The Incredible Hulk, or why I spend so much time alone

There’s something I’ve been wanting to share with you for a long time but couldn’t find the words. I feel so strongly, though, that I can hold it in no longer, for amidst life’s challenges, my guiding light, rock of strength, and unfailing paragon of purity, is the Incredible Hulk. There’s almost never a time I don’t wish I were talking about the Incredible Hulk, but, thanks to Ang Lee, most of my potential listeners won’t believe he can be more than a side-character in any remotely watchable film. This is totally false, and I would like to explain why.

Like all superheroes, the Incredible Hulk has an alter ego: genius physicist Dr. Bruce Banner. But unlike most superheroes, Dr. Banner’s psyche is almost entirely exiled  when the Hulk takes control. Not only does Dr. Banner disappear, but with each bout of rage the Hulk gains an even stronger grip on the will and body the two personalities share. This conflict for the possession of mind and flesh perpetuates a cycle of self-denial and sacrifice in Dr. Banner. He can’t get too close to the people he loves, especially Betty Ross, because any strong emotion could trigger a transformation into his nightmarish alter ego. But he daren’t leave entirely because when threats arise, Dr. Banner knows the Hulk is the only force strong enough to protect humanity. This means he is constantly near those he cares about without being able to enter any kind of satisfying relationships.

Betty Ross has an impressive amount of spunk and street smarts!

Betty Ross has an impressive amount of spunk and street smarts!

Where Dr. Banner differs most starkly from other superheroes is that he never gets to experience the perks of his superpower. Of course Stan Lee reminds us frequently that superpowers have their downsides, but Thor still gets to fly his women wherever he wants, and Dr. Xavier can occasionally read socially convenient information from others’ thoughts. But Dr. Banner’s mind is entirely gone when his superpower expresses itself. In fact, each time he gives into his alter ego, Dr. Banner’s not sure the Hulk won’t maintain hold forever. The beauty is that when the world needs him, Dr. Banner still risks everything and changes.

Many superheroes’ personal drama stems from temporary, self-created dilemmas. Spiderman either gets cocky or keeps secrets. Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Girl can’t keep their romantic drama to themselves. But even when everyone is entirely up front with each other, Dr. Banner’s relationships will always be tenuous because sometimes he turns into a violent Hulk. It’s just the nature of the beast. Literally.

In the 1962 original, Bruce Banner became the Hulk when he saved Rick Jones from a gamma bomb.

In the 1962 original, Bruce Banner became the Hulk when he saved Rick Jones from a gamma bomb.

The emotional aspect of the Incredible Hulk could easily carry a film if people could stop fixating on the Hulk’s penchant for smashing. Yes, he smashes things. And yes it is cool. But we all know that smashing, as a superpower, isn’t cool enough to sell when its competition is the alter-ego-transcending snarky genius of Tony Stark/Iron Man or the well-butlered fury of Bruce Wayne/Batman. While the Hulk’s personality is defined by raw might, Dr. Banner’s defining characteristic is raw goodness. Dr. Banner’s willingness to sacrifice until there’s nothing left is the real superpower, and the difference between the Incredible Hulk and other superheroes is that his most remarkable trait is expressed by his alter ego. I challenge you to find a more trenchant example of nobility or a more heart wrenching drama. You will find none.

I love the Incredible Hulk because I’m inspired by Dr. Banner’s consistent will to risk everything to protect the people he loves. The Hulk/Dr. Bruce Banner persona is, in my estimation, the noblest of the Marvel Universe, and a beacon for youth in our troubled times. The Incredible Hulk is a heartbreaking tale of agonizing self sacrifice. I’d encourage everyone to heed Dr. Banner’s example and then face all decisions by asking, “What would Bruce Banner do?

Thanks so much for reading my propaganda. If you’re still craving more, I wrote you a song. Also, click here to see some of the most beautiful Hulk story telling I’ve ever seen.

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