In May 1962, a character known to all today appeared for the first time: the Hulk. It was the first edition of The Incredible Hulk comic, and its creators were Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The idea of the brilliant scientist, Dr. David Banner, who by an overdose of gamma rays was transformed into a green monster did not come out of nowhere. Stan Lee had thought of Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to write the story. This duality inherent in the character, this idea of a scientist creating a monster, all of that came together in this new character. But his solitary life lasted only a year and then joined other comics. The best was yet to come.
In the early 1970s, Marvel was not the absolute success it is today. Although some animated series had found their space, the idea of stories with flesh and blood characters seemed like a project with no future. But it was nothing less than thanks to the Hulk that that changed in 1978. In that year the series that would start a new stage was released: The Incredible Hulk. From the current point of view it seems unusual that it was that character and not others who had taken the initial step of a new stage. However, there are reasons to try to explain the phenomenon.
Kenneth Johnson, screenwriter famous for being the creator of The Bionic Woman, received an offer from Universal to adapt any Marvel comic he wanted since the studio had bought all the rights. Johnson initially refused to accept the offer, but then discovered that one of the characters reminded him of a book he had been reading: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. If Stan Lee had been inspired by classic literature, Johnson saw that he could bring that new point of view that would make a difference. There would be one of the great factors that would give history its charm.
In the series, Dr. Banner (Bill Bixby) failed to save his wife in a car accident. Obsessed with the inner strength that lives in people, he begins an investigation about how in extreme situations the human being can display an unexpected physical strength. But in one of the experiments he suffers an overdose of gamma rays that affects his body. From there, when Banner gets mad or loses control he transforms into a huge green monster (played by Lou Ferrigno). All this is presented in the opening double chapter. By chance a tabloid journalist, Mr. McGee (Jack Colvin), witnesses an apparition of the monster and becomes obsessed with it. The famous phrase “Don’t provoke me, Mr. McGee, it’s not me when I get upset”, would be in the presentation of the series. From then on and would become part of popular culture.
The structure of the series was very simple. Banner, who has let the world believe that he is dead, goes from town to town looking for work while also investigating how to reverse the state in which he finds himself. In each place he makes friends, strikes up some romance, and finally something or someone makes him upset or angry, and he becomes the Hulk. The reasons vary, but in general he does it to repair an injustice or rescue someone, so he is a hero.
The first transformation occurs before the middle of the episode and the second at the climax, just before the denouement. Once this happens, Mr. McGee is already there and Banner must go. There are exceptions to the rules mentioned, but almost all the episodes respond to this effective structure. It shows, of course, the influence of another very popular series from previous years: The Fugitive. To increase the drama and the association with the aforementioned series, it must be said that the monster bears a death that has not been his responsibility.
In addition to the presentation, the most remembered of the series is its final minute. Banner, carrying his little brown bag, hitchhikes down the road to the sound of an instrumental piano track, “The Lonely Man,” composed by Joe Harnell. The melancholy of that ending is one of the ideas that struck the most. A bittersweet ending for five seasons was something unusual, but today nobody would imagine a series or movie that insisted on that tone. Audiences identified with David Banner and his drama, just as they learned to love the Hulk.
The success of the series was due to the fact that it could attract an adult audience, not just boys. Johnson had managed to combine two different universes, because The Incredible Hulk attracted all kinds of viewers. Despite the dramatic beginning, the series was encouraged to put humor in a very intelligent way. Many times after the first transformation there would be some comic gag in which the Hulk met someone who was not afraid of him or with whom there was a funny moment.
In one episode, Lou Ferrigno himself appeared, playing not only the Hulk, but also a young bodybuilder who, at the climax of the chapter, ended up face to face with the monster. Amusingly, the Hulk was taller than him. This episode, the ninth of the fourth season, allowed Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno to have scenes together. As the series progressed, these cute details were sought after, which were the favorites of the public.
But the most devastating chapter of all was undoubtedly Homecoming (third season, episode eight). David Banner was returning to his childhood home for Thanksgiving. He was reunited with his sister and with his father, with whom he had fought over the death of his mother. His relatives, who believed him dead, are happy for the reunion and the pending accounts are being settled, but the inevitable transformation arrives and the long-awaited celebration is cut short. Mr. McGee breaks up with the Banners, and the scientist goes down the road alone. It is the perfect summary of the spirit of the series, and the saddest too.
Bill Bixby was too much of an actor for something that seemed so simple, but the series showed a complexity that might not have worked with another figure. Lou Ferrigno was a bodybuilder and was chosen over Arnold Schwarzenegger for the role, because he was taller than the Austrian. Jack Colvin was also a great actor and the series was able to give his role as accidental villain more depth as the seasons went on.
The series lost its energy when tragedy struck in the life of Bill Bixby. His little only child passed away, and his ex-wife, the child’s mother, committed suicide, immersed in sadness. Lou Ferrigno stated that the last two years of the series were very sad and that Bixby was never the same again.
The Incredible Hulk was canceled in 1982 but had some energy left over to make three telefilms in the following years, featuring other Marvel characters, and even Stan Lee’s first cameo. In that she was a pioneer too. But this revival of the characters was cut short when Bill Bixby fell ill. The entire team abandoned the idea of continuing with a planned fourth film.
This successful and fantastic series was followed by animated versions starting in 1982, where the ideas and aesthetics of the original comic were returned to. Then one would come from 1996 and another in 2013, already within the fury of Marvel.
The movies were not long in coming, but they were not entirely convincing. The 2003 film starred Eric Bana and was directed by Oscar winner Ang Lee. Although it is the most risky and complex thing that has been done when it comes to turning a comic into a movie, the rejection it suffered was important. Many claim it, but others say that it is too melodramatic and that its effects are not achieved.
Such was the fear produced by this first attempt that they changed actors and directors for the next one. Edward Norton starred and Louis Leterrier directed. This new film sought to connect with the original series in the first scenes so that the public would accept it. In both films Lou Ferrigno makes a cameo, but a second actor was never used to play the monster again: at this stage it was all visual effects. Ferrigno, however, was given the pleasure of being able to continue doing the voice of the monster in the movies.
Neither Eric Bana nor Edward Norton managed to settle into the character. It was only with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) advanced that Mark Ruffalo became the official Doctor Banner and Hulk, even voicing him in the series What If… ?, where the Hulk appears in two episodes. Now, 60 years after the birth of the character, Ruffalo has already participated in the still unreleased She-Hulk, a series focused on the story of Bruce Banner’s cousin.
Today the Hulk is one of the most important characters in the MCU and had several telefilms before anyone else in that world. It is not a risk to bet on him. But in 1978 the situation was very different and it was thanks to the daring of the creators of the series that a new stage began. With a good scriptwriter and good actors, what seemed impossible was achieved. Without the series, these sixty years would not be so happy. The melancholy that characterized the character has allowed him to be a pioneer in a type of story that dominates the audiovisual media today.
With information from Infobae