The Many Versions of The Hulk

The Hulk is one of Marvel Comics’ most iconic characters and one of its most complicated. When Bruce Banner was exposed to massive amounts of gamma radiation when he saved the teenager Rick Jones from the detonation of his own gamma bomb, the mutation caused him to develop the split persona of The Hulk. In times of anger or extreme stress, Banner uncontrollably becomes The Hulk – a massive green monster with enough strength to level cities. But Hulk is not just a massive comic book version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he’s the expression of Banner’s childhood trauma and suppressed dissociative identity disorder. While the Marvel Cinematic Universe has only shown one version of Hulk – the famous Savage Hulk, there are actually multiple versions of the beast, which makes the character far more interesting than a simple giant monster.

From incarnations of his dangerous teenage self to noble warriors in search of justice, Hulk has taken on many distinct variations over the course of his more than 50 year history. With each new personality, Hulk takes on new characteristics, motives, and powers, each with their own appeal and unique stories. In addition to Bruce Banner’s Jade Giant, there have been many different gamma-powered heroes and villains over the years, such as She-Hulk, Red Hulk, Abomination, and the upcoming Totally Awesome Hulk. The following are the many versions of Bruce Banner in the main Marvel Universe.

Gray Hulk

The first ever Hulk, it was the Gray Hulk that Dr. Bruce banner first turned into after he was bombarded with radiation by his Gamma Bomb. Besides being a different color than the most famous iteration, Banner would turn into the Gray Hulk at night, with his alternate personality being more intelligent and cruel than the classic version of the character, which was far more in line with the Dr. Jekyll/Mr.Hyde persona that clearly inspired the character. Famously, Stan Lee and the team at Marvel Comics decided to change the character to green because the color was far easier to regulate in print at the time than gray. In addition, the character quickly shifted to a manifestation of Banner’s rage and this original idea was simply glossed over. However, writer John Byrne brought back the Gray Hulk during his seminal run in the ‘80s, which established the version as an alternate persona of Banner and gave birth to the multiple personalities take on Hulk, which has been canon ever since.

Gray Hulk is the smallest and least strong of the Hulks, but has a higher intelligence than most. While still incredibly strong, he relies more on his wits than brute strength to defeat opponents. As he is not dependent on anger, Gray Hulk can remain calm and not revert to Banner and has been known to operate as a mob enforcer, wearing a suit and going by the name Mr. Fixit. His anger, arrogance, and lust reflect Banner’s teenage emotions.

Unique Characteristics: Not only is this version far more intelligent than the common green Hulk, he’s more cruel and cunning. His selfish motives and actions push further in the direction of anti-hero and even sometimes villain.

Savage Hulk

The definitive version of The Hulk, this alter ego of Bruce Banner is the one that most everyone associates with the hero. Activated by Banner’s rage and possessing incalculable levels of strength, The Hulk is a green behemoth with limited intelligence who is propelled by his anger. While he may lash out in rage at those around him, The Hulk is not driven to wanton destruction, but is most often looking to defend himself or accomplish very simple goals. Bruce was physically abused by his father at a young age and the man killed his mother, leaving him with deep psychological scars and rage issues, all of which are unleashed in Hulk, who has more in common with child Bruce than adult Bruce. Hulk also stands alone from Bruce’s personality and often despises his weaker human persona. While Hulk can often have heroic motives in his actions, his instability often puts him at odds with other heroes, frequently leading to fights and a falling out with any team he joins.

Savage Hulk has had many minor tweaks to his persona over the years, with his intelligence levels, appearance, and motives shifting from writer to writer. However, certain components remain a constant. Hulk is immensely powerful and only grows stronger and bigger the angrier he becomes. Should he be knocked unconscious or regain his composure, he reverts to Bruce. Savage Hulk also despises most of the other personalities in Banner’s mind, has a rivalry with The Thing of The Fantastic Four, and is often pursued by the U.S. Military, led by General Ross, father of Banner’s wife Betty.

Unique Characteristics: This is the one known and loved by all. His simple mind, quick anger, and terrifying strength make this version the defining portrait of The Green Goliath. Savage Hulk is easily the one most often featured in all media and the version that most defines the character.

