The Incredible Hulk’s Origins: The Monster Within

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.


Literary Monsters


Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Hulk lesson

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


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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.

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Deadpool Breaks the 4th Wall


Who is this Deadpool? He’s been making appearances in Marvel comics since 1990 and now he’s crawled his way into video games, cartoons, Internet memes and a big budget Hollywood film starring Ryan Reynolds. He goes by the name Wade Wilson, with a past that zig zags all over the place. He’s an unpredictable mercenary, who’s been hired by the government and evil forces as an assassin. What makes him a special soldier are his regenerative healing powers, which he gained by tests done on him through the Weapon X program — they’re derived from Wolverine. What makes him a unique comic book character: his special understanding of his place in the universe… That is, he knows all about the 4th wall and how to break it.

Deadpool references the comic book panel

By self-referencing the media he is being portrayed in and speaking directly to his audience, Deadpool is using a theatrical technique that has been around for centuries. He breaks the imaginary 4th wall that separates performers from their audience, by acknowledging that he knows he’s part of a fictional piece. Shakespeare’s Henry V starts with the Chorus:

Oh, for a muse of fire that would ascend

The brightest heaven of invention!

A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,

And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!

Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,

Assume the port of Mars, and at his heels,

Leashed in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire

Crouch for employment. But pardon, gentles all,

The flat unraisèd spirits that hath dared

On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth

So great an object.

Shakespeare sets the stage for this play literally by calling it an “unworthy scaffold.” He’s stating that in order to do the story proper justice, it needs “a kingdom for a stage” and the cast should be made of “princes to act.” These words are completely outside of the narrative.

Another example is Anton Chekov’s Seagull, which breaks the 4th wall in the middle of the play when Dorn, one of the main characters, gives a brief critique of the play and then jumps back into character to continue on with the story.

Deadpool references issue 16

Deadpool makes similar references by talking about the limitations of the panels in his comic book or by directly stating which was the last issue number when he encountered a villain.
Can you create something that reaches further into the audience than classic masters like Chekov and current pranksters like Deadpool? See how far you can stretch beyond the 4th wall in this lesson.

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The RLL Podcast: Ep. 2 – Deadpool, Star Wars, VR and The Art of Storytelling


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Abe and Tharaha are joined by special guests, New York Times notable Author Daniel Jose Older and Teacher extraordinaire Maeve Gavagan to discuss storytelling in the 21st century. We explore the advances in storytelling through different mediums such as print, television, film, video games, virtual reality, social media and even live theatrical experiences. Tharaha lets us know about the newly featured content on including the teachable moments found in the Deadpool and Star Wars films.

Ep. 2 – Show Notes:

Check out all of the great work mentioned in this episode:

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

Mama Day by Gloria Naylor

Junot Diaz

Hamilton on Broadway

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Nueromancer by William Gibson

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Sleep No More

Ernest Hemingway’s Six Word Novel

The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


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Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: How to Write a Public Domain Mashup


Reviewers are surprised that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies follows the plot of Jane Austen’s original novel so closely, but they shouldn’t be. The book of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is mostly made up of the original text. The author made a fortune by just adding a few paragraphs here and there to an existing book. This is the start of a new genre: classic book mashups.

Book remixes are possible because copyrights do not last forever. Copyrights are designed to increase the earnings of authors and their immediate descendents. Most expire between 50 and 90 years after the author’s death since it’s a little silly to think that Jane Austen’s great-great-great-great grandnephews deserve a cut of her book sales.

Once a copyright expires, the book enters public domain. Public domain works have no restrictions at all. They can be stolen, republished, edited, used in music, movies, or video game, or just zombified. The public domain includes millions of books ready to be butchered.

In this lesson, we’ll be doing the messing. Why stop with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? How about a romantic comedy, Moby Dick in Manhattan? Or a sci-fi Romeo and Juliet? There are many possibilities, but executing them is harder than it appears.

Just like mixing music, mashing up classic literature takes some real thought. The newly edited portions need to match up to the original text, in grammar, cadence, word choice, and structure. In this lesson, we do a deep dive into how classic literature and modern genre fiction work, so that we can mix the two together flawlessly.


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FOX’s Empire is basically Shakespearean Hip-Hop Theatre

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Are Shakespeare’s plays universal?

In the poem “To the Memory of My Beloved the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare,” Ben Jonson wrote that Shakespeare was “not of an age but for all time!” His argument was that Shakespeare’s works were universal, and that any audience could relate to the themes within them. His theory is evidenced by the countless retellings and reinterpretations of the Bard’s plays. FOX’s hit Empire about a hip hop dynasty seems to agree with Jonson.



The Bard’s Empire

In the pilot of Empire, one of Lucious Lyon’s sons, Jamal, says, “We King Lear now?” Lyon has announced that he has been diagnosed with ALS and will have to decide to which of his three sons he will leave control of his music business empire. Fans of Shakespeare may immediately think of Cordelia, Goneril, and Regan, but some of the fun of Empire is that the series offers many more parallels to Shakespeare’s plays than solely King Lear. Throughout the first season, we see connections to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Othello and Iago, and Romeo and Juliet, among others. Each episode, in fact, is named after a line from a Shakespearean play, which can prompt us into an even deeper investigation into parallels between the series and Elizabethan drama.


From the Stage to the Small Screen

One of the most interesting elements of Empire is the way the series maintains its own story while drawing on themes from Shakespeare. Shakespearean tragedies often begin in a state of disorder, either within the home, city, or kingdom. Over the course of the two hours of a play, the initial disorder is addressed, ultimately leading to a more orderly society. Things are not perfect, but the initial disorder is settled. Take Romeo and Juliet, for example. At the start of the play, we learn that the Prince is infuriated with the civic quarrels between the Montagues and Capulets. By the end of the play, everything is not resolved: two young lovers have died, along with many others. As a result, however, the Montagues and Capulets decide to put aside their hatred for one another, thus creating more order in Verona. Is it perfect? No. But, through the conflicts in the play, the initial conflict is resolved. At this point, the audience applauds and leaves the theater. What’s interesting about Empire is that the series can expand on this disorder-order model. Since the series airs weekly, and is much longer than two hours, there is more time to develop several themes and conflicts, and to create new ones. Just when the initial disorder is resolved, another conflict incites more disorder. In this way, the show can continue to draw on universal themes that make Shakespeare’s plays so beloved.