|Incredible Hulk Returns, The / The Trial of the Incredible Hulk|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 06 May 2003|
“Hulk smash!” Nearly every kid who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s and loved Marvel Comics remembers that famous epithet. Created by comics legend Stan Lee, the Hulk captured the imaginations of those young readers who dreamt of having the power to transform themselves into raging monsters that were adrenaline-driven engines of destruction.
In the comics, the Hulk’s human alter ego was nuclear physicist Dr. Bruce Banner. Banner was working to develop a gamma bomb, a weapon even more destructive than the nuclear bombs that had been dropped on Japan during World War II. During the actual testing phase, a rock-and-roll teen rebel named Rick Jones wandered out onto the blast site. Seeing the young boy, Banner raced to save him and got caught in the radiation blast of the exploding gamma bomb. Later, the effects of the untested gamma radiation manifested by changing Dr. Banner into a behemoth driven solely by his own wants and needs. The character was less along the lines of traditional superheroes than in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” which no doubt influenced Lee’s creation.
Interestingly enough, the original Hulk as Lee envisioned him wasn’t green at all, but rather a gray color. Also, the changes that wracked Dr. Banner were at first triggered by the arrival of night, not the rage that the character became so famous for later. In addition, the Hulk could think and reason. He wanted things for himself and planned on how to get them. Rick Jones, torn by the guilt that he was responsible for Dr. Banner’s bizarre plight, became the monster’s conscience.
As the comics legend went on, the Hulk changed. He became green, and his mind reverted to a primitive childlike state. Over 40 years have passed since the creation of the Incredible Hulk. During that time, a number of artists and writers have layered their own vision of the Hulk into the mix. For a time in the comics, the effects of the gamma radiation were reversed, so that Dr. Banner had the stunted emotions and intellect of a child and the Hulk maintained a sense of right and wrong and genius. At other times, the Hulk served as a bodyguard and bouncer in Las Vegas, lived on microscopic worlds, and became a charter member of a pantheon of gods. Peter David, one of the comics field’s most successful writers and a fan favorite, wrote the comic for 11 years, turning the Hulk inside-out, upside-down, and any which way but loose, giving Marvel’s greatest outcast some of his greatest stories.
Two cartoon series, one in the 1980s and the other in the 1990s, about the Hulk came out but never achieved the success necessary to keep the animated franchise going.
This month, Marvel Comics and Universal Pictures roll out the latest epic arc of the Incredible Hulk. Director Ang Lee (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) helms the multi-million-dollar blockbuster that features a CGI Hulk. The trailers show fantastic cinematic moments of the Hulk smashing and crushing and battering his way through a multitude of foes and obstacles. It’s interesting to note that the new movie is an amalgamation of good, character-driven story and cutting-edge computer animation, the best of both worlds.
But before the CGI Hulk, Lou Ferrigno wore green make-up on the television series, “The Incredible Hulk.” Bruce Banner’s name was changed to David Bruce Banner, because the television executives didn’t like the alliteration of the original name, which was a standard for Stan Lee when he was first inventing Marvel Comic’s greatest heroes. (Lee also named Peter Parker [Spider-Man], Reed Richards [Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four], Matt Murdock [Daredevil], Scott Summers [Cyclops of the X-Men] and many others.) Alliteration was in at the House of Ideas, as Stan Lee liked to call Marvel in later years. But the television Hulk went by David Banner. The David Bruce Banner name was later shoehorned into the Marvel Comics universe.
The television series debuted on March 10, 1978. In the pilot movie, David Banner’s wife died in a tragic accident. Grief-stricken, the geneticist (not physicist in the make-over, because DNA was of growing interest in the 1970s) tried to find the secret to unlock the strength that has been evidenced by humans during periods of stress. He wanted to find that secret so that others might be saved. In the pursuit of that knowledge, he turned himself into the raging goliath that became known as the Hulk.
