Hulk: They Took The Rage OUT Of The Machine. By Connor Walsh.
In Marvel Comics– The Incredible Hulk– exists in the space between monster and man, characterized by his eternal struggle as he fights for his humanity. With the popularity and proliferation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Hulk has been greatly altered to fit a more sanitized and marketable character. The Hulk has gradually been reduced to comedic relief. Rather than explore the complexities of the Incredible Hulk, the MCU opted to combine Bruce Banner and the Hulk to adapt the Professor Hulk persona seen in the 90s comics.
This is unfortunate as one of the main appeals of the Incredible Hulk is navigating the psychological complexities of Bruce Banner being a prisoner in his own body, a man exhausted by the inescapable curse of the Hulk, as not even death can free him. While the MCU has consolidated these personas, the modern comics side of Marvel has leaned into the body horror implications of the Hulk with the series; The Immortal Hulk. This series tackles Bruce Banner’s torment in that he can’t die while those around him often suffer the consequences of his affliction.
The Immortal Hulk comic series begins with a manhunt; Bruce Banner– believed to be dead–but with no traces of his body found, the government suspects the Hulk allowed him to survive. Bruce is living on the run and, in disguise, is shopping at a convenience store when a robbery goes awry. A child dies, and Bruce is shot in the head, allowing the Hulk to take over. The Hulk is now vengeful and is no longer the simple-minded monster we are familiar with; he’s out for blood. The Immortal Hulk updates the balance between man and monster but frames it as a curse of immortality that Bruce Banner cannot escape. No longer a symbol of Bruce Banner’s rage but instead framed as a reaction to the world he lives in, this rendition of the Hulk can roam freely at night. The Night becomes the Hulk’s time; not even death can stop it.
When adapting the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the psychological and ethical implications of this character is briefly touched upon and lasts a few movies before the conflict within this character dissipates as the MCU consolidates these personalities into one. Between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, the personas became one; Bruce won the battle, his character arc is over, and now he exists in the series without a greater purpose. The conflict has mysteriously ended. With no actual conflict through the Hulk and him giving up on using his strength, the appeal of the character has vanished; no longer is there the Jekyll and Hyde personality that made the dynamic so interesting, but instead, he’s mainly Bruce Banner but without the rage that gives his strength a personality.
Taking personal conflict away from the Hulk destroys the inner turmoil that the Hulk represents and the anger that manifests. The rage and aggression and what these feelings manifest in are lost, and so has the potential to use said anger to rage against the machine. The MCU has taken the rage against the machine that the Hulk represented and instead has sedated him. The Hulk serves as a delivery system for jokes and banter, no longer an obstacle to overcome; having a change this big happen between movies does not reward the fans who have stayed with this character for over a decade and certainly does not make the character as engaging and interesting as he was in the first Avengers film. The MCU could learn from the comics and allow the Hulk to take over and lean into the horror aspect of the Hulk–like the series– Immortal Hulk does.
Leaning into the horror creates an intriguing premise for fans in that tension is built whenever the Hulk doesn’t appear. The first two Avengers films built toward turmoil on being unable to control the Hulk. To have this arc suddenly end over not knowing where to take the Hulk was especially lame, considering what comics have done continually with this character. Perhaps Ang Lee had the right idea nearly 20 years ago when he used the Hulk as a metaphor for the effects of aggression and suppressed rage. In 2003 Ang Lee approached the Hulk by heavily lifting from Peter David’s rendition of the Hulk in giving Banner a rough and abusive childhood where his internalized trauma manifested into a Hulk-like rage.
By centring the conflict on Bruce’s past and using the gamma reaction as the rebirth of a repressed split personality, the Hulk carried–this made the Hulk have a much stronger presence and, in turn, created an internal conflict between both Bruce Banner and Hulk in that the Hulk isn’t a newly created threat, the Hulk is a physical manifestation of all the rage and turmoil Bruce failed to suppress. The problem with the MCU’s Professor Hulk is that there is no conflict for that character anymore, nothing for him to fight against and instead, the character is used for comedic levity and not much else. If the MCU embraced the Hulk character instead of avoiding his backstory and the conflict that makes him tick, an interesting dynamic would exist when one of the team’s biggest strengths is also one of their bigger threats. Having Bruce Banner become a victim of his father and burying that rage under trauma might be the key to making this character iconic. The Hulk isn’t just a character trait to consolidate; the Hulk is the anger within us, a dream that we hold, wishing we could tear the whole place down.
The MCU can strengthen the Hulk by treating it as a serious curse; there must be a drama within this character for it to work. What many assume to be a simple brooding creature with no real depth is wrong; this character is complex and disturbing, while previous audiences were not ready. The authentic version of the Hulk is needed to beat superhero fatigue and declining box office results. The MCU needs to be brave enough to take this risk. There’s a great film waiting to be had with this character again, and the Immortal Hulk series smashing through comic sales have proven that audiences are ready to take the Hulk seriously again.
We hope you're enjoying BRWC. You should check us out on our social channels, subscribe to our newsletter, and tell your friends. BRWC is short for battleroyalewithcheese.