Duo Dynamics1 of 14The Hulk/Banner dynamic may be Marvel's most classic and tortured identity crisis, but it's gone through several permutations with smart Hulk, dumb Hulk, grey Hulk, dumb Banner, and even evil Hulk.
This week, Hulk actor Mark Ruffalo said that a new dichotomy would be coming to the green goliath in 2017 as Banner and Hulk will be "melded" in Thor: Ragnarok. While what that means exactly is still up for debate, there's been quite a few changes to it in comic books.
These days, Banner isn't even Hulk anymore -- with that honor being bestowed onto is former sidekick Amadeus Cho in Totally Awesome Hulk, but in a way that brings even more questions as to what Banner is now.
So to help you figure out the twisted history of Marvel's green goliath, here's a primer that lists twelve of the most unique twists in the Hulk/Banner. Of course, there have been other Hulks and Hulk-like beings, but they can be covered in a separate piece.
THE GRAY HULK JOE2 of 14Initially, Bruce Banner's transformations were triggered at nightfall, turning him into a gray-skinned creature of average human intelligence, prone to violent moods. The gray Hulk (who years later would adopt the alias Joe Fixit) tended to wander around where he pleased and was often annoyed when "puny" humans got scared of him or mistook him for an attacking monster.
But a few weeks after the G-bomb test first mutated Banner, a change happened. The creature's skin went from gray to green. He also spoke more primitively, as if it were becoming more difficult to form thoughts. Very soon afterward, the Hulk was finally captured by the U.S. military in #3 and was shot into space, in the hopes that he'd be gone forever. His friend Rick Jones was able to guide the capsule back to Earth, but not before the creature travelled through the Van Allen radiation belt, causing his mutation to progress even further.
For a couple of days, Banner was now trapped as the green-skinned Hulk rather than transforming back at sunrise. The jade giant was now a near-mindless creature who only obeyed Rick Jones. Rick then subjected the creature to a form of radiation therapy Banner had been working on and the result was interesting...
FIRST BANNER/HULK MERGING3 of 14Staring with Incredible Hulk #4, Banner gained control over his Hulk persona thanks to the radiation treatment he had developed. Not only did his mind and memories remain in his Hulk form, but he could now change at will with the aid of his radiation machines. Using the Hulk's power to defeat strange villains, Bruce came to enjoy having a body that was so indestructible and strong. Rick noticed though that Banner become much more aggressive and shorter-tempered whenever he transformed into the Green Goliath. And each time he switched identities, the radiation treatment took longer and longer to take effect.
It was during this controlled state of affairs that the Hulk saved the world from a menace called the Metal Master. Recognizing the creature's heroics (and perhaps realizing that he had never killed anyone during his rampages), the President pardoned the Hulk. Weeks after that, the Banner-controlled Hulk became a founding member of the Avengers. By now, however, his aggression and paranoia were increasing and he quickly left the team when he concluded that they would never trust him.
In Avengers #3, days after he left the group, Banner realized his radiation therapy was no longer working and he was apparently changing identities at random. This loss of control caused Banner to stop maintaining his memories and most of his mind when he was the Hulk. Now, once again, they were two souls in one body and the creature's personality returned to the one of his original gray incarnation. Eventually, Banner realized that his transformations were now triggered by his adrenaline rising due to fear, pain or anger.
THE SAVAGE CHILD4 of 14In Tales to Astonish #62, a battle against the spy known as the Chameleon led to the discovery of a prototype miniaturized low-yield gamma bomb. When the device was set to go off, the Hulk jumped on top of it like a soldier leaping onto a grenade. The creature absorbed the full blast of radiation, saving everyone at the military base and apparently causing yet another change. Starting with Tales to Astonish #63, the Hulk was now savage and child -like just as he'd been in Incredible Hulk #2 after his skin had turned green. The savage Hulk had no real understanding that he and Bruce were facets of the same person, believing that "puny Banner" was an enemy who wished to destroy him. He was highly emotional and defensive, loudly demanding that he wanted to be left alone and eager to prove he was the strongest one there is. He also actually got stronger as he got angrier.
This savage, simple-minded incarnation of the Hulk became the most popular one, influencing later cartoon and live-action adaptations. When it became public that Banner and the Hulk were the same being, both personas became fugitives, hounded by the military that feared the creature's power. He did find allies though, such as young Jim Wilson and the superhero non-team known as the Defenders.
BRIEF CONTROL AND REVELATIONS5 of 14Over the next several years, Bruce Banner often attempted to cure his condition. One day he was able to stabilize the transformations with help from Reed Richards. But then the Leader attacked and used a weapon on Banner that brought back the savage, uncontrollable Hulk. Later on, the Hulk was transported to the planet K'ai, which existed in a sub-atomic dimension. The green-skinned inhabitants welcomed him as a great and a spell cast by the local mages resulted in Banner's mind taking control of the Hulk's body (but only while he was on K'ai). He enjoyed his new life quite a bit and became the consort of the warrior princess Jarella, though sadly she later died to save a child.
At one point, Bruce's condition seemed to stabilize. Years of constantly becoming the Hulk and performing fantastic feats of strength had burned out most of the gamma radiation in his cells. But then his enemy the Leader was on a quest for world domination and Bruce was forced to become the Hulk again, getting a new dose of gamma rays. But as the savage, child-like Hulk returned, it became concerned and confused about its connection to Banner.
After this adventure, Dr. Leonard Samson held a special therapy session with the creature in Incredible Hulk #227. Samson now realized that Banner didn't act differently as the Hulk because his mutation affected his brain. The scientist actually had undiagnosed Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID, formerly known as multiple personalities). The green savage Hulk was all the aggression and rage Banner had kept in since he was a small boy.
DR. BANNER, SUPERHERO6 of 14Years later, further exposure to gamma rays allowed Banner to once again retain his mind when he became the Hulk, starting in #272. Now able to change at will, the Hulk became recognized as a hero again and the U.S. government forgave all past crimes and stopped hunting him. He was even asked to re-join the Avengers, but Banner chose to focus his life on science once more.
Banner became the Hulk whenever there was trouble or sometimes even when it would just make a task easier. He felt happy with this controlled existence, though at times when he got extremely angry, the savage persona would start to leak out.
This state of affairs lasted for months. Then the dream lord Nightmare began tormenting his mind, causing the savage Hulk to slowly return. Finally, Banner lost control and the savage Hulk returned.
THE LETHAL HULK7 of 14Mentally broken by having control over his transformations slip through his fingers again, Banner's personality retreated. The former scientiest chose to die rather than suffer more, and the green goliath was now left without a human side as he went on a deadly rampage. Seeing no way for him to safely stay on Earth, the sorcerer Dr. Strange exiled the Hulk to an other-dimensional crossroads.
After several issues of other-dimensional adventures, Banner's personality emerged and once again faced the fact that he was a personality that had been splintered by the traumas of his childhood. His past was full of memories of his short-tempered, alcoholic, abusive father Brian Banner, who was jealous of Bruce's prodigy-level intelligence and convinced the boy was a mutant. After his mother Rebecca's death at Brian's hands later, Bruce started bottling up any rage or anger he ever had.
Bruce's return restored the savage Hulk's humanity and soon afterward they returned to Earth. Then, thanks to Doc Samson and some high-tech equipment, Banner and the Hulk were separated physically in an attempt to fix everything. But instead, Banner and the Hulk were now dying due to the separation and the Jade Giant was again free of any humanity or morality, once more becoming a lethal force.
RETURN OF JOE8 of 14Realizing his mistake, Doc Samson attempted to reintegrate the Hulk and Banner. But things went wrong due to outside interference and now Banner turned back into his original gray alter ego. Once again, the gray Hulk emerged at night, which the Leader said was due to solar rays affecting his irradiated cells, although it was later suggested that Banner saw Joe's persona as evil and therefore only let him out at night, subconsciously.
Later on, the gray Hulk was brought to the other-dimensional world of K'ai and was able to convince the mages to place a spell on him that allowed him to remain in control. When the gray Hulk returned to Earth, he discovered that the world thought he was dead (and most people still thought the Hulk was larger, green, and savage) and he decided to take advantage of the situation by starting a new life. Meeting Las Vegas casino owner Michael Berenguetti, the gray Hulk became the man's enforcer. Due to his size, Berenguetti called the gray Hulk Joe (a reference to Mighty Joe Young). Joe then took the last name Fixit, enabling the catch phrase "I'm Mr. Fixit. You're in need of repairs."
Joe's new life became complicated when the magical spells wore off and Bruce Banner became showing up during the day again. Later, Joe was forced to leave Vegas anyway and then the green Hulk began to emerge, battling for mental domination, insisting that it was the "Real" Hulk and that Joe was a weaker, fake Hulk. As the world realized the Hulk was still alive and Doc Samson arrived to find his old friend (and sometimes rival), the three personalities of Joe, Bruce and the savage Hulk warred for control of the same body.
THE GESTALT9 of 14Using advanced hypnosis, Samson held a special kind of therapy session for the splintered mind of Bruce Banner. He confronted them , saythat there had never been a true Hulk, it had always been one of three people, either Joe, the Bruce-controlled Hulk that first joined the Avengers and had made temporary re-appearances since, or the savage child (also known simply as the green Hulk since Joe was now always gray when he appeared). What's more, even Banner himself was not a whole person; The green Hulk was Banner's 8-year-old self, full of rage at witnessing his mother's murder, believing the world was against him and determined to prove he wasn't as weak as his father made him feel. Joe was all of Banner's selfish needs and base desires, which had been set aside and locked away for the sake of scientific pursuits.
Samson believed that the only way to save the planet from more rampages and to save the three identities from tearing themselves apart was to recognize they were all shards and finally merge. When the therapy session was over, a new gestalt being appeared, one with Banner's intelligence, a mixture of Bruce and Joe's attitudes, and with the green savage Hulk's size, strength and appearance. Considering himself cured, Banner began a new life as the Hulk, becoming an adventurer and even briefly leading a group known as the Pantheon.
But even Samson admitted that DID patients usually need years to truly stabilize and there were signs that things weren't quite right. At times, the Hulk still regarded Banner as a different person. And when he was losing control and convinced he was about to fly into a savage rage, he actually forced himself to become a human being again, leaving Samson to deal with a being that looked like the thin Bruce Banner but insisted that he was the Hulk, the strongest one there is.
DIVIDED AGAIN10 of 14A piece of shrapnel got into the Hulk's brain, turning the new gestalt entity into a rather aggressive personality. After several conflicts, the Hulk joined Earth's heroes in the fight against the creature called Onslaught. This led to Bruce and the Hulk being physically separated once again and Bruce was sent to Counter-Earth, an alternate version of the Marvel Earth. Meanwhile, the brain-damaged, angrier but still smart Hulk got into several conflicts on Earth, now without Banner's morality or emotional ties.
After a while, the shrapnel was removed and Bruce and the Hulk were re-merged. But once again, the Hulk was a separate entity, smart and green but antagonistic and darkened by his experiences over the past several years. Bruce would transform when he was angry but could also call on the Hulk for help. Bruce also became more in touch with his emotions and more dangerous at this time, no longer seeing himself as weak. With his new confidence, he was able to strike a deal with the Hulk personas, allowing each aspect time to physically exist in exchange for their help. It was revealed at this time that the gestalt Hulk (now nicknamed "Professor") was not actually a merged Bruce Banner but had been yet another new splintered identity, one deliberately created by Samson in order to make the Hulk more reasonable and keep the more aggressive aspects under control.
As he became more familiar with the complex reality of his mind, Banner also discovered that he had within him a personality that was purely defined by his guilt and another persona called the "Devil" that was evil and only wished cold vengeance against humanity. Fortunately, neither of these two dark aspects ever truly escaped and achieved physical existence.
SEPARATE LIVES11 of 14After months of a truly divided existence, Joe Fixit and the savage green Hulk seemed to merge into an intelligent but very angry green creature that came out when Banner got angry or truly needed help (though he would then stick around for sometimes days at a time or longer). This incarnation of the Hulk has existed for years now and has been through some tough times. After another encounter with Nightmare, he was shot into space by a group of superheroes who decided that he was becoming too dangerous again. The Hulk found a new life on the savage planet of Sakaar, becoming a warrior king and taking the warrior woman Caiera as his wife. But she was later killed, seemingly by a bomb left by Earth's heroes, and the Hulk waged war against Earth before he was finally stopped and learned who was truly responsible for his wife's death.
Banner was then seemingly cured of his mutation, but eventually a new blast of radiation caused the green, smart, aggressive Hulk to return, sharing Banner's body.
Banner Bad -- Hulk Good12 of 14In a new third volume of Incredible Hulk, writer Jason Aaron revisited the idea of Hulk and Bruce Banner as two distinct people -- but with Banner being an evil mastermind. How?
In a crisis of faith, Banner enlisted the help of Dr. Doom to separate his personas. One brain surgery and cloning later, Banner's human persona was moved to an all-too-human body while the Hulk got free reign in the original body. But the separation proves to have some consequences, driving Banner into an Island of Dr. Moreau scenario, experimenting on humans and animals to try to re-enact the gamma-process which made him the Hulk to begin with. For the Hulk however, it was a rare moment of bliss -- living underground with fellow "monsters" who accept him as one of their own.
After Banner's experimentation starts yielding a body count, the Hulk is drawn back into the chaotic web and kills the mad Bruce Banner. He later discovers that killing Banner's body only freed the soul to re-integrate with the Hulk's body, making them whole once more.
Smartest One There Is13 of 14Mark Waid introduced the most recent incarnation of the Hulk in 2013's Indestructible Hulk, finally putting all of the character's personas on the same goal -- being the best there is.
Fully in control while in his Green Goliath body, the Hulk strikes a deal with S.H.I.E.L.D. to trade his services as a hero for the tech and support to carve out a legacy for himself as a forward-thinker and one of the smartest people on the planet. An assassin's bullet gave Hulk brain damage, but the cure from Iron Man -- a dose of Extremis -- made him even more powerful, evolving to a new persona known as "Doc Green."
But that increased mental capacity forced him to realize that gamma-powered people -- hero or villain -- were potentially dangerous. Doc Green then began tracking down fellow gamma characters depowering them with an Adamantium nanobite serum; in the end he depowered the Leader, A-Bomb, and the Red Hulk, but spared his cousin She-Hulk after she pleaded her case that she was the sole one whose life had been improved by going green.
Where is the Bruce Banner Hulk now in comic books? Greg Pak and Frank Cho are making that one of the key mysteries of the new Totally Awesome Hulk series.
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