Mindless Hulk

The body of Hulk is most often controlled by a personality separate from Bruce Banner, but these many different personas are still interlinked with Banner to some degree. After a period of time when Banner’s mind was in control of Hulk’s body, he began to lose control and his mind eventually shut down. This in turn shut down the Gray and Savage personas, as well, leaving The Hulk as a mindless and animalistic beast. Having the body of Savage Hulk but possessing no human intelligence whatsoever, Mindless Hulk is little more than a raging monster. He has no thought behind his actions and only exists to survive, which means that he has no limits to his anger or his strength and cannot be calmed down. Only mystical interference could restore proper balance to Hulk and revert him to Banner, but with Savage and Gray Hulks returning, as well.

The idea of Banner being completely separated from Hulk has happened several times throughout comics history, including the two being separated physically, as well. While Banner chose to start his life over free of The Hulk, Hulk rampaged mindlessly in the desert. Eventually, Bruce’s deteriorating body forced them to be rejoined. In another instance, the two were given separate bodies again, but Hulk was more intelligent and Banner was a scheming villain, determined to reunited the two. Comic books!

Unique Characteristics: Having Banner’s consciousness completed separated from him means this version of The Hulk is the most monstrous and dangerous of them all.

Merged Hulk

When the warring personalities of the Gray and Green Hulks were threatening to tear Bruce Banner’s mind apart, he went to Doc Samson for help – a gamma-powered therapist who could help Bruce reconcile these parts of his personality. Through diving into his subconscious, Bruce was able to overcome the demons of his past, specifically the memories of his abusive father. But in order to do so, he had to have both the Gray and Savage personalities cooperate and merge with his own. The result was the Merged Hulk – a massive and powerful green Hulk who had the intelligence and memories of Banner, the wits of Gray Hulk, and the power of Savage Hulk. The change was also permanent for a time, as this was Banner’s de facto state, which did not need anger or willpower to achieve. Merged Hulk sought to be a hero, pursue a happy life with wife Betty Banner, and pursue scientific goals.

This Hulk was also far more of an action hero in the vein of Arnold Schwarzenegger, using weapons like giant guns and throwing out quips while fighting foes. Merged Hulk looked far more human and handsome than other incarnations, teamed up with the heroic organization known as The Pantheon, and could not reach the peak strength levels of Savage Hulk due to not depending on rage to power him. Eventually, Merged Hulk reverted to the status quo due to the devolution of the bond between the three personalities, as Banner’s childhood trauma and issues were not solved, only temporarily helped by the combination.

Unique Characteristics: The brains of Banner, the cunning of Gray Hulk, and the strength of the Savage Hulk make this one of the most formidable and heroic versions of the character.

Savage Banner

The flipside to the Merged Hulk, this incarnation is the answer to what happens when Merged Hulk rages out. Rather than becoming stronger and more dangerous, this intelligent Hulk changes into the body of Bruce Banner, but with the anger and intelligence of the Savage Hulk. While this is almost a cruel irony for a Hulk that is finally in control of both his power and his faculties, it’s seen as a failsafe for a version of the character that is more powerful than ever. Should Merged Hulk succumb to his rage, the results would be far more devastating and fatal that ever before. Knowing what the unleashed fury of the Savage Hulk could do, the Savage Banner persona was subconsciously formed by the Merged Hulk in case his rage should ever be fully unleashed.

While a human being with so much rage unleashed is still dangerous to those around him, it’s a far safer alternative to a monster with the power to level entire cities. Once calmed down, Savage Banner reverts to Merged Hulk instead of a calm human version. When in this form, Banner refers to himself as Hulk and attempts to act out in ways the Hulk would, such as attempting to knock down walls, but is bewildered by the futility of his actions. This is due to the Savage Hulk persona being the one in charge of Bruce’s body, rather than a completely new personality.

Unique Characteristics: The rage of the Savage Hulk in the form of human Bruce Banner means that this is an inverse of the Merged Hulk and the opposite of Hulk’s wish fulfillment-style of characterization due to the impotency of mindless rage in a depowered body.

