Since he first lumbered into view in 1962’s The Incredible Hulk #1, the Hulk has gone through a huge number of changes. His transformations have been triggered by anger, moonlight or gamma rays; his color has changed from gray to green and back; and he’s been both a hunted loner and surrounded by his own Hulk family. Yet despite all of these changes, the version of the Hulk that the general public would instantly recognize is that of the classic savage green Hulk, the childlike, bean-loving brute who just wanted to be left alone. Not to put too fine a point on it, but most people think that the Hulk is as dumb as a rock.
It’s easy to see why Joe Public would think that, with this being the version of the Hulk most commonly seen beyond the printed page. In the ’70s TV series and in the majority of the Hulk’s cartoon and film appearances to date — both in a solo capacity and as part of the Avengers — this is the version typically used. But the release of the latest trailer for Thor:Ragnarok offers an intriguing glimpse of a talking Hulk, suggesting that ol’ Jade Jaws may be getting a long-overdue intelligence boost. What better time, then, for CBR to run through 15 Hulks that have brains as well as brawn.
15. GREEN HULK
This may seem a surprising choice; after all, like we mentioned earlier, the childlike green Hulk has long been seen as the poster boy for dumb Hulks. It’s true that in a test of mental ability there’s no way that he can compete with other versions of the Hulk, but it would be wrong to suggest that childlike equates to stupid. This Hulk may prefer smashing to strategy and cold beans to haute cusine, but there’s a level of emotional intelligence there that makes him a true friend and companion.
One only has to see this version of the Hulk interact with the Defenders to see the value he places on friendship, or see from his reaction to Jarella’s death how true and devoted his love was. This Hulk may live his life by a simple code, but it’s an honest one that proves he’s smarter than he’s often given credit for.
14. SKAAR, SON OF HULK
The mega-popular Planet Hulk event saw the Hulk transported to the alien planet of Sakaar. There, he worked his way up from gladiator to King, finding love along the way. Unfortunately, it was not to last. An accident destroyed the capital city and Hulk’s pregnant wife, along with — so he thought — their unborn children. In reality, the Hulk’s two children survived with one of them — Skaar — travelling to Earth with the intent of killing his father.
Skaar was a formidable fighter, having the strength and resistance of his father, coupled with his ability to use the Old Power. But Skaar was also intelligent and quick-witted, particularly in the heat of battle. Notable examples were when he threw the Juggernaut into orbit and when he acted as a double-agent on Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers team.
13. RED HULK
The Red Hulk proved a controversial figure when he first appeared, killing the Abomination and defeating a whole host of Marvel’s biggest hitters, often in rather controversial circumstances. By the time that he had punched The Watcher and siphoned cosmic energy from the Silver Surfer, fandom was abuzz with speculation about who this intelligent but unhinged Hulk could be. The revelation, when it eventually came, identified the Red Hulk as the Hulk’s old enemy, General Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross.
The military mindset of Ross combined with the sheer power of a Hulk’s form led to a dangerous, unpredictable character. This truly was a weapon of mass destruction, directed by a military man with nothing to lose, presenting a frightening vision of the damage that a focused Hulk could do.
12. NERD HULK
During its run, the Ultimate Universe featured a number of Hulks that were more disturbing than their Marvel Universe counterparts. Famously, the Hulk featured in The Ultimates was initially portrayed as horny rather than angry, although he later made up for lost time by ripping Wolverine in half.
A version of the Hulk that appeared later in the Ultimate timeline was Nerd Hulk, a clone that had been created from Bruce Banner’s stem cells. This version retained both Banner’s intellect and the Hulk’s strength, but rather than being a boost this was viewed as something of an impediment in combat. Being more balanced in body and soul diminished the boundless rage that fueled the Hulk, making Nerd Hulk less effective in combat than his genetic sibling.
