlet. He joins the top secret super team The Pantheon. He helped X-Factor stop World War III in War and Peace. He faces down his greatest enemy and greatest tragedy in Ghost of the Past. He helps the Avengers stop the mad schemes of the Red Skull and the Juggernaut. He storms the gates of Asgard in Myth Conceptions. And, he is the best man at the wedding of his best friend, Rick Jones. This was truly a renaissance time for the Green Goliath. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and Ghosts of the Future and an Onslaught would signal yet another change for the strongest one there is.

Bannerless-Hulk (1996)/Heroes Reborn Hulk (1996) – Now, this year saw a truly unique change for the Hulk. During the battle against Onslaught, Banner was once again split from the Hulk. In the pocket dimension of Heroes Reborn, Banner was once again transformed into the Childlike-Hulk. Meanwhile, back in the 616, a Bannerless-Hulk wondered the earth aimless, listless, and without any real direction. Even worse, he was dying. As we have already learned, Banner cannot live separate from the Hulk and the Hulk cannot live without Banner. So, upon the Heroes Return, Banner, the Childlike-Hulk, and the Bannerless Hulk were all merged to form a new incarnation of the Monster.

Planet Hulk/World War Hulk (2006-2008) – Once again the heroes would betray the Hulk and deem him too dangerous to walk amongst them. The Illuminati trick the Jade Giant and exile him into deep space, but he is blown off course and through a vortex. On the other side he crash-lands on a mysterious and alien world. Weakened by his ordeal, the Hulk is enslaved and forced to fight for his life inside an arena vs. other monsters. Soon, his strength returns and the Hulk leads a rebellion against the mad Red King, and wins. Now, happy and content, the Hulk will live out his days in peace on this new world. But an explosion takes away from him his bride and unborn child and once again his ire turns toward those that betrayed him – the heroes of Earth. This incarnation of the Hulk is a veteran of war and a leader of an army. He is also madder than the Hulk has ever been before, and as we know, the madder the Hulk gets, the stronger the Hulk gets. Well, he is so strong at this point that he utterly defeats the heroes of Earth and his epic showdown with the uber powerful Sentry threatens to break the world in half! Literally.

Doc Green (2014-2015) – The aftermath if the Who Shot Bruce Banner? Mystery left us yet another new incarnation of the Hulk – Doc Green. Now on the surface, this incarnation looks and sounds a lot like the New Hulk incarnation. He has all of Bruce Banner’s genius and all of the Hulk’s limitless strength. However, unlike the heroic New Hulk incarnation, Doc Green is more of a renegade, a maverick with a mysterious agenda that will leave the future of the Hulk Family and the landscape of the Marvel Universe forever changed. The Hulk Family: She-Hulk, Red Hulk, Red She Hulk, Skaar, Doc Samson, Lyra, and A-Bomb.

The Maestro (???) – This, unfortunately, is the Hulk’s future incarnation. After an atomic war leaves most of the Earth’s population dead and the heroes of the world dead or gone, the Hulk has absorbed so much radiation that he has become mad, malevolent, and ruthless. He rules a dystopian wasteland with an iron fist and destroys any and all who would dare challenge his power. The origins of this incarnation come from the pages of The Last Avengers Story where the Hulk betrays his teammates in the midst of a battle with Ultron. Somewhere down the road, this sinister incarnation takes pleasure in tormenting his old sparring partner Old Man Logan. Ultimately, it’s the New Hulk that must travel to the future to deal with his evil future self in the Future Imperfect adventure.

These are not alternate realities, What Ifs, or Elseworlds versions of the Green Goliath, these are all the Hulk. What does the future hold for the Jade Giant? What incarnation can the House of Ideas possibly come up with to top the ones before it? Perhaps the greatest incarnation of the Hulk is yet to be seen? Only time will tell. And, if Peter David and Dale Keown’s classic tale Hulk: The End taught us anything, it’s that time is always on the Hulk’s side.

This is Odinson bidding thee farewell

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About Odinson

I am a lifelong comics fan and pop culture enthusiast. Comic books, novels, games, television, movies, I love it all. From fantasy to science fiction, drama to comedy, as long as the writing and execution are interesting, I love it, and I want to talk about it.

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