If it’s true that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, then this would be a much shorter list. The Hulk is fear personified, a monstrous caricature of a man, twisted by rage and fury beyond any means of communication besides grunts and fists. As it turns out, though, we all have a lot more to fear than fear itself. Even if, as the saying implies, fear is the root cause of all our problems, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other things, other people, out in the world to terrify us. This goes double for Dr. Bruce Banner and his angry alter-ego, since each of them creates more fear in each other than anything else.
It’s difficult to parse out exactly where the line is between fear and rage in the following examples. They truly are two sides to the same coin, not unlike the Hulk and Banner. Then again, there isn’t much point in drawing that distinction too sharply since the two concepts are symbiotic: rage leads to fear leads to rage leads to fear, and so on, ad infinitum. Having said that, there are very few things in the Marvel Universe that cause genuine, unfettered fear in the Hulk; far fewer than in Banner certainly. But they do exist, and as you might imagine, they are unnerving. So join us now as we take a stroll down memory lane and gaze into that which can make even the strongest one there is quake in his purple pants.
15 BRIAN BANNER
Fear begins at home, and the Banner household was certainly no exception. It was many years after the Hulk’s creation that any creators dove into Bruce Banner’s unpleasant childhood — during the glorious Bill Mantlo years — even though it seems so obvious on the face of it.
When Bruce began to show scientific aptitude from early on, Brian was afraid his own experiments had rendered his son a freak and, out of that fear, attempted to beat it out of Bruce. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect, as the world found out years later. The spectre of his father has long haunted Bruce and the Hulk, and continues to do so to this day in the pages of The Immortal Hulk, this time more literally.
The uncertainty of the future can make it scary; even more scary is when one knows exactly how the future will turn out. In Future Imperfect, the Hulk finds himself some 90 years in the future in a post-nuclear wasteland aptly named Dystopia, and immediately takes on the rule of Maestro. That is, he does... until he finds the Maestro is himself.
At first, Hulk tries to fight man-a-mano — after all, they are two of a kind, and the Hulk at the time was in his prime. At one point, Maestro threatens to rip a young serving girl in half, and Hulk attempts to call him his bluff. When Maestro indeed puts the girl and other civilians at risk, the fear in Banner’s eyes is not for them, but for the monster he will one day become.
13 HURTING BETTY
For all of his rampant dislike for the human race, there has always been one human for whom the Hulk has always been the weakest there is: Elizabeth "Betty" Ross. Even though Banner and the Hulk hate each other, the one person they both love has often been put into harm’s way because of their own recklessness.
Take for example when Betty Ross got herself perished. For once, she wasn’t being threatened by MODOK or the Leader or any of Hulk’s other nemeses, but rather by intense radiation poisoning brought about by her near-constant exposure to Banner and his alter-ego. This was one enemy Hulk could not smash, leaving him genuinely frightened of Betty’s fate.
12 RED SHE-HULK
Bruce Banner spends much of the Fall of the Hulks storyline attempting to outwit and outfight the Intelligencia’s secret weapon, the Red She-Hulk. He calls in all the favors his friends on the Avengers owe him, believing Betty to be alive and in the clutches of the Leader and his fellow mad geniuses, when in fact... she was Red She-Hulk all along.
This presented the obvious problem that Bruce’s one true love is now an antagonist. More than that, though, is how the dynamic of their relationship changed. Bruce was excited to rekindle their marriage, despite Betty’s reluctance. Only now, Betty’s reluctance took on the form of a giant, red hulk of a woman, a rage that gave her the strength to leave him.
11 LOSING JARELLA
The only woman to rival Betty Ross for the love of the Hulk was Jarella, queen of K’ai and denizen of the Microverse. Banner fell for her charms, but more importantly, this was the Hulk’s true love, for she accepted him for who he was; the first person to ever do so. However, this romance was thwarted by cruel fate, one of the few times the Hulk was brought to tears.
Reunited for a time, Hulk was able to return to Earth with Jarella on his arm; but of course, tragedy strikes. While trying to spend a pleasant day together, Bruce and Jarella are attacked by Crypto-Man. Hulk defends her, but Jarella dies while trying to save innocent bystanders. Again, we witness what it feels like when Hulks cry.
10 BREAKING THE WORLD
Planet Hulk finds the jade giant forced off his home planet by his so-called friends and into gladiatorial servitude light-years away on the planet of Sakaar. Hulk soon thrives here, leading a revolution and overthrowing the tyrannical Red King. The people of Sakaar believe Hulk is the Sakaarson, the one who will lead them into a new age.
Mere days after becoming the Green King, Hulk is horrified to find that the shuttle which had brought him to his new home, his new kingdom, his new wife, is about to explode and he is about to fulfill a different Sakaarian prophecy: that of the World Breaker. Even here, far from his home planet, Hulk is not safe from his own destructive tendencies.
The rivalry between two of Marvel’s most savage characters has not once cooled in over 40 years. This may be the most controversial statement in this list, but it is our opinion that one of the reasons this rivalry is so heated is that the Hulk is afraid that Wolverine is one of the few people on Earth who could beat him for good.
The best example is the classic Incredible Hulk #340, where Wolvie and Joe Fixit go toe to toe. At the time, Wolverine tried to be zen and walk away from the fight, but Hulk had to have it. Have it he did, as Wolverine shreds him. Sure, Hulk bounces back, but he can’t not fear the little guy by now, even after all of the beatings he's delivered.
