What Are The Hulk Rules?

Dear Marvel,

Enough is enough. You’ve had your fun, but it’s been years. I’m really going to need to see some Hulk Rules.

I’m not pointing any fingers. I can see how things got out of control. You wanted to avoid making him a one-note character, and who could blame you? “Hulk Classic” could send even the best modern writer to the funny farm after an arc or two. You can only jump around the wilderness roaring for so long. Take it from me.

Hulk on the Avengers

The good old days. Just bros, bro-ing out.

Unfortunately, in your effort to keep him from being one-note, you have turned the simplest character in your stable into one that is all but impossible to describe. A big reason Lou Ferrigno captured the hearts and minds of everyone in my grade school class was that even a four year old could tell you exactly what The Hulk’s deal was.

I have no idea who or what The Hulk is now. And frankly, as far as I can tell, neither do you. As a character and a concept, The Hulk has been a mess for a long time.

At first, when Bruce Banner changed into The Hulk, he could keep it together enough to be an Avenger; he was just like a guy who woke up on the wrong side of the cave. It was less “Hulk try talk, but Hulk slip through cracks of public school system” and more, “Bah! Every workplace has a jerk, and this one has me! Don’t touch my coffee mug, you insects, or I’ll leave an anonymous passive-aggressive note on the break room refrigerator!” This persona quickly shifted to the big green caveman people think of when you say “Hulk,” however, and although we have poked fun at his Hulkisms over the years they nevertheless perfectly summed up everything you needed to know about him and his book for most of its run:

  • The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets.
  • Hulk is the strongest one there is.
  • Hulk smash.
  • Puny humans try to hurt Hulk.
  • Hulk just wants to be left alone. (This one is a personal favorite, as my wife can attest since she hears me say it every time the phone rings.)

Since those days, Bruce and his alter ego have gone through a number of metamorphoses, but each of them has been so straightforward The Hulk might as well have been designed by Steve Jobs. There were Hulk Rules, and they fit on a Post-It. Bruce turns into a rampaging green monster when he gets upset; his strength depends on his anger. Bruce turns into a giant gray dick when the sun goes down; his strength depends on the phase of the moon. For a while, Bruce and The Hulk were integrated, so he was green and smart and jerky all the time.

Now? Volumes I-VII of the Hulk Rules, last time anyone saw them, were in a locked filing cabinet no one can find the key to.

No four year old is getting aboard The Hulk train now. No forty year old is, either. The people in the caboose of The Hulk train last saw the rails ten miles back. The Hulk train is in a long, slow tumble sideways down the mountainside.

By the time Bruce Jones stopped writing The Incredible Hulk— and this is years ago now– Bruce Banner turned into The Hulk… whenever he wanted to, because he felt like it? I guess? And whether they were even two different personalities anymore, I have no clue. They seemed to have the same agenda. Like, if Bruce forgot to pay his cable bill or something, he’d just change into The Hulk and send him downtown to deal with it. Either The Hulk was Bruce’s angry suit, or they were brain roommates. I never knew.

Then, by the time Planet Hulk happened, The Hulk could just stay big and green for as long as he wanted. Apparently. He didn’t change back for years, did he? He stayed green in his sleep. He stayed green while he made sweet, sweet love to a space lady. How long has that been an option? Or was he just so, so angry at his pillow?

There could certainly be reasons for these things to happen. You just need to tell someone what they are. The reader, for example.

Today, the status quo is like finding a ten thousand word way to shrug. Hulk has made it very clear Hulk still just wants to be left alone. Hulk still has something of a puny human problem, although Red Hulk seems to be the one bearing the brunt of the whole stalked-by-the-Army-like-an-ex-boyfriend thing these days. Hulk still has it in him to smash, if someone asks him to do it at a party or something, but his heart really isn’t in it anymore.

Who is he, though? Does anyone know who this character is? Banner’s not even in there anymore. Is he smart? Is he violent? Let’s say everyone does officially declare they’re leaving him alone: what does he do with himself that next weekend, catch up on his reading? It seems like you could stop a rampage now by buying him a beer and talking it out. Is that your fundamental misunderstanding of your character, or is it mine?

