Marvel’s jolly green giant has been the strongest one there is since 1962 and, for the majority of his comic run, has proven himself to be one of the company’s cash cows and, preceding the MCU, probably one of the most recognizable licenses Marvel ever produced. The tragic tale of the wretched Dr. Banner being perpetually haunted by a destructive, violent alter ego bore enough parallels to the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that at this point comparing them is like pointing out that Green Arrow is based on Robin Hood.
Over the years, Hulk has evolved to be more than just a character. He’s become something of a narrative mechanic, a swinging sword of Damocles that perpetually hovers over the Marvel Universe as a constant reminder that whatever achievements their heroes garner can all come crashing down around their ears the next time Banner gets grumpy. Maybe it’s because of this perilous position that Marvel has had a grand old time poking their sleeping green bear with a long stick. The Hulk has had to deal with a metric ton of abuse from the company, often being forced into compromised or irredeemable situations because it’s funny that the strongest one there is could be made so weak.
15. SOLD HIS FILM RIGHTS
It’s no secret that Marvel was facing the daunting prospect of filing chapter 11 in the ’90s and to avert the problem, they sold the film rights to some of their most iconic properties. The X-Men went to Fox, Sony got Spider-Man and Universal Studios scooped up the Incredible Hulk. After acquiring the rights, the studio made a stand-alone Hulk movie, five years before the MCU first launched. It was directed by Ang Lee, the cinematic savant behind Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi.
Though it was clearly a passion project for Lee, the film was unanimously panned and Lee’s qualifications to direct a comic book movie were forever tarnished. Universal would later lend the rights back to Marvel for a fee, allowing them to use Hulk in The Avengers movies, but they still aren’t letting the company make another stand-alone Hulk film.
14. MADE HIM BETRAY HIS FRIENDS. MULTIPLE TIMES.
The Hulk’s whole shtick as a character is that he’s never 100% in control of his actions. He can try to be a hero as best he can, but the raging violent personality of the Hulk perpetually clashes with the pacifist mind of Bruce Banner in an eternal tug of war for control. That situation lends itself to a good betrayal/redemption arc, but that’s one of the only stories Marvel has used to tell with the Hulk.
Across various timelines and continuities, Hulk turned his back on his fellow superheroes to take over California, took over what remained of humanity as the tyrannical Maestro, became one of Apocalypse’s horsemen, and waged intergalactic war against Earth. In one timeline, he ripped Tigra apart with his bare hands after betraying the Avengers and was only stopped by Wonder Man’s sacrifice. All Hulk wants is to have friends, but Marvel won’t let him.
13. GAVE HIM THE HIGHEST KILL COUNT OF ANY HERO
With a few notable exceptions, it’s hard to identify with a hero if they take a lackadaisical approach to killing their enemies. It’s even harder when their victims aren’t so much enemies but innocent civilians. Despite being a hero, Hulk has a kill count of well over 800. He’s massacred Las Vegas, blown up parts of New York City and attacked the Inhuman city of Attilan, all high-population areas that he left smoking in his wake.
At certain points, various government and military organizations declared him a living weapon of mass destruction because of his unstoppable, murderous rampages. Even Punisher is intimidated by Hulk’s expansive kill count. Even worse, a large fraction of his kills are fellow heroes, including Tigra, Silver Surfer and Jean Grey. It’s hard to feel respect or appreciation for a character that has killed more people than you’re likely to know in your life.
12. MADE HIM HOOK UP WITH HIS COUSIN
The Hulk is not an innately promiscuous character, but his lack of obvious appeal has made him a perfect target for Marvel’s penchant for compromising its properties. An example of this is in the “Old Man Logan” story where Hulk is the warlord of the west coast, ruling vicariously through a brood of gamma-irradiated babies he made with his cousin, She-Hulk.
But that’s in an alternate future that has already been prevented in the regular continuity, surely Marvel wouldn’t put such filth in their regular univer – oh wait, The Incredible Hulk Annual #24 is a thing. In this special issue, Hulk goes on a rampage triggered by his lack of action. The only suitable mate he can think of is his cousin, who tries to politely turn down his advances before he explodes in desperate anger again.
