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The Incredible Hulk In Animation - A Retrospective

Part One - Part Three - Part Five - Part Seven

Beginning in the May of 1962, The Incredible Hulk was Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s next big entry into the comic world after their sky rocketing success of The Fantastic Four, which had breathed new life into the industry. Originally believing that fans would take to the character like they did with The Thing, another creation perceived as a monster, The Hulk was originally apparently met with less than thrilling results, as his title was later cancelled after a mere six issues to make more room on the comic rack, as legend goes.

The character wasn’t one to fall into obscurity however, as he managed to land himself in several milestone guest star issues, including The Fantastic Four, which began his legendary feud with The Thing, and The Amazing Spider-Man #14, which is better known for the debut of The Green Goblin. He later became one of the original members of The Avengers and featured prominently in Tales To Astonish, before it eventually became renamed to The Incredible Hulk years later.

The Hulk was never the most popular Marvel character in the swinging 60’s, so he never got his own show like Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four, but he did make it to the small screen before either of the aforementioned creations as part of The Marvel Superheroes Show, which also featured Captain America, Iron Man, The Mighty Thor and The Submariner. The show was pretty much the old Stan Lee and Jack Kirby with occasional bits of animation surfacing, with music and sound effects added. These shows have their fans, as they’re that close to their source material, but I’ve always found The Hulk segments to be rather tedious. I admit to having seeing very little of the show, but I remember being much more entertained by the Captain America segments. I thought Hulk himself was terribly miscast (especially when compared to the almost perfect casting of Captain America), and the dialogue and sound needed a lot of work. I say this in the full knowledge, that I personally, have always found Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four, X-Men and Dikto/Lee’s old Spider-Man comics to be much more enjoyable.

Like all of the 60’s shows, it had an incredible cheesy theme tune, which has to be heard to be believed. Better luck next time, Hulk.

Marvel had a severe shortage of animation through the 1970’s, only The Fantastic Four and the short lived and quickly forgotten Spider-Woman cartoon making it on to the air. This may have been because Marvel had their attention diverted to elsewhere – prime time. Pilots featuring Dr. Strange and Captain America where filmed but never picked up. A Spider-Man pilot drew huge ratings, resulting in The Amazing Spider-Man being made into a prime time series of 15 episodes – despite how poorly everyone reacted towards it. None of the charm of the Spidey comics were to be found in the show – Spidey himself was practically mute, the villains were typical, clichéd baddies and none of Spider-Man’s supporting cast beside Aunt May and a rather mild J. Jonah Jameson appeared. Spider-Man himself was merely some clown in a costume – none of the angst, wit was present and nor was the character relatable.

In short, this is a textbook example of how to screw up a live action version of a superhero. Having seen a few of these episodes myself, I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone. Even Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee loathed the show. Lee had different feelings for Marvel’s other live action show that aired at the time – reportedly; he absolutely adored the live action TV show The Incredible Hulk, starring the late, great Bill Bixby and the huge Lou Ferringo.

As with Spider-Man, the show wasn’t really an adaptation of the comics, it was pretty much The Hulk in name only, but was, and still is wildly popular, and despite being done on a modest 1970’s TV budgets, they actually turned out a very good series. Whilst it isn’t animation, it is probably the most mainstream version of the character, and deserves the lion’s share of the reason why The Hulk is so well known compared to most superheroes.

The show follows Dr. David Banner, who was renamed to David because the network thought the name Bruce was ‘too gay’ believe it or not. (Thank you, Adam West). When David’s wife is killed in a car crash, Banner begins to study why some people can perform incredible feats whilst under extreme stress or anger, as he is riddled with guilt over not being able to save his wife for their turned over car. He eventually comes to the conclusion that gamma radiation from sun spots are the reason, and he injects himself with gamma radiation, in hopes of tapping into the hidden strength. He injected himself with a much greater amount than he originally intended, as someone tampered with the machine he was operating with. Soon afterwards, he discovered that whenever he became stressed or angry, he would transform into a gargantuan, mute green skinned monster. After hoping to contain The Hulk in his lab, and some additional interference from Jack McGee, a reporter determined to prove the existence of the creature, Banner’s lab was blown up, resulting in the death of his lab partner and love interest. Realising he would be wanted for murder if the police knew he was still alive, Banner went on the run in hopes of finding a cure for the beast within, with everyone believing he had died in the explosion.

The show ran for five seasons, and is generally considered to be a great show, perhaps one of the Marvel’s finest efforts in live action work. It also spawned one of the coolest catch phrases in the history of television. “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”. Several TV movies were filmed after the show had ended – two of which served as backdoor pilots for other Marvel characters, including Thor and Daredevil. Neither of them were near the high quality of the series, and neither show was picked up. I personally remember thinking the Daredevil movie was especially lame, with Thor not being much better. The character finally met his end in The Death Of The Incredible Hulk, in which, you guessed it, The Hulk dies after falling out of an airplane. Many fans were disappointed with such a lacklustre conclusion to the series, especially after it’s said that The Hulk had previously survived falling from a plane.

Believe it or not, this wasn’t the intended end for the show. A new TV movie was originally planned to resurrect the character, and rumours began of a Spider-Man/Hulk movie, as well as new backdoor pilots for She Hulk and Iron Man. Having seen a picture of what She Hulk was originally planned to look like online, I’m glad it ended when it did.