In The Defenders #1 last week, this happened:

The prudent Hulk from Defenders



“Well, my suggestion is to smash, naturally, but to smash primarily out of a sense of responsibility and pragmatism. Heaven knows, I don’t want to be excessive, but we must at least consider smashing for the sake of prudence. Say, has anyone seen my sewing kit? I seem to have torn my jacket’s elbow patches.”

What the *#@$?

This is the kind of frustration that only comes when you love a character. The Hulk was always one of my favorites back when someone could tell you what he was, and I have stuck with his books for much longer than I should have because of that love. For all I know, Jason Aaron will settle all this next month. I certainly hope so. This has officially gotten upsetting, and I know what happens when I get angry.


Jim Mrockowski smash puny deadline. Puny humans always follow Jim Mroczkowski on Twitter.


  1. And while we are at it? What’s the deal with A-Bomb?

  2. I love the idea of him staying Hulked out because his pillow sucks. Or his mattress. If he just had one of those sleep number beds on Planet Hulk…

  3. i prefer to think of the hulk as some kind of jekyll/hyde situation, but there’s only so much meat on that story. i think that the hulk in incredible hulk is okay (even if nobody, self included, paid enough attention to fear itself in order to find out how he got separated from bruce), but the hulk in defenders is not the same character. (hulk in defenders is crap. and looks like crap, too. big green crap.)

    • The separation of The Hulk and Bruce didn’t happen in FEAR ITSELF, it’s one of the mysteries of the current book.

      At least, that’s what Jason Aaron said on Twitter.

    • I think the separation of The Hulk and Bruce will happen in Daredevil. Matt Murdock will represent Banner and cite “irreconcilable differences” as being the reason for the parting. Hulk will, of course, get the oversized pants.

    • i like the idea of the hulk in a suit, stuck in a room full of lawyers, trying to keep from smashing everything so he doesn’t lose the kids and the house.

    • and thanks conor! it makes me feel better that i’m not supposed to know what’s going on in the hulk.

    • Hulk and Banner separated in Fear Itself #7 (in the 2nd epilogue). It happened there, but isn’t really explained (hence the mystery of it). It takes place in Banner’s head (while he’s actual in his Hulk form in the real world). Banner is bitching about how they screwed up again by losing control and trying to take over the world during Fear Itself. But Hulk is just sitting there not really giving a crap about what Banner is saying. He says he just wants to be alone. So Banner says he’ll calm down so they could figure out their next move. Hulk grabs Banner by the throat and chokes him until they black out (this all takes place in Banner’s head). When Banner wakes up, he and Hulk are separated in the real world. Banner is freaking out asking Hulk what did he do (and how did he do it) while Hulk leaps away. And that’s where Incredible Hulk kicks off. Hulk is living with the Moloids while Banner, in mad scientist mode, is on an island doing gamma radiation experiments on different animals, seemingly obsessed or trying to replicate Hulk. So a mysterious government asks Hulk to deal with Banner.

  4. great article. ive had similar situations where people ask me, “how is he talking normally” “does he ever change back to human?” theyre the questions you try to blow off with “dont think about it. just go with it” even tho you kinda cant “just go with it” since every writer makes up his own rules in regards to what the hulk really is

  5. I loved the Ferrigno era Hulk as a kid. Now, he’s one of those characters that i just can’t get into. As far as trying to attract new readers to the character i see some major issues.

    Why is he Green, Red and Grey? (yes i know why, but just saying) and how come sometimes he talks like a caveman and sometimes he talks like a smart guy?

  6. Red Hulk is great. He has rules.

    • I agree; I’m really enjoying that book, and the run with Parker and Hardman was some of the best Hulk I’ve read.

      At my local comic shop, it seems my wife and I are the only ones not loving Aaron’s new book; as for Defenders, I’m just steering clear of anything by Fraction these days.

    • Yeah I just never wanted to read the new green Hulk because the art was really off-putting to me.

      Re: Fraction. The last issue of Iron Man was actually ok and back to how it felt during Dark Reign when Iron Man was really good.

    • I always tell my friends, Red Hulk is best Hulk.

  7. Couldn’t agree more, Jim. Too bad this book wasn’t given a fresher relaunch with the recent new #1.

  8. I want to follow the Hulk but I can’t. Just… just bring back the Jekyll/Hyde dynamic, jettison all the other personalities and space stories and and make me care about Bruce Banner the character.

