Bruce Banner was a highly respected scientist and was recruited by the military to design a gamma bomb, one that would have a more focused and devastating blast than an atom bomb. Minutes before detonation, Bruce spotted a teenager named Rick Jones on the testing grounds, having gone there on a dare, unaware of the danger. Acting on instinct, Bruce drove onto the testing site to save the boy and succeeded. But the bomb countdown had not been halted as he’d asked, due to his assistant being a spy who intended Banner’s death. Just as Bruce ensured young Rick’s safety, the G-bomb exploded and Banner was caught in the radioactive blast.
But instead of dying, Bruce’s DNA possessed some unknown factor that caused him to mutate. That night, he transformed into the powerful creature known as the Hulk. At first, the Hulk was gray-skinned and brutish but still intelligent. Later, it was green, savage and child-like, emerging whenever Bruce experienced extreme rage or fear. It was later hypothesized that the Hulks were actually psychological multiple personalities created by traumatic experiences in Bruce’s past and not solely the result of physical mutation.
The Hulk was not, and is not, a superhero. He has often fought evil people and he is certainly super-powered. Often times he has been his own worst enemy and has fought Earth’s heroes. So with this in mind, and since he doesn’t wear a superhero costume, he’s pretty different from other characters in superhero comics. Yet he has had some distinctive looks over the years. So join me (and special guest Tim Gunn) as we look over his many outfits. Due to the different personalities of the Hulk over the years, we won’t be staying strictly with chronological order.
THE FURRY DUDEBefore Bruce Banner made the name famous, Marvel introduced a different character called “Hulk” in Journey Into Mystery #62 (1960). He was a huge fuzzy alien who stood about two stories tall, wielded telepathic abilities, and had a really nasty temper. An alien menace, “the living Hulk” was constantly defeated by the same human being and then was seemingly destroyed after a couple of stories.
Many years later, Marvel brought him back to fight the new, much-more famous and green-skinned Hulk. To prevent confusion, our furry sasquatch was named Xemnu the Titan. He shows up now and then, most recently in an issue of Uncanny X-Men. He still looks ridiculous.
THE GRAY GUYWhen the now-famous Hulk debuted in Hulk vol. 1 #1 (May, 1962), the initial idea was that he was Banner’s dark side, similar to the story of Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde. So the first incarnation of the Hulk is a gray-skinned creature that looks a bit like a throwback to some primal ancestor of man. Writer/creator Stan Lee has stated often that he and artist/creator Jack Kirby were influenced by the Frankenstein monster as much as by Mr. Hyde and you can certainly see it. Underlining the idea that this was Banner’s inner darkness, the Gray Hulk persona emerged whenever the sun set and would go away when the sun rose again.
Gray pigmentation makes the Hulk seem unnatural. It gives off a sense of darkness, but it can also give an impression of stone, as if the Hulk is made of that or some similar material (much like a golem) rather than being composed of flesh and blood. It makes us immediately consider his strength and resiliency, which is pretty effective. In the live-action 1970s TV show The Incredible Hulk, Banner’s monstrous alter ego was referred to as a proto-human or simply as a “creature” and those descriptions definitely apply here.
But the clothes aren’t working. In his first appearance, the gray Hulk had a ripped orange shirt and simple blue pants (possibly Banner was supposed to be wearing jeans). You do not want warm colors on a dark, violent character. It gives a wrong idea and clashes badly with the unique skin tone. Heck, it also clashes badly with the pants. And really, the Hulk shouldn’t leave any shirt tatters on. He would discard them immediately.Even when you remove the shirt, you have to be careful about the shade and tone of blue. If they’re a bright, happy shade of blue, then it becomes a bad clash with the character’s skin tone. If they’re too dark, then they get lost with his gray coloring. But notice that while ripped trousers are all right, turning them into full-on jean shorts results in the Hulk looking as if he’s hanging out on the boardwalk in the 1980s and is hoping to do some serious surfing later in the afternoon.
