Last character present in recent Iron Man 3 is none other than our favourite green giant, this time in his human persona: Hulk, aka dr. Bruce Banner. Mark Ruffalo appears in the post credit scene while sleeping at his friend Tony Stark‘s tales, apologizing saying “I’m not that kind of doctor”. The character is one of Marvel’s most popular ever, and he’s been known by the wide audience since 1970s, with the famous tv series starring Bill Bixby as Banner (renamed David Banner, since the production felt Bruce being “too gay a name”) and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk. The series spawned four tv movies and created a huge fandom, but the character was abandoned until 2003, when Eric Bana portrayed both Banner and Hulk (thanks to CGI) in Ang Lee‘s Hulk, with the character’s origins slightly changed in order to insert some nod to genetic experiments. Finally, Hulk entered Marvel Cinematic Universe with the face of Edward Norton (later replaced by Ruffalo), and from The Incredible Hulk to The Avengers he’s evolved from a standalone destructive brute to a valuable team member…to be handled with attention. Let’s see together who the Hulk is in the comics.
Robert Bruce Banner was born the son of Brian Banner, a physicist, and Rebecca, his wife. The couple wasn’t very well-balanced, since Brian thought that having a family was the reason for him not to be recognized as a genius in his field. While Rebecca loved Bruce with all her heart, Brian despised him, and didn’t make a secret of it, quite the opposite: the more Rebecca loved her son, the more Brian hated him, since he saw him as a rival for his wife’s affection. Plus, the scientist was secretly convinced that the radiation he had worked with had given him a mutant son, and Bruce grew up with the certainty of being a monster. After years of physical and psychological abuse, Brian ended up killing his wife while being completely drunk: with his mother dead and his father in jail, Bruce was adopted by an aunt, Susan Banner Drake, who wanted only to grant her nephew a normal life, at least for what she could do. Bruce interiorised all his rage and pain, and threw all of his energies into studying, becoming a real child prodigy, especially in scientific subjects. He graduated in Science High School with highest honours, and moved in Navapo, New Mexico, to study nuclear physics at Desert State University. He became in no time the star student of professor Herbert Weller, and, with his mentor’s help, he studied in many universities, among which Pennsylvania State University and California Institute of Technology. An absolute genius, Banner obtained his doctorate without any effort, and became an example for many students of his age, among which future superhero Walter Langkowski and future supervillain Philip Sterns. His intellect allowed him to find a job immediately after his studies, and the army chose him as the leading figure in a secret project in nuclear research facility in Desert Base, New Mexico. Under the authority of General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross of the Air Force, Banner developed the G-Bomb, a nuclear bomb with incredible destructive power which possessed a high gamma radiation output. He also met the love of his life, Betty Ross, daughter of the general, and the two started a relation.
It was during the first tests for his bomb that Banner’s life changed forever. A civilian, a teenager named Rick Jones, had inadvertently breached security and entered the restricted test area, just a few moments before the bomb’s detonation. Noticing the boy, Banner told one of his colleagues, Igor Starsky, to suspend the countdown, in order to have time enough to bring the teenager to safety. Unfortunately, Starsky was secretly a KGB agent, and didn’t tell anything to anyone, hoping that Banner would have died in the explosion, and his incredible mind with him. Banner had just the time to reach Rick Jones and to throw him into a protective trench, before being invested by the explosion. Bruce was hit by an incredible amount of radiations, enough to kill a normal man a thousand times, but something unique in his genetic template (maybe Brian wasn’t totally wrong believing his son to be a mutant) allowed him to survive. It was immediately clear that something went wrong all the same, since Banner turned at every sunset into a gray-skinned giant who called himself “The Hulk”. Banner’s body, in a few months, adapted to the radiations, and from that moment the transformation was triggered by the adrenaline level in his body: every time he was afraid, excited, and especially when he was angry, Banner turned into another monster, this time green-skinned, who retained little or less of Banner’s memory and none of his intellect, a massive brute with a seemingly infinite strength, a danger for whoever was near to him. Clearly, General Ross tried to contain the Hulk and to use him as a weapon for US Army, but thanks to Rick Jones, who felt responsible for the incident, Banner managed to escape the soldiers’ custody. After thwarting a plan from the Russian agent known as the Gargoyle to destroy America, Banner, along with Rick, managed to keep his identity a secret, but abandoned every attempt to run a normal life the moment he understood he couldn’t fully control his “double personality”. He left Betty and his friends, and started a nomadic life, searching for a cure to his state…with little hope to get rid of the Jade Giant sleeping in his subconscious.
Bruce Banner is an absolute genius, a man who immediately understands any kind of scientific language or physical phenomenon, able to rival with other renowned geniuses such as Reed Richards, Tony Stark or Hank Pym. Despite being emotionally broken, with many traumas hidden and denied in his psyche, Banner has a naturally selfless and heroic disposition, a good heart that has made Betty Ross fall in love with him despite his shyness and taciturnity. As the Hulk, Bruce loses all of his intellect and personality (more or less, depending on the Hulk’s incarnations), and becomes an incredibly strong and durable being. The Hulk grows stronger the angrier he gets, with no limit to the physical strength he can reach, thus being one of the strongest creatures in the universe. He also possesses an accelerated healing factor that makes him virtually invulnerable, and an istantaneous adaptation that allows him to survive in any habitat (he is also able to breathe under water or to survive in open space). Being both the knight and the dragon, Bruce Banner costantly strives against himself, in a desperate effort to contain the darker sides of his personality he has always kept deeply buried in his mind, the same sides that the Hulk personifies.