11. DROPPED HIS FIRST COMIC AFTER SIX ISSUES
These days, the Hulk is generally recognized for what he is: a tragic character who lends himself to both solo stories and group dynamics as a deadly albatross for whatever environment he’s placed into. You’d think that his horrific story and what it represents both as a warning of atomic age nuclear exploration and the human condition at its basest form would be an immediately captivating read. And you might even be right.
Nobody’ll ever know because the Hulk’s first comic run in 1962 was abruptly cancelled after just six issues. Stan Lee apparently killed the series himself, wanting to use Hulk as more of a bit player in other comics at the time, including the upcoming premier of the first Avengers comic. Even from day one, it’s clear Marvel was dragging Hulk along on a string.
10. WROTE ABOUT HIS LACK OF SKILLS
Despite being packaged as a hero, the Hulk is one of the most devastating and dangerous beings in the Marvel Universe. With strength limited only by the endless rage that is innate to human existence, he truly is the strongest one there is. But nothing can make a man seem less intimidating than learning he can’t perform.
In Defenders #3, Hulk is captured by Dormammu and given to his sister Umar as a plaything. According to Umar, the Incredible Hulk, who can take tank shells to the chest like they’re flies, lasted only six minutes when she forced him to be with her, leaving her entirely unsatisfied. Keep in mind that even his long-time nemesis The Leader once commented on how “big” Hulk was, so failing to successfully use a suitably impressive tool for its intended purpose only serves to undercut the Hulk’s machismo credibility.
9. MADE HIM FEUD WITH MORE POPULAR CHARACTERS
If you want a character to be popular in the eyes of your audience, you don’t make him fight more popular characters. Fans will immediately side with their long-time favorite over the challenger. It’s storytelling 101. But the Hulk has been placed in so many long-standing feuds with more popular properties that it’s practically conditioned readers to be biased against him. He’s had major fights with fan favorites Deadpool, Thor and the Thing.
Perhaps the worst feud he’s had to endure was with Wolverine, who he’s fought in pretty much every continuity. Ultimate Hulk even ripped Wolverine in two, only for Wolverine to return the favor in “Old Man Logan”. Though Hulk is certainly physically stronger than anyone he’s pitted against, he’s suffered in popularity whenever he commits too monstrous an act against a more popular character.
8. PUT HIM IN BLACKFACE
At some point, Marvel decided that it was okay to put Hulk in blackface. Then, Marvel decided to have Hulk himself point out how wrong it was for him to pretend to be another race. Then, knowing they were doing the wrong thing, knowing that the writers and the character itself were against the idea, the company put Hulk in blackface anyway.
And why did he do this? Was it to trick the Leader? Was it to fool the Abomination? Was it to save the world in some convoluted and complicated fashion that required him to wear offensive makeup? Nope! It was to play baseball undercover so he could hunt down some steroid peddlers. He wore blackface. To play sports. Because if you’re going to be offensive, you might as well go full-on.
7. MADE HIM SUICIDAL. MULTIPLE TIMES.
It takes a very fragile psyche and severe mental illness to attempt suicide. Successful or unsuccessful, it’s a traumatic event for the victim and their families. Portrayal of it in popular culture has to be done with the utmost sensitivity and respect for those who have succumbed to their illnesses and found themselves on the precipice of death.
Marvel decided Hulk should take a different approach and has had him attempt suicide numerous times and in fairly bad taste each and every single time. Apart from his notable confession in The Avengers, which came off more as an intimidation tactic than an expression of mental anguish, he tried to kill himself minutes after the death of Betty Ross and with a wish-granting gamma bomb after fighting Fing Fang Foom.
6. REPLACED HIM. MULTIPLE TIMES.
Modern comics have something of a revolving door mentality with heroes retiring, being replaced, and coming back to team up with their replacements to boost the popularity of both characters. Hulk has strangely not benefited from this formula, being replaced over the years by a series of more interesting or narratively useful characters.