A few times over the years, the gray Hulk has been depicted in the purple trousers that Bruce Banner later notoriously started wearing. The purple stands out nicely against the gray skin and, since it isn’t a typical color for men’s slacks, it adds to the unnatural coloring of the character. Please note, though: purple trousers on gray are all right, but purple speedos on the Hulk don’t work so much.The gray incarnation of the Hulk initially lasted one issue and then wasn’t seen again for decades. The reason they decided to change his gray skin color was because inking techniques at the time made it very hard to keep a gray color consistent through a single issue. So in his first appearance, depending on which copy you picked up and even which page you were looking at, the Hulk looked either light gray, deep gray or almost coal black. It was decided that the coloring had to be altered but that the Hulk should still have a skin-tone that immediately told you he was not a human being.
THE GREEN GOLIATHGreen became the Hulk’s new skin-tone starting with issue #2. In the same issue, Bruce was wearing a purple jumpsuit when he transformed, giving us a green-skinned monster in purple trousers. Often in comics, the color combination of purple and green is associated with a villain so that they can contrast with the superhero they’re facing (since superheroes were most often garbed in primary colors during the Golden Age and Silver Age of comics). For instance. Superman’s enemies Lex Luthor and Brainiac have worn various green and purple outfits over the years. Spider-Man’s foe the Green Goblin wears purple and green. Wonder Woman’s enemy Circe often has purple hair and wears any number of green outfits. So these two colors are a signal that the Hulk is something to be feared and is as much a force of destruction as anything else. When the green Hulk appeared, the comic stated that several weeks had passed since Banner’s first transformation. Furthermore, it implied that he had attempted to cure himself, only to fail. So one could assume that the green coloring and new, more savage personality were the results of whatever he did to himself in his hopes to be cured. It would be decades before the alternate explanation came that Banner suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder (what used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder).
Interestingly, Banner’s habit of wearing purple suits was later explained as an emulation of Einstein. Like the famous scientist, Banner didn’t believe in wasting time picking out what to wear in the morning, so he just bought several identical suits. And they happened to be purple. Deal with it.Soon after his green incarnation first emerged, Banner developed a machine that could control his transformations back and forth, at least for the time being. He now retained his intelligence and memories during his transformations, although he still became far more arrogant, aggressive and paranoid. In any event, since he now controlled the transformations, Banner didn’t have to rip his suits apart. Instead, he’d change into some stretchy purple swim trunks before activating his machine, giving us the bathing suit Hulk.
If the shorts were looser, I could accept this. Tight bathing suits and speedos only work on some folks and I just don’t think the Hulk is one of them. It just kills the feeling of danger and power. The Thing of the Fantastic Four can pull off the shorts look, not so much Hulk. If the shorts were lengthened or had a belt line of some sort, who knows? Right now, they’re just too close to underpants. (Special Note: the word “underpants” is funnier than “underwear”; It’s science).
Eventually, Banner’s machine stopped working and his transformations began happening seemingly at random. Bruce realized he was changing whenever he was angry or when fear upped his adrenaline. A couple of issues later, exposure to a second, smaller gamma bomb reverted the green Hulk to its savage, child-like persona and once again Bruce retained no memory or control of his alter ego’s actions. Unable to predict when he would change, he naturally wound up with torn clothes a lot more often again. Usually he was wearing one of his many pairs of purple trousers, but on occasion he sported a different color.Blue and green can be tricky. It’s definitely more realistic that Bruce Banner would be wearing blue pants of some sort than purple. But having two cool colors (and I mean “cool” as in temperature, not cool as in they look snazzy) such as blue and green can give a sense of balance or relaxation, two things that do not describe the Green Goliath. Still, the right tone and the right artist can make this work, so blue or purple with the green Hulk becomes just a matter of preference for me.
Of course, criticizing trouser color doesn’t mean the Hulk should throw away his pants entirely. That happened when Bruce Banner was temporarily sent to this place called Counter-Earth where he and many of Earth’s heroes were forced to live alternate versions of their own lives. There, when Bruce became the savage green Hulk, his pants were completely lost in the process.
Having the Hulk running around naked after bursting out of his clothing may be more realistic than the trousers always staying in place… But hey, it’s comics. If we’re willing to accept the fact that a 5’ 9 1/2” human being can, at a moment’s notice, develop cell and muscle growth to the extent that he becomes a 7-9 foot tall green creature (or a 6’ 6”-7’ gray creature) who weighs roughly 900 – 1400 lbs. (depending on the incarnation) and that he can then throw off that same mass later to become human again – then hey, I can accept that his pants also conveniently stay on. I don’t think I could take any Hulk battles seriously otherwise.On a few occasions, Banner has turned into the Hulk while wearing brown or tan trousers. Green and brown can imply a sort of earthiness to the Hulk and that actually goes with the character. We’ve repeatedly seen in the comics that the gamma-powered green giant, when left alone, enjoys the simple act of sitting in the desert or relaxing in a forest, occasionally looking up to greet an animal. Due to his child-like and primitive nature, he seems more connected to the natural, untamed world outside of civilization and some stories have even referred to him as a green sasquatch (not to be confused with the Alpha Flight hero Sasquatch, silly). So Earth tones definitely work for me.
