31 Days of Comics Challenge: Day 27

Comic You’ve Read the Most Times

I have read The Incredible Hulk #377 more times than any other single issue of a comic.  This is a deep tale.  In a way, it gives us the true origin of the Hulk.  Yes, Bruce Banner absorbed the force of a gamma bomb explosion.  We all know that.  But the origin of the Hulk didn’t start there.

Over the course of the comic series, multiple versions of the Hulk had appeared.  The most prominent versions were the green, childlike Hulk that we all know; and the smaller but more cunning grey Hulk, which is actually the original version of the Hulk.  The original trigger for the Hulk had nothing to do with anger — the grey Hulk would appear at night, and Banner would return in the morning.  The writers of the series mostly ignored the grey Hulk for many years — so much so that retellings of Hulk’s origin often had him green from the beginning.  But the grey Hulk had been back as the primary Hulk for a few years when Issue #377 came out.

Writer Peter David had Banner and grey Hulk develop a kind of truce, each of them living independent lives during their respective hours of dominance.  It was perhaps the healthiest relationship Banner ever had with his “other side.”  This balance was upset when the green Hulk gradually came to the fore again.  Enter Doc Samson, a hero in the Marvel universe who also happens to be a psychologist.  Samson puts Bruce under hypnosis and gets a front-row seat to Banner’s troubled psyche.  And we the readers get the best analysis we’ve ever had of the character.

The true origin of the Hulk is child abuse.  Banner’s highly volatile and paranoid father thought little Bruce was a freak.  He beat and berated the child constantly, and he beat the child’s mother to death.  When Bruce witnessed this brutality, he dissociated completely from his own anger.  He saw what anger could do, and he wanted no part of it.  So the aspect of the little boy who wanted to lash out at his father and protect his mother became a separate personality.  The green Hulk’s personality was born that day.

The grey Hulk’s personality came into existence several years later, when Banner was a teenager.  Like all teenagers, Banner was compelled to rebel, to experiment, to indulge.  But Banner couldn’t consciously associate with these aspects of himself.  They troubled him too much.  He suppressed these aspects, and they developed an independent existence, like a shadow self.  This shadow self was the grey Hulk’s personality.

As Doc Samson discovers all of this, he diagnoses Banner with MPD — Multiple Personality Disorder.  When Banner was first exposed to gamma radiation, his own fragmented psyche affected the way his mutation manifested.  At first, the “teenage” personality would come out at night, lurking in the shadows like the most literal example of a shadow self.  Eventually, after Banner received additional exposures to gamma radiation, the “child” personality came out.  And the now-green Hulk would appear whenever Banner lost control of his emotions.

Samson is able to get the three personalities to merge, and we the readers got a new version of the Hulk for awhile — a Hulk that combines Banner’s intelligence, grey Hulk’s cunning and green Hulk’s anger.  The new Hulk was cool.  But there’s something more real to me about the separate personalities remaining distinct.  Maybe because I think we’re all fragmented to some degree.  At times, our parts are in sharp conflict.  Other times, they work in harmony.  I guess we’re all trying to achieve an internal truce.

Tomorrow: Kids’ Comics