Almost everyone is familiar with The Incredible Hulk. He has, after all, become part of not only America’s cultural lexicon but that of many other cultures as well. I’m sure, though, that very few people have any idea regarding where and how this burly green character originated. And, to be honest, neither did I, at least until I decided to write this blog post.
What I learned in the course of my research is that Stan Lee, the founder of Marvel Comics and co-creator of many of today’s most popular superheroes, wanted to introduce a new character following the phenomenal success of The Fantastic Four’s debut in 1961.
Lee elicited noted artist Jack Kirby, who had gained a devoted following with his interpretation of The Fantastic Four, to “breathe life” into this new character. This character, though, was going to be different. He would not be perfect but far from perfect. Moreover, he would not be “wise, noble, or infallible.” He would, in fact, be a monster. Like Frankenstein’s monster, however, he would not be a monster by choice, and he would “grope his torturous way through life trying to defend himself, trying to come to terms with those who sought to destroy him” Finally, like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Marvel’s new protagonist would suddenly and quite unexpectedly change from “his normal identity to his superhuman alter ego and back again” (p. 75).
Though Lee knew Kirby would masterfully bring his creative vision to life, Lee yet had to give the character a fitting name. As Lee relates, he considered all the appellations that might be used to describe “a gargantuan creature, a being of awesome strength coupled with a dull and sluggish thinking process,” and even poured through the dictionary and the thesaurus, “but nothing was on target” (p. 75). “As Lee says “I knew I needed a perfect name for a monstrous, potentially murderous hulking brute who—and then I stopped. It was the word ‘hulking’ that did it. It conjured up the perfect mental image. I knew I had found his name. It had to be: The Hulk” (p. 75).
Another interesting fact that I learned while researching this article is that The Hulk wasn’t always green. In fact, originally he was gray. Lee says that he thought a gray hue would be “intensely dramatic and somber.” When advance copies of The Hulk’s debut comic were released, however, the gray skin color gave The Hulk “a chameleon-like quality;” plus the printer seemed unable to keep the shade of gray consistent, so it varied from page to page and even at times from panel to panel.
After seeing the disappointing results of the advance copies, Lee says that he paced back and forth in his office trying to decide upon just the right color for a fictional monster, and since there were no other emerald-green skinned “rampagers” at that time, he opted for “a bravely bedazzling basic green” (p. 76).
And that, dear readers, is the “true” story behind the birth of the bright-green behemoth whom we all have come to know and to love: The Incredible Hulk.
Lee, S. (1974) Origins of Marvel Comics. New York: Simon and Schuster