After two made-for-television movies, “The Incredible Hulk” became a summer replacement series on CBS starring veteran actor Bill Bixby as David Banner. The show came out of nowhere and became a fixture during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The haunting theme music laid the groundwork for the roles that Bixby and Ferrigno made into legends. Tortured soul and fugitive David Banner won the interest of audiences that ranged from kids to adults, from those who were already familiar with the Hulk to those who had never heard of him.
On the small screen, Banner’s words of warning became famous: “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” The stories spun like the old television series “The Fugitive,” with David Banner constantly on the run from one location to another, meeting people with problems that only he could help with either as himself or as the Hulk. Banner constantly sought a cure for his condition, but at the same time a reporter dogged his trail, trying to find the elusive creature that was wanted for murder. David was trapped by the threat of wrongful imprisonment for something he and the creature had not done, and by his own inability to handle a life that was filled with sharp emotions. He became an outcast, but at the same time, he worked to cut himself off from the world. He became the ultimate loner and the audience enjoyed that aspect of his character.
“The Incredible Hulk” two-disc set offered by Anchor Bay features two movies that were made for television after the regular television series ended in 1982. Made in 1988 and 1989, respectively, neither “The Incredible Hulk Returns” nor “The Trial of the Incredible Hulk” included in the set has much to offer to an audiophile. Both are released in Dolby Digital Mono. The transfers are clean, and the feel of the telefilms is just as honest now as it was when they first aired.
However, both telefilms seem more interested in parlaying audience appreciation for David Banner’s plight into spin-off series featuring other Marvel characters. “The Incredible Hulk Returns” features Thor, the God of Thunder, as a companion in peril. Thor, also created by Stan Lee, was part of the first wave of Marvel comics Lee created. In the Thor comics, Dr. Don Blake, a physician, discovered an old walking stick while on an expedition. When struck upon the ground, the stick became Mjolnir, Thor’s magic hammer, while at the same time turning Blake into the mythological God of Thunder.
However, in the made-for-TV movie, Dr. Don Blake was a surgeon and past friend of David’s, a loose cannon who ends up finding a hammer in a crypt while on expedition. He grabs the hammer, calls out the name of Odin, the father of the Norse gods, and summons Thor from some metaphysical realm, so that Thor and Don Blake exist as two separate entities. A major part of the movie sets up the possibility of spinning Thor off as the lead in another series.
Banner’s own interest was in working on a gamma transponder that he hopes to use to help him stop turning into the Hulk. He’s worked on the project for two years behind the scenes and fallen in love. His whole world falls apart with the arrival of Thor, Blake, and a scheme by a villain inside the company.
“The Trial of the Incredible Hulk” introduces Daredevil. Although the character is blind attorney Matt Murdock, who is also the night avenger known as Daredevil, the difference between Rex Smith’s portrayal and the portrayal by this year’s Ben Affleck is huge. Again, a major portion of the movie is devoted to Daredevil and fleshing out his world and his never-ending battle against the Kingpin. There are some nice touches in the movie that relate to Frank Miller’s legendary work on Daredevil, which was just going on in the comics. Miller also created Elektra, who is getting her own movie deal.
In the second movie, David Banner runs afoul of two thugs in the employ of the Kingpin. As a result, he ends up getting accused of attacking a woman and is sent to jail to await trial. Murdock becomes his attorney and starts his own investigation as the attorney and as Daredevil. Pay attention to the subway wall in Chapter 4 for a bit of graffiti that proclaims “Daredevil Rules.” Sharp-eyed comics fans will recognize Stan Lee among the jury in Chapter 11 when the Hulk goes berserk while on trial in David’s nightmare.
The additional materials included on the DVDs include interviews with Ferrigno who played the Hulk in the series (Bixby passed away in 1993). The interviews with Ferrigno are touching and personal, well worth the time to watch them. Stan Lee has always interviewed well, and his energy leaps from the screen. “Stand Tall” is an 84-minute movie that focuses solely on Ferrigno’s personal story.
Both movies included on these discs lack a bit when compared to the original television series. Much of the focus on the Hulk was lost, but they are still a good investment for collectors and for comics fans.