The Hulk: Where Do I Start?

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.


  1. Planet Hulk not only stands as one of the best Hulk stories of all time, but one of the best Marvel stories period!

  2. Love Planet Hulk and The End. However, World War Hulk and all that followed, not so much.

  3. I’m not a Hulk fan, but Planet Hulk is an absolute must have. The oversized HC is one of my favorite collections, but I think Marvel needs to Omnibus it with some WWH added at the back.

    Also, a real gem of a story – Corben/Azzarello on Banner.

  4. Not a Hulk fan either. Would only buy the hulk omnibus, which begins with his first appearance. Sadly though, it’s out if print

  5. Planet Hulk is one of my favorites. I’m not a huge Marvel fan or a Hulk fan really… but it’s just a really interesting story and there’s some really awesome action. 

  6. im yet another non-hulk fan but i do have the Planet Hulk trade and it’s a lot of fun. i wouldn’t call it essential reading but i’s a good play off the “Gladiator” concept. I also have the Visionaries vol 2 with the wolvie/hulk fight and macfarlane art. that issue is a must read by itself.
    Im kind of hoping that Marvel releases a Jeph Loeb HULK omnibus that collects the recent run. I dropped off early but i keep hearing that his run reads extremely well when you put it all together and read in one big chunk. I’d definitely pick up that omnibus

  7. i’m gonna take my friend up on his offer and borrow Planet Hulk TPB from him…i’ve just never been able to get into the character, but i keep hearing such great things about PH.

  8. The whole of David/Keown.  There are no finer superhero comics.

  9. Great recommendations.  I love John Byrne’s brief Hulk run in the early 80s.  He drew an awesome, monsterous Hulk.  Hulk was on berserk mode and destroyed entire towns.  I’m sure John Byrne’s run would have been legendary since it started off with such promise.  Too bad it was cut short after only a few issues.  I’m probably in the minority here, but I enjoyed Bruce Jones…at least the first few arcs.  It was a darker comic that had a lot of suspense that kind of reminded me of the old tv show, which is why I’m a Hulk fan.  It may have been too slow of a burn though.  Fans complained that Hulk didn’t appear enough, and I remember feeling the same way.  And for some reason, the story began to lose me in the late arcs.  I probably need to reread the whole thing.  Lastly, speaking of wanting an omnibus, how about a Bill Mantlo omnibus?  That’s something that Marvel needs to do.

  10. Azarello and Corben’s Hulk was the best and harshest Hulk story ever.

  11. These descriptions make me want to read some Hulk.

  12. Can you guys do a single page profiling all the where do i start article and then highlight it in red on the top?

  13. Peter David on the Hulk was just fantastic. All of the TPBs in the “Visionaries” line are worth picking up. I also really liked Hulk: Grey. I thought Planet Hulk was good, but not as good as everyone else seems to think it is. Still, this is a damn fine “Where Do i Start?” list. I actually can’t think of any Hulk tpbs I would add to it, other than the other Peter David ones.

  14. Is the list confined to TPB’s only? The first volume of Masterworks Hulk has the seminal work and issue 6 has some Ditko art. The run from the 300’s where he was at the crossroads trying new worlds until he found a suitable one was pretty good, the run right before the first Secret Wars where he had his intellect while green, but slowly began to lose it was good as well, and the John Byrne run while short, was excellent. Too many of these lists focus only on the recent TPB’s at the expense of the overall history of the character. Half the fun in this hobby is tracking down back issues, and people have gotten away from that due to the ready availability of TPB’s, both are good, but the recent trend has been to rely too much on trades and not seek out back issues. And the end result is top lists that are slanted too much to trades.

  15. Hulk Gray is kind of a piece of crap. Its really boring and not a well done book, sadly. The Peter David works are the most critical to understanding the Hulk as they are the first big evolution in the character beyond his Silver Age origins. Further, they are fundamental to the nature of what the Hulk has become in the modern landscape of comics. The best stories are the Mr. Fixit segment and the Pantheon era, where David really adddressed a lot of mature issues using the Hulk mythos. Hulk: The End is a fun story but is pretty much inconsequential to the Hulk character and mythos. Future Imperfect is a better measure of alternate versions of the Hulk. It is an exploration of monster inside the character that he could become if he ever gives up on his humanity and, additionally, is a tweak on the classic X-Men story of similar name. Planet Hulk is a fantastic piece allows the Hulk to run wild in an uncontrolled environment where no other major characters need to be considered. It is the best of the modern Hulk works of the last 10 years or so. 

  16. I’m a big fan of some of the later Peter David stuff, which was my earliest exposure to Gary Frank.  It had the Hulk allying himself with the Pantheon, but at the same time his civilian supporting cast was really great as well.  He managed to throw in some nice “issues-led” stories to add to the mix as well.  It was really must read stuff at the time, along with David’s concurrent X-Factor work.

  17. Planet Hulk is where I started reading the book and I loved it! Really got me into the character of the Hulk and I’ve been reading ever since.

  18. I first started reading Hulk (and comics in general) when the Joe Fixit era began with Peter David and Jeff Purves.  So that story always has a special place in my heart.  I hear people bag on Purves art, but I loved it.  Hulk looked more like a monster.  One of my fights was Hulk against the Absorbing Man.  The way he pulverized that guy (literally) was brutal!  But my favorite fight bar none was Hulk vs Thing.  This was that bulkier version of the Thing.  It was a long slugfest through NY ending in a memorable fight in Central Park.  I don’t think I’ve seen a fight that awesome (except for maybe the Wolverine fight in issue 340). 

  19. There’s also a stand alone book called Banner by Brian Azarello and Richard Corben. It’s an excellent story that shows more of the psychology of Bruce and how the man deals with the aftermath of the beast. Unfortunately, it’s out of print but you can get it used at: 

    A gorgeous book with great dialogue and structure. It’s a must have. Hopefully Marvel reprints it soon. 

  20. I gotta say, despite my general lack of interest in the hulk, I really liked Planet Hulk.

  21. Correction Planet Hulk takes place on the planet Sakaar-
    Skaar is the name of Hulk’s son.

  22. @ScottB  thanks for the tip.  i remember buying a few issues of that series years ago but never finished it.  I’ll need to look for that.