The Gamma Bomb that launched a thousand comics
The brilliant scientist, Dr. Bruce Banner, was caught in the blast of a test Gamma Bomb, exposing him to seemingly deadly gamma radiation. He began experiencing strange symptoms during times of stress – his mind and body would change and grow into a hulking beast of a man, full of rage and superhuman strength. “The Hulk” is a comic book superhero character from Marvel Comics. He first appeared in the 1962 comic, The Incredible Hulk.
This character has stood the test of time and has remained incredibly popular, with comics continuing to feature him to this day, and big budget blockbusters, such as The Avengers, featuring him as well. Though his origins pointed to his destructive nature, The Hulk’s abilities have been harnessed as a force of good. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the character in the early 1960’s with influences from literature and current events.
Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (1818), and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde (1886) are influences of The Hulk. In Frankenstein, a young scientist, Victor Frankenstein, creates a grotesque yet sentient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. His creation becomes “the monster.” The monster has moments of self reflection, wondering why he has been given such a terrible fate: to be created, and then hunted down and tortured by society. This theme is very much at play within the early Hulk comics. He doesn’t understand why this had to happen to him, and why people won’t let him run off into isolation and be at peace. This aspect of The Hulk’s personality is at odds with his often incited desire to destroy.
This dichotomy leads to the other main literary influence. Jekyll and Hyde is a novella that explores the rare mental condition often called “split personality,” known in psychiatry as dissociative identity disorder. This refers to when more than one distinct personality exists within the same body. Jekyll and Hyde is especially relevant to The Hulk, as it portrays one distinctly good personality, while the other is evil. Dr. Henry Jekyll is at odds with his evil other personality, Edward Hyde. Jekyll asserts that “man is not truly one, but truly two,” and he imagines the human soul as the battleground for an “angel” and a “fiend,” each struggling for mastery.
War, Mankind, and The Hulk
There are influences from The Cold War in the Hulk comics. After World War II, in 1947, tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union escalated and existed for much of the rest of the 20th century. Many international incidents occurred that brought these nations’ to the brink of disaster including the Berlin Crisis (1961) and the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962). The Hulk makes certain statements that point to his conception as an allegory for man’s ability to wage wars.
In issue #1, Bruce Banner is afraid he’ll keep changing into “that brutal, bestial, mockery of a human — that creature which fears nothing — which despises reason and worships power!” In issue #102, the Hulk rages, “Me GO! Must kill…destroy! Must prove to world no one stronger!” These statements allude to the darkest natures of humanity during times of war.
The upcoming Marvel movie Avengers: Age of Ultron explores similar themes about humanity’s warring nature, and ultimate hope for peace. The Hulk will be a part of that story, ever relevant as his very existence is a representation of the same struggle.