Despite being a hulking green brute whose B.O. is likely as powerful as his muscles, the Hulk has amassed a fair number of children over the years. One such character is Lyra. the daughter of the Hulk and Thundra from an alternate future. She was originally sent to the past to find a mate to help safeguard her future, but wisely decided against succumbing to the charms of Norman Osborn. Instead she fell in with She Hulk and soon encountered the rest of the Hulk family.
With Hulk and Thundra as parents, it’s no surprise that Lyra is strong, but she’s also very intelligent. Being from the future, she has a varied knowledge of future tech and ancient (to her) history. She has also developed a form of trance-like mediation that keeps her in a peaceful state, helping to focus her state of mind, strength and increase her fighting prowess.
10. MISTER FIXIT
There are some Hulks that just want to be left alone, holed up in a cave bemoaning the unfairness of their existence. There are other Hulks that move to Vegas, begin working for the mob and have a girl in every casino. Mister “Joe” Fixit is undoubtedly one of the Hulks that is most content with his lot in life, and that’s perhaps why his era in the comics in the late ’80s was so enjoyable to read about.
Although somewhat weaker (and grayer) than the traditional green Hulk, Mister Fixit was definitely one of the craftiest Hulks. With the bad attitude of a surly teenager and having to constantly balance his Vegas responsibilities against the inconvenience of his transformations to Banner, this is Hulk worked the nightshift (his transformations triggered by the moon) and was more smart than savage.
9. BRETT BANNER
One of the most acclaimed Hulk stories of all time was Future Imperfect, a 1992 miniseries that saw the Hulk transported to the future in an attempt to fight the Maestro, his evil future self. This work had a follow-up, but not within the pages of the comic. Instead, it was in What Savage Beast, a 1994 prose novel by Peter David, with illustrations by George Perez.
In this work, Betty Banner gives birth to conjoined twins: Ross and Brett Banner. While Ross dies, Brett is taken to the future by the Maestro, where he grows up believing this version of the Hulk to be his father. While Brett may not have been as strong as his real father, he had a good heart and the emotional intelligence that the Maestro — always dreaming of conquest — lacked.
8. DEVIL HULK
Not only one of the smartest Hulks, the Devil Hulk is also one of the scariest. Lurking in the darkest corners of Bruce Banner’s psyche, this Hulk is the personification of all Bruce’s negative feelings; the part of him that he keeps hidden down tight, away from the light. With his glowing red eyes and reptilian appearance, he’s the serpent that’s constantly trying to convince others to free him from his bonds so that he can take revenge on a world that he despises.
The Devil Hulk is incredibly strong; within Banner’s mindset it took the combined power of several Hulks (including the gray, green and merged versions) just to hold him back. But it’s his intelligence that’s his greatest asset. He’s the voice on the shoulder, constantly offering things that seem too good to be true, and normally are…
7. RED SHE-HULK
By the time that Red She-Hulk debuted in 2009, she was the latest in an ever-growing number of Hulked-out heroes. What readers at the time didn’t realize was that far from being a new character, the Red She-Hulk had a strong connection to Hulk lore. She was Betty Ross, the presumed-dead wife of Bruce Banner and daughter of Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross. Betty had originally been portrayed just as a love interest for Bruce but over time — and particularly under the tenure of Peter David — she became a strong-willed assertive character who could stand up for herself and those she cared about.
Her transformation into Red She-Hulk increased some of these aspects, the transformation into her Hulked-out form typically leading to a surge of heightened aggression. Normally maintaining her intelligence, the angrier she got the greater the risk of her strength increasing but at the cost of her mind.
6. GREEN SCAR
When the Hulk was exiled from Earth, crash-landing on the gladiator planet of Sakaar, he left as a hunted and distrusted fugitive. He returned as a leader, King and instrument of vengeance. His time on Sakaar had changed him, bringing new allies and new love into his life, and the loss this generated spurred him onwards to a terrible revenge. Quite frankly, the assembled heroes of Earth didn’t know what had hit them. This wasn’t a childlike, angry or mindless Hulk. It was a cold, determined Hulk looking for retribution.
