Hulk vs. Thor. Hulk vs. Superman. Hulk vs. the Silver Surfer. Due to the fact that he gets stronger and stronger based on how mad he gets, the Hulk is a very difficult character for even the most powerful superheroes to handle. What if, though, you didn’t have any superpowers? What would you do then? Well, the people on this list managed to stick it out and pull off a victory against the Hulk. However, it is worth noting that one of the Hulk’s earliest weaknesses was his need to breathe. In recent years, he appears to have evolved past that need, making the Hulk much more difficult to beat nowadays.
These victories were mostly in the early days of Hulk’s adventures, where the character was still figuring things out, and still pretty far from being truly considered the “strongest there is.” We’ll list the victories in chronological order (not all of them involve literally knocking the Hulk out, mind you, as some of them involve trapping the Hulk and or/forcing him to become Banner).
15. THE CIRCUS OF CRIME
What sometimes gets a bit lost when discussing the early days of Marvel Comics is that it really hadn’t been that long since the early days of Timely Comics. A character introduced in the late 1990s wouldn’t seem that old to us now. The same held true for the early heroes and villains of Timely Comics, so when Marvel started doing superhero stories again in 1961, they would occasionally go back to those older stories for ideas.
One of them was the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime, characters from an old Captain America story in 1941 that became early villains of the Hulk in Incredible Hulk #3. They knocked the Hulk out with a high-powered hose! To be fair, the Hulk was under the control of Rick Jones at the time, so he probably could have beaten them otherwise.
14. BRUCE BANNER
One of the strangest facts about the earliest days of Marvel is that the Incredible Hulk’s first series was canceled after just six issues! This was because Marvel was still stuck in a deal with their distributor (who were owned by their competitor, National Comics) that limited how many comic books that they could make. So when they wanted to launch a war title, they had to cancel one of their books and Incredible Hulk drew the short straw.
Therefore, the ending of the series was actually a real ending! Bruce Banner successfully finds a way to permanently transform himself from the Hulk into just Banner. At the same time, the Hulk is pardoned by the President, one of a few pardons that the Hulk would collect over the years. So this time, at least, it was Banner 1 and the Hulk 0 (that did not last)!
13. THE UNITED STATES ARMY
If you were to pick one group that fought the Hulk more than anyone else, the answer would probably be the United States Army, often under the command of General Thunderbolt Ross (who is not actually an Army officer — he’s with the Air Force). They attacked the Hulk so many times with their tanks and their bombs that they were the number one reason why he wanted puny humans to leave him alone.
In Tales to Astonish #98 (by Stan Lee, Marie Severin and Herb Trimpe), the Army finally managed to capture the Hulk, using gas grenades to take him down. Unluckily for them, they were then taken over themselves by the evil Lords of the Living Lightning (the Hulk had to end up bailing them all out of trouble).
12. THE MANDARIN
Besides being a pretty darn racist caricature right out of the Fu Manchu model, the Mandarin was a really strange character when he debuted, because despite having ten powerful rings that he would wear on his fingers, it always seemed like he wanted to do stuff that had nothing to do with the rings. When he first fought Iron Man, he mostly used his martial arts skills.
Likewise, when he fought the Hulk in Incredible Hulk #107 (by Gary Friedrich, Marie Severin, Herb Trimpe and Syd Shores), the Mandarin certainly used his rings on the Hulk, but for the most part, he just used robots and electronics to take the Hulk down. That’s what happened when he encased the Hulk in a gas chamber to knock him out.
11. BIKERS (WITH GHOST RIDER’S HELP)
This one is a bit tricky, since in the end, it was the super-powered Ghost Rider who cinched the deal by encircling the Hulk with fire to prevent the Hulk from breathing. However, the story up until that point was such an absurd example of “puny humans” fighting the Hulk that we simply had to still feature it.
In Ghost Rider #11 (by Tony Isabella, Sal Buscema, George Roussos and John Tartaglione), Johnny Blaze is partaking in a motorcycle race through the desert when a demon provokes the Hulk into landing right in the middle of the race. After the Hulk smashed Ghost Rider out of the way, the other bikers somehow manage to pin him down (how?!?) until Ghost Rider can recover and use his fire to burn away the Hulk’s oxygen.
10. THUNDERBOLT ROSS
While the Army is the most consistent group to torment the Hulk, the most dedicated single individual was clearly General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, who was the General in charge of the original Gamma Bomb project. His daughter, Betty, fell in love with chief scientist Bruce Banner despite Ross disliking Bruce for being so timid. When he learned that Banner was the Hulk, Ross had a tough time of it, as he wanted to stop the rampage of the Hulk but at the same time he didn’t want to alienate the daughter that he loved more than anything.
In Incredible Hulk #185 (by Len Wein and Herb Trimpe), Ross is outfitted with a high-tech suit of armor and he uses it to finally take the fight directly to the Hulk. He used every weapon at his disposal and ultimately defeated the Hulk (much to Betty’s dismay) with a Gamma-Blaster.
9. THE GREMLIN
One of the aspects of the early Hulk stories that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle is that the Gamma Bomb went off because Bruce Banner’s assistant was secretly a Soviet spy who figured it was a perfect opportunity to kill Banner and take his secrets! That same first issue introduced the Russian villain, the Gargoyle, who was mutated and given super intelligence. He was eventually killed.
His son, the Gremlin, was then introduced. The Gremlin is a tricky one. He had his father’s grotesque appearance and his extreme intelligence, but it is unclear whether he is actually super-powered or not. We’re going to treat him as if he is not. He fought well against the Hulk a number of times, defeating him with gas early on and then in Incredible Hulk #187 (by Len Wein and Herb Trimpe), using “electro-stasis” guns.