First, he was beaten and replaced by Red Hulk, who was his arch enemy in disguise, then his cousin She-Hulk took the Hulk mantle for a time as did Rick Jones, and in 2017 the Hulk is Amadeus Cho who brings a yet-unseen youthful element to the name. Hulk has returned a few times to reclaim his title of strongest one there is, but has more than a few times simply waited on the sidelines for whoever’s using his name to be finished with it before coming back to pick up the pieces.
5. MADE HIM A CANNIBAL
So Hulk is a mass-murdering, treacherous, cousin-eyeing, short-lasting behemoth who’s certainly crossed some lines in his time but could still be redeemed because this is comic books and a few well-timed heroic acts can clean a slate. But then he started eating people and the bar for redemption raised considerably. In “Old Man Logan”, Hulk takes a leaf out of Hannibal Lector’s playbook and eats Wolverine whole.
It’s even worse in the Ultimates universe where he routinely feasts on human flesh, including doctors, the Abomination and Herr Kleiser. He even tried to eat Wolverine (again) but was stopped by Betty Ross. The murders he’s committed can be superficially forgiven, there aren’t many heroes who don’t have a few kills under their belt anyway, but cannibalism is so rare and horrible in comics that it’s pretty much an irredeemable offense.
4. MADE HIM FIGHT SANTA CLAUS
There are few symbols as universally recognized as an icon of pure goodness like Santa Claus. The jolly old elf who is the hallmark patron of the Christmas season is as synonymous with happy thoughts and joy as the WWE is with wrestling. Anyone who would dare pit themselves against Santa immediately becomes the epitome of villainy in the eyes of children everywhere.
The Hulk did it on the cover of issue #337. In his defense, it was really the Rhino disguised as Santa Claus, but all it takes to immediately impression a child against you is a single image of you kicking the guy who gives them free presents in the groin. Which Hulk does repeatedly throughout their fight. At this point, Marvel had to be just messing with the Hulk and seeing how depraved it could make him look.
3. MADE HIS COUSIN DRASTICALLY MORE INTERESTING
One of the biggest contributions Hulk made to the larger Marvel universe came when he saved his cousin’s life with a blood transfusion. His gamma-laced blood inadvertently gave Jennifer Walters her own set of Hulk powers, but without the psychological torment and multiple personalities. Initially created to avoid a rights dispute with The Incredible Hulk television show, she quickly proved to be twice as popular as her cousin simply by not being as depressing. Instead of shunning or being afraid of her abilities, Jennifer was allowed to revel in them, being perky and optimistic despite seeing the flaws in a hulk’s lifestyle.
She’s gone on to be fan-favorite known for her legal expertise, her devotion to the superhero community, and her realistic modern sensibilities. It’s not clear if this was intentional, but Marvel certainly didn’t do Hulk any favors by making his spin-off character more interesting than him.
2. MADE HIM A VILLAIN. MULTIPLE TIMES.
Hulk suffers from being in a precarious position in the Marvel Universe where he is ostensibly a hero but his powerset and personality lend themselves more to a villainous role. As such, Marvel has enjoyed forcing him to cast off his hero persona time and time again across various one-shots, limited series, alternate futures and even in their main continuity.
Apart from his villainous role in “Old Man Logan”, he was the antagonist of the “World War Hulk” event where he and his alien cohorts openly attacked Earth. Perhaps most condemnable was his future self being shown to be the dictatorial Maestro, who dominated the remnants of humanity in an apocalyptic future and created his own harem of young girls. Try as he might, Marvel refuses to let Hulk be an out-and-out hero.
1. THEY ASSAULTED HIM. MULTIPLE TIMES.
So many times. Just…just so many times. It’s a weird, reoccurring theme in the Hulk’s history that so many people have taken advantage of him in such a way. Hulk was controlled by the superhero Starfox who tries to overwhelm him with pleasure to bring him out of a rage. Umar takes him as her slave multiple times with varying degrees of satisfaction on both ends.
When he goes into the future to stop his villainous Maestro form, Maestro breaks his neck and sets a few of his harem slave girls on the defenseless Hulk to try and break his spirit. It’s unclear why Marvel hates Hulk so much that it’s had him repeatedly assaulted, but it’s a telling indictment as to where he stands in the company’s favor.
Which of these is the worst thing that happened to the Hulk? Let us know in the comments!
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