Before He Was Immortal: The Many Incarnations of the Hulk

As part of Marvel's upcoming "Fresh Start," the publisher announced a new series by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett called The Immortal Hulk. The title will follow a resurrected Bruce Banner as part of a new, horror-inspired take on the character, with the revelation that while Banner can still die, the Hulk will simply resurrect him whenever it happens, making them, in effect, immortal.

This is a fairly bold new take on a classic Marvel hero, but as you might imagine for pretty much any character that has been around for nearly 60 years, the only thing that has been consistent about the Hulk over the years has been the fact that the character has been wildly inconsistent, burning through new incarnations faster than Dr. Bruce Banner goes through purple pants. So let's take a look back at the incredibly varied history of the Hulk's different incarnations.

When Jack Kirby and Stan Lee (and inker Paul Reinman) introduced the Hulk in 1962's Incredible Hulk #1, the creature was not only gray, but his transformation occurred at night. This was in keeping with most monster transformation stories, which treated the night as if it were a unique time in which inhibitions were loosened.

The whole gray aspect of the Hulk was quickly dropped in the next issue (with Steve Ditko now inking Kirby), mostly due to Marvel's coloring processes of the time, as they could not control the consistency of the depiction of the color gray. So the Hulk now turned into a green monster, but otherwise stayed pretty much the same as he was from the first version of the character.

The first major change with the character occurred in Incredible Hulk #3 (with Kirby now inked by Dick Ayers), where the Hulk was exposed to radiation and was therefore trapped in his Hulk form, but while trapped in Hulk form he was also now susceptible to the commands of Rick Jones, the teenager whose life Bruce Banner had saved before the fateful explosion that transformed Banner into the Hulk in the first place. So Rick Jones briefly controlled the Hulk's every move!

This only worked while Rick was awake.

Incredible Hulk #4 introduced a new change to the character. Rick experimented with some of Banner's machines to inadvertently both cure the Hulk from being controlled by Rick but now also placing Banner's personality in control of the Hulk. Banner and Rick could now control Banner's transformation into the Hulk through a special gamma ray machine.

Of course, something that you will see pop up a number of times in the history of the Hulk is that whenever it seems like Banner has taken control of the Hulk, he never really takes control, as the Hulk side always ends up taking control of the situation. For instance, even in Incredible Hulk #4, within a few pages of Bruce Banner "taking control" of the Hulk personality, he was already talking more like the Hulk than himself.

By the end of the series (it is amazing how the original Hulk series was canceled after just six issues - the final issue was drawn by Steve Ditko), the transformations between Banner and Hulk were getting so difficult that during one transformation, Banner's head was on the Hulk's body, only with the Hulk completely in control!

At the close of the original series, Banner miraculously was able to transform back to himself and seemingly put the Hulk curse behind him (a happy ending now that the story was seemingly finished. Marvel was still new enough that when Stan Lee finished with a character, he could think that that was it for that character).

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