One of the odder Marvel supervillains, the Goldbug was a villain who was obsessed with, you guessed it, gold! In his first appearance, he hired Luke Cage as “Jack Smith” to protect a shipment of gold. Obviously, his plan was to use Cage as a distraction and steal the gold himself and then frame Cage.
He was later manipulated by Tyrannus to come search for the lost city of gold, El Dorado. He did so in Incredible Hulk #239 (by Sal Bucema, Roger Stern and Mike Esposito), where he captured the Hulk and used him to power his ship. Tyrannus, though, freed the Hulk because he needed ol’ Green Genes free as part of some elaborate plot. The Hulk and Goldbug ended up having to work together against Tyrannus.
7. IRON MAN
Iron Man #131 was a momentous issue in comic book history, as it was the first comic book where the “Science Bros.,” Bruce Banner and Tony Stark met each other. Iron Man had obviously met the Hulk on a number of occasions, but this was the first time he met Banner. Banner came to him for help in curing himself.
Sadly, their plans did not work and Banner transformed into the Hulk and went on a rampage. Unsure of what else to do, in Iron Man #132 (by Bob Layton, David Michelinie and Jerry Bingham), Iron Man put all of his armor’s power into one punch! It thankfully worked and Iron Man knocked the Hulk out. Sadly, he was now trapped in a frozen suit of armor. Ant-Man luckily was around to free him.
In the early 1980s, DC and Marvel actually began to do regular comic book crossover with each other for the first time. The first DC/Marvel superhero crossover was Superman and Spider-Man. At the time, their next two biggest heroes were Batman and the Hulk, who was just coming off a hit TV series.
In the one-shot (by Len Wein and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez), Bruce Banner is secretly working on a crew to get access to a machine that might cure him. The Joker then showed up to steal the machine. Banner turned into the Hulk but then the Joker tricked the Hulk into attacking Batman, there to stop the theft of the device. Batman defeated the Hulk by surrounding him with gas and then kicking him to force him to take the gas into his lungs.
5. DOCTOR DOOM
After going through a series of attempts of Banner to rid himself of the Hulk, he instead ended up turning into the original version of the Hulk, the Grey Hulk who would only turn into the Hulk at night. After seemingly being killed by the Leader, the Grey Hulk surfaced in Las Vegas where he became a mob enforced known as Joe Fixit.
The Grey Hulk was significantly weaker than the classic Hulk, so in Fantastic Four #320 (by Steve Englehart, Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnott), Doctor Doom was able to use a neurological device to force the Hulk to fight the Thing for Doom (amusingly enough, this was a role reversal, as now the Thing was much stronger than the Hulk). Technically, Hulk and Doom cut a deal, but Doom clearly had him beat.
4. DOCTOR OCTOPUS
After Todd McFarlane quit his duties as the writer/artist on the Spider-Man spinoff series, Erik Larsen, who had followed McFarlane as the artist on Amazing Spider-Man, once again followed McFarlane, this time as the new writer/artist on Spider-Man. Larsen’s first major story arc was the return of the Sinister Six, who had recently gotten back together during Larsen’s stint on Amazing Spider-Man with writer David Michelinie.
Larsen wanted to pump up the power levels of the Sinister Six, so he had Doctor Octopus get a new pair of adamantium arms! These powerful new arms allowed Doc Ock to nearly beat the Hulk to death. Peter David later had Hulk avenge himself on Doctor Octopus in the pages of Incredible Hulk by having him defeat Octopus with literally one finger.
3. PRINCESS PYTHON
After Betty Banner was apparently killed due to accumulated radiation that she collected due to being near the Hulk for so many years, Bruce Banner and the Hulk went through a terrible time. Banner kept trying to kill himself, but every time he tried, he would transform into the Hulk before the deed could be done.
While in this almost fugue state, the Hulk encountered the Circus of Crime again in Incredible Hulk #370 (by Joe Casey, Ed McGuinness and Nathan Massengill). In the years since their first meeting, they had added Princess Python and somehow her snake was able to choke out the Hulk! It really did not make a whole lot of sense. Casey later recalled that he intended for the python to be much bigger in the final comic.
2. NICK FURY
When you cannot compete with the Hulk in strength (and few people can), the only thing left for you to do is to outthink the Hulk, which is what Nick Fury did in the storyline that led into “Planet Hulk.” SHIELD contacted the Hulk and asked him to go on a mission for them to take down a rogue Hydra space station that had become sentient.
Once up there, it turned out to be a S.H.I.E.L.D. station, not Hydra. The Hulk successfully defeated the sentient computer, but was then shocked when Nick Fury revealed that the Hulk was now in a space shuttle (designed by the superhero Illuminati) that was designed to send him to a distant planet so that he can stop terrorizing Earth (obviously, after “Planet Hulk,” he returned to Earth for revenge in “World War Hulk”).
The main conflict in Civil War II revolved around a new Inhuman named Ulysses. Ulysses discovered that he had the ability to see into the future. The Inhumans agreed to share this information with Captain Marvel and the rest of the superhero community and Captain Marvel was soon using Ulysses’ visions to stop crime before it even happened!
Iron Man thought that this was not a good idea, as they couldn’t tell if they could trust Ulysses’ visions. When one of his visions showed the Banner version of Hulk killing everyone, the collected superheroes went to visit Banner, despite him supposedly being cured. When he thought he was transforming, Hawkeye killed Banner with an arrow (he later revealed that Banner had asked him to do it).
What do you think was the Hulk’s most embarrassing defeat? Let us know in the comments section!
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