Maestro

Many years into an alternate future, the Earth has been destroyed by nuclear war and The Hulk now rules much of the remaining populace in the city of Dystopia as the evil Maestro. This future Hulk is older and far more evil, embodying the darker aspects of the character combined with a Bruce Banner intelligence that has given into pure evil. In order to try and stop Maestro, a group of rebels travel to the past and bring Merged Hulk to their world to stop the dictator. However, Maestro’s strength, experience, and vile nature proved too much for the heroic Hulk, breaking his neck until the near-indestructible hero healed and fought him again. Finally, Hulk defeated Maestro by travelling back in time and dropping him off by the gamma bomb that originally created him, utterly obliterating Maestro in the process.

While there have been many alternate versions of The Hulk depicted in comics over the years (there are literally thousands of different universes in Marvel Comics), The Maestro is the one most closely tied to the ongoing history of Hulk. This possible future has haunted Hulk off and on with the thought of what he may one day become. Now, with the multiverse altered, Maestro has crossed over from his alternate timeline into the main Marvel Universe, plucking people from across the multiverse to compete for his amusement in The Contest of Champions.

Unique Characteristics: This alternate future version of Hulk may have the intelligence of the Merged Hulk, but his ultimate malevolence makes him far different and the only truly evil Hulk in the mainstream comics.

Guilt Hulk

Existing within the mind of Bruce Banner is the most destructive and dangerous Hulk of them all – Guilt Hulk. When therapist Doc Samson helped Banner explore his mind in order to reconcile the Gray and Savage Hulk personas, the hero encountered the previously unknown Guilt Hulk. This persona is the summation of all the guilt that Banner has felt in his life and originally manifested in the form of his father, Brian Banner. Here, Guilt Hulk tried to overpower Banner and the Hulks in order to gain control of his body and manifest, but was stopped by their creation of the Merged Hulk.

Years later, the death of Betty Banner caused Guilt Hulk to gain power in Banner’s psyche once again, with this incarnation threatening to emerge at any moment. Once again, it took Banner’s many Hulks teaming up to stop Guilt Hulk. The intelligence and emotional power of this beast makes it especially dangerous, as it sought to break down Banner in order to succeed. In addition, it was the reemergence of this evil incarnation that led to the discovery of the next persona on this list – Devil Hulk.

Unique Characteristics: While this version has never manifested in a physical form, his depiction within Banner’s mind shows him to be the largest incarnation of Hulk by far and stronger than the others due to the presence of guilt in both Banner and the other Hulks. This version is also far less human looking, showing his evil and uncontrollable nature.

Devil Hulk

As opposed to the feelings that created Guilt Hulk, Banner’s Devil Hulk is the culmination of his negative and self-hating feelings that he has kept long buried. While his appearance has changed over the years, Devil Hulk is typically as large as the Savage Hulk and has yellow skin, red eyes, and a long tongue. In search of a way to stop the newly-reemerged Guilt Hulk, Banner finds Devil Hulk, who is chained in the dark depths of his mind. The beast tells Banner to set him free in order to fight and stop Guilt Hulk, but Banner resists, knowing that his release would result in far worse than what Guilt Hulk could do. Intelligent, powerful, and desiring the destruction of the world, Devil Hulk is far more dangerous than most villains.

While Devil Hulk did eventually break free of his constraints, he was stopped by the Savage and Gray Hulks and has not manifested since. However, during the event known as Chaos War, Bruce’s deceased and hateful father Brian Banner was released from Hell and became a hybrid of the Guilt and Devil Hulks. Despite a brutal battle, Hulk’s anger and hate toward his father only strengthened the new monster. But his focus on love and positive emotions weakened and eventually destroyed the returned Brian.

Unique Characteristics: Devil Hulk is far more manipulative and hateful than most Hulk, hating not only Banner, but all other incarnations of Hulk. While he may not be inherently stronger than the other Hulks, his hatred toward all makes him far more dangerous in the event that he is released.