8 OLD MAN LOGAN
Case in point, here’s Earth-807128, where Pappy Banner rules the Wastelands and keeps Old Man Logan under his bootheel. In this timeline, Logan is a broken old man who refuses to fight or use his claws. Hulk, on the other hand, became a monster not unlike Maestro: corrupted by his absolute power, a tyrant overlord.
Once the Banner gang kills Logan’s family, the former Wolverine finally fights back and the savagery he’s held at bay for years returns tenfold. When he and Hulk square off, Wolverine comes at him with such fierceness that Hulk is forced to eat him. Did he forget that Logan could heal? Or was he just so afraid he resorted to the ultimate savagery? You can’t ask Pappy Banner because he’s no longer with us.
7 SILVER SURFER
Despite the fact that they were both Defenders, Hulk and Norrin Radd have sparred a few times over the years. Usually, the battles are fairly one-sided: Hulk gets in the first shot with the element of surprise, but however powerful Hulk may be, he is no match for the Power Cosmic.
However, not long after Onslaught, when Banner and Hulk were once again separated, the Surfer attempted to absorb Hulk’s gamma radiation and revert him to Banner. He doesn’t believe the Hulk when he tells him that Banner is gone, and for a few moments there, Hulk is nearly begging him to stop. If his weren't words of fear, we don’t know what are.
6 THE SENTRY/THE VOID
Like the Silver Surfer, Robert Reynolds was once a teammate of the Hulk’s and also one with the power to do real, lasting damage to him. The Sentry was one of the Hulk’s only real friends, and his positive influence helped shape the Hulk into a force for good.
The Void -- The Sentry’s evil side -- was a different story. Not long after Bob’s return to the public eye, he asks Hulk to accompany him into the Negative Zone to help recover his own lost memories. Hulk eagerly agrees, and sure enough, The Void arrives and begins to break every bone in Hulk’s body. They return home, but now Hulk has been rendered a quivering puddle, unable to even look at his old friend.
In the “Thanos Wins” storyline of Donny Cates’ Thanos run, we see one of the bleakest, darkest, and frankly most awesome futures of the Marvel universe. Eons into the future, we find old King Thanos, ruler of nothing. Nearly all sentient life at this point has been wiped out in the Mad Titan’s romance with Death. Nearly all.
One of the last living creatures in this timeline is none other than the Hulk, who has been reduced to being Thanos’ lapdog. When present-day Thanos is brought to this future to see what he will one day have wrought, Hulk — kept in a pit and fed scraps — sniffs Thanos like a dog and whimpers for a merciful death. Thanos can barely be bothered to notice.
4 BEING ALONE
Speaking of bleak timelines, Incredible Hulk: The End once again finds Hulk at the end of civilization; long after the war to end all wars, Bruce Banner is the last living being on Earth, thanks to the Hulk’s incredible healing power. No matter how badly Bruce wants to take a dirt nap (and boy, does he ever), Hulk keeps them both alive in defiant rage.
Eventually, the story ends with Banner finally dying and the Hulk surviving. Truly, he is the strongest one there is, to outlive every other sentient being on planet Earth; this includes, most notably, voracious mutant cockroaches who eat his flesh daily. Since his creation that fateful day at Gamma Base, Hulk wanted nothing else but to be left alone. Yet, as the story closes, Hulk feels himself left cold inside, his wish finally granted.
The story of Spider-Man’s alien costume has been canon for some time now, but there is another timeline, depicted in What If (Vol. 2) #4, where the story takes a darker turn. When Mr. Fantastic is unable to separate the symbiote from its host Peter Parker, the costume beings to drain all the lifeforce from Peter. Rendering him a shell, the alien costume then leaps for his next host: the Incredible Hulk.
In the original story in Incredible Hulk #300, Dr. Strange is able to usher the rampaging Hulk into the Crossroads dimension, but here the Klyntar soon to be known as Venom grabs Hulk at the last second and takes over his form, as the narration tells us “the rampaging behemoth suddenly knows fear.”
2 BRUCE BANNER
This should be even more obvious than the damage inflicted upon Bruce Banner by his own father. For a good chunk of the Hulk’s existence, he does not even realize that he and Banner are the same, or at the very least trapped in the same body. Hulk constantly rages against puny Banner, blaming him for his troubles.
Whether the Hulk realizes it or not, the fact remains fairly plain to even the casual reader: the Hulk hates Banner because he fears him. Banner is also the only one smart enough to think of a way to destroy the Hulk once and for all. Somewhere, deep down, Hulk knows how much Banner hates him, and that level of hate would make anyone afraid.
1 THE HULK
Whether he’s afraid of Betty being hurt or Jarella dying or of Wolverine finally destroying him, all these things lead back to the root cause of all of this pain and destruction; there’s only one common denominator in all these beings and situations discussed here: Hulk. As stupid as Hulk often is, deep down, he is well aware that he is his own worst enemy.
Fear and rage go hand in hand; it’s nearly impossible to have one without the other, and with the Hulk, they become so intertwined that they define him entirely. Ultimately, as it is for us all, his rage and fear are his own responsibility, and frankly, that concept is frightening to everybody, even the strongest one there is.