But ripped clothes in the Marvel Universe seem easily avoidable when you consider the question...
WHY NOT USE UNSTABLE MOLECULES?The Fantastic Four also live in the Marvel Universe, which means Bruce Banner inhabits a world that possesses “unstable molecule fabric” (sometimes called UMF). First mentioned in Fantastic Four vol. 1 #6, this is a special material developed by Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four after he realized that the accident that gave him and his family powers had also conveniently altered their clothing to interact with those abilities. Hence, the Human Torch did not find himself naked and surrounded by the ashes of his clothing whenever he turned off his flame aura.
Thanks to his research and his incredible intelligence, Reed was able to replicate the material and has produced many different types of clothing for himself and his friends that is indestructible and won’t interfere with superpowers. This why all of Reed’s uniforms and business suits stretch along with him and why his brother-in-law the Human Torch can ignite his entire body without burning away his outfit or even his wallet.
UMF has been used to make costumes for the Avengers and the X-Men at various times. Storm had several UMF outfits, some that looked like ordinary civilian garb, and if any of them received an electrical charge then they would realign their molecular structure and transform into her combat uniform. Colossus of the X-Men had an unstable molecule uniform with the unique feature of exposing his legs whenever he shifted into his organic steel form, allowing him to show off his shiny, metal thighs when he went into action. I’ve always wondered if he asked for this feature or if Professor X thought of it when he asked Reed to make some UMF uniforms, but that just opens up a bunch of other questions that we don’t have time for here.Point being, with such a versatile material and with Reed being generous enough to lend it to fellow champions of heroism, why doesn’t Bruce own some of this stuff? Why hasn’t he just gone up to Reed and asked, “Hey, I know we’ve fought a few times and we might fight again in the future and I’ve got this rivalry with your buddy the Thing where we’re always brawling and even once played table hockey against each other – (no, seriously) – but I’ve also helped you in the past and I’ve saved the world more than once, so would you mind making me some unstable molecule clothes? Maybe a pair of jeans that will stay on when I change? Please?”
Seriously, it would solve many problems. Moving on…
I’M MR. FIXIT. YOU’RE IN NEED OF REPAIRS.After years of being a rampaging child with a limited vocabulary, the Hulk reverted back to his initial gray incarnation. Since then, the gray Hulk has been firmly rooted as one of a few alternate personalities that reside in Bruce Banner’s fractured psyche and has occasionally emerged for extended periods now and then. At first, he sported the classic ripped shirt, blue pants look.
After events led to the world thinking the Hulk was dead, the gray incarnation went to Las Vegas and took on a job as a super-strong casino enforcer, figuring no one would mistake him for the infamous jade giant since he himself was neither green, child-like nor dead. In this new identity, he called himself “Joe Fixit” and this incarnation has often insisted on using that name ever since.
As stated before, Joe is not like the green Hulk. He is a brute who can be pretty manipulative and clever. He’s also someone who demands respect as a formidable and intelligent man rather than just a collection of muscles. At the same time, he’s a Hulk and not even a snazzy blue pinstripe suit can disguise his massive build.
Joe also has an easier time finding clothes that fit since he is not as tall nor as massive as the green incarnation of the Hulk (although some artists do depict him as being just as large, ignoring what certain writers and handbooks have claimed about his size).What’s also fun about this dress style is its adaptability. You can toss off the jacket and roll up the sleeves and suddenly you have a nice, funny take on “Hulk as Vegas strongman” that brings up images of leg-breakers in the 1950s. Or you can toss him a purple raincoat and evoke a sense of the classic green Hulk. Once again, I gotta say that I like how strange and interesting the purple looks against that dark gray skin. Not sure I like that tie matching the pants, though. Best to replace it with a black one.
But hey, one thing is for sure. No muscle shirts. And no muscle shirts without sleeves.