Green Scar

When a group of heroes known as The Illuminati decided that Hulk was too dangerous to remain on Earth, they jettisoned him to a faraway planet so he could live a peaceful life. But they were wrong, the planet he landed on – Sakaar – was a wartorn place where Hulk was immediately enslaved and forced to fight in gladiatorial combat. The experience led to a new persona, one that would come to be known as The Green Scar. This version of Hulk is filled with rage due to his betrayal and trials, but is in control of his anger, focusing it on his foes instead of blindly lashing out. He’s also smart and vocal, rather than being simpleminded like Savage Hulk. Green Scar is a warrior through and through, with a noble streak that leads to a bond with his fellow gladiators and a quest to free the planet. While Green Scar was originally weaker due to his ordeal and an implant meant to control him in the arena, he eventually became the strongest Hulk of them all. In addition, his proficiency with weapons and his mental alliance with Banner means that he is a strategic force to be reckoned with.

After his liberation of Sakaar, the tragic explosion of the warp core of the spaceship that brought him to the planet destroyed much of his new home and killed his new queen. Not only did the tragedy increase his rage, it also pumped up his strength even further. The ordeal led to him and his warriors returning to Earth to kill the heroes he held responsible in World War Hulk, where his massive power levels led to him stomping all opposing forces. Finally, a betrayal led to his unleashing of massive  amounts of power as the prophesied Worldbreak, until he was stopped when he realized how dangerous he was. Due to Green Scar’s dangerous power levels, Banner actively suppresses this persona and it has only resurface a few times.

Unique Characteristics: The blend of intelligence and savagery make Green Scar into a deadly opponent who is just as likely to use sword and shield as his jade fists. He’s also by far the most powerful version, as becoming too angry unleashing his Worldbreaker power – massive amounts of gamma radiation that could destroy the entire planet if left unchecked.

Doc Green

When Bruce Banner was shot in the head by an assassin, he was saved from certain death by an injection of Tony Stark’s Extremis Virus, which helped repair his damaged brain. However, the dose had an unforeseen effect on the gamma-irradiated doctor, resulting in the brand new persona known as Doc Green. This version of the Hulk is just as smart as Banner, but isn’t actually Banner, with his attitude and goals far removed from the typical Banner seen in comics. Specifically, Green quickly comes to the conclusion that Gamma Mutates are a threat to the world and must be depowered, so he creates a serum that will remove their powers and return them to normal humans.

While Doc Green managed to depower nearly every gamma-based character, he did not remove She-Hulk’s powers due to the fact that her gamma powers had actually improved her life and the realization of his borderline maniacal nature. In addition, it is hinted that the Maestro personality may be the future of the Doc Green personality. Coming to the realization that the Extremis Virus was going to wear off shortly, Doc Green decided to not dose himself once again in order to revert to Banner and prevent himself from possibly turning into a villain one day.

Unique Characteristics: Being both incredibly intelligent and strong, Doc Green has similarities to Merged Hulk, but is actually a different Hulk personality that has Banner’s consciousness locked away. He’s also much more arrogant, seeing himself as superior and obsessed with a mission to depower all other Gamma-powered individuals, both hero and villain.

Kluh

During the Axis crossover event, a spell to defeat the evil Red Onslaught (way too long of a story to go into here) turned every hero and villain in the area into his or her inverse. The heroic Avengers became a group of dastardly villains, vile villains became good hearted heroes, Doctor Doom became an altruistic leader in search of redemption, the eratic and violent Deadpool became a peaceful Zen master, and the Hulk became … Kluh. Yeah, pretty on the nose. Affected by the spell, the typically rage-filled Hulk was overcome with sadness until he underwent a sudden change, becoming the murderous Kluh.

As a full-on villain, Kluh was simply in search of total destruction and death. He’s also smarter than the average Hulk, most likely due to being the inverted personality of Doc Green, specifically. Throughout the time of inverted heroes and villains, Kluh tried to destroy cities and kill anyone he could, but was stopped by the young hero Nova, who hurled him into space to stop him for a time. Eventually, Kluh was reverted along with almost all of the rest of the affected characters, returning to the normal Doc Green persona.

Unique Characteristics: Despite being the product of Hulk’s sadness and being “The Hulk’s Hulk,” Kluh is a force of wanton destruction. This version seeks to spill innocent blood, making him evil incarnate instead of a complex villain.

What is your favorite version of The Hulk? Let me know in the comments below!
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