He is, in many respects, the hardest of super-heroes to aspire to being. His powers came by accident, interrupting a brilliant career in science. They’re uncontrollable, coming only as a product of extreme anger. They run rampage, indiscriminately – anyone who gets in the way gets it. They ruin your clothes every time. And they turn you into a giant green man. And yet Hulk – or the incredible Hulk as he’s sometimes referred to – is one of the most popular of all the characters in the Marvel universe and one of the most recognisable around the world. Witness, like Spiderman, the number of times movie-makers just keep trying to get his story right.
Perhaps they should leave sleeping green giants lie. Even with special effects, the power of the Hulk – leaping to smash helicopters, casually tossing a tank – is rarely better captured than in the comics themselves, as the 192 green-tinged pages in a wittily titled new book, ‘The Little Book of Hulk’ (Taschen) suggests. They show a character with that most unlikely of super-hero characteristics – both pre-and post transformation: someone who just wants to be left alone. Even his cousin – She-Hulk – and his sons Hiro-Kala and Skaar – know to keep their distance. One imagines them to have been very obedient children.
Stan Lee, the Marvel creative genius who wrote the Hulk (while Jack Kirby and Paul Reinman respectively penciled and inked the drawings), said he was inspired to create a hybrid of ‘Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde’ and ‘Frankenstein’ and, like those classic novels, Hulk explores age-old questions of the mutability of personality and the clash of the individual and society at large.
In 1962 Lee took on The Thing – the Fantastic Four character and, at the time, one of the most popular figures in the Marvel universe – and, in Hulk, made him properly badass. Of Frankenstein, Lee said that “no one could ever convince me that he was the bad guy. He never wanted to hurt anyone. He merely groped his way through a second life trying to defend himself, trying to come to terms with those who sought to destroy him”. It was a recipe for his green man too (a green man who was originally meant to be grey, had the reproduction worked out properly). Read that way, Hulk is perhaps the most human of all of super-heroes and, for that reason, perhaps the most sympathetic of all.