PROFESSOR HULKThe Hulk’s ally (and sometimes enemy) Dr. Leonard Samson (you can just call him “Doc”) figured out Banner suffered from DID. When the different personalities started warring for control, Doc Samson decided this was just too dangerous a situation to allow and put Banner and the Hulks into a deep hypnotic state. Samson then confronted the different personalities with the nature of their relationship and how they stemmed from Bruce’s trauma. He was then seemingly able to merge them into a whole, new person, a confident Hulk, the Bruce Banner that always should have been (although he still had the strength and green skin since hey, you can’t hypnotize away a mutation).
Of course, anyone who’s done basic research on DID knows that you can’t merge splintered personalities over the course of an afternoon, no matter how good your hypnotist is, and a few years later we learned that this seemingly merged persona (nicknamed “the Professor” by some) was yet another alter that Samson had created to take over and act as mediator. Samson didn’t like doing this and lying about it, but it was either that or allow the Hulk to continue as an out of control mess.Since he was in control for a couple of years and not subject to transformations for the most part, this Professor Hulk incarnation didn’t have to worry about ripping through clothing and got himself lots of stuff marketed for the “big, tall and gamma-powered” crowd. Sadly, I’m not sure smarty-pants Hulk had the best fashion sense. Sleeveless shirts with a neckline that goes halfway down the chest. Muscle shirts he began sporting. A brown jumpsuit isn’t bad with an unzipped V-neck down to his waist. No, no. Doesn’t work.
Now in one adventure, our merged Professor Banner-Hulk found out there was trouble involving his old Vegas friends and he wanted to help out. To make sure people knew exactly who he was, despite the different size and different colored skin, he got himself decked out in a custom-made suit and once again called himself “Joe Fixit” for a few days.Man, does this guy look snazzy. The gloves, the classic suit, the fact that this thing really looks like it fits.
This is a styling Hulk who at any moment can toss off his jacket and rip off his shirt so you remember how thin a line there is between man and monster. This here, I call the “Tim Gunn Hulk,” referencing well-known fashion authority Tim Gunn, Chief Creative Officer for Liz Claiborne, Inc. and host of shows such as Project Runway and The Revolution.
Naturally, I asked Tim what he thought about this version of the gamma-powered green goliath, especially since had and I have had several conversations about how dissatisfied he’s been with the Hulk’s over-all fashion. Ripped pants drive him nuts, but this look provoked quite a different reaction.
“I love this!” Tim declared. “And it’s not just because he’s wearing a ‘Tim Gunn suit.’ It mitigates all that mass, you know? The way Raymond Burr could wear a suit on ‘Perry Mason,’ the Hulk can too! I’m crazy about this, this is what he should always do!”
If you want to see Tim’s reaction to some of the Hulk’s other outfits (as well as the fashion of other heroes), check out our video together.
HULK IN ARMOROver the years, the Hulk has worn different styles of armor for different reasons. Sometimes it’s stuff he’s chosen, sometimes it’s stuff he’s been forced to wear.
The first time this happened was way back when the Hulk first fought a villain named Tyrannus, a guy whose name very conveniently announces that you should not trust him to restrain himself from trying to conquer you. Tyrannus forced the Hulk into a gladiator arena and gave him an outfit that no doubt was meant to humiliate ol’ Jade Jaws. I mean, look at that helmet. Whose head was that designed for? What guy wore that helmet BEFORE the Hulk showed up? If you can wear that helmet without falling onto your face, you are an impressive human being.In a famous story plotted by the prolific Harlan Ellison (and shame on you if you haven’t read “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”), the Hulk wound up in a sub-atomic world called K’ai where a spell allowed him to have Bruce Banner’s mind in his green muscle-bound body. He became a respected warrior and was considered a king of sorts. So we’ve got our boy decked out in a leather outfit that is colored blue. He even had a cape, though he could throw this off when he was actually going into battle
This makes the Hulk look like he’s about to enter a wrestling arena, but in the context of a warrior-king in a Romanesque society, I’m okay with it. And if you lost the shirt and sandals, those pants would still work for our boy. Not sure about that belt buckle, though, since the Hulk doesn’t generally kill people who get in his way.In one story, the Hulk was captured by the near-immortal mutant terrorist and cult-leader called Apocalypse (and sentences like that are why I love comics). Apocalypse would love it if everyone on Earth warred with each other because he believes only the fit are worthy of survival. Along with his followers, he has often recruited powerful beings to be his Four Horsemen. The Hulk was brainwashed into becoming one of these troops, labeled (naturally) “War.” And check out his war uniform! Spikes, sword, whip, ENORMOUS shoulder pads that would make Cable green with envy, and a funky helmet that only exposes the sides of his mouth.