The World War Hulk miniseries by Greg Pak and John Romita Jr. chronicled the Hulk’s return to Earth and his swift crushing of all resistance, proving that this Hulk combined strength, intelligence and drive in a way that few others had done before.
Many possible futures have shown the Hulk as one of the last surviving heroes, it generally being theorized that his body’s ability to absorb radiation would enable him to survive any potential conflict. This is a scenario that was played with in Future Imperfect, the Peter David/George Perez miniseries from 1992. In this, the Hulk is one of the last surviving heroes. But the catch is that he’s a hero no longer: instead, he’s a power mad despot who ruthlessly lords over the humans who eke out a living underneath him.
Pitted against the present-day Hulk in this story, it quickly becomes apparent how intelligent the Maestro actually is. He’s every bit as capable as the present-day Hulk, but also has the added wisdom of experience and the knowledge of future technology. With these powers being used for selfish means rather than the common good, it’s a sobering reminder of how effective a villain the Hulk could be if he had taken a different path.
Introduced as the cousin of Bruce Banner in 1980’s Savage She-Hulk #1, Jennifer Walters was a smart and dedicated lawyer. As hinted by the name of her book, the initial portrayal of She-Hulk was as a rather angry and out of control character, similar to her cousin. It was only later, during spells as a member of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, that she began to develop into the more lighthearted character that many fans are most familiar with.
Her solo titles have demonstrated on many occasions that Jen is an intelligent character in both her forms. In her John Byrne series, The Sensational She-Hulk, she kept up a knowing commentary with readers about the events depicted in her story. In Dan Slott’s She-Hulk series, she was hired by the law firm of GLK+H, the initial superhuman law focused stories allowing Jen to demonstrate her skills in the court room.
3. DOC GREEN
Tony Stark gave the Extremis virus to Bruce Banner after Bruce was shot in the head by agents of a mysterious organization. Bruce survived, but the effects of the Extremis and the trauma of the experience gave him yet another new personality, one that came to be known as Doc Green. This version of the Hulk had enhanced mental capacity, which led him to a rather interesting conclusion. He decided that the world was in danger from gamma mutates, and set off on a quest to depower the various Hulks scattered across the Marvel universe.
In this, he was partly successful. He was able to depower a range of characters, including Skaar, the Red Hulks and A-Bomb, before deciding that to continue on this path was to run the risk of becoming the Maestro. After all, everyone knows that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
2. AMADEUS CHO
First appearing regularly as a sidekick in Marvel’s wonderful Incredible Hercules title, Amadeus Cho eventually gained superpowers of his own with his ability to transform into the Totally Awesome Hulk. Often describing himself as one of the seven smartest people in the Marvel Universe, Cho’s intelligence has never been in doubt. What has been more of an issue has been his temperament. When Hercules — that legendary party-animal and playboy — tells you that your schemes are excessive and often go too far, there may be a problem.
Since absorbing gamma radiation from Bruce Banner and using it to fuel his own transformations, Cho has been coming to grips with life as a hulked-out hero. His sheer exhilaration at the power of the Hulk may sometimes overshadow his intelligence and common sense, but there’s no denying that he is one of the smartest Hulks.
1. MERGED / PROFESSOR HULK
After years of attempting to treat Bruce Banner and the Hulk, Leonard Samson was finally able to diagnose multiple personality disorder and plan his treatment accordingly. His solution was to integrate the personalities of Bruce Banner, gray Hulk and green Hulk. This process resulted in the creation of a new Hulk: a green behemoth with Banner’s intelligence, the gray Hulk’s cunning and the green Hulk’s strength.
This version of the Hulk worked so well because he combined much of what worked in the Hulk’s other iterations, the parts combining together to make a stronger whole. The merged Hulk faced a number of challenges during this period, including reconciling with Betty, encountering the Maestro and becoming leader of the Pantheon. It’s a cocktail of events that required brains and brawn, cunning and empathy, and it’s difficult to envision any other version of the Hulk coping in the same way
There you have our picks for 15 of the smartest Hulks. Have we missed anyone? As always, let us know in the comments or on Facebook!
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