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Back Issues: That’s a Hulk of a different color

Many versions of classic character

In this May 9, 1988, photo, comics impresario Stan Lee, center, poses with Lou Ferrigno, right, and Eric Kramer who portray ‘The Incredible Hulk’ and Thor, respectively, in a special movie for NBC, ‘The Incredible Hulk Returns.” (AP Photo)

If you’ve made it this long without having “Avengers: Endgame” spoiled for you, I’m not going to ruin it now, with the epic movie available digitally and arriving on Blu ray and DVD Tuesday.

To introduce this column, all I’ll say is it features a version of the Hulk people who don’t regularly read the comics have likely never seen before.

The Hulk is one of Marvel’s most recognizable characters, thanks to the 1977-82 TV series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno and various animated series centering on the man-monster, who is capable of unbelievable destruction but really just wants to be left alone. If nothing else, most people at least know the Hulk as a big, green monster wearing ripped clothes.

Except the first time he appeared in comics, he was gray.

Published in 1962, “The Incredible Hulk” #1 introduced Bruce Banner, a brilliant scientist developing a gamma bomb for the U.S. military. When Banner saw teenager Rick Jones had driven onto the site where the bomb was about to be detonated in a test, he rushed to save the youth, getting him to safety just as the device exploded, bathing Banner in its radiation. Rather than die, Banner found himself transforming into a super-strong, gray-skinned behemoth when the sun went down.

But the coloring of the Hulk was inconsistent in that first issue, so writer/editor Stan Lee decided to make him green in issue #2. No in-story explanation was given, although writer Al Milgrom resurrected the concept in the ’80s after Banner and the Hulk were separated into two distinct beings. With the situation threatening Banner’s life, they were re-merged and an effort to stabilize their body resulted in a reversion to the gray form.

This Hulk spoke in complete sentences and correctly utilized pronouns, unlike Ferrigno’s non-verbal brute or the “Hulk smash” version I grew up with. He wasn’t quite as strong as his green counterpart, but he was more clever and ruthless.

Under the pen of writer Peter David, the gray Hulk was the dominant version for several years, getting a job as muscle for a Las Vegas casino owner after seemingly dying in a gamma bomb explosion, then taking on the moniker Joe Fixit.

But eventually the green version started showing up in Banner and Fixit’s shared subconscious and the physical world, so super-strong psychiatrist Doc Samson (“Modern Family’s” Ty Burrell played a non-powered version of the character in 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk” movie) united all three aspects into one form. Sometimes referred to as the Professor, this Hulk had the body and strength of the green, the attitude and emotions of the gray and the brains of Banner.

Years later, writer Paul Jenkins would reveal Banner had multiple personalities and the Professor was just one of them. Samson had drawn this one out to take control and settle the Hulk’s unstable condition.

The various Hulk identities have shifted and shared control through the years, based on the needs of the story. At times, the Hulk managed to suppress Banner for long periods of time.

In the “Planet Hulk” storyline that inspired some elements of “Thor: Ragnarok,” the Hulk became a gladiator on the planet Sakaar, overthrew the corrupt Red King, found a mate and seemed like he had a real shot at peace — until a villain destroyed the planet and framed the Earth heroes who sent Hulk into space in the first place. A vengeful Hulk returned to Earth and waged war on the planet’s heroes until the true culprit was revealed.

Banner was seemingly cured of the Hulk when his power was transferred to young genius Amadeus Cho, but a psychic vision in which the Hulk killed numerous heroes led the Avenger Hawkeye to enact a failsafe plan Banner had set up and kill him before he could transform again. Ultimately, the Hulk’s healing abilities just wouldn’t let him stay dead, paving the way for the current, horror-heavy “Immortal Hulk” series.

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Recommended Reading

* “Marvel Masterworks: The Incredible Hulk” Vol. 1 — The earliest adventures of the Hulk, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, are collected here, complete with his original gray color scheme in the first issue.

* “Hulk Visionaries: Peter David” — These eight volumes include a portion of David’s lengthy run with the character, covering the adventures of the gray Hulk as a Las Vegas legbreaker, the return of the green and their metamorphosis into the Professor, who combines elements of both versions plus Bruce Banner’s intellect.

* “Hulk Smash the Avengers” — Anthology series showing the Hulk taking on his once and future teammates through a variety of eras, including one story featuring a new character, the Red Hulk.

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