This armor seems both incomplete and over-the-top. You spend all that material to give him ginormous shoulder pads yet don’t bother with his feet or the lower half of his torso. And what’s with that bracer on his right arm. Does he have a bladed bracer AND a giant sword? Isn’t that a bit overkill when he also has giant pikes and is, you know, the friggin’ Hulk? Still, this is a fun outfit for an entertaining story, so I can’t get mad about it. It just makes me smile.A few years ago, the Hulk’s persona seemed to become a merging of the gray, raging child and the personality/intelligence of Joe Fixit. Around the same time, the heroes Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange and Black Bolt decided the Hulk was too dangerous to remain on Earth and remarked that he endangered too many lives and had taken too many lives (this was actually contradicted by several other writers and stories, since it’s been consistently shown that the Hulk doesn’t usually try to kill his enemies and he has not killed any soldiers or innocent bystanders during his many rampages, even accidentally). They tricked the Hulk into a space ship and launched him, thinking he’d drift in space. But the Hulk landed on a gladiator world of Sakaar and wound up becoming a renowned warrior, even king. They called him the Green Scar and the Worldbreaker and he sported some cool new armor at the time.
I dig this look. This has been stripped down to a few very simple elements, but they all work. You’ve got tons of spikes, but they’re not exaggerated in length enough to look ridiculous. The leather gives a sense of clothing, but the fact that it actually leaves most of his body uncovered reminds us how hard it is to injure this guy anyway. The armor on his left arm emulates old warriors who would guard the arm that wouldn’t be holding a sword. If he were back on Earth, leading the life of a fugitive and occasionally transforming at inconvenient times, this wouldn’t really work. But as the intelligent, hair-trigger temper warrior-king of an alien world, yes. It’s very effective and only one of many reasons why you should read the “Planet Hulk” and “World War Hulk” trades.During the story Fear Itself, the Hulk was possessed by god-like forces and corrupted into a force of fear and evil. To symbolize this, the Hulk had magical sigils appear on his body. The symbols and their luminescence definitely let you know that the Hulk has been touched by something otherworldly. But it’s not terribly impressive at the same time. The armor on the arms isn’t bad and certainly not quite as over-the-top as the World War Hulk armor.
RECENT TIMESCurrently, in the pages of the series The Incredible Hulk, the Green Goliath (whose personality is now a merging between the green childlike persona and Joe Fixit) has been physically separated from Bruce Banner. The Hulk, fully intelligent and able to control himself better again, is fine with this situation but Banner has not been so cool about it.
I would say time will tell how this will turn out, but in the pages of the new series Avengers Assemble the Hulk seems to be back to his savage child-like self, with moments of greater intelligence peeking through. How the Hulk wound up this way again after being intelligent and capable of complete sentences for the past several years has not been explained yet.
Either way, the Hulk remains a popular character who will no doubt reach even larger audiences in a couple of weeks when The Avengers hits theaters! So be on the look-out for him!
Now the Hulk was also once blue. And there’s a Red Hulk. And there have been various She-Hulks. And Bruce Banner’s buddy Rick Jones once became a Hulk. But those are topics to discuss in a special Alternate Hulks column. For now, we say good-bye to Bruce Banner and his fractured mind. Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off![Alan "Sizzler" Kistler is an actor and author living in New York City. He is the author of The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook, The Unofficial Batman Trivia Challenge and The Unofficial Spider-Man Trivia Challenge. He is a creator and host of the weekly podcast Crazy Sexy Geeks, available on iTunes. Alan has been recognized as a comic book historian and a Doctor Who historian by various publishers and media outlets. He thinks Isaac Asimov should be required reading in all schools. He can be found on Twitter: @SizzlerKistler] Other Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. movie Avengers profiles:
- INCREDIBLE HULK Annotations - Green Goliath to Marvel Movies
- INCREDIBLE HULK Annotations - Green Goliath part 2
- IRON MAN Movie Annotations