Although he’s one of Marvel’s key heroes, the incredible Hulk is also the least understood. Combining the 20th century fears of radiation with the man/monster dynamic of Jekyll and Hyde, he’s certainly not cut from the same cloth as the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man or even the X-Men. But regardless, the Hulk has become a memorable character and concept inside comics and out; virtually anyone in Western society would know what you’re talking about when you say the Hulk. From the 70s TV series to numerous cartoons and two recent feature films, everyone knows the Hulk. But past his origin, what else is there?
The Hulk has been hitting comic shelves on a near-monthly basis over the past 49 years, and through that he’s racked up a number of stories, adversaries and even personalities of his own. Featuring an extended cast of Banner/Hulk’s flame Betty Ross, her military father Thunderbolt Ross, sidekicks Rick Jones and Amadeus Cho, the Hulk series has gone all over the Earth, under it, and to different planets and dimensions all together. With all those stories to choose from, we’ve picked out the five quintessential collections to give you all you need to know on the Incredible Hulk.
Incredible Hulk: Planet Hulk: On Earth, the Hulk is a monster that is feared by humanity and forced to control what he is; but after the Marvel heroes decide he would be better off gone, they exile him from the planet and he ends up on the savage planet Skaar. It’s here Hulk finds a home – in a world full of monsters and monstrosities, the Hulk is able to use his (super)natural abilities to save others in a barbaric world where might makes right. This epic story-arc put the Savage Hulk in a world as savage as he is, and where the Hulk flourishes.
Incredible Hulk: The End: Characters can best be judged by the tribulations they go through, and how they act in that; in this book, we see two possible futures of what happens when the Hulk gets what he wants. This volume collects two stories: “Future Imperfect” depicting our own green-skinned Hulk coming up against a future self that’s turned into a despot mad with power, and “The End” where we show the final fate of the Hulk centuries (or more) into the future where he’s the last living thing on Earth. Written by Peter David and expertly drawn by George Perez and classic Hulk artist Dale Keown, these are memorable stories even though they haven’t happened (yet).
Hulk Visionaries: Peter David, Vol. 6: You might think Vol. 1 is the best place to start in any collection, but memorable scribe Peter David had such an epic run that there’s many riches to be had. This sixth volume collects the height of David’s run with artist Dale Keown, and tells the story of the warring personalities inside Bruce Banner’s mind and body. By positing that Banner suffers from multiple personalities, it brings up not only the green-skinned Hulk but also the gray variation as well as the super-intelligent “Professor” personality.
Hulk Visionaries: Peter David, Vol. 2: Although this volume focused on the gray-skinned Hulk rather than the classic green, it’s an important part of the Hulk mythos. Whereas the green Hulk is child-like in personality, the gray Hulk is a savage animalistic beast of a character. In this volume, Peter David pairs with Todd McFarlane to expose just what the Gray Hulk is and pits him against one of the Hulk’s fiercest opponents: Wolverine.
Hulk: Gray: Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale’s series of color-themed origin stories of Marvel’s biggest characters hits home with this volume. Via a therapy session with Doc Samson, this goes back to the early days of Hulk’s birth and also explores the human side – Bruce Banner – and his connection to Betty Ross. The final chapter, “F for Father,” adds a startling facet to Betty’s Ross relationship with Banner/Hulk that makes you see all of them in a completely different light.