  9. I like the brown jumpsuit era. Savage Hulk strength, Joe Fixit’s attitude mixed with Bruce’s intelligence.

  10. I was just thinking the same thing after reading Defenders.

  11. Puny rules stifle Hulk’s creativity!

  12. No One Beats Peter David’s Hulk Run!

    • Each time somebody brings up the Hulk almost nobody mentions PAD’s famous 11 year run and that makes me sad. But you sir, YOU are problably the first one I have seen mention it in a long time.

    • I always feel like I’m chasing the dragon with Hulk stories, because they’ll never be as good as PAD’s run. If there ever was a reason to stop publishing a character, the end of PAD’s run would have been a perfect place.

  13. Not to nit pick and I’m totally going to nit pick after writing that. But didn’t the Planet Hulk run have an explanation some where as to why he stayed hulked out, wasn’t there some, ‘sustained by sheer rage’ explanation that translated to, super super pissed that his mates decided to deport him and then the whole planet he ended up on just kept pissing him off every second he was there.

    And there was a point when he turned back into Banner in Planet Hulk as well, and I’m pretty sure that was when he fell asleep.

  14. Some new tag lines for Hulk:

    “The longer Hulk’s been around, the more convoluted his backstory gets!”

    “Hulk is the confusingest there is!”

    “Hulk scratch head…”

    “Puny humans try to retcon Hulk.”

    “Hulk just wants to be left alone (so he can catch up on his reading).”

  15. I have been reading Hulk off and on for most of my life and this is my understanding of the character:

    Hulk does whatever he has to do to survive. Hulk will NOT let Banner die, as Banner dying means Hulk dies.

    So if Hulk gets rocketed into outer space by his “friends” and ends up on a war torn planet fighting in a gladiator duel for his life, then Hulk will take over completely, as Banner can not survive the harsh environment of space.

    The more sever the circumstances, the more the Hulk side of the equation takes over. Under normal circumstances, Banner and Hulk split time as the dominant personality. When things are calm, Banner can assert more control. When the shit hits the fan, Hulk gets the upper hand.

    There is also the degree of Gamma radiation in Banner’s system. When some of it gets siphoned off, Hulk is not as powerful, which leads to the Grey version of the Hulk, who changes with the moon and not anger. However, the gamma poisoning will spread, and bring back the return of the green Hulk over time.

    Bruce jones kind of threw all this out the window and said “the rules are whatever I want them to be and they will change issue to issue.” He also made the Absorbing Man a telepath who possessed people’s bodies, showing he had zero respect for the past at all.

    On a side note, one of my all time favorite Hulk moments was from the Defenders mini that giffen, deMatteis and Maguire did where Dormammu’s sister (I can’t remember her name) basically rapes the Hell out of the Hulk and as a result, Banner is SO relaxed, having gotten laid for the first time in YEARS, that he just can’t get angry enough to turn into the Hulk. That was comedy gold.

  16. Hulk’s heart hurt.

  17. I think we can blame Doc Samson for all of the convoluted iterations of the Hulk. Banner has multiple personality disorder from the abuse he received as a child from his father. So Doc Samson tried to “cure” him by integrating the different Hulks (savage Hulk, gray Hulk, green Hulk and Banner, I think). But it looks like he made a mess of things. Personally, I prefer the brutish, green angry Hulk with the drifter Banner, though I loved the grey Mr. Fixit era.

  18. Dude, The Hulk was a bullshit character when he was invented, he was a bullshit character for years, and now he’s a bullshit character that makes no fucking sense.

    I’m thankful that someone, finally, has noticed that there haven’t been any Hulk rules for about twenty years, but personally, I’m astonished the Hulk sells enough issues to continue having a title.

    Who do I have to blow to kill the big green sonofabitch? We finally got rid of the bloody Sentry, now let’s execute The Hulk!

  19. Like Hulk when smashing,
    Speaking like caveman good too,
    Don’t mind one-note Hulk.

  20. I’d like you to show me where there are any rules for any Big Two Characters. New writer means the possibility of new rules. Continuity? Feh, what’s that?

  21. Sad but true. The Hulk I once cared about has been gone for a long time.

    From what I’ve seen of Aaron’s run it does not come close to fixing anything. More like the opposite if possible.

  22. this is one of the reasons i have been so reluctant to pick up the new hulk series (though i am a big fan of Aaron’s